Interviewing Teachers

2nd Grade

Transitioning from basal reading instruction to novel studies instruction may prove to be a challenging task for the beginning teachers but the benefits are worth the effort. Novel studies doesn’t only focus upon reading and writing skills but also provides students additional perspectives through the introduction of diverse subject matters including science, social studies, and math. By forcing the students to step into new territories, novel studies help expand their critical reasoning skills as well as improve their vocabulary. Another benefit of novel studies is that it provides considerable teaching flexibility to the teachers. The teachers can also incorporate project-based activities as well as assessment strategies which encourage students to think about complex issues in depth. Students also find them engaged because they discover that they can personally relate to some novels. Similarly, novel studies also help students become more practical and allow them to see the usefulness of the acquired knowledge in the real world.

Like any successful transition, moving from basal reading to novel studies also require a careful plan. One useful strategy is to start with readings that have real-world elements so that the students can relate to them in some manner and are inspired by them such as biographies, autobiographies, historical fiction, nonfiction informational texts, newspaper, and magazine articles. In addition, it is also a useful strategy to incorporate technology because students enjoy the interactive elements of technology.

While it is tempting to start with a single text, a more effective strategy is to incorporate as many texts as possible First of all, it is more efficient use of time and second, it helps the students learn different reading strategies and how the best reading strategy should be determined on the basis of the text. A teacher may use both common core reading passages from both fiction and nonfiction texts on a daily basis including those from dictionaries, trade books, diagrams, newspaper ads, encyclopedias, nonfiction books, and data graphs.

It is also important to introduce students to informational nonfiction texts on a regular basis such as science and social studies topics. The teacher may opt for a common core aligned reading booklet with both fiction and nonfiction informational text. Technology options include websites with nonfiction texts as well as nonfiction ebooks and Tumblebooks. As compared to fiction, it is easier to entice students to read nonfiction. This is because children could relate the things they read in nonfiction to the world around them. Children are naturally curious about how things work and the key is to finding out the particular interests of the students. If children are interested in learning about a particular thing, it will be easier to engage them. The children’s interests are usually quite varied such as sports, animals, automobiles, and military and fortunately, there is always something available which is related to the particular interests of the students. When students are fascinated by something, they want to learn more about it, thus, the teacher’s job is to figure out the interests of his//her students and then provide them with the books related to those interests. The teacher can learn about the interests of the students by talking to them.

Exposing students to fiction and nonfiction students is not enough and the teachers should also help the students see the connection between fiction and nonfiction works. The reading of fictional texts could be paired with real world explanations and examples to ensure that students are not only entertained but also acquire knowledge in the process. For example, the mentioning of a car in a fictional text could be paired with the history of automobile manufacturing and how transportation has evolved over time. Similarly, cultural elements in fiction texts could be paired with stories and lessons from the history. Students may not always be able to see the connection between fiction and real world, thus, the teacher can lead them through questions and hints. This approach helps the students understand the real world better and personally relate to the fictional stories.

Writing is not a random process. Certain strategies help us significantly improve the quality of our writing and it is a teacher’s job to teach those strategies to the students. One of the most effective ways to improve writing skills in practice which is why one useful strategy is to make students write about different types of content material and using different approaches to writing. This helps the students not only become more proficient with writing skills but also more versatile. Different writing approaches including critical analysis of the reading material, summary of the reading material, developing a solution to a problem, and personal opinions. Similarly, the students could also be asked to describe the whole process undertaken to complete a writing project to improve their thought processes. Students may also be asked to take side on an issue and defend their position. All these different types of assignments expose students to the reality that there is no single approach to writing and the strategies used depend upon the nature of the writing assignment. Writing skills cannot be improved by either knowledge or practice only but instead through both.

Students face different challenges along the way to improving their writing skills and some problems occur more frequently than others. One of the struggles faced by most of the students is spelling because words are not always written as they are spoken and the simplest example may be elephant which involves the sound of the letter ‘f’ yet contains no ‘f’. Another challenge facing the students is determining how much practice is enough and as most teachers know, no amount of practice is enough. But for students, writing assignments are another form of homework and they demand definite answer as to how much practice is enough. One effective approach may be to focus more on helping the students gain confidence in their writing skills than on the time spent doing writing projects. But teachers should ensure that students at least spend a minimum amount of time on writing assignments every day.

As students improving their writing skills, they discover that they can complete their assignments quicker than before. Their confidence also grows and they start enjoying writing assignments more as they discover the benefits of writing themselves. They also discover the potential of writing as a powerful medium to express personal opinions on issues that interest them. As they improve their writing skills, they start enjoying the writing process more and do not take assignments as burden anymore.

