Sunday, October 10, 2010

Simple Suggestions; Powerful Results

How can a suggestion as simple as “wash your hands regularly” be such a powerful force in battling infectious diseases? The fact remains that it is a powerful practice and the number one recommendation to ward off illness and stay healthy.

I remember when my children were playing soccer and basketball. Parents asked the coaches for suggestions for what the players could do at home to improve. Year after year the suggestions were quite simple. The soccer coaches said that the one thing players could do was to juggle the ball 15 minutes a day. The basketball coaches recommended just taking a little time each day to shoot baskets. Both suggestions were straight forward and did not require a great deal of time, yet the coaches would lament that if only they could get their players to do these simple suggestions the players would improve.

Recently I had a conversation with some teachers, and heard the frustration I have heard for all the years I have been in education, “If only the students would read at home every night, it would make such a difference.” and “If only the students would practice their math facts at home so they could memorize them.” It really struck me as to how simple these suggestions really are and yet children often do not take the time to read or practice basic facts at home.

Reading is a skill that needs to be taught and practiced. Students need to be able to “decode” automatically (read the words accurately) and read fluently (read smoothly, with natural phrasing) so that comprehension can occur. At school the teachers have the expertise to provide quality instruction. However, students need to practice this skill at school and at home.

I read a research study several years ago which made a great impression on me. The school decided to allow their second grade students to take home their reading books every night to simply reread the story that was read in school. Since it was a research project, they only made this one change to their reading program. At the end of the year, the reading test results showed significant improvement.

Since I read this article, there has been much research supporting the practice of having students reread each night the story they read in school. Parents often wonder how effective it is to reread the story, especially if the child reads it easily. It is effective. It is one of those “simple suggestions” with “powerful results”. Any amount of time reading at home on a regular basis will help to advance reading skills.

Teachers would say the same for practicing math facts. There have been many changes to mathematics instruction over the last few decades aimed at improving students understanding.We do not want students memorizing facts without deep mathematical understanding, but at some point the facts need to be committed to memory. In school the teachers have the expertise to provide instruction that promotes deep understanding and practice. That being said, without “automaticity” of basic facts, the students will have difficulty at higher levels of mathematics. Teachers recommend math fact practice at home after the students have demonstrated that they understand the concepts. At that point, practicing basic math facts at home can only help the students achieve the “automaticity” they need to succeed. Again, it seems so simple and yet so powerful.

Today, we have many pressures and distractions that pull at our family life. It is often hard to juggle our time and get everything done that needs to get done. However, if there are two simple suggestions that we as educators can make, they are to encourage your child to spend a little time each day reading and to find time to practice math facts. Doing this will yield powerful results.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

RtI Institute - North Carolina

Earlier this week I had the great fortune of being part of a team of elementary administrators and teachers who attended the "RtI Institute: From Theory to Practice" held in North Carolina. This institute included several nationally renown experts in the field of RtI as well as many sessions that provided information on practical ideas for addressing the various components of RtI. Participating teams hailed from several states and represented a wide range of schools, counties, and school districts. Discussing this topic with this collection of educators who are at the forefront of the RtI initiative was a uniquely valuable experience. The Burlington elementary principals were asked to be presenters and to share our experiences in our first year of implementation. During this "Spotlight Session", we shared how we started, where we are today, and goals for this year. The RtI Institute was a most informative conference and I look forward to applying our newly acquired knowledge as we continue on the RtI journey.