Monday, May 23, 2016

Guest blogger: The Power of Remembrance on a Teacher’s Pedagogy

Guest blogger: Jeff Henning-Smith, PhD Student, University of Minnesota Elementary Education

Teachers often want to be remembered.  A bittersweet aspect for many teachers lies in the loss of their class at the end of each school year.  There is no surprise in the loss, and in fact, many teachers, aware of their fleeting time, desire to live on in the memories of their students. What will students remember about their class?  What learning will stay with them? What experiences will they recall year after year, and most importantly perhaps, how will they remember their teacher?  This question represents an important barometer for teachers, but, especially for beginning teachers, it can have a profound impact on their pedagogical development.  How we want to be remembered has the power to alter how we operate in the present and plan for the future. What do teacher statements on how they want to be remembered tell us about how they see teaching as an act of doing and a way of being? Could they be seen as an indicator of their own pedagogical beliefs, or the normed beliefs they feel obligated to espouse?

Teachers are surrounded by discourses regarding what it means to be a teacher at every level of their teacher development.  They are exposed to, explicitly and implicitly taught, and asked to exhibit (and be evaluated on) a wide variety of abilities and dispositions that at times overwhelm, contradict, and possibly re-prioritize the very qualities they are being asked to demonstrate. This pedagogical tension is present in all teachers, but especially in beginning teachers, as they attempt to find and develop their teacher identity. How do we then acknowledge, embrace, and ultimately, better support this pedagogical tension?

When asked how they want to be remembered, teachers often express a desire to be seen as a caring and intelligent person, capable of supporting both their students’ emotional and academic needs.  Based on the responses I got last summer from a group of amazing beginning teachers, it is clear to me that thinking about how they will remembered is a daily act. One teacher told me that she hoped her students would say that “She believed in me and saw my good,” and another said he hoped they would say, “He helped me learn new things and be excited about learning.”  These statements reflected a hope teachers had on how they wanted to be remembered in the future, but they were also statements on what kind of teacher they wanted to be in the present.

I think in the end, teachers want their work to have mattered, to have left a mark. They, like one teacher wrote, “want [their] students to say…that they will miss me.”   

How do you wish to be remembered by your students?

Monday, May 16, 2016

just say no to round robin reading

A literacy practice that I would love to see vanish from classrooms is round robin reading (RRR). Or popcorn reading. Or snake reading. Or popsicle stick reading. Same idea, different names. One does not need to look far to find criticism of this practice and yet I see it perpetuated in classrooms all over the place.

And I get why teachers use it. They think it helps with fluency. They think children enjoy it. They think it helps with classroom management.

BUT, and this is important, there is NO research to support this practice in schools. Research on the impact of round robin reading overwhelmingly shows its negative impact on word recognition, fluency, and comprehension, as well as engagement and motivation. Students terrified of reading struggle through being put on the spot. Reading only a few sentences or paragraphs at a time does not benefit fluency. And because students are only responsible for reading a small portion, their comprehension is limited to that portion, and often they are so worried about reading, they cannot be metacognitive about their reading enough during the reading to even comprehend that part.

To be clear, oral reading practice is essential for building fluency, it is just that RRR is not an effective structure to provide that practice (it undermines fluency instead). Need more resources? See some articles here and here to discuss the issues around RRR.

Ok, so your next question is what to do instead, right? Luckily, there are a number of alternatives to RRR. In fact, there is an entire book written by fluency experts Michael Opitz and Timothy Rasinski, Good-bye Round Robin: 25 Effective Oral Reading Strategies. Opitz and Rasinski provide a chapter on the importance of oral reading and reasons to move away from RRR. The majority of the book, though, is descriptions of practices that support oral reading and language development. Practices described in the book, like choral reading, readers theater, and paired reading, have substantial research to support these practices to develop fluency.

Looking for more ideas? Here are two web resources from Edutopia and Cult of Pedagogy to provide more ideas.

What do you do instead of round robin reading?