Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shared Reading

Shared Reading:
An Effective Gateway Strategy for High School Classrooms

Lately I’ve begun referring to shared reading as a gateway strategy. By gateway, I mean it opens the door to other powerful teaching strategies. Shared reading happens when the teacher reads aloud while students read long, silently, with their eyes on the text the teacher is reading. While some secondary teachers think this means they are, “doing all the work,” an effective shared read directs students onto the fast lane of independent learning. Here are some ways a shared read can lead to stronger and more focused teaching.

Shared reading gets everyone on the same page.
I mean that literally. Moving a class of mixed ability high school students forward can be a bit chaotic. Some students can easily synthesize ideas while others are still working on basic comprehension. Many teachers are left trying to deliver content like a physician prescribes medicines, in various doses. The problem with this prescribed teaching is that some students never get the full dose of content, and their academic health becomes permanently anemic. By relying on shared reading, the teacher creates a level playing field for students. After a shared read, every student can engage in a full array of learning activities which follow from increased, across the board, content knowledge.

Shared reading presents students with a strong model of a proficient reader.
It may have been Isabelle Beck or Chris Tovani or Nancy Allen or Doug Fisher or Nancy Frey or all of these literacy leaders who designated the teacher as the best reader in the class. According to these thinkers, students deserve to see a model of great reading and the teacher should be this model. Part of that modeling includes using the Think-Aloud strategy during shared reading. During the reading, teachers pause at difficult or significant passages and think out loud. This strategy shows students the inside of the mind of a proficient reader and teaches students how to read as a critical thinker. For some secondary content teachers, reading aloud is not in their comfort zone, but with practice, they become skilled oral readers in short time. When teachers realize the power of shared reading, they practice the strategy until they become experts.

Shared reading forms the ground work for authentic differentiation.
The challenge of having mixed ability readers in your class presents some pretty daunting barriers to differentiation and sometimes leads to the practice of diluting content for the very students who have lost the most ground in content knowledge. With a shared read, everyone is exposed to the full richness of curriculum. After the shared read, a teacher can begin to differentiate learning activities. While one group of students returns to a specific passage to deepen their basic comprehension of the text, another group works on analysis and synthesis. Shared reading allows for real differentiation without diminishing access to content for some students.

And that’s not all.
Shared reading has also been shown to increase reading fluency. While students keep their eyes on text following the most fluent reader in the room, they meet new words, hear correct pronunciations, and develop similar reading fluency. Shared reading enriches every student and includes all students in rich and valuable content centered discussions. For these reasons and more, shared reading produces a high tide of learning which raises all learners.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Defining Collaborative Teaching

If educators are to meet the goal of helping each child reach their full intellectual potential, then teachers need to learn how to engage in collaborative teaching experiences. But what does it mean to collaborate? The absence of a common definition for collaboration is a major hurdle blocking the path to achieving the goal of having teachers work together to improve the performance of their students.

There are several levels of collaboration. For some teachers, collaboration looks like this scenario: Teacher A and teacher B teach next door to each other. During morning hall duty, teacher A announces that she is teaching the American Revolution. Teacher B is thrilled to hear this because he is planning to have his students read, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” Both teachers agree to coordinate their lessons so that students can have what they are learning about the American Revolution supported by a classic poem found in the literature book. Is this serendipitous meeting of two teachers on hall duty an example of collaboration? Maybe.

While this may be a very “lite” version of collaboration, it does qualify as a plausible example of teachers working together to make connections across curriculum. This is a very low level definition of collaboration. After all, an honest argument could be made that this type of collaboration is certainly better than no collaboration.
If only Teacher A and Teacher B could check their calendars and begin scheduling weekly meetings they could create a true collaborative relationship. Together, they would begin to construct fully structured bridges between their curriculums that would not only bring them deep professional satisfaction, more importantly; they would enrich the learning experiences of their students.

