By DR. ROBERTA LENGER KANG
In New York City, one of the most challenging areas for teacher evaluation is Danielson 3b: Questioning and Discussion. This domain evaluates a teacher’s ability to facilitate instruction in such a way that allows students to ask and answer higher-order questions, and initiate and maintain peer-to-peer discussions. It also expects that virtually all students are engaged in the discussion.
The use of the word engage is particularly interesting. Most often, we interpret engagement to mean participation and when we think of participation, we most often interpret this to mean talking. As a result, we spend a lot of time focused on how we can encourage every student to speak during a class discussion — and that’s a good thing. But is speaking the only way that students can engage?
While talking is an essential component of the discussion process, so is listening. If everyone is racing to speak, are students actually listening to each other, or are they quietly composing their comments in their mind and waiting for their turn? If their primary focus is on when they can speak, are they truly engaged? Are they learning anything from the dialogue?
Let’s broaden the definition of engagement to include both speaking and listening. Notice how our questions shift: how can we recognize active listening? How can we encourage active listening? How can we communicate our expectations around active listening to our students and the administrators who are completing the evaluations?
By DR. ROBERTA LENGER KANG
When my son was five years old, his Kindergarten teacher assigned the class 20 minutes of reading for homework every night. We would sit on the couch together, and he would read to me. We didn’t get but two or three pages into the book when his mind would begin to wander, he’d start making silly jokes, or pretend to get really sleepy. I tried to be persistent. I’d prop him up on my lap, and encourage that we point at each word on the page together, sounding them out one by one. He would just sit silently.
I asked him what was wrong, and after some time in silence, he mustered the courage to whisper, “There’s a word on the page that’s bothering me.” That’s what he said -- bothering. It was as if the word was out on the playground taunting him to jump off the swing, or in the cafeteria ready to steal his lunch money. The word was bothering him.
This was the first time it occured to me that reading is an emotional experience.
The second time it occured to me was when I presented a workshop on reading complex texts at Teachers College. The workshop was designed for a group of middle school teachers from New York City who were embarking on a literacy initiative at their school. As part of my workshop, I wanted to explore what makes a text complex, and why. I passed out seven different excerpts from seven different fields (legal, medical, literary, mathematical, computer science, crafting, and sports) and asked the teachers to read the texts and rank them according to easiest to most difficult. While everyone was engaged in reading, I saw one teacher pick up one of the texts, promptly put it back down again, and then push the paper all the way to the edge of the table where it flew off and fell to the floor.
In debriefing the experience, I asked the teacher to share with the group the strong response he had to this text. He said, “The moment I looked at it, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to understand it, and it made me feel sick to my stomach. I just wanted to get the paper as far away from me as possible.”
Reading is an emotional experience
We’ve all had this happen to us from time to time. For some, it’s when we’re reading an old English poem, or maybe it’s reading through a mathematical proof, or reading the instructions for filling out paperwork for the IRS. The big a-ha moment for us as educators is that the same reaction we might have when it comes to reading complex texts, may be the same reaction our students are having on a daily basis when we assign texts in our content areas.
Here’s something else I learned from this workshop: there isn’t one type of text that’s easy, and another type of text that’s difficult. I’ve conducted this same workshop with hundreds of educators and every time, I find that different people find complexity in different texts. Our experiences with text complexity are typically based on four criteria:
It’s these four criteria that inform the emotions we feel while reading. The more criteria we’re able to match to the text, the easier it seems to us. The easier the text is to read, the better we feel about ourselves. The better we feel, the more our confidence grows and our interest in reading increases. The fewer criteria we’re able to match to the text, the more difficult it seems to us, the worse we feel about ourselves. Our confidence decreases and our interest in reading decreases.
Helping students find meaning in texts
It’s possible we’re inadvertently creating spaces in our classrooms where students become less interested, less confident, and less comfortable with reading because of these emotional interactions with “difficult” texts. But there are some simple solutions that we can implement if we carefully consider the four criteria for making meaning:
These four steps are not always easy, but if we’re planning with these essentials in mind, we have the power to rapidly transform resistant or reluctant readers in any content area.
By DR. ROBERTA LENGER KANG
Over 40 teachers from across New York State have enrolled in CPET’s online course, Rocking the Regents, a 20 CTLE credit professional learning course offered through the Teachers College Office of Digital Learning. The course takes an up close and personal look at the New York State English Regents exam, and digs into what makes the test so difficult for students across the state.
Even though the exam is over 200 years old, the English Regents continues to be a gatekeeper for students when it comes to graduation and college admissions. Last year alone, over 48,000 students were unable to pass the exam, despite having three chances to pass the test each year.
What is it that makes the test so hard?
Rocking the Regents is broken into three main categories: Understanding the Exam, Understanding the Data, and Understanding our Students. With these three focal points, we’re exploring the in-depth requirements for content knowledge, reading, and writing skills. How can students read over 4,000 words and write two substantial essays in three hours? How can students craft an argument on demand, or draw attention to an author’s craft? Throughout the course, we’re exploring the demands of the English Regents, as well as high-leverage strategies that can help teachers and students meet the expectations of the test.
BIG IDEA BRACKETS
One of our favorite strategies is called Big Idea Brackets. The English Regents requires that students perform a “close reading” of a minimum of seven high-level, complex texts in addition to answering questions and writing essays. The reading portion can be a major stumbling block for students who struggle to read at the college level, or who have a difficult time retaining what they’ve read. “Big Idea Brackets” is a strategy that allows students to take key notes while reading, and helps them to focus on what they understand, rather that what they don’t.
The strategy is very simple: when students read to the end of a paragraph, they create a bracket in the margin, and write down the main idea of the paragraph in the simplest way possible. The goal is to help students wade through all of the details of the paragraph to find the central idea or main point of the text. This helps them maintain comprehension from paragraph to paragraph, maintain focus and interest in the passage, and develop confidence in their own understanding. Whether moving on to multiple choice questions, or an essay, students now have a blueprint of the text that they can use to find information and make connections to other texts, if necessary. It takes no additional time or materials, so this is a great strategy for students to use as they prepare for the test, as well as on the day of the exam.
Student Genovia R. Lindo brought this strategy to her classroom, and shared, “After students read such lengthy passages, they are sometimes unable to recall many of the events or character interactions. Big Idea Brackets helped my students hone in on the specific events which took place, and allowed them to better answer questions.”