Teaching

Students Are Not Like Beans

Great teaching and learning goes beyond standardized testing. Way beyond.

We are modeling our test-culture after a business theory popular mandated in the States that is based on quarterly earnings. This trains the eye toward the next quarter and the next quarter only. Myopia becomes the norm as participants scrape by on quotas. Similarly, students are put into various demographic groups and given frequent assessments. Their performance on these assessments (every three weeks in my current district) is analyzed to find out if each demographic is meeting the district’s quota. Easily enough, a person can see that this method is deeply flawed, primarily because people aren’t beans. This isn’t the way it has to be.

“Bean counting is the consequence of a view of the world as consisting of “things” to be manipulated, rather than people to be interacted with and conversed with and responded to.” — Steve Denning, Forbes Business, Online.

In fact, a student is very unlike a bean in so many ways. Consider the following ten facts about beans:

1. Beans are not cognitive creatures. 

2. Beans do not experience grief. 

3. Beans do not experience poverty. 

4. Beans do not experience discrimination. 

5. Beans are not affected by their inability to read, problem solve, or learn as well as other beans. 

6. Beans never need foster care, child support, or doctors’ visits. 

7. Beans do not feel the need to pretend everything is ok. 

8. Beans are not afraid to ask for help. 

9. Beans do not pressure other beans into poor decisions. 

10. Beans do not experience puberty.

I could continue to outline the many fascinating ways that students are not like beans, but but imagine if beans were just like students. Would frequent testing make the beans better beans? Or would a farmer be first obligated to address the ten issues (and hundreds more) first before considering the validity of any test or the judgment a test pronounces upon the quality of the beans (and their little bean trainers)?

No doubt, this metaphor is extremely exhausted by this point, but it certainly reveals the “data-driven” status quo’s absurdity. Great teaching is more than science — it is inarguably an art. A great teacher will be sensitive to a student’s individual needs in a way that no standardized test can be. A great teacher will be encouraging when a student feels defeated in ways that no standardized test could measure. A great teacher will strive to move mountains blocking a student’s achievements in ways VAM can not account. Great teachers are sensitive to a student’s stagnation and growth, pain and delight, poverty and privilege, anxiety and assuredness, turmoil and peace — and the list goes on.

I’ve compared our educational model to that of Germany’s in an earlier article. We can make a similar comparison here in the financial world. Germans rely upon great detail regarding complex businesses (like engineering fields) and take exacting measurements — however they consider the long term. If a product or service is currently unprofitable, they will likely continue to keep it if it shows future promise. They have more data and it is vastly more accurate. They have a much stronger information system than companies in the US as well. If you’re interested in reading more about this system, Management Accounting Quarterly has a wonderful abstract from 2007.

While it may sound at first like I’m arguing in favor of more data, I’m not. But I am. I don’t think the kind of data that comes from standardized tests could be construed by ANYONE as high quality or accurate. I do however think that the kind of “data” a master teacher utilizes day to day IS of this high quality and accuracy. Teachers use this data all day long — they confer and collaborate with colleagues about assignment ideas and lesson planning, they reflect with each other on the outcome of a lesson or event, they adapt their own lessons class after class throughout the day based on data that is collected in real-time through dozens of formative assessments while teaching. A really great teacher knows that their students succeed when they work well with teachers who teach the same students — regardless of department, when they listen to kids who look like they need an ear, and when they voice their concerns to the appropriate parties responsible for making in-the-now changes.

We horizontially align and vertically align — mostly through email and conversations in the hallway or during conferences. We pore over data we collect on our individual students when we ask a collegue, “Did Danny seem upset today? I wonder what was wrong?” and our reply is, “I called his grandmother. They were evicted since she lost her job and in two weeks they’re worried they will be living in a car.” We find solutions to challenges that no CCSS could ever address to help a student become successful.

The problem isn’t that students are not beans. The problem is the status quo is treating them like beans.

 

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Teaching

Changing the Game in Education

The Loquacionist posted an inspired essay about changing the fundamental way we “do school.” The suggestion is that we model our system after the German system, where in middle school at some point, the kids could be funneled into vocational (skilled labor) tracks or college prep tracks. The vocational track means apprenticeships and the college track means more classroom schooling (though with PBL instead of what we are doing now). I am WHOLE-HEARTEDLY for this. I’ve been saying it for years. Only, I want to point out some changes in philosophy I’d make to what is proposed in this essay.

