Category Archives: Comprehension

The Four Essential Elements of Engaging Science Stories

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The Following is adapted from The Stories of Science: Integrating Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening into Science Instruction, 6-12

In The Stories of Science, authors Janet MacNeil, Mark Goldberg, and Melissa London describe how many of the elements of good science stories are meant to grab and hold the attention of the audience. (After all, what value is a story with no audience?) As they put it "In the movie The Never Ending Story, a boy reads a magical book and finds himself falling into the fantasy world described by the author. This is exactly what we want the audience to do when they read, hear, or see science stories."

In the book, the authors point to several strategies are used to lure readers into a story (and keep them there). Here are the four essential elements of engaging science stories:

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Fostering Belongingness to Support Student Participation

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Adapted from Motivated: Designing Math Classrooms Where Students want to Join In by Ilana Seidel Horn.

Many students enter mathematics classrooms with a sense of trepidation. For some, their discomfort reflects a larger sense of detachment from school. They may not feel welcomed because of the gaps they experience navigating between their home language or culture and the expectations at school. The social milieu of school may make them feel like an outcast, as they see peers who seamlessly “fit in” while they remain on the outside. Unlike the sports field, their community center, or the stage, academic settings may make them feel untalented and incompetent. For other students, school itself is fine, but there is a distinct dread upon entering math class. Math has never made sense—or it made sense when it involved whole numbers, but as soon as the variables showed up, all hope was lost. A standardized test score that deemed them “below grade level” may have demoralized them. They may get messages at home that “we’re not good at math,” setting up any potential success as familial disloyalty. For some students, they love the subject, but must contend with others who do not see them as fitting their ideas of “a math person.” They have to combat stereotypes constantly to be seen as a legitimate participant in the classroom, as they defy expectations.

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Heinemann Fellow Hollis Scott on The Power of Thinking Routines

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 “Visible Thinking has a double goal: on the one hand, to cultivate students’ thinking skills and dispositions, and, on the other, to deepen content learning. By thinking dispositions, we mean curiosity, concern for truth and understanding, a creative mindset, not just being skilled but also alert to thinking and learning opportunities and eager to take them.” (visiblethinkingpz.org)

Too often, I have been guilty of repeating my old story as a teacher—the story where I play the lecturer or spoon-feeder of information, and students take down notes ferociously without processing or sharing their understanding, curiosity, or emotional responses. Weeks later, on a test, I find out what they understood or didn’t.

It is time to change my teaching story.

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The 5 Features of a Motivated Classroom

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The following is adapted from Motivated: Designing Math Classrooms Where Students Want to Join In, by Ilana Seidel Horn

In her new book, Motivated, author Ilana Seidel Horn outlines the features of a motivational classroom. Based on her research, Horn has found that a motivational classroom attends to the following five features:

  • students’ sense of belongingness
  • the meaningfulness of learning
  • students’ competence
  • structures for accountability
  • students’ autonomy.

Teachers can foster all of these through deliberate instructional design as they tinker to motivate their students. Here's where to start:

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Using Pre-Assessment to Ease into Reading Differentiation

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The research is compelling: When teachers differentiate reading instruction, students learn more. But teachers are too often given the expectation of differentiation without the details on how to make it work. In No More Reading Instruction Without Differentiation, Lynn Bigelman and Debra Peterson offer a framework that adapts instruction based on individual students' needs and interests.

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Heinemann Fellow Tiana Silvas on Fostering Empathy and Understanding Among Students

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From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.—Cesar Chavez

After a long day of teaching I walk around the classroom picking up pencils and scraps of paper. Some pieces of paper have scribble notes that make me smile. Students exchange jokes or attempt to create meaningful emojis. Other times the scribbles make me stop, wonder, and worry. One note shows two stick-figure drawings with one image’s face scratched out. Other scraps of paper have words like “I don’t like . . .”  What did I miss today? How will I handle this?

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