The earlier we begin teaching CLOSE reading the better……

confused reader 

How many times have we heard the term, “close reading” and wondered what exactly that means for children who are not yet reading independently? For one thing it is a requirement of the common core and as Martha Stewart would say, “….it is a good thing!”

Text comprehension begins with listening and monitoring our comprehension of the massive amount of words and ideas that flood our brains throughout the day.  Our filtering systems require us to STOP the flow when we don’t understand something that is being said or read to us that is how we build prior knowledge.  Learning to differentiate when we are understanding, vs when we are not, is the foundation to building a vocabulary that leads to reading comprehension.

Young learners become self-regulated when they are taught to closely monitor their comprehension during (teacher) read alouds. Raising the awareness of both teacher and learner that we all process information differently and that each individual learner should be given the opportunity to alert the teacher when confused about a read aloud text can fulfill two requirements of the common core state standards —(CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.3Ask and answer questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood.)


  • Close reading (during read alouds) can motivate children to recognize when they need help. Directing children to ask for help in specific situations, with appropriate motives and questioning strategies, helps them distinguish between adaptive and excessive help seeking.
  • Young students can be trained to ask for help strategically. For example, by asking the teacher to revisit a misunderstood phrase or posing a specific question when trying to figure out the author’s intended meaning.

We cannot begin the process too soon – we are accustomed to checking for understanding by having the teacher pose the questions, but not the other way around.  If we are to train self-regulated young learners to be college ready, the earlier we teach them how and when to phrase and pose the questions, the sooner they will be able to access information from text.


Being test ready….

test anxiety cope

With all the chatter about the common core and testing I have again been reminded of what it means to be “college-ready.”  One thing I learned in all the courses I took on the validity and reliability of testing was that if we only used test results for their intended purpose we would be safe from having any one test measure the success or failure of our students.

I recall learning that my daughter could begin to take the PSAT’s when she was in the seventh grade. Prior to that I did not know there was a practice period of testing that came before the actual TEST.  Allowing her to begin to participate in the process early on gave her a sense of power over the exam, raising her self-efficacy over time.  First of all, in the beginning it was for practice, the test had no consequences other than for her to become familiar with standardized testing, time constraints, and any anxiety that might accompany test-taking.  Over time, as she familiarized herself with the test, she was able to self-regulate.  She would set goals, self-monitor her performance, and then reflect on whether or not the strategies she used led to a performance that was successful (or unsuccessful).  By beginning this process almost three years prior to the PSAT’s, she was able to approach the even more critical SAT’s with a calmness that was not necessarily her own, but that of a prepared student. This is not true for many of our learners, who meet the PSAT for the first time in the ninth grade, cannot afford tutors for content or instruction in strategic test taking, and as a result do poorly on the SAT’s and are not able to enter higher education.


Practice in taking standardized tests can allow our students to plan and evaluate their performance using self regulation strategies from the earliest grades.  Rather than emphasize the score on the test, we should consider emphasizing which test taking strategies are being measured, and whether or not using them has an impact on performance. The common core community is beginning to realize that the validity and reliability of the standardized testing associated with the common core is not credible; it requires a transition phase (at the very least).  Taking time to evaluate the reliability and validity of the new measures is critical to the success of standardized testing.


Don’t Overlook the Tugboat!


If you look closely you will see a tugboat alongside a ship making it’s way through The Narrows, a waterway connecting the Atlantic Ocean and New York City ports.  Everyday I observe the same scene the ship makes it’s way into the Narrows and must sit and wait for the tugboat to come alongside and guide it through the waterway. Alone, the ship would not make it to the port safely because only the tugboat’s captain and crew are knowledgable of the specific areas of the waterway that do not accomodate large ships . As big and powerful as the ship looks, if the tugboat does not come to guide it,  the ship remains stuck in The Narrows, not moving forward toward it’s goal (the port).

I liken the ship to the Common Core without self-regulatory strategy alignment.  If we want our students to be life long learners, educators need to work with learners of all ages within structural guidelines of the common core standards and use self-regulation to help our students become independent learners.  The tugboat analogy attempts to show the Common Core State Standards as a structure of goals (big ship needs to reach port) and the realization that without self-regulation (tugboat has power and knowledge to guide) the ship will remain in the waterway, looking big and strong, but not able to move ahead.

