Are we building bridges to transfer learning?

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I was having a conversation today with a colleague about a student’s Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark score. We discussed some of the student’s reading behaviors.  My colleague then went on to tell me about what the group this student is in had been working on, over the last several weeks.  The group had been working on comprehension, using some ideas from Sunday Cummins newest book: Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking,, and Writing Across Content-Area Sources.

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 The group had learned how to code a text and read several articles over the same topic.  My colleague was really hoping for some transfer to happen from instruction to the F&P testing situation. I pipped up thinking as the words were coming out of my mouth, “when being tested students probably do not feel like they are able to deconstruct a text and code it like you are doing in your guided reading group. They probably don’t feel like they can take the time.”

Students are not able to mark up testing books. I was implying that there was probably a disconnect happening between how the students are being taught and the testing situation we put them in. My colleague said something like, “well in the testing situation we are looking for automaticity.” That really struck me!

It did not strike me as wrong necessarily, but as a problem that we need to look into fixing. At one point and time it was said, to test the way you teach. Then some teachers started to teach to the test. Now we have started dissecting the teaching of reading into many pieces.

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We are using many tools (strategies) to do this. My question is how can we make sure students are putting the parts back together into meaningful pieces of information and building a bridge to transfer what we are teaching into something more automatic and functional in a testing situation. Are we giving students a chance to try out the tools for themselves and figure out which ones work best for different situations. Are we throwing too many tools at them without taking time to master the use of the most important one: reading for meaning! Reading with the purpose to figure out something, not do a strategy in of itself.

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Are we giving students opportunities to put the pieces together without telling them exactly how to do it? Yes we need to teach and model, but we also have to step back, bite our tongues let the students try things out. We can even let them struggle, so they can know what thinking through a text really feels like when they have to go it alone. We need to let them try a text out first sometimes also, and listen as they figure out what they need before we jump in and teach by modeling something they might not need. Students have to feel what the true work of reading feels like, that is very different from practicing things in isolation or with the intent on the use of the strategy, not meaning.  They need to know what it feels like when you struggle your way through a text and persevere after changing your thinking several times and trying many different things and putting it all together. That is the real reading work they have to experience!

If we expect students skill and strategy use be to automatic in testing situations, but we are breaking it down so much as we teach it then I can see transfer not taking place.

If we are teaching students to deconstruct a text by coding it and annotating it( see examples of this strategy on Sunday Cummins blog: http://www.sunday-cummins.com/blog.html)) and it is really helping them make meaning and then expecting them to be automatic with their strategy use, is it fair? We have to help them transfer those drawn out strategies and start using them in modified, fluent ways that do not to take up to 4 days to really dig into like they may within a guided reading groups.

When and how are we taking time to help students build the bridge that they can cross to make that transfer happen. Sunday does talk about transfer in her book and acknowledges how important it is. Thanks for doing that Sunday.  But when we are in the midst of teaching these tested skills and strategies we often loose site of how that transfer of learning will happen and what it will look like.

Are we teaching them how to take that strategy and make it more automatic or just expecting it will happen. If you are working with a group of striving readers, then it will not happen unless we guide them across that bridge and then give them lots of practice at building multiple bridges across many text. Or by making them aware of when it does happen and help them notice and name it. Practice without over-scaffolding happening and without students directly being told what exactly to be doing needs to be taking place.

Close reading, and really digging into texts and taking the time to annotate and code texts or paraphrase texts can be powerful. It appears we are missing the next step however, the step where transfer needs to be allowed and nurtured to happen.

Are we teaching in isolation without giving students a chance to put it all together. Are we allowing them to be complacent on first reads of texts? Are we teaching for engagement and meaning or skill and strategy use.

I want to find a way to build that bridge from teaching students to deconstruct a text to putting it together in a more fluent way without needing to make reading a piece by piece drawn out process that is hard for striving readers to follow. Or to find that mix and show them how a readers might have to alter the approach within a testing situation. Don’t we want kids to gain as much as they can from a text during the first reading, applying strategies in a fluent way leading towards that automaticity. If so we have to teach for it. We can’t always teach in pieces.

We have to give students practice with us supporting them through the thinking processes, not over-scaffold or tell them what to try and when to try it when. They should be practicing it, experiencing it for themselves. In sports kids often cannot understand how the pieces they learn in practice fit together until they experience it in game situations. Players have to think for themselves and make quick decisions out on the field during games.  When they experience how it feels, they start to gain some perspective and real understanding and the big picture starts to form. Then coaches go back in and coach them up where they need it. Kids do some great learning in game situations. Are we giving readers enough space to get some of that in game practice time and then coaching from the sidelines. We can’t be doing the majority of the thinking or suggesting. We have to make sure students are not being bogged down with so many isolated strategies that they do not know how to put the pieces together in the fluent manner that is expected in testing situations. Are we asking them to read with meaning in mind first, and use the strategies as tools to help them make that meaning? I think a feel an action research project taking shape!

