SharpReading BLOG

Thoughts About Teaching Reading


Reading Rotations in Years 3-8 are too hard

Reading rotations are too hard!'

 The argument goes something like this ... 
'As the teacher, I spend most of my time monitoring the mayhem going on with the supposedly 'independent' workers and can't focus on the instruction I am supposed to be delivering to the group. Consequently, the group engagement is weak and everyone comes away feeling that little has been achieved. I have given up!'

 Hmm...I spent ten years as a tutor at NZGSE living by the rule that there is an undeniable correlation between work output and noise levels. This was drummed into all trainee teachers by NZGSE director and BM guru Dr Kevin Knight and religiously reinforced by tutors in the classrooms where our trainees worked.
Here's the thing. Silent independent work focus doesn't just happen. It certainly doesn't happen as a result of pleas by the teacher for cooperation. Kids are just not wired that way. 

 You know the scenario. The noise level rises until it gets to the teacher's threshold. The teacher stops everyone, growls, expresses disappointment at the lack of cooperation, threatens sanctions if things don't improve, goes back to their teaching. The noise level bounces back to what it was within 5 seconds.

 Silent, focused independent work needs to be taught.

Sorry, this is behaviour management 101. I used to tell beginning teachers that they needed to spend the first 2-3 weeks of the reading programme training the class to work quietly and independently and not even think about reading group rotations until that had been habituated.

 When you ask students to work quietly they interpret that as 'the teacher will tell us when the noise level is too high'. They quickly work out what you will tolerate and make adjustments accordingly. So you have to establish what quiet independent work looks like for YOU. They have to feel what you mean! It is very interesting to follow a class from one teacher to the next and see how differently they perform for different people. They have worked out what they can get away with.

 So, you have to spend time on establishing quiet work practice. Set the task, make sure everyone knows what the requirements are (I mean really check that they have got it) and stand there monitoring the work focus. Most teachers can only do this for 2-3 minutes maximum and then they get distracted. 

The kids know exactly when the scrutiny has wavered and the breakouts start occurring. A whisper here, a call out there. If those aren't caught and dealt with within the first 3 seconds (if you catch it early it only needs a quietly spoken name ....'Brian?') they quickly escalate. Stand there!!! Don't waver!!! 

If your class's default noise level is high then you may need to use an extrinsic motivator. Record points as acknowledgement for individual students in work groups doing the right thing. Give out lots of points. I mean LOTS of points! The group with the most points when the session ends (10 minutes) gets to go to lunch first. Build 10 minutes daily practice into your day. Extend it to 20. THIS WORKS if you do it properly! They learn the new default.

 I can hear you throwing your hands up in horror. This sounds so draconian in our modern education environment where we are too nervous to make these sorts of demands on children.

 Well, maybe this is something that you can think about.

We are talking about creating an environment where students can actually learn.
We are talking about managing your stress levels so that you go home at the end of the day feeling good about your job.

 This is the first step in understanding and achieving Student Engagement. Get the rest of the class sorted and then you can give your undivided attention to what is happening in front of you. 

Hilton Ayrey


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