Kids don’t need to change. Teachers don’t need to change. Testing and reading software need to change.
I’ve heard the talk and I’m kind of dreading the moment I have to deal with it. My oldest son just started Kindergarten this year and at some point he’s going to have to take standardized state tests. With no experience of my own, at least since taking high school assessments, I’m not quite sure what to think.
I recently got to chance to know another mom and a former teacher who realizes that some change needs to happen and decided to do something about it. Stacie Hutton was a Teacher of the Year nominee. She is also a former college professor, award-winning children’s book author, and currently serves as a university trustee. Education has touched every part of her life. And he studied meta-cognition in grad school which is basically “thinking about your thinking.”
But Stacie didn’t always have it easy in school. She grew up in a single parent home and spent a lot of time with her grandparents. Her grandmother only had fourth grade education, but she wanted Stacie to have every opportunity at her fingertips. And her grandmother knew that would happen through reading.
“I had some trouble starting out in school. When I stayed in the evening my grandmother would read with me. I developed a love for the written word, and books, and reading. And soon things started turning around for me, I became an honor student.”
Reading comprehension is the basis of these standardized tests. Stacie doesn’t believe in completely throwing out testing. There have been times when she’s seen good come from the tests. Take for instance, children who don’t do their homework. Teachers don’t have a good picture of where they are academically and then they’ll do surprisingly (and remarkably) well on a test. At that point, school faculty can look at a better class placement for that child. It also works the other way around, where a student needs intervention in a specific area.
“I think that [testing] is a tool, but it’s an archaic tool. We’ve been using testing since World War I in the United States and I think that parents are clamoring for innovation. I think teachers are clamoring for innovation. Teachers are wringing their hands over testing because we want to build lifelong learners.”
Stacie’s created an app unlike many others out there for reading comprehension and it speaks directly to the testing concerns and developing that lifelong love of reading and learning. Most reading apps have a question-answer series of screens that they dress up like a video game. They may look cool to kids, but their value is minimal according to this former teacher.
“Kids live on these devices, but statistically we’re seeing they’re not reading as well on the device. There’s a gap because the things we do as teachers to help with reading comprehension, software hasn’t caught up with that. Marketing and IT experts are writing these programs, not teachers.”
Stacie has changed that through creating her app. And her work is being validated here in Central Ohio and throughout the country. Ask Nancy Thornsberry, a Central Ohio Librarian and Literacy Specialist.
“This app is like a blueprint for making sure students are reading on target by 3rd grade.”
Stacie shared with me her 5 Tips for Building Great Readers. It’s what her app is based on, but these are things you can also do at home right now.
- Build Purpose to the Reading
This can be as simple as asking your child “What do you think this book is about?” or as complex with older kids as having them ask themselves” What I want to learn?” and then commit to that.
Building purpose and comprehension go hand-in-hand. When children ask or read questions before they read a story, their brain starts making connections with the text. When you have a 3-4 paragraph passage on a test, Stacie says that good teachers will instruct your student to read the questions first.
At home, before she reads a book with her 4-year-old son, Stacie shows him the cover and asks him to make a prediction: What will this book be about?
- Say it in Your Own Words
Your kids should be able to repeat what’s happening in the story. If you have small children, just ask them simple questions once you’re done with it. For example, let’s say you read Good Night Moon before they go to bed. Ask them: What is happening in this story? Your child might answer: They’re getting ready to go to bed.
With older children, retelling a story and being able to gauge its’ comprehension on their part as a parent is a little more difficult. Some of them are reading one-hundred-page chapter books. So, Stacie suggests finding one of the chapters that the child reads, read it yourself, and then have the child give a 1-2 sentence summary.
- Think Out Loud
Is there anything your child needs to re-read out loud? Are there any words they don’t know? Like many of you reading this, Stacie loved Judy Blume when she was growing up. She recalled to me a time when she was reading “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.” When something didn’t make sense, she would read it out loud. She would go back and read it again. Even if it’s for only 15 minutes, take the time with your child when they’re developing these critical reading skills to read and talk out loud with them through a portion of a book.
- See a Movie in Your Head While You Read
Remind your kids, they have the power of imagination. They get to be the costume designer, they get to create the sets, they get to be Steven Spielberg when they read a book, Stacie says. So give them the idea of richly visualizing as they read, bringing the book to life in their own mind. It’s a fun way to build those meta-cognitive skills. And while we were talking I threw in an idea, Stacie loved it, so I’ll tell you about it! Have your child create a new book cover for the book or a movie poster, for ultimate creativity.
- Recap -How did I do? Did I understand? Were my predictions about the text correct?
Once the story ends, your child needs to ask themselves how they did with the text. Did they understand it? Were their predictions about the story correct? And when they’re younger, they need to have that conversation with you. Stacie has an older daughter and she knew by third grade she was reading material that was too easy based on her recap strategy. She knew she needed to step up the difficulty of books she was reading.
These again are ways you can help your children at home and it’s what the 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee Prep app does. You can check it out and download it here.
And let me know in the comments below how you’ve been feeling about state testing and how your child is doing with their reading comprehension! I have a cool new functionality on the blog that will let us have a better conversation about specific articles like this in the Comments section.