Would You Change If You Were #1?

I'm aware of the danger. Using Tiger Woods metaphors can be a tricky business. But a quick story, courtesy of ESPN:

In 1997, after winning his first Masters (as well as the Mercedes, the Byron Nelson and the Western Open), Woods permitted Harmon to "rebuild" his swing to sharpen his distance control and his consistency, with an emphasis, Harmon says, on "consistency under pressure."

And when he won only once on the PGA Tour in 1998, Tiger didn't second-guess his coach—he stuck to the plan. As legend has it, Woods called Harmon one day from the driving range early in the 1999 season and said simply, "I've got it." What's happened since is history.

Got that? Tiger, the #1 player in the world at the time, significantly changed his golf swing.

It paid off. What followed is perhaps the greatest 3 year stretch in golfing history.

I thought of that story when Ray and I had dinner with Jes. She's a 3rd grade teacher at Edward Brooke Charter School. While munching* Pad Thai, Jes mentioned that Brooke had overhauled its approach to literacy. Basically, less time on reading strategies, more time on both voracious reading and creating voracious readers. She loved it.

Like Tiger, Brooke is #1 in the world Massachusetts...in MCAS scores. So why change? I emailed Kimberly, their chief academic officer, to find out. She wrote:

The change came from a few sources. I was looking at our student surveys and was disappointed that the longer kids were at our school, the less minutes they were reading outside of school. [Book logs that they turned in for homework indicated lots of minutes, but anonymous surveys told a different story.]

And I felt like we were getting formulaic and stale in our reading instruction. We had enough years of teaching and things had gone well enough so we were using materials from prior years and falling into too formulaic habits of teaching reading as a set of steps.

So I starting thinking about what made excellent readers and it really came down to a few things for me and more of those things were habits.

So now we have super short reading standards (1 page for all grades K-8) and clear reading habits (1 page again) and we report both of those on report cards to parents. We hope that we are talking with kids about the habits as much if not more than about the standards. We are doing all we can to get kids to love books and see reading as a central part of their identity. We'll see if it works.

Would love to hear your take on any of it because we are looking to get better at what we're doing.

Related reading:

1. We have an experiment to learn if we can triple kids' pleasure reading, via an intervention that combines an Amazon Kindle and 1:1 book advice and nudges from a tutor. It's promising! Particularly for boys.

More results in January. We hope to do a Phase 2 trial later this year.

2. Read Robert Pondiscio's blog, and the comments, about How To Get A Big Vocabulary.

This is the reason we want kids to read or be read to a lot. It exposes them to rich language; it’s not about practicing the “skill” of reading, which is not a skill at all. Even the simplest texts tend to have more rare and unique words than even the richest spoken language (the language of children’s books is more linguistically rich and complex than the conversation of even college graduates). And this is why we want kids to learn a lot across a wide range of range of subjects: the broader your knowledge base, the more likely you are to be able to contextualize and understand new words, as in Hirsch’s Egypt example above. Knowledge acts as a mental dragnet. The wider and stronger your net, the more vocabulary gets scooped up. More content equals more context equals more fertile ground for vocabulary growth to occur.

Some good arguments in the comments section there.

*Can one "munch" Pad Thai? Or can you not really "munch" something that is mostly noodles? I.e., do you need crunch to munch? Hmm. Pad Thai does have those crisp sprouts on top. So it seems like a defensible use of "munch."