Monday, January 25, 2016

One size fits all...

I continue to be impressed with Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School?  I’d like to share something he said that particularly resonated with me:

“Make a list of all the things you ask students to do at home.  Consider which of these things have other tasks embedded in them and ask yourself whether the slower students really know how to do them.”

There was a time when I assigned spelling, Weekly Reader, or math from the day’s lesson as homework.  The return rate on the assignments wasn’t particularly good, and from an assessment standpoint, it was a nightmare.  One can’t tell what a child knows if you have no work to assess.  Mid-career,  I started following the suggested Accelerated Reader (A.R.) reading management program. I supplemented in-class reading with “homework” reading, monitored on their reading logs during the in-class Status of the Class routine.  Almost immediately,  I both increased homework completion geometrically and was able to assess student progress with near-precision. 

It seemed obvious to me that expecting students to read books that were leveled to their ability was motivating and most students exceeded the standard that I assigned.  And I was “tough.”  To earn a “B” for their nightly reading, fourth graders needed to read 40 minutes and have their reading log initialed by their parents.  Less minutes or no initials, lower credit.  It took more that the assigned task, 50 minutes or more,  to earn an “A”, because, to me, an “A” means “exceptional.”  Most of my students earned “A’s” most nights.  I made it my job to supervise scores on every A.R. test taken and make sure that students read widely based on their diagnosed reading levels.  Students were allowed some choice in book selections, but always with parameters which I set for them.

Wellingham tells us that a broad diet of reading builds background knowledge in readers, making them better readers, and likely to perform better in school because they bring more knowledge to their daily tasks. This squares well with the research that Renaissance Learning, the parent of Accelerated Reader, offers to support their program.  It was common for my fourth graders to gain two reading levels in a 180-day school year.  That increase in ability transferred well to other content areas and the all-important standardized testing each spring.  And, thanks to A.R., I never had a stack of homework papers to assess.

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