Friday, September 30, 2011

A Change in My Practice: Reading For Understanding in My Class

This entry is also posted on the NYC Social Studies Critical Friends Group blog, a new project that I am thrilled to be a apart of.

I am beginning my fourth year teaching in New York City.

During the first two years of my career, I had the opportunity to work with highly skilled students at a school that I described as "suburban-urban." My students came from homes that not only valued education, but made sure that the students' learning carried well beyond the confines of the traditional school day. For these reasons and more, teaching reading skills was not a part of my practice, despite the fact that if you cannot read, you cannot "do" history.

Last year, I was presented the challenge of working with many students who had neither the skills nor the home life of the ones that I left in Queens. Soon after the year started, I realized I need to change what I was doing with my students. After meeting with my new ICT partner, we decided that reading skills would need to be an essential part of our class. Taking a suggestion from our principal, my partner had previously used reading symbols that had improved students' abilities to complete readings and answer accompanying questions. The basic concept had students "Marking Up" readings using symbols such as "*" (star) for information that is important, "?" for developing clarifying questions and "S" for areas of the reading that surprised them (there are three more advanced symbols that students will learn in the future) . My hope was that by interacting with text, students would be able to slow down their process and gain a better understanding of what they were reading. We focused on these symbols for the first month or two of the year, but after falling out of practice using them in class, we learned a cardinal rule of teaching: If you're not consistent with practice and clear with expectations, whatever you are doing will not work.

This year, I returned with a clear goal in mind:

Teach, and be consistent with the use of, the first three "Mark Up" symbols to ensure that my students master them by the end of the first semester in January.

While teaching these classes and skills can often be difficult (and dare I say boring) for both student and teacher, I am committed to this change (within a change) because I believe it can begin to address the greatest academic deficiency for my students. I look forward to gathering data and sharing my findings on this blog in the future.

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