The love for reading and writing doesn’t come naturally to the children, thus, it is the teacher’s job to introduce students to the benefits of reading and writing. One effective strategy is to exploit the inherent curiosity in children to introduce them to both fiction and nonfiction and help them see the connection between reading material and the real world. Similarly, making the students write on a wide variety of subject matters and using different writing approaches also help them improve writing skills through both knowledge and practice.

7th Grade

The basal method emphasizes particular sounds or targeted reading skills in order to promote phonemic awareness and increase the ability to decode words within a text. While knowledge of basic phonetic rules helps students, other common “outlaw words” also need to be memorized as they don’t follow any common rules. Phonics is considered a “bottom up” approach where students “decode” the meaning of a text. The phonics help students, especially those with large vocabularies, to read a wide variety of children’s literature. However, as students progress in grade level and move to more advanced reading materials, the whole language approach helps the readers personally relate to the material.

Teachers should provide a literacy rich environment to their students and help them combine speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. Whole language teaching emphasizes the meaning of texts over the sounds of the letters and phonics instruction becomes just one component of the whole language classroom. For example, students from “high literacy” households usually read well regardless of the teaching approach used because they have been reading since a very young age and, thus, enter school with already large vocabularies and reading readiness skills. On the contrary, students from “low literacy” households lack the reading background of those from “high literacy” households and may also speak non-standard dialects of English language. It is believed that standard phonics approaches may be less effective in case of these students and a better approach may be whole language instruction. Under this approach, teachers may focus on reading materials that reflects these students’ language and culture while providing greater reading motivation.

High exposure to reading as well as higher reading volume is usually considered to have a positive impact on reading achievement. Reading proficiency can only be ensured by teaching students to apply reading skills and strategies in a systematic way and motivate them to invest considerable effort in reading practice. The reading students do outside classrooms have a significant impact on their classroom performance. Encouraging students to read at an early age and providing them access to quality reading materials, both within and outside the classroom, plays a major role in determining the student’s ability to develop vocabulary and comprehension required in other areas of academic success. Providing students with well-designed classroom libraries increases the students’ interaction with books and motivate them to spend more time reading. Their interest in reading grows and their attitudes become more positive. By providing students both access to books as well as the time to read them, teachers can reduce the variability in cognitive differences among students.

Exposure to more advanced literature to prepare students for the next grade levels should involve interesting and age-appropriate materials. In addition, the reading materials should be on a diverse range of content types to avoid boredom among the students as well as providing them with diverse thinking perspectives. Similarly, utilizing both fiction and non-fiction material that the students can personally relate to, increases the prospects of students taking interest in the reading process and being inspired to set personal goals. Classroom libraries should be stocked with a large number of trade books, reflecting different genres, topics, authors, and reading levels so that the students not only read more but also develop love for reading. Motivation levels and reading development are fostered when students become immersed in a book-rich environment, interact with and exchange ideas with fellow students, and take personal responsibility for developing the reading schedule.

According to the Common Core Standards, students at the 7th grade level should be able to analyze both explicit and implicit messages in a text material. In addition, students should also be able to determine a theme or the central idea and analyze its development over the course of the text. Writing strategies could be employed in identifying themes or central ideas in the reading material to encourage further analysis of the text. For example, students may be encouraged to write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content. This may include introducing a clear topic and providing a preview of the entire essay.

The teachers usually observe that many students struggle with elaborating and generating new ideas while describing relevant information at the same time. Implementing a variety of writing techniques can help build an organizational pattern that matches the writing’s purpose. Writing should be focused on specific content and claims should be followed by logically-organized evidence. Topics should be clearly introduced and concepts may be placed into broader categories for organization purpose. Similarly, smooth transitions should be employed to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among ideas. A concluding statement or section may support the main information presented in the paper. The Common Core Standards require that students be able to incorporate narrative elements effectively into arguments and informative/explanatory texts.

In order to facilitate reading fluency, increase vocabulary, and comprehend written text while elaborating, students must be provided with a wide range of reading materials, preferably related to their interests so that reading doesn’t become a boring activity. Students developing reading skills through practice and failure to provide enriching reading materials leads to lower performance in other areas of academia as well.  To generate children’s interest in reading, books must catch children’s attention and captivate their imaginations. Studies provide convincing evidence that the amount of reading is a major factor in literacy growth and for virtually all children, the amount of time spent reading in the classroom consistently accelerates their growth in reading skills. Reading skills have positive relationship with academic achievement which means children must be taught effective reading skills for a successful long-term academic career.