Thursday, January 26, 2012

Course Correction

Did you know while an airplane is in flight, it’s off course 80% of the time? Let’s say you are going to take a flight to Hawaii. If you arrive at the right destination at the right time, you would say it was a successful trip. What you don’t realize is that for 80% of the time, you were actually off course. Luckily for you, the autopilot realizes there are outside influences that force the plane off course. The plane flies for a little and then checks to see if it’s still on course and if it’s not, it makes a course correction. Then it flies a little more and makes another course correction. This continues until the plane lands at the correct destination.

Creating a radical routine is great, but it won’t get you to your destination. It’s time to make some course corrections by evaluating your radical routine and making adjustments. It may take a few weeks to work out scheduling conflicts until you get use to making school a priority. Here are some helpful tips when adjusting your radical routine:

· Do you have a long chunk of study time? Studying is a sprint, not a marathon. Research shows the brain does better with short bursts of studying. Keep your scheduled study time to 20 minutes of intense, distraction free studying, and then reward yourself with a break. Doing this allows the brain to process information and transfer it into long-term memory.

· Are you specific with which class you are studying? It’s easy to avoid reading if you aren’t committed to a certain class. Review your radical routine and make sure you list each class 3 different times throughout the week. Research on the brain has found, “one could increase the lifespan of a memory simply by repeating the information in timed intervals. The more repetition cycles a given memory experiences,” the easier it is to recall the information (p.100, Medina, 2008).

· Are your study times as close to class as possible? Again, brain research has discovered that, “a great deal of memory loss occurs in the first hour or two after initial exposure,” (p.130, Medina, 2008). In other words, if you begin to study new information right after class, the easier it will be to transfer this information into long-term memory. If you wait even one day to begin studying, you may not remember what you learned in class. This schedule also establishes opportunities to get help. When you study, make sure to mark questions you have or concepts that are confusing. Then you can contact your teacher prior to the next class and get the answers you need.

Keep in mind some classes need more study time then others depending on your ability and interest in the content. Let me know what course corrections you make to your radical routine. Leave your comments below or share your thoughts on my facebook wall.
Medina, J. (2008). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

Automatic Pilot

The idea behind creating a radical reading routine is that it shifts the student from being reactive to being proactive. As Cal Newport explained, “I no longer have to expend any scheduling energy to make sure I accomplish all of these regular tasks. They run, in effect, on autopilot — getting done when scheduled.” When you set aside time to read, you can’t make excuses for not reading. As a result, the reading gets done. If you missed the blog explaining how to create a radical routine, click here.

The radical routine establishes three key ideas:
Guidelines: Everyone has 24 hours in a day, but its how you choose to spend your time that matters. Creating a radical routine limits your options and removes the stress of making decisions.
Boundaries: You can’t be everything to everyone. When you don’t have boundaries, you are more willing to do things for other people and push school work until the night before its do. The radical routine forces you to honor study time and removes the stress of feeling overwhelmed.
Discipline is defined as a regiment that develops or improves a skill. If you hate to read, do it every day. Instead of having to make a decision to read, you establish a daily reading routine. As a result, you train your brain to anticipate reading at a certain time every day and remove the stress of procrastination.

Are you having trouble with your radical routine? I am here to help you work out the rough spots so you can get shift school work into automatic pilot. Leave your comments below or share your thoughts on my facebook wall.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Do You have a Radical Reading Routine?

When I ask students why they don’t read on a regular basis, they always say their daily schedule is too full with no time to read. In fact, Beers’ (1998) study of aliterate students found that students’ most common reason for NOT reading was that they didn’t make time to read, not because they couldn’t read. That’s why I created a radical reading routine that shows students exactly how to schedule their time to finish required reading.

Here are 6 quick steps:
1. Print off the Radical Routine Chart.
2. Write in all major time commitments.
For example, class times, sports practice, scheduled work time, meal and sleep times.
3. Next, reserve time to read/study for each class. Make sure to be specific as to which class you
are studying. It’s easy to brush off study time if you don’t identify the class.
For example, MATH from 4:00 – 4:20, not STUDY from 4:00 – 4:20.
4. Follow the 3x3 rule, which means you should study 20 minutes 3 days a week instead of studying one day for 60 minutes.
For example, Math from 4:00 – 4:20 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
5. Then, list minor commitments like time spent with friends, time spent on facebook, watching TV, or taking naps.
6. Finally, put the schedule to the test. After each day, reflect on how the schedule worked. Did you reserve enough time to read? Did you miss any events that you need to add? Continue to adjust the schedule until you find a balance between school, work, and social time.

