Monthly Archives: July 2012

Helping Students Keep Their Eyes on the Words

By Linda Farrell

An almost universal habit that struggling readers exhibit is looking up from the page when reading. In my previous EdView360 post, I stressed the importance of teaching students to keep their eyes on the words when they read. I also noted that, when students stop looking up and start looking at the word in order to use decoding strategies, many show immediate improvement when reading.

A number of teachers responded to the blog. Many wrote that they had not noticed how often their students looked to them for approval or for help with reading. Several teachers asked what they could do to help their students change their habits so that they keep their eyes on the words when they read. This blog offers some suggestions.

Helping students change the “looking up” habit requires diligent attention and patience, patience, patience. It helps to understand the different reasons students look up so that we can respond in the most effective way.

Students look up from the page for three primary reasons:

1.    Students look to the teacher for approval. These students look directly at the teacher and wait for the teacher to say “good job” or something similar.

2.   Students look up to signal to the teacher that they don’t know the word or need help. These students also look directly at the teacher. In many classrooms, the teacher or another classmate tells the student the word.

3.   Students look up to think about what the word might be. These students are trying to pull the word from memory and generally look into space, not directly at anyone.

1.   Students Who Look Up for Approval

Looking up for approval is the easiest of the three behaviors to correct. Please don’t mistake “easiest of the three” to mean easy. As with any habit, this one can take time to change.

One respondent to the blog wrote about a technique we also use: “We emphasize maintaining focus on the word from beginning to end with a few simple techniques. For those students having difficulty breaking the habit, I’ve tried standing/sitting behind them while they read! Worked like a charm—it was very evident to the student how often they broke focus, how reliant they were on teacher approval and how self-sufficient they became so swiftly.”

Some students look up for approval just two or three words before they finish reading. Often, this causes them to misread one or more of the final words. To change this habit, every time a student looks up before finishing reading, the teacher reminds the student he or she looked up, and then has the student reread. The teacher has the student reread whether all the words were read correctly or not. Doing this each time a student looks up will foster the habit of keeping eyes on the page at all times. We have found that if we have the student reread only when words are misread, the habit doesn’t change nearly as fast, if at all.

Some students have a difficult time recognizing that they look up before finishing the sentence. In this case, the teacher can put a hand lightly on the student’s head and tell the student not to look up until the teacher takes the hand away. Another technique is to have the student say “period” when he or she comes to the end of the sentence, then tap a fist on the desk before looking up. We have used both these techniques successfully with a number of students.

2.  Students Who Look Up Because They Want the Teacher to Tell Them the Word

Students who look up because they want the teacher to tell them the word need to be reminded to keep their eyes on the word. The teacher can say, “Remember that you need to say ‘Word, please.’ Start from the beginning and say ‘Word, please’ when you come to any word you don’t know.”  Many students start by saying “Word, please,” but still look up as they say it. Teachers need to remind students to keep their eyes on the word, even after they ask for help, and then follow up by having the student repeat “Word, please” with eyes on the word.

After a student asks for help with a specific word, the teacher can elect to (1) have the student sound out the word if the spelling patterns are ones the student should know or (2) provide the word if the student is not expected to know how to read it.

3.   Students Who Look Up to Think About the Word

Students who look up to think about the word are perhaps the most difficult to train to keep their eyes on the page. These students generally have very poor decoding skills and strong language skills. Their experience has taught them that glancing at the word and thinking about possible words is easier and sometimes more successful for them than taking the time to decode the word.

Students who look up to think about the word are different from those who look up because they want teacher approval or want to be told the word. They think that they can “find the word in their heads.” Therefore, teachers need to ask these students to continue to look at the word as they try to read it. If they can’t read the word, they need to say “Word, please.”

Kindergarten and first grade teachers can keep the “looking up” habit from developing. First, they can teach that accuracy is critical when reading. All teachers can help students achieve accuracy by insisting that they look at words the entire time they read. When any student misreads a word, the teacher can stop the student at the end of the sentence or word list, and follow these steps:

  1. Tell the student the number of words read correctly (or say, “You read perfectly up to this word” as you point at the missed word).
  2. Ask the student to sound out the word if it is decodable or give the word if the student hasn’t learned its spelling patterns.
  3. Have the student read the sentence again (up to three times) until he or she reads the sentence accurately without looking up.