Try to picture the collaborative environment Teacher A and Teacher B could produce. Can you see each teacher bringing their respective curriculum guides to their first meeting? Teacher A reads her American Revolution standard and all the related benchmarks and learning outcomes. Teacher B scans his skill based curriculum and finds reading, writing, speaking, and research benchmarks which could be easily met through Teacher A’s curriculum. Together, these teachers begin to see how cross curricular teaching allows them to see the deep and authentic connections between their curriculums. Very quickly, they pull their once isolated standards into a web which captures the attention and interest of their Generation E students.

When Teacher A and Teacher B begin to define collaboration as a deep partnership between educators in which curriculum is studied and understood by teams of teachers across curriculum, they will be embarking on a journey to the highest levels of collaboration. When an understanding of the connections between curriculums is brought into their classrooms, the links between knowledge disciplines will become heavily traveled highways. Their students will be the beneficiaries of this journey to the pinnacle of teaching.

As these model teachers continue to work together, their collaboration will gain depth and complexity. They will know their partner’s curriculum as well as they know their own. They can not fail to notice the transformative power of their students’ growing interest and deepening knowledge. Their students are no longer passive and almost lifeless classroom occupants. They have become excited learners. Something miraculous is happening. Teachers who work collaboratively at this high level begin to experience the true joy of teaching. They are no longer isolated, but more importantly, they can see their students growing toward the end goal of education: independent, critical thinking.

No teacher is an island, and as teachers realize this and move to a higher and more profound definition of collaboration, they will make a fundamental and positive change in their own lives and the lives of their students. The net result of this change will be better teaching and better learning.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Generation E: Educating America's Youngest Generation

The population of the United States might seem quite large when we compare ourselves with most countries. But next to China and India, U.S. population begins to seem rather puny, especially when we break down the demographics. There are a combined 625 million Indian and Chinese children below the age of fourteen. The United States, with its aging baby boomers and low birth rate has only sixty million children in the same demographic. (CIA Factbook, 2007) It’s time to begin calling this group of children America’s Generation E. I mean, E for ESSENTIAL. If this generation of Americans enters the workforce armed with a competitive edge in the new global marketplace of the 21st Century, then our nation, and the individual liberties we value, will endure. If the American system fails to prepare Generation E for global competition, then every great American quality we’ve come to treasure is at risk.

The children who comprise Generation E are America’s most scarce and precious resource. This Essential group of Americans must be the best educated generation in American history. Even if our friends in India and China educate only ten percent of their population, they will not be giving us leeway to sort out and discard any member of our Generation E. The need to guide each Generation E boy and girl to his or her highest potential is not just about ensuring American prosperity. The potential for creating a better world exists in each one of these children. None of them are expendable. Clearly, American educators must prepare all sixty million members of Generation E for the essential role they will play in keeping our nation and the world strong.

Thankfully, America’s teachers are uniquely well suited for this task. We are a part of the American value system which is replete with stories of individual acts of courage. Our collective history is reflected in stories of rugged pioneers risking all to move their families across a continent to a better life, immigrant families abandoning hopeless futures by crossing oceans to realize their dreams in a new world, poverty stricken, jobless men of the Great Depression era being fed and cared for by the families of strangers who were barely able to feed themselves, the sacrifices of courageous soldiers who gave their lives to save others, and civil rights protestors who withstood much more than police dogs and fire hoses to ensure the promises of liberty would be granted to all our citizens. The stories of American heroism in the face of difficult odds are countless and true.

And now, American educators can add their names to the list of citizens who have stretched beyond old limitations to create new and better worlds; worlds that have benefited not only Americans, but countless citizens of our planet. Educators are as essential as the children of Generation E in guaranteeing a promising future for America. In the Sarasota County, Florida school district, teachers who are working to acquire the special set of skills needed to guide Generation E students are called Next Generation teachers. Perhaps we should call these teachers Now Generation, because our children need them right now.

The leading edge of Generation E will enter high school this fall. What is in store for them in high schools across America? Have secondary educators made the reforms Bill Gates so passionately outlined in his 2005 address to U.S. Governors? We are nearing the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. The alarm bells are ringing now. The time to act is now.