When students can control their schedule, stress disappears. Click here to discover ways students have taken control over their schedule. I would love to hear what you think about your radical reading routine. Leave your comments below or share your thoughts on my facebook wall.

Beers, K. (1998). Choosing not to read: Understanding why some middle schoolers just say no. In K. Beers & B.G. Samuels (Eds.), Into focus: Understanding and creating middle school readers (pp. 1–27). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rebel Reading Challenge

I dare you to turn off your cell phone for twenty minutes. It will make you smarter! Did you just say, “No?” What are you, chicken? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Speak up, I can’t hear you. Did you just say, “My family and friends might try to contact me and if I don’t answer, they will start to worry.” Are you serious? You’re telling me that your “peeps” can’t wait twenty minutes while you read a small section of a textbook?

Your cell phone isn’t holding you back from studying; it’s your desire to avoid reading! You sit there, staring at the textbook, just praying that someone will call you so you can stop reading.

Rebel! Go against your desire to avoid reading.

It can be difficult to disobey the ringing vibration of the cell phone, especially if you are not rebellious by nature. That’s why I am asking you to take the seven day rebel reading challenge. In one short week you can take control of your studying and improve your memory. Click here to discover how others met the rebel reading challenge.


Day 1: Become aware of how often your phone rings and interrupts your studying. Tell the caller you are studying and will call them back in twenty minutes.
Day 2: Make a commitment to rebel by posting a message (via Facebook, Twitter, email, text, etc.) that you will be unavailable to respond to calls for the next twenty minutes. Notice how often the phone rings, but don’t answer it. After twenty minutes, respond to the callers.
Day 3: Repeat the above process, but turn your phone off for ten minutes. Check your phone after ten minutes and then turn it off again. Respond only to emergencies. (BTW, your friend’s call about which shirt to wear is NOT an emergency!)
Day 4: Don’t post an alert that you will be unavailable to calls for twenty minutes. Just turn off the phone for ten minutes, check it, and turn it back off for another ten minutes. When you are finished reading the section, jot down a summary sentence and then return important phone calls.
Day 5: Repeat the above process, but increase the turn off time to fifteen minutes. Continue checking the phone and reading until the whole chapter is finished. Reward yourself by taking a break to respond to your callers.
Day 6: Keep the turn off time to fifteen minutes and be aware of how quickly you finish the chapter and how much you remember.
Day 7: Continue the rebellious reading but increase the phone free time to twenty minutes.

You have the power to turn off the cell phone, remember what you read and discover your inner genius. Don’t wait for the phone to stop vibrating! Be proactive. Become a rebellious reader and blog about your results.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why Do We Have to Read Anyway?

Research defines motivation as an elixir of engagement, self-efficacy, and choice. According to Guthrie and Wigfield (2000), an engaged reader is intrinsically motivated to read and thus able to achieve at a higher level than unmotivated peers. Since reading achievement is strongly related to level of engagement, educators have aspired to create learning environments that positively influence student engagement. One night while reading, Reading for Understanding: The Reading Apprenticeship Framework (Schoenbach et al.,pp.59 - 60) , my heart skipped a beat. I sat up, preparing my pencil to highlight the section of text that said:

“The writings of Malcolm X’s endorsement of reading permitted African American males in particular to feel more comfortable with making mastery of reading and writing part of their identities and less afraid that by taking these pursuits seriously they would be acting white. Attempting to make the value of reading even more immediate, we also asked students to interview members of their families or communities about what they read and the value they placed on reading. In the process students who had previously connected reading exclusively to school settings began to expand their notions of why people read. In some cases student who thought of themselves as non readers or poor readers in the school setting were reminded that they were readers in other contexts-such as reading in a church or youth group or reading about sports in the newspaper-that they had never connected with their academic lives."

Wow! The answer I had been looking for was within me. It was within all teachers. It is within you! Everyone has a story about when and how s/he became a reader and how the value of reading continues to add to their daily success. Why keep these reading stories a secret? Could it be that most of us consider reading inside school different from the reading that takes place outside of school and therefore never saw the value in sharing our personal stories?

