• 13 Best Blog Posts of 2013 - Teaching Reading Tips

    13 Best Blog Posts of 2013 - Teaching Reading Tips

    It’s been an exciting year! We launched a complete redesign of our website and our online reading workshop. We also released some big updates to our product for older students, Reading Horizons Elevate. Along the way our Reading Specialist, Stacy Hurst, and a few guest writers, wrote some amazing blog posts! Here are the thirteen most popular of 2013:   ...

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    Dec 26 2013
  • Misconceptions About Phonics Instruction - #3 – The English Language is Inconsistent

    Misconceptions About Phonics Instruction - #3 – The English Language is Inconsistent

    Anyone who has ever put together a large jigsaw puzzle knows the level of commitment it takes to accurately combine what may initially seem like a million little pieces into a perfect replica of the picture on the box. At first, it may seem overwhelmingly complicated until you realize that there is a pattern and a system for assembling the pieces.  My personal modus operandi is to identify the edge pieces and use them to create a frame then sort the remaining pieces by color and shape. Once I get to this stage in the process, the puzzle seems to change from overwhelmingly complicated to merely complex. This transformation not only prevents me from abandoning the puzzle all together but it allows my usually latent obsessive tendencies to thrive until it is complete. 

    What is the difference in meaning between the word complicated and the word complex? Something that is complex has many components or layers but it does not necessarily mean that it is difficult. Complex things can be broken down into simple, interconnected, related parts. The word complicated refers to something that has a high level of difficulty and inconsistency. 

    Consider a puzzle whose pieces are in the shape of each state in North America, for example. The puzzle’s complexity manifests itself in the fact that there are interconnected parts but the level of complication involved in completing the puzzle would most likely be fairly low because each piece is very distinct. On the other hand, a traditional jigsaw puzzle with many similarly shaped pieces would be more complicated than a puzzle with 50 distinct shapes. Large areas of plain color or similar colors on a puzzle, (e.g. a puzzle depicting a lot of black and white dice) could further complicate the process by making it unclear how the pieces connect. 

    Understanding the distinction between the meanings of the words complex and complicated will help explain the third misconception about phonics instruction. ...

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    Nov 20 2013
  • Misconceptions About Phonics Instruction - #2 - Phonics Instruction is Boring

    Misconceptions About Phonics Instruction - #2 - Phonics Instruction is Boring

    In honor of football season, I will begin this post with a lesson from one of NFL’s most memorable coaches. Vince Lombardi was head coach for the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins. During his short career (only about a decade long) he achieved  96 wins to only 34 losses, six division championships, two super bowl victories, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Oh yeah, and the super bowl trophy will forever bear his name.

    Perhaps more impressively, he was known for turning losing teams into winning teams. In case you’re a numbers person, here are the stats; the season before he coached the Packers they claimed only one win and ten losses. Remarkably, in his first season with the Packers the team had seven wins and only five losses (they went on to win TWO super bowls). He created an equally inspiring result in only one year as coach of the Redskins. 

    What was his secret to such great success? The basics. And I am talking THE basics. So basic that the first day of each pre-season training session began with these five words, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” He went on to explain the rules of the game, the organization of players on the field, and where boundaries and end zones were located. We’re talking professional football, people! He was coaching players who had spent YEARS playing the game and he begins by showing them what a football is? He did not stop there. From the first day of training and during every single practice thereafter, the majority of time was spent overlearning the basics; blocking, tackling, and handling the ball. To get to the point, this is what Vince Lombardi had to say about excellence:

    “Excellence is achieved by the mastery of the fundamentals.”

    Do you think these football players were bored with such repetition? Maybe. Would they say it paid off in the long run? Absolutely. With mastery of the fundamentals came the freedom to put their head in the game and think on their feet when it really mattered. 

    Hopefully, you are making the connection between decoding and comprehension at this point. When students master the basic skills involved in decoding, their brains are free to focus on comprehension. This requires repetition in instruction and practice. Repetition to the point of mastery obviously worked for Vince Lombardi (and for NBA players, as Dr. Brian Ludlow describes in the following video):

    However, repetition is a major contributor to the cause of our second misconception about phonics instruction.  ...

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    Oct 14 2013
  • Misconceptions About Phonics Instruction - #1 - Most Children Learn to Read Naturally

    Misconceptions About Phonics Instruction - #1 - Most Children Learn to Read Naturally

    How would you answer this question: What causes seasons to occur?

    If your answer referred to the distance between the sun and the earth, your answer is the same as these Harvard graduates involved in a research project called A Private Universe (Schneps, Sadler, Woll, & Crouse, 1989). Before you give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back for answering like an ivy leaguer, consider the fact that the Harvard graduates were wrong. They, like many people, espoused belief in a common misconception.     

    The real answer to why we have seasons is that the earth’s axis is tilted (look here for an explanation from NASA). At first glance, the dangers of this misconception are seemingly small. After all, seasons still occur no matter what we believe to be the reason but I think the implications are larger than that. The fact that 21 out of 23 Harvard graduates involved in the study had the same misconceptions leads me to infer that, at some point, they were taught seasons occur in relation to the distance between the earth and the sun. They were taught that concept even though there is science that very clearly proves otherwise.

