Thoughts on readers as thinkers and strategy instruction. Part 1

Take a look at this quote:

“Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.”

 

This quote brought me back to my reflecting on transfer and strategy instruction.  I am considering what I have learned from Sunday Cumins, Vicki Vinton and  Dorthy Barnhouse and reflecting on the works they have written. I am currently putting many of their ideas into practice with my students.

nurture         Unknown    What Readers Really Do

 

I believe like Barnhouse and Vinton say in their book “What Readers Really Do” reading happens within three modes or processes and those modes are recursive. Students flip back and forth continuously between these three modes.

Comprehension – – Understanding – – Evaluation 

We use different strategies while we read within these modes. Readers are constantly engaged in the process of drafting an understanding and revising it as they read.

Comprehension  is done line-by-line and paragraph-by-praragraph, page-by-page as readers try to comprehend the text literally and inferentially.  Readers consider and assign meaning  to the line-by-line details they. This is comprehending at the basic level. Next readers piece together those literal and inferential  ideas into interpretations of the text (Barnhouse/Vinton).  Reader assign more value to some details  without completely disregarding others.   Or they should. Striving readers often dismiss what they find confusing or initially understand. They do not carry details with them to consider as they read on.  This is often a missed component of the basic level of comprehension.

As readers connect details they make interpretations  that lead to some understandings about a text on a whole level or on multi-layered levels. You are building upon those literal and inferential thoughts and are considering and interpreting what the writer might be saying about a topic or life, which can lead to understanding an emerging theme or overarching idea. This is your first-draft understanding (Barnhouse/Vinton). Then you evaluate this understanding you have pieced together and re-examine the text on the page and in your mind. This re-examining of parts of the text is crucial to building a rough draft understanding. This is where you might go back into a text to reconsider some of your thinking, look closer at confusing parts, or simply try to understand what the writer might want readers to take away from a text. This close re-reading of different parts of a text are critical.  This is where you may reconsider those confusing details, you hopefully carried with you. You  weigh your interpretation and consider their worth. This is a recursive process through the whole text.

Sunday Cummins talks about reading a text closely in her book “Nurturing  Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content-Area-Sources.” Vinton discusses reading closely instead of reading a text multiple times through different lenes. Reading closely requires readers to hold on to the confusing details, and the details that confront what they believe and consider them across a text. This is something we have to get better at in schools. When students do not notice and note inconsistencies, misunderstandings and confusing details as they read on, they never reach the understanding and evaluations stages with the depth they need.  We have to be wiling to hold onto what we do not understand as readers because we never know when a writer will expect us to refer back to them.

Teachers often expect students to quickly comprehend what they are reading and move them along, to make interpretations and build understandings, without doing the basic comprehension work. This is the invisible thinking of considering the text details and what they might mean literally and inferentially line by line before the considering whole text and its theme or the writers overall point on a topic.  I think we are trying to move students through the modes of comprehension and understanding much too quickly.

When most teachers model, they are modeling a strategy in isolation, and it ends up being more of a task added to the reading process.  Teachers are often asked to design a lesson that makes a strategy the teaching point, without considering the thinking and understanding a reader has to consider before using of the strategy. We often meet readers with the thinking we want them to achieve at the end, skipping over the thinking work that is not as easy to evaluate and grade.

I think that a teaching point can be more about the thinking readers do or something that readers speculate about as the they consider what the writer might want them to feel or think. It can be helping readers create the mindset they need to do this thinking work. A teaching point can help move readers between the modes of comprehension, understanding and evaluation.  Consider using a strategy as a tool to help readers meet the teaching point, not the teaching point itself. In her book Dynamic Teaching For Deeper Reading, Vinton, describes this as a teaching point in one lesson: “Sometimes writers don’t come right out and tell us exactly what’s happening, so readers need to be aware of what they don’t know and then try to figure out what hasn’t been said by paying close attention to the details the writer gives them.”   This is not what I see as a typical teaching point. It does not put a typical strategy front and center.  Vinton brings readers attention to the behind the scenes thinking a reader has to accomplish. This is what I feel is missing in reading instruction. When we try to make the abstract, concrete we often end up making the strategy something readers do outside of meaning making and a step that separates itself out from meaning making. We too often want to make a strategy something that we have to do to a text, or on a separate piece of paper, not the thinking itself that a reader must complete internally before anything can be shared as an understanding about a text.

