When Modeling Strategies can become Problematic?

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I was working on lessons plans for my 5th grade guided reading group and was thinking about a strategy to teach or review for the book I had chosen. A lesson I had taught earlier in the year came to mind where a student eagerly got started writing down some details, she felt were important from the text and changing a few words so that she followed the directions of putting them into her own words. Was this student doing what was asked? Yes, but she was not really thinking about what the writer wanted her to understand. She was writing down a few things here and there as she read. Actually she had filled up a whole page, but had read very little with an intent to understand. She could not talk about the book with any depth or deep understanding. She was not synthesizing information into new understanding.

I recalled a different student who eagerly underlined parts of a text he felt were important but could not put the underlined information together into an idea.  These students were doing a strategy without putting a whole lot of thought into it.

When it came time to have a discussion and dig deeper into thinking about what the writer’s words on page 4 could mean when put together with the paragraph on page 6 the first student struggled. Students often repeat writers’ words, but do not use them to help them create their own thinking, opinions and feelings. Or try to figure out what the writer might be implying but not directly stating. Striving readers and even high performing readers can get stuck doing strategies without putting much thought into them and staying on the surface level with their thinking.

I know you have experienced this in your classrooms. So, what can we do about it? David Person the creator of the gradual release of responsibility model says, “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.” Modeling of strategies have their place, but it does not always need to be first. When students have not realized they need a strategy or that meaning has broken down then teaching a strategy is often a futile task.

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After a student has had a chance to experience some struggle, they may be more prone to understand the value of a strategy.  For transfer to happen students have to figure out some of the why, where, and when of strategy before internalizing and using it on their own. Students will be more willing to accept the feedback and support once they have experienced some struggle with the text. If they struggled making meaning they will view the strategy as something that is helping them make meaning, not as something to do to be compliant.

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Why not begin by letting students read a piece of text that we have planned for or are familiar with and then jump in and offer feedback or model a strategy after they demonstrate a need for it. By observing students reading and asking the right questions, you can use the student’s own ideas to help them realize a way to help themselves.  Making this shift could help you do more than just cover the curriculum and take the learning deeper.

A sequence like this is harder to show evidence for but needed to help readers get beyond only doing strategies. I am starting to question the effectiveness of strategies when we ask students to physically create a graphic organizer or write something down without an oral structure built into it when they have not struggled with the text and see a real need for the strategy. Especially striving readers.  These readers often struggle with spelling, sentence structure and neatness. They often find it easier to copy down or underline the writer’s words without thinking. After observing and jumping in when a need is demonstrated by having a conversation and them maybe modeling is another option.

I want readers to be efficient and fluent readers. Are we teaching for that in reading? Or are we teaching students to break reading apart more than put it together in a fluent manner. If we only ask students to do a strategy before they know they experience the need for it, they are just going through the motions. Students need to practice thinking through what they know and believe in their heads.  Put thinking on paper to support the students in visually seeing it is great when they need it, but it should not be the final expectation.

I want a reader to be able to read something the first time when possible and understand it. I do not think we are teaching for that. We mostly teach for readers to read a text multiple times and to break a text down into parts without thinking enough about the whole and how the pieces fit together. We are teaching them a time-consuming process. Students are often told to read fluently with the emphasize on speed when reading out loud, but then to take your time, and reread a text multiple times to dissect at other times. What a mixed message for striving readers.

I want readers engaged in reading. Not doing strategies. Strategies should be tools to use when meaning breaks down. If meaning is not breaking down for a student, then why do they need to use the strategy. If a student is understanding and thinking differently than another student or differently than you anticipated, they may not need the strategy you just modeled.

I must continue to think about my students needs along with the curriculum and reflect on how to meet both and show evidence of both. Teaching is a continuous cycle of planning, assessing, teaching, adjusting, reflecting, and decision making that can never stop. I continue to grow my practice and share it here. Let me know your thoughts. I want to thank Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse for influencing my thinking on this.

