Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ramblings on state assessments

School districts across the state of Michigan received a wonderful Holiday present from the Michigan Department of Education - preliminary state assessment results.  Individual student and aggregate results were accessible from the secure state website this week.  Public release of this year's results will not be far behind.

This year's results will cause a bit of a stir.  Proficiency has been recalculated so that it is no longer possible to receive a rating of "proficient" by answering only 17 of 65 questions correctly.  Yes - last year it was possible to answer less than 30% of the questions correct in some grade levels and on some tests and still be classified as proficient.

This year students will need to answer at least 65% of the questions correctly to be called proficient.  That is clearly a more accurate assessment of proficiency.

The larger question is what do these state assessments tell us.  The test is given in October and the results are typically released several months later.  Good teachers already have a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of their students.  So does the test really help classroom teachers?

If the conversations between teachers and parents have been frequent and honest, the results will probably not be too much of a shock to parents either.  My belief, and my hope, is that teachers have shared an accurate assessment of a child's performance with their parents so the MEAP probably gives little new information.

So if the state assessments are not really valuable for teachers or parents, for whom do they provide value?

The Michigan Department of Education uses the results to calculate Adequate Yearly Progress and to assign report card grades to schools and districts.  These measures are used by parents and the public to gain a sense of the relative strengths and weaknesses of a district.

Supporters and detractors of public schools use the results to either promote or disparage public schools.

In the end state assessments should be one piece of a larger puzzle that attempts to identify if students are learning.  Teachers and administrators must embrace the challenge of communicating if students are learning.  Schools exist to help students learn.  If we cannot demonstrate that the students who come to our schools are learning why should we expect the public to support us.

I understand that there are a lot of factors that contribute to student success. Parental involvement, community support, health, safety, and opportunities are just a few of the myriad of things that contribute to student success. As educators we must focus on the things that we can control - what goes on in a classroom each day, our attention to each student, our concern that every student makes progress.

External pressure - whether real or imagined from state assessments - is real. But our goal remains the same - educate every student who walks through the door.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Something else to worry about - but this is actually important

Average is over!  That's the title of a chapter is Thomas Friedman's and Michael Mandelbaum's relatively new book That Used to Be Us.  
What they say is somewhat disconcerting. "In a hyper-connected world . . ., what was 'average' work ten years ago is below average today, and will be further below average ten years from now. . . As a result, everyone needs to raise his or her game just to stay in place, let alone get ahead."
My job as the Superintendent of the Novi Community Schools is to prepare students to be successful in the world that they will live in. Friedman and Mandelbaum help me understand what that means.  
I can no longer focus on making sure my students have the basic skills.  Oh, those skills are still important and still need to be taught. The students in Novi need to know how to read, write, communicate, and compute.  
But I can't stop there. I have to help everyone in my district understand that, in the future, an average performance or an average skill set will no longer guarantee a middle class lifestyle. If my students, the students in my district, are going to have a chance to live the life they want they can no longer be satisfied with be "good enough."  I have to help my students understand that "average is over.!"
In the article The New Face of Global Competition in Fast Company the author states that companies learn that long-term prosperity depends on providing services of increasingly higher value.  It describes one company that goes out of its way to help its employees who have technical skills learn other skills - skills at building relationships - that help to set it apart from other companies. 
That's the challenge facing my school district. How can I teach my students that their future depends on both technical skills and the "extra" set of skills that will set them apart?
We've taken small steps in Novi.  At the elementary level we have embraced a concept called "The Leader in Me." Based on the work of Covey and the seven habits, we are trying to help our youngest students learn how to take responsibility for their life and success. Data notebooks, setting priorities, being reflective - these and other skills are being taught to the students in our K-6 buildings.
This is one small step in a much larger puzzle. Schools must embrace an ethos that focuses on helping our students learn more than how to read, write, and compute. Our district has to help students learn to add value to whatever job they do.
As I said, I now have something else to worry about. But this is actually important. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Middle School Orchestra

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Students in Mrs. Rais' class sight read a new piece of music today. "Dark Vision" is a possible new piece for the orchestra. #novischools

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Science Experiments

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Using colored water, a dropper, and a cup of pebbles students make predictions about how much water will fit in the cup. Next they will predict how much water will fit in a cup is sand.

What does it all mean?

The Washington Post recently ran a story about Ron Packard, the CEO of K12 Inc. earning a total compensation package of approximately $5 million dollars in fiscal 2011.  This is noteworthy because K12 Inc is the largest operator of full-time public virtual schools and presumably one of the cyber-schools that would seek to open in Michigan if the Michigan legislature votes to uncap the limit on cyber-schools.

Of course, in the Michigan legislature this fall a bill was introduced to limit the salary of school superintendents.  This proposed legislation failed to get out of committee.

The Michigan legislature also passed legislation this fall to require school employees to pay more for health insurance.

Why are lawmakers in Michigan intent on trying to rein in the cost of public employees salary and benefits while at the same time trying to pass legislation that would open Michigan to unlimited cyber-schools and a CEO that earns $5 million dollars?

Whether it is true or not the impression that is given is that certain members of the legislature believe that business will always provide a better value than a public school district.  As a result, business is given a free pass and not asked to control costs in the same way that public schools are being asked to do because the default position of some legislators is that business will always be more efficient.

I would challenge that belief when the salary paid to the CEO of a company that is receiving public funds is  five million dollars.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lily Pad Lane Open House

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Santa visits the Lily Pad Lane Open House at the high school tonight. Our infant and toddler program shared holiday cheer and good wishes with a party this evening.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Deerfield Students Focus on Math


Students at Deerfield talk about perpendicular and parallel line segments using the Smart Board.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Meadows Band

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Getting ready for the concert! Today at Meadows students put the finishing touches on their music for their next concert.

If we don't like state assessments, how do we measure success?

A recent article in the Washington Post highlighted an adult, a school board member no less, who took the FCAT - Florida's state mandated assessment test. He didn't do well. The article raises once again the question of whether these state mandated assessments are the best way to measure student learning.

This fall, principals in New York have risen up to protest the use of standardized assessments in teacher evaluations. Research, and common sense, supports their view that using a tool designed to do one thing to do something else can be done but it may not be the best or wisest thing to do. I have used a stapler as a hammer before. It worked but it certainly was not the most efficient or effective way to hammer the nail.  State assessments are designed to measure student learning. We are now trying to use them to measure teacher effectiveness and student growth. It probably can be done but is it the best way to accomplish these important tasks.

A third point must also be made. There is money to be made in education - especially in the use of assessments. Pearson, a British company that bills itself as a leader in learning, recently reported that they had sales of approximately $4 billion US dollars and a profit of approximately $732 million dollars (stated in British pounds it looks this way -£2.6bn and operating profit of £469m). Selling tests to school systems is big business. One has to wonder if the push to test every student at every opportunity has more to do with corporate profit than it does with student learning.

Having said all of this, what is my point? I believe that schools have a responsibility to teach students. In saying that it means that we have to be able to show in real ways that students ARE learning. Schools also have a responsibility to measure whether administrators and teachers are being effective. \Administrator and teacher effectiveness has to include a connection to student learning. After all, that is why schools are in business. We cannot say that a teacher is effective if we cannot demonstrate that the students in that teacher's classroom are learning.

If educators, those who have invested their lives in schools and student learning, do not like standardized state assessments and do not believe that these are accurate measures of the learning that is occurring in classrooms, then we have to come up with an alternative. I would argue that the alternative cannot only be idiosyncratic, classroom-specific, teacher created assessments. These can certainly be included but there has to be a way to measure student learning with an external measurement if we are going to convince our parents and community members that students are learning.

Schools exist to help students learn. Administrators and teachers must be able to demonstrate that students are learning in their classroom. Railing against standardized assessments and state mandated tests may feel good but it does not accomplish a lot. I think we should spend more time working to create a system that will help us measure student learning, evaluate the effectiveness of administrators and teachers, and stand up to external critics who question whether students are learning, than we should arguing against the use of standardized tests.

Students come to our schools everyday to learn. We have to have a good, effective way to measure that.

Parents want to know if the teachers who are teaching their children are effective. We have to have a way to measure that.

Taxpayers, politicians, and community members want to know if schools are being effective. We have to have a way to measure that.

If we don't like standardized state assessments, how will we measure success?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Orchard Hills Music

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Who can't have fun in music class? Kindergarten students enjoy Mrs. Gustafson and the welcome song in music class today.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Novi Woods DEN Times

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Today students at Novi Woods gathered to see the familiar story of The Three Little Pigs. Instead of focusing on the traditional story this version focused on "beginning with end in mind."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rotary Senior Concert and Lunch

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Today our middle school students presented a choir and orchestra concert for Novi seniors. A wonderful experience for all.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Using iPads to Research Michigan

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Students in Ms. Vanston's class use the iPads to research and write a report on Michigan.

Talking About Writing

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Ms. Vanston and her 3rd grade students gather around the Smart Board to review and discuss a piece of writing. What does good writing look like? What are key components?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Changing Times - What's True Now Has Been True Before


Our students face a world far different than the one we grew up in.

That's the conventional wisdom.  On the one hand it's true.  Technology change.  Globalization.  Social media.  Access to information.  Access anytime, anywhere.   

But look at the changes that were faced in the past four decades.  Computers. Cable television. The end of the Cold War. The rise of Japan and then China. The interstate highway system.

There is no doubt that the world we are heading into is different than the world that we are leaving behind.  But that has always been the case.

My father lived in a small town in Oklahoma and rode his horse to school.  His graduating class had 15 students in it. (H.K. Matthews - proud graduate of Fairland High School in Fairland, Oklahoma.)



The world is different now than it was when I was growing up.  My world was different than the world my father grew up in.  His world was different than the world his parents grew up in. (His mother entered the Oklahoma territory in a covered wagon.)

The world will be different next year and the year after that and the year after that.

What we know now is that the world will change.  Back in 1947 there was probably not the same sense that the world was going to change so dramatically.  But it did.  Now we take it for granted.

But those who have been successful learned many of the skills that those who will be successful are going to need to learn.

In some ways the challenges are the same for the students in my school district as they were for the 15 graduating seniors of the class of 1947.

Are they prepared?

How can we (a school) prepare them?

We hear a lot about 21st century skills?  But perhaps, the 21st century skills, are really just the skills that successful people have been developing throughout history.


  • The ability to communicate
  • The ability to adapt
  • The ability to use technology
  • The ability to develop relationships
  • The ability to compute
  • The ability to think
  • The ability to understand
  • The ability to see (vision)
The question I wrestle with is the question that others have wrestled with throughout history - How will the students in 2011 be prepared for the world that is to come?  How can I help them learn the skills that they will need to succeed?

What has been true is still true - those who will be successful learn to manage in changing times.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

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No better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than listening to the Orchard Hills kindergarten students sing holiday songs. Parents and guests were entertained by the great program created by Mrs. Gustafson. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Triangles at Meadows

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Mrs. Duthie talks with her students about angles, triangles, and measurement. What is the sum of the angles in a triangle?

Meadows iPads

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Students at Meadows use their iPads to create a Thanksgiving song. Using an app called Story Robe students write their song and then connect it with pictures.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

First Lego League Competition

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Today at Novi Middle School teams from around the county competed in the FIRST LEGO League competition. Novi's Techno Tadpoles were there in full (frog) force.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday's 2nd Grade Concert

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This afternoon 2nd graders at Parkview entertained us with songs celebrating Thanksgiving. Thanks 2nd graders and Mr. Owenby.

Aunt Flossie's Hats Help Writers Write

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Students in Mrs. Bain's class read a book - Aunt Flossie's Hats. Today they brought in hats that served as inspiration for their writing.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

High School Chemistry

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Mr. Langley works with his students in Chemistry. Lewis dot structures. Once upon a time this made sense.

