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Winter 2018

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Have a Question? Ask a Researcher

Ever wonder what widely held practice you should stop if you’re a literacy teacher? Or what techniques you can use to help students gain confidence in math?

The Ed School’s Usable Knowledge, in partnership with Digital Promise, a nonprofit authorized by Congress to spark innovation in education, launched a new series called Ask a Researcher that offers guidance to classroom dilemmas in the areas of literacy, math, and English language learning. The series collects questions from current teachers and has researchers at the Ed School answer them. Because the guidance is coming from researchers who also have real-world experience, there are plenty of takeaways within each answer. For example, an educator in the West Ada School District in Idaho asked how to fill gaps while also teaching current math to struggling students, all in the same year. Professor Jon Star, Ed.M.’92, a former middle and high school math teacher, acknowledged that this is a familiar challenge for many math teachers and offered one way to start: Keep the two goals (fill gaps, teach current material) separate.

“Devote instructional time daily to filling gaps. Expose students to mathematics problems that include tasks from prior years and units,” Star writes on the site. “You can do this through ‘do now’ or warm-up exercises, additions to homework assignments, or even test problems. The point is to give students opportunities to revisit past content and to refine their understandings of this old material. When it comes to the current material, recognize that it may be necessary, in the short term, at least, to modify the complexity of new content so that it’s approachable for all students, especially those with a weaker knowledge of old material.”

When an instruction supervisor in Pascack Valley, New Jersey, asked what widely held practice literacy teachers should stop doing, Pamela Mason, M.A.T.’70, Ed.D.’75, director of the Jeanne Chall Reading Lab and a senior lecturer, recommended that teachers stop round-robin reading, the practice where students take turns reading passages out loud. While oral reading is important, she writes, round-robin style is stressful to struggling readers who often “determine what they will have to read aloud ahead of time and rehearse it while others are reading and thus lose the continuity of the text. Round-robin reading does not support comprehension or enjoyment, which should be the purposes of reading.”