Like many people around the world, these last few weeks I’ve spent a little time watching the Olympics. What struck me as I watched this pageant of super human athletes was often the person the camera focused on next—the coach. The coach, the one who worked day in and day out to inspire, lead, support, and challenge the athlete was right there. The coach was living this once in a lifetime moment alongside his/her athletes. What an amazing feeling that must be to watch your team making its way onto the Olympic field knowing that you helped them get there.
As a former classroom teacher I often wonder, would we all be better off if we began to think of ourselves a little bit more like Olympic coaches? Would we be more apt to push, challenge, inspire? Take, for instance, Tim Shanahan’s recent post about the Common Core’s reading recommendations around text difficulty vs. the widely used Guided Reading methodology developed by Fountas & Pinnell. I read this post with great interest because I taught using Guided Reading as my preferred approach for reading. Yet unlike many of the responses posted by other Guided Reading advocates, I found myself completely aligned with Shanahan’s views.
The Common Core take the position that students should be consistently challenged by the texts presented to them so that by the time they leave high school they are able to competently handle the texts and tasks of advanced study and the modern workplace. The Guided Reading approach also aims to present students with challenge, but at the same time it limits students’ exposure to difficult texts that are at a student’s frustration level, those that students would read with less than 90% accuracy on a cold read.
It makes me wonder. If we were coaches, not teachers, would this be a non-issue? What coach do you know who gives you a practice workout every day that is 90% attainable? Maybe she lowers the difficulty on your “rest day” but most of the time the workout is a stretch, your muscles hurt, and you are very tired when it’s over. Usually, you notice that after a couple of days of feeling challenged the task starts to get easier. And if you have a good coach, probably right at the moment when you’re feeling like you’re getting the hang of things, she ups the challenge once again.
Reading is a lot like training for the Olympics—the challenge is real, the rewards are great. Our good readers become champions of academic success and later become leaders in the workplace.
No matter your approach to reading instruction, as teachers—I mean “coaches”—we need to teach students to tackle their frustrations head-on, coach our students through it so that we get world-class learning outcomes. I know not one teacher who wouldn’t trade a medal ceremony over a graduation ceremony any day.
Elizabeth Kline is the Sr. Director of Instruction at Scientific Learning. She began her career in education as a Teach for America corps member in Los Angeles. For the last 10 years she has worked at publishing and software companies building the tools to help great teachers, or “coaches” as she prefers to call them, everywhere.
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