Welcome to Read – Write – Connect, Inc.

the Internet home of Leah Mermelstein.

Best Writing consultant 002 copyLeah is an internationally recognized literacy consultant who specializes in K-5 Reading and Writing Workshop. She is the President and CEO of Read-Write-Connect, INC. She is also the author of Reading/​​Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom, (Allyn & Bacon), Don’t Forget to Share (Heinemann) and the co-author of Launching the Writing Workshop (with Lucy Calkins) (Heinemann).


Selected Works

DVD

Quality Writing Instruction
This brand new DVD will assist teachers with high quality writing instruction.

Non-fiction

Don’t Forget to Share: The Crucial Last Step in the Writing Workshop
This brand new book will show you how to make your share sessions more instructional.

Nonfiction

Reading/Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom: Find the Clarity and Then Blur the Lines
This book demonstrates how through careful, explicit assessing, planning, and teaching every student can understand and use the reading/writing connection to become stronger readers and writers at the same time.

Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum: Launching the Writing Workshop
This book shows teachers how to launch a joyful and rigorous Writing Workshop in their classrooms.

QUICK LINKS

E-mail the author

Authors Guild

findauthors

Leah Mermelstein
536 Grand Street, Ste. 501,
Hoboken, NJ 07030
(917) 503-1947

leahmermelstein@earthlink.net

1Leah best writing consultant 1.4 copy

Blog Posts are Below:

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You Can’t Force Learning: But You Can Watch and Listen Carefully and Learning Will Unfold

Ariana has learned how to sleep in her crib for 12 hours, as well as watch movies in it on rainy days.

Greetings!

Ariana has learned how to sleep in her crib for 12 straight hours!!!!  She is so very proud of herself and I am enjoying the sleep!!!

I want to share the story of how it happened because it  pertains to both parenting and teaching.

For the last four weeks, I have been putting Ariana to bed in her car seat and later when she’s  fast asleep transporting her to the crib.

I did this because when I put her in the crib in the early evening, she would wake up  crying every half hour or so. Clearly she was not comfortable sleeping in her crib.

She ended up not getting solid sleep and neither did I!!!!!

When I put her in the car seat, she slept better and if she did wake up, I just had to rock the car seat a bit and she went back to sleep.

When I told people I was doing this, I got all kinds of well meaning comments:  Don’t rock her so much….she will come  to expect it…you are setting up bad habits by putting her in the car seat….the list goes on and on.

Their comments stressed me out because I knew that my goal was for her to eventually sleep in her crib.

I got so stressed out by this goal  and the well-meaning comments that I decided to force the teaching  upon her.

I decided that the very next night she was going to learn to sleep in her crib.

In my gut, I knew that it wouldn’t work but I went ahead and tried to teach it anyway..

Sure enough, she woke up crying numerous times and back in the car seat she went.

Even though I tried to teach her how to sleep in her crib, it didn’t work because she wasn’t ready for it yet. And because she wasn’t ready Ariana had a difficult night as did I ..no learning (or sleeping)  took place!

About five days later, when I went to transport her to the crib, she was wide awake.

She wasn’t crying but she was wide awake.

This was a VERY different behavior because normally at this time in the night, she was sound asleep. Because it was so different, I took note of it.

I wasn’t sure what to do.

So I put her in the crib  ( I kept the lights on as my plan was to only leave her room  for a minute) and went to my room to think about my plan of action.

I fell asleep and woke up an hour later in a panic…first of many guilty mom moments!!!!

I ran to the crib and there she was awake and still not crying. I wasn’t sure what else to to so I turned off the lights and she slept peacefully for the rest of the night.

Once again, I took note of this new behavior.

Based upon my observations, I knew I  had  a teachable moment…I realized that she had changed..she had grown into a little girl who felt comfortable in her crib.  Now was the right  time to teach her to sleep in her crib for the entire night.

Sure enough the next night I put her directly into the crib and she is now sleeping twelve hours a night….I hate to say it aloud as I’m scared I will jinx it!!!

What did this teach me?  When I tried to force her into learning to sleep in the crib it didn’t work.  I forced her because of outside influences and goals I had for her.

What I had to do (which was harder) was to never forget the end goal of sleeping in the crib but to listen and watch her behaviors so that I would know when she was ready to learn it.

When I taught it at the wrong time, she did not learn it!!!!

The perfect teaching opportunity wasn’t years away ..it was days away and what a difference it made to wait  just a few days to teach her to sleep in the crib.

