Showing posts with label Encouraging Reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Encouraging Reading. Show all posts

Monday, October 10, 2016

An Argument about Independent Reading Time During the School Day

Last week I answered a teacher’s question about free reading time during the school day and its relationship to reading motivation (e.g., making kids like reading). I pointed out that such reading time has a rather weak relationship with learning (various kinds of instruction exert about an 800% greater influence on learning than on having kids reading on their own during the school day) and that the connection with motivation appears to be even more tenuous. I then compared the DEAR/SSR practice unfavorably with theories and research on what motivates human beings.
Not surprisingly that generated much comment. Although the following was not sent to me, it was so addressed and posted at the blog site of Gwen Flaskamp, a practicing teacher. She is evidently passionate about this practice, and I think her posting deserves a response. I have quoted liberally from her posting below in italics—and have interspersed my responses throughout. To read her complete statement in its entirety, please follow this link Blog Post on Independent Reading Time

Flaskamp blog:

“My Letter to Tim Shanahan: In Defense of Independent Reading

“Recently, I read the latest blog post by Tim Shanahan where he provides his strong opinions how giving students time to independently read in class is wasteful. Although I usually value his opinions and have referenced him several times on my blog, I had a strong, visceral response to his latest piece…. I felt compelled to stand up for the inclusion of independent reading time during the school day. Thus, I crafted this letter. I'm hoping he reads it.  

“But, more importantly, I'm hoping that teachers who wish to instill lifelong reading habits in their students do not stop with Mr. Shanahan's advice and consider my perspective and the perspective of others on this important topic.

“Dear Mr. Shanahan,

“I think you sound like an impolite blogger, and perhaps a misinformed one. You've neglected to consider the following important points in your discussion of the value of independent reading.

“You claim that time spent independent reading is wasted due to the fact that "even when they have been done well, the "learning payoffs" have been small. By "learning payoffs," I am assuming that you mean students' progress on standardized exams (typically the way reading growth is measured in research studies) does not increase with the inclusion of independent reading time in schools. 

“Some major problems exist with this claim.

“Increased reading does lead to increased achievement.

Research does support the idea that students who typically achieve higher on reading tests are also those who read more voraciously. Those who score at the lower end usually read less.”

Shanahan response:

Dear Ms. Flaskamp.,
Thanks for writing. There are several problems with your claims up to this point.
That good readers read more than poor readers is true, but has no bearing on my response to that teacher’s question. Correlation doesn’t prove causation. That good readers read more does not mean that it was reading more that made them good readers. Maybe good readers choose to read more because they can do it well. You are making a good argument for teaching everyone to read well, not for sending kids off to read on their own during the school day.
You are citing very selectively here. You refer to the correlational studies that can’t answer the question, while ignoring the experimental ones that have directly tested your theory. Studies in which DEAR time is provided to some kids but not to others have not found much payoff—even when the non-readers were doing no more than random worksheets!
You seem to be claiming that since reading on one’s own leads to improved achievement--then any and all approaches to encouraging reading must be effective. Following that logic, then telling kids to read on their own, buying books for them, rewarding them with pizzas, or employing electric cattle prods… all must work, too. Remember I wasn’t saying kids shouldn’t read, only that requiring “independent reading” during the school day has not been effective. Only one study bothered to check its impact on amount of reading, and it found that middle school kids read less as a result of the practice—since it reduced the amount of reading they did on their own.
As a parent and grandparent, I’d rather that teachers reacted intellectually rather than “viscerally” to questions about instructional practices. Similarly, I hope my physician will be visceral about my health and well-being, but not about his pills and scalpels.

Flaskamp blog:

“Since research also shows that the amount of time middle school students typically spend reading outside of class declines as they grow older, finding time for students to practice reading independently in schools is crucial.  If we do not attempt to foster a love of reading inside the classroom, how will we help students who have not yet discovered the joy of reading on their own increase their reading minutes?”   

Shanahan response:

Indeed, that is a great question. Given that we know this method hasn’t improved achievement or made kids like reading, then why cling so tightly to it? Or, given that DEAR time has been so ubiquitous in elementary classrooms for the past generation, how is it possible that middle school students are reading so little? If this practice so powerfully fosters “a love of reading” among kids that lasts a lifetime, then why aren’t years of it lasting even until kids are 12?