Using Google Maps for Virtual Tours

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In Ms. Espinosa's Spanish class today students narrated virtual fields trips to Spanish speaking countries. Google maps were used to guide us through the country.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Learning the Food Groups

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Mrs. Clark helps students learn the food groups, serving size, and the vitamins and nutrients. Part of the "life skills" that students need.

8th Grade Social Studies

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Mr. Hoffman leads a discussion on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. How do 8th graders learn to be citizens? Discussions like this help students understand.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Parkview Students Study Text Structure

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Mrs. Garbooshian's class talks about various text structures. Good readers know and understand text structure and use it to help them make meaning.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sweet Music

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4th grade students play their recorders at Deerfield. An amazing display of sight reading by these 4th graders.

Deerfield 4th Grade Recorders

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Mrs. Sonntag leads her 4th. Grade students through a recorder music workout.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Novi High School Band-o-Rama Concert

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The Novi High School Marching Band performs for the final time this year. Wonderful music in our gym this evening!

Novi High Band Concert

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The Novi High Band performed tonight at the high school. Here the Jazz Band improvises in the auditorium.

The Leader in Me

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Elementary teachers this morning started their day listening to students from Parkview sing. Then Muriel Summers spoke to them about creating positive learning environments where students learn and develop lifelong skills.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Do Pumpkins Float?

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Students in Ms. Malczewski's class predict and then confirm if pumpkins sink or float. What do you think?

4th Grade Buddies

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At Village Oaks today 4th grade students visited Mrs. Eby's kindergarten class. A great time was had by all.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

8th Grade Trip to DC

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Good luck to the 8th grade students and chaperones as they travel to Washington DC. Leave fun and learn about our history.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Word Study at Orchard Hills

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Mrs. Lee and a small group work on word study together. Part of the daily five.

Orchard Hills Learns

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Even on a day when the school will celebrate Halloween students in Mrs. McGurdy's class work on math problems at the Smart Board.

Parkview Cares

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Students in the Parkview morning Care program made cards for cancer patients at Providence Hospital. This morning they presented them to Providence President Jean Meyer. A great and kind gesture.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reading at Meadows

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Mrs. Troost circles up her students to read "Ella the Enchanted." Students are directed to consider phrases, words, and ideas.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Novi Woods Visit

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Students in Mrs Benn's class gather for their Monday morning meeting. What's the weather today?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Homecoming 2011

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Teachers and the high school dance team prepare for their big moment at the homecoming pep assembly.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

National Bully Prevention Day

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Students at Novi Middle School talk with Novi Police Chief Malloy and Communications Director Walsh about bullying. Today efforts to stop bullying were highlighted at Novi Middle School.

SNAC Comes to Parkview

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Today at Parkview kindergarten students learned about healthy foods. A community chef came to Parkview to talk with the kindergarten students about whole grains

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Learning Lab at Parkview

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First grade teachers from across the district met today to discuss teaching and learning. These conversations help drive the district forward as we focus on instructional strategies.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Novi High School English

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Mr. Markos leads a discussion with his 11th grade English class on writing, research, authentic sources, and the authority of authors.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Data Notebooks

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In Ms. Cracraft's Village Oaks classroom students have data notebooks to keep track of their progress. With these notebooks students can monitor their learning.

Village Oaks Vocabulary

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Ms. Sparling works on the word of the day with her 3rd grade students today at Village Oaks. Aghast - the word for the day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What should a Superintendent do?

What does a Supeintendent do?

My goal is to improve the Novi community School District.  My work is doing those things that help us get better.

What is that work?

Since I began my work here in Novi I have had the oppotunity to talk with the board of Education about the direction of the district.  Together we created four district goals.  These goals are what I need to help the district accomplish.  They are my work.  

I will be held accountable for accomplishing these goals.  To help me stay focused and to ensure that these goals will be accomplished, I have spent time identifying specific action steps.  These action steps identify the work that will be done this year to help th district make progress on these goals.

I have listed the goals and the specific action steps that will be the focus of my work in Novi this year. 

Goal One:  The Novi Community School District will ensure that each student will make no less than one year’s growth in one year’s time. 

