Fluency is more than Rate

As we are getting closer to the start of the new school year for most educators, (I teach in a year-round building) I am thinking about the many types of Universal screeners that focus on the fluency component of rate. From Dibbles, and Aimsweb, to Fastbridge’s CBM’s. Fluency was once an unknown component of reading and has become a well-known component. Or has it? Maybe reading rate has become well known, not all the components of fluency. We are now experts with one-minute assessments. Some test nonsense words, decodable words, and others words correct per minute using a grade level text. As indicators they suggest that if decoding is going along somewhat automatically and effortlessly, then the possibility for cognitive attention to be placed on comprehension is more likely to occur. Anyone who has ever taught reading understands that good decoding makes comprehension more likely to occur. I do not dispute that.

We must remember however that these Universal screening assessments are progress monitoring assessments. They are not diagnostic assessments. They focus on one aspect of fluency instruction, designed to identify students who may need more testing and a reading intervention. This further testing and observing of the student should be the diagnostic piece. We should not place a student in an intervention based on them being a slower reader on a Universal screening tool where he reads a grade-level test for one minute. Yes, rate is a good indicator of whether a reader can decode with ease. It is also strongly influenced by vocabulary and comprehension of the text which is influenced by a student’s background knowledge.

As Jay Samuels once said, fluency without comprehension is not fluency. Our end goal for fluency should be comprehension and motivation. A more comprehensive view of a fluent reader is being obscured when too much attention is being placed on rate. S

I wonder what these one-minute reading sprints are teaching our students about stamina. Our young people are already being immersed in all kinds of small chunks, of this and that through many media sources. We cannot also get caught up in this type of reading sprint too heavily when our end game needs to be about stamina, comprehension, and motivation to read. Some vilify these types of tests. It is not the tests themselves that are at issue, however. It is how they are being chosen to be used. Used appropriately they have their place.

I wonder if oral reading rates decrease when reading texts for longer periods of time? I wonder how they fluctuate with different genres, types of texts, and difficulty levels?  I wonder if enough attention is being given to help readers transition from oral readers to silent readers who know how to process a text in their heads. Can they transition through multiple chapters of a book and through many characters and perspectives?

Remember these words from Richard Allington, “students need to understand that they can and must take active, intentional control of the elements of fluency-accuracy, rate, and expression-to the end of comprehending what they read to become truly fluent readers.”

I would add cognitive processes and their motivation to that list, wouldn’t you?

Remember fluency is more than rate.

Troy

To Graphic Organize or Not?

One of my ultimate goals for my students is for them to process a text efficiently in their heads. I have seen the skillification of reading as Vicki Vinton refers to it in her book Dynamic Thinking for Deeper Reading hurt striving readers. All readers, really. Skillification happens when teachers break down reading so much that students never get a chance to gather their thoughts and put together a complete picture of their thinking. I emphasize “their thinking.” Not a teachers’ modeled and scaffolded thinking.

Our students must get to experience doing the, in the head work of reading that readers do. This work is messy and not readily displayed for others to replicate. This type of work does not fit nicely onto a slide or graphic organizer. You cannot make it look pretty on social media. It is chaotic but purposeful. It is often slightly different for different students.
Using a graphic organizer of some sort is one way to build a bridge to help access some of that thinking and to discuss/describe the reading processes the brain has to execute for students to make connections and inferences, draw conclusions, and put details together by bundling them into meaningful realizations. Not all readers need them, however. They can slow down some readers and turn the reading process into a broken-down mess.

I constantly juggle with the decision to have students use a graphic organizer. With the striving readers I work with, one more step can lead to the shutting down of thinking and to just going through the motions and doing what the teacher asks without much thought. When they can, I usually ask students to code a text by underlining or using various symbols to identify their thinking. I prefer this to sticky notes for many reasons. Then I ask myself do I have them transfer the information they accessed from the author onto a graphic organizer. Will this process help support them through their thinking or slow it down or make it disjointed?