 Flaskamp blog:
“I'm sure you are aware that much research exists linking student engagement (i.e. motivation) to increases in learning. Thus, spending time on increasing student motivation should, in fact, lead to increases in achievement.”

Shanahan response: 

That makes sense to me, and yet studies show that this particular approach accomplishes neither. That might mean that what you are so certain must be motivational for all kids, maybe isn’t.      


Flaskamp blog:  

“You advise teachers that " If you don’t want kids to love reading, then sacrifice their instructional time to focus on motivation rather than learning." This argument, although cleverly disguised, is a type we would use with students when poking holes in an argument and is a type of logical fallacy. Your argument seems to suggest that teachers can focus either on motivation or on learning. Can we not focus on both?...” 

 Shanahan response: 

Your analysis of my argument is flawed. We are in agreement that we can focus on motivation and learning simultaneously. Where we disagree is whether you can do that with a procedure that has failed to successfully foster either motivation or learning.


Flaskamp blog: 

“Have we forgotten that we are teaching students and not robots?”

Shanahan response:  

Yikes. There are many statements here evidently aimed at conveying the idea that I’m rude, that I don’t care about kids, and that I pay attention to numbers rather than stories. If that is a model of what is now being taught students about productive argument, then it might be better that kids go read during such lessons. (Sometimes disagreements arise from different analyses or  different evidence—not necessarily because the one you are arguing with is bad.)

Richardson TX Powerpoint on Writing October 17, 2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Does Independent Reading Time During the School Day Create Lifelong Readers

Teacher question:
You have attacked DEAR time [Drop Everything and Read] because you say it does little to raise reading achievement. But what about having kids read on their own as a way to motivate them to be readers? As a teacher I want my kids to be lifelong readers so I provide 20 minutes of daily independent reading time. What do you think?

Shanahan response: 
     I think you sound like a nice teacher, but perhaps an ineffective one.

     As you remind me, the effects of DEAR, SSR, SQUIRT or any of the other “independent reading time” schemes are tiny when it comes to reading achievement. Many of those studies have not been particularly well done, but even when they have been the learning payoffs have been rather small.

     Surprising to me is that it has even been true with that kind of summer reading program—when the reading clearly isn’t replacing other academic procedures. James Kim has studied that kind of thing a lot and while he concludes that some very small learning benefits can be derived from such programs, he has had a lot of difficulty obtaining even that result from study to study.

     Unfortunately, the motivational impact of such procedures has been studied less—and with even less payoff. In my experience, the better readers enjoy the free reading time—so they continue to like reading even within the DEAR time framework—but the other kids don't enjoy it much since they don’t read very well. Yikes!

     I definitely understand the logic that you are working with—I shared it when I was a classroom teacher. The idea that kids practicing independent reading would make them want to be independent readers in the future is compelling. But when you think deeply about the practice, its problems become more evident.
     How do kids interpret our approach? What determines whether reading is independent—as opposed to just being another classroom assignment?

1. Whether the reading is going to be done or not.
     If the teacher makes me read for the next half hour, that doesn’t seem very “independent.” She might let me choose the text I read, but what if I’d rather not read at all or would prefer reading during math? Now that would be independent. Required reading time—even when it does not include teaching or other teacher involvement—is not inherently motivational. Making somebody do something may accomplish compliance, but it won’t make him/her like it. (As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him take a bath.)

2. Whether the reader picks the text.
     This one is a bit easier. In fact, many experts talk about “self selected” reading rather than independent reading, since that is usually the only real choice students are allowed in these routines. Lots of times the unmotivated kids still can’t find anything they want to read, and, of course, there are complications. Many teachers/schools constrain these “free choices,” like only allowing students to read books at particular levels (a la Accelerated Reader). If I can choose only books with blue dots, then I’m not really choosing; and if I’m not particularly interested in reading about any topic, then choice is not a motivator. (Someone I know is fascinated with tennis. I once bought him a book about tennis sure he’d love it. Instead he was a real pill: “I love playing tennis, not reading about it.” There is an important motivational lesson there.)   