The next day I shared my reading history and the texts I currently read to aid in my daily success. I was positive that this would be the turning point for building intrinsic motivation in my students. After my motivational speech, most of my students said, “Mrs. Wise, that is a great story but I don’t want to be a teacher. I am going to be a famous football player. They don’t practice reading, they practice football.”

The problem: I was humbled yet again by the honesty of a student. As quickly as I was disappointed, I was struck with an urgency so great I could not sleep. I started searching the Internet, the library, magazines, anything I could read about the celebrities my students looked up to and wanted to become with the hope of establishing a collection of reading testimonies explaining how reading has played a role in their success, which you can download through this link,

The challenge: Start your own collection of reading testimonies from parents, student athletes, and other school professionals and share them with your students. Students will be surprised and inspired when they realize all the different purposes for reading. Make sure to start small and replace this activity with your own personal sharing of authentic literacy.

1. Begin by creating a new anchor chart, Why Read?
2. Ask students to predict what football players would read and why.
3. Write the name, Justin Tuck on the anchor chart and tell students to listen for reasons why he reads. Show the following video of Justin Tuck.

4. List the ideas students recalled from watching the video and discuss what they learned about the role reading plays in the life of a football player.
5. Challenge students to discover the role reading plays in their parents’ career. Have students collect items their parents read by going on a scavenger hunt around the house or workplace. Take a picture of the materials and write a paragraph describing the collection or bring in the materials and do an oral report of the texts.
6. Another option would be to ask parents, student athletes or other school personnel to come in during your designated authentic literacy time to personally share what and why they read.
7. Keep a list of parent names, their careers, and reasons for reading on the anchor chart. Any time students ask, “Why do I have to read anyway?” you can gently point to the “Why Read” anchor chart to find several authentic answers to their question.

When educators go beyond the walls of the classroom and reach out to parents to endorse authentic literacy, students make a connection between academic literacy and the reading that awaits them in the real world.

Research based on:
Guthrie, J.T., & Wigfield, A. (2000). Engagement and motivation to reading. In M.L. Kamil, P.B. Mosenthal, P.D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 3, pp. 403–422). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Justin Tuck video,

Malcolm X, “Learning to Read” in Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Schoenbach, R., Greenleaf, C., Cziko, C.,Hurwitz, L. (1999). Reading for Understanding: A Guide to Improving Reading in Middle and High School Classrooms. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What is Authentic Literacy to You?

The American Library Association offers 54 different celebrity READ posters as motivation to become life-long readers ( In 1998, Glenn Nowell, a retired librarian for Gardiner Public Library, began an annual list of what celebrities are reading ( for the same purpose. Celebrities such as Alex Rodriguez, Tiki Barber, and Queen Latifah are writing picture books about the importance of dedication, determination and motivation. However, authentic literacy doesn’t happen by looking at a poster, scanning a list of suggested books or reading a picture book. Authentic literacy is discovered when experienced readers explain the value in what they read, and explain the cognitive process or thoughts they use while interacting with these texts.

The problem? In Reading Reasons, Kelly Gallagher (2003) eloquently writes, “We have become stealth readers in front of a generation of students starving to see these reading reasons modeled” (p. 16). Educators need to go beyond the covers of their reading anthologies and share their own personal reasons for reading.

The challenge? Choose one day week to discuss authentic literacy. For example, every Monday I blog the ways professionals use reading on a daily basis. I call this day, Mentor Mondays because the written testimony will mentor students on the value of reading for professional success. Whether you choose Mentor Monday or Real World Wednesday, when you establish a reading routine to discuss authentic literacy, students build a conscious awareness of the roles reading plays in the world around them.

1. For one week, collect items you read and display the items on a small desk. Coupons, mail, newspapers, magazines, professional books, emails, menus and so on.
2. Create an anchor chart titled, What We Read and hang it beside the items.
3. On your designated authentic literacy day, select one item to discuss. Spend 5 minutes explaining what the item is, why you read it, how often you read it, where and when you read it and, most importantly, HOW YOU READ IT. Do you begin reading at the top of the page? I only read this way with fiction texts. While reading a magazine, I read from the back to the front, skipping articles and advertisements I am not interest in. While reading a professional book I look at the table of contents, choose the chapter I need, and then skim the chapter until I find a section for which I have very little back ground knowledge. I then slow down my reading, highlight key phrases and write my thinking in the margins. This way I can remember what I was thinking when I highlighted the key phrase. While reading online, I read in an “H” pattern. I look down the right side of the website at the menu options and then across the page and down the left side of the page. Depending on the design of the webpage, my reading pattern may change.
4. After sharing the authentic ways you read that item, write the item on the anchor chart and then jot the most important key point beside the item. Each week add another idea to your anchor chart. After four weeks, my anchor chart may look like this:

a) Novel – I start in the beginning of the book and read every page until the book is finished.
b) Magazine – I skip over articles and advertisements I am not interested in reading.
c) Professional information books – I adjust my pace by reading fast and then slow.
d) Website – Depending on the design of the webpage, my reading patters may change.

