Slice of Life Tuesday: “With Fidelity”

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I’m upset about the word FIDELITY in education. This word has given me headaches for at least 2 years now, as I attend meeting after meeting, session after session, on how, if teachers would just use “the program” or “the strategy” or “the textbook” “with fidelity,” that students will be successful in school. Teachers are evaluated, schools are graded, and the one thing that is reported about education is if we could all just make this one change — fidelity — then we could all succeed in life. I looked up “fidelity in education.” Here’s what Google showed in the first pop-up screen (a Google definition of “fidelity in education”):

“Fidelity of implementation occurs when teachers use the instructional strategies and deliver the content of the curriculum(s) in the same way that they were designed to be used and delivered.” (Yep. It said, “curriculums.”) Does that ever happen? (A question for another time)

The second intriguing link (from the Center on Instruction’s RTI CTRL:http://www.rtictrl.org/files/Fidelity%20Checklist%20A.pdf showed a Fidelity Checklist — a checklist/worksheet that an observer can use to collect data on if a teacher is using curriculum “with fidelity.” The sheet includes Instruction/Presentation, such as “teacher and student materials ready,” “follows steps and wording in lessons,” “provides students many opportunities to respond,” and “completes all parts of teacher-directed lesson.” The checklist also has a category for General Observations of the Group, including “student engagement in lesson,” “student success at completing activities,” and “teacher familiarity with lesson formats and progression through activities.”

Well…

Oh, wait! There’s more! A third link at www.rtinetwork.org/getstarted/evaluate/treatment-integrity-protocols says this about Fidelity Checklists:

“These protocols have been developed by a variety of sources (publishers, graduate students, practitioners) and no claim is made for their sufficiency or thoroughness. They are posted as an aid to practitioners and researchers and should generally be considered as experimental products that require research as to their psychometric characteristics.”

What does this mean to me? Well…

  1.  This means that “fidelity” to anything in education, especially a curriculum (program, what have you), is following the program to the letter — even “following steps and wording…” — which makes me so angry that I spent thousands of dollars receiving my license to teach! What this says to me is that as long as I can read a script, and “provide students many opportunities to respond,” I can be a successful teacher. This is WRONG! According to the checklist above, teachers should also be “familiar with lesson formats and progression through activities.” Many teachers are not trained in this way. Teachers do not know WHY they are reading this script, doing this lesson, following this instruction. They just do it. They are observed as working “with fidelity.” This is MADDENING, as outcomes for “success” are shown as minutes using the program, NOT how well a child learns the material (or if the child even uses the material once the program is over).
  2. This also means that “fidelity” includes students themselves — “student engagement in lesson” and “student success at completing activities.” Have you ever seen a group of students use a program with fidelity? Really? I haven’t. A whole group of students mindlessly completing activities is NOT LEARNING, and I’m sorry (not sorry), but one or two members of any group at any one time are NOT fully engaged, nor are they successful at completing activities. Students (or teachers, or politicians, or whoever) completing activities does not equal success. Can you say a group of people — let’s say teachers, for instance, are teaching with fidelity when they watch their students (proctor – that’s the word) take a standardized test? NO! Those same students don’t pass the test, and then everyone is up in arms about the lack of “quality education.”

Let’s all take a hard look at “FIDELITY” in education. Please. Let’s go back to the question of “WHY.”  WHY do my students need to work with this program? WHY will they gain more if they complete this task, rather than that task? WHY does minutes with a program mean more than an intelligent conversation (I’m thinking here, a conversation around a book’s theme, for example.)?

WHEN will society change?

(Just my evening of rambling. Please take this post with a grain of salt, or respond intelligently, as you wish. Thank you for reading.)

 

Middle Level Matters — #NCTE17

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The NCTE Annual Conference began with a question from the #middlelevelmatters meeting: What would YOU write about? This year is the 25th anniversary for the professional journal, Voices From the Middle, and a special edition was unveiled. (Thank you for the copy, NCTE!) This collection of past articles from the journal inspired talk, about struggles and celebrations, and included a challenge — to write.

What will I write about? I’ll write about my reading, my thinking, and my goals for the future as a literacy educator. Since I love sharing my learning, I hope you will join me.

I’ll consider the hashtag presented last Thursday evening: #middlelevelmatters. Middle school is a crazy time for students and their teachers, and I love the days I spend living in the mix of it all. The three main take-aways presented at the NCTE conference about middle level learners are: 1) they need a voice, 2) they need choice, and 3) they need to know that someone loves them.

Stay tuned for posts about these three vital parts of middle level education.

(Image shared from www2.ncte.org)

 

 

#NCTE17

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It’s over. I’m exhausted. The last few days at the NCTE annual conference were THE BEST days of my professional year, and I was happy to share time with all my literacy friends. Some friends I met for the first time in person, and others I got to see again after a long year apart. Thank you all for your kindness, your support, and your generous sharing of ideas!

