The Point of the Teaching Point

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Troy

 

Self-Assessment

self assessment wordle

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


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


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

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

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 6.58.11 PM

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 5.58.17 PM

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 1.46.07 PM

 

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

Troy