Here are some interesting articles we received and discovered this past week…



Wisconsin School Breaks Up Lunchtime Cliques With Assigned Seating

Quote from Article:

There’s a scene in the movie Mean Girls where new student Cady Heron gets a lesson from her friend, Janice Ian, about the social hierarchy of the high school cafeteria.

“Where you sit in the cafeteria is crucial,” Janice says. She then maps out the cliques, including preps, jocks and, of course, the “plastics.”

The scene is an exaggeration of a common experience: the stress of finding your place in a school cafeteria. But Wisconsin resident Smitha Chintamaneni can’t relate.

“I’ve never had that experience,” she said. “I’ve never been at the cool kids’ table or the nerd table. We never had that at my school.”

Chintamaneni is an alum of the University School of Milwaukee, a private K-12 school in the suburb of River Hills. One of the most unusual things about the University School is its long-standing tradition of assigned lunch seating.


For new students, the seating rules can be a welcome relief. Sophomore Kylie Burger went to public elementary and middle schools before coming to the University School her freshman year of high school.

“At first I was really hyped,” said Kylie, 15. “I moved a lot with middle school, and usually I would sit alone. So I was excited to not sit alone at a table all year.”


The students are randomly assigned to eight-person circular tables, which rotate depending on that day’s schedule. Each has a mix of kids from different grades, with one teacher whose job is to get the table talking. Kylie says it doesn’t always go as planned.

“Sometimes it gets super awkward at tables,” she explained. “Like the conversation goes, ‘OK, what did you just come out of?’ ‘Math.’ ‘OK.’ And that was really kind of where it ends.”

But administrators say a little awkwardness is worth the trouble. Dean of Students Charlie Housiaux says forcing students to get out of their social comfort zones builds relationships that improve the school culture.

“It’s a really valuable way for students to get to know each other, for students to meet new friends and keep the community as inclusive as possible,” Housiaux said.


University of Kansas education professor Suzanne Rice edited a book that explores the social dynamics of school lunch. She says the University School’s assigned seating strategy is rare — but maybe it shouldn’t be.

“A meal is the venue over which adults get to know one another and develop their social skills. But we treat that utterly cavalierly in most schools,” Rice said. “I would urge schools to investigate what’s going on in your own lunchroom. Think about how you could organize students’ lunchroom experience to better reflect the values that you hope your students are acquiring.”


One Wisconsin public school asked those questions a few years ago. Gibraltar Elementary in Fish Creek was having problems with bullying in the cafeteria, according to assistant principal Tim Mulrain. He says a school parent told them about the University School’s assigned seating. They decided to try it, although Gibraltar did not require teachers to participate. Mulrain says the strategy transformed the lunchroom into a more welcoming and less chaotic space.

“We haven’t had any major referrals, any major discipline problems since the inception of the program,” Mulrain said. “That was a major change. On top of that, we see students aren’t rushing through the lunch line, they’re not having anxiety about who they’re going to sit with.”


“The lunch system is more kind of a relief from [the cliques,]” Burger said. “It doesn’t reduce it in any way, from my experience. But it definitely, like, gives you a break.”

Burger said there are times she would rather sit with her friends. But she thinks it’s a good thing that at this school, no one sits alone.

District Deeds Synopsis:

This article immediately bought to mind the many issues we have heard of from parents regarding the struggles their kids have had fitting in at a new school or making the transition from elementary to middle to high school.

Although we realize that there may be challenges at school sites with applying this idea in larger schools, we think that even a limited deployment with a rotation of students would help assist new students to fit in and prevent bullying.

We urge our readers to forward this article to school site administrators to review.

At a Loss for Words

How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers

Quote from Article:

Molly Woodworth was a kid who seemed to do well at everything: good grades, in the gifted and talented program. But she couldn’t read very well.

“There was no rhyme or reason to reading for me,” she said. “When a teacher would dictate a word and say, ‘Tell me how you think you can spell it,’ I sat there with my mouth open while other kids gave spellings, and I thought, ‘How do they even know where to begin?’ I was totally lost.”

Woodworth went to public school in Owosso, Michigan, in the 1990s. She says sounds and letters just didn’t make sense to her, and she doesn’t remember anyone teaching her how to read. So she came up with her own strategies to get through text.

Strategy 1: Memorize as many words as possible. “Words were like pictures to me,” she said. “I had a really good memory.”

Strategy 2: Guess the words based on context. If she came across a word she didn’t have in her visual memory bank, she’d look at the first letter and come up with a word that seemed to make sense. Reading was kind of like a game of 20 Questions: What word could this be?

Strategy 3: If all else failed, she’d skip the words she didn’t know.

