All posts by Lu Ann McNabb

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About Lu Ann McNabb

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb is the Policy & Alliances Associate for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Lu Ann has long been an advocate for teachers, students and education. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, "Education is the anvil upon which democracy is forged."

What Happened in Your State This July?

During July, seven policy analysts published reports about what occurred in California, Florida, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Higher Education

California: Daniel Melzer explained the Bill to Prohibit Standardized Placement Exams in California Community Colleges introduced in the state legislature. High school GPA and coursework would replace standardized tests.

PreK–12

California: Laurie Stowell described a New Free App for California schools that shares school data with parents, students, and the community.

Florida: Margaret Gardineer examines Florida’s Request for Waivers from ESSA with regard to assessment and placement of ELL students. Margaret notes that Florida had sought a similar waiver in 2014, prompting Margaret to conclude, “Florida’s current waiver request appears to be part of a policy pattern to extend its flexibility in assessing and implementing entitlements for its significant ELL student population.”

Maine: In Proficiency-Based Education: Innovation for Improvement or Servant of Standards, Susan Stires grappled with Maine’s instituting proficiency-based diplomas in the four core subjects by 2021.

New York: Derek Kulnis reported that the “New York State Legislature granted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio a two-year extension on mayoral control of the city’s school system.”

Washington: Barbara Ward listed webinar dates for the public to provide comments on Washington’s ESSA plan.

Both PreK–12 and Higher Education

Pennsylvania: Aileen Hower shared an article from the Philadelphia Tribune regarding Community College of Philadelphia and Philadelphia School District teaming up for school that offers associates degrees.

Reading That Makes Sense: A Reader Revalued

This post is written by member Susan Warren.

“James, what makes your friends good readers?”

“They just magically know all the words!”

James’s words lingered in my ears. James was able to explain good reading strategies to use when he came to something that he didn’t know, but he only used one. He exclusively chose to sound out words, neglecting any meaning-making strategy. When he came upon a less familiar word, he would sound it out, skip it, give up, and claim he was no good at reading.

James’s second-grade reading assessments reflected below-benchmark scores in his oral reading fluency, based on traditional assessment tools. Although James fell below benchmarks, he was not a high enough priority to qualify for direct reading intervention services during the school day. James struggled, but his struggle had less to do with reading than with the messages that he received from the reading assessments and the skills-based reading instruction focus. The message that he received most often was that reading equaled reading words accurately and fast.

James was struggling with the demands of school at the same time I was learning to use Goodman’s Reading Miscue Inventory. I needed a student to work with, and James seemed a perfect candidate for tutoring.

“James,” I inquired, “Would you be willing to read with me after school twice a week during the spring semester? You would be a big help to me if I could learn to use a different approach to reading with you.” James agreed and we got to work. Me—not knowing exactly what I was doing, and James—liking the attention, if not the reading itself.

It was clear from the Burke reading interview that James liked animals. James chose to read about snakes while I audio-recorded and analyzed his reading. As he read, he was unsuccessful sounding out less familiar words. James would beg me to tell him the correct word. I encouraged him to think about what made sense, which caused him to generally skip the word and continue along. Using the Goodman’s In-depth Miscue Reading Inventory, I determined that his strengths rested in knowing how language sounded (syntax). He would correct miscues to make the sentences grammatically correct. Not surprisingly, he relied heavily on graphophonic cues to the exclusion of meaning-making strategies. James was bound to only sounding out words that were less familiar.

After reading, James was asked to retell what he had read. He generally related some details from the last part of the book. After I analyzed James’s reading, I had him listen back to his reading, allowing him to catch his own miscues. During Retrospective Miscue Analysis, James would hear his miscue and we would stop the recording. I would ask him why he thought he made the miscue. I was often shocked by how his reflections made sense. James also surprised himself with how many miscues he was immediately able to fix up before we started our discussion. He would ask, “How was it I didn’t get that before?”

Week after week, James would read and retell a chapter from a book that he had chosen. I would record him; then I reread the chapter back to him and modeled how I would retell the chapter. Over the weeks, James’s retells improved greatly. He started achieving above the benchmark in his DIBELS retell scores.

While I reread a chapter back to him, I would point out my miscues and discuss them with him. We talked about why I might have miscued and evaluated if the miscue was high-quality or low-quality and why. By exploring our miscues, James was developing the idea that reading was not about reading words fast and accurately. He was beginning to understand that reading was about comprehending. When James came to a word he did not know, he needed permission to make a meaningful substitution. We practiced this until he was doing it on his own. Instead of begging me to tell him the word, he started demanding that I not tell him the word, but give him a hint about what it might mean. Success! Eventually, through my giving him synonyms or making a meaningful connection for him, he would read the word easily without needing to sound it out.

Toward the end of the semester I shared with him that he had been reading books with a Lexile of 500-550. He was amazed! He was thrilled to tell the librarian and his classroom teacher. His confidence and his meaning-making strategies progressed.

