Tagged: tess lantos

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It’s never too late (and it can’t be): Helping struggling readers in SF and Hayward

51m9xce9QGL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_favicon Students entering high school are all over the place when it comes to their reading skills. Some read at the college level already, while others struggle. In general, though, they’re 1-2 grade levels behind where they need to be.

For the average student, who is a little behind, we know what works. Care about reading and invest time teaching it. Teach specific strategies of skillful readers with challenging texts, while at the same time encouraging students to read voluminously books of their choice. It’s hard, but it’s easy.

My colleagues and I have had moderate to strong success with this Reading Apprenticeship + Independent Reading approach. For students who read above, at, or slightly below grade level, the program has helped students read better, feel better about reading, and build their reading lives.

Unfortunately, what works for 70 to 75 percent of our students has not worked consistently for the lowest quarter of them. We’ve found that students who read at the third through fifth grade level do not improve at the same rate as their peers. Teacher Pam Mueller calls these students “lifers.”

This year, my colleagues in Hayward and San Francisco are working together, in different ways, to do something about this problem. Here’s a quick summary of our two approaches:

+ San Francisco: Reading Lab
After looking at the data last year, the thoughtful principal recommended built-in reading and Math intervention classes for incoming ninth graders. These small classes (about 15 students each) resemble Ms. Mueller’s class as outlined in Lifers: Learning from At-Risk Adolescent Readers and follow WestEd’s Reading Apprenticeship framework, which allows for additional reading practice and dedicated time for reading.

So far, the three sections are going very well. Last Spring, when the teachers began preparing the curriculum, they expressed concern that students would feel stigmatized being placed in Reading Lab. Not so! At all. There’s tons of joy, and so far, the students are joyfully serious.

I can’t wait to tell you more stories from Reading Lab. Social Studies teacher Marni Spitz, contributor to TEACHER VOICES, is one of the three English teachers involved in this project.

+ Hayward: Reading Cohort
Today I attended this year’s first meeting of a teacher-led study team on reading, founded last year by teacher-leader Tess Lantos. This year’s goal for the cohort, which includes the principal and teachers from all disciplines, is to learn how to meet the needs of the school’s lowest-skilled readers.

The teachers will look at the results from the reading diagnostic, which students took a few weeks ago, and each identify five focal students. Then, the teachers will administer the Qualitative Reading Inventory to gain insights about exactly where each student struggles in their reading. From there, the interventions will begin, either in small groups or individually.

I’m very excited by this approach, too, particularly because the cohort includes Social Studies, Math, Science, and Spanish teachers. It’s not a normal thing to see non-English teachers working earnestly to improve their reading instruction.

I am fortunate to work with smart, skilled colleagues who care deeply about their students. My colleagues really get how important reading is for a student’s academic success and overall well-being.

What do you think? Do you have comments or questions? Please leave a brilliant insight! favicon

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Another easy way to promote reading: Make public a list of who’s reading what

favicon Here’s another quick and easy idea to promote reading from the classroom of English teacher extraordinaire Tess Lantos at Impact Academy in Hayward.

Post what students are reading. Make it public. Make it big and put it up on a wall. Like this:

Status of the Class

Tess tracks what her students are reading in a Google spreadsheet. Then, she gets huge paper and prints it out. Simple — and very effective!

With this tracker, students can check out what they’ve read, what their peers have read, and which books are most popular. It also helps Tess recommend books to students and push them to new reading levels.

The tracker also highlights how students tend to read “the biggies,” particularly at the beginning of the year. If you’re a ninth grader, you’re reading John Green, Coe Booth, Allison van Diepen, James Dashner, Luis Rodriguez, Suzanne Collins, and Stanley Tookie Williams.

It’s always better to have more copies of popular titles than a classroom library with wide selection but little depth! favicon

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Reading goals of ninth graders in Hayward

favicon By high school, many people think that you can’t improve your reading. Very few high schools assess their students’ reading skills, except on summative high-stakes assessments, and even fewer tell their students where they stand.

This is partly why, I believe, that students think reading is an ingrained skill, similar to intelligence, that is fixed.

I do not subscribe to that view. I’m proud to work in schools whose teachers care about reading and reading instruction.

Every ninth grader is assessed three times a year — Fall, Winter, and Spring — on a quick online reading test, and teachers conduct one-on-one conferences with students to discuss the results and to encourage students to make personal goals to improve their reading.

Tess Lantos, wonderful English 9 teacher at Impact Academy in Hayward, has students make signs to publicly announce their reading goals. Please take a look at these goals from ninth graders!

I really like the variety of goals. It seems like Tess’s students have internalized that reading is important, that it’s personal, and that growth is possible. By making reading such an important part of her curriculum, and by making reading data transparent, students rise to the challenge.

It’s inspiring to work with excellent teachers like Tess.

Tess also happens to have one of the best classroom libraries in the Bay Area. More about that in an upcoming post! favicon

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Best practice for classroom libraries: Multiple copies of fewer titles

favicon Here’s one that used to escape me.

Let’s say you’re a teacher, and you care about reading, and you want to start building a classroom library. Let’s say you raise $1,000. How do you spend your money?

Choice #1: Buy 100 different books.
This way, there is a lot of selection, and students will be impressed that you have tons of different books to choose from.

Choice #2: Buy 20 different books 5 times each.
This way, there is way less selection, but you encourage students to read books together and talk about them.

What do you think?