Troy

 

Recognizing The Reader

Today in my 4th grade reading group we had just finished an article from Storyworks magazine called Saving America’s Wolves. I had asked students to underline information they felt the writer wanted readers to understand. After zooming in on a few sections for deeper understanding we were ready to write. We had kept a running list of the big ideas and points students felt writer wanted them to understand. We then thought about how we could group ideas and information together and highlighted the ones we felt the writer really wanted readers to understand. Then they used the list and their marked up text to write about what they felt the writer was trying to say about wolves.

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When I was conferring with one student he referred to a previous strategy we had worked on. The Coding Strategy. This is where students marked a text as they read with symbols indicating information as something new, something they already knew or as confusing. He talked about how he had thought about that strategy and used it indirectly to help him sort through the information he was reading. He was using the strategy on his head!

I jumped on the opportunity to point out what he had just done. He had decided on a strategy to use along with the one being taught. It was his choice. Readers have to do the thinking and decision making for themselves as independent readers.

I did not chastise him for not sticking to the strategy I had introduced and wanted them to try out during the current lesson. I helped him understand that he was doing what readers do all the time. I noticed and noted his work as a reader. He took one strategy and used it with another to make sense of the information.

He had still been underlining information and adding some of it to our list. He was internally using the strategy the coding strategy. This is what we want to happen with strategies right? We want students to internalize them. To use them in efficient ways that do not slow them down or cause them to lose the meaning of the text. The coding strategy is all about meaning! One reason I love it!

I shared what he had chose to do with the group and asked him to share the why he chose to use it and how.

He was trying out a taught strategy, and making it work for him with the text at hand. He had not been told to use it but gave it a try to help him make meaning. I would say transfer was taking place! We need students to experience this feeling more often. The feeling of choosing a strategy for themselves and applying  it without us telling them to. We have to give them opportunities for these experiences and teach the student in the moment so they can be aware of their reading successes.

If I had been so focused on teaching strategy after strategy as set by a curriculum guide, I may have missed the opportunity to notice and note this accomplishment. It was not the strategy introduced during the lesson.

I was teaching the student and the curriculum. You have to remain open to noticing the reader and teaching them along with the curriculum and the text.

Troy

My Thoughts on Transfer

Goldfish jumping.

I was listening to a Heinemann Podcast tonight while on the treadmill. This podcast featured Cornelius Minor discussing his new book: We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to be who our students need us to be.

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He starts talking about transferable skills. He wants to make sure kids know that the skills they are learning in the classroom can be used outside of the classroom and must be used outside of the classroom. Teachers need to make sure this happens. I think when we do this we might get kids to engage themselves more in our lessons.  For example students need to know that the skills they are learning while writing an argumentative essay can be used when they need to articulately stand up for themselves outside of our classrooms.

I started thinking about this notion and how I can apply it to teaching younger students to transfer the reading strategies and skills. When we model  strategies in controlled practice situations in our classrooms we need to moved to less controlled academic situations. We need to be teaching for when we are not there beside them.  So bear with me as I write my thinking down. This thinking might be unchartered territory.  These are ideas I look forward to growing, and refining.

I have seen reading instruction over the last several years be broken down into easier taught parts that we can model and have students practice in a very dictated fashion.  I have started wondering if this has been more beneficial for teachers and administrators or students. It allows for a quicker snapshot of learning and can be easily assessed. I feel for a lot of striving readers it causes them to view the reading process as something disjointed and full of isolated steps, where reading for meaning has been pushed aside.

Transfer happens when students take ownership of the strategies and can figure out for themselves what strategy will work best.  They have to do the thinking and be aware of the connections. We need to support that not teach in isolated chunks.

I think when kids transfer skills and strategies into their own reading and lives outside of school that it will not look exactly like how we modeled it. It will not be as neat  as when the kids practiced it in books we chose specifically for the strategy taught. It will be a very messy altered version of the strategy applied to the written text, movie, TV show, podcast, video game or real life situation.

