Grow Your Own Practice

I recently read an article by Cornelius Minor put out by Heinemann. The article was adapted from Mr. Minor’s new book, We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us To Be (Heinemann, 2018)

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The article really hit home with me. It made me think about the National Board Teacher certification process and growing your own practice which are really dual paths.

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When thinking about the career continuum above you have to be doing the thinking and curriculum blending/bending Mr. Minor talks about to move towards becoming a National Board Certified Teacher.

Take a look at the National Board Certified Teacher(NBCT), Architecture of Accomplished Teaching and think about Mr. Minor’s ideas shared in the article.

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These are things all accomplished teachers have to be doing as they reflect and help build and bend curriculum and programs to meet the needs of their students. To be a NBCT you cannot simply follow scripted programs or curriculum that keep you from growing your practice.

“Growing your own practice” is something I heard Sunday Cummins said once in a PD session.  To me this means take what you are being given, and improve upon it for your students needs and your own. Turn, it, twist it and reflect on how it can be applied with your own students. Figure out what is working for your students and what is not. Grow and build upon what you are being given. NBCT’s and teachers who grow their own practice don’t simply criticize and complain. They know and understand the vision of their school and district and meet those visions and along with student needs by bending curriculum, not breaking it. They also move beyond mimicking. It is not enough for your own students or yourself not to thinking and reflect and grow. You have to take the information you are being given and use it to build upon and improve your own instruction, not mimic someones else. Now to be fair you may start out as a mimic but you will never continue to grow if you stay there.

I looked up the word practitioner and the definition is: a person engaged in the practice of a profession, occupation, ect.  I feel it has become kind of a buzz word these days, and I feel to grow your own practice, you have to be a practitioner of literacy or mathematics and so on. I feel the word engaged is a key word to remember in that definition.  Mimics I feel are only partly engaged. You are not completely engaged when you are just copying another. True engagement requires more in-depth thinking then that.

I think the same should be said about curriculum. Mr. Minor states several things in the article that hold true to growing your own practice when it comes teaching a curriculum or program. As he points out “any curriculum or “program”that we buy, adopt, or create is incomplete until it includes our students and until it includes us.”  We have to take that grow your own practice approach with programs and curriculum. Take what is given and build on it. Mr. Minor goes on to say that “my job as a teacher …is to seek to understand my kids as completely as possible so that I can purposefully bend curriculum to meet them.”

He talks about how programs and curriculum that are any good, must be flexible and allow you to bend it some. The curriculum must also help teachers continue to grow. You cannot grow with rigid programs that leave out the teacher decision-making processes, which probably leaves out opportunities for kids to make decisions for themselves as well. He really focuses in on getting to know your students needs and backgrounds and using that to help you bend the curriculum to fit them. I hope that in your schools, you are allowed to bend the curriculum for your students. Use what you are given, understand it, try it out, and shift what you need to as you continue to grow your own practice, be your own practitioner. Don’t expect your district to be your practitioner! On the same note remember programs and curriculum are written to help us, and are full of some great things! We do not have time to build our own from scratch. Use the solid foundation they create for you and that you are expected too, but bend and build as you need to, for your students.

Check out the article and let me know your own thought!

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I will have a part 2 to this post coming soon, applying this specifically to literacy instruction.

Thanks Troy

 

 

Building Ideas

Vicki Vinton and Sunday Cummins have reinvigorated my desire for teaching main idea/s. I have shifted how I teach finding the main idea because of their ideas. I am finding that texts and articles today with any depth to them are often written with more than one main idea . We also have to get kids to move beyond simply repeating information shared by the writer or combining information into one sentence.

In her book Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading Vicki shared two important concepts that stood out to me.

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Readers have to read with the intention and the want to, to figure out what all the information they are sharing means as they read. When kids read NF texts they often think all they have to do is regurgitate information the writer shares. Doing this may get you by in reading levels A-F, but it won’t even work there some of the time.

Vicki discusses how ideas are different from facts. Ideas are born out of knowing and understand facts, they are not the facts themselves. Main ideas are formed by piecing together the information the writers shares with readers as they incorporate it into their existing knowledge. They use their existing knowledge with what the writer shares and implies. I remember when I was in school and was taught the main idea of a text was often in the first or last paragraph. When that was actually the case that was in prepared texts that were often written for the purpose of identifying the main idea. We were not finding the main idea in real literature and articles like, what our students are reading and being asked to read today. We must evolve our teaching.

Readers have to be willing to work to understand what the facts mean when thinking about them together. This could also include trying to figure out how the writer feels about a topic because a writers opinion can cloud over the facts or put a new twist on the facts that the reader has to recognize and consider. NF writers often imply thinking that readers have to piece together as well. Vick talks about how patterns and themes in fiction texts are often repeated, but in NF texts readers often have one chance to notice something before the writer moves on.

I am experimenting with using a Combine and Synthesize Chart.  Vicki talks about this chart in chapter 9 of her book.  I started to play around with this chart and some of Vicki’s ideas about teaching from a problem-based approach. I was also incorporating ideas from Sunday Cummins new book Nurturing Informed Thinking.

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Both of these literacy consultants drive home the idea that as a reader of NF you have to do more than just repeat facts from the story and really work to combine and synthesize information into really understand what a writer wants readers to understand about a topic, which is often more than one thing, an idea not a fact.

I introduced how to use the combine and synthesize chart with a group of second graders reading this level F LLI  book.

I introduced the idea of making a connection between text features and the writers accompanying words on the page. Sunday talks about doing this on page 40 of her book as one of her 9 lesson ideas to help carry readers thinking deeper.

I took her idea and tried to keep the focus of my lesson on meaning making and the thinking a reader has to do. I didn’t have students searching the book for different kinds of text features or do any scaffolding for them about content. We opened the book to the first page and I said “lets look at this text feature. It’s a photograph of a beetle.  Writers choose what text features they want to include in their book. As a reader we have to figure out why the writer included it, by asking what the writer wants me to understand about it.”

We talked about what we noticed in the feature and then read the accompanying  text and connected them together as we thought about what the writer wanted us to understand. We noticed that the beetles might be eating the leave on page 3 and that in the close up on page 2 the beetle has six legs. We wondered if all bugs have six legs and if bugs were the same as insects. The students actually came up with the term insect. As you can see we got more information from the photograph then we did from the writers own words. Our understanding is going to be much deeper than if we just glanced at the photographs.

Then I let the students read the rest of the text as I conferred with them individually. While conferring I focused students attention back on the text features and then connecting the features back to the writers words.

Students gained a lot of information from these text features. Each page showed similar features about different bugs.

By looking closely at the pictures they were able to have the word crawl already in their heads, which helped them quickly cross-check it as they struggled with it in text. They noticed that the ant was carrying something that seemed larger and heavier than itself. This brought out some information students already knew about ants being able to carry objects 10 times their body weight. We were able to verify that the ant indeed does have six legs as one student debated about the antennas. I tried to keep them away from brining in their background knowledge until we had examined the text features thoroughly. Although in reality they were probably using their background knowledge to help them understand the text features. This goes to show something I firmly believe. When you try to break down skills and strategies too much you end up hindering their natural thinking processes.

We did most of our work orally, but with readers in other guided reading groups I might makes copies of the text and let students annotate the text features and take notes.

After reading the book and completing a turn & talk about what new information they learned vs information they already knew, I introduced the Combine and Synthesize chart.

We completed the chart together digitally using an iPad displayed on a TV using Apple TV.

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This text did not require much synthesis but it worked well to introduce this chart and to introduce really looking at text features trying to notice and figure out why the writer included them.

This lesson helped these students learn to self-monitor their reading on their own and gave them a few strategies to use to push their thinking deeper in a more authentic way then having them search for text features and identify the type and writing it on a graphic organizer or sticky note. I did not over scaffold the text or do the thinking for them. I led the discussion and nudged them in the right direction holding true to a problem-based approach to teaching. I also didn’t simply follow someone else’s model but adapted the lesson to fit the needs of my students at this point in time after thinking through and reflecting on 2 literacy consultants ideas.

Let me know your thoughts and reflect with me!

Using A Problem-based Approach to teaching reading in Readers Workshop

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I am teaching a course using Vicki Vinton’s book Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: Shifting to a Problem-Based Approach and we are diving into understanding and trying to use a problem-based approach to teaching reading. We are striving to understand how this approach can be used within a readers workshop approach where skills and strategies have been pushed front and center with the use of explicit modeling during the focus lesson and individual conferring sessions.

The problem-based approach keeps the focus on reading for meaning or understanding, not reading to necessarily to complete a task or practice a skill. I like to say a problem-based approach to teaching reading, teaches students to read for meaning while using skills and strategies as needed as tools to enhance the meaning making processes they are going through, not become the focus. It shifts the focus from isolated skills and strategies to using skills and strategies to expand and deepen understanding by helping students continually connect and clarify by bringing pieces together for fuller understandings.

Instead of teaching skills and strategies in isolation it helps students integrate those skills and strategies with a clear purpose, meaning. It does not break apart reading comprehension into individualized components that a lot of readers in classrooms never connect back together.

In this approach the central point of the focus lesson is not to model the reading task, strategy or skills in isolation. It is to model the thinking a reader goes through when deciding what skills or strategy to use and maybe what task they may need to accomplish to understand their reading deeper. This is more of the role teachers are being asked to take on within math and sciences lessons across the country.

This approach asks students to ask questions like what strategy can help me here? You have to continually observe students noticing what they are doing well and what they are struggling with and then be present and ready to step in to support at the point of need.  You can still meet district curriculum requirements and teach the standards you have to, with a slight shift towards making meaning. We can ask questions like,

What can you try?   What can you do to help yourself understand this section better? What strategy will help you figure out what the writer wants readers to understand here? Why did the writer do that? What does the writer want readers to feel here? What have you figured out?

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We want readers to be constructing knowledge and reading for meaning, not just completing reading tasks in isolation. You have to ask yourself if having students complete reading tasks and to explicitly practice a skill or strategy in isolation would be productive reading or unproductive reading. Often when isolated out the skills and strategies become the focus and reading for meaning is all but forgotten except with your highest readers. If students are not reading to understand the text then reading is often unproductive. Students often end up pitting completing the task their teacher expects against reading the book for meaning. This is an unintentional side effect, but a side effect for many students none the less.

Modeling within this approach needs to be more strategic. As the teacher when you start off by modeling explicitly all the thinking and providing specific texts for student to practice in then transfer usually doesn’t happen. Modeling is a great teaching tool and works great in reading, but can work even better when it is used to set students up to think for themselves, not have us do most of the thinking for them.  We give them a chance to thinking ideas through, maybe evening struggling a bit like we do in math and science.  They have to think things through and experience strategies for themselves in authentic moments for transfer to happen with us noticing and naming what we see and nudging them along to use the most affective and efficient strategies to help enhance meaning.

I plan to suggest ways to integrate using this approach within focus lessons and the readers workshop in the next several blog posts, so please come back and check this blog out again. I hope to suggest ways to still use explicit modeling during focus lessons and conferring when it will help the student enhance meaning and think deeper about a text.

Keep reflecting on your practice!

Troy

Paperless?

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I am trying to go paperless with my lesson plans and conferring notes. I have used The Confer App for my conferring notes and it worked adequately. I wanted to find a place where I could house my conferring notes and my lesson plans. I started using an app called Noteshelf 2. I typed my lesson plans in word and imported them into the app where I could continue to edit the them and write in notes using my Apple pencil or type additional text. My Apple pencil didn’t always work the best in this app however. I am trying an app called Notability now and my Apple pencil seems to be working better. I can still import my lesson plans from word. I have also started recording my conferring sessions when I’m going into classrooms and conferring with readers. This really helps me reflect on the language I am using with my students and helps me hold them and myself more accountable.  Each conferring session lasts 5-6 minutes. While I am recording I am also typing notes. When I play back my notes, what I typed or write is highlighted as the audio plays. This is very helpful and lets me make my note taking more efficient. I am not typing as much because I can rely on the audio to help me plan for future sessions. I also plan to play back students oral reading when it becomes useful to help them notice fluency concerns or decoding attempts.

What are you using? Any suggestions? I am really liking Notability so far! This is just my 3rd day using it and am learning more  about it everyday.

Troy

Are we teaching for compliance or engagement?

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51vLk92FYEL._SX410_BO1,204,203,200_ When thinking about student engagement as I started reading Ellin Keene’s newest book Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning, I started to think about how I engage with people. Am I truly present in conversations with my wife and children. At times I admit I may appear to be listening with intention, however I am really being compliant, not fully mentally present. I am not truly engaged anticipating what might occur next, creating new background knowledge, asking questions, showing intense focus and concentration towards the topic of discussion and trying to apply what we are talking about in a new or interesting way to help solve a problem or give insight. That is what we want when we have conversations with people, right? I actually ask a lot of questions, but my questions tend to fall short of the intended focus of the conversation and often frustrate my friends and family.

Continue reading “Are we teaching for compliance or engagement?”

The Point of the Teaching Point

As I was reflecting on my guided reading lessons today, I started thinking about the teaching point. The teaching point is something I believe can be overlooked when you are first learning the guided reading format you are using. I think it is very important and should never be overlooked. I try to have a teaching point for every day of the lesson no matter if it is two, three or four days long. I make sure to include a teaching point even after conferring with students as they write about the book.

Next StepThis is how Jan Richardson introduces teaching points in her book The Next Step in Guided Reading (2009).

Each day, after students read the text, spend a few minutes teaching strategies for decoding, fluency, and/or comprehension. Always ask yourself what do these students need to learn next.  

The teaching point is something that you may plan for ahead of time as you anticipated what problems the text may pose to students. You may also choose something you noticed a student or students do or attempt to do and discuss what the student did at the point of difficulty, in an authentic point of need. I think you can go much deeper than teaching a strategy, by focusing on the thinking you have do before, during and after using a strategy. I love being able to notice and name what students do as they are experiencing true struggle and trying to make decisions of what they can do to help themselves. When you can discuss those moments as teaching points, students learn the invisible things readers do.

 

UnknownVicki Vinton explains the benefits of what she calls  noticing and naming in her book Dynamic Reading for Deeper Thinking (2017). Vicki says when conferring with readers she would notice and name what they had done to solve the problems the text posed in order to make thinking visible and transferable to other texts.” Keeping the focus on meaning and bringing in skills and strategies as students need them while conferring is a more authentic way to make sure transfer is happening. As readers we do many things at once without often realizing it. If we notice and name what we see the student doing along with the thinking they are doing, this helps motivate them and deepen their understand of what readers really do in their head. I think it is important while completing a teaching point to reference the thinking the student had to do. By doing that you make it more transferable to other texts.

 

A teaching point could be noticing and naming that a student paused or stopped because something didn’t make sense and sharing that as a teaching point can be huge! Getting students to stop and recognize that they need to figure something out is important. Those small pauses and stops are at the heart of self-monitoring, that teaching a strategy won’t expose kids too.

I always plan a teaching point I can talk about as I prepare  a lesson centered around the problems I think the books will cause and have a strategy ready, but I really prefer to highlight something a student or students did as I conferred with them. I want to establish that each child is a reader and already doing many things readers do. Notice I said “readers” do. I did not say “good readers” do. I use to use the phrase “good readers” all the time. Looking back on it I can see some looks of frustration and hurt many of my students faces. We need to build students agency as readers, not imply that they are bad readers. I  point out what they are already doing as a reader. Then I can build upon that strength, often getting to my planned teaching point if it fits the reader at that moment. It is key to always acknowledge what we notice readers doing well. This builds them up. After your teaching point you still have time to introduce and led students to practice a skill or strategy within the lesson and should have planned to do so. Your teaching point should only be 1-2 minutes and doesn’t need to be connected to the strategy you plan to teach later in the lesson.

David Pearson & Margaret Gallagher who first introduced the gradual release of responsibility model said “We could begin a sequence by asking students to try it on their own, offering feedback and assistance as students demonstrate the need for it.” I try to approach my conferring sessions that way! That assistance might be a quick modeling exercise that could become my teaching point. This can also be applied to readers workshop conferring sessions. Teaching points give you a chance to highlight what you notice readers doing during your conferring and set them up to apply a strategy, but not the place to teach a completely new strategy.  

I want my students to be able to construct an understanding of the text’s meaning as they work through problems the text caused. I want them to completely engage with the text bringing their whole self to it, not only a strategy or skill to practice and ask them to think about what they did as readers and highlight those moments through teaching points. I want them to use their feelings, experiences, observations and thoughts to make reasonable interpretations towards the texts meaning while using a strategy as needed as a tool to enhance meaning. Using teaching points this way can lead to so much more self-reflection for students and can be used as student self-assessments. You can even create more formal student self-assessments once students are have experienced thinking about themselves as readers in this way. Teaching points are a place to make the invisible work of reading visible to students focusing in on the thinking it takes.

 

Sunday Cummins states she that when conferring during a guided reading lesson, she first looks for monitoring/decoding problems,  then fluency and lastly comprehension when listening to students read. So depending on student and group needs your teaching point can look very different. Even when zeroing in on decoding I feel the focus should be on making meaning. I keep the focus on cross-checking vs individual decoding strategies, because as readers we usually use multiple strategies at once. This is a good rule of thumb to follow. Jan Richardson says regardless of your focus, always emphasize rereading the text to be sure it makes sense. I love keeping the focus on meaning! 

When planning for guided reading and teaching points ahead of time consider thinking specifically about the problems a reader faces individually and with the specific text. When doing this Vinton say “ you’ll be able to come up with precisely targeted solutions.” She says to consider 3 questions as you plan:

  1. What kind of problems is this reader facing?
  2. What kind of text does this reader need?
  3. How can we help this reader develop a more complex vision of reading?

Keeping these questions in mind can help you plan lessons and teaching points. They will help you be prepared for problems students encounter as they read.

 

Troy

 

Self-Assessment

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I recently completed the National Board Teacher certification process. I do not find out if I achieved until December 2018. Part of that process required me to create and administer a student self-assessment. As I thought about the type of assessment I wanted to create, I thought about strategy instruction. Explicitly teaching strategies is very hot right now in some circles of literacy instruction. Teachers are modeling the heck out of strategies and explicitly teaching them and students are “doing” them. I think a key word here is doing them. Students are going through the steps and doing them. I wondered if they were thinking and reflecting about themselves as a reader and using the strategy as a tool to help and enhance reading for meaning as they completed these strategies however.


I work with striving readers as a Reading Specialist in my building. A strategy I have really started exploring is Cross-Checking. As a reading specialist I know and value the importance of it, but realized my students needed to be doing more than just completing the steps of it after watching me model it. They needed to be authentically attempting cross-checking on their own, in books of their own choosing and reflecting on what they did as a reader and really become metacognitively aware of themselves as readers recognizing what works for them. I wanted to be teaching for transfer, not just for students to do the strategy. I realized that most strategies do not actually have steps we need to follow to be successful with them. They require students to think and process information from multiple sources often simultaneously. I noticed that when trying to stretch out cross- checking into steps, it slowed students down. Some students relied on visual cues more than meaning or semantics and vice-versa. Some students didn’t try to use any other source of information. This told me I was staring in the right place.


Reflecting as a teacher and getting your students to reflect is a big part of the National Board process. I recognized that reflecting required me to do more than go through the steps and my students needed the same. I had recently read an article from Reading Research Quarterly, called “Change over time in first graders’ strategic use of information at point of difficulty in reading” (Mcgee, L., Kim, H. & Fried, M., 2015). The researchers reminded me that beginning readers first rely on meaning to help them read. They used pictures and their own experiences and apply those understandings as they read a text not noticing the visual cues within the words themselves but mostly using pictures. We quickly teach them to notice beginning letters, endings and eventually whole words. Of course we stress applying meaning to what they notice visually about the word so they do not have to try to stretch the word out completely often butchering it up beyond recognition. Point being lots of readers learn to over-emphasize the visual cues without applying meaning or syntax. To me this goes back to simply doing a strategy without thinking.

Cross-Checking requires students to think through the questions of “does it sound right, does it make sense and does it look right.” Students have to apply these simultaneously.

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They are not steps students mindlessly complete. Meaning of the word they are trying to solve at the sentence, paragraph and whole text level is key along with visual cues and thinking about how the word sounds. A combination of thinking through the questions of cross-checking is what makes it work! There is no magic order to think through the questions readers ask themselves as they cross-check. I feel it may vary depending on the word and text.
 With this in mind I designed the following student self-assessment for a group of 2nd graders. The assessment can easily be adapted to fit striving readers of all levels. I usually had students start them on their own, jumping in and giving support as needed. I would often add some notes to the bottom of the assessment to help me clarify information. I found that discussing each self-assessment with the students’ guided reading group, individually or sharing it to the class as an example of what readers do made it more meaningful.
 Talking with readers about what they were doing as they cross-checked and after was effective for the students; moreso than all the modeling in the world was.  As we talked I noticed and put names to what students were doing, so we could refer back to what they did.

Students have to be thinking about what they are choosing to do as readers at the point of difficulty when solving words or monitoring for comprehension. I continue to use this cross-checking self-assessment today and I am developing others to address student needs. I feel self-assessment even in simple forms is key to making sure students transfer what we teach into their own reading. Students have to think to become effective, efficient readers, much like we found students have to do when solving equations in math. Going through the motions of following formulas we found was not enough. We are learning to making sure students have number sense. Making sure they can recognize when an answer or attempt they make doesn’t make sense. Students are learning to keep a meaningful answer in mind when solving equations and can recognizing when something does not make sense. We have to be applying the same thinking to reading instruction. Readers have to be able to do more than go through a set of steps. Any strategy you use has to be used as a tool to help make meaning, not take the place of making meaning and thinking. Self-assessments like the example below can help make sure students are not doing strategies but using strategies to effectively help their meaning making processes as they read. Let me know how you are using self-assessment with your literacy instruction or if you have any questions about what I have done and learning to do as I continue to reflect and grow my practice.
 Here is the Cross-checking self-assessment I created. It is simple, but gets students to think about what they did. On the second example you can see I added a box at the of the form to write notes.

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Next week I am teaching a 2 hour course on using a problem-based approach to teaching reading for my districts Summer Academy professional development program with a colleague Elizabeth Hagan. I hope to reflect on that experience and bring some new insights from other great teachers within my district. This problem-based approach comes from Vicki Vinton and her book Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading. Check out my previous blog post about this book: https://troyafredde.blog/2018/02/06/teaching-reading-skills-in-isolation/

Troy