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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 2, Issue 20

October 2006



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The Many Benefits of Sustained Silent Reading 

by Frank Holes, Jr.
Middle School Teacher

The benefits of classroom reading are many.  Children (especially young children) have a natural love of reading.  However, we at the middle school often see students who either struggle with texts or are turned off to reading.  A great way of regenerating that interest is through sustained silent reading in your classroom. 

This topic has been hotly debated recently in the International Reading Association newsletter.  I'm not trying to enter this debate.  This article will simply describe what we in our school have observed and detail what we've done in our classes that has worked for our students.  

First off, let your students choose what they read, whether it is a book, magazine, or whatever.  It makes a huge difference in peaking their interest.  Teachers already give (and require) plenty of specific readings through activities, literature, and in textbooks.  Students need the opportunity to read about what interests them, and this can occur when you allow them to choose what they want to read.  By all means, continue with your regular activities, but find a way to give your students time (in class is best) to read on their own. 

It is very important for you as the teacher to model reading to your students.  Read the entire time your students are reading too.  Don’t let this time be wasted on grading papers, checking email, or doing any other administrivia.  If you want your students to take the time seriously, show them you are taking the time yourself and are enjoying the activity.  Regardless of what the kids may say to you, they will imitate your behaviors in your class.  You have this great opportunity to be a positive role model!

Just as in practicing writing and their skills through the week, you as the teacher need to schedule in time for sustained silent reading.  When I'm covering a piece of literature, for example, my class may read in a variety of ways.  We may read aloud, I may read to the class, or we may play 'popcorn' around the room as students choose others.  You probably have other out-loud reading activities you use too.  These are great, and I always recommend them.  But you should always give students time to read silently too.  It doesn't have to be a lot, but I do recommend at least ten minutes, though not more than twenty.  Think in terms of attention spans:  plenty of time to become engaged in the text, read for a bit, and yet stay focused.  Obviously some students could lose themselves in a book for hours on end, but not all kids have such a long attention span.  Start with ten minutes and work upward, adding a few minutes each time. 

In addition to literature we all cover in class, I also set up a regular library time so students can select their own books.  We'll stay in the library for, again, about twenty minutes.  I give students between ten and fifteen minutes to look over the shelves and 'try on' a book.  Its like trying on clothing.  This trial version is very important so students can start deciding if this is the book for them.  If it doesn't hook them in the first ten minutes, I suggest they try again.  I'll try to make suggestions based on what I think the students' interests are.  Sometimes we talk about what they like, what their interests are.  Students are not required to check out a book, but they must 'try out' at least one book at each visit. 

We designate each Friday after our vocabulary quiz for sustained silent reading.  Students may read their library book, another book of their choice, or even a magazine from the rack in my room (I typically collect old magazines from everywhere and keep them in a large rack in class).  Old magazines include the old stand bys - Reader's Digest, National Geographic, and Sports Illustrated.  But I also gather Teen magazines, food and cooking, gardening, hunting and fishing, and video game magazines, among others.  This way there are a large variety of topics for students to choose from.

The bookshelves in my room also have old reference materials and some outdated textbooks I've scrounged from other teachers.  Some of your students will enjoy looking through drafting texts, recipe books, or science books, and you'd be surprised at the number of kids who love maps in social studies, history, or geography text books. 

I've noticed a difference, especially in the attitudes of my students toward reading.  Students given choices through the year were more engaged in the assigned readings through the year.  Often, students (especially struggling students or low readers) have told me they enjoy reading, or they've found a topic or author they want to read more about, or the readings I did assign were some of the only ones they actually read (that year or in several years).  Comments like that last one are bittersweet, because though I'm glad the student has regained the interest in reading, I'm sorry it took so long and the student was turned off in the first place.  Sustained silent reading and allowing students to choose their own texts can be very powerful and beneficial to your students.  You can be the teacher who makes a difference to your students. 


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By Christina J. Riggan

I often wonder if we are exerting too much pressure too soon on young students when they begin attending public school. Hopefully, they were in a more carefree environment in preschool and then may enter an intense atmosphere in public school that even begins in Kindergarten. Some of my friends that teach early grades tell me that Kindergarten is becoming more like first grade in the stress and academic demands and first grade is becoming more like second, etc.