3. How accountable is the reading? Do I have to answer the teachers’ questions? Or write a summary to be evaluated? Or read a segment aloud so the teacher can check on my fluency? Or discuss this with the book club group and not look like an idiot?

     As it became obvious and research accumulated showing the lack of learning from unaccountable reading (e.g., DEAR, SSR), teachers started adopting procedures for conferencing with kids about their books. In other words, we try to make independent reading more like reading lessons—we’ll set the level of the text and you have to prove you read the material and understood it; not exactly how free choice activity works. My point isn’t that this kind of accountability is bad—I suspect it makes “independent reading” more like instructional reading in its payoff, but let’s face it, it is no longer the independent motivational choice that we started with.

     Given all of that, the initial logic doesn’t seem as smart as it did on first blush. What motivates someone? I’ve read a lot of that literature and being required to do something is rarely a powerful stimulator of lifelong desire. But neither is being sent off on one’s own to do something on their own. Nor is doing something that doesn’t give us any sense of accomplishment or fulfillment. If you are a low reader or a beginning reader, how would you get success out of such activity?

     If you want kids to love reading, set up opportunities for kids to work together and with you around books. If you want them to be lifelong readers, work with them to encourage them to build reading into their daily life when away from school. If you want them to care about books, give them a chance to take on books that might be too hard for them. Give them ways to gain social rewards for using the knowledge that they gain from such reading.

     If you don’t want kids to love reading, then sacrifice their instructional time to focus on motivation rather than learning. Or, use reading to isolate kids. Or, treat instructional methodology (asking kids questions in individual conferences instead of in group or class) as a motivator.

     Sadly, research doesn’t provide us with methods proven to increase the likelihood kids will become lifelong readers. But it does give us insights into what does motivate people. SSR and DEAR do not match well with those insights.

     I appreciate how much you evidently care for your students. I hope you care so much that you’ll be willing to alter your methods to actually meet your very appropriate goals for them.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Happy New Year: Kids Need to Read Within Instruction

             If you have ever had surgery, you probably have had the weird experience of signing off on a bunch of medical paperwork. The oddest form is the one that gives the surgeon permission to assault you. Think about it. Usually we don’t want people poking at us with knives. Doctors can’t do that either, unless we give our permission. Otherwise, every tonsillectomy would lead to a 911 call.

          That means context matters. Stick a knife in someone in an OR and that is cool, do the same thing down at the local tap and you'll do 5-7 in the state pen.

            Over the years, I've challenged the notion of just having kids read on their own at school. (Or, maybe not so much challenged the notion as told people about the actual research findings on this topic which aren't so wonderful.) I’ve not been a friend to DEAR, SSR, SQUIRT, or similar schemes that set aside daily amounts of time for self selected reading in the classroom. 

            Most studies don’t find much pay off for this kind of reading—either in reading achievement or motivation to read. There are many better things to do if your goal is to encourage reading than to just tell kids to go read on their own (a directive that sounds a lot like, “go away and leave me alone").

            So, what's the topic of my first blog entry of 2016? You guessed it: the importance of having kids read at school.  That's the link to surgery. People shouldn’t stab you with a knife, except when they should. And, kids should not read at school--except when that is the smart thing to do.

            I certainly would like kids to read a lot, especially when they are on their own—at home in the evening, on weekends, and during summer. You know, the 87% of their childhood time that they are not in school with teachers.

            My reasoning on this is quite simple: the payoff from reading instruction is high (in terms of reading achievement), while the learning impact of just reading on one’s own is very low--especially for younger kids and struggling readers. If I have a $70,000 a year professional willing to work with my child for 6 hours a day, 185 days a year, then it would probably be better to use that time for reading instruction, and the other 87% of my child's time could be used for activities that don’t require a teacher.

            That doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t be reading in school. Of course, there are those lost minutes when kids have down time and having books available to fill the time with reading makes a lot of sense (I read when I'm waiting to see my doctor, but when she is available, I put the book aside).

            But the really big investment in reading time in school should not be filling lost minutes. It should be a prominent part of instruction. Kids should be reading throughout their school day—during literacy instruction, during science, social studies, mathematics, health, and the arts, too.