When I was a teacher, I thought that Choice #1 was the answer. In my mind, the more titles, the better. I never really considered buying multiple copies of the same book. After all, wasn’t that wasting money?

But then, over a few years, I began to change my mind. Erica Beaton’s beautiful classroom library was the first thing that got me thinking.

Classroom Library - Erica Beaton

Great library, right?

But that wasn’t enough. I was still stubborn and ignorant. Then came Tess Lantos, excellent ninth grade English teacher at Impact Academy in Hayward. (You will likely hear more about her in upcoming months!)

Tess helped me come to my senses. She has always built her classroom library through multiple copies of high-interest books. “Is there another way?” she asks kindly, so I can save face.

Because of Tess, now the trend is everywhere. Take a look!

It makes total sense. Single copies of tons of titles are overwhelming. The bookshelves look too much like the public library, which is scary for some students. You don’t know where to look, how to browse, which book to pick up and try. This is particularly true if you’re a struggling reader or your teacher expects you to read 18 books this year even though you haven’t finished a book since you were in the third grade.

Multiple copies of fewer titles, on the other hand, make a classroom library resemble a Barnes and Noble bookstore. Books pop, whether you stack them spine-out or cover-out. The bookshelves are beautiful, and if you’re a student, you’re lured to check out all that color and pick up a book.

The only concern with the multiple copies approach, of course, is that there is a greater risk if the teacher chooses poorly. Spending $10 on one book that no student reads isn’t a problem, but spending $50 is another story. I totally relate and understand the anxiety teachers feel when purchasing books.

That’s why I think it’s so crucial to ask your colleagues, public librarians, and students to determine which books will “sell.” It’s true that if you have 150 ninth graders, not all of them will like the same 20 books. On the other hand, I can assure you that 80-90% will like Tyrell. And away you go to your list of Top 20 Books.

What do you think of this approach? Would you modify anything? Please leave your thoughts. Also, if you have a book that you believe 80-90% of ninth graders will love, share it, please, and say why! favicon

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Here are some of my ideas for this year and the Kindle Classroom Project, 2014-15

Nathaly Bookshelvesfavicon Summer is a great time to reflect, take stock, and figure out next steps for the Kindle Classroom Project. Because so many of you are generous donors to the project, and you like to know what I’m doing, I just wanted to write a few of my ideas so that you know what I’m considering.

First, the things that definitely will be happening:

1. In just a few weeks, the 156 (and counting) Kindles will be in five schools: City Arts & Technology High School (San Francisco), Leadership High School (San Francisco), Envision Academy of Arts & Technology (Oakland), REALM Charter School (Berkeley), and Impact Academy of Arts & Technology (Hayward).

2. Like last year, I’ll be working with excellent teachers and administrators who care as deeply about students and their reading lives as I do. The list is not final yet, but some of those educators include Marni Spitz (CAT); Michele Godwin, Beth Silbergeld, and Kathleen Large (Leadership); Nancy Jo Turner (REALM); and Tess Lantos and Abby Benedetto (Impact).

Next, the things that most likely will be happening:

1. The 501-title Kindle Library will be organized by genre and available online on Iserotope for teachers, students, parents, and YOU! to view. This is going to be an important step for book browsing and discovery.

Up until now, students had access to all the books in the Kindle Library, but there wasn’t a very good way for students to browse. Sometimes they’d find a new title by window shopping the classroom library, none of which yet contain a truly mirrored experience of all 501 Kindle titles. Other times they’d get recommendations from their teacher or their friends.

If I work hard, I can get the new Kindle Library catalog up and running before the first day of classes. It’ll be a major improvement.

2. Students from all five schools will log their reading on one unified Google Form. This will help me gather important data. For example: who’s reading a lot vs. a little, which books are most popular, and whether the Kindles are making a difference.

Up until this year, I have had a good sense of what students were reading, but the process wasn’t always simple and streamlined. Now everyone (including YOU!) will be able to look at the reading progress of students. (Don’t worry: No last names will be published.)

Finally, the things I hope will be happening:

1. My first hope is to tell more stories, involve students and teachers more in those stories, do some interviews, and overall do a better job documenting the successes of the KCP. It’s time that YOU! get to experience all the good news that I get to experience every day.

To that end, I am excited to announce that I will be inviting my collaborating teachers to become guest bloggers. Whether they write just one time or regularly, I think it’s absolutely essential to get their voices out there. For teachers who are too busy or shy to write, I’ll be sure to encourage them to do video and audio interviews.

And why stop at the teachers? Wouldn’t it be great to meet some of the Kindlers? I think it’s time. If I get the appropriate permission from schools and families, I would love to put more student stories up on Iserotope. That could be posts, pictures, interviews, and even a short documentary video (if someone will help me, of course).

2. My second hope is to be able to answer the question about whether the Kindle Classroom Project should remain a little project or grow into something larger.

I won’t go into too many details right now about this possibility (because it’s exciting and scary), but I will say this: I’ve seen the positive impact of the Kindle Classroom Project, and that makes me happy. Because of your generous support, hundreds of students in the San Francisco Bay Area have reconnected to the power of story and reclaimed their interest in reading.

But there is also more work to do. Students of color in urban schools should have easy and plentiful access to books. The books should be high quality and help students see themselves, who they are, and who they want to become.

And though there are may ways to achieve those goals, it makes a lot of sense, given the limited resources of urban public schools, to build hybrid classroom libraries that mix Kindles, e-books, and physical books.

Please let me know your thoughts! favicon