I can see drafting a teaching point around how readers need to hold on to details that are confusing, and misleading. Another teaching point might be pointing out that readers are often asked to reconsider current beliefs and consider news ones. These teaching points leaves it open for students to be decision makers. They set them up to be their own problem-solvers by focusing on the thinking work, without teachers answering text specific questions for students. This is a teaching point that could lead into using the strategy of  thinking about what we know versus what we don’t know as we read. Some students may need to see this thinking on a What We Know/What We Wonder Chart. (Barnhouse/Vinton). It could lead to using a coding strategy and then annotating some of what was coded with what we wonder or are interpreting. You could use the STP strategy of “Stop, think, Paraphrase with this teaching point, to help you consider what you understanding and what you don’t understand yet, that you will read to find out. If you keep the focus on text understanding and bring in strategies to enhance meaning, not lead it, then students are able to build up some agency to their reading.

We have to give students a chance to consider the many things that might be running through their heads. The what if’s, and might be’s our mind has to consider before making a claim at understanding and being able to evaluate that understanding.  When we skip these over this type of thinking, young readers might feel very frustrated because we are expecting them to do what more experienced readers sometimes struggle to do. Our students need more time to consider a text, and be shown how to do that.

Part 2 coming soon.

Troy

The 5 Why Approach and Transfer of Strategy Instruction Part 2

As a Reading Specialist I always talk about reading being a skill that can help you change your life in a positive and powerful way.  When introducing the coding strategy to a group of 5th grade striving readers I related it to being a tool readers use to help them self-monitor.  I teach in a year round school and get the opportunity to support readers and grow my practice all year.  I have found if I do not tie a strategy to reading for meaning and text understanding, students do not understand its function and see its power or connect it back to reading for meaning. They instead see it as something their teacher is asking them to do, that often takes away from the meaning of the text because it has become so isolated out as a standard to be address in the curriculum or a heavy hitter on state tests. Those can be factors you take into consideration when teaching the strategy but never take the focus away from meaning.

I intentionally taught this group of students the coding strategy which includes annotating and then went back and connected it to self-monitoring wanting then to make the connection themselves. I also did this because I knew 2 of the students had used the coding strategy in the past and wanted see when and how they were applying the strategy.  I could then use the 5 Why Approach I had just read about and see if it has an impact on transfer. I feel to be effective the 5 Why Approach has to be used once students have had experience using a skill or strategy.  They have to use their experience to help them answer the questions that are generated.

I let this group of 5th grade students code 2 different non-fiction articles using the coding strategy before we attempted the 5 Why’s.

This was our first attempt.

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The students wrote answers to the generated questions in silence, not hearing or seeing others responses.  Then they shared responses which I used to generate the next question. In the future I think I need to be more specific with the questions that I generated from students answers. Or maybe this approach needs to start with a more direct question. Students I feel will become more specific with their answers as we complete more 5 Why’s together.  The question of self-monitoring is not one that lends itself to a tight and succinctly worded answer. These students really generated a wonderful reason for reading which can be our reason for self-monitoring also. Although the coding strategy (which lends itself as a way self-monitoring non-fiction texts) was not specifically discussed in this 5 Why chart, I set it up to be discussed in later lessons with a chart. I can also go back to this chart when teaching self-monitoring in fiction texts, by using the Stop, Think, Paraphrase (STP) strategy or the Know/Wonder chart strategy. I will go into these strategies in future posts.

Students connected reading with thinking and meaning making. I am pleased with the result. As long as the students understand and transfer this thinking, and use it to help motivate themselves to self-monitor then the lesson served its purpose. We have talked about my goal for them is to be able to self-monitor using the coding strategy in their heads as they move into high school. I want them to use the strategy with automaticity when reading.  I think even then and as adults however, there will be times when readers are better served to complete the coding and annotating on paper or the text itself.  The coding strategy is ultimately a form of note taking when completed on paper.

 

When teaching strategies we must keep the focus of reading on making meaning. The strategy itself is not more important than text meaning which in part is how the text is interpreted by the reader, which is influenced by personal experiences. That being said a reader has to also be thinking about the writers intentions, taking into consideration the intent of the language the author is using to try and make readers feel and react in certain ways. As readers we cannot leave the writers voice and purpose behind thinking only on our own believes and understandings of the world.   Strategies are effective when used as tool to help readers make meaning. They are not and should not be used solely as a method for grading a students reading ability. As readers we do not let the use of strategies limit our text selection or hold us back as readers and thinkers. We should not do this to our students as well. Strategies are tools to help not dominate the reading process. They should not take away from the messy thinking process reading really is. Never make strategies more important then the reading itself or the act of self-monitoring for meaning.