Teachers can also stop teaching strategies that encourage students to take their eyes off the word. These ineffective strategies include: “guess based on context,” “look at the first letter and think of a word that fits,” and “look at the picture.” We wish all educators understood that these strategies encourage the student to look away from the words as they consider how to guess what the word might be. No good reader looks away from the words when reading.

Linda Farrell is a founding partner at Readsters, an Alexandria, VA-based firm that helps schools implement research-based reading instruction. She is committed to helping struggling readers become strong readers and to helping strong readers achieve their full potential. Linda is a former English teacher who has coauthored several publications and videos on effective reading assessment and instruction, including Teaching Reading Essentials, DIBELS: A Practical Manual, and Colleague in the Classroom. She can be reached at

About Linda Farrell

Books By Linda Farrell: Teaching Reading EssentialsDIBELS: The Practical ManualColleague in the Classroom

Categories: Literacy, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

How Families Can Develop an Asperger IQ

By Dr. Steven Richfield

Among the challenges of raising children with Asperger syndrome are the emotional ones placed upon the family. The collection of glaring social issues, mixed with subtle thinking variations and occasional unpredictable emotional swings, transforms parenting into a confusing trip of trial and error. When errors mount, family life is often mired in conflict, and the child’s issues are exacerbated. Parents may resort to blaming one another, leading to further downward spiraling.

To guard against this dysfunctional family dynamic, consider the following coaching tips.

Increase awareness of how Asperger syndrome places a child or teen in a handicapped position with respect to many circumstances in life. The nature of the disorder makes it difficult to readily adapt to change, recognize the subtleties in circumstances, take the perspective of another, and resist reacting to any perceived injustice/false accusation. As events unfold at home, these troubles pop up without warning, eroding smooth discussions and ensnarling the family within the world of Asperger syndrome. It’s easy for family members to unwittingly precipitate more conflict due to an approach that shows little Asperger IQ (AIQ).

Developing AIQ entails using your awareness of the typical impairments that place those with Asperger syndrome at a distinct disadvantage in life—and being prepared to effectively navigate around them. For example, those with Asperger syndrome tend to process emotionally laden events in “black and white” terms, making it hard for them to attribute meaning to the weight of circumstances. This sets them up to react emotionally and without sound perspective when accusations fly, family conflict stirs, etc. This can easily translate into them blaming the person who is yelling the loudest. Parents and other siblings can use their AIQ to reassure them that some conflict is normal, curtail accusatory tones of voice, and model reparative tones and behaviors.

Keep in mind that Asperger syndrome tends to magnify emotional reactions and restrict social understanding. Therefore, it is critical for other family members to consider these tendencies and to recognize and review common themes that have triggered past meltdowns due to limitations imposed by the disorder. Typical themes include misunderstanding the intention of jokes or sarcasm; expecting past events to always repeat themselves within similar circumstances; failing to consider timing, present company, and privacy matters when social boundaries are to be heeded; and tendencies toward excessive preoccupation and trouble refraining when enjoying something or somebody.

Using a loving tone of voice and tender words, discuss these issues with the family member who has Asperger syndrome. Explain how the tears in the family relationships can be repaired if everyone takes responsibility and works together. Describe how past conflicts have demonstrated how helpful it will be for everyone to develop stronger AIQ—including them. Suggest mantras they can call up in their mind, such as “My family loves one another, even when we don’t get along.” This can help restore emotional balance. Introduce “no-conditions time-out requests” where any family member can put interaction on pause for five minutes in order for cooler heads to prevail.

Dr. Steven Richfield is a clinical psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA. He has developed a child-friendly, self-control/social skills-building program called Parent Coaching Cards. He can be contacted at or 610-238-4450. To learn more, visit

About Steven Richfield

Products by Steven Richfield: The Parent Coach

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What Parents Need to Know Today

By Carla Garrity, Ph.D., Mitchell Baris, Ph.D., and William Porter, Ph.D.

Many things have changed in the bully field in the 12 years since we wrote Bully-Proofing Your Child: A Parent’s Guide, and soon we will be updating the book. Bullying takes place in even more ways today, at younger ages, and it is more difficult to spot.