            I visit a lot of classrooms, and I can tell you that I don’t see much reading going on. A teacher might be teaching reading comprehension—but the reading experience is more of a round-robin oral reading activity. The same happens in a lot of subject matter textbooks, too. These activities seem to be arranged in such a way that nobody has to read much. Some kids read a few sentences or a paragraph, and then there is a lot of talking, and another kid reads for 20 seconds.

            I have long argued for 2-3 hours per day of written language instruction, with that time divided among word work (both decoding and word meaning—words and parts of words), fluency, reading comprehension, and writing). If a teacher did that, it would mean that kids would work on reading comprehension for 2.5 hours to 3.75 hours per week (similar times would be devoted to the other components).

            But how much of that time should be spent on reading and writing? Not talking about reading, not being told how to write, not doing anything but practicing reading and writing. The correct answer is that nobody knows. So, let’s get arbitrary about it, and decide that during the 150 minutes of reading comprehension work we are doing this week, my boys and girls will spend 75 minutes of that time reading text!

            I think we should do the same with fluency and writing… and even with word work. There is no way that you can teach phonics effectively if you are not giving kids substantial opportunity to sound out words and non-words; reading them and trying to spell them, both in isolation and context.

            Just as we put the clock on the “90-minute reading block,” I think we should be putting the clock on the amount of actual reading and writing that boys and girls do within that reading block (and in their other studies).

            Kids need to read and write, but they will do this most productively under the guidance and interaction of a skilled teacher. Unfortunately, I don’t see a sufficient amount of those kinds of reading minutes for kids to become good readers. I don’t know if 50% is the right estimate—maybe I’m undershooting. We won’t really know until we start futzing with that more intentionally than is typical in American classrooms.

            If we want high reading achievement, we need to have kids reading and writing a lot under the supervision of teachers. Teachers, while building lesson plans, should determine how many minutes the kids will be reading, and principals and coaches during walk throughs should be looking for whether these time devotions are sufficient. 

          So, I hope you'll make this New Year's resolution: Children, within their reading and writing lessons, will spend at least half that time actually reading and writing. This could be a wonderful year for a lot of girls and boys if we followed through on such a resolution.

          Happy New Year!


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How Parents Can Instill Reading

Parents often ask how they can help their children learn to read; and it’s no wonder that they’re interested in this essential skill.
Reading plays an important role in later school success. One study even demonstrates that how well 7-year-olds read predicts their income 35 years later! This article provides 11 practical recommendations for helping preschoolers and school-age students learn to read.

1. Teaching reading will only help.

Sometimes, parents are told early teaching is harmful, but it isn’t true. You simply can’t introduce literacy too early. I started reading to my own children on the days they were each born! The “dangers of early teaching” has been a topic of study for more than 100 years, and no one has ever found any convincing evidence of harm. Moreover, there are hundreds of studies showing the benefits of reading to your children when they are young.

2. Teaching literacy isn’t different than teaching other skills.

You don’t need a Ph.D. to raise a happy, healthy, smart child. Parents have been doing it for thousands of years. Mothers and fathers successfully teach their kids to eat with a spoon, use a potty, keep their fingers out of their noses, and say “please.” These things can be taught pleasantly, or they can be made into a painful chore. Being unpleasant (e.g. yelling, punishing, pressuring) doesn’t work, and it can be frustrating for everyone.
This notion applies to teaching literacy, too. If you show your 18-month-old a book and she shows no interest, then put it away and come back to it later. If your child tries to write her name and ends up with a backwards “D,” no problem. No pressure. No hassle. You should enjoy the journey, and so should your child.

3. Talk to your kids (a lot).

Last year, I spent lots of time with our brand new granddaughter, Emily. I drowned her in language. Although “just a baby,” I talked — and sang — to her about everything. I talked about her eyes, nose, ears, mouth, and fingers. I told her all about her family — her mom, dad, and older brother. I talked to her about whatever she did (yawning, sleeping, eating, burping). I talked to her so much that her parents thought I was nuts; she couldn’t possibly understand me yet. But reading is a language activity, and if you want to learn language, you’d better hear it, and eventually, speak it. Too many moms and dads feel a bit dopey talking to a baby or young child, but studies have shown that exposing your child to a variety of words helps in her development of literacy skills.