Troy

The 5 Why Approach and Transfer of Strategy Instruction

I recently read an article in The Reading Teacher journal called It All Begins with asking Why.  Pettigrew, K., & Hui, J. ( 2019). It all begins with asking why. The Reading Teacher, 731), 119– 121https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1783

It made me think about transfer of learning. Transfer of learning in reading has been a concern of mine because of the way teachers have been trained to teach reading strategies mostly in isolation. Teaching reading strategies has become so compartmentalized that it has had unattended consequences(see my others posts for details). Strategies are being taught in isolation without proper scaffolding taking place. Students are not going through the complete processes of instruction, application and coaching which should include guided practice along with independent practice in students own books. Transfer does not take place for most striving readers, and even for some readers who are excelling at a quicker rate, when students are not applying what has been taught outside of the controlled focus lesson’s and reading tasks that often use preplanned texts. Yes this is part of the scaffolding process but we have to make sure strategies are being applied in students independent practice also. We do this through coaching/conferring. Why can’t we apply the 5 Why approach to help students transfer.

The article talks about a teacher who had a checklist students used for writing. Students were showing some success with the checklist but did not seem to understand why and how the checklist and its content were linked their success. So he decided to implement the 5 Why problem solving approach (Taiichi Ohno 1988) after reading about how it is used in business. I am not always a proponent of bringing what works in business and applying it to education because the values of education that help shape the culture in schools is very different from the values in the business world. Businesses also get to choose their cliental and promote themselves to certain consumers, where in public education we educate all students without choosing some and trying to ostracize others.  This however is a good idea and very practical.

The approach is very simple: when faced with a problem, ask “why” five times. With each question, you dig deeper, moving quickly past easy answers, in search of solutions with more depth and meaning that have the potential to stick with students. How often do we let student get away with easy answers in our classrooms? This will help promote the deeper thinking we all want for our students. I can see this being used to help solve my transfer dilemma.  This graphic shows how the teacher from the article used this approach to help students understand why transition words mattered.

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If students truly understand why transition words mater and why using them contributes to a writers ability to get their point across to readers then they will use them even when they are not explicitly being asked to or being asked to practice them for a specific task. For true transfer to take hold, students have to apply cognitive reasoning skills or executive functioning skills. They need the ability to multitask or almost simultaneously focus on the many tasks of reading and writing they must apply to write a coherent piece of text in this case.

I want to apply this 5 Why problem solving approach to the teaching of reading strategies for transfer. I think it needs to be included as part of the scaffolding process before we release students into independent practice. It also needs to be a part of independent practice because some students will not get the strategy until they have to apply it for themselves in a book of their own choosing that they are motivated to read and willing to put in the work to comprehend. I believe conferring is at its best when we meet students where they are with books of their own choose within their level range so we can see what they have transfered and are applying without prompting. Paying attention to the reading processes students are successfully using while checking for comprehension is very important. We have to notice and note what cognitive abilities our students are showing and not showing us. Going through this 5 Why approach could shed some light on that.

This might be an approach you can refer students back to when conferring with them. When you notice and note what you see a student doing and help them understand on a conscious level what they just did and why, they can actively apply the strategy again in more difficult pieces of text they reading. Or when you have to prompt them to use a strategy because it is not become part of their personal toolkit of understanding that readers do.  Going through the 5 Why’s could help move it closer to being in their toolkits. I will be mulling this over and deciding how to approach this idea and writing more about it. So please let me know if you try this out and how it is working for you.

Troy

What’s missing from your reading instruction?

As the rest of you are settling into summer, my new school year is getting started. I work in one of two elementary schools in the state of Missouri to implement an extend year calendar. We go to school 30 extra days of year. Our new year always start in June, a few weeks after the previous year ends.

