What’s in a Name?

Read Wordle

“Did you read chapter?”

“Yeah, I read it.”  Yet the pages are blank and the student offers little to the class discussion on the text.   If this sounds familiar, it is because increasingly students and teachers mean very different things when they name the learning activity “read.”

When a student says “I read,” he or she means that their eye balls crossed the page from left to right and top to bottom.  Individual words were all very familiar and the pages turned.  However, what does a teacher mean when she or he asks, “did you read?”

Teachers beware the widening difference in the language of learning.   A 14 year old freshman girl reconfirmed this supposition during a casual conversation in the dining hall.

“I really like math.  Reading is OK.  You know, I read texts. I got this.  Besides, they have computer programs that will read my books to me, so…”   Functional literacy vs deep thinking.

So, what do teachers mean when they say read?  Most likely they mean a myriad of cognitive and physical tasks – understand all of the words or stop to look up a few key words that were unfamiliar, ask a question of the author or a simple clarification question, make any connections between this reading and other readings or life experiences, agree or disagree with the author’s premise or the character’s actions, summarize events to self-monitor for understanding.  Notes were taken and dictionaries were opened. That one word – read – represents a whole series of distinct cognitive, or critical thought, processes.  Read is a loaded word – as it should be.

Our opportunity as teachers is to help students re-define the term read.  Assume less and coach more.  Another way is to find a more precise word for the learning task.  The synonyms for read include recite, deliver and speak while the synonyms for comprehend include know, realize, and follow.

Next time you begin the discussion, consider the question, “Did you comprehend the text?”  Even better, consider a question that requires more than a yes or no answer.

What’s in a name?   A terrible lot as it turns out – just ask Juliet & Romeo.

The Art & Science of Beginning Again

Hyde Classroom

Crafting school culture is the mission of schools each and every fall.  There are some key steps in creating our school’s Character Culture each fall.  I may not have all of the elements here, but I offer a “Top Five” – that which teachers new and old can attend to every day this fall:

  •  We leave it better than we found it – and help the kids do the same.
  • We know everyone’s name – and help the kids do the same.
  • We make eye contact & give recognition at all greetings  – ditto above.
  • We frame our actions & our reflections with our school’s 5 Words & Principles – ditto again.
  • We are the authority so trust yourself and act… when in doubt, do something – we help seniors with this one especially in the fall.

A teacher’s world is full of lists – to do, who’s who, and, my personal favorite, The Literature Teacher’s Book of Lists.  I hope the list I offer above gives each new Hyde teacher – or any teacher who want to develop a positive and dynamic school culture – a focus for the fall when all the other lists and details seem to be getting away from you.

Best of luck on yet another new school year!  Let us begin again.

Why I Do What I Do

I must borrow this title line from Malcolm Gauld so I can tell you a story that makes me smile.

Not many students these days know my favorite old band, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  Fewer still know the melancholy and romantic melody of the band’s tune Helplessly Hoping.  However, this spring a student chose this song for his group to sing.  This PA tune ended up creating a really cool and unexpected connection between two Hyde students and some spirited adults in the Bath community.  I know that our Performing Arts program has an impact beyond the stage and outside the Hyde School gates, and now I have video to prove it!

As we prepared for the spring show, I had worried the tune would not appeal to a group of teenagers more accustomed to hip hop and other contemporary musical styles.  The band director worried more about how the students could pull off the harmonies.  However, these guys pulled it off under the steadfast student leadership of Scott Georgaklis and with a little help from some awesome female faculty voices.  Luckly, their haunting and successful performance wasn’t the end of it.

For me the best part was seeing the universal appeal of some cool old music come to life in this video of Warsame Mohamed and Talin Rowe singing the tune Helplessly Hoping.   One week after our show, and during a community service project at Bath’s local food bank, the boys enjoyed PA revisited.  Some older adults from the Bath community, your classic ex-hippie types, were providing some music for the food bank’s weekly event.  As they plunked out the tune, our two boys – excited to recognize the music – jumped in to join the fun.  You can see the joy on their faces and the connection between the generations.  That is why I do what I do.

“They are one person, they are two alone, they are three together, they are four for each other.”  –CSNY

Special thanks to Beverly Coleman for the video!

Humility & True Teaching

This piece is a reflection by rookie Hyde teacher Alex Smith.  Read on to enjoy a teaching moment he experienced during his Algebra II class. 

 Word Problems

Confronting my students’ continual aversion to word problems, I had decided to attempt a word problem ‘blind’ in class.  Having done many problems in my math career of a much more difficult nature, I was motivated in my thinking somewhat by arrogance but mostly by a desire to communicate the process involved in solving any word problem. 

I began by outlining five general steps in solving word problems.  I proceeded to read the problem aloud and verbalize the cognitive process that I was experiencing having read the problem for the first time.  I was thinking out loud.  I then proceeded to build pictures and graphs to solve the problem.  The difficulty of the problem was high for the students and forced them to sit back and watch the process rather than assist in the details of the problem. 

About a quarter of the way through, I began to feel uncomfortable with the answers I was finding and verbalized my uncertainty to the students.  I continued solving the problem while expressing my ambivalence the whole time.  When I began to near the conclusion of the problem, I noticed a large mistake I had made in the interpretation of the word problem which had led me down the wrong path.   I was wrong.

The students had watched my process, so they were able to relate to the error in thinking that had occurred.   They had been here before themselves.  They pointed out that I had been questioning my intuition and proceeding with the problem despite my reservations.  They watched my learning process and one of the students stated that he had learned more about word problems in those 20 minutes than he ever had before.

BK, Truth & Writing


“I haven’t been honest with people,” said the senior who had been charged with a leadership position in the class.  But this was no ethical transgression or sneaky behavior.

This young man was an excellent critical editor who had volunteered to edit the English class’ anthology.  He realized, as the revision project wound to a close, that he had not offered his honest feedback on his classmates’ writing.  He had not really been clear about the effectiveness or clarity with which they met their purpose.  He had had thoughts on the success of their organization, but he’d not offered it.  He had had questions about their word choice, but he’d not voiced them.  In the end, he realized he had simply been too much of a coward to be honest.

His solution?  After speaking with the English instructor and becoming clear in his own mind about the issue, he made a commitment to the truth.  In the last twenty-four hours before the anthology deadline, he sat his peers down one by one.  Ten in all, he met with them at meals, during study halls, during class, in the dorm and under the chandelier.  For hours he sat and he spoke the truth.  He told them where he saw success and where he saw failure in the writing.  He became a Brother’s Keeper, a coach, a mentor… he became honest.