Ok, That’s IT! (It’s Reading That Creates Better Readers)

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Ok, That’s It! I can’t take it anymore!

(NOTE: The following is an opinion piece meant to voice my own reflections about teaching reading and spreading the love of reading far and wide. I do not state specific research here — only what I have encountered in my years as an educator in general statements. Please be advised: I am only writing here. Please discuss with positive intent to improve reading education for students’ lifelong success.)

Every day I read research, posts on social media, journal articles, you name it. Each person or company attempts to sell their wares with the claim that they (and only they) can help students to achieve in the area of reading in school. AR (Accelerated Reader) gets the brunt of the criticism (maybe AR is the most widely used/well-known program for reading? I don’t know.), but there are other highly touted programs out there that claim high growth/better student achievement. Low test scores, lack of student growth, decreasing student achievement, poor school grades, are all indicators that something must be done about teaching reading in school. Students are failing. Schools are failing. Teachers are blamed, parents are blamed, schools are blamed. Politicians make grand speeches about how they can “fix” our schools. The hole that is student failure in reading is getting deeper. IF you ask “them.”

So what can we (namely, teachers) DO about this fiasco? I have a few ideas.

  1. Make reading in school FUN again. The fondest memories I have of school reading are of teachers who read aloud fantastic stories (using the voices of characters!) and showed us wonderful covers of beautiful books in well-stocked libraries, where we could choose what we wanted to read to take home. We got to use free time to peruse almanacs, maps, atlases, and we talked about the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not tales that grossed us out the most. Every year, my family saved money for the Scholastic Book Fair, because we would get new books to read and share. I was a good reader because I read. We read a lot.
  2. Make real reading a priority. Real reading. That means no snippets of articles or excerpts of stories that have been torn apart and meticulously “leveled” back together to “help” children read. Real reading. That means real books — not basal readers. Real reading. That means real authors weaving their own creations and illustrators designing the pages to make readers say,”Ah! Wow! Awesome!” Real reading, where students are led to practice (at least 20 minutes a day, uninterrupted, in school) with the help of a qualified reading teacher and supports that are there and can be taken away so students can transfer their learning from one text to another. (Yes, this means direct instruction, led by a teacher, and not a computer monitor.)
  3. Invite teachers to attend professional development: conferences, workshops, classes, etc. that will enhance their skills in teaching reading. Build PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) where teachers can learn with other educators and support each other in the work. (Yes! It’s work. That’s okay.) Have teachers practice “best practices” in reading, and watch how they — and their students — grow.
  4. Promote reading/literacy in each community in the nation. (Not just the affluent communities) Education is important, and reading is important for one to become an educated, intelligent citizen of our world. Be a reader yourself, spend time talking about reading, and spread the book love! (This is my favorite part of being a reader in the global community.)

I attended the IRA (International Reading Association, now International Literacy Association) Annual Conference in Minneapolis in 2009. I remember rushing to a session on reading research that would explain how to improve student achievement in reading (my area of teaching). I was so excited; I sat on the edge of my seat with my notebook in hand. I heard about research that spanned 5 years, with over a thousand subjects. At the end of the presentation, the main presenter looked at the crowd and asked, “You know what we found?” (“What? Tell me!” I thought. I readied my pen to the paper.) He gave a long pause and studied the faces looking back at him, and he smiled.

He said, “The more you read, the better reader you become.” 

I gasped (I could hear it.), I thought to myself, “What? Duh! I knew that!” Reading creates better readers.

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Book Birthday Bash!

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I’ve been waiting for this day for a while now. It’s a “Book Birthday” bash today — lots of new releases for October 3rd! (I wish my wallet could keep up.) Here’s what I’ll be reading in the next few weeks:

After the Fall (Picture Book) by Dan Santat — Oh, how I love Humpty! I hope he’s okay and gets back up again!  

Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably) by Julie Falatko — THE BFF story of the year  

The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea — If you know me, you know I cannot stand standardized testing. Let’s see…

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay — for beauty!

Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar — highly recommended, and a lovely, colorful cover. I can’t wait!  

La La La by Kate DiCamillo — because it’s KATE!  

The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase series continues) by Rick Riordan — it’s a series, people!

Before the Devil Breaks You (YA/adult) by Libba Bray — I’m not sure about this one, but I’ll try.

Talking As Fast As I Can (From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between) (adult) by Lauren Graham — because I’ll need my relaxing, TV fix

Manhattan Beach (adult) by Jennifer Egan — I may never get to this one!

There are so many book releases today. These are the titles I want to tackle. October is the month of great reading this year; I can see that clearly.

What will you read next?

