Joyous Reflection

joy

I want to continue to be a highly, reflective person in 2020. I do not want to get bogged down in all the negativity that can be associated with the word, however.

Reflect will continue to be my word for 2020,  but I will add joyous and focused in front of it. I want to make sure my reflection has generative value and helps enhance my practice as an educator & human. My reflection must move me forward.

Being reflective can easily turn into a parade of negativity. It can become more about venting and complaining, without a focus on positively solving one’s problems. It can turn into worrying about way too much, with more intensity than is helpful.

Reflection should lead you to a happier state of mind, where you can focus.

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Not lead to to worrying and venting.

So I will strive to make sure my reflection is concentrated on moving forward and noticing the joy in each of the areas of my life, I reflect on.

I will strive to make my reflection joyous and focused.  I will move it forward, concentrating on solving problems, but I will also slow down to notice and appreciate my successes and what is going well. 😀

May your reflections be focused and joyous as well in 2020.

Troy

How do you get students to consider new information?

I was giving a reading assessment to a 3rd grade ELL student this week. He was reading a book called Hang On Baby Monkey by Donna Latham from the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System.

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 The book is about how baby monkeys survive and are taken care of by the whole troop they live with, not just their mother. After the student read the book and we were having our comprehension conversation, I asked the student, Why is a baby monkey’s tail is important?

The student responded with information he knew about how a monkey uses its tail. He really got “hung up” on (pun intended 🙂 ) how monkeys can use their tail to hang upside down. All which might be true information, but not in the book. This information was not related to what the writer was trying to get readers to consider and understand about baby monkeys.

This student was getting too caught up in what he knew or could make connections with. Sometimes connections or what we know or think we know can get in the way of new understandings. We have to be careful of this, especially when reading nonfiction. We have to make sure our readers notice knew information as they read, and not just dismiss it, without consideration.

I have found the coding strategy to be a very good equalizer for students who do this.

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I have these students focus on information the writer shares that is new, compared to information the writers shares that the students already knew. I do not always have them do this on a paper copy of the text, we do it orally as well. When students stop and consider what information was new to them and code it with a (+) or what they already knew and code it with (*), it makes them fully consider and interpret what the writer is saying.

Do you have readers that do not want to give up on false information? This coding helps with that as well. This could be information they read and interpreted wrong, misinformation that was given to them, or information they only heard part of.

So please give the decoding strategy a try. I know I am not the only one with students like this. Let me know how it goes. What else have you tried to help this type of reader?

Troy

Coding & Note Taking

In my last post I mentioned how my 4th and 5th grade readers use coding and note-taking when reading a text. I have decided to share some examples of this. Some readers of this blog have asked to see some.

I had my 5th grade readers, read two articles and watch a video about Malala Yousafzai. A Pakistani girl who has become a symbol for girls education. I am doing this in conjunction with two other texts. Students read a historical fiction play about MLK and will read another story about a man who is hunting for a lost ship and its treasure. What do all these have in common. Well, all the main characters or people the writers are writing about have a crusade they believe in and are persistent in reaching their goal.

In the first Malala Yousafzai article, taken from her website, I asked students to underline sentences that refer to what Malala’s crusade might be and jot down notes. Most students knew she had been shot, but not much more.

When first introducing this strategy to students, I asked them to pause and write down what the words they just underlined mean to them. Think about what you already know and interpret what the writer is trying to get you to understand. We talked about how when you interpret the writers words and write them down, it helps you understand and remember what you are reading. You are allowing yourself a moment to consider and think. I am not asking students to stop and complete a separate task that could take away from the meaning of the text.  They are completing this within the text itself.

Here is an example of two student’s note taking.

This student pulled in other strategies we have discussed in the past. Notice how they circled Mingora, Pakistan, they were recognizing a type of  detail, to help them. This is notable because, they chose to do this on their own without being asked to.

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Some students used the coding strategy to help them, but mostly were able to just read for meaning and take notes.

The image below refers to the coding strategy. We have discussed, how we can shift the way, we code, to suit what we are reading for.  As you saw some students chose to code the types of text details, to help them understand the article.

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In the second Malala Yousafzai article, taken from Storyworks magazine. I asked students to continue to underline anything they felt referred to what Malala’s crusade is. I also asked them to notice any new information the second article gave, which they coded with an + symbol. When first introducing the strategy of coding and note taking earlier in the year, I modeled it, and then asked them to practice it on a few paragraphs on their own and share what they did with a partner. Then we talked as a whole group. I had them read the text initially just for understanding without coding.  This group of readers have become confident coders and note takers and they have progressed to using this strategy on the first reading of texts. Eventually this is something they we be able to do in their heads.

Here are some more examples of this groups work. Two of the students in this group are ELL students and this is a strategy that has helped them focus reading for meaning.

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Lewis, K. (2015). Malala the powerful. Storyworks, November/December.  (I retyped the article)

This student noted some types of details and used the + symbol to note new information to add on to what they already knew from the previous article about Malala. 

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This student noted a date and a place. (Types of details) She also noted some information she already knew from the previous text and new information. She wrote what she felt Malala’s crusade was also. These students are using what they have been taught to help them authentically read for meaning. 

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This student noted the detail of time, but also demonstrated why noticing this type of detail is important with the note that was added (a very long time). They got a little carried away with underlining which can be a problem. I tell students, if you underline it, you must jot a note about it. This was an ELL student who made lots of vocabulary notes for herself. 

Students worked individually and then shared. They were all focused on reading for meaning. They did not code perfectly, and their note taking can still improve, but it was the process of doing the thinking work readers do in their heads that made the difference on comprehension. I didn’t focus on types of text details or structure but some students used it authentically to help them understand the writers words with more depth. They focused on understanding and used some strategies to strengthen comprehension while staying within the text. That is powerful! They instinctively did this when engaged with the text. This is true transfer!

 

Troy

Types of Details

Sunday

I have recently started having my 4th and 5th grade reading students think about the types of details they are reading in Non-fiction texts. We have done a lot with coding a text and taking notes, but have not tackled what the types of details are within texts.

Sunday Cummins introduced this idea in a new way in her book Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content-Area Sources. I have also had conversations with her about this in some PD sessions of hers I have been in.

Types of text details may include: 

identify

description

function

location

historical connection

comparison

real-life example

quotes

opinions

humor

You can probably find a few more types, but this list works with most texts.

I have to admit, I was hesitant to try this at first. I think it might have been that, this is something that can lead readers right into identifying a texts structure. There are some similarities between types of details and a texts structure. Over emphasizing the need to find a texts structure is something that I have grown to have a problem with. Many states and districts have chosen to address this within their state and local assessments. They have made the idea of identifying a texts structure something more important than it is, all in the name of addressing standards. When thinking about text structure I feel it should be used to help readers deepen their understanding of the texts meaning. It should not become a huge focus of itself, with lots of test questions requiring a reader to label a texts structure correctly. The end goal should not be that our readers have to identify a texts structure correctly, every time they read. We should not be assessing a readers ability level by identifying a texts structure correctly.

It is the thinking a reader does while considering a texts structure, