The 5 Why Approach and Transfer of Strategy Instruction

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, 731), 119– 121https://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.

Screen Shot 2019-07-21 at 6.14.05 AM

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.

Troy

Author: Troy F

Reading Specialist & NBCT in Literacy. Academic Coach for online Graduate classes.

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