Loving Reading

I love to read. As a kid, I read all the time. My cousins would hide my books so I would come out and play. I always, always, had a book with me in school so I could read if (when) school was boring and I finished the assignment.

I just thought my kids would love reading, too. We read all the time. We read to them starting as newborns. We did everything to encourage reading. However, my kids do not like to read. I admit I did not handle this well. I pushed, I cajoled, I panicked. My daughter felt stupid. We fought. Tests showed some minor reading disabilities, but never ever enough to get any help. Reading just was never enjoyable, so she doesn’t do it. Still doesn’t – yet has successfully finished her first year of college. My son doesn’t have an reading disabilities, but he, too, does not enjoy reading. What did I do wrong?

I don’t know, and I’ve given up asking. My kids don’t read. Guess what – I am now grateful for this.

I’m grateful because this taught me that there are many ways to learn. This taught me that there are many ways to express oneself, to absorb and demonstrate knowledge. This taught me to recognize the value in different learning styles. My children both are visual thinkers. They see the world in pictures. I see the world in words. Neither one is better – they both have value and are essential. My kids solve problems differently than I do. They see the world through a different lens. This means they don’t necessarily succeed in traditional academic settings with the highest grades – but that’s going to be just fine. I do wish school valued different types of learning styles more.

This post was triggered by a post by Pernille Ripp (“A Parent’s Role in Protecting the Love of Reading“) about her daughter’s journey learning to read. As she describes her daughter’s hard work becoming a reader, it hits me hard – I’ve been there. I celebrate with her that her daughter is now reading at grade level. Yet, without devaluing reading, I also  want to encourage the embrace of whatever might be her daughter’s preferred learning style. If she’ll never be a strong reader, or one who loves reading, it is likely her skills/learning style will be something different. Instead of focusing on her perceived deficits (“reading at grade level” is a school based value), focus on her strengths. Maybe she is a strong visual thinker and the words get in the way of her thoughts. Maybe she’s a kinesthetic learner that needs to move in order to learn. It doesn’t matter – but what does matter is that her strengths are valued and honored.

Ripp’s post gives parents permission to do many of the things I did: lied about reading logs, bought audio books to help her finish assignments, read out loud for homework and for fun. I thank her for her understanding and support. I love this quote:

As parents, we have a right and a responsibility to protect our child, we must never forget that.

We do. And if our kids don’t love reading and learn differently, we have the right and responsibility to our child to honor  and develop those strengths without criticism or making them feel less.

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Motivation

I have read a number of articles about student motivation. I may have blogged about them once or twice… This post, “5 Questions to Ask Yourself about Your Unmotivated Students” is one of the first to admit it might be the design of the school that is contributing to lack of motivation. I love it!

There’s a very good chance that the technology, the parents, or the entitlement are playing a role in what we perceive to be reduced student motivation. But there’s a very good chance that our instructional decisions play a role as well.

The author outlines a  number of questions to ask (I have paraphrased):

  1. Relationship: what is the teacher’s relationship to the student?
  2. How much choice do students have in their work?
  3. Do you reward with candy?
  4. Do you have a growth or fixed mindset?
  5. How do you make the content relevant to the student?

This is a wonderful set of questions. The author admits things she’s done wrong in the past, but isn’t accusatory about teachers. Just really pushes her fellow teachers to think about their approach.

I watched a highly motivated student turn into one that probably looks like one that couldn’t care less. But guess what – she does care. She cares deeply. But, over the years, she learned that it didn’t matter how much work she did. Traditional school/testing is not how she thinks. She shut down. But, she still cares. A few teachers were able to get good stuff from her — and those were the ones who made things relevant, had an honest and caring relationship, gave students choice.

I bet even the most unmotivated student cares….

Shut-Down Learners

I have never posted just about the Shut-Down Learner concept by Dr. Richard Selznick. I’ve referred to it, but need a more thorough post.

I ran across Dr Selznick’s concept of the Shut-Down Learner about a year ago. It completely fits.

From his article, “When Learners Shut Down,” these are characteristics of a shut-down learner (before shutting down):

  • Tuning out in circle time
  • Highly spatial and visual learners
  • Active or over-active
  • Difficulty with language-based activities such as reading and writing

We’ve got three of the four.

Watch this video for an overview.

Screenshot of his PowerPoint that is it in a nutshell.

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“I Don’t Care”

Short piece from Edutopia today about Strategies for Reaching Apathetic Students.

This could be my daughter. I’m sure she looked like the stereotypical apathetic student. I know she was on her phone quite a bit. She didn’t take notes. She hated group work. She rarely did homework in the last two years of high school. She failed many tests. She hated writing papers. She was, I am sure, quite sassy in class. (She did, however, actively participate in class discussions. I regularly heard from teachers about how well she did in discussions, about how she had very astute observations and offered critical analysis.)

While her behavior may indicate that she didn’t care about school or anything, I can guarantee you that she did care. She cared so deeply that her struggles and difficulty meeting everyone’s expectations – difficulties that are not her fault, and are not because she’s not intelligent or talented – triggered serious anxiety and depression. Honestly, the “disabilities” are only disabilities in an academic setting like her high school. Look at the things she didn’t do: homework, tests,  writing. Hmmmmm — does that suggest a text based disability? YES! And, as she is a strong introvert, group work in class was excruciating.

As the article said, it became easier to say “I don’t care” than “I need help.”

In her case, the “I don’t care” came from hidden learning disabilities that she masked well that eventually manifested themselves in mental illness. It came from a school environment (both physical and pedagogical) that did not fit her needs. It came from a system that meant teachers had way too many kids to track. She switched teachers every trimester, so few teachers ever really go to know her to get below the “I don’t care.” It came from a learning environment that valued rote memorization and testing over creativity and critical thinking. The huge school and large classes meant that teachers had to do the easy-to-grade assessments, like multiple choice tests, as opposed to projects or more creative ways to express learning.

So, next time you see a student that doesn’t seem to care, don’t immediately blame them. Take a closer look. I bet there’s something else going on.

Dear Student Letter

Posting this “Dear Students” letter to keep it in my list.  She has great one-liners, such as

I’m sorry that you are forced to sit for six hours each school-day despite research that reveals the detrimental cognitive and health effects of excessive sitting.

This teacher puts into words what I feel, but cannot say — not being a teacher. It’s what I’ve seen happen to my daughter, in particular, as she went through a traditional high school setting. Of course, she needs to take some responsibility for her own education, but watching these last four years has given me an entirely new perspective on the kids who don’t appear engaged in school.

My personal world view held (past tense) that academics were the be all and end all. The measure of success was your GPA, where you went to college, etc.  Of course, you’d be engaged in school and get As. Kids who didn’t were just lazy.

Watching my daughter’s journey through school, especially high school, has changed my perspective tremendously. A kid who is “shut down”, doesn’t do homework or participate in class likely has a very good reason. It may be the “problems at home” excuse we hear about. This is certainly a legitimate reason and a very real situation for many students.

The one reason I’ve never heard from her school is “problems with school” — not that my daughter is having problems in school, but that the school set up itself is the problem. No one has ever suggested that the reason she’s shut down and not engaged is because the school atmosphere is overwhelming (2000+ kids in one space for 6 hours?) or that the emphasis on test prep (be it the state tests or AP tests) might lead to a type of learning that is not enticing beyond the drive to get a 4.0 GPA.  Could it be some of the reasons mentioned in the Dear Student letter?

My daughter with ADHD and dyslexia became a classic shut-down learner (see Dr. Richard Selznick’s writings for more) after 9th grade, and totally shut down after 10th. School was (continues to be) a major (I’d say THE) contributing factor in depression and anxiety issues. Yet, right now, she is directing a full-length student produced musical with 70 cast members. She has the entire show blocked in her head — exactly where 70 kids will be on stage, how she wants the songs to sound, the set to look and more. She’s actively making decisions, working with a production team of peers, and directing a cast of her peers (much harder than an adult directing high school kids). She was forced to choose between two best friends for the lead. Frankly, I think this is a tremendous learning experience — and honestly, more valuable life skills than some of the academic work.

I don’t buy the “blame the victim” attitude that it’s all her fault that she’s not engaged in school. (And that is what I often hear. Most of her teachers have been caring and understanding, but the system does not allow for any flexibility unless one pushes VERY hard. That’s a topic for another post.) I certainly couldn’t tolerate the conditions in which she has endure  to be at school. It’s true that some kids thrive in school — which is awesome. But, just because some kids look and act like they don’t care does not mean they are bad kids or not worth it. Look deeper — there’s likely a pretty valid reason and we owe it to these kids to meet their needs. Maybe, just maybe, it’d be worth our time to make some of these bigger, systemic changes like mentioned in the Dear Student letter that would mean all learners would be engaged, have a positive experience, and grow into thoughtful, caring and successful adults.

Positives of ADHD

LOVE this article about Scott Barry Kaufman about ADHD, “The Innovative and Creative Power of ADHD”.  I’ve heard him speak, and I find his messaging about ADHD to be so wonderful and empowering.

Listen to the audio interview – it adds much more to the article.

Kaufman says that parents need to work with schools to identify learning formats that don’t stifle creative thinking.

He talks too about students needing some autonomy in their education. I don’t see either of these things happening in the large public high school we interact with. It’s driven in large part by rule following, fill-in-the-bubble tests and classes that don’t value creativity. I won’t go on and on now, I’ve done that in the past. I think I’ll just go get Kaufman’s book

I’ve blogged before about Scott Barry Kaufman

Video

Understanding Ukraine: The Problems Today and Some Historical Context – YouTube

I love John Green. He talks so fast, I think he gets in twice as much info as anyone else….

I cannot evaluate the content in this video, as I know next to nothing about the situation in Ukraine.

I do know, however, that John Green has nailed how students – and adults – learn. I learned more about the situation in this 6 minute video (which I watched twice) than I have in the last few weeks.

Green makes great use of using history to understand a current situation. There is really no way to understand what’s going on there without knowing the history, but he does a great job moving through the essentials, and demonstrating how history, geography and politics all contribute to the current situation.

Wouldn’t it be great if students were empowered to do this type of assignment? Not only does video production require writing (like a paper), it also requires visual literacy skills. Yeah! 21st century skills!

Professionally, I would love to be able to produce content out this quickly as it relates to current events. I’m not keeping my fingers crossed….