I am spoiled by my DVR. I can sit down and watch my favorite shows whenever I want. I can even skip over commercial breaks. However, every now and then, I enter the DVR menu and press the buttons on the remote only to find that nothing happens. The system seems to encounter a glitch that prevents it from giving me what I want. Before I am able to select a show, I have to reset the cable box. It takes time and a tremendous amount of patience to wait for the reset to take effect.
Humans are not all that different from DVR technology. Once in a while we too need someone to reset us and wait patiently for the results of our reset to take effect.
Last week, I passed out a text to my first group of eighth graders in the day and instructed them to read it independently the first time through. I barely had the instructions out before students began protesting. “We need to read this together,” called out one student. Nearly half the class chimed in to voice their agreement.
Although I felt like barking orders at them to stop whining and start reading, I could sense their pushback was not going to be resolved so easily. I knew if I simply forced compliance, I would most likely end up with a room filled with fake readers. Instead, I decided to attempt a reset. I asked students to get real and share with me why they felt they needed the support of having the text read to them. Answers ranged from “I am lazy” to “It looks too hard.”
A Quick Reset
I decided to pull out a lesson designed to boost their confidence as readers and reignite their determination to succeed. I gave each student a copy of the first paragraph of an article from the Smithsonian Tween Tribune titled “Meet the Female Inventor Behind Mass Market Paper Bags.” In fact, I ended up giving each student two different copies of the same paragraph, one at a Lexile level of 680L and the other at a level of 1450L.
As I passed out the copies, I explained to students that we would be reading only the passage at the lower reading level since nobody in the room had the scores that said they could read the more challenging passage. Well, no sooner had I declared the paragraph unreadable than a student raised his hand and, without waiting to be called on, said, “I can read that!”
I invited the student to attempt to read the passage to us. He read it flawlessly. Openly expressing my surprise, I said that even though he could read it, he surely could not also explain what the text was about after reading the more difficult version. Again, the student rose to the challenge and explained the information he had just read.
Again, I conveyed my surprise, this time asking students how this could be possible. How could students read text at a Lexile level that was much higher than what they were scoring? In an attempt to demystify the text leveling system and reset my student readers’ confidence, I asked them to count the number of sentences in each of the two paragraphs I had provided. Next we counted the number of words per sentence. Students were shocked to find that the passage with the higher Lexile level had a third of the sentences of the lower-level version of the same text. They noted that the sentences were much longer in the passage at the higher reading level. Students also pointed out the paragraph break in the less complex version of the text. We talked about how these simple differences make the reading easier and less taxing on a reader.
We dug a bit deeper and noticed differences in the vocabulary used from one version of the text to the other. Students pointed out the use of the word ubiquitous instead of the word ironic, and other, more complex words such as manufacturing and precocious.
Once students walked through this reminder that they are capable of reading text that is more complex than what their scores indicate, those who were previously whiny were ready to engage in reading. Sometimes, all it takes is a reminder that we are capable.
Catches like this give students the opportunity to take a step back and do some reflecting.
Resetting with Goals
Earlier this school year, when students were similarly refusing to engage in reading independently, I led a different kind of reset. I handed each student a sticky note and asked them to write down a goal they have in life. It didn’t have to be a school-related goal. It could be short term or long term.
Next, I divided the board into two sections labeled helpful and not helpful. I asked students to place their sticky notes on the board, indicating whether they believed that to obtain their goal it would be helpful to know how to read well or would not be helpful to know how to read well.
Once the notes were placed, I began going through those placed on the helpful side. I asked students why it would be helpful to know how to read well if you want to be a professional athlete. One student explained that you are most likely to become a professional through first participating in college sports, which would require getting good enough grades to play on the team. Another student mentioned how you would want to be able to read your own contracts so that you weren’t dependent on someone else to make big decisions for you.
Slowly, as we talked through each note, students sneaked up to the board behind me to move their notes from not helpful to helpful until only one goal was left on the not helpful side of the board. It read, “I want to get married.” I shared the note with the class, and immediately students began explaining how they disagreed with its placement. One student pointed out that reading helps build empathy and empathy would make you a better partner in a relationship.
Taking the time to remind students how reading today is in service of their larger goals helps them enter the task with a greater sense of purpose and helps make them, at least temporarily, less resistant to engaging with text. A reset like this can be used as a reminder on an individual basis on future days when a reset may be needed just for an individual student, as opposed to the whole group.
Everyone has the potential to encounter a glitch in their performance. Sometimes all it takes is some patience and a simple reset to smooth things out and reestablish a workflow.