Many educators recognize the commonalities shared by self-regulation and the common core, I see it when I visit classrooms were teachers are practicing on cognitive modeling,  acting as coping models, teaching self-monitoring, encouraging self-evaluation in order to guide their learner’s towards independent learning.   Significant progress is being made with students who are not only learning how to read and comprehend informational texts, but are given training in self-regulated learning as well.  Future blogs will provide more specific ways of aligning self-regulation training with the common core state standards, a very powerful union!


Driving in the dark…..

When driving in the dark on a highway without adequate lighting, in the rain, it is so nice when the driver in front of you sets the pace, and stays on course.  Yes, there is an element of trust, and it is still stressful, but being able to follow a leader can relieve the greater stress of navigating the highway alone.

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Goal setting is only the first of many steps towards completing a task.  If the goals are set too high, they will not be attainable.  If the goals are set too low, then students will not become self-efficacious when reaching those goals.  However, as educators we can model goal setting and how we plan to reach our goals in a way that provides our students with the process required to attain self-set goals.

path to goals

I was thinking about how many times I begin a task or class with the goal of completing the task in a specific amount of time, but do not maintain control over the behaviors required to reach specific goals.  I wonder what my students think when I begin a class stating that we are going to accomplish a specific task and I become diverted due to a question that leads me to a response, then a story from my own teaching background, and then finally wondering what was I talking about in the first place. I take a second to reset, and then we are back on track!

I would imagine following me set and reset my goals is a great visual aid in self-regulation. What I have found is that when I am diverted, and lose track of my goals, it is a good time to let my students know that I strayed off course, and must get back on…..This provides them with the opportunity to see that even seasoned professionals can divert from the goal, but he/she knows how to self-correct and get back on track.  Similar to the lights in front of me on the highway, that guide me through the rain and difficult conditions, are the goals I set when I begin a task or class. If I lost track of the goals, I might totally be off track and never return to the steps that will lead me to the intended outcome. However, if I self-monitor, checking my progress in relation to the goal, I have a much better chance of completing a class discussing learning theory rather than stories about my teaching career.  Not that the vignettes are not appropriate, however, their effect will be stronger if I stay in my lane, focus on the goal, and am transparent about my diversions, I will be teaching self-regulation while I am practicing it!

Task analysis is part of the common core…

Time Management Concept as a Abstract Background

One of the best activities I do with my classes involves asking them to take a specific activity from their daily routine and break it down into the smallest steps.  Until they experience “task analysis” they have no idea how many incremental actions are necessary to complete an activity that has become routine over time. We apply this activity to lesson planning, emphasizing the need to describe multiple mini steps in order to target areas of weakness in the flow of the learning process.

Many comment on the CCSS being overwhelming, too detailed.  However, if we read each CCSS within the framework of a task analysis, we can begin to see how each and every one provides an opportunity for improved analysis of a students’s skill set as s/he progress through each grade level.

We all agree that students of all ages learn more from what they observe than other means of communication. Vicarious learning demands that we become fully acquainted with how we are transferring information to our students, what are we doing and what are they seeing. If we realize that we are constantly being observed, we would then realize how  important it is for teachers (parents, babysitters) to model for their students what their own action plan looks like and take time to  share with them how many steps it takes to actually complete an activity, whether in the first grade or college.

Self-regulation encourages us as educators to regulate ourselves, before we can help our students.  Explicit modeling of how we read a passage, define a difficult word, solve a complex math equation or select the correct response to a test question, requires a task analysis approach.  Task analysis is not just a simple list of steps, it is an analysis that best begins with the way we conduct our daily activities to determine if we ourselves are self regulated.


Planning …..a great stress reliever!

philadelphia_overall I

If I had just looked at an overview of the city I do believe my comfort level navigating Philadelphia last week would have been greater, I would have spent less time dealing with stress, and I would have known where I was going instead of depending on my iphone app.  I love technology but I learned last week that prior knowledge of the city overview using a good old fashioned map would have been a more appropriate tool for someone with my limited sense of direction. It is not that the app did not work, it was just not the right tool for me to gain the overview I needed the map was too small!

As we know, the iphone google map is a great tool for navigating. However, often I wind up traveling in the moment, watching the pinging red dot to make sure I am on track to my destination.  This works great in NYC where I am familiar with the overview, but it does not work when I am in a strange city.  Relying on the app, in the moment, prevented me from following the self-regulatory strategy of planning properly for a new task.  Did I plan? Yes! I had my phone.