 

The first thing I notice is that it’s not the schools that have it wrong. It’s the legislators and politicians who have it wrong. Were we freed from ignorant standards like common core and the like, we could have more leverage to
engage in apprenticeship programs, perhaps first within the context of a status quo high school and transition toward the German system. Schools get it. Teachers get it a hundred times over. Convincing politicians (all lobbied and “controlled” by Pearson and their ilk — I KNOW Pearson is not alone) who desperately crave data to prove their state’s “progress” and get federal monies will take serious effort by The People.

 

Finally, our worship of sports would HAVE to be completely revised. We worship sports and athleticism (in the south, particularly football) and high school is for sports. Taking sports out of high school and making them something kids pursue on their own time (weekends and afternoons) could help shorten the hours we are in school making the transition to this system easier. But as long as we crave “tradition” in schools; coddle those mad, egotistical parents who vicariously live through their

children’s athletic experiences; as long as we romanticize this culture,  thinking that cheerleaders, quarterbacks, pep rallies, drill teams, and school spirit are more important than academic achievement, we will never part from the high school system. And let’s stop pretending that sports build character — it merely reveals it.

 

High school culture of this type is non-existent in other countries. Foreign exchange students marvel at this culture

and are shocked that it is “just like in the movies.” Because no other countries use precious public education funding to fund sports. It’s absurd. (But then again the NFL is non-profit — seems we are easily duped by displays of athleticism.)

 

I know this means a HUGE reduction in high school teaching jobs. But that can be handled largely through attrition and reassignment. We would continue secondary education with programs like IB and early college. Really great coaches could own and operate their own freelance businesses and private teams (like dance studios do) because I doubt seriously that sports would ever cease to be important to Americans.

 

Until we begin valuing education over Friday night lights, until we start wanting to invest in our future work force instead of new astro-turf, when we wake up from this stupor and start giving kids a chance at their future (instead of reliving our past), we can begin to make change. We have to stop blaming teachers and schools and start telling the politicians what we want them to do. Until then expect a whole lot more of the same.

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Family, Parenting, Teaching

My attempt at completing my first grader’s Common Core math homework – and a little historical CCSS context

This article is an in-depth look at Common Core (especially Common Core math) and standardized testing. The pictures of the homework reveal the inanity of the programs used to teach this mandate.

Our first grader is doing this kind of work in her Louisiana classroom. Does anyone have anything at all good to say about the program?

 

My attempt at completing my first grader’s Common Core math homework – and a little historical CCSS context.

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Teaching

It’s Testing Season in Texas

The EOCs for English this year are over in some districts, ongoing in others. The test this year is an amalgamation of last year’s two separate tests for reading and writing. The powers at Pearson combined the two four-hour tests into one five-hour monstrosity at the behest of our legislators here in Texas. It was anyone’s guess as to how this would impact students, but the intent was to reduce the time spent (wasted) on testing our kids. 

So far, I don’t think our kids feel confident about their anticipated results, regardless of their knowledge of English and their preparations to take the test. Students report feeling rushed and worse, not finishing their tests. This is so disheartening — we spend the majority of the year teaching them both English and instructing them on how to take a test like this and they don’t feel they have the time to properly perform. 

In general, I’ve seen faces marked by anxiety and fear that their efforts were not good enough. Some students reported that they could not answer their test questions due to medication issues (sleepiness is a side-effect of many medications students take). They report just trying to complete the test even without reading the questions. 

I’m still not sure how this system, this test, achieves what the Texas legislature or the POTUS hope to achieve. What it does achieve is erroneous data and a sense of wide-spread hopelessness among students. Our students are left feeling like they have no options and our teachers are made to feel ineffective at best. Meanwhile, campaigning politicians ironically point to our failing schools — a failure engineered by the politicians themselves. 