Preparing Readers for Assessments

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We are in the midst of Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark testing at my school. During a brainstorming moment I got the wild idea to create the video linked below for my schools families.

https://www.smore.com/tzs2f

     I hope it also is a reminder for other teachers. I was reminded of many things myself as I composed what I wanted to say within the video. I will share some of them now.

We cannot be pinning reading levels on our students. As educators we have to stop looking at readers as a level. They can and must be reading books at multiple levels in a range.  We have to teach the reader not a level. Text levels are there as guides and to help us get good fit books into kids hands. We use the patterns and text demands typically found within those levels to help us pinpoint what readers need. Good fit books for readers should be based on more than the level itself however. Most books are not easily leveled and may fall into a range of levels themselves. Multiple factors come into play like content, text structure, sentence structure and the depth writer ask reader go to figure ideas out and how much the writer expects the reader to already understand and many others.

If a student tests at a level H instructionally, then the range of books that is best fit for them might be G,H, I, J. The range will vary with every child. You have to consider what the testing book required the reader to do able to do and what others books in the levels surrounding it require. You actually have to look at books individually within a range surrounding their Instructional level thinking about all of those text factors that vary with each book to find the best fit books. That is why analyzing a students running record is critical along with analyzing all of the conferring data you have on that reader.

I hope that as teachers we are not constantly rescuing students, giving them words and revealing to them if they are wrong or right when looking at us for answers or over scaffolding the comprehension work they need to experience doing for transfer to happen. If do this then kids will struggle at F&P testing time when you are really trying to bite your tongue. You should have already been noticing teeth marks on your tongue long before the testing period.

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     When we bite our tongues we give our students time to practice the strategies we have been teaching. We give them time to figure out what strategy would work best in the situation.

I also hope our students are getting a chance to practice in books that they are not overly familiar with from read-alouds and focus lessons where most of the thinking work of reading may have been done for them. I hope we are giving them time to experience thinking through the tricky parts of a texts. I hope we are not always telling them what strategy to use without giving them practice at figuring it out for themselves and building agency as readers. They need this practice prior to asking them to do it on their own during an assessment.

We must be giving students opportunities to figure out what strategy to use when meaning breaks down, instead of only using a strategy when told to. They have to feel what it is like to recognize meaning breaking down and then think through for themselves what the best option would be to help themselves. If we let them experience this decision-making process and coach them through it as needed throughout the year then our students will be more successful on any assessment that requires them to read.

I hope we are teaching students to always read for meaning which requires them to go back and reread whole sentence when they notice meaning breaking down. They have to learn to clarify their thinking. We must instill in them the desire to figure things out and to monitor for meaning. This includes monitoring for accuracy and comprehension. We must make sure our students are cross-checking and can use multiple strategies at a time, sometime mashing them together. When students reread sentences for me they often correct their miscues and make better sense of what they just read.

I hope we are anticipating the problems students may encounter during assessments ahead of time and teaching them the thinking they need to do to solve them for themselves. We will of course equip them with strategies and tools but we also have to teach them to think through the decision-making of when, where and how to apply those strategies and skills within texts at multiple levels. We have to remember to be intentional and mindful of our good intentions. Also remember as Alan Lakein says “planning is bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it now.”

Troy

National Board Teaching Certification

This past Saturday I received my scores for my National Board Certification. I achieved! I can now say I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Literacy: Reading-Language Arts.

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I am very proud of this achievement, but I do not plan to stop here, however. I plan to continue to grow my practice and strive to become a leader in the field of literacy. The process I went through to achieve will continue to be a process I use daily. Teaching is about continuous reflection, goal setting and growth for your students and yourself. I want to make sure my teaching is always at the highest level and accomplished!

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My principal included this in his morning email today. I know NBCTs challenge themselves daily.

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You have to challenge yourself to grow professionally. The National Board process helped challenge me. It was not overwhelming but was challenging. I had to reflect on myself, my students, my school, my community and all the other factors that I encounter daily teaching in a Title One school. Reflecting on your own teaching and beliefs is not always easy but a must as an effective teacher or educator. You cannot change and grow without reflection and acceptance of your own and your students needed areas of improvement.  I think the National Board process is well worth it because of this challenge!

This is a post from the National Board’s blog site. This teacher summed up some of how I had been feeling waiting for results.

“I got an email this evening reminding me that the scores for the components I submitted for National Board Teacher Certification would be available December 1. It’s not as if I needed this reminder. It’s not as if ANY teacher working toward achieving NBCT status needed that reminder. We’ve all been acutely aware of the date and waiting with bated breath for score release. We’ve been counting the months, the weeks, the days, and now the hours since submitting last May.

