As a Reading Specialist I always talk about reading being a skill that can help you change your life in a positive and powerful way. When introducing the coding strategy to a group of 5th grade striving readers I related it to being a tool readers use to help them self-monitor. I teach in a year round school and get the opportunity to support readers and grow my practice all year. I have found if I do not tie a strategy to reading for meaning and text understanding, students do not understand its function and see its power or connect it back to reading for meaning. They instead see it as something their teacher is asking them to do, that often takes away from the meaning of the text because it has become so isolated out as a standard to be address in the curriculum or a heavy hitter on state tests. Those can be factors you take into consideration when teaching the strategy but never take the focus away from meaning.
I intentionally taught this group of students the coding strategy which includes annotating and then went back and connected it to self-monitoring wanting then to make the connection themselves. I also did this because I knew 2 of the students had used the coding strategy in the past and wanted see when and how they were applying the strategy. I could then use the 5 Why Approach I had just read about and see if it has an impact on transfer. I feel to be effective the 5 Why Approach has to be used once students have had experience using a skill or strategy. They have to use their experience to help them answer the questions that are generated.
I let this group of 5th grade students code 2 different non-fiction articles using the coding strategy before we attempted the 5 Why’s.
This was our first attempt.
The students wrote answers to the generated questions in silence, not hearing or seeing others responses. Then they shared responses which I used to generate the next question. In the future I think I need to be more specific with the questions that I generated from students answers. Or maybe this approach needs to start with a more direct question. Students I feel will become more specific with their answers as we complete more 5 Why’s together. The question of self-monitoring is not one that lends itself to a tight and succinctly worded answer. These students really generated a wonderful reason for reading which can be our reason for self-monitoring also. Although the coding strategy (which lends itself as a way self-monitoring non-fiction texts) was not specifically discussed in this 5 Why chart, I set it up to be discussed in later lessons with a chart. I can also go back to this chart when teaching self-monitoring in fiction texts, by using the Stop, Think, Paraphrase (STP) strategy or the Know/Wonder chart strategy. I will go into these strategies in future posts.
Students connected reading with thinking and meaning making. I am pleased with the result. As long as the students understand and transfer this thinking, and use it to help motivate themselves to self-monitor then the lesson served its purpose. We have talked about my goal for them is to be able to self-monitor using the coding strategy in their heads as they move into high school. I want them to use the strategy with automaticity when reading. I think even then and as adults however, there will be times when readers are better served to complete the coding and annotating on paper or the text itself. The coding strategy is ultimately a form of note taking when completed on paper.
When teaching strategies we must keep the focus of reading on making meaning. The strategy itself is not more important than text meaning which in part is how the text is interpreted by the reader, which is influenced by personal experiences. That being said a reader has to also be thinking about the writers intentions, taking into consideration the intent of the language the author is using to try and make readers feel and react in certain ways. As readers we cannot leave the writers voice and purpose behind thinking only on our own believes and understandings of the world. Strategies are effective when used as tool to help readers make meaning. They are not and should not be used solely as a method for grading a students reading ability. As readers we do not let the use of strategies limit our text selection or hold us back as readers and thinkers. We should not do this to our students as well. Strategies are tools to help not dominate the reading process. They should not take away from the messy thinking process reading really is. Never make strategies more important then the reading itself or the act of self-monitoring for meaning.
I recently read an article in The Reading Teacher journal called It All Begins with asking Why. Pettigrew, K., & Hui, J. ( 2019). It all begins with asking why. The Reading Teacher, 73( 1), 119– 121. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1783
It made me think about transfer of learning. Transfer of learning in reading has been a concern of mine because of the way teachers have been trained to teach reading strategies mostly in isolation. Teaching reading strategies has become so compartmentalized that it has had unattended consequences(see my others posts for details). Strategies are being taught in isolation without proper scaffolding taking place. Students are not going through the complete processes of instruction, application and coaching which should include guided practice along with independent practice in students own books. Transfer does not take place for most striving readers, and even for some readers who are excelling at a quicker rate, when students are not applying what has been taught outside of the controlled focus lesson’s and reading tasks that often use preplanned texts. Yes this is part of the scaffolding process but we have to make sure strategies are being applied in students independent practice also. We do this through coaching/conferring. Why can’t we apply the 5 Why approach to help students transfer.
The article talks about a teacher who had a checklist students used for writing. Students were showing some success with the checklist but did not seem to understand why and how the checklist and its content were linked their success. So he decided to implement the 5 Why problem solving approach (Taiichi Ohno 1988) after reading about how it is used in business. I am not always a proponent of bringing what works in business and applying it to education because the values of education that help shape the culture in schools is very different from the values in the business world. Businesses also get to choose their cliental and promote themselves to certain consumers, where in public education we educate all students without choosing some and trying to ostracize others. This however is a good idea and very practical.
The approach is very simple: when faced with a problem, ask “why” five times. With each question, you dig deeper, moving quickly past easy answers, in search of solutions with more depth and meaning that have the potential to stick with students. How often do we let student get away with easy answers in our classrooms? This will help promote the deeper thinking we all want for our students. I can see this being used to help solve my transfer dilemma. This graphic shows how the teacher from the article used this approach to help students understand why transition words mattered.
If students truly understand why transition words mater and why using them contributes to a writers ability to get their point across to readers then they will use them even when they are not explicitly being asked to or being asked to practice them for a specific task. For true transfer to take hold, students have to apply cognitive reasoning skills or executive functioning skills. They need the ability to multitask or almost simultaneously focus on the many tasks of reading and writing they must apply to write a coherent piece of text in this case.
I want to apply this 5 Why problem solving approach to the teaching of reading strategies for transfer. I think it needs to be included as part of the scaffolding process before we release students into independent practice. It also needs to be a part of independent practice because some students will not get the strategy until they have to apply it for themselves in a book of their own choosing that they are motivated to read and willing to put in the work to comprehend. I believe conferring is at its best when we meet students where they are with books of their own choose within their level range so we can see what they have transfered and are applying without prompting. Paying attention to the reading processes students are successfully using while checking for comprehension is very important. We have to notice and note what cognitive abilities our students are showing and not showing us. Going through this 5 Why approach could shed some light on that.
This might be an approach you can refer students back to when conferring with them. When you notice and note what you see a student doing and help them understand on a conscious level what they just did and why, they can actively apply the strategy again in more difficult pieces of text they reading. Or when you have to prompt them to use a strategy because it is not become part of their personal toolkit of understanding that readers do. Going through the 5 Why’s could help move it closer to being in their toolkits. I will be mulling this over and deciding how to approach this idea and writing more about it. So please let me know if you try this out and how it is working for you.
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