Big Reading Gains

This blog has returned frequently to following question:

Why do kids in No Excuses charters often make English gains that are bigger than kids in other charters, yet much smaller English gains than their own math gains?  Also: what to do about it. 

Over the last 5 years, there's been some change among CMO leaders, but I don't think it's fully sunk in.  In chatting with Doug Lemov, Dacia Toll, folks at certain KIPP regions, our narrative and beliefs have been changing (Robert Pondiscio's blogging has been a cause). 

But the lion's share of No Excuses charter principals and teachers still seem, as best I can tell through MTR, not yet fully bought in on a) the role of Core Knowledge, nor bought in on my personal priority, b) "making the act of reading happen 5x to 10x per day more than it does in any public school, charter or otherwise." 

And here, Kathleen Porter-Magee travels to one of Doug's trainings and examines this issue from a Common Core point of view:

Four things that stood out to me over the course of my time in the workshop that Lemov and company are getting right and I hope others are quick to beg, borrow, and steal as they continue to align their practice to the CCSS:

1. Complexity, unapologetically. We still hear all too often that we should “wait” to have students engage in difficult texts until they’re ready. Lemov and his team were determined to put that myth to rest from the start. And throughout the session, the guidance and the questions from the teachers focused not on whether students could read and analyze the texts but rather on how teachers could help them do so.

2. The text is king. Throughout the workshop, it was clear that the text was the star and that the skills and strategies were designed in service of understanding the text. And the videos and activities that were highlighted throughout the day demonstrated how a teacher can structure his or her lessons so that the text drives the questions, the writing, the answers, the analysis, etc. Perhaps even more importantly, Lemov and his colleagues gave clear and actionable guidance about how to choose texts, including a useful frame to help teachers sort out the often-nebulous “qualitative” measure of text complexity.

3. Respect for elders. For students, reading texts that were published long before they were born is difficult. People wrote differently, spoke differently, talked about different things, and on. Lemov and his team acknowledged the importance of reading older texts even when “relevance” suffers as a consequence.

4. Writing great questions. Obviously, one of the driving forces behind the CCSS literacy standards is the idea that reading instruction should center on great texts and be driven by great, text-dependent questions. But especially for teachers of struggling readers, it’s important to think not just about what we want them to analyze but also what in the text will be a barrier to the student’s understanding—the vocabulary, the syntax, idioms, etc. And throughout the workshop, the focus was on how to craft questions that help students make sense of those barriers in a way that enhances their understanding of the author’s words.
Caution: Work ahead

Of course, Lemov and his team are still working to hone their guidance and to learn from teachers who are implementing it in the classroom right now. Even with the best guidance, there should be no underestimating the challenges of this transition.

Reflecting on the session, there are three big questions that remain, particularly for teachers of struggling readers...

Read those three big questions and the whole thing here.