I still met the goal pretty quickly but I met it  by watching her carefully and teaching it at just the right moment.

What this mean for teaching?

Quite simply:  You can force learning and at times we waste a lot of precious teaching time teaching kids things they cannot learn.

Our job is much harder than that!

We can’t forget the end goals that we and others place upon our kids  but just like I had to watch Ariana’s behavior so I knew when she was ready to learn, we have to watch our students so that we know when they are ready to learn.

Keep in mind that a few days might make all the difference just like it did for me with Ariana.

Like always, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and comments.

Until next time,

Leah

Copyright, 2013

14 Responses to You Can’t Force Learning: But You Can Watch and Listen Carefully and Learning Will Unfold
  1. Renee Dinnerstein
    March 13, 2013 | 5:00 pm

    Hi Leah

    This post speaks loudly to not forcing kindergarten children into academics that they might not be ready for and also for rethinking the idea of having academic benchmarks in kindergarten.

    Renee

  2. Hayley Mermelstein
    March 13, 2013 | 5:08 pm

    Makes me think of the principle of “deep listening”. Learning to listen deeply to what is appropriate in the moment. Listening deeply to the energy and to timing….an ongoing learning of course!

    We are trained to analyze with our minds but we are more powerful when we learn to listen deeply to the moment and respond appropriately. Nice post.

  3. Leah Mermelstein
    March 13, 2013 | 5:10 pm

    Hi Renee,
    For me, it’s all about how we go about doing things. I actually think some benchmarks are fine as long as we understand that every child is different and that we use those benchmarks to remind us of what our goals are and then watch children to see when they are ready for it. I don’t think we should force academics on kids either; however just as I saw with Ariana when I didn’t force it she came to it soon after. I think that the same happens in school..we have goals in mind but rather than forcing kids to do them we watch and before we know they are ready to learn it.
    Leah

    • Renee Dinnerstein
      March 13, 2013 | 5:39 pm

      Hi Leah

      I do agree with goals, but not with benchmarks. Goals are set based on what we know about each child. The benchmarks that are imposed on kindergartens are more generic and don’t consider the individual child. I always had goals for my kindergarten children and they drove my teaching, but I did that without the limitation of benchmarks set by someone who knew nothing about the children in my class.
      Renee

  4. Leah Mermelstein
    March 13, 2013 | 7:46 pm

    Hi Renee,
    I hear what you’re saying….When I was teaching and there were things that I knew weren’t right for kids–I ignored them–I realized recently that I consult in the same way. 🙂 I always hone in what is right for kids and try to ignore what isn’t right for kids–right or wrong or naive I’m not sure. :)))

    I think the idea of what kids are ready and not ready for works well with the experienced teacher. When I was inexperienced I often thought that kids couldn’t do certain things when in fact they could–my inexperience got in the way of me realizing that. I know that you could teach in that way beautifully but teachers who are new to the profession might sometimes need support in truly seeing the amazing things that kids can actually do.

    By the way, my little girl shocked me yesterday when she turned over (yes at 2 and a half months) and them beamed with pride afterwards.
    Leah

    • Renee Dinnerstein
      March 13, 2013 | 10:31 pm

      Hi Leah

      Well, teachers who are doing the writing workshop had to get some kind of training to know what to do. I think that it’s just as important (actually, maybe more important) for teachers to get professional development in understanding the needs, possibilities, attributes, etc. of young children. That’s something that young teachers don’t know because there hasn’t been any emphasis put on that. In fact, when I worked for the DOE and I had a kindergarten study group, I was told quite emphatically by my supervisor, Peter Heaney, that I should absolutely not ever use the expression “developmentally appropriate.” A sorry state of affairs! Many of the benchmarks for Common Core are appropriate for some children but are not develpmentally appropriate for kindergarten children in general.

      Renee

      • Leah
        March 13, 2013 | 11:50 pm

        I agree with you, Renee that there should be more training in understanding young children. That would solve a lot of problems 🙂 I try in my own staff development to integrate into what we are doing since in my mind it is such a crucial part of a successful Writing and Reading Workshop.

  5. Mary Lou Dunham
    March 13, 2013 | 8:03 pm

    Leah,
    This post reminds me of something I learned from you way back in the beginning. When teaching writers workshop our invitation to write has to be big enough and broad enough to include all children regardless of their abilities. There is a lot of pressure on teachers right now. May we have the courage to not let ouside influences prevent us from doing what we know is right for our students.
    Mary Lou

    • Leah
      March 13, 2013 | 8:32 pm

      Hi Mary Lou,
      I agree–although unfortunate I think it’s our job as teachers to always do what is right for kids regardless of what outside forces might be saying. I think we have to listen to these forces because at times we can learn things i.e I have become a better teacher because of the Common Core Standards but always do what’s right for kids.