Most of the time, she could get the gist of what she was reading. But getting through text took forever. “I hated reading because it was taxing,” she said. “I’d get through a chapter and my brain hurt by the end of it. I wasn’t excited to learn.”

No one knew how much she struggled, not even her parents. Her reading strategies were her “dirty little secrets.”


That’s why she was so alarmed to see how her oldest child, Claire, was being taught to read in school.

A couple of years ago, Woodworth was volunteering in Claire’s kindergarten classroom. The class was reading a book together and the teacher was telling the children to practice the strategies that good readers use.

The teacher said, “If you don’t know the word, just look at this picture up here,” Woodworth recalled. “There was a fox and a bear in the picture. And the word was bear, and she said, ‘Look at the first letter. It’s a “b.” Is it fox or bear?'”

Woodworth was stunned. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, those are my strategies.’ Those are the things I taught myself to look like a good reader, not the things that good readers do,” she said. “These kids were being taught my dirty little secrets.”


For decades, reading instruction in American schools has been rooted in a flawed theory about how reading works, a theory that was debunked decades ago by cognitive scientists, yet remains deeply embedded in teaching practices and curriculum materials. As a result, the strategies that struggling readers use to get by — memorizing words, using context to guess words, skipping words they don’t know — are the strategies that many beginning readers are taught in school. This makes it harder for many kids to learn how to read, and children who don’t get off to a good start in reading find it difficult to ever master the process.


The theory is known as “three cueing.” The name comes from the notion that readers use three different kinds of information — or “cues” — to identify words as they are reading.

The theory was first proposed in 1967, when an education professor named Ken Goodman presented a paper at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in New York City.

In the paper,5 Goodman rejected the idea that reading is a precise process that involves exact or detailed perception of letters or words. Instead, he argued that as people read, they make predictions about the words on the page using these three cues:

  • graphic cues (what do the letters tell you about what the word might be?)
  • syntactic cues (what kind of word could it be, for example, a noun or a verb?)
  • semantic cues (what word would make sense here, based on the context?)

Goodman concluded that:

Skill in reading involves not greater precision, but more accurate first guesses based on better sampling techniques, greater control over language structure, broadened experiences and increased conceptual development. As the child develops reading skill and speed, he uses increasingly fewer graphic cues.

Goodman’s proposal became the theoretical basis for a new approach to teaching reading that would soon take hold in American schools.


In the cueing theory of how reading works, when a child comes to a word she doesn’t know, the teacher encourages her to think of a word that makes sense and asks: Does it look right? Does it sound right? If a word checks out on the basis of those questions, the child is getting it. She’s on the path to skilled reading.

Teachers may not know the term “three cueing,” but they’re probably familiar with “MSV.” M stands for using meaning to figure out what a word is, S for using sentence structure and V for using visual information (i.e., the letters in the words). MSV is a cueing idea that can be traced back to the late Marie Clay, a developmental psychologist from New Zealand who first laid out her theories about reading in a dissertation in the 1960s.


Stanovich wanted to understand how people read words. He knew about Goodman’s work and thought he was probably right that as people become better readers, they relied more on their knowledge of vocabulary and language structure to read words and didn’t need to pay as much attention to the letters.

So, in 1975, Stanovich and a fellow graduate student set out to test the idea in their lab. They recruited readers of various ages and abilities and gave them a series of word-reading tasks. Their hypothesis was that skilled readers rely more on contextual cues to recognize words than poor readers, who probably weren’t as good at using context.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

“To our surprise, all of our research results pointed in the opposite direction,” Stanovich wrote. “It was the poorer readers, not the more skilled readers, who were more reliant on context to facilitate word recognition.”13

The skilled readers could instantly recognize words without relying on context. Other researchers have confirmed these findings with similar experiments. It turns out that the ability to read words in isolation quickly and accurately is the hallmark of being a skilled reader. This is now one of the most consistent and well-replicated findings in all of reading research.


Other studies revealed further problems with the cueing theory:

  • Skilled readers don’t scan words and sample from the graphic cues in an incidental way; instead, they very quickly recognize a word as a sequence of letters. That’s how good readers instantly know the difference between “house” and “horse,” for example.
  • Experiments that force people to use context to predict words show that even skilled readers can correctly guess only a fraction of the words; this is one reason people who rely on context to identify words are poor readers.
  • Weak word recognition skills are the most common and debilitating source of reading problems.

The results of these studies are not controversial or contested among scientists who study reading. The findings have been incorporated into every major scientific model of how reading works.

But cueing is still alive and well in schools.


Margaret Goldberg, a teacher and literacy coach in the Oakland Unified School District, remembers a moment when she realized what a problem the three-cueing approach was. She was with a first-grader named Rodney when he came to a page with a picture of a girl licking an ice cream cone and a dog licking a bone.

The text said: “My little dog likes to eat with me.”

But Rodney said: “My dog likes to lick his bone.”

Rodney breezed right through it, unaware that he hadn’t read the sentence on the page.

Goldberg realized lots of her students couldn’t actually read the words in their books; instead, they were memorizing sentence patterns and using the pictures to guess. One little boy exclaimed, “I can read this book with my eyes shut!”

“Oh no,” Goldberg thought. “That is not reading.”


Goldberg decided to teach some of her students using the phonics program and some of her students using three cueing. And she began to notice differences between the two groups of kids. “Not just in their abilities to read,” she said, “but in the way they approached their reading.”


It was clear to Goldberg after just a few months of teaching both approaches that the students learning phonics were doing better. “One of the things that I still struggle with is a lot of guilt,” she said.

She thinks the students who learned three cueing were actually harmed by the approach. “I did lasting damage to these kids. It was so hard to ever get them to stop looking at a picture to guess what a word would be. It was so hard to ever get them to slow down and sound a word out because they had had this experience of knowing that you predict what you read before you read it.”


This idea that there are different kinds of evidence that lead to different conclusions about how reading works is one reason people continue to disagree about how children should be taught to read. It’s important for educators to understand that three cueing is based on theory and observational research and that there’s decades of scientific evidence from labs all over the world that converges on a very different idea about skilled reading.

The cognitive science does not provide all the answers about how to teach children to read, but on the question of how skilled readers read words, scientists have amassed a huge body of evidence.

Goldberg thinks it’s time for educators across the country to take a close look at all the materials they use to teach reading.

“We should look through the materials and search for evidence of cueing,” she said. “And if it’s there, don’t touch it. Don’t let it get near our kids, don’t let it get near our classrooms, our teachers.”

District Deeds Synopsis:

This article provides a fantastic historical analysis of “how reading works” and the damage that “cueing” can do to young readers.  We hope that San Diego Unified School District Parents and Teachers review lesson plans to root out ineffective and harmful cueing strategies currently being delivered.

School Halloween Celebrations Continue Raising Spectre of Academic Value

Religious and equity issues lead some districts to shun events around the holiday, but many are offering alternatives so all students can have fun.

Quote from Article:

On Oct. 31, elementary students in Illinois’ North Shore School District 112 will don costumes for Halloween parades at their schools after lunch, celebrating the holiday with classmates and family members who come for a visit. 

Their peers in nearby Evanston/Skokie School District 65 will do no such thing.

Earlier this year — in a move that sparked local controversy and national headlines — the district announced it was banning costumes and other celebrations of Halloween during school hours.

The differing policies of the two districts, barely 15 miles apart in the northern Chicago suburbs, highlight two sides of an issue public-school officials have weighed for decades: how to handle a holiday as controversial as Halloween. 


Haynes said the religious argument doesn’t hold weight on First Amendment grounds, since the holiday is considered a secular one in modern culture. (If students were learning about the origins of Halloween, however, that would be “treading on thinner ice.”) 

But it’s not just some Christians who oppose it: Many Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses also don’t celebrate Halloween and prefer not to have their children involved in related activities, Haynes said. So in schools where Halloween creeps into lessons and classroom activities for weeks leading up to the holiday, there’s a legitimate concern students whose parents opt them out could be losing out on valuable learning time.

“If they can’t opt out reasonably, that’s not fair,” Haynes said. “So, naturally, the question comes up, ‘What is the educational value? And it’s really hard to defend Halloween on educational grounds.’”


Whatever the decision, it’s important to make the community part of the decision-making process, Lubelfeld said.

“Work with families in the school” to learn the local norms and customs, Lubelfeld said. “Be as inclusive and open minded as possible for the various cultures of the families.”

Additionally, Haynes recommends that ed leaders get a taskforce of diverse voices and ask questions such as,

  • “Are we treating Halloween in proportion to its importance, or are we exaggerating it?”
  • “How much can we accommodate and where are we unable to accommodate?”
  • “Are we teaching about Christmas, or are we imposing Christmas?”

And, most importantly, don’t wait to do this until October.

“Don’t make a change right before Halloween,” he said. “It’s very difficult and emotional (for) people if you pull the plug on something they’re expecting.”

District Deeds Synopsis:

When our kids were celebrating Halloween at their schools we never thought of the issues brought up in this article.

We never thought about how Students of different religions  were left out.

We never analyzed the “educational value” of the Halloween school site celebrations.

This article reminded us that every school-wide celebration needs to add value and affirmation to ALL the Students on the campus…and should include ALL Staeholders, not just the racial or ethnic majority.

Now for our Quote of the Week:

“Urging an organization to be inclusive is not an attack. It’s progress.” ― DaShanne Stokes

Have a great week!!!



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