So this Saturday I will know if I certified. For that I am grateful. It will be the end of the anxiety. But let me tell you what I am more grateful for: the journey.

No, I don’t mean the Selected Response and Structured Response test that I fretted over or the three written portfolio entries and the weeks of gathering data or the days of poring over it. I don’t mean the hours upon hours of filling up form upon form in single-spaced, bracketed rigidity. Nor do I mean the double-spaced analysis of every choice I made that was always too long before it became an acronym&ampersand-riddled code to save space and fit into the regimented required page limit. And I certainly don’t mean the part about deciphering hundreds of pages of instructions that were paradoxically both meticulously precise and entirely vague. I could have done without that part.

What I mean when I mention the journey is the process all those requirements forced upon me….the poring over student work….the making meaning of all that data….the better effort to communicate with my students and their families….the hours of planning lessons that never were finished without my asking myself why?….why am I teaching this?….why am I approaching my lesson this way?….what are my goals for my students?….where are they now?…how can I best move them toward the mark????? So many whys and hows that have become an integral part of every lesson (even the ones I don’t get all typed up and turned in on time). I am grateful for the discussion board I created in Canvas this week…the one that made students respond to scholarly articles and each other. I’m grateful for the more meaningful approaches to feedback and the guidance I am better able to give. I’m grateful that all this has made me a more thoughtful teacher…and I think a better one, too.

So tonight, when I got that email while reading through student responses on the discussion board, I felt so thankful that I had taken this journey. Whether I make the cut or have to retake some portion, I know I have grown from this experience. I know my students are benefiting from my increased awareness of what it means to teach. For that I am immensely grateful.

Waiting for results was difficult to do at times. It did give me more time to reflect on what I could have done differently to improve upon the work I submitted.

I understand this teachers sentiment and understand the main point they were trying to make and agree with it. It is going through the journey and process itself that will help strengthen you as a teacher, the certification itself and being able to put the letters NBCT by your name are not most important.  I question one thing this teacher says however. The journey this teacher talks about is something all exceptional and successful teachers already do informally. I cringed a little bit when this teacher said “What I mean when I mention the journey is the process all those requirements forced upon me.” I hope most of them were not forced upon this teacher. I hope they were already doing most and refined them through the journey. The requirements for completing my boards that were forced upon me were not those dealing with the pedagogy of teaching but getting the writing style down and formatting my writing and forms correctly. Pouring over student work….the making meaning of all that data….the better effort to communicate with my students and their families….the hours of planning lessons, the teacher mentions, are a constant of successful, accomplished teachers, not something you are forced to do. Those are things I feel I must do. For me they come from within and  are instinctual things I do for my students and myself. Most were things I was already doing, but my National Board work helped me strengthen how I do those things and helped me find better and more effective ways of doing them. It did help me spend more time reflecting and planning for some lessons. I think I have become a more strategic planner and efficient planner through the Boards process. It helped me make sure all my decisions are sound ones, based on student needs and or building, district and state requirements. Based on my own needs as well. I am seeing my teaching in smaller pieces and bigger pieces more if that makes sense. I am able to focus in on small details and see the big picture of where I want my students to go with more clarity now. Practice and accountability are great things! Accomplished teachers hold themselves accountable and the Boards process can help you hold yourself accountable with more vision and clarity. Thinking about and referring back to the National Board standards overall and standards for my certificate area in literacy helps me hold myself accountable. I will not lose site of those standards as I continue to incorporate them into my district and state standards.  I will hold true to the National Board’s 5 Core Propositions!

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The National Board’s journey has helped me grow as a teacher in my educational practices, but also specifically in literacy practices. I am definitely a better teacher after going through the process.

 

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I was able to hone in on some of my instincts and build up new ones through the process. I have changed, strengthened and acquired new teaching skills and processes as a result. National Boards helps good teachers continue to grow their practice. To achieve I feel you have to already have in place a lot of what is required of you through the process and be willing to work on strengthening and improving those. Going through the journey even if you do not achieve your first try can and should be a learning experience to help you grow your practice. Exceptional teachers and successful accomplished National Board teachers already have a good foundation in place for themselves and work continuously to improve it! Boards definitely help you improve it.

There are schools and districts out there that require much of what is required within National Boards. I believe I work in one of them.

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I am lucky to work in an environment where continuous growth and reflection is expected just as it is within the National Boards process. I will continuously strive to meet board standards.

 Teaching is a continuous process and National Boards respects and expects that process!  They teach you to hold yourself accountable when making the many daily decisions we make as teachers. The National Board process is for all teachers who want to grow! All schools and districts should embrace it and encourage it for their teachers.

Troy