• Uncategorized

    And Seem a Saint

    We don't tend to assume kids can swim and toss them in the deep end with no preparation to teach them how to swim. We'd rightly assume there's a 50/50 chance they'd drown without first being shown how to swim step-by-step. Someone I met once, likewise, compared education to tossing baby birds out of a nest, and the thought naturally occurred to me that, just as an ill-prepared swimmer might drown, a baby bird with no flying experience has a good chance of dying of a broken neck on the forest floor without being taught how first.

  • Uncategorized

    Royal Jelly

    This column has been in process for over two years. It grew from thinking about the way Royal Jelly determines the life roles of bees. It is a special substance that goes to all bees—but some get more than others. What this fact of simple biology made me think about was something I see each day.  In our society there is a similar treatment, a special potion that admits the young person into the inner circle. For us, Americans in the 21st century, that special potion is learning to read.  Without it a child will be stunted and sterile—left behind and closed out. A child may become sad and withdrawn, or…

  • Dyslexia,  Fluency,  Learning Disabilities,  Phonemic Awareness,  Precision Teaching

    The Sorceress

    Elizabeth Haughton sent Jean Tucker to me. She told Jean that I could teach her to chart her student’s performance on the Standard Celeration Chart, and Jean came down to Hingham from Exeter, NH and spent a day with me learning to chart. She found it confusing and frustrating at first, but quickly got the hang of it. Jean was and continues to be the most knowledgeable and inquisitive language and reading expert I have ever met, and that meeting was the beginning of an important friendship.  Jean was happy to learn to chart and went back to her learning center in Exeter and made Precision Teaching a part of…

  • ADD,  Learning Disabilities

    The Chaos Curriculum and Learning Disabilities

    A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a colleague who teaches high school, and she told me about a recent incident that had left her thinking. One of her students was enrolled in a dance class (in-school) that was holding an open house, and the student invited my colleague to attend. As my colleague watched the class, she became aware that the atmosphere was one of calm and focus. The students were disciplined and respectful, yet the teacher and students seemed relaxed, and the students were clearly enjoying the class. My colleague was struck by the contrast between that atmosphere and the far more tense atmosphere of her own academic…

  • Uncategorized

    Reading Is a Four-Dimensional Problem

    When I first got interested in the problems involved in teaching reading, I quickly discovered reading was a often viewed as a “three-dimensional problem” because it does not develop linearly and involves such a complex interplay of skills. That struck me as an accurate metaphor, and until recently, I never thought to question it. Recently, however, I’ve begun to think that turning children into good readers isn’t as complicated as it’s been made out to be—it’s worse. Let me start here. A while back, a colleague told me the following anecdote: a college classmate of her partner was visiting from San Francisco, and the three of them had dinner together.…

  • Phonics

    Names, Places, and… Phonics

    For as long as I can remember, people have mangled my last name: “Metzler”, “Metzer,” “Metzger,” “Meltzler”… I’ve gotten them all. And if they don’t want to mispronounce it, they usually ask me to say it for them—an understandable request, but also one that always struck me as a little odd because “Meltzer” (MELT-zer) is perfectly phonetic. The question of stressed syllables aside, there is only one way it could be pronounced. Curiously, I never thought about the connection between this phenomenon and phonics until very recently (yesterday, to be exact), but now that the thought has wormed its way into my brain, I’m convinced there’s something there. Not long…

  • ESL

    Why Are We Teaching Our Children to Read Like ESL Students?

    Permit me to ask a disturbing question:  Why are we teaching our children to read as though English is not their first language?  I have been a world language teacher for more than a decade at one of the more prestigious public high schools in the nation. Oddly enough, teaching students a second language gives me an interesting window into their first; but allow me to start at the beginning of my teaching adventure. I was a mid-life career changer who completed a master’s degree at New York University. My plan was to parlay my fluency in French into a high school teaching gig.  However, when I entered their degree program, NYU…

  • Phonics,  Tutoring

    Why I Care So Much About Phonics

    In 2009, I was a twenty-something who had recently left an administrative job at Columbia to tutor full-time. I hadn’t set out to focus on English—my B.A. is in French, the subject I started out tutoring—but I eventually realized that adding English to my repertoire would open up a lot more job opportunities. Sure enough, that’s what people mostly hired me for; and since most of my students were in high school, I inevitably ended up doing a lot of SAT prep. The more I tutored, the fewer skills I realized I could take for granted in my students, but one day I found myself working with a girl whose…

  • Fluency,  Precision Teaching,  Tutoring

    The Learning Metric

    Charting—Navigating Life Changes and Learning Part 1 We know when we get in a car and step on the accelerator that we are moving—we can see the instruments and feel the acceleration. But when we send our child to school we don’t have that same experience. We don’t always know what is happening, and there are no immediate updates. But there could be! What if there was a way to see whether a person is learning—learning to a high level—while the process is going on. What if this instrument for navigating education were simple, accessible and transparent? What if this instrument made it possible to gauge human performance at every…

  • Fluency,  Precision Teaching

    Building a Learning Momentum

    I have been strongly influenced by several behavioral scientists over the years; Murray Sidman, Ogden Lindsley and Tony Nevin, along with my personal guru, Eric Haughton. These researchers helped me better understand the critical nature of positive reinforcement immediately linked to a behavior. Because reinforcement is so critical, and because the absence of it in early school experiences is so damaging, I am writing this column. My daughter Caitlin was one of the youngsters who had an early bad experience at school. By the beginning of October in first grade Caitlin had stomachaches five days a week, but woke up without pain on Saturday and Sunday. Her face showed the…