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Teaching

Teaching Argumentative (Persuasive) Writing

This year, I’ve really struggled with bringing my students’ writing up to the level required to pass the EOC exam for our state. The gaps in their ability to write academically partially stem from the fact that the previous state exam required a personal narrative. Thus teachers focused diligently on developing their ability to write a personal narrative, littered with the word “I.” The trouble is tri-fold. 1) Personal Narratives are not used often in college classes. 2) The word “I” is rarely used in academic papers (though it is currently becoming more common). 3) Academic writing has taken a back-seat in their education thus far and their ability to coherently write about an academic topic — either in an expository or argumentative capacity — has suffered.        

Therefore, I’ve had to laboriously facilitate them in developing their organization, paragraph structures, word choice, logic, syntax and topicality. “Revise and Resubmit” has been this year’s mantra. Only through writing and re-writing a paper have they been able to weed out their individual issues and understand what an academic tone requires. I paired this with one-on-one counseling with my students every time they turned in an essay.This approach has helped me to address both my advanced writers and my remedial writers and see substantial progress.

This week, I introduced them to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This concept was easily understood by most of my students. It paired well with discussing our dystopian novel study underway and we were able to use it to analyze our character’s actions. I then explained how it can be used in every argumentative paper they write, helping them create ethos. For my more advanced students, learning other philosophies like Mill’s Utilitarianism and Kant’s Categorical Imperative will give them an edge in writing argumentative papers. As a former competitive LD debater and Parli debater in college, using a criterion against which to weigh our values and decisions forms a stronger argument rooted in centuries of philosophy.

I strongly believe in the value debate offers our students. Debate and theatre are the original PBL classrooms. It’s a cryin’ shame debate no longer suffices in Texas for students’ required speech credit. (Seriously Texas, WTF?) Next year, I plan on incorporating more debate in my curriculum and teaching these strategies earlier in the year. I will require them to use these strategies in their argumentative papers.

As long as the state puts such a strong emphasis on argumentative writing — and I agree that it’s important — students must be exposed to philosophy, not just rhetoric, to be truly educated in persuasion. 

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Family, Parenting, Teaching

Making Math as Easy as Pi

This is the third article in a series on how parents can help their child improve academically.

I teach English, speech, debate, theatre, ESL – not math. I’m not even very good at the subject.  What I hope to offer is perspective as both a struggling math student and as a parent who lacks confidence in her math skills. Despite this, I’ve used a variety of means to help my children be successful in math. And as you can guess, it began when they were just old enough to begin talking.

Pre-School Students

My daughter Kitty and I are avid Tex-Mex fans. We love toasty tortilla chips and fresh salsa. At just 3 years old, we were adding and subtracting tortilla chips while waiting on our meals at restaurants. I’d break one in half and we would identify what a “half” was. We talked about the most common fractions like quarters and thirds. We also did simple addition and subtraction. Subtraction was her favorite – it meant she got to eat the chip!

As she got older, we baked and cooked together. I would ask her how much two halves were or other such problems I devised. She also had a really clever Sponge Bob game that required mixing smoothies to exacting fractions.

Elementary Students

My partner and I do some of the above with our 7 year old, Jo, but we make it a bit more challenging of course. Although in first grade, I am convinced that memorizing the multiplication tables is something she can not only do well, but can greatly benefit from. When Kitty was in third grade, I discovered that the teachers no longer expect students to memorize the multiplication chart. Horrified, I taught her myself. When you make it a game or even a prerequisite for something they want, they will learn it quickly.

So my partner made Jo a grid that allows her to find the answer to any number 1-12 times any number 1-12. She loves it. She enjoys quizzing us on it as well as being quizzed on it. We discussed how zeroes affect not only addition but multiplication. And of course we did all of this verbally, without paper. And to our glee, she quickly began pointing out all the patterns the grid reveals. She may be the only first grader at her school who knows what 100 x 5 is because she figured out the pattern. The result is a child who is head of her class in math and a child who believes math is fun.

Another activity we have done to make math fun is to use it to teach other subjects. We learned numbers in Spanish on our long drive to take her back to her other house each weekend. We then started doing math in Spanish. I gave Jo the sentence for asking an addition question and we then started plugging in numbers. “Lo que es dos mas dos?” She would laugh, do some figuring in her head, and respond “Dos y dos son cuatro!” She anticipates doing her multiplication in Spanish soon. (I’ll have her counting backward in Spanish in no time.)

