Why Blog

I’m passionate about finding ways to simplify comprehension instruction and learning. I’m concerned that we are defining comprehension too narrowly as an accumulation of five or six meta-cognitive strategies when cultivating comprehension involves so much more than that. We need to help children acquire accurate fluent reading skills and strategies; build background knowledge; develop their oral language and vocabulary; make reading-writing connections, and acquire a repertoire of meta-cognitive strategies to use as and if needed.

So I invite you to join me in blogging about this ever-so-important topic. I look forward to hearing your ideas, teaching strategies, book recommendations, classroom stories, etc., basically anything that will inspire a healthy conversation among colleagues.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Let's "Play a Bit" Like They Do in Finland

The recent New Republic article, They’re Playing in Finland by Samuel E. Adams, about the innovative policies Finland has enacted to revamp their once-mediocre school system is heartening, and reminds me of an encounter I had several years ago with Peter Cunningham, a highly acclaimed photographer that Heinemann hired to take classroom photos for the cover of what was my soon-to-be-published book. (The book’s publication, due to my slow-but-steady MO, actually ended up being a few years down the road, but that’s another story.)

Peter showed up in my classroom bright and early one morning, took note of what he saw, and instead of setting up shop inside the classroom and taking photos of a few children and me reading, writing, and talking together as I’d anticipated, he opted for a fifth-floor staircase landing as his make-shift studio where, according to Peter, the lighting was better. Pleased with his newfound environment, Peter indicated the middle of the landing with a nod of his head and said, “I want you and the kids to step inside (his circle of light) and just interact a bit. I don’t know what I’m doing,” he teased. “Let’s just play a little bit. Let’s have a little fun.” More than anything else that morning—more than the gorgeous photos he rendered, more than the respectful way in which he interacted with the children—Peter’s playful, out-of-the box approach to his profession, his suggestion that we play a little bit and have some fun, has stayed with me all these years.

We need more of this spirit of playfulness and innovation in our classrooms and in our teaching lives. Things have gotten so serious, so frightfully serious—about scores, about testing, about quickly moving kids up in levels, about AYP, that we lose sight of the fact that our best work—children’s and teachers’—comes when we all take a deep breath and relax, when we take a moment to genuinely assess children by sitting alongside them, talking with them, reflecting on what they’ve taught us, and then making teaching decisions based on what we know about our children and about best practice.

We have much to learn from Finland. It’s time we got in on the fun.


  1. Thank you for sharing this delightful piece. I love, "national standards are a guide, not a blueprint." Empowering teachers to create and think on their own.

  2. Agree...that's how I'm thinking of the Common Core State Standards. A presentation of the expected outcomes and leaving it up to the schools and teachers to decide HOW. (And we need to also acknowledge that what's "expected" may not be reasonable or possible for kids who are starting up far below grade level. For sure, we'll try our best, but we aren't magicians. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Love this line of thinking! If the policy wonks would just listen in on teachers doing what they know how to do -- playing a bit in their classrooms, making learning meaningful, and respecting kids for what they CAN do, then they'd see that learning isn't a one-size-fits-all test score.

  4. Great post Sharon! I love this piece even more because this morning I opened up the "American Teacher" magazine, to read Randi Weingarten's article "Scaling up Success". It focused on recent international assessments and how they showed America's failure to build on what works. Lets play a bit like Finland, or look into classrooms that work like in Shanghai, rather than focusing on pillars and assessments that just don't solve all the problems.

  5. I haven't read Randi's article—not yet anyhow. I must admit I don't know much about the schools in Shanghai. I had a chance to do some work there, but couldn't handle the nineteen hour plane ride.