 

 

#PB10For10: August 10th is Picture Book 10 For 10 Day

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Picture Book 10 for 10: Ten Picture Books to Read the First 10 Days of Middle School

Middle schoolers love picture books. Picture books are filled with lessons, promise, and fun. Start your school year with these ten picture books for your middle school classroom:

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex — The first day of school, told from the school’s point of view. First Day read. Open the year with some thinking, conversation, and fun.

One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Dotlich — Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories. What happens in the middle? Students love the book that teaches how to offer a good story.

Nothing Ever Happens On 90th Street by Roni Schotter. A young writer tries to find inspiration from her neighborhood stoop, but nothing ever happens on her street. Or is she missing something? Each neighbor teaches the girl to “look closely” and “use her imagination” as a writer.

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak — I dare you to read this to middle schoolers. Just do it! LOL!

Big Plans by Bob Shea and Lane Smith — “A Little Boy sits in the corner of a classroom, plotting his future. He’s got plans…Big Plans!” Make sure you take the time to look at all the pictures closely in this one.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires — Mistakes can lead to genius inventions. Watch this girl and her dog try and try again to invent the “most magnificent thing.”

Ish by Peter H. Reynolds — A beautiful look at what makes a person happy instead of “getting it right.”

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis — A hilarious story about animals creating and building, in their own language. Read this aloud several times during the year for a good stress reliever and some laughs.

What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada — “A single idea can change everything.” This story inspires learners to welcome their ideas and give them space to grow.

More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby — More than anything else, Booker wants to learn to read. Many students are like Booker T. Washington. An inspirational story to begin the school year.

Have a great start to your school year! Read a lot, think carefully, and have fun along the way!

 

 

 

Thinking About “The 5 Truths of Reading” by Pernille Ripp

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I’m stealing today — stealing great words, great thinking, great learning. Pernille Ripp first wrote “The 5 Truths of Reading” on her blog in 2015, and as she says, the post is “old, but still relevant.” I agree. I’m thinking about how I can be more of an advocate for authentic reading and teaching practices as I start my new position as school librarian this fall. Here are my thoughts about the 5 truths: (See Pernille’s original post here.)

  1. Give students choice in what they read. Assigned reading is not the way to get kids to read. Usually the word “assignment” is followed by a collective “Ugh./Aww, Man!/That’s stupid!” from students in the classroom. I’ve heard it; I know. The love of reading for reading’s sake is gone immediately, and that’s not what we want. Our intentions are good — we want students to read good books, to be exposed to meaningful literature, to become more intelligent human beings. But when we assign reading that we choose, we are pushing our lives, our values, our choices into the faces of our children. Instead of assigned readings, give students choice. Talk about books that they might love, build a classroom library where students can find themselves, and create a classroom based on sharing those wonderful titles and the lessons they bring.
  2. Don’t judge the books – or the students. Pernille stated, “Our glances, our purchases, our book conversations all shape the identities that our readers are creating.” I’m guilty here, for sure. Not so much in glances or conversations, as I love to hear what my students are reading (and why they chose a particular book). My purchases have been my decision, though, and mostly reflected what I would like to have in my classroom library. No more! I have followed #WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) for over a year now, and I have consciously built a better library. Instead of deciding what you want, ask your students what should be in the library, and heed the call from recommendations given to you. Once I had a student tell me, “Mrs. S! I know this isn’t your genre, but you HAVE to read this!” One of the best things I ever did. I loved Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs! Listen to your kids. They know. Give them a chance. (Image courtesy of books.google.com)
  3. Be a reader. This is a big one! I cannot imagine being a reading teacher or a librarian without being a reader first. Shouldn’t reading be a pre-requisite for becoming a reading teacher? I think so, and recently I’ve said that out loud more often. Each time I finish a book, I’m more intelligent than I was before, and that is what I want for my students, as well.
  4. Read because it’s reading time. My motto in my reading class was “Read During Reading Time.” I still find it disheartening to hear that people who observe teachers find that there’s “just reading” going on in the classroom. Excuse me, it’s READING class! We have to get rid of rewards, points, and prizes for reading. We have to find that JOY of reading is its own reward, and we have to do that at school.
  5. Label books, not readers. This is so important. Pernille mentioned that Fountas & Pinnell (speaking at the ILA annual conference) stressed that levels are for books. Pernille also said that labeling books meant placing a sticker or stamp on them to show what bin they belong in. Kylene Beers and Bob Probst have done extensive reading research, and I remembered that Kylene said, “This is a child, not an H.” I remembered that when a student asked me once after a formative assessment, “Am I a red?” (as in, “Did I fail the test?”) I have the shivers now, just thinking about it again.

These 5 truths have been on my mind. Hopefully sharing my stolen thinking (thank you, Pernille!) will deeper our conversations about reading and teaching reading in the classroom.

 

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