Should I instead be focusing on using meaningful talk as a strategy to help students access their thoughts and go through that inside of the head, meaning-making work? It depends on the students and the type of reading lesson I am asking them to complete. Is it a guided reading group, student-led literature circle, students working individually or with partners. All of this weighs into my decision. I have seen students go through the work of transferring their notes and the writers underlined details onto a graphic organizer and not make critical realizations until they can discuss it with the group. This often includes bantering the importance of and meaning of different details from the text. Was the use of the graphic organizer helpful? I often ask the students themselves and take notes as I confer with them as they fill them out. If they just copy information from the text into another sheet of paper, it is not helpful. The thinking process readers go through to evaluate and synthesize information the writer shares is most valuable. I ask them to put what they have underlined into their own words when using a graphic organizer.

Do not ask students to create a graphic organizer just to have something to display on social media that looks great! Or to have evidence for one reason or another to prove you are teaching the curriculum or to share in PD. Those reasons alone are not what is best for students. Some need the challenge of working through their own thinking first to make their own meaning. Students do not necessarily need to watch someone else do the work. Bend and stretch the curriculum when you need to.

Two quotes come to mind as I think through how and when to use graphic organizers or even explicit modeling when teaching students to think.

When you figure something out for yourself, there is a certain thrill in the figuring. After a few successful experiences, you might start to think that figuring things out is something that you can do. Maybe you are even a figuring out kind of person……..

Peter Johnston

This is what true agency is all about! Give students the space to work on becoming figuring out kind of people. When they are not motivated to do this consider incorporating some of Ellin Kneene’s ideas on engagement into your teaching. I wrote a post a while back about some of her ideas. Check it out here.

“In too many places, we ask kids to read and write so we can give them a grade that shows they learned some skills someone has decided they need to learn. Skills are important. But if we aren’t reading and writing so that we can grow, so that we can discover, so that we can change–change our thinking, change ourselves, perhaps change the world–then those skills will be for naught.”

Kylene Beers & Robert Probst

I want to give kids opportunities to think and learn by trying things out on their own as much as possible. I want to capture what they are doing naturally and strategically on their own. Then notice and name what kids are doing and look for opportunities to understand what strengths they already have as readers and thinkers. You must consider what skills and strategies they are using already that are a byproduct. A byproduct of giving them time and space and jumping in with support as needed.


So back to my question. When are graphic organizers useful? I only use them when they provide students some form of generative value. They have to find value in them for themselves, not simply be filing one out because the teacher said to. I think they come in quite handy when kids are reading/viewing multiple texts over the same or similar topics. They can help students bundle their thinking and carry it over from one source to the next. You can create a graphic organizer to support kids in this effort where they can synthesize what the writer wants readers to understand from several sources on one form. A chart similar to the one below could be utilized.


This is a form I created for a group of 4th and 5th grade readers reading several articles on Invasive Species. I want them to carry over the information they learned from one article to the next to grow their thinking and understanding on the topic. The charts I ask students to use usually include a leading question they are reading to find answer to.

We will have to work on writing about how we feel about what we read. This reader was just not into the topic of Invasive Species that much.

They underlined information dealing with the problems, and solutions and took some notes to help them process the information they were reading on the articles themselves before completing graphic organizer.

One student came up with the idea of using P for problem and S for solution to help him make meaning. I was trying to lead Ss to make a choice like this, but come to it on their own.

It is not essential that students underline the exact same things on every article or write a note to themselves saying the exact same thing. For each student to get what they need out of this process, they need to do the work for themselves. If they are reading and rereading parts of the text when they need to and thinking about it on a deeper level using some questions to help them focus their thinking, it will have more generative value. I had two students discussing if a group of pelicans eating the goldfish in the above article was a problem or solution. Students had it marked differently. They were doing the work and the thinking. They are not just copying what I have done or what another student has done. To me, it did not really matter what conclusion they came to because they were deepening their level of understanding in the process. Graphic organizers do not need to look the same for every student. I am not always focused on answers themselves, but answers as a byproduct of thinking and talking about our reading. I work with striving readers, by the way, and we are a constant work in progress. 🙂

Let me know your thoughts and experiences.

Making Black Lives Matter in Classrooms: The Power of Teachers to Change the World

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.

A Will to Love

Race, Rights, and Responsibility Image

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…

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Listening is a thought.

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.

More to come on this topic.

Troy

Building an Understanding!

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.

Troy

Cummins, S. (2013). Close reading of informational texts: Assessment-driven instruction in grades 3-8. Guilford.

The Power of Revisiting

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.

The Power of Reflection

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.

Troy

Readers usually use multiple strategies simultaneously.

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.

Troy

The time is “Now”

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. 

Troy