Middle School Students (really, any age)

Whatever your interests are – whether hunting or gardening, cooking or playing sports – find the math in them. Give your child a tape measure and have them accurately measure out distances. Allow them to convert the fractions you need for making a larger or smaller amount of pancakes for breakfast. Have them figure up how much sales tax you’ll be charged, what tip to leave a waiter, or how many nickels dimes they’ll need to get a coke from the machine. Let them sew from a pattern or calculate your miles per gallon. Ask them for help budgeting for a trip they want to take or saving for a much-coveted back-to-school item.

Math truly is everywhere. Take every opportunity to demonstrate how useful and how important it is. They’ll be less afraid of it when they are older and more prone to ask questions as they seek their own mathematical solutions to life’s dilemmas.

Another important point is teaching them to read dense informational material. As an English teacher, you may think I have a hidden agenda. I don’t, my agenda is quite open. If your child knows how to read dense informational material, they can do anything, even learn math on their own. (Furthermore, think how easy fiction will be for them!) If you have something to assemble, let them help you with the instructions. Feign confusion and let them explain it to you while guiding them with Socratic questioning. When they seem stumped, offer them a “What if we…” sentence. Realizing early on that adulthood means having to read this sort of material from time to time is key part of them getting on board early. Then, when they complain that they don’t understand how a certain teacher teaches, you can easily point them toward the book. Math texts show step-by-step how to solve problems and give numerous examples. When Kitty was a fifth grader, this strategy saved us. And it’s a lesson she’s never forgotten. We can always go to the book for clarity.

High School Students

Woah!The final strategy I’ll give is for higher level math that requires more background knowledge — and quite honestly scares the bejesus out of me. While studying to take my CSCS exam (still in the process), I encountered a great deal of information that may as well have been rocket science, for all I knew. Were it not for YouTube, I’d never be as far in the text book as I am. Find a series of videos from a teacher who makes the most sense to you and your child. Absolutely learn it with them, but not for them. If they see you trying to figure it out as their partner and help, they are more likely to want to help you and ask questions too. Ask them what they think about such-and-such and if a particular strategy might work. Ask them to rate an instructional video and evaluate which sources are the easiest from which to learn. Have them research the videos themselves. Maybe they will find additional websites and be proud of their technological prowess. Suggest they create their own videos to explain what they’ve learned if no good videos exist. Show them tenaciousness, dedication, and perseverance. The point is when they are encouraged to evaluate, synthesize, and analyze a subject, they will learn to LOVE the subject.thumbs aloft

Which of these strategies have you employed in your quest for mathematical greatness at home? Which work best for you and yours? What would you add in way of suggestions for parents of struggling math students?

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Teaching

Three Cheers for The Good Grade Fairy

Some people doubt his existence. Some deny that such a being could be in so many places at once. I’m here to tell you that he is everywhere

Yes, the whispers are true. The Good Grade Fairy merrily dances across grade books in your local public school on a daily basis. He brings with him an abundance of points for daily grades, points for test grades, and even points for marking period grades and semester averages. These points he gives are awarded to the laziest students, though sometimes to students who are trying very hard but still cannot perform the tasks given, and even students who compete in events for the school. He even makes it to colleges.

He is at work on a Sunday night before grades are due, tirelessly whittling away at failure rates. When a teacher has tried all they can to motivate a child to pass, through encouragement, through parent phone calls and emails, through academic referrals, and through failing daily grades, the Good Grade Fairy flies in and ensures that the poor bedraggled little darling will still be able to participate in school events, self-esteem intact.

Why should such a wee-little dude in tights with wings care so much about ensuring that so many undeserving students pass their classes? Because without him, schools might have to address the gap between rigorous expectations and students’ lack of motivation and perseverance. This would mean schools might not meet a legislature’s demands to demonstrate (on paper) their success with students. And if THAT happens, then school administrators might have to to revise policies meant to reduce administrative paperwork. And most of all, students and parents might have to accept the blame for below-average performance.

The Good Grade Fairy, in all his dudely splendor, keeps the blame squarely on teacher’s shoulders (“She’s passing all her other classes, why is your class the only one she’s not passing?!”) and helps students to maintain lackluster performances. A high school diploma CAN be achieved by all — just like straight As. After all, if students don’t want to try and instead reject a quality education with all its values, we at least can rely on The Good Grade Fairy to give the semblance of success.