At a recent PD session when preparing for the new year we took a hard look at our reading data and the goal that our students would make a years growth. We did not do as well as we hoped with this goal. We took time to consider individually and then as a group why this may be happening and what we could do to improve.  We took a look the effect sizes of 250+ items that influence student achievement.  Transfer strategies were labeled with an effect size of 0.86. This is a large effect size. I started reflecting on how teachers are often encourage to model and isolate out skills and strategies without taking the next steps toward transferring and connecting the skills and strategies with texts the students want to read and are choosing to read. We cannot stop at modeling alone. We have to teach for transfer. Modeling a strategy in 1 or 2 mentor texts does not teach students how to transfer that strategy to their own books or any unfamiliar text. They have to practice doing the thinking!

It was mentioned in the PD session also that we have to do more than cover the curriculum. I was glad to hear that. We have to do more than model a reading strategy or skill. We have to do more than confer with a student using the same text we model from or a mentor text that students have already been exposed too many times. When you do this and only this students do not get a chance to think for themselves in texts of their own choosing or texts they have never read before.

Students have to be given the chance to practice with us beside them in texts of their own choosing, that are new, if we expect them to do it on assessments. Students have to have time to practice, refine and even alter the skills and strategies we teach for themselves. They have to authentically experience them, to own them. They have to believe in the power of reading and that being well read, well spoken and well written can change the trajectory of their lives and the community they live in. We have to believe that as well. We have to help our students create opportunities for themselves, across the curriculum, not just cover the curriculum. These threads are woven all through the book We Got This by Cornelius Minor (@MisterMinor).

We Got This

In the opening section of part one he talks about how he first became aware of superhero’s. He talks about hiding in a bathroom to read his hand-me-down copy of Spider-Man. He says, “I read quickly, voraciously. I did not savor the words and images. Time and fear of sister Jones would not allow this. Even so, I knew that this book was powerful.” Now he was talking about the power of the superhero origin in our society, and my mind was getting that, but it also thought about how he described the reading experience. He wanted to read the comic book and knew it was a powerful story, but he was probably not reading it with the depth and full understanding we want our readers to do. Striving readers would probably not comprehend a lot reading in that rushed fashion. He was distracted by his fear of being caught and because he didn’t have much time to completely immerse himself into it. Think about your striving reader as well as your high readers and what they could comprehend with distractions echoing in their minds. What are the students in our classrooms distracted by?

They get distracted by many things. Emotions and experiences they bring to school with them, that weigh them down. Or distracted when asked to use a strategy or skill they may not be ready for or being asked to use it in the way that may hinder and slow down their thinking because they have already mastered it. Frustrated might be a better word in this case. Are they being distracted from reading when asked to complete reading tasks. Like creating charts and diagrams that take up a huge chunk of time to create, that leave little time for reading and thinking through a text and carrying ideas through a text while changing them as the author gives them more information.

I am only on page 4 of part one, of Cornelius’s book but had to stop and reflect. I am excited to continue reading. I love how Minor states change is participatory. I say this is a true statement for students and teachers alike. We have to give students more chances to read and practice strategies in their own books for them to change as readers and transfer strategies. They have to participate in the instruction not just see it modeled or have it over-scaffolded for them. They have to do the thinking work of reading that is messy and evolves over time. Modeling alone during the focus lesson is not enough.

We have to believe in our students, to help them believe in themselves.  We cannot  do the thinking for our kids and overuse mentor texts without searching for and finding new ones that will represent  our current group of students. We have to know our classroom library and be willing to read along with kids to get to know books. We cannot say, I can’t confer with students in their own books because I have not read them or do not know them enough. Get to know each class and bring in new books each year as you read them, and yes take time to read the books and introduce them to kids.  If you do not have books that interest and represent your students they will not want to read.

We cannot mute our students voices. We have to celebrate their own thinking, and experiences, not just rely on our own when it comes to reading instruction.  We cannot mute or regulate their voices by limiting their book choices to certain genres or texts that you know have a place where a particular skill or strategy can be practiced and controlled. Transfer will not happen until we release that control.

Using the focus lesson along with recommended mentor texts that can be brought to a conference is only the beginning and a bit limiting. Doing that and then giving an assessment is covering the content not teaching it for transfer. Students need practice in their own books and books they have not experienced yet and want to discover to try out strategies, where they have to authentically figure out and and what to do for themselves after we model. It cannot be limited to what was introduced in the focus lesson either.

Often times this is where you wonder why your students didn’t do as well as you had expected on an assessment. You note that they were able to verbalize an acceptable answer when you conferred with them in a familiar text. Well of course! But don’t stop there!  Our students will struggle in unfamiliar texts unless we give them the time and space to try out what we teach and model in our focus lessons. If they can utilize the skills and strategies within books of their own choosing then we know they will be able to do well on assessments.

Our modeling and focus lessons are just the beginning. We must be there with our students conferring with them in their own books and supporting them as they try out what we modeled, shifting it it slightly to fit the text and their thinking at that point and time, which will be vastly different experience for them because we are an experienced reader. We have to help them create opportunity for themselves in their own books. Picking and choosing when and where to use specific strategies or skills as we notice and takes notes on what they attempt and their thinking. We have to get them to engage in books that we have not read for them, or modeled the most difficult thinking for them.

We have to listen more and ask our readers to describe more of their own thinking after modeling, not leave it at that. Transfer does not happen by us doing the work. When students engage and take ownership of what we have taught and make it work for them, in their own books then transfer will start to happen.  When you confer with a student in their own book you need to be assessing the strategies and skills that you notice and note the students using or attempting to use at that time. Authentic reading is taking place without you providing preconceived thinking. Then you can make suggestions and nudge them in the right direction if needed. You do not always have to try and assess the skills or strategy that you just modeled. If it happens great, but you have to meet the students where they are, not always where you are in the curriculum. Limiting students book choices also limits their thinking and growth.

We must be there to notice and name what we see them doing. Then we make appropriate suggestions and help students make connections to thinking they have already done across the curriculum and from past conferences. If appropriate lead them back into a discussion about the focus lesson. If not the same day’s focus lesson, then another day’s. You will eventually be able to assess students in their own books over all the strategies or skills you teach after using mentor texts to model and introduce. This takes a little nudging through book talks and reading aloud the first few pages of books as you acquire new ones and place them into your library. We can nudge readers into books, without limiting their choice.

We need to be keeping a living document for note taking where we can quickly look back and help students remember when they used a skills or strategy, or when they were able to talk about the thinking process they went through to answer a question or explain their thinking. When keeping notes electronically in a living document you can scroll back and find your notes from last week or 2 weeks ago. I go back and show them words they solved or sentences they shared their thinking about. I am using an app called Notability on my iPad to do this.

As I continue to read Cornelius’s book  I am reflecting upon how reading is taught in my building. I am also reflecting upon Ellin Keene’s book Engaging Children and Vicki Vinton’s book Dynamic teaching for Deeper Reading.

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I am thinking about what I have learned from all of this great people and how I can use it to help move my own teaching forward and that of all the teachers in my building to impact our students.

I will be conducting some action research this school year implementing what I have learned from these 3 educators and continue to learn day by day as I experiment and adapt my instruction.  I am excited to help classrooms teachers in my building implement some changes also.  I am not going to go about this action research simply trying to replicate what I have read. I am doing some deep reflecting and considering what can be implemented within my school and have the greatest impact with our students. We will figure out together what will work for our students and grow our own practice. We will have to rely each other and others for support and ideas as we move forward. Isolation and ignorance cannot be an option.

 

Troy

Culturally Responsive Teaching

On this Mother’s Day as I reflect on the mothers that have helped shape me and helped form the culture that I call my own I am thankful. As I look back upon my childhood, I see how strong, and loving my mom truly was. Where my dad fell short she was there at least trying to fill that void.

I am also reflecting on how the culture I grew up in shaped me. The rural community I grew up it had a culture much different from metropolitan areas. Different from the small community down the road, Nicodemus, Kansas.  This was a community of black people in the middle of white, midwestern America. The story of Nicodemus is very interesting if you want to pursue it history. Different cultures have always been a part of America before the white mans culture dominated.

The culture we grow up in shapes us as they shaped our parents. Our culture silently influences us as much as it does more outwardly.  The culture reflected on TV growing up closely mirrored the one that surrounded me. The books in my towns library and my schools libraries mostly reflected me or people who shared a very similar culture as my own. That was not the case for other children. And is still not the case for many children today. I took for granted that children everywhere saw reflections of themselves in the books they were reading and was ignorant about what was being broadcast on TV.

Through social media and the shrinking of our world because of the internet and immigration from all corners of the world, kids are aware of more diversity then I ever was growing up. With this comes a great responsibility. Ignorance cannot be accepted so easily anymore.