Every teacher understands that legitimately a community must expect schools to be held accountable for proficiency and learning. Most teachers I know do not object to reasonable demands for this.

But the current climate suggests that if we just push students even more then they WILL be able to compete more effectively in the world as adults. We could enter a whole philosophical argument as to whether our society has been more productive in the past when we allowed children to play and develop their imaginations which translated into more inventive and creative adults. These adults go onto be more productive because of their imaginations have never been squelched or hammered into a box. Certainly Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple, still asserts that play and fun are an integral part of his current company policy and why it is so successful.

The other side of the argument holds that unless we set standards and expect students to meet them, they will just lazily slide along in life becoming deadbeats, or letting the other countries of the world outsmart and out invent us in product and out produce us profit.

Somewhere along the line, business has become schooling and schooling has become big business.

Certainly I have always been an advocate of learning and standards. I have had high expectations for students but they are developmental appropriate and reasonable.

For example, if Kindergarteners are ready to read and have proficient reading readiness then they might be ready to receive reading instruction to begin to learn to read.

I heard a disturbing comment the other day from my daughter-in-law (she has a one year old daughter), that unless your Kindergartener can read when he/she enters Kindergarten, he/she is all ready considered behind. Not only is this harmful, in my opinion, but it is without any consideration for what is cognitively, emotionally, socially, and developmentally appropriate.

So what is a teacher to do who may realize that some of the current academic demands are unrealistic, unreasonable and might even be harmful to his/her charges? Remembering that first a teacher’s job, like a doctor’s, is to do no harm; I offer some suggestions to help incorporate play back into learning.

There are numerous advocates and studies that support play as not only valuable but necessary for healthy human growth and development. (See sites at end of article for references)

Without adequate time for play, students may become restless, anxious, angry, irritable, unfocused and uninterested in learning. Think of yourself, when you work too long and hard, with no breaks or time for recreation- what happens? Even the military, realizes that R&R (rest and recreation) are essential to human recovery. I have heard some teachers report that their students just scribbled their end-of the year standardized tests rather than really exert their best. (after endless weeks of test prep and nothing else)

Ideas to Try:

  • Incorporate as many academic standards as possible into one learning lesson. This means you must know and understand the standards well and be able to plan a lesson with as many of the elements incorporated as possible.
  • Weave games, active motion, rhymes, music, songs, poems, and plays into as many aspects of the learning time as allowed. Most of my teaching time was spent designing every element of fun as I could in my learning. Everyone learns more when it is fun.
  • Make sure that your classroom is a community of learners and that you foster the emotional and social standards for this.
  • Let students know that every student is learning, can learn and will learn, but that learning looks different for every student. If you are not an advocate of multiple learning styles, this may be a good area to investigate.
  • Design your schedule with frequent breaks and times for the mind to rest, including breaks for physical activity. Yes, you can walk your students on the side walk for five minutes to clear their heads. If someone objects to this, do exercises in the room.
  • Cooperate with your students. Ask for their fierce or devoted concentration for fifteen minutes. Then reward them with a break, or five minutes to chat with their friends, or ten minutes of free reading time. You can accommodate intense learning time with relaxed learning time by planning and cooperation with your students.
  • Develop the imagination of your students by valuing imagination and creativity and foster these elements by planning activities that encourage it. Show appreciation for students who think outside of the box. Usually, the clowns are, and can be your most devoted students, if you can appreciate their strengths. Brainstorming sessions, problem-solving, experiments, and team projects all can incorporate standards of learning AND fun-- if fun is planned as part of it.
  • Last, have fun yourself as a learner. If what you are teaching bores you to death, it will bore your students to death. Get sincerely upbeat about what you teach and collaborate with colleagues to learn fun and interesting ways to teach it.


Some websites that discuss the value of play in schools are listed below.