Now if only he could work some magic on those ACT and SAT scores…

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Teaching

STEM Education — a Brief Introduction

When I say that I teach at a STEM academy, most people aren’t quite sure what that means. I may explain to them that the acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, but all that causes them to do is to scratch their heads and wonder where English fits in.

If I bring up Project-Based Learning, usually only health science majors have a ready understanding of what this entails.

Many sites exist to explain more about STEM and PBL as well as offering support for those of us public school educators blazing this trail. Rather than give you sites to read (really, so very many exist!) I thought I’d show you a couple of videos that might make you understand the premise, practice, and pedagogy behind it. I’d be glad to answer your questions as best as I can. (Or provide a link.)

 

(Don’t you love how both videos show the speakers with duck faces before you press play?)

How does our culture’s recent gravitation to heavy testing and teaching to the test fit into this kind of teaching? I think the result will be something like this: 

you tried

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This phenomenon is not just a problem for colleges, but for high schools too. As national requirements create stringent penalties for underperforming schools, teachers are instructed to give fewer failing grades to their students in an effort to avoid such penalties. Teachers who give low grades (STEM or not) are often told they will lose their jobs.

Parenting, Teaching

Parents: Read with your Children

This article is the second in a series aimed at empowering parents to enhance their children’s education.

Many children struggle with reading proficiency. While some may be able to read each word with a fair amount of accuracy, many have not mastered reading comprehension. Educators often notice this while children are reading aloud. It occurs when the brain is so focused on decoding the written word into a sound that is recognizable and correctly pronounced, that no effort can be given to decoding the meaning. Even seniors in high school can demonstrate this problem. 

It works a little like reading in another language. One can learn enough phonetics in the new language to read it quite fluently – all while being unable to translate the meaning.

Remedying this problem can be very frustrating for secondary teachers – who by state and federal standards should be teaching analysis and evaluation, not basic reading comprehension. Quite bluntly, teachers don’t have time in class to teach struggling children this all-important skill because they should have already learned it by their 8th grade year. Yet every fall fills our classrooms with students who are not yet on a fifth grade reading level.  Their success is severely handi-capped by this ongoing problem as they are unable to progress toward the analysis nor toward the evaluation demanded of upper-level students, much less the synthesis involved in writing.

[NOTE: Clearly, this does NOT refer to students with learning disabilities like dyslexia, et cetera.]

When parents decide to work with their children on reading comprehension, whether as a pre-schooler or a teen, many resources can be utilized. I will divide them into age groups to make the resource best match the student.

Ages 3-5

Quite commonly, children in this age group may learn to read aloud fluidly. When teaching a child this age to read, really the most important method is to simply read to them and then with them. Children this age are soaking up language and its usage at an astonishing rate.  For teaching reading to this age, I recommend nursery rhymes.

A book on nursery rhymes provides several important functions for this age group.  First, they are brief. Due to their brevity, a learning reader can easily parse meaning from them and laugh at their silliness. The stories of cows jumping over moons and spiders frightening those who would prefer to eat their curds and whey in peace are engaging. Characters are simple and story lines resolve quickly. Secondly, nursery rhymes are poetry. Poetry has long been a tool for memorization used by story-tellers before a culture could read or write. Because these stories have meter (their “sing-songy” quality) and rhyme, a child can easily memorize them. Children enjoy the ability to predict the rhyming word, much like their fascination with a jack-in-the-box. Memorization is an important step. Finally, when a child memorizes a rhyme, they are able to begin associating it with what is in print.

Long before I could read indiscriminately, I was able to “read” a favorite storybook by rote. I knew what part of the story applied to the pictures and could re-tell what my parents had read to me word-for-word. Because it was word-for-word, I was able to match each word with the appropriate collection of letters. This is how I began learning to read. Comprehension developed as I applied sound and meaning to the written word.

While nursery rhymes are ideal, children can easily memorize any short book they hear read often. Repetition is very important to children this age because that is how they learn. They memorize and rely on predictions. They begin inferring a relationship on their own with no direct-teaching.

