Archive for July 9, 2018

The most important 5 minutes of my day

I attended a training today that’s geared toward student’s with Dyslexia. The program is called Orton Gillingham (OG). There were about 28 teachers in the room that will meet everyday for the next five days for 8 hours each day. These were veteran teachers as well as a few first time teachers who will be meeting their very first class this Fall. The training started out like every other, with lengthy introductions that you forgot within five minutes. The speaker talks about the program and it’s successes and gets us imagining how we can each make this kind of impact on our students.

Then, she talks about Dyslexia. She starts to taut how most of these students are gifted but feel dumb because they have a difficult time reading. I’ve been teaching for fifteen years and I knew what she was talking about. These are the students who hate being corrected. The idea of reading a book is infuriating. Words on the page don’t make sense and they don’t know why! I thought I understood and could empathize with my students. I thought I was being supportive when they struggled. I was wrong.

The group was given a passage to read. Each of us got a copy of the seven sentence paragraph on DNA. I looked at my table mate and said, “Oh, this’ll be one of those empathy exercises. This is so silly.” We were instructed to wait until everyone had their paper and the teacher would call on us to read a loud.

I turned the paper over and I saw letters. I saw black letters on white paper. There were q’s and lots of them! There were a’s and t’s and m’s and many other letters that I recognized. But there were very few words that I could decipher! The teacher called on a student and she read the first two sentences with proficiency. Her voice rang out reading each word perfectly like the bells for Sunday church. My brain went into overdrive. Sweat beads started forming under my arm. I searched and searched and tried to find the pattern. Was each /q/ really a /t/? Were the letters flipped? Were the vowels taken out of this indecipherable text? I started to worry. I looked at the woman who had just read the text perfectly and wondered, how did she do that? Does she have this innate ability to read anything? Was she a Kindergarten teacher who can read even the most obscure writing?

Nope. She was a middle school teacher who had just read the first two sentences perfectly. Then, another teacher read her passage. She struggled and I thought, “Thank goodness I’m not the only one who’s having a hard time here!” But the instructor started to give prompts that didn’t make sense. She said, “Find a chunk that you know,” or “Just sound it out,” or ” Get your mouth ready and say the first word.” These were things that I say to my students all the time but they weren’t helping me! Why was this instructor saying these things and they weren’t helping? More important, was this how my student’s felt when I uttered these same “supporting” statements?

While my peer was reading I was frantically trying to catch up and figure out how to read about DNA. I was in fear of her calling on me and putting me in the hot seat because I knew there was no way that I’d be able to read as fluently as two of my peers.

To my horror and dismay, the instructor called on me next. I had lost my place in my distress. I wanted to crumple up the paper. I wanted to push the paper away and say, “This is just a stupid exercise.” But everyone was looking at me.  I took a breath and tried to remember my reading tools. What makes senses? What patterns did I see? Here I was, in the hot seat trying to remember what the teacher had said. I looked at the words and just didn’t get it.

I read one sentence. One lousy sentence. I completely skipped over three words. I read at least four nonsense words in a jumbled up fashion. I guessed at three words. I couldn’t read fast enough and wished that the sentence wasn’t so long. I felt that all eyes were on me and no one wanted to continue to hear me stutter. When I finished, the teacher looked at the group of stunned teachers and asked,  “What did you learn about DNA?”

I couldn’t say a thing. I had no idea that we read anything about DNA. I was so focused on the words that no images came to my mind. If I was instructed to draw what I had learned my page would have been as black as a turned off screen.

My empathy for my students shot up 100 fold. They have to deal with this day in and day out. They continue to persevere and push through all the hard text that don’t make sense. They listen to our meaningless strategies to get your lips ready or look at the picture and try and try and try. This was the reason that I came today-to make sure that my students never feel like this again. To give them the tools that will not only make them successful but confident!

Today was the most important five minutes of my life because I got to walk in their shoes for five minutes and now will respect their path for the rest of my life!

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July 9, 2018 at 8:50 pm Leave a comment

To Organize or Not?

To write in complete sentences or use bullet point ideas? That is the question! This question has plagued me for years. Do I ask students write in complete sentences to then transfer their ideas to a formal format or do I ask that they jot their ideas down and turn it into a rough draft?

As a young writer, I became bogged down and frustrated at having to plan my writing! Why should I write everything down before I write everything down? I find that students, especially those who struggle with writing, don’t want to write down their ideas in complete sentences. In addition, ideas start to develop as the writing unfolds and being held captive to one graphic organizer can stunt a more well rounded paper.

This begs the question, should graphic organizers even be used? Unequivocally and with a resounding answer, I believe, YES! Students need to be able to hone the what, when, who, and purpose for the their text. This requires planning. But maybe the planning process doesn’t have to be so cumbersome.  I have found rehearsal, simple graphic organizers,  illustrating, and free writing lends a hand to a solid rough draft.

When a student rehearses his idea to a teacher (or mentor student) then all the crooks and nannies get ironed out. The listener gets to asks probing questions like, “Where are your characters?” or “What are you trying to tell your audience?” or “Why do you think that?”. The writer gets to hear himself think out loud and find the missing pieces of information that they’ll need to include. Additionally, as the listener probes and listens, she can reiterate what was just said. This allows the story teller to hear his story which creates imagery in his head and facilitates memory in order to write it all down.

Simple graphic organizer are a great tool for having students really organize their thinking. Putting his thoughts into categories helps him develop this category on a deeper level.  For example, if a student is writing a paper on bats, he’ll need to siphon his topic down to three main points: eating, habitat, and behaviors. Putting bullets points underneath each main topic ensures that all the ideas are used in an organized fashion. While this method requires writing, it’s not so cumbersome that the writer is exhausted when asked to put pencil to paper using lengthy sentences.

Illustrations allows students to express their ideas in words. The tricky part of using this tool is to make sure that the text matches their picture. If a student wants to draw a snowy day but then starts writing about hot chocolate, the hot chocolate needs to be in the picture. This can be done using multiple pieces of paper for different scenes, or comic strip boxes, or just a free for all drawing. In any case, the picture needs to have a who, a what, a where, and if possible, the why, illustrated to drive the text.

Lastly, if a student is given a focal point then free writing may be the way to approach ideas. For instance, a student may be looking at a Japanese Internment Camp and already has a vast knowledge on the subject OR  can just use his descriptive writing to free write all that comes to him. I find that setting a timer and giving a limit to how long a student is asked to write for a helpful tool for both resistant as well as prolific writers.  Free writes can be a great way to open the flood gate of ideas and just enjoy the process of writing. While this takes initiative, I find that most students enjoy this freedom.

After all is said and done, it’s important to get your ideas out on paper (or computer). We’ll worry about the editing process next week!

July 9, 2018 at 8:40 pm Leave a comment


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