Dear Friends,

Here is the next installment from the book I am writing. (BONUS: picture of

me that Jean took, at my writing desk, working hard every morning.) This is

another in the “technical” chapters, which lay out parts of the argument

for how to make successful reading happen in schools. I have appreciated

your feedback on earlier chapters, and encourage you to send me your

comments on this one, too, helping me get the facts right and clear.

To set the scene: our main character, Patrick, is a musician. He has gotten

involved in trying to help the local school where his son may go to

Kindergarten next Fall. Initially, Patrick has little idea of how to help,

but he has found a somewhat mysterious former professor of his – Veronique

– who seems to know a lot about schools, instruction and literacy in

particular. In my prior installment, she told him about her “1,200 Hours”

rule for how much literacy instruction and experience students need in

order to be successful readers by the end of first grade. She then

challenged Patrick to answer how a teacher can provide all of these hours,

during the school day, if parents or other adults have provided none of the

1,200 hours.

In this installment, Patrick calls Veronique to probe further, after he has

observed and been tutoring in a classroom and been thinking about her

challenge for several weeks.

“Students need 1,200 hours, and I say teachers can be the ones to make up

any hours that individual students are missing when they get to school or

that teacher’s classroom,” Veronique says, less patiently than before.

“Every student should be getting 80 minutes of actual reading instruction

per day, just to be making the amount of progress every student should make.

80 minutes per day x 5 days per week is 400 minutes x 40 weeks per school

year is 16,000 minutes x two school years for Kindergarten and first grade

is 32,000 minutes. Divide by 60 minutes to get hours and you have 533 hours

of the 1,200 hours a child needs.”

“That’s not enough from just school then, is it?” I ask. Are we getting any

closer to answering my question about how a teacher can be expected to make

up any of the difference, during the school day?

“That’s not enough if all you do is the minimum expectation, which you have

seen is sometimes not being done by teachers, as is, like in the case of

your observation classroom,” she responds. “That’s the start of the case

for how important it is to get every teacher doing at least the 80 minutes

of solid reading instruction for every student, every day. At a minimum,

mind you. That gets us 533 hours over two years. That’s enough to move

every student ahead by one full year.”

I can hear her pacing back and forth, her heels clacking on what sound like

wooden floors in a big, empty room. She’s all wound up. “But for students

who got less beforehand and are far behind, we’ve got to play some catch-up

with them, so they make MORE than a year’s worth of progress. So, if we

give those students 20 added minutes per day of intensive small group

instruction, which I say counts as two minutes for every one minute of

instruction, because it should be at least ‘engaged learning time’ and

really fine teachers can get it to the level of ‘academic learning time’,

how much added time can we count for those students? Is it enough to catch

them up and reach 1,200 hours total?”

“Heck if I know,” I say. “I told you, math is not my thing!”

“Einstein, this is just barely math – it’s just plus, minus, multiply,

divide,” she says, impatient with me again. “I’ll humor you, though. 20

minutes per day x 2 for counting it as double equals 40 minutes. Multiply

that by 5 days per week totals 200 minutes x 40 weeks in a school year =

8,000 minutes. Divide that by 60 minutes in an hour and you get 133.33

hours. Finally, multiply that by two years, for K and first grade, and you

get 267 hours.”

I say “Got it, and thanks for doing the math! I can do the further

addition. We had 533 hours before, from regular classroom instruction for

all students, plus this 267 hours is 800 total hours. That’s not 1,200

hours.”

“Right you are,” she says. “So, there are other options, to provide what

the student has not received from their environment before entering

Kindergarten, and is unlikely to receive from their non-school environment,

much as we might want them to. One is another 20 minute small group per day

for students who are far behind. That adds another 267 hours over two

years, if it’s engaging instructional level time and we count it as double

minutes like before. That gets the student to 1,067 hours. There’s also

pre-K, which some schools have. That can add, conservatively, 60 minutes

per day x 5 days per week x 40 weeks = 200 more hours. That would bring the

total to 1,267 hours. For students who are behind and getting very little

help from their environment, preschool is so important. Now you can see

why! Summer school can be 2 hours per day x 4 days a week, if you make the

instruction different than during the school year, to keep the students

engaged in new ways. That’s 8 hours per week x maybe 6 weeks is another 48

hours x two years is 96 more hours. That brings our total to 1,267 + 96 =

1,363 hours. Then there’s after school. Of course, I said you could get

this done by the regular classroom teacher, during the regular school day.

So, that would rule out summer school and after school.”

“But that adds up to at least 1,200 hours from pre-K through the end of

first grade,” I jump right in when she finally takes a breath, “all during

the school day and provided by the regular teacher, if that teacher is

making good use of all the time at her disposal. Right?”

“Yes, like I said from the beginning,” she concludes. “Not as easy as

wasting two of every three hours, but very doable.”

“I’m getting it!” I say, very excited to finally feel like I’m

understanding this, and it might be a powerful tool for our plan for next

year.

“Good,” she says, “because that teacher you are working with needs you to

understand this, so you can help her understand it. If we want some

students to be ‘catching up’, they’ll need more instruction every day. The

day you observed in that classroom, every student got 20 minutes of actual

instruction, and seven of them got 35 minutes. Nobody got the needed 80

minutes that day. So, if that goes on day after day, they all fall farther

behind, instead of any of them even making enough progress, let alone

catching up a little bit.”