When teaching a child this age to read, don’t worry about focusing on “sounding the words out” as they tell children in early elementary. The written English language requires memorization and relies very little on phonetics when compared to other languages like Spanish. Don’t be afraid to give your child the word they are struggling with until they are able to recognize it on their own.

Ages 6  – 8

Most of what I said for the first age group still applies, though this group will demand a bit more substance. When our youngest was six in the early part of last summer, she demonstrated reading comprehension problems as a first grader. At her mother’s house (she is my partner’s child – but I certainly claim her), she does not do a lot of reading and does not have a lot of books, but rather spends a great deal of time in front of a screen. Many students her age spend their time similarly. I simply decided to create the same tradition with her I had created with my own daughter (who is now 14). Now, she reads with everyone in the house and has vastly improved her comprehension.  il_fullxfull.427510417_2ou7

First, I chose a hefty-sized book off the shelf and we began reading. Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, is a perfect choice for this age. The vocabulary is challenging and the usage of words (many hyphens, odd spellings, some dialect) is very useful. poohcorner I began by reading to her and she quickly wanted to read some on her own. When she had read a paragraph, I asked her what she had read. She always seemed caught off-guard, as though it were an unexpected question. She began re-reading it and I told her to simply summarize — another problem for many secondary students. When she learned that she would have to give me a report, she began working on her comprehension, sometimes reading a sentence more than once for meaning. This is what I was wanting. Soon, she was laughing at the foibles of a silly old bear and his friends.

We are currently reading Mary Poppins and, with her dad, A Children’s Treasury of Mythology. A-Childrens-Treasury-MythsMy daughter and I read The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The Chronicles of Narnia,The Hobbit,  The Silly Book, The Odyssey (a children’s version), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (really anything by Roald Dahl), Charolette’s Web and many more books that similarly capture a child’s imagination. These stories not only help children to love reading, but set their imaginations and creativity on fire. It gives them a strong background on

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classic literature at the same time. And watching the movie afterward is a huge treat!

Don’t overlook the benefits of poetry for this age group either. Shel Silverstein, the perennial favorite, is as much fun as the poetics of Dr. Suess.  

The following age groups are going to need help learning to enjoy reading if they have not The_Silly_Bookpreviously spent time in books. The best way to do this is to choose an interesting book and read it together, taking turns. While I do NOT recommend tests or quizzes (this often kills the joys of reading), I do recommend having your child summarize what we read last before beginning and asking them questions as you go alice-in-wonderland-book-coveralong. Questions should sound like, “What do you think about that?” or “Why do you think she did that?” or “What would you do if you were in that situation?” In other words, ask questions that require your student to step into the lives of the characters, building empathy and making connections to the literature while being a part of natural conversation.

Ages 9- 12

This age group wants to move out of what they consider “children’s lit” in favor for something a bit more daring. I whole-heartedly recommend reading aloud with each other children’s poetry. Not the nursery rhymes belonging to toddlers, but the poetry that stirs their wonder and asks questions. Good anthologies of children’s poetry are widely available and many include pieces from famous poets.wrinkle in time

I also recommend beginning series of books with them. This age group would also enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia as a series, but also Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time Series. Harry Potter, a modern classic, is a wonderful series for this age as well. I also highly recommend Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. This series teaches strong vocabulary skills and plays with anachronisms. Adults of all educational backgrounds find little “Easter eggs” buried in passages. A Thousand Cranes is a story that could pair well with Diary of Anne Frank for a WWII theme.

holliswoods

My daughter and I read No Small Thing; The Shakespeare Stealer; I, Coriander; and The Giver at this age. Her favorite of all was Pictures of Hollis Woods.  She and many other students enjoy the Goosebumps series.

Ages 12-14

If your child has been reading for as long as mine has, her interests have taken on a life of their own by this age. Realizing she has no barriers to what she may enjoy, she finds herself reading whatever books are on the shelf. At our house, that could mean poetry by Langston Hughes or Rumi, novels by Stephen King or Mark Twain, even college textbooks on psychology and engineering. Building a library full of variety for a child like this is of obvious

langston

importance. (And if you really want to see your children actually read, you could live like we do – sans internet or television services. That’s another entry for another day.)