An educator’s role is more important than covering the content. When we link real world reading strategies with academic literacy, we empower our students to be independent, life-long learners.

Research based on:
Gallagher, Kelly. (2003). Reading Reasons: Motivating Mini-Lessons for Middle and High School. Portland, MA: Stenhouse Publishers.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

3 Steps to Cleaning the Cluttered Lesson Plan

Welcome to 2012! If you are like me, your house is full of little piles of new clothes, games and books waiting to be put away.

The problem? There isn’t any room for the NEW STUFF! Which means tomorrow I have to begin the hard work of cleaning out drawers, closets and shelves. It’s hard work because each object I hold in my hand has to go through an evaluation: When was the last time I used this? Can it be replaced with the NEW STUFF on the floor? If it’s still in pretty good shape, I donate it. If it’s not in good shape, it goes into the trash.

I bring this up because teachers are known for their pack rat ways. We keep repeating lessons we created because, darn it, we spent a lot of time creating it. We repeat it because the students loved the activity, or we repeat it because we are just too tired or overwhelmed to create a new lesson.

The problem? Every year brings new expectations, new methods, and new books. Before we know it, our classroom has little piles of old and new lessons waiting to be put away.

The challenge? Begin the hard work of cleaning out your lesson plans. Here are three suggestions to simplify your teaching:

1. Remove the worksheets and workbook pages: Sure your district may have spent thousands of dollars on workbooks, but that doesn’t mean you have to use all of them! If the page isn’t being used for assessment, ask yourself, “Is this worksheet worth the time it takes to complete or would the time be better spent reading, writing, or talking to a peer?” Start removing one worksheet each week and replace it will authentic literacy time. Then start removing two worksheet activities each week. By the end of the month, you should have cleaned out the clutter of worksheets and discovered more time for authentic literacy. Remember, time spent reading results in NO PAPERS TO GRADE!

If the worksheet must be used, don’t have the students complete it in a boring way. Sit down with your grade level colleagues and brainstorm ways you can change each workbook page into a game. For example, you could place numbered cards in a brown paper lunch bag. Students pull out a numbered card to determine which question they answer on the worksheet. This same strategy can be used with dice or dominoes. Students roll the die or flip over a domino to determine the question they will answer. Remember, when the students have fun, the work gets done!

2. Use a timer to build stamina: If you are brave enough to start removing worksheets, you will need to find a motivating way to get your students reading, writing and talking for longer periods of time. Why not challenge your students by building a stamina wall. Watch this short video on how one first grade teacher is challenging her students to read for 30 uninterrupted minutes: When students are involved in the goal setting, they are more invested in the end result. Remember, state testing requires students to read and write for 40 uninterrupted minutes for 5 – 8 days in a row. You might as well start strengthening their muscles for this required marathon and have fun while you’re doing it.

3. Teach and assess ONE thing at a time: There are many story elements, reading strategies, and vocabulary words to learn. Before you know it, students are spending 30 minutes retelling a story, 20 minutes reading one page because they have to predict, question, clarify, and summaries, or spending one hour sorting the new list of vocabulary words. Cut the clutter by focusing on one story element or one reading strategy. Your lesson planning will be a breeze because you only need to address ONE topic and your students will only have to practice ONE strategy. I know there is a time and a place for retelling a story with all the elements or doing reciprocal teaching (predict, question, clarify, summarize), but not every day with every story! Cut the clutter by deciding which stories model the one story element or require one strategy. When you cut the clutter, you turn reading, writing and talking into an authentic task rather than a dreaded chore.

Just like trying on that new pair of shoes you received over the holidays, taking the first step to authentic literacy can be uncomfortable. However, with each minute of real reading, writing and speaking you add to your lesson plans, the more your students will grow to be life-long learners.
What are other ways you clean out cluttered lesson plans?