    There are myriads of scientific research studies to support phonics instruction for beginning and struggling readers yet misconceptions sometimes prevent effective classroom implementation. These misconceptions can be passed down from college professor to pre-service teacher, year after year, decade after decade. Even teachers who have been teaching long enough to teach their students’ children have been known to stick to what they were taught in college or what they learned during their first years of teaching. When this is the case, students who would otherwise benefit from more effective instruction are the ones who suffer. 

    This is the first in a series of blog posts that will address some common misconceptions teachers and administrators have about phonics instruction. These misconceptions have an impact on students of all ages. While I am certain there are more, I chose five prevalent and persisting misconceptions concerning phonics. They are in no specific order but each is significant enough to merit its own post.

    Misconception #1: ...

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    Oct 08 2013
  • Seven Ways to Increase Student Engagement in the Classroom

    Seven Ways to Increase Student Engagement in the Classroom

    You have probably heard that teachers are the hardest people to teach. I submit teaching teachers is a lot like teaching younger learners (except that they have more autonomy). More often than not as I am setting up for a training at least one teacher will saunter in with a pile of lamination to cut out or a knitting project (for the grandbaby on the way, of course) to keep them occupied during the training. First of all, let me say, “I get it.” I get that teachers by necessity become excellent multi-taskers. I also understand that if you are doing more than one thing at a time you are not fully engaged in either activity. So how do I react? I take it as a challenge. If the lamination or the knitting needles come out during the training, I feel that I haven’t done enough to keep that particular teacher engaged.

    Five Levels of Student Engagement

    It should not surprise anyone to know that one of the most consistent findings in educational research demonstrates that the more times students spend engaged during instruction, the more they learn (Gettinger & Ball, 2007). Some researchers even identify differing levels of engagement.  Schlechty (2002) defines five levels of student engagement: ...

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    Sep 18 2013
  • Overcoming the Six Biggest Challenges of the New School Year

    Overcoming the Six Biggest Challenges of the New School Year

    As teachers and students approach a new school year, the phrase “back to school” starts running rampant. But, if you stop and think about that phrase, it sounds so regressive. The word ‘back’ implies a return to the past—a repeat of the previous school year. Of course, no two school years are alike. But leaving that aside, you should never go “back” to school—whether it’s for a new school day, week, term, semester, or year. School is a place we go to learn and progress and move forward … not back. 

    In order to help you move forward this school year, we had educators across the country complete a survey ranking the biggest challenges of the new school year. Based on their responses, here are the top six challenges along with articles and webinars addressing how to remedy each one. ...

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    Aug 22 2013
  • Avoid This Common Mistake When Selecting a Common Core Reading Program

    Avoid This Common Mistake When Selecting a Common Core Reading Program

    As the smells of sunscreen and chlorine start to give way to the smells of new textbooks and freshly sharpened pencils, teachers are shifting their focus to planning for the new school year. And even though this year’s classes have yet to begin, teachers and administrators already seem to be showing signs of extra stress and concern from trying to work under the weight of Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

    The schools I am working with are bringing in new programs that are attempting to cover all the areas of the English Language Arts Standards. While I understand the desire to go for the one-size-fits-all approach, doing so may lull educators into a false sense of security that they are covered for the CCSS, when in reality, if they are not careful, this will perpetuate the very problem the CCSS are trying to remedy.

    Louisa Moats, Ph.D., an internationally recognized reading expert, recently recorded a podcast that seeks to merge what we know about effective reading practices with the Common Core State Standards. In the podcast, she addresses the very same concerns I have heard educators raise in my work with their schools. She points out ...

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    Aug 12 2013
  • Six Necessary Components of Effective Differentiated Instruction

    Six Necessary Components of Effective Differentiated Instruction

    Is differentiated instruction really necessary? The answer is no. Differentiated instruction is not necessary UNLESS… you want success and growth for each of your students and a greater level of fulfillment from your teaching career.  Sarcasm aside; is it possible to meet the needs of every learner in your classroom? Many teachers have asked this question. In one study, teachers identified the challenge of meeting the individual needs of diverse learners as one of their top three concerns.

    I have said multiple times that effective teaching is both an art and a science. At no time is this more obvious than when a teacher is designing a learning environment that will meet the needs of each individual student as well as investing the time to improve and refine teaching abilities and dispositions that will make her the best teacher that she can be. This is a refining process that can span an entire teaching career.

    So, let’s talk differentiated instruction.

    Necessary Components of Differentiated Instruction: ...

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    Aug 08 2013
  • Not All Professional Development is Created Equal – Selection Criteria for Teachers

    Not All Professional Development is Created Equal – Selection Criteria for Teachers

    One potential perk of being a teacher is the famed ‘summers off’ phenomenon. Of course, if you ask any teacher what they do in the summer you will inevitably hear about some form of professional development (PD). Those of us who have been around for awhile have spent a fair share of PD time in a required workshop thinking about all of the things that have to be done or feeling that the subject and/or approach is anything but new or not relevant to our setting. Lack of professional development opportunities does not seem to be a problem rather, a lack of high quality professional development opportunities.

    In some cases, teachers may not have a choice concerning what kinds of professional development in which they participate, but, if you are a teacher looking for PD that will really make a difference in your teaching and increase student achievement, here are some things to consider: ...

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    Jun 26 2013

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