However, if your child is struggling with reading comprehension at this age, chances are they’ve already developed strong feelings regarding reading. They have likely decided they aren’t good at it and would rather not feel the failure that comes with trying. This age is a critical time to begin intervening.

To combat these feelings, the reward of reading must be great. I believe that most children, regardless of their hormonal mood-swings of this age, regardless of their extra-curricular interests, still crave the undivided attention of their parent(s). Enter the world of young adult fiction.

Some of the best young adult books are truly engaging for all ages. Though they are geared to young adults, they are unwindoften mesmerizing for anyone. When a story grabs us, it never truly lets go. Unwind is an easy-to-read/hard-to-put-down novel for all age groups. The Pigman transfixes readers of all ages.  Stephen King’s books may be more enticing to some this age. To Kill A Mockingbird delivers a powerful opportunity for discussions on history, justice, and ethics. Short stories appeal to this age group as well. I recommend “A Rose for Emily,” “The Lottery,” “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “The Gift of the Magi,” “The Open Window,” and “The Scarlet Ibis.” Often, these are available in an anthology that would include them all. Anything by Edgar Allen Poe, Kate Chopin, Mark Twain, or Edith Wharton are usually wonderful reading. And the best part about short stories from these authors is that they are easily printed from the internet, royalty free. Remember, many of these stories contain more rigorous vocabulary. This means they are filled with words we don’t commonly use. When a parent is able to model for their student how they will look up words they don’t know or use context clues to figure them out, it really underscores the importance of vocabulary and continually learning.

Let me also recommend for this age group adventure stories. Treasure Island and Call of the Wild are perennial

Peter-and-the-Starcatchers-Book-Cover-e1342625542153

favorites, as is Peter Pan. Dave Barry wrote Peter and the Starcatchers – the story of how Peter Pan came to be. Endless other classics are easy to find.

Ages 15 – 18

viralsnewStudents who are struggling with reading at this age may benefit from the books and stories I mentioned in the previous paragraph. For these students, I’d also recommend the popular series Twilight, the Virals series, and the Pretty Little Liars series.

For those who are more advanced readers and need something interesting and perhaps challenging, try the dystopian novel genre. These books are usually favorites for students. I recommend parental guidance in this genre, as parenting styles greatly vary and some of the material may not be suitable for your child.  (Summaries of these books are widely available on the internet.) George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm are wonderful places to begin in this genre. Alas Babylon is a good book for initiating these works as well. Other titles are I am Legend, The Road, The Hunger Games (series), and Brave New World. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorites, but certainly has more mature content.handmaidstale

Another genre that may capture your child’s imagination is Gothic literature. This includes Dracula, Frankenstein, A Picture of Dorian Grey, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jane Eyre, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, Phantom of the Opera, Clockwork Orange, and several other similar works. To Kill a Mockingbird is another Gothic piece students love.  Modern Gothic writers are Stephen King, Kate Morton, Lemony Snicket, Joyce Carol Oates, and Anne Rice.

For the advanced, try reading Shakespeare’s plays together. www.nofearshakespeare.com is a wonderful resource for parents and students to analyze more complicated language structures and learn iambic pentameter. Students this age will likely study Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar or Othello, and Macbeth or Hamlet in high school. Students Much_ado_about_nothing_movie_posterusually really like these stories. If you’re interested in a comedy, I recommend Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and A Comedy of Errors. Really, King Lear, Henry V, and The Tempest are all favorites of students as well. Many film versions are available after you’ve read them and I highly recommend any film directed by Kenneth Branaugh. You could also draw comparisons to other films, such as Henry V and Braveheart.

I highly recommend The Importance of Being Earnest for a Victorian comedy.the-importance-of-being-earnest-movie-poster-2002-1020253302 A Flea in Her Ear is a wonderful example of a Farce. For modern plays, I recommend The Boys Next Door for a drama/comedy, and ZAP! By Paul Fleishel for a genre-crossing comedy. The subject matter is quite mature, but The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer-Park Housewife is another good play that pairs well with  A Streetcar Named Desire.

Reading with your child is rewarding and a great way to build your relationship. The fact that your child’s academics and education will grow is an added benefit. I’m very interested in knowing what books you recommend reading with children as well as what will you and your child read tonight.

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