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.

Podcast

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.

messy

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

Author: Troy F

Reading Specialist

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