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Messy with a purpose and crafted from the foundation we provide so we can help them strengthen their thinking into something articulate,  and meaningful.

When we model strategies we need to put the focus on making meaning and being able to transfer them across many forms of texts. We cannot just teach students to do strategies, we have to teach them the thinking processes they have to be able to go through when meaning breaks down to choose the right one or multiple ones that will work in the situation.

As Cornelius stated in his podcast we have to give students a reason or need to value and want to apply the strategies. For example students have to learn to infer in many different ways and situations academically and outside of school. We need to show kids how the strategies we teach can apply across many texts and situations by crafting them to focus on understanding and thinking about what they can do to help themselves understand, in addition to teaching the strategy itself. We cannot teach all the parts without showing them how the parts fit together and make sense. Transfer happens when things make sense. Some of our kids can put the pieces together, but a lot cannot.

Do we need to see exact replications of what we modeled all the time. No! Do the assessments we give require that? No.  Texts vary and the knowledge students bring to a text varies, so how students apply strategies will vary. They may mix several strategies and skills together using pieces of some of them. When we see them using different pieces of strategies, we can say to them for example, you just used part of the Thieves strategy. You took the step of using the table of contents to help you start thinking like the author may want readers too. Then you moved to the glossary where you checked the meaning of a few words. Then you applied what you read to what you happened when you played the video game. You just used 2 different strategies to help yourself understand.

We can still notice and name different strategies that students mix together in messy ways to help them become aware of what they did, so they can apply them in similar ways to other texts and situations. I think we may need to model this type of strategy use ourselves so students can see it and understand that it is not always going to be easy, but a messy struggle sometimes.  We can still nudge students into using one strategy or another that is more efficient. During a conferring session something like this may occur.

Teacher: “I noticed when we were talking about this part in your book (pointing to the paragraph) that you seemed confused. What can you do to help yourself understand this part? Do you remember when I was reading Fly Away Home to the class and how I had to stop because the part where the boy was saying he felt like the bird in the airport confused me?  What are some of the strategies I used to help myself understand that part? Could you try something similar to what I did to help you understand this part?  Even though you are only seeing one side of the conversation you are seeing that the student is being held accountable for choosing a strategy, not being told what one to use.

Note that this is a very different process from modeling a strategy and then assigning students to replicate it within similar books that you may have specifically selected or limited their choice to choose from. Transfer does not happen when we teach for replication and students cannot be expected to replicate perfectly the use of strategies in the texts of their own choosing without messing them up and trying it out in different ways to make it work for the particular text with the knowledge they have at that particular time. To do this they have to be reading for meaning and trying find answers to their questions, or figure out what the author may be saying about life that they can take and apply to their own life. The strategies they use help them make meaning and understand deeper, they do not become what they are reading to do or tools to help them understand what the writer is saying. To help them think about why the writer chose to say that and what the writer wants readers to think and feel.  We have to put meaning back into our reading instruction. If students are reading to do a strategy then transfer will not happen because they have not been taught to figure out how to try out different strategies until they find one that works in their current situation. They have to be able to take ownership of the strategies and apply them when needed, not simply practice it when told to, without figuring out for themselves what they need to do.

I am very interested to read Cornelius’s book and to continue to think of ways I can can use some of his ideas and apply them for my students and their unique situations and for myself as a reading teacher.  I talk about growing your own practice in a past blog.  Grow Your Own Practice

I think this is a perfect example of trying to grow your own practice. Taking something and making it work for you! That is what we need students to do with transferable reading strategies after we model for them, giving them a foundation to start from and releasing them to try out the strategies as needed in their own reading and lives outside of school and helping them make the connections back to the strategy itself after meaning was made. I think you have to be more flexible when letting students read their own books. We cannot always be asking them to replicate the strategy we just modeled bringing our own texts. This is not teaching for transfer but replication, this is not giving them a chance to try out strategies for themselves, figuring out what works best to help them make meaning of what they are reading, not repeat a strategy they watched you do. Copying a strategy someone else did in a text you didn’t choose or where your choice was limited in choosing a text is very different from figuring out what strategy to use when you notice that you don’t understand something in texts of your own choosing.  