However, if I had taken into account my need for planning using specific types of tools and strategies, downloaded and printed out the map (above), I would have had much less stress.  Forethought would have me take a good look at the scope of the area between my hotel, the convention center, and other interesting spots. As a result, during the performance phase  I would have felt more secure following the pinging dot on the iphone. Now that I am reflecting on my planning and performance I am prepared to use what I have learned for the next time I visit a strange city.

Not enough can be said about allowing our students to navigate the common core with proper planning and self-monitoring during performance.  Students of all ages need to compare their performance to the CCSS standard, and then reflect on how they would do it better the next time. For me the wake up call came when a friend, who is a Math Professor and Planner woke me up to the fact that where we had stopped for coffee was only two blocks from my hotel, and I would not need a cab to get there.  Her planning helped me understand that more strategic planning on my part to navigate the city quickly and safely should have gone way beyond my iphone app.


The reality of setting goals…..

reachstar     We all are familiar with the Browning quote “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp…” but Browning is referring to heaven, and not academic realities.  If we are to ask our students to strive to reach goals way beyond their developmental capabilities, we best be there to breakdown, model, and support each attempt at meeting goals that are set too high for students to attain independently. Even so, if the goals are set far beyond the students perception of his/her capabilities, we are promoting a design for academic failure. So we must also be there to break down unrealistic goals into manageable parts, and let them “reset” during the learning process.  The CCSS are standards, that can be shaped into manageable and realistic goals; no one said we had to swallow them whole, just focus on what can be done!

From day one studying self regulation was attractive to me because it had a reset button!


In all of my years of schooling, no one ever mentioned to me that if goals were set too high I could reset my goals, breaking the larger down into more manageable and attainable steps.  As young students, the teacher set the goals, wrote the objectives and we either met them, or as in my case, fell below. I recall my most dreaded math class, geometry.  The only sentence I recall was “This will be on the Regents!”.  If the goal was to pass the geometry regents that was way beyond my reach and grasp, if it was to learn geometry, that did not happen either.  However, if someone had set proximal and realistic goals to learn the mathematical strategies required to pass the Regents, I do believe I would have loved the course.

geo regents

We need to review the research that deals with setting realistic goals for our students and come to the realization that if the goal is not attainable from the learner’s perception, it will be a source of discouragement and not motivation. If Mrs. S had just once worked with me to set goals that I could actually reach, my self-efficacy (when it came to math) would not have suffered for years to come.

Dale H. Schunk (1990), a leading researcher and scholar in SR has a readily available article online (courtesy of Taylor and Francis),  Goal Setting and Self Efficacy During Self-Regulated Learning.   He states, “When students perceive satisfactory goal progress, they feel capable of improving their skills; coupled with high self-efficacy, this leads students to set new and challenging goals.” The article supports the reasoning behind teaching parents, teachers, and future teachers that goal setting and self-efficacy are important self-regulatory processes and close attention should be paid to whether or not each and every student is reaching too far beyond his or her grasp.

Standards do not determine how we set our goals; they guide our curriculum, and we can in turn reset goals that appear to be unattainable. Now that the state (NY) has lifted the mandate that connected high stakes testing with teacher evaluations (for the moment) we need to shift our goals to learning how to be a self regulated learner.  Linking learning to test performance as the only measurable outcome is way beyond anyone’s reach or grasp.  If we set proximal goals for sharpening strategies, or skills, then we are encouraging our students to grow as learners.  If we set goals to do well on the exams associated with the CCSS our students might become great at prepping for tests, but not independent learners.



Schunk, D. H. (1990). Goal setting and self-efficacy during self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist,
25, 71-86. Retrieved from

( Star Graphic from


If I look too far ahead…….

subway stairs I have learned one thing about going down stairs in the NYC subways.  First, don’t look too far ahead, especially because I don’t like heights and the image of the bottom with all the steps in between is just a bit overwhelming.  So, I first glance at the distance, and then immediately focus my attention on getting down one section at a time – and if it is too steep I find that when I focus on the next several steps, and not the far far away bottom, I move quickly and without stress. I was reminded of this early today, as I made my way down to the subway train station methodically while others who do this everyday flew past me without any hesitation.  How quickly their feet moved past mine, but not one of them was focused on the end, only the stairs they were stepping on. Whether going up or down, one can make progress a few steps at a time, no matter our personal limitations.


Self-regulation begins with setting proximal goals.  Goals that can be attained, within reach, and not too far off.  Goals, that when accomplished, will increase self-efficacy and motivate students to keep going! We need to examine the common core and the staircase of complexity (which moves upwards in skill attainment) and how we can help our students set attainable goals.  Goal setting beyond one’s abilities only produce frustration and diminish self efficacy.  Looking at the common core as a whole will overwhelm the best teachers and learners; we need to address the common core one step at a time.