As a teacher in one of the most diverse elementary schools in the state of Missouri I can not afford to be ignorant. I am reading a book called Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond.

Culturally

Take this quote from her book and reflect upon it.

“As I said earlier, culturally responsive teaching isn’t a set of engagement strategies you use on students. Instead, think of it as a mindset, a way of looking at the world. To often, we focus on doing something to culturally and linguistically diverse students without changing ourselves, especially when our students are dependent learners who are not able to access their full academic potential on their own.

The true power of culturally responsive teaching comes from being comfortable in your own skin because you are not a neutral party in the process. You can never take yourself out of the equation. Instead, you must commit to the journey. This means we each must do the “inside-out” work required: developing the right mindset, engaging in self-reflection, checking our implicit biases, practicing social-emotional   awareness, and holding an inquiry stance regarding the impact of our interactions with students. “

We have to be aware of our own culture and own it, biases and all Hammond’s says, before we truly understand another how another persons diverges. The culture I was immersed in as a child was not an evil one, but it was not the only one as it was often portrayed to be or the most important or superior as it still is portrayed to be by some. We just can’t do culturally responsive teaching to students. Just like we can’t constantly ask students to do reading tasks and not do any real reading.

As I stated earlier I lived a short drive away from Nicodemus, Kansas. A town that had a very difficult culture from my own. I found out about its history on my local PBS station. I did not grow up with cable or satellite TV. We have many cultures within our country as I do within my school.  I have to do more than just acknowledge them by briefly talking about some of their holidays or traditional foods. I have to know my own culture and its biases so I can curb them as I observe, interpret and evaluate my students behaviors with me and each other.

Being aware and owning your own culture does not mean forcing it on others. Acknowledging your own culture can help you identify differences it has from others.  We have to teach ourselves observe and describe culturally and linguistically diverse students behaviors before we react to them, keeping in mind how they separate from our own. Not react first.

At the same time she acknowledges that we cannot let cultural differences stop children from becoming aware and adapting their behaviors to fit different situations they encounter at school and will in public for the rest of their lives.  We can still hold them accountable while helping them be true to their culture, by not reacting first.  I have only just began this book and can’t wait to get deep into it.

I am very inspired by what a young lady by the name of Marley Dias has done. I belief she is now only 14 years old. She stated the  #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign. Check out this video of her talking about why.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6H_PoqzX8q8&feature=youtu.be

She has made it her mission to find books she can see herself in by authors that are black and often women. We need to find more books from authors writing about their own cultures , not someone of one culture writing their interpretation of another culture. This is being referred to #OwnVoice stories. Check it out: https://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2019/05/07/ilachat-why-students-need-ownvoices-stories

I am making it my mission to provide my students access to books they can see themselves in.  As I am reading more #OwnVoice stories, I am experiencing and understanding more and more about my students lives. I owe this to my students and my school.

Here is another resource: https://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog%2fliteracy-daily%2f2019%2f05%2f09%2fownvoices-resources

Troy

To Be of Use

I heard this poem the other day and it has really resonated with me. It made me think about a past blog post I  wrote about Growing Your Own Practice.

I love the first line, it sets the tone for the whole poem.

The people I love the best jump into work headfirst without dallying in the shallows……

The only element I would add is the need to think and reflect before jumping in.  An enormous part of our job is to think and reflect because we are the decision makers in our schools, and classrooms.

I think the writer describes our natural instincts that we develop with experience as educators and leaders with the line:

They seem to become natives of that element,

I think this is what leaders do! We jump in, but not without thought or purpose. We plan with the end goal in mind, planning backwards! Teaching becomes very instinctual! Leaders can voice why are how those instincts have come about.

These are the people I love the best in my profession:

People who: 

experience empathy,

feel a desire to pause, ponder and dwell with a mindset to solve problems,

generate new ideas,

imagine new possibilities,

advocate and evaluate,

are engaged,

want to act  based on what they have read or learned and experienced,

show a willingness to struggle,

can describe their own progress,

can define and describe how their thinking has changed,

pursue compelling questions,

experience moments of insight or clarity.

It really made me think about the people I want to surround myself with. Thinking from an administrators perspective who would I want on my staff, from a parents perspective who do I want in my child’s classroom, or from a teammate perspective. As an educator within my school, my district and profession as a whole; who do I want others to see me as, and who do I want to be!

