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.
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.
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/