As our kindergarten team was leaving a meeting the other day the reading specialist added one more comment, “Let’s change how we are talking about our reading groups,” she suggested, “ Instead of referring to our groups as the reading level they are currently reading, let’s call them by the goal reading level we set for them.”
Like many schools out there we use the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA-2) reading levels, which go from a level A to a level 70. Every year students are expected to move through multiple levels. We create small groups of students according to these levels and then plan our instruction to move them from level to level. Often when we are talking about our groups we’ll say, “I have a level 2 group and a level 6 group,” which accurately describes where the students are currently reading. If you tell me you have a student who is a level 2 I can tell you exactly what that student is doing and how to plan lessons to move them up to the next level.
But what if we simply change how we talk about it? What if we call those struggling level 2 students our level 6 group because that’s our goal for them? Will it change how we are thinking about those students and how we approach their lessons? Instead of risking becoming complacent with their current level, will that help us push ourselves to move our students along?
The simple change should help us stop thinking that these students are “only a level 2” and start thinking about where we want our students to be. It can remind us that we believe in our students’ success and we know they can achieve the goal. It can change our internal attitude and bias about we approach the students we are planning for.
I’ve watched many reading recovery lessons where the teachers label what they want the student to do. “Look, you got your mouth ready to say that word!” they’ll say, even if the student didn’t really. The student sits up straighter, looks prouder, and the next time he does get his mouth ready. Suddenly he owns that strategy, all because the teacher sent the message that she knew he could do it.
As teachers we should always be planning instruction with our end goal in mind. Whether it is in reading or in teaching our students how to sit quietly on the rug we need to be considering what we want from them and not what they are doing now. Too often we unintentionally focus on what students can’t do instead of what we have the power to teach them. Could simply shifting our mindset toward constantly focusing on their long term goals change how our student succeed? Can it change how we approach our students, our lessons, and how we communicate our belief in their ability? We’re going to give it a try.