I began using similar techniques with students on my special education caseload. I noticed the same pattern in them as I did in James. They lacked confidence, they thought themselves incapable of reading, and they only ever used one strategy—sounding out words. Reading to these students was all about reading the words accurately and fast (which they could not do). Asking them to think of a word that might make sense was foreign to them because the scripted programs that they had participated in used only a skills-based approach, which neglected all of the other meaning-making strategies. Breaking the “sound-it-out” stronghold was not easy, but it was quite engaging for the students as learners and for me as the teacher-facilitator. As students left the reading intervention group, I started hearing, “That was fun! Can we do that again tomorrow?” Success!

Less proficient readers need more support reading lots of books. Scripted reading intervention programs don’t give less proficient readers more support and experience with real books! We need to rethink reading intervention and revalue the reader and the reading process.

Susan G. Warren is a learning and behavior specialist and a 32-year veteran of the Bloomington Public Schools in Bloomington, Illinois.

“It’s a Check-Up!”

This post is written by Peg Grafwallner. 

Of course it’s not unusual to hear groans when the teacher mentions a test is in the near future, or worse yet, whimpers when a pop quiz is announced.

But instead of using the traditional and frightening language of test or quiz, how about if we change that language to reflect what we really want—an awareness of our students’ understanding or comprehension of a text, piece of art, or refrain of music. We don’t want this situation to be a “gotcha” like so many tests are; instead, we want this to be an opportunity to learn how we can assist, support, or revise our students’ learning or thinking.

We want to gather information to help us help our students.

When I taught my reading skills class, there were two specific things I did during test-taking situations. First, I changed the language. The words test and quiz were no longer allowed. We considered them to be words associated with evaluation. Oftentimes when taking a test, there had been no recourse or do-over. The grade was the grade—it was all but etched in stone. If the grade was poor, the student failed and the entire experience was considered a failure. However, I explained to the students that a Check-Up was a way for me to learn more about their understanding of the material we had covered.

Giving students a Check-Up helped me to determine if students could synthesize their learning to me or someone else. If not, what could I do to help them learn the material, and what could the students do differently to be successful on the next Check-Up? Truthfully, the change of language alleviated most of their concern and fear. In addition, since it was a Check-Up, feedback was expected and anticipated. Students were eager to learn how they could better prepare for the next Check-Up to demonstrate their understanding.

Second, I understood that for some students, test anxiety is real, and their concern is palpable. As a result, it was important to demonstrate empathy and to show students that I understood their trepidation. Therefore, I allowed my students to pick the day of their Check-Up. In that way, they had control over their learning. What day did they want to demonstrate their understanding? I wanted to give students power in choosing the Check-Up day because they knew their personal/academic calendar better than I did.

If the majority of students had an extracurricular scheduled on a Tuesday, then perhaps we scheduled the Check-Up on Wednesday. Or, if the majority of students knew ahead of time that they were scheduled to have an English test on Thursday, then we scheduled our Check-Up for Tuesday. They were able to choose a day that worked best for them. This control gave them confidence in their learning and empowerment in their knowledge.

The next time you’re preparing students to demonstrate their knowledge, consider changing your routine. Giving students the opportunity to schedule the Check-Up and eliminating pessimistic language could help create a more community-centered classroom and a less anxiety-ridden student. Your students will appreciate your sensitivity and compassion toward their personal and academic lives, and you will appreciate a more energized and self-confident classroom.

Peg Grafwallner is an Instructional Coach and Reading Specialist at a large urban high school. Peg draws on her nearly 24 years of experience and expertise to focus on engagement, motivation and interventions to create student opportunities of learning and inquiry. Contact Peg at www.peggrafwallner.com or at twitter @peggrafwallner.

Admit That We Don’t Know Everything: What New Teachers Need from Veteran Teachers

This post is written by member Amanda Wallace.

 I remember my first years of teaching. I taught 6th grade at a small K–8 school in rural North Carolina. I also remember not really knowing my beliefs about the best way to work with students. Some of my colleagues were focused not only on what the students were learning, but if the students came prepared with pencils and paper. They had elaborate systems for discipline and used silent lunch to punish students for lack of work. I can remember trying on the stifling persona of the “tough as nails” teacher, fearing that if I let my students know my weaknesses (sometimes I make mistakes) I would lose control of my classroom. My biggest fear, of course, was that I would be deemed incompetent by other faculty members.

What helped me find my way were my principal and my mentor teacher, who both acted as mentors. Because it was a small school, they were able to nurture me through the fear and frustration that can overwhelm a new teacher. I remember my mentor saying, “Honey, I’m on year twenty, and I still don’t always know what I’m doing.” My principal taught me to slow down and look at things from multiple perspectives. I thought I had to be “fair, firm and consistent,” and if a student stepped out of line, I had to dole out immediate punishment so I would earn students’ respect. Eventually, I learned to find my own style. The firm disciplinarian mold did not fit me well, but I found my own way, somewhere in the middle.