In this blog, we will discuss three key areas that parents need to understand today: climate, cyberbulling, and being an upstander instead of a bystander.

1. Climate

The climate of the individual school is an essential piece of bully prevention. Climate means engagement with the school community. Think for a moment about whether you, as a parent, feel connected to your child’s school. Is there a community that welcomes you? Do you feel a connection to at least one person in the school? If your child has special needs or special interests, do you know if there is a sense of belonging, be it a teacher who listens and cares, a club, athletics, cultural arts, or anything that represents the uniqueness that defines your child?

The past 10 years have taught us that students who feel engaged, have a sense of belonging, and experience a welcoming school climate are far less likely to experience bullying. Parents must feel connected as well as model respect and engagement with the school. Do you know what is happening at school? Are events held at a time you can attend? Does someone speak your language, respect your culture, and listen when you express concerns? These are all aspects of a positive school climate.

2. Cyberbullying

Anything transmitted electronically is likely to be permanent and to spread quickly, whether it is true or not. Many students do not grasp the risk associated with social networking, online groups, and Internet communication. Parents must teach their children that there is no privacy. Rumors can spread at the touch of a cell phone button, lies can be perpetrated and spread, and pictures can be manipulated. The most common methods of cyberbullying are:

  • Sending text or digital imaging messages that are mean or threatening
  • Posting private information about someone through e-mail or comments on a website or chat room
  • Excluding someone from an online group

Bullies enjoy power and often lack the mature social skills required for face-to-face communication. The Internet is an easy medium for a bully to remain anonymous while harassing or victimizing someone. So what can parents do?

  • Educate yourself and your child. The Cyberbullying Research Center provides up-to-date information, research-based fact sheets, and guides to specific forms of cyberbullying, such as sexting. These can be found at:
  •  Make certain anti-bullying rules at your child’s school include policies that address cyberbullying
  • Monitor your child’s use of computers and install filtering and tracking software on all computers to which your child has access
  • Discuss with your child the harm caused by cyberbullying and the risk associated with posting personal information online

3. Be an Upstander, Not a Bystander

Schools that create a caring community of students and adults minimize bullying. This means students feel engaged with peers and can identify an adult at the school whom they trust. This also means parents are involved and have a personal relationship with one or more adults within the school.

There is a new term being used in the bully field today that grew out of the caring community concept. Upstander is the word for students and parents who speak up and intervene when they witness bullying. To be an upstander, a student needs to be able to recognize and distinguish bullying from normal peer conflict and harassment. Below is a brief overview:

  • Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength. Usually, it is repeated over time. Traditionally, bullying has involved actions such as hitting or punching (physical bullying), teasing or name calling (verbal bullying), or intimidation through gestures or social exclusion. Technology now has provided another means of bullying called cyberbullying, or online social cruelty. An imbalance of power is not always evident in electronic bullying, as the instigator may not be known to the victim. Often this form of bullying involves sending mean or threatening messages or images; posting sensitive and private information about another person; or pretending to be someone else in order to make someone look bad.
  • Bullying is about power. One person has power over another, and this can be physical, social, intellectual, or psychological. The bully often feels entitled and superior.
  • Girls are more likely to use social/relational aggression, which involves behaviors to intimidate or control by damaging friendships, reputations, or status. These include gossiping, spreading rumors, giving someone the silent treatment, publically humiliating someone, or excluding someone from a group.

Remember, not all conflict is bullying. Knowing how to recognize the difference means knowing when to be an upstander. The more parents understand about bullying, the more empowered they will be to help prevent and stop it.

Carla Garrity, Ph.D., Mitchell Baris, Ph.D., and William Porter, Ph.D., are coauthors of the Bully-Proofing series. Garrity practices child psychology at the Neuro-Developmental Center, a multidisciplinary group for the assessment and treatment of children. Baris is a practicing therapist, mediator, and consultant in Boulder, Colorado. Porter worked in community mental health for Denver General Hospital prior to joining the Cherry Creek School District, where he has directed a wide variety of student programs for more than 22 years.

About Carla Garrity

About Mitchell Baris

About William Porter

Books By the Authors

Categories: Family, Positive School Climate | Leave a comment

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