We could dissect it line by line, but think about growing your own practice and leadership in education as you read it. Let me know your thoughts.

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Marge Piercy, “To be of use” from Circles on the Water. Copyright © 1982 by Marge Piercy.
Troy

Diagramming Difficult Concepts

Have you noticed that some readers can give you a routine synopsis of a text they have read, but not be able to explain many details with any depth? Students might confuse a concept or idea the writer presents which keeps them from understanding key themes or layered ideas. They may still struggle understanding some concepts and details even after rereading. What can you do about this?

When rereading a section of text, give students a specific question to read to answer or a definitive type of information to search for that will requiring them to put information together to reveal an inferred or suggested idea.

Another strategy that may be combined with the previous one or stand alone is to read several texts over the same topic. Students should build up a deeper understanding of the topic and start to understand information that may have been confusing to them at first. This has been called creating reading ladders among other names. Students can code the texts with a pencil or mentally  noticing information they already know versus new information.

 

+ = new information

*= I already knew this

When reading a second or third text on a topic or concept, it is important to help students notice that writers often share the same information as other authors but add more details to it. Students may end up coding a sentence with both a + and a *  when a writer broadens a readers understanding in this way. When students read multiple texts about a topic, they should be able to read increasingly more difficult texts because they are becoming familiar with content specific words and gaining background knowledge. Therefore writers will give more in-depth information that should build a students expertise. Students are reading up the ladder in two ways. If you are not increasing the difficulty of text then students will mostly likely not gain much new information they can add to their schema.

Readers need to notice when writers add on to their understanding of a topic or concept as they read more about it. They need to train their brain to notice and note differences which may include contrasting information and more in-depth information so they can add it into their schema.  If we do not instill in our students a mindset to read to gain knowledge and figure things out about life, they often do not do this. Striving readers often do not have this mindset. Students may have this mindset in other areas of their life but not for reading. This mindset has to be modeled and noticed and named in students’ own books as they do it.

Another way to help students understand more difficult or abstract concepts is to have them draw a diagram of the elusive concept or idea you noticed comprehension breaking down with. This is something that can be done in conjunction with the other strategies I have talked about.

This is something that does not work with every book, but can be helpful when the idea lends itself to being drawn. Start with a discussion. Notice and note key words and add in any of the strategies I have already mentioned. Then you can have students draw a diagram representing their understanding. I did this with a group a striving 2nd grade readers.  They were reading the level J book All About Bats by Donna Latham

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Students were understanding the basic information about bats the writer shared. Information like bats being nocturnal and mammals or an animal that roosts. Some of this information they could have already acquired from other sources. When it came to the concept of how bats use echolocation to find food, students understanding broke down. To help with this I shared a video, which showed an animated diagram of echolocation taking place. When you read across a topic, it can include videos, podcasts and stand-alone diagrams or infographics.

Then we went back into the text and reread the section on echolocation and looked closely at the diagram the writer included in the text. The video added a layer of depth to the students understanding, so when rereading that section students were able to turn and talk to each other and explain echolocation with me helping them pull out some key words to use.

Students then drew their own diagrams and explained them to each other. I then had students write a description next to their diagram.  This really help them understand how echolocation works.

 

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     I did not focus on spelling with this part of the lesson. My focus was for students to write show their understanding of echolocation. They were able to verbally talk about their understanding more accurately then writing about it. My lesson objective was for students to use details from the texts to verbalize and write about how bats use echolocation. This group of students was able to understand echolocation with more depth than other previous groups.  I aways change one or more aspects of a lesson to make it meet the current groups needs and to improve upon it from previous teachings after careful reflection. I write a new lesson plan each time I teach a book no matter how many times I have taught it. I use the notes I took on the previous one as my guide.

 

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The bat sends a high sound and the sound bounces back to the bat and the bat eats the insect.

As you can see this student mixed up the words bat and insect, but was able to verbally explain echolocation correctly. This was first draft writing. I can build off of the strengths in his reading and writing.

You can even pull out certain sections of other texts that include the concept you want to focus in on with students. Students do not need to read entire texts when you know where and with what concept their meaning was breaking down.  As teachers we need to make those instructional decisions of where to focus student thinking. Sunday Cummins inspired me to dig into this type of work through her book : Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content Area Sources.nurture

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