1.     www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content5/studies.play.html

  •     “Academic Studies and Play on a Collision

      Course…And Play is Losing”

2.     www.instituteforplay.info/about_us.html

·        Play + Science=Transformation (article on the seven stages of play)

3.     www.educationnext.org/unabridged/20012/elkind.html

·     “Early childhood Education: Developmental or    Academic”

      By David Elkind

4.     http://k6educators.about.com/cs/professionaldevel/a/stadtests.html

·     “Pressures Are Mounting: Is it all in Our Heads?”

          by Beth Lewis

Christina Riggan, a twenty-five year veteran of public schools, and a former teacher in a primary (K-5) school in Austin, Texas, has worked with a variety of grade levels from Kindergarten to adults. Her certifications include Kindergarten, Reading, ESOL, Language Arts, and she holds a Principal's Certificate and a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She is currently a full-time writer, her chosen area of focus in writing books (fiction and nonfiction) and articles that might help parents, teachers, and students. She is married to David, her husband of thirty-eight years, has two happily married sons, and four wonderful grandchildren.  StarTeaching Featured Writer

You can contact Christina at criggan3@sbcglobal.net  or at her book's website www.howtobeagreatteacher.com

You can order her book in ebook form or in paperback on her website.


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Book of the Month Club:

Full Steam Ahead!
By Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner

Our October BOOK OF THE MONTH award is presented to Full Steam Ahead! by Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner.  This is a fantastic book discussing the importance and implementation of a vision not only in your workplace but in your personal lives.  

The book, Full Steam Ahead! is a masterfully woven tale of ordinary people finding vision in their personal and professional lives and making positive changes.  Simplified to a tale of a business owner and an employee, the tale displays the progression of a developing vision in the company and the steps and learning along the way.  There are many excellent connections to the education field, from administrators to classroom teachers.  

Amazon.com Editorial Review

Ken Blanchard, coauthor of the business classic The One Minute Manager, has teamed up with Jesse Stoner, a leader in the field of vision and strategy, to show how anyone can create a compelling vision for their organization and for their own life. They show where vision comes from, how it unleashes great power and energy, and how it provides ongoing focus and direction.

They explain how to create the three key elements of a compelling vision: significant purpose, clear values, and a picture of the future. They demonstrate how to engage people in shaping meaningful visions and putting those visions to work in their organizations and their lives. And they describe how to ensure that the vision stays alive through understanding three principles: how it is created, how it is communicated, and how it is lived.

The elements of vision are presented in a beautifully written and engaging story about two people who are struggling to create visions-both for the company where they work and for their own lives. Blanchard and Stoner offer numerous examples of effective visions and explore precisely why these visions work.

The lessons are remarkably easy to understand and apply. According to visionary leadership expert Warren Bennis, Blanchard and Stoner have given "meaning and life to vision. Even Dilbert will get it!" Readers will learn how to crystallize a vision that resonates with their own hopes and dreams and allows them to go full steam ahead! 

"Vision creates focus.  Vision identifies direction.  Vision unleashes power.  Vision allows you to move Full Steam Ahead!"  (Preface, ix)

"Vision is knowing who you are, where you're going, and what will guide your journey."  (p.80)

You can order a copy of Full Steam Ahead! by clicking the link to our affiliate, Amazon.com 

Have you read Full Steam Ahead!?  Do you have comments you’d like to share with our readers about this book? Email your responses to editor@starteaching.com. Please type in BOOK CLUB READER RESPONSE in the subject line. Responses will be posted on our website with the StarTeaching Book of the Month Club.  All responses will be proofread, and may be edited for content and space before publication.

We welcome articles and book reviews from our readers.  Do you have a great educational book to share with our readers?  Write up a summary, along with the pertinent book information, and email it to us at  editor@starteaching.com. Please type in BOOK CLUB SUMMARY in the subject line.  Book reviews will be proofread and may be edited for content or space.





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"Life is the Coffee"
Author Unknown

Themes on Life

What is it we truly concentrate on in life?

A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. The conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and in life. 

Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups - porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite - telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said:

"If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress.

"What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups and were eyeing each other's cups.

Now consider this: Life is the coffee and the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and do not change the quality of Life. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee God has provided. So, don't let the cups drive you ... enjoy the coffee instead."

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In This Week's Issue 

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The Many Benefits of 
Sustained Silent Reading

Too Much Pressure Too Soon?  
What's A Teacher To Do?

Book of the Month Club

Themes on Life:  
"Life is the Coffee"

10 Days of Writing Prompts

Back to School Book Sale for Teachers

Website of the Month


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