Note these are my current thoughts and I am always reflecting. They will grow and change as I dig deeper in to this! 

Let me know your thoughts!

Troy

Reflections for the New Year

I am looking forward to a healthy, successful 2019. I have seen many posts on blogs and tweets on twitter sharing everyones ideas and thoughts about the new year and how to make it succeful for educators and students personaly and professionaly. I myself seek the continued growth of my own practice and continued growth for my students.

Today I read two blogs that sparked my thinking about growth. One of them was by Vicki Vinton: A New Year with my old friend: some thoughts on my one little word.

In this post she reflects on her choice for her one little word. She like myself chose to keep her word from last year. Her word is “seek.” My word is “reflect.”

Vicki pointed out many ways it resonated with her that I can say, I feel the same about. She talks about seeking out the right images, words and topics for her blog posts, or seeking out the right books for herself and students.

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Seek called out to me for those reasons and many more. So much so, I thought about changing my word from reflect to seek. Hmmm?

For two years now as a staff, we have chosen a word for the school year. It can be a daunting task if taken seriously.  🙂

As I stated at the beginning of this post I am going to be seeking out ways to grow my own practice. I am also seeking out ways to be more efficient with my time and seeking ways to eat more healthy, get back on a workout plan. Seeking to spend more quality time with my kids and wife seem like a priorty also. I  plan to seek out time to pick up my camera and explore the word through my different lenses.  I also plan to seek out and take advantage of any opportunities I can create for myself after achieiving National Board Certification.

I am seeking out ways to help the students in my building increase their reading scores on district and state assessments and grow their desire to seek out the answers to their wonderings, questions and thinking as they read.

Vicki said, “I also seek for other reasons. I seek to understand what’s going on in students’ heads as they read—and in the head’s of the teachers I coach. And I sometimes seek without a goal in mind. That is, I seek for the sheer fun of seeking.”

I want know what’s going on in my students heads and I want them to seek things out in their reading and in life for the joy of it, for the desire to know know more, but possibly with goals in mind. Goals to grow their knowledge about life, or a specific topic and to practice reading for meaning and understanding. I do not want them reading for the single purpose of practicing a strategy. I want to help them learn to choose to engage with books and all of their learning and to seek out knowledge. I am reading Ellin Keene’s new book about engagement. It is on my mind a lot lately.

I think students may be bogged down with too many things on their brains to slow down enough, to seek out meaning and understanding beyond the surface level while reding. I am seeking and reflecting on ways to help students read deeper.

Wow! I am seeking a lot of things.

You do not really know what you are driven to seek out for yourself and others unless you do some true reflection however, and set goals and makes some plans. So maybe I should stick with reflect.

The other blog post that got my attention was Colby Sharps: Winning the Day

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He talks about how he used that phrase to help him stay focused each day, and how winning many days in a row builds up a winning life. He got the idea from a football team winning each day at practice and then in games. I think this is something we can choose to do as teachers: win each day. You can’t just say you are going to do this and try to stay positive however. You have to know and understand how you are going to go about winning each day. You have to do some reflecting, goal setting and planning.  Reflecting keeps coming up!

I found this graphic on a webpage about how to win each day. I would change; review, to Review & Reflect. 

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So I think I will keep reflect as my word for the rest of this school year.  I will use my reflections to help me seek opportunities for myself, my students and others to help them grow and also try to win each day using small goals and planning to help me do so through my continuous reflection.

Ha! Does that still count? I think so. The purpose of your one word is to help you be focused on something to improve yourself, right? So it works!

Please do read all the way through Vicki’s and Colby’s posts. I think you will gain something from them to reflect on and use for yourself!

 

Troy