A Drum Roll for My (Our) New Book: The Metacognitive Student

If you were one of the few who wondered why I haven’t been blogging in the last year or two, I’d like to introduce my new book to you: The Metacognitive Student: How to Teach Academic, Social, and Emotional Intelligence in Every Content Area. I co-wrote the book along with Richard K. CohenDeanne Kildare OpatoskyJames Savage, and Edward P. Darrah. The book also has a foreword written by Dr. Maurice J. Elias, professor of psychology at Rutgers University. It is currently available for pre-order from Solution Tree Press and other distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

This book is a must-read for teachers, guidance counselors, parents, and administrators. Why? Because it teaches a simple,  method for problem-solving in all areas of a child’s life. That’s reason enough, but wait there’s more: This process also helps teachers how to fit SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) easily into their already over-stuffed days. And once students internalize this process they can easily transfer this learning from one area to another.

We believe that this book is very much needed during this time when we all are facing unprecedented challenges in our lives. Please read our Solution Tree blog entitled Metacognitive Strategies for Improving Students’ Mental Health to see why we think so.



Filling the Gaps

I recently taught a teacher workshop in Pennsylvania, which was aimed at areas for growth in many Christian school (and public school, for that matter) curricula. Certainly, not all Christian schools share these same areas for growth, but many do–especially the curricula which are touted as “teacher-proof” so that anyone can do the teaching. I’m a strong proponent of Christian schools, so please do not think that I am criticising; I just encourage continual growth in any school. Here is the slide set from that workshop and a few of the activity sheets.

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Here is the Bartling Puzzballs worksheet, which is an exercise from Kelly Gallagher:


Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene

I just finished reading Reading in the Brain. While I cannot recommend it as a practical teaching resource, it did remind me what an immensely difficult task reading is–especially learning to read in English. The more transparent a language, the faster children learn to read as you can see in Figure 5.3 from RitB.

Not only is English, itself difficult to learn, but children need to learn to read it in many fonts, sizes, and styles.

The process of learning to read is yet unknown, but knowledge is growing every day.

Here is one representation of the process that takes place in our brain when we read a word out loud:

Is it any wonder that we sometimes struggle when we teach reading? We need to remind ourselves of the amazing accomplishment that reading is for our students.


Shame on Me!

When I published Dr. Goodreader on Kindle in 2012 soon after publishing it on Create Space, I just assumed that it would format correctly as I had it in the paper version. In 2015 I was on a conference call with Grant Wiggins (Yes, the Grant Wiggins of UbD) and my friend, Rick Cohen. Grant told me that my book–especially the beginning–resonated with him, but was full of formatting errors on Kindle.

Reformatting Dr. G for Kindle has been on EVERY to-do list I’ve made since then, and I finally spent three days getting it right.  It is now formatted correctly.  It is available for purchase on Amazon for $4.99.  If you purchased it previously, improperly formatted, please let me know and I will see if I can figure out how to e-mail you the correctly formatted version for free.

A Day Late & A Dollar Short: Thoughts on CCSS

apple-139437_1280I realize that it’s late to put anything up about the Common Core Standards, but I have to say that I don’t “get” the continuing misunderstandings about them.  Standards are simply  a list of what students should learn.


Here is an example from 3rd Grade:Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 1.14.08 PM

  • The lists are general and are skills oriented.
  • The content is not mandated except in a few cases as above where certain genres are mentioned as above.  The Common Core does NOT say what stories or books to read.
  • You could teach the Common Core ELA standards using any book list appropriate to student age.

What the Common Core is Not:

  • Common Core is not the assessments used to measure whether the standards have been learn.
  • Common Core is not the many, many textbooks and programs which have the name Common Core slapped on them.  Some are a good representative of the standards and some are not.
  • Common Core is not the data mining that is supposedly happening.
  • Common Core is not what you see on social media.

Is the Common Core Perfect?

  • The short answer is no.  I wish reading strategies were written specifically in the standards instead of being implied in Standard 1 and Standard 10.
  • I worry about forcing all students to read grade level texts, if their reading is not at grade level.  Students can become frustrated and learn to hate reading because of that.  (At my school, we encourage a balance of reading at grade level and reading at the student’s level–whatever that might be.)
  • It is a general list that encourages higher-level thinking and does not get bogged down in minutiae.

Why Now?

I think the social media finally got to me.  A lovely family member of mine posted a rant about the Common Core.  It included something like this:  “The Common Core (and I’ve read them) are forcing our children to learn __________.”  Fill in the blank with something you disagree with. Untrue.  Unless he’s against reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, there’s no problem with the CCSS.





Shoehorning Grammar and Punctuation into a Busy Day

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 3.11.19 PMThe most frequent complaint I hear from my teachers is “When am I supposed to teach grammar? And punctuation?”  After all they teach reading workshop and writing workshop and spelling and guided reading and have read-alouds and think-alouds. There’s not enough time in the day to do everything!

One of my over-arching questions is how can we teach grammar and punctuation effectively?  Last week I gave a workshop to our elementary school teachers about Jeff Anderson’s method, EveryDay Editing.  EveryDay Editing takes an authorial rather than a secretarial approach to teaching conventions–in other words we look at why authors choose certain conventions and how they use them to improve the quality of their writing.

The slide show that is linked below contains three different examples of the EveryDay Editing framework for different grade levels.  Following the examples are “How To” instructions of how to create your own lessons and framework slides for you to use.


EveryDay Editing (2)

Back to Basics: Stop, Drop, and Read

book-863418_640I’m a huge fan of Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) / Independent Reading / D.E.A.R. / Stop, Drop, and Read in all of its permutations. Linking teacher-student conferences moves students forward.

Stephen Krashen’s 2004, The Power of Reading:  Insights from research,  shows that

“In-school FVR results in better

  • reading comprehension
  • writing style
  • vocabulary
  • spelling
  • grammatical development (p.17).”

And, according to Krashen, the more consistent over time the FVR, the better:

Results of Reading Comprehension Tests:  In-School Free Reading Compared to Traditional Approaches:

Duration                      Positive             No Difference           Negative

Less that 7 months           8                           14                           3

7 months – 1 year             9                            10                          0

Greater than 1 year          8                             2                           0 (p.2)

But I’m also a believer in explicit instruction–in reading strategies, spelling, vocabulary, writing, grammar.  I can’t imagine teaching reading without read-alouds, either. Not to mention including Guided Reading and other small group strategies.

How can a teacher fit it all in?  How can we balance our priorities?  Here’s some Do’s and Don’ts:

  1.  Don’t allow our schedules to push out independent reading.  “Studies show that reading enhances literacy development lead to what should be an uncontroversial conclusion:  Reading is good for you.  The research, however, supports a stronger conclusion:  Reading is the only way, the only way we become good readers, develop a good writing style, an adequate vocabulary, advanced grammatical competence, and the only way we become good spellers” (Krashen, p. 37).  It is student choice in reading that motivates them to read.
  2. Don’t ALWAYS confer when our students are reading.  Model your joy in reading by reading when they read.  Krashen’s research shows that “children read more when they see other people reading” (p. 85).
  3. Don’t sacrifice read-alouds, either. “In controlled studies, it has been shown that children who are read to regularly, at home or at school, make superior gains in reading comprehension and vocabulary (Bus, Van Ijzendoorn, and Pellegrini 1995; Blok 1999) (Krashen, p, 78).
  4. Do tailor the rest of instruction to our class’s personal chemistry.

A. If we pinpoint our students’ needs, we can target our reading instruction to meet those needs.  To know our students’ needs, we need to continually conference and assess.

a. For example, if many students in your class struggle in the area of fluency, have them tape repeated oral readings of a picture book that they choose.

b. If they struggle with comprehension, perhaps small group strategy sessions would work.

Dr. Goodreader at CDS

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 9.48.41 AMIn the last few weeks I’ve given short presentations on Dr. Goodreader to our teachers and our parents.  Here’s a link to the presentation: Dr.G

In the elementary teacher workshop, we used Dr. Goodreader to pinpoint where our understanding broke down when reading some upper level science books. It was a fun and revealing activity. As adults many of us use fix-up strategies instinctively, but we were not taught in such a way that they are internalized and easy to access.

That’s the value in Dr. Goodreader.  It’s not a new program.  It’s not some brilliant new discovery. It’s just a way to teach the brilliant old discoveries in a way that is efficient and effective.

In Mourning

booksI love books. Love the heft of them, love turning the corners of the pages on the top to mark my place and on the bottom to mark something incredible that I need to go back to when I’m finished. Love looking at them on the shelf–kind of like a miser looking at his gold, I guess.

But I’m in mourning. My classroom library isn’t much–just two bookcases filled with books. I’ve scoured Goodwill for years and then paid extra luggage charges to bring them to the schools I’ve taught at in Ecuador and Costa Rica. But my classroom library is in its last throes of dying. When I announce time for sacred reading, hardly any of my students pull out a book. They pull out their computers, phones, and iPads.

I’ve even succumbed. I got a smart phone for my birthday and discovered that I love to read on the phone. I choose books that I want to read slowly, in snippets, and then read in spare moments–on the bus, while on lunch duty. I love it, but I feel like a traitor.

My husband will be happy, because we won’t be paying extra luggage fees any more, but I, I just hate to see my library dying.

CNN Student News

Surprisingly, CNN Student News has added tons to our 7th grade literature courses this year, and the trend is catching on in other grades.

We watch at least the top stories of CNN Student News each day, and normally we watch the whole 10 minute show.

Benefits and uses:

  • Students are sharpening listening skills.
  • Students are obtaining tons of background knowledge about the world.
  • Students are learning to right great summaries as they write a summary of a news story about once a week.  We’re moving from watching the story 3 times, to 2 times, to 1 time, to writing a summary of a story without being given a warning ahead of time.  We’ve introduced paragraph GIST summaries, and 20-word summaries using CNN news.
  • Students are CAPTIVATED.  Many watch it at home on the days they don’t have literature.
  • Students are talking about current events with their parents and they’re often heard talking about news topics in the halls.
  • The funniest result is that my students–many of whom are ELL–are becoming adept at word play.  At the end of each broadcast, Carl Azuz, the anchorman, makes a number of word plays about the final story.  Today we counted 8 or 9 following a story of a 40 foot tall rubber ducky.

I know I sound like I work for them, but I just love this show and all it is doing for my students.