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motivating reading skills

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Teaching the "Adult Learner"

Have you ever been in a class or a training session and thought to yourself, “Why doesn’t that woman stop talking?” Last week I thought that, and then realized I was the one talking. I teach in four hour chunks of time. That’s a lot of words… Research has shown that adults don’t learn well in the lecture format of most undergraduate programs. In fact, where I teach we are encouraged to find more interesting alternatives to learning through lecture. I find that even in myself, as I grow older, I learn better when I can engage the information. I want to touch it, walk all the way around it, try it out in different situations. Kind of like buying a pair of shoes. When I was 18, I would buy anything that looked cute. Now I’m much more selective. I think about how they will feel after standing in them for 2 hours, can I run up the stairs in them, will the heel get caught in the sidewalk…

So how can we engage our audiences to learn effectively at whatever level of education we operate?

I’m working with an ethics class this term. It’s a fun adventure into the gray area between right and wrong. The traditional approach to this class is to present a handful of theories of morality and let the students select ones they find most comfortable. Some have criticized this method, because it gives little practical experience in expressing ethics in the workplace.

So I can’t just lecture about this, I have to encourage the students to interact with the ideas and material. Recently, I began looking for some practical experiences for the students. We took on real life cases, allowing them to think seriously about problems such as how to communicate to a boss that you won’t have your department work overtime to correct his continual mistakes. Talk about a sticky situation. How do you navigate that one without getting yourself fired?

We role-played occasionally to get down to the details of what to say. It’s easy to talk ethical situations in a clinical third person way, it’s an entirely different experience to sit down face to face and play it out like it really would happen. After one role-playing session, a student remarked on how hard it actually was to practice this. I could see he was fully engaged in the learning process. (YAY!)

Here is a list of some characteristics of adult learners:

• Adult learners are generally independent and self-directed in learning (they take charge of their own learning experience).

• Adult learners have life experiences to bring into the learning environment. These experiences must be integrated into the current topic being studied.

• Adult learners are most interested in learning about topics that solve problems in their immediate work or personal situations.

• Adults are self-motivated-no rewards needed here.

• Most adult learners are interested in applied learning- things they can apply immediately.

So thinking about these characteristics, what sorts of alternative methods do you use in teaching? Which have been most successful?

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Reading Comprehension: A Shared Responsibility

As English teachers we are accountable for teaching students how to read literature and informational text. However, literacy should be something of a "team sport" that we can all contribute to throughout the education process, not just the English Department. Social Studies, Science, and even Math teachers have the ability to assist in the call to improve literacy. Not only is this integral to preparing students for college and career readiness, but taking a team approach will also help students better comprehend the material as well as help them understand that reading and writing are integral parts of communication and all of life.

The following is a list of “tips”, if you will, that may help the “team approach” outside of English.  For instance, what can Science teachers, Social Studies teachers, and Math teachers do to supplement the teaching of reading? A few strategies include:

  • Create anticipation guides that list key ideas or questions for students to focus on BEFORE reading that will guide them DURING reading.
  • Provide an anticipatory set that provides background knowledge and stimulates interest before reading (science: demonstrations, K-W-L charts, history: guest speaker, thought provoking questions, anticipation guides, math: advance organizers that focus on the major concepts of a piece of text).
  • Provide and scaffold graphic organizers that guide the information students should be looking for WHILE reading.
  • Double journal entries, where students can ask questions, make connections, observe patterns, etc. WHILE they read.
  • Provide students with annotation marks that help them ask questions, identify main ideas and important supporting details, mark confusion, etc. For textbooks that can’t be marked, provide post it notes or bookmarkers where students can physically interact with the text using annotations.
  • Teach and utilize questioning strategies such as:
    • SQ3R: S (survey: skim text for headings and charts), Q (question: turn headings into questions) 3R( read, recite, review: read to answer questions, answer questions and make notes, reread for details and unanswered questions).
    • ReQuest: have partners read a text together, write 2-3 questions to quiz one another (after modeling this as a teacher). Possibly have student one ask questions for first paragraph, student two ask questions after the second paragraph, etc.
    • Create question-answer relationship charts that have students use different levels of questions based upon Bloom’s taxonomy. Square One: in the text question, Square Two: compile information and think question, Square Three: question the author, Square Four: judgment/evaluation question. This will need to be highly modeled and scaffolded before it becomes an individual student activity.

This is a very limited and general list, so please check out my sources for more specific ideas and strategies:

  1. Chapman, Anne. "34: Teaching Strategies Across the Curriculum." Making Sense: Teaching Critical Reading across the Curriculum. New York: College Entrance Examination Board, 1993. Print.
  2. Fisher, Douglas, and Nancy Frey. Improving Adolescent Literacy: Content Area Strategies at Work. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print.
  3. Lee, C.D., Spratly, A. (2010). Reading in the Disciplines: The Challenges of Adolescent Literacy. New York: NY: Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The best news for increasing adolescent literacy is that Ohio has now adopted the Common Core Standards. These standards will insist on shared responsibility of reading, writing, speaking, and listening amongst all the disciplines.  This will also mean a shift to more informational text, along with a shift in the complexity of the reading for each grade level (making it more complex).  There is now a READING STANDARD for Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subject. Surely, this will produce students who are better prepared for college and future careers.

I’m hoping to hear from Math, Social Studies, and Science teachers on any advice they may have on incorporating their subject into the English curriculum!