1. Create a robust internal accountability system.

a. Reach consensus on specific assessments in math and reading that can be used in 

grades K-12 to measure yearly growth.

Due December 2011

b. Create a framework for measuring yearly growth in science, social studies, and 

writing that will begin to be used starting in the 2012-2013 school year.

Due April 2012

c. Create a mechanism to report yearly growth to stakeholders (students, parents, 

community members, teachers, administrators, and the Board of Education).

Due June 2012

2. Measure yearly student growth with the NWEA.

a. Pre-test all students in grades 1-8 with the NWEA in September 2011 and identify 

a growth goal for each student.

Due October 2011

b. Post-test all students in grades 1-8 with the NWEA in May 2012 and identify the 

growth or progress each student made in the 2011-2012 school year.

Due June 2012

c. Provide a parent report for students in grades 1-8 based on the NWEA that will 

identify specific learning activities that can be done over the summer.  

Due June 2012

3. Staff the Office of Academic Services, within the existing budget parameters, to provide 

the appropriate support to meet our yearly growth goal. 

a. Create a Student Growth and Accountability position.

Due November 1, 2011

b. Analyze the needs within the Office of Academic Services and bring to the Board 

of Education additional items for discussion and implementation as appropriate 

and needed.

Ongoing

4. Create opportunities for teacher and administrator professional development outside of 

the school day.

a. Create a Summer Institute for teachers and administrators to focus on improving 

instructional practice.

Due summer 2012.

b. Analyze opportunities for teacher and administrator professional development and 

implement and fund as appropriate and needed.

Ongoing

Goal Two:  The Novi Community School District will ensure that all students achieve at a high level. (There will be no achievement gaps.)

1. Build a comprehensive K-12 plan for addressing the needs of students performing below 

grade level.

a. Create a system that provides for classroom and out-of-classroom support with 

input from teachers and administrators. (Pyramid of Intervention)

March 2012

2. Create opportunities for students to receive additional academic support.

a. Start Saturday enrichment blocks in cooperation with the Department of 

Community Education open to all students but with a focus on students who need 

additional skill development.

Due February 2012

b. Start two-week summer enrichment blocks in cooperation with the Department of 

Community Education open to all students but with a focus on students who need 

additional skills development.

Due Summer 2012

3. Staff the Office of Academic Services, within the existing budget parameters, to provide the appropriate support to monitor and support our goal of high achievement for all. 

a. Create a Title 1/Title 2/Title 3 and ESL Supervisor position.

Due November 1, 2011

b. Analyze the needs within the Office of Academic Services and bring to the Board 

of Education additional items for discussion and implementation as appropriate 

and needed.

Ongoing

Goal Three: The Novi Community School District will evaluate and enhance opportunities for students while maintaining a minimum 10% fund balance.

1. Engage in a comprehensive review of current programs.

a. Create a rubric to provide a cost/benefit analysis of programs/clubs/activities.

Due December 2011

b. Make recommendations on any changes in time for the 2012-2013 budget 

process.

Due February 2012

Goal Four:  The Novi Community School District will improve organizational quality and 

customer service by creating common standards, systems, and principles.

1. Analyze Central Office functions and processes to improve effectiveness and service.

Due as soon as practical

2. Evaluate processes and procedures of teacher and administrator evaluation to comply 

with new legislation.

Due May 2012

3. Create a comprehensive process to solicit feedback from stakeholders on district 

programs and processes.

Due February 2012

4. Create a comprehensive district communications strategy.

Due May 2012

 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Math Lessons at Deerfield

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Mrs. Henry leads her class through a discussion of place value using her Smart Board. Do you remember learning about the tens and the hundreds place in a number?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Broadcasting at Novi Middle School

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Students in Mr. Miller's video broadcast class work this morning to prepare today's broadcast. In 45 minutes students research, write, and record today's news, weather, and sports.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Focusing on Reading

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Mrs. Damon talks with her 4th grade students today about the skills good readers use to make meaning?

What kind of questions do good readers ask?

How does the reader's prior knowledge help?

How do readers get involved as they read?

These are the skills good readers use to create meaning and understand a text.