Yes we want to challenge our students, but at the very least the goals should be manageable, and the steps to attaining them made very clear.  If, when I entered the stairwell, all I saw was the drop from the top to the bottom, I would have turned away confused and wondering how to get to the subway.  However, I looked further and focused on the levels! Although intimidating, by taking the steps six to ten at a time, I eventually made it to the subway platform.   That was my strategy, and after only one practice I know I can do it again!

The modeling dilemma…what’s the observer doing?


“If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it………” might seem to be a silly comparison to, “if a model demonstrates a skill and no one is observing….. ” —- but in reality a model requires a trained observer, or little is being communicated by the model.

Self-regulation drawn from social cognitive theory has very distinct requirements for the role of the model in teaching and learning, and equally important requirements for the role of the observer.  The OBSERVER must be paying close attention to the actions of the model (teacher, parent, more experienced peer) or we cannot call what is commonly referred to as “modeling”  the real thing….

The term “modeling” is clearly overused and under representative of what we are actually doing when we say “I modeled …..” in order to introduce a new skill or strategy.  Last week I decided to actually model a strategy doing a think aloud without interruptions from my class.  How did I know they were attending to my demonstration if I did not call on them to make sure they had not wandered away from observing my actions?  Actually, that is the job of the model, to produce actions (and not too many of them) that engage the attention of the observer without checking for understanding until the entire sequence of behaviors have been observed. Many educators think that stopping and asking questions to check for understanding during a modeling sequence increases the observer’s understanding of the behavior, when in reality, it interrupts the flow of learning from observing.

Observational learning requires specific skills that are not emphasized but are a significant factor when addressing how educators are going to shape core ready learners. Researchers agree that if students are to learn from observing the behaviors of a teacher, the demonstration must go beyond actions.  Teaching a new strategy must include thinking aloud and revealing the mental processes while performing the skill.  However, if we think aloud to untrained observers we are not modeling, we are just talking.

We need to teach our students how to learn from observing before we begin to “model” – and we need to learn more about modeling as a teaching strategy. The child who has learned to push the chair over to the counter to reach the cookie jar observed an adult use the chair to obtain out of reach objects multiple times before he/she attempted to reproduce the behavior. As instructors we need to invest more time in training observers to pay attention, and in order to do that we need to become more effective models. Directing attention is a prerequisite to observational learning, and future blogs will include strategies to help our student prepare to observe.


Linking Creativity to the Common Core Through Odyssey of the Mind

odysseyThere is a group of elementary age students in Massapequa and throughout Long Island who are core ready, and they don’t even know it! Without the stress and focus on high stakes testing, educators have been teaching problem solving through participation in Odyssey of the MindIt can be done! Creativity and the common core quest for problem solving, cooperative and independent learning, writing from sources, and shifting to academic vocabulary are already part of some school programs, and should be available to all students to enjoy becoming core ready! 

logo ody

This was all new to me until this past school year when my 10 year old grand daughter became part of this international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Mackenzie explained to me yesterday (on the way home from the competition) how her school begins this competition at the fifth grade and when she became a fifth grader she was invited (with her team members) to apply their creativity to solve problems by presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. She proudly stated, “Nana, the kids do all the work!” This is very true, it is kid-centered all the way. The teacher is a facilitator, and parents are warned to not help in any way.  Many of the meetings for my grand daughter took place early in the mornings before school, and after school.  The problems solved are not only literature based, but can be science, technology, engineering or mathematical. However, creativity and problem solving is the common core of this learning experience.

problem solving

I learned later that the teams that took first place compete at the state, and then the World level. Thousands of teams from throughout the U.S. and from about 25 other countries participate in the program.

I thought, while we are focusing on the common core and standards to compete in the future world workplace, why aren’t we better represented on the world stage in Odyssey of the Mind?

Becoming core ready is not only about standards, it is about learning to be problem solvers using critical thinking skills.  Participation in programs like Odyssey of the Mind should be linked to the earliest elementary school years, so children can become familiar with the fun side of learning while spiraling up the staircase of complexity.

Below is the website for Odyssey of the Mind I hope you find it as interesting as I did.  My goal is to learn more about Odyssey of the Mind because I can see the strong links to becoming self regulated independent learners, and core ready at the same time!


Link to Odyssey of the Mind: