This blog post reminds me of how we grow, and learn so much about life through reading. We change the world by opening minds through reading every day in our classrooms. All readers need to see themselves within texts as well as others. I always ask readers now, what can you learn from this text about life that might be able to help you in your own life. This way of thinking came into focus for me by way of Vicki Vinton.
On Saturday, May 16, 2015, NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools held a conference titled, Race, Rights, and Responsibility: What Educators Can Do to Help Our Students Think Critically about Protest, Law Enforcement, and Civil Liberty.
This conference was not for everyone. And while it was a conference for teachers presented by teachers, it was designed mainly for teachers who care deeply about racial justice and tenets of teaching for change. It was for those teachers struggling to find pragmatic classroom solutions that might interrupt dangerous patterns of policing that brutalize Black and Brown bodies and terrorize communities of color.
As we’ve come to realize in recent months, police overreach–even to the point of murder–is not an isolated incident. It is not coincidental. It happens daily in settings such as New York and Baltimore, where the students we teach are striving and struggling to…
I shared these two sentences today with some of my readers.
I then asked, “What ideas do you have about what they mean?” They looked at me kind of confused. One boy blurts out they mean the same thing.” I responded with, “that is one idea, are there others?” It was just crickets. Then one girl raises her hand and adds, I agree, it means the same thing. These words come from Michael Opitz and his book Listen Hear! 25 Effective Listening Comprehension Strategies(2004). I was wanting to help my readers focus in on the in-the-head work of listening. This requires putting aside your own thoughts for a moment and focusing on someone else’s. This is hard for our children to do. Heck, it is hard for adults to do. Children are often playing around with their thoughts and piecing together what we want to say. They might even hear what another says and be able to repeat most of it back but have not given any thought to it. We purposefully have to pause our thoughts and take in another’s and then have an actual thought about what they are saying. The simple repetition of statements differs from taking them in, reflecting on them, and responding to them. Towards the end of our conversation, one girl states that “listening is like thinking.” Then another student added, “having a thought is thinking.”
These students started the process of “uptake.” Martin Nystrand coined the term “uptake.” Uptake is the process of taking in, responding to, and growing someone else’s thinking (1997). I believe this includes the growth of an idea as a byproduct of disagreement and an extension of thought by adding onto it. We have to be able to grow from each other’s thinking and ideas. There has to be an intent and openness for that to happen. There has to be a belief that it matters when we engage in talk. We can grow our thinking beyond what we can do alone. We can learn and adapt from listening to each other. We can change and think for ourselves with the help of others beyond what we can do alone. This is a powerful process in the classroom. It should be a process that takes place in Washington DC and all across America with working adults. I will dig into the work of really listening and having thoughts about others thinking with my readers. This thinking work is very abstract and hard to grasp. It is messy to teach and grade. However, it is essential to make sure we have literate, well-spoken students who can think for themselves and form opinions based on facts. We have to get out of our heads, and listen to what we hear, reflect on it.
As I listen to readers transitioning from the Early stage of reading to the Transitional stage, I see them struggling most with understanding the content of what they are reading. They have built up a solid foundation of High-Frequency words that are automatic to them and can solve most words phonetically. They can solve some when applying meaning, but this is where their skills of transferring knowledge start to break down. They strive to understand the vocabulary and or plow through it without much thought to it. Their primary focus might be to read the text and be able to say I’m finished. Or they might be reading to complete a specific task related to different areas or levels of comprehension of the text. The students often lack the ability to mediate an understanding of what they are reading into broader insights and ideas. We often forget how comprehending a text works at the cognitive processing level and focus instead on evaluating the skills listed in our curriculums and tested on district and state tests. Knowledge is grown over time. It accumulates like snowflakes on the ground.
Readers have to make connections, accessing all parts of their lives as readers. Do not ask them to build walls as a reader and compartmentalize. Ask them to use their imagination and what they know and understand in all areas of their life as they read. Then, ask them to focus on understanding the ideas the writer’s words conjure up and apply it with what they know of the world within the situation described on the page. Simple right!
I think we need to apply a lot of what we have learned about teaching math over the last decade to reading. We teach number sense and teach students to use the skills we give them across many different types of equations. We are asking them to be fluid with their thinking and how they apply strategies. We are teaching them to problem-solve. When it comes to reading, we often do not ask them to be problem solvers but stick to rigid scripts that some have been taught to say “good readers” follow. I despise those two words, “good readers.” The implications they create are far more negative than positive for striving readers at all stages of reading.
We have to be problem solvers, connectors, and builders of knowledge. We often have to ask readers to restructure their understandings of life sometimes. Some readers resist this notion and hold rigidly to false misconceptions they have built through the environment they are living in. We have to ask students to break down what they are reading to the word, phrase, and paragraph levels. We have to ask readers to read a text closely. As Cummins (2013) describes, close reading occurs when the reader analyses any given text at the word or phrase level and the paragraph and section levels. She describes how a reader determines which details are most important and how they fit together logically to convey the author’s central ideas. A reader’s understanding of life as they have experienced it and perceive it, play a huge role in this. We have to do more of this type of work with students using Informational and fiction texts. We have to show readers how to put the pieces of information they read and understand together to build new knowledge.
Much like the pieces of a puzzle hold specific details that are important to connect to the surrounding pieces, so do words build on ideas at a sentence, paragraph, and chapter/section level. Then all of it connects, building up to a final picture or ideas.
Cummins, S. (2013). Close reading of informational texts: Assessment-driven instruction in grades 3-8. Guilford.
When I am reading research and books from well known literacy consultants, I am hearing more and more the word revisit. To revisit a text, a topic or strategy, thought, or concept is often at odds with the demands placed on classroom teachers to cover curriculum.
Our students need to revisits concepts, thoughts, ideas and strategies often as they begin to wrestle around with how to use them and proceed to use them effectively. You can not grow an idea without revisiting it and reflecting on it. I am purposefully building in moments of time to revisit information with students and seeing the benefits.
I look over my notes from my last conferring session before each new one. I take notes on my iPad now. I am using a notes app called Note Writer Pro right now. I have used Notability as well. Both work good with my Apple Pencil. The most convenient thing about using an app is that I can quickly save them digitally and pull them up again. I purposefully let students know what I am writing down. I do this this because I know we will both need to revisit the notes I am taking. My notes also provide a space for students to work on solving unknown words. Taking the word from the text and writing it within my notes helps students to focus in on it. It also let’s both of us refer back to it, when they are figuring out another word. A word that allows me to use their previous word as an analogy to the current one. I can look back at my notes to help us remember a strategy that was applied successfully a few days ago or a week ago. Here is an example of my use of an analogy, to help a student solve an unknown word.
A student was striving to solve the word beach. I knew they correctly worked out eat, last week. So I pulled up that page on my notes and said remember this word? What is it? They replied eat. I asked, what is saying the long e sound in eat. They answered ea immediately. I responded, how can knowing that ea in eat help you solve this word, and pointed to beach in their book. The student hesitated and then started with the b and smoothly read the word, chunking it like this b each. They subconsciously picked up on the word each, which I can also use when applicable.
I pulled up the note the following day when I came in to confer with him and asked him to explain how he used eat to help him figure out beach. Using known words to help yourself solve unknown words takes time for student to appreciate and apply consistently along with other Cross Checking strategies. I revisited it purposely and asked him to try using the strategy again today as he reads.
I use my notes to purposefully revisit past conferring session for my students and my own reflection. So I guess they are really our notes. We both gain a lot revisiting them.
Here are some quick thoughts on the power of reflection.
The 2020-2021 school year has defiantly been a challenging one. One that has, for me, caused me to lose focus on thoughtful reflection at times. Our classrooms have been turned into a rough lunar landscape compared to spaces usually envision and create. I know sometimes I have taught and listened to my students but have not truly reflected on my teaching or student thinking. It makes me think about what Martin Nystrand call “uptake.” The process of taking in, responding to, and growing someone else’s ideas. This process works when only when we allow another’s thinking to affect our own. We need to apply this idea of “uptake” to the time we spend teaching and reflecting.
Are you continuing to take in children’s thinking, colleagues thinking, and any others thinking with an openness to do more than listen, nod, and then insert your thinking. We have to be willing to reflect in the moment for our students, but also after those moments have passed. We need to be reflecting in silent contemplation. Then other times out loud in the presence of others. Herbie Hancock once said, “In life, as in jazz, there is great beauty in collaboration.” Silence can be a decisive reflection move.
Try sitting in silence and listening for your breath. Then notice the thoughts that are coming forward. Break them into two categories, ones you can change and ones you cannot. Focus on the ones within your life or teaching practice, you can change and effect. Reflect on what happened, what you wanted to happen and what you can change. One great aspect of working in education and with kids is that we can reteach lessons, we can grow and learn and change right along with our students. There is no growth without reflection. Memorization only gets you so far. John Dewey reminds us, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on an experience.
Teaching is an art, we cannot rely on only our reflexes to the content we are teaching. We are teaching humans who are growing and changing daily. I am reading a book called Building Bigger Ideas: A Process for Teaching Purposeful Talk by Maria Nichols. I recommend it! She is featured on the Heinemann podcast also talking about the book. I feel a lot of the processes she recommends for teaching purposeful talk in our classrooms can be applied in specific ways toward reflection. She says, “In the dialogic classroom, feedback spurs reflection, and helps children become aware of the breadth and depth of meaning they constructed and the role of purposeful talk in the process.” We can grow ourselves and others on our teams and our whole school with reflection and Nystrand’s “uptake”. I think we also need to teach our students to reflect. In all of the classroom scenarios Nichols describes in her book, the students are in careful reflection. They are in reflection of their thoughts and their classmates thoughts also. The process of “uptake” is happening. Let’s keep reflection alive, and part of our daily routines, folks, our growth, and our students’ growth depends on it.
I was pushing into a classroom today to confer with a 1st grader I work with. Yes, I can push in as long as I am not with the student more than 15 minutes.
I bring my own books into read just in case they do not have access to a book where they can work on the skills we are working on in guided reading group. I will usually listen to them read from their book of choice and then pull out my books. Other times I give them a choice between the books I bring and the ones they have. It varies but they often choose the books I bring.
I brought this book in today.
The student got to this page and read: I like my purple hat. The text reads: I like my purple cap. This is an Early level text with a pattern. I like my purple………………..
She stopped and corrected the miscue without me saying anything. Yes victory! I let her finish the book and then directed her back to that page. I said, “I love how you noticed you read this word wrong(pointing to cap) and went back and fixed it. Readers fix their mistakes all the time. Great job noticing it and fixing it. How did you know hat was wrong?”
She told me first she noticed the word started with a “c” and knew hat started with an h. I asked her what else she noticed about the word. She noticed cap did not end the same way as hat. We celebrated her hard work, and even shared what she had done with her teacher. She expressed to her teacher she knew the two words hat and cap had the same meaning. Her teacher asked her if she used the picture for support and had her talk about the different word solving strategies that were on the wall of their classroom. As teachers we had different ideas of what we felt she might have used. However, it was clearly evident that this student used all three cuing systems to solve this word, and most likely simultaneously or within one to two seconds of each other. She knew the meaning of the word, was looking at word visually and knew the pattern of the book and could use the illustration. All of these things contributed to her being able to solve the word.
I feel this happens more often than we realize. We isolate out different strategies and never help students notice how putting them together is a very powerful thing to do. That is why I love the Cross-Checking strategy which combines multiple strategies into one. Here is an old blog post I wrote about cross-checking. Even if our students can’t completely verbalize how they exactly figure words out, we have to make sure that they recognize the effort and thinking it takes to do so. They have to become conscious on some level of doing it. This will help them make a mental notes about the word so they can retrieve it for later use. We do not want them to completely draw a blank and not recognize the word the next time they see it, not remember what worked for them as a reader when solving it. This happens so often when we tell them the word or if it is used in a slightly different context. Heck it happens from page to page with some readers. We have to make sure students recognize all readers have to solve words. We just get more efficient at it as we become more familiar with letter combinations, word parts and learn more words.
Students need understand that there are multiple ways to solve words and that our brain will utilize them all if we let it. This will help them become flexible word solvers. As we teach word solving we cannot be putting more emphasis on one strategy over another, or even teach students an order to use the strategies. When we ask students, “What can you try?” or provide suggestions make sure to mix around the order in which we suggest strategies. Striving readers often fixate on one strategy and over use it.
When using meaning teach students to think about what they know about the book over multiple pages. Readers can build up clues across several pages to help them use meaning more efficiently. Striving readers go to strategy is too often, to stretch a word out, when using multiple strategies is much more efficient. Try this out and let me know how it goes.
During this time of reflection and intense activity on Social Media over race in this country, we need to seize this opportunity to teach our students how important learning to read and write well is essential.
The last several years have brought to light the need and movement to provide diverse books to our students of color. This need is real so that all of our students can imagine themselves in the books we share and read in our classrooms. I hope we are sharing success stories for our students as well as the stories of struggle through current events. I want them to imagine themselves as successful and fulfilled as well as understand the struggles of their lives.
