Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Developing Readers: Part 2 - Viva Las Vegas

I like playing the numbers. I like playing the odds. Just look at any Vegas casino. You could walk in there with $20 and walk out with $20,000...yet at the end of the day, the casino STILL made money! And they repeat the process over and over. Why? Because the odds are in their favor. As a learner, if I can stack the deck in my favor, I do it and so should you!
I especially enjoy making use of obviously important trends that other people (for whatever reason) seem to neglect. The question then is, why wouldn't you? Well, there are several ways to look at statistics:

Torture numbers, and they'll confess to anything.  ~Gregg Easterbrook
98% of all statistics are made up.  ~Author Unknown
We see this one WAY too often...hence why so many people distrust "numbers" and just toss them aside as useless. I can understand this point, but you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater (if you don't know the whole history behind that "bathwater" saying, it's GROSS, yet interesting...still gross tho).

Now let's switch into a more positive gear:
Statistics are like bikinis.  What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.  ~Aaron Levenstein
Statistics may be defined as "a body of methods for making wise decisions in the face of uncertainty."  ~W.A. Wallis

Now we are getting somewhere. When we dig deeper, the numbers can help us immensely. I am NOT a fan of re-inventing the wheel. Why do it when someone already has? Have you been there...done that...got the t-shirt? Good...I'd love to avoid all that heartache then. I'm all about working smart AND hard. It really is the best of both worlds.

So now let's talk about how to stack the reading deck. Across all socio-economic levels and across all imaginable demographics, those that read the most always read the best. On average kids hear anywhere from 15 million to 45 million words before entering kindergarten. Want to take a wild guess which perform better? Those exposed to the greatest number of "words" in their lifetime always perform best. Makes complete sense.

Let's examine stacking the deck further. When I was a kid, the local encyclopedia salesman would literally get giddy as he walked up to our door (I swear I saw him skipping). My mom, who only had a kindergarten education, surrounded me (and herself) in books. I'm not sure how much she spent, but it was a worthwhile investment for both of us. I grew up thinking that this was normal. Again this just makes sense. Do the best surfers come from the Midwest? Are the best winter Olympians from the Caribbean (well, I did root for the Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings). Hence, according to reading research, print rich homes produce the highest reading scores.

Now one last, and incredibly powerful way to stack the deck in your favor. You've heard me mention in my last post how "reading at home" is prescribed as a magical academic cure-all (well it kinda really is). But how should you do it? Which method is best? Should I read to them? Should they read to me? Should we read together? There are a ton of practices to promote reading at home, but there is one common denominator that even the majority of teachers are oblivious to...one SINGLE (and simple) thing that will allow you to get the absolute most out of reading at home. All you need to do is be available to provide feedback...ANY kind of feedback.

That's it? Really? Yep. It doesn't matter which practice you follow, it is your availability to provide feedback that puts the "umph" in each of them. Notice I didn't say feedback...it's the availability that matters. If they read to you, answer questions. If they read alone, be in proximity to ask them why they just giggled or ask them how they like it so far. If they read to you, be there to help them sound out a word or define a new one. What if you don't know the word? Great! Now you can model problem solving and the use of helpful resources...but you were still available to provide feedback. It is that opportunity to process, in whatever form it comes, that is the single most important ingredient in regards to reading at home, and we can all do it.

Just remember, learning is a game of numbers. When it comes to learning, put practices into play that will stack the odds in your favor. Put yourself (and your wise learners) in a position to win. Lincoln got it...

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” 
― Abraham Lincoln