Making a Difference for Striving Readers Every Day

     Making a difference for students is the most important job in a reading intervention classroom. The question that many teachers have, particularly if they are new to the endeavor of helping striving readers change their mindsets is: "How do I make a difference for every learner?" One way to begin to create the conditions that cultivate reading growth is to implement the suggestions in the research on growth mindset, which inevitably leads to another question, "Where do I begin?"

     In his work, David Dockterman reminds us that learners need three essential conditions to thrive: a growth mindset, a sense of belonging, and to understand the purpose and relevance of the work. Even though we wish we could simply state these words– mindset, belonging, and relevance and students would easily absorb them, they each actually require instructional time. Throughout the year, we need to teach our most striving learners about growth mindset as well as to ensure that they are an integral part of our learning community. If you teach in a setting that has lessons on mindset built-in, you’ll want to consider revisiting beginning of the year lessons several times to have the maximum effect. If you don’t utilize a curriculum that has mindset lessons, chances are that you have taught a growth mindset lesson or displayed a poster in your room about the differences between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. Review the poster and your environment. How can you revisit? Talking to students about before and now will give you an opportunity to learn how students notice their own changes. If it is worth teaching, it deserves to be revisited, supported, monitored, and celebrated.

     Our district uses READ 180 which begins the year with six lessons on growth mindset. Students learn about growth mindset, hear inspiring stories from former READ 180 students and their current successes, and set goals. We have noticed through walk throughs that teachers who get the most reading and personal growth from students revisit mindset often. We encourage teachers to check-in with students on how the work is going to not only hold them accountable, but to dedicate time to discussing the process, strategies used, and effort in the work.

     In the READ 180 Blended Learning Handbook, there is a suggested Wrap-Up activity at the end of each lesson. The activities vary but they offer students the ability to have a clean ending to each lesson. Providing both a clean beginning and ending help students retain information and transition from one concept to the next. The activities focus on on-going development of mindset, build the reading community, foster connections about the learning, or ask students to reflect upon their learning and personal goals. Naturally an explicit connection is made between the lessons. What a thrill it is to hear a student share statements such as, "I was not getting it, but then I…" Wrap up activities are worthwhile in any class. Take a deep breath and give it the instructional minutes. Be sure to include them in your lesson plans each week. Scripting them into your lesson plans will increase the likelihood that you will remember to utilize them and they become an authentic part of your instructional landscape.

     Helping students monitor their own growth and success is also essential to learning. Monitoring must be intentional because it matters. The same techniques that we use as teachers to remember to monitor data can be taught to students. The most successful READ 180 teachers not only teach the mindset lessons and have students set goals, but they encourage students to put sticky notes in their ReaL books near the end of every unit. Students know that when they get to a page with a sticky note, they will get a chance to reflect on their goals. These visual reminders help both students and teachers remember to assess how they are progressing toward the target. Teachers have one-on-one goal conferences to help students see even small successes as well as to set microgoals for areas that need fine-tuning. A couple examples of microgoals are:

  • To raise my passing rate in the Reading Zone, I will go back to the passage and reread to answer the question. Currently, I am at ____% passing. In three weeks, I want to raise my score by 10%.
  • I will put flags on every 4 pages in my independent reading book. I will focus from flag-to-flag and try to create a mental image of what is happening. When I reach a flag, if I can’t create a picture or movie in my head of what has happened, I will reread.

     Monitoring can take a visible form in a classroom so that students can self-assess their growth and accomplishments. Sticker charts make success visible. A simple sticker chart can create a powerful bar graph or scatterplot. Graffiti walls are another great way to publish achievement towards a goal. Door signs that say something like, "A reader in this classroom has finished a book for 121 consecutive days," show the rest of the school community how hard everyone is working while giving the students doing the work a sense of accomplishment.

Questions for Effective Planning of Progress Monitoring

  • Are there scaffolds and supports in place to help students produce quality work independently?
  • How will you hold students accountable for producing quality work?
  • How will you check to see if they are progressing toward their goals? How often will you check?
  • How will you offer hope to students who don’t achieve as quickly?
  • Does your classroom have multiple ways for students to:
         -access text?
         -produce quality work?
         -have small victories?

     Are there support staff at your school who can create a cocoon of caring and support around your neediest students?

Most importantly of all, are you, as the lead learner of your community, modeling the growth mindset lifestyle? Share some challenges you have with your students. Let the students be part of your support team. Ask them to share what they are surprised to learn about you. In partnership, you’ll begin to appreciate each other’s strengths and work to build from them every day. Are you counting down the days until the end of the year or are you grateful that you still have days left to make a difference? Mindset always has to be checked.

Houston, TX

Charmion Mohning is the Secondary Reading Coordinator and lead reader in Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. She has presented at local, state, and national conferences about growing a love of reading, word study, and implementing READ 180 with fidelity. She is passionate about ensuring that every student can read. Before becoming an administrator, Charmion taught English as a Second Language in Grades 4-6 and was a curriculum coach for the district’s structured English immersion program. She has degrees from Upper Iowa University and Sam Houston State University.