      Please tell everyone I say hello and keep being the fabulous teacher that you are!!!!

  6. Nicole
    March 14, 2013 | 9:20 am

    Hi Leah,

    First I’d like you to know that my Leah slept in her carseat for the first 4-6 months of her life and she is a happy, healthy five year old now AND the best sleeper in the house!

    I agree about teaching what students are ready for, sometimes the curriculum becomes a strong pull, pushed on us by outside forces and while we keep that in mind….our biggest service to our kids is to teach them what they need to know, when they are ready to know it. Every lesson that has flopped for me has been because I “had” to teach it. I spend more time now looking for better approaches to those “have” to teach concepts.

    See you next month!
    Nicole

    • Leah Mermelstein
      March 14, 2013 | 4:04 pm

      Hi Nicole,
      Good to know about the car seat….
      It’s so important to do as you said..keep the ‘have to’s” to mind and find ways to address them but really try to teach them what they need to know when they are ready to learn it.
      I can’t wait to see you next month!
      Leah

  7. Maria
    March 14, 2013 | 1:49 pm

    Hi Leah,

    First, good for you for doing what you think is best for Ariana. You have probably already learned that people have a lot of opinions about raising children and although it worked for them, it doesn’t mean it will work for you. I do know family, friends, and acquaintances are well-intentioned, as you mentioned, but need to be a bit more careful in their delivery.

    I believe this to be true for teaching as well. We just had a staff meeting during which our principal told the staff they would be teaching the TC units but some curriculum mapping and resource planning needed to take place. He then went on to say that teachers were going to plan together to this end and that he would like all of the teachers to be doing the same units at the same time to aide in the ease of such planning. I think it was in the way he phrased it, but teachers took away that they had to be “cookie cutters” and teach the same thing. As in child rearing, I think teachers also need to feel they are doing what they are comfortable with in terms of HOW they deliver instruction. Having the same goals is glaringly important. Having to use the same materials and methods to do so should be left up to each person. I think he believes this in his heart, but it was interesting to see teachers’ reactions to his comment when they thought their autonomy was being compromised. I think a part of it was in his delivery.

    Keep on doing the fabulous work you are doing as a mom (and of course as a staff developer). You are amazing!

    • Leah Mermelstein
      March 14, 2013 | 4:17 pm

      Hi Maria,
      I think delivery is such an important part of learning…..sometimes something isn’t appropriate not because kids can’t do it but the delivery of the instruction didn’t work.. I remember some teachers thinking that asking kids to write opinion pieces in grade one wasn’t ‘developmentally appropriate’

      When I reworded it and asked their kids about things that thought weren’t fair in their life..hands were clamoring. We were able to take what they thought was unfair and helped them to state their opnion. The teachers could then see that the content was appropriate but their delivery of that content had to be tweeked! I hope that all works out with the units at your school. I will hopefully see you soon.

  8. Chris Napolitan
    May 9, 2013 | 1:18 pm

    One of my concerns about curricular pacing has developed over the years. It seems most obvious to me in children who have learning difficulties, ELL’s, and those with very late birthdays. It is, however, I think, applicable to all children. If, for any of the above reasons or others, a kid doesn’t learn a particular skill or set of skills when taught, but functions well enough to be promoted to the next grade, albeit just barely, there is a very good chance that the skills in question may not be retaught in their basic, introductory form. The next year’s teacher, held to that grade’s curriculum, may try extremely hard to differentiate the work of the grade, but often kids who are passed along as “approaching standards” remain in that position for much of their education. I have come to believe that for many, especially in the lower grades, a reteaching of the basic skills (i.e. the work they weren’t ready for when it was first taught) could result in more potential for them to “catch up” than differentiating the next year’s work.
    Had Ariana been left in her crib, crying, before she was ready to comfort herself, there would have been a horrendous five days (or possibly more, as her negative feelings would have been validated). When she was ready, she “learned” without angst. Moms like Leah are able to backtrack and repeat the teaching for their one child. Perhaps, the difficult task for teachers is to do the same for one of 25 kids. In the end, it could be worth all the work.

    (Leah, I can’t share this blog with my two daughters, as they’d probably shoot themselves when they read that Ariana sleeps 12 hours straight!!)

    Chris

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