I am now finishing year twenty. Some days I still feel like I’m not really sure I know what I’m doing, but I go back to whatever problem I’m having with a class and try something new. New teachers need to see that even veteran teachers feel unsure and vulnerable. After years of observations and parent scrutiny, many of us veteran teachers have developed such thick skin that we begin to see our methods and our educational view as the only ones worthy or right. When new teachers think veteran teachers have all the answers, they are left feeling inadequate and insecure. If they cannot meet these perceived expectations, many times they leave teaching for good.

So I resolve to talk about my weaknesses to new teachers, student teachers, interns, and even my students. As a mentor, I will help new teachers find the teaching style that fits them, but also help them be aware that sometimes even twenty years into their career, they will still feel like they have no idea what they are doing, and that is okay. We will try a new strategy tomorrow.

Amanda Wallace teaches English at Watauga High School in Boone, NC. She is certified in middle grades education and high school language arts, and she has a master’s degree in reading education from Appalachian State University. She is also Nationally Board Certified in language arts. Amanda has been a cooperating teacher with the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program since 2011. She participated in the Watauga Pakistan Exchange Program in 2014, and she was awarded a fellowship with Teachers for Global Classrooms in 2015, a year-long program which culminated with a field experience in the Philippines. She is currently a teacher fellow with Hope Street Group’s North Carolina Teacher Voice Network.​​ She is a member of her school’s PLT leadership team and a mentor teacher. Her main focus is integrating global competency into high school English classrooms.

The Importance of Teaching How to Learn

This is a guest post by college junior Kelly Ann Wagenbach.

As members of society have come to realize, most seniors in high school are more than ready to escape the place they may have called an academic “prison” for the past four years. Through their final days, they ecstatically await their future of universities, community colleges, and working. The students who have planned to attend their dream university come to encounter a rude awakening once they arrive. College is nothing like they expected. Being a college student myself, I am well aware of this fact. As I have continued pursuing my dream of becoming an educator, I have come to realize that I would like to help my future students in any way I can, to aid them in their learning by first teaching them how to learn.

Movies and television shows seem to only focus on two aspects of college; partying and being rebellious young adults. How often do you actually see a movie based upon the studious college kids spending full days in the library? Or students staying up until 4 a.m. trying to cram as much information in their brains as they can before their big exam the next day? If you are like most people, your answer is you don’t.

I am about to enter my junior year at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and am still adjusting my study strategies to uncover the most effective one for me. I remember entering my first year of college and being more than excited for all the different experiences I was yet to face. Little did I know that I would be in for a rude awakening once classes started. The word “time management” was always mentioned to me as a useful skill to have in college, but never had I imagined what they meant by it. All study and note-taking strategies I had ever known had now become a foreign concept.

I am not alone, though. So many of my fellow high school classmates had been dropping out or transferring to community colleges due to this slap in the face. College is hard, we all know this, but trying to transform everything you have known, academically, is unreal. The fear of the unknown is an added stress onto the life of a first-year college student—that is, not knowing how to study, or how to comprehend the incredibly dense textbook language, or simply how to take meaningful notes.

For these reasons, I would consider it a beneficial skill to teach young people how to learn. Not just how to copy notes from a whiteboard, but to actually learn. Some suggestions I have for accomplishing this task are:

  • Educating students how to outline what they are learning is beneficial for them in that they will understand how to organize content and their thoughts. One might do this by introducing concept maps or mind maps to students.kellywagenbachconceptmap
    • Introduce various study tactics for students to be aware of the many options available to them. At this point they may discover one that is more effective than others. For example:
      • Learning how to manage time in order to prevent cramming information the night before an exam.
      • Encourage students to reread their notes at least once a week to assure they understand the material
      • Create practice questions or note cards for use in testing one’s own knowledge.
    • Providing students with the skill sets needed to comprehend knowledge from a textbook is essential. To acquire this knowledge, one might hold a discussion in class to review what has just been read, or allow students to partner up to review the material. Otherwise providing students with a list of questions for them to answer as they read may be another way to keep them engaged.
    • Aid students in learning how to not only read textbooks, but to analyze information they read. Personally, I would begin textbook reading aloud in class and ask analytical discussion questions such as “Why do you think that happened?” or “Why do you think this is important?” As the school year goes on, you could have students write their answers to discussion questions or allow them to discuss their thoughts with their peers.
    • It is even more essential that these skills are established at the elementary level. That way students will have years to further develop these skills so they may be better prepared for their futures.

College is a difficult concept for any student to wrap their brain around. It is the point in your life where you must discover how to be independent. Besides worrying about how many changes will take place, academics are just another added stress. That moment of realization when you discover you don’t know as much as you thought you did is gut wrenching, but isn’t necessary. We are presented with the opportunity to prevent younger generations from ever encountering these horrific feelings by teaching them how to learn.

Kelly Ann Wagenbach is an incoming Junior at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a major in Elementary Education, minor in Language Arts, and an American Sign Language certificate. She plays UW-Eau Claire Club Volleyball and was recently elected as an officer of the board.