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"My Flash Drive Ate My Homework” and Other Technologically Enhanced Excuses

I teach as an adjunct at a local (Cincinnati) evening MBA program.   I love it, it’s energizing, it enhances my creativity, and the students are for the most part excited to learn.    Before starting this position, my academic experiences came from the time period of dot matrix printers and floppy disks.  We used technology, but just to get our papers printed, or to store some extra charts and graphs. A lot has changed in both technology and learning.  Now we interface with students through Blackboard or Edmodo.  We fire up the 3M machine with our morning cup of coffee.  I just found a high-tech version of the overhead projector, in case you want to show your students something actually printed, –like in a magazine or the newspaper.

I have had a lot of fun exploring these various tools, and consider it a personal accomplishment when I actually get them to work.  Each time I use Blackboard, I have at least one “Wow, cool!” moment when I find something new and helpful.

But in the process of teaching in a technologically enhanced environment, I have noticed a new trend developing.    The excuses offered by students are often fueled by the technology that is supposed to make the learning environment better.

Just in the past 6 week class module I collected the following “tech-cuses” (Homework or other assignments not completed and blamed on technology).

“Blackboard says I am no longer recognized as a student, so I can’t turn anything in.”

“The 3M lightbulb is going bad, so my entire presentation will have an eerie green glow.”

“My brother swapped computers with me and my presentation is on his.”

“My paper had great formatting before I sent it to you. “

“ I accidentally washed my flash drive and lost all my papers. ”

 In response to these, I want to hold a hard line and say, “Too bad, no excuses! “  Yet, this fall my own home computer crashed twice.  Even though we had backed up and duplicated important files, the whole family sat down and cried. Too much of our lives wrapped up in that hard drive.  I feel these students’ pain.

So I write this post to see your reactions.  When a student has a tech-cuse, often it is harder for the student to solve than the old, “My dog ate my homework.” excuse of 30 years ago.  They can’t just re-type the paper, because all of their work was done digitally.   Do we give them more grace periods, more extensions?   It seems counter-intuitive to give extra time to accommodate the systems that should make life and learning easier for us.  What do you think?

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What Motivates Boys to Read

If I were to offer a disclaimer prior to reading this article, I’d say that rather than being stereotypical about males, I’d like to think I’m being realistic about their needs and wants as readers. For instance, the disproportionate amount of boys labeled “at-risk” or “lower-track” when it comes to reading is what originally prompted me to tackle this subject. Much research has shown that boys learn to read later than girls and have trouble catching up later in life, and the literacy gap continues to grow with age. Girls tend to outperform boys with overall reading tasks, according to Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys by Micheal W. Smith and Jeffery D. Wilhelm. Yet, I recognize there are other factors at play (besides gender) in the lives of struggling and reluctant readers. On a personal level, I teach reluctant and struggling high school readers and have a disproportionate amount of boys in each class. I also have a son that I hope will grow up with a passion for reading. It has come to my attention that much of what is read in the regular high school curriculum is not always to the advantage of the male student. During my time as a Current Literature & Culture teacher, I have posed the questions:

  1. What do boys want to read?
  2. How do we motivate them to read?

To answer the questions, I have compiled a list of ideas that most of the boys in my classes have either mentioned enjoying, demonstrated enjoying, or demonstrated higher comprehension with:

  • Informational text: When given a text that teaches them something or allows them to accomplish something beyond the reading, boys tend to be more motivated and attempt to concentrate harder on what they are reading. These texts have a point, a purpose, and are something more meaningful to their everyday lives than a poem or short story. Often times how-to articles, information about a subject they are interested in (cars, sports, technology, etc.), or texts that can be easily exportable into conversation (sports scores, jokes, headlines) are a motivation for them to read.
  • Movie scripts: I came across this by chance. I had students look up and read a script of their favorite movie, of which they can visualize and have background knowledge. This would also be helpful for the ELL student. Students in my class enjoyed reading the original script version of their movie, comparing and contrasting it to the movie version, and visualizing what they read as they remembered seeing it in the movie. We used http://www.imsdb.comas our script source.
  • Biographies of people they care about: This lesson began with looking up biographical passages of favorite rappers, singers, movie stars, sports heroes on biography.com and branched to trips to the library to pick up autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs. Some student favorites included:
    • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
    • The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
    • Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
    • Hole in my Life by Jack Gantos
    • The Snake Charmer: A Life and Death in Pursuit of Knowledge by Jamie James
  • Graphic novels: This helps develop visualization skills while also providing high engagement. The favorites from my students include:
    • The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
    • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
    • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
    • Stiches by David Small
  • Some fiction: These selections are going to depend on the varying personalities of each student. However, I have compiled a list of fiction that my male students have thoroughly enjoyed and, in parenthesis, why they enjoyed it:
    • Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins(action-packed)
    • Scrawl by Mark Shulman
    • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
    • The Maze Runner by James Dashner
    • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (creepy, therefore, interesting)
    • Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers (realistic)
    • I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (action-packed)
    • The Future of Us by Jay Asher
    • Maximum Ride by James Patterson
    • The Enemy by Charlie Higson
    • All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
    • The Inheritance Cycle Series by Christopher Paolini
    • In addition, I would recommend using http://www.ala.org for a list of the top fiction books for reluctant readers of any gender.

The first week of every month, I will continue to grapples with the best practices in teaching comprehension skills and strategies to reluctant readers (which I hope to address in later blog posts), but for now I hope this list is helpful in finding a starting point to motivating male readers to find value and enjoyment in reading.

Please keep in mind these lists are intended for high school students.

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