4. Read to your kids.

I know everyone says this, but it really is a good idea — at least with preschoolers. One of my colleagues refers to this advice as the “chicken soup” of reading education. We prescribe it for everything. (Does it help? It couldn’t hurt.) If a parent or caregiver can’t read or can’t read English, there are alternatives, such as using audiobooks; but for those who can, reading a book or story to a child is a great, easy way to advance literacy skills. Research shows benefits for kids as young as 9-months-old, and it could be effective even earlier than that. Reading to kids exposes them to richer vocabulary than they usually hear from the adults who speak to them, and can have positive impacts on their language, intelligence, and later literacy achievement.
What should you read to them? There are so many wonderful children’s books. Visit your local library, and you can get an armful of adventure. You can find recommendations from kids at the Children’s Book Council website or at the International Literacy Association Children's Choices site, as well as free books online at other websites like Search Lit or Unite for Literacy.

5. Have them tell you a “story.”

One great way to introduce kids to literacy is to take their dictation. Have them recount an experience or make up a story. We’re not talking “Moby Dick” here. A typical first story may be something like, “I like fish. I like my sister. I like grandpa.” Write it as it is being told, and then read it aloud. Point at the words when you read them, or point at them when your child is trying to read the story. Over time, with lots of rereading, don’t be surprised if your child starts to recognize words such as “I” or “like.” (As children learn some of the words, you can write them on cards and keep them in a “word bank” for your child, using them to review later.)

6. Teach phonemic awareness.

Young children don’t hear the sounds within words. Thus, they hear “dog,” but not the “duh”-“aw”- “guh.” To become readers, they have to learn to hear these sounds (or phonemes). Play language games with your child. For instance, say a word, perhaps her name, and then change it by one phoneme: Jen-Pen, Jen-Hen, Jen-Men. Or, just break a word apart: chair… ch-ch-ch-air.
Follow this link to learn more about language development milestones in children.

7. Teach phonics (letter names and their sounds).

You can’t sound out words or write them without knowing the letter sounds. Most kindergartens teach the letters, and parents can teach them, too. I just checked a toy store website and found 282 products based on letter names and another 88 on letter sounds, including ABC books, charts, cards, blocks, magnet letters, floor mats, puzzles, lampshades, bed sheets, and programs for tablets and computers. You don’t need all of that (a pencil and paper are sufficient), but there is lots of support out there for parents to help kids learn these skills. Keep the lessons brief and fun, no more than 5–10 minutes for young’uns.
Understanding the different developmental stages of reading and writing skills will help to guide your lessons and expectations.

8. Listen to your child read.

When your child starts bringing books home from school, have her read to you. If it doesn’t sound good (mistakes, choppy reading), have her read it again. Or read it to her, and then have her try to read it herself. Studies show that this kind of repeated oral reading makes students better readers, even when it is done at home.

9. Promote writing.

Literacy involves reading and writing. Having books and magazines available for your child is a good idea, but it’s also helpful to have pencils, crayons, markers, and paper. Encourage your child to write. One way to do this is to write notes or short letters to her. It won’t be long before she is trying to write back to you.

10. Ask questions.

When your child reads, get her to retell the story or information. If it’s a story, ask who it was about and what happened. If it’s an informational text, have your child explain what it was about and how it worked, or what its parts were. Reading involves not just sounding out words, but thinking about and remembering ideas and events. Improving reading comprehension skills early will prepare her for subsequent success in more difficult texts.

11. Make reading a regular activity in your home.

Make reading a part of your daily life, and kids will learn to love it. When I was nine years old, my mom made me stay in for a half-hour after lunch to read. She took me to the library to get books to kick off this new part of my life. It made me a lifelong reader. Set aside some time when everyone turns off the TV and the web and does nothing but read. Make it fun, too. When my children finished reading a book that had been made into a film, we’d make popcorn and watch the movie together. The point is to make reading a regular enjoyable part of your family routine.
Happy reading.
Ritchie, S.J., & Bates, T.C. (2013). Enduring links from childhood mathematics and reading achievement to adult socioeconomic status. Psychological Science, 24, 1301-1308.
Karass J., & Braungart-Rieker J. (2005). Effects of shared parent-infant reading on early language acquisition. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 133-148.

(This entry was published previously by me on Noodle.)