Cheryl Sigmon

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The Little Things that Count in Our Schools: Doing Something Different, Simple and Powerful

Cheryl Sigmon is back with some simple ideas she picked up from Dr. Richard Allington… ideas that have the potential for effecting major change in schools. And she shares a surprisingly simple, but powerful, one of her own.
by Cheryl Sigmon
Long time contributor to the Gazette
May 1, 2009

Recently, I spent a day at a Richard Allington seminar entitled, Intervention for Struggling Readers: What Really Matters. Whenever I hear Dr. Allington speak, I am most attentive—never wanting to miss a word for several reasons. First of all, he speaks with passion and says exactly what he’s thinking. Often his “off the cuff” approach leads to humor, but, most importantly, his message is always no nonsense, practical, and based on research—and the man knows his research!

At this particular seminar, I learned a great deal regarding RtI (Response to Intervention)—why it was authorized, the intent of the authorization, the failure of the current commercial approaches, and what are likely the best approaches. However, between the data and his 5 Tier RiT plan, Dr. Allington shared some very simple ideas that, I think, have the potential to make major changes in schools. These ideas that are a bit “outside of the box” are both inexpensive and easy to implement.

We all know that we can’t teach students if they aren’t present in our classrooms. So, the first few ideas relate to getting them to school, a major problem in some areas…

  • For kids who are consistently late to school, buy alarm clocks that can be sent home. Teach young students to set them. Whether it’s the parents who aren’t getting them up in the mornings or the kids themselves who aren’t taking the initiative to get going, the alarm clocks will show the students and the parents that you expect them to take the responsibility—no excuses!
  • Require that bus drivers honk their horns at students’ houses until someone comes out—either the student or a parent. Neighbors might get a bit upset about the honking, but it’ll motivate the students or parents to be more accountable.
  • If the honking doesn’t yield a response, send someone to the door to knock. We can’t make it easy for parents to shirk their responsibility in getting students to attend school daily.
  • As a last resort, get the local Social Services agency to work in conjunction with the school to ensure that students attend school regularly. Some states/districts already have this written into their legislation.
  • Once we have students at school, we should make learning as relevant and interesting as possible. Right now, Dr. Allington says, “Schools are filled with books that nobody is interested in.” He cited a study that revealed that there was only a 4% overlap between books given ALA Book Awards and the books chosen by students in the Children’s Choice awards. We need to be sure we’re matching the right books with the right students!
  • As schools respond to students’ needs through different tiers of service, flex-time bus schedules could be a solution. Not all services can be provided during the regular school hours any longer. If the day is extended for some students, buses could run flex schedules, carrying some students home at the end of the normal school day and another group home two hours (or whatever time is designated) later. This can be done without any additional costs for the buses if the routes are studied carefully.

And, I’ll throw in one more idea that seems to fit well in this listing of easy, cheap, powerful ideas that effect change. This one I shared in an article I wrote for Teachers.Net quite some time ago. I’ve had several schools report success with it, so I’ll share it again.

This one is quite simply—

  • Don’t let any student eat lunch alone. Observe which students are likely to be withdrawn or ostracized during lunchtime. Be sure to involve those students in some school activities, clubs, opinion groups, or other opportunities. They are often the dropouts or the trouble makers down the road. Don’t let that happen!

Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, or an administrator, these suggestions can make a difference. Perhaps you can share these in your school and brainstorm additional ideas to get students and parents more involved and more focused on our common goals. Good luck and happy reading!

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About Cheryl Sigmon...

Cheryl Sigmon has been an educator for nearly 30 years as a classroom teacher, a Dept. of Ed. language arts consultant, and currently as a seminar presenter, trainer and consultant in schools and districts around the US and Europe. She owns her own consulting firm, Sigmon & Associates, Inc., that brokers consulting services. She is co-author with Pat Cunningham and Dottie Hall of the bestselling Teacher's Guide to Four-Blocks and author of Modifying Four-Blocks for Upper Grades. Also, she is the author of numerous other professional books on literacy, including a writing mini-lesson series, Just-Right Writing Mini-Lessons (grade 1, 2-3, 4-6) and her newest comprehension mini-lesson series, Just-Right Comprehension Lessons (grades 1-6) with Scholastic Publishing Co.

Visit Cheryl's website at

On a personal note, she and her husband, Ray, live in SC, where they enjoy their stateís beautiful beaches and spend time with their three daughters, two grandchildren, and a multitude of grand-dogs and grandĖcats!

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