I want them to see how being well-spoken and well written can lead them to a better life where they are more respected by their peers. These reciprocal processes build upon each other continuously. One criticism of our current president compared to the previous one (Barack Obama) is that he is not well-read or well-spoken. He is not taken seriously and often considered an embarrassment.
Educators need to seize this opportunity to help our students become well spoken and well written to equip themselves with the knowledge to be perceived as articulate, leading to respect and admiration. We have to use the “now” as a bridge to help students see how reading and writing well, can help them get the things they want in their lives.
Cornelious Minor puts this thinking front and center in his book “We Got This.” (Heinemann 2019). He says, “The first thing I have to do is be clear on the actual skill I want to teach kids, not just the activity I want them to complete.” Tasks or activities do not go deep enough at times to challenge students to adapt their thinking and help them practice the processes of thinking while relating it to their lives. He also states that he wants to build “a bridge between what we are doing in class and the lives that they lead outside of class. I want to be able to show kids how each skill I teach in class makes life right now, better outside of class.” I have been trying through several blog posts to show how actual reading and writing need to be authentic in our classrooms to get kids to engage and commit to it. We cannot choose tasks just because they are easy to grade or pretty to show off. We have to choose a task that requires real acts of thinking and then doing essential reading and writing.
I chose to lead off my June session of e-learning with two articles about the protests gripping our nation right now for my 5th-grade reading group. I choose an article from NEWSELA, “We’re sick of it”: Anger over police killings shatters U.S.Next, I chose an article and video from the Kansas City Star newspaper talking about our local mayor. He joined the protesters in Kansas City. I got the following response out of an ELL student. This response we creative and real for her, not an expected response elicited from a pre-packaged program that does not know my students as I do. This response was an improvement from what I usually receive from her. It was creative and authentic.
I wrote a blog post about putting emotion back into reading instruction. We have to make sure that what we teach is emotionally engaging for our students. Minor addressed this extensively in his book. A student’s interests usually help fill a social need, in and outside of our classroom.
He also helps paint the picture I have been trying to paint for everyone for a few years. I have been very outspoken about how reading tasks are just that a task, and they can not be a replacement for actual reading and the thinking reading requires. I have written about this in previous blog posts. In this post Teaching Reading Skills in isolation, I describe how the task of asking students to look for similes using the words like or as, is a meaningless task. It does not hold true to the skill I want readers to understand and notice in reading and use in writing. Which is you can use metaphors and similes in speaking and writing to help you make your thinking, point, or idea clear to others. It would be more meaningful to teach students about language and how we can use it to elevate how we are perceived and respected or admired by our peers and others. The language used in our speaking and writing helps us achieve status now and in the future. If we can get kids to see this as we teach students to use similes and metaphors in their writing and speaking, it becomes meaningful.
I also reposted an interview with Minor from the Two Writing Teachers Blog. He also speaks there of how you have to not only plan for students’ futures but help them take what you are teaching and use it now in their lives. Reading tasks that required kids to fill out graphic organizers have become way overrated and do not require kids to do the thinking required as readers. We have to bridge the gaps and cause reading and writing to be relevant to kids’ lives now. We must do so authentically not with glorified tasks that reduce the hard work to something more comfortable to complete, but robotic in nature. Our classrooms should not be a vacuum from kids’ lives outside but a bridge to becoming stronger. We can bring in their lives that are chaotic and messy, with thoughtful and reflective lessons as we watch and listen to them. Their behavior is a language of its own. We can do this and still have our students hold to the learning environment we are creating that is a safe place. I urge you to read Minor’s book if you have not and grow your practice. This is a link to my blog post on My Thoughts on Transfer,” which links you to a Heinemann podcast featuring Minor. We have to set students up to transfer what we are teaching to use in their lives.
I was recently listening to the audiobook Dare to Lead by Brene Browm while on the treadmill. My mind was instantly thinking about how what she says about leadership can be directly applied within the classroom with kids and specifically with regards to teaching reading.
She makes a statement that we all know makes sense and rings true most of the time, but do not necessarily take to heart. Projecting an all-knowing attitude and presence, crushes curiosity and questions. I chose to use the word projecting because we can intentionally project outward how we want others to see us. We cannot set up an overly dominating presence that says we are all-knowing keepers of knowledge. Those days are over. Google is all-knowing more than we are.
Consider this scenario. A student might be reading about climate change and coral reefs. They might have an understanding that coral is a plant. If they are reading with preset an all-knowing attitude, then they will miss it when the writer states otherwise. Then as the writer proceeds to go deeper and paint a clearer picture for the reader based on the understanding and believes of their initial statements, the student will struggle to follow along. The student will not grasp the knowledge of how coral and algae depend on one another and how warmer temperatures are affecting the algae. The student will be confused and question why three sentences about trees being cut down in forests were plopped into a book about coral reefs. The student chose the book because it was about coral reefs. They often find themselves at odds with the writer, but do not understand why. The student will not understand the writer’s underlying themes surrounds climate change and how what happens on land affects the sea. They project an I already know this attitude and do not read with a curious mind. Hopefully, we are not leading with an all-knowing mindset ourselves. We have to change this.
When readers are task-focused and locked in on projecting an all-knowing attitude or presence because they believe that is what they are supposed to do, they miss most what the writers want them to understand. We need curiosity and the serendipity it brings in our classrooms. We need it for ourselves and our students. We do not need to be teaching for compliance and control over our students.
All-knowing attitudes and teachers who project themselves as the all-knowing force in the classroom tend to reduce reading to tasks. We try to be accommodating, and meet students where they are, or with what we feel they can handle, by breaking reading down into small chunks of instruction or task. This can become an act that generates compliance without clarity or vision of the larger purpose of reading. It reduced reading into isolated chunks of several jobs and a list of to do’s.
We read to gain knowledge, to fulfill our curiosity, and to learn more about ourselves through the lives and experiences of others. Reading helps fill in the gaps of the larger world, that kids can’t experience at home or in their neighborhoods. It fills our hearts and minds. When reading is reduced to tasks to complete, then these elements of the reading process are never broached. The larger purpose of reading is lost. A lot of the assessments given these days feed into this reading task-oriented philosophy that has mistakenly become the dominant focus of reading instruction. As I have stated in past blogs, we do not read to practice strategies. We read to understand and use strategies to help us do that. We cannot forget to teach these larger purposes behind reading and the more extensive thought processes readers must synthesize through.
To use a term that Brene Brown uses, we have to “paint” the full picture of reading. Reading is not a series of isolation tasks; it requires curiosity of the heart and mind; it requires an openness to learn, and engage. As readers, we must ask questions and challenge our thinking. It is not something that is a passive experience. It is an active process involving our hearts, minds, and intuition, our whole selves. You can complete the tasks of reading as some teach them, but not understand what you read or be able to read with real fluency. Fluent reading and comprehension take knowledge of semantics, the topic you are reading, life, and of the flow of the English language. The way reading is often taught today is often scripted and boring, without emotion and clarity of a larger purpose. Our students are not motivated to read.
I miss my co-workers. I miss having those face to face moments. This may surprise those of you that know me well. I am usually a quiet, but thoughtful person who likes to take everything in before jumping conversations. I miss looking people in the eye and truly finding that connection that just isn’t there through Zoom. I miss being with my students tremendously. I am grateful to have Microsoft Teams as an option in my district to connect with them face-to-face. I have been able to meet with several of them.
It is hard balancing my school work, housework, and family time. I have 2 kids at home doing E-Learning and three dogs all wanting attention. My youngest daughter made dog treats for a school project for them. My wife is a Pre-School director and teacher. She is providing Facebook live story sessions and Zoom meetings with her students. I applaud, her dedication to her students.
They truly miss there teachers and friends and she provides a real need in filling that gap. The kids parent truly appreciate as well. Well done! I hope I am doing as well. We are mixing our living and workspaces and trying to find and set boundaries.
I am trying to remain curious as I tackle new ideas and digital tools daily. I think remaining curious and open is a must in education, but even more so now. There are so many tools and free resources being offered for us. Take advantage of these. Please be open and curious about trying them out. Also trying out new things on the tools you have become familiar with. I am making a goal to try out something new every two-three days. I am learning more about Seesaw daily.
I want to thank my district for providing so many webinars and chat sessions to help us move forward and improve our practice each day.
I hope you are finding some joys and learning new things about the people you are living with, in these trying times. Stay curious and see what you can learn that is new about each other. Grow together, not apart in these times. Pause, before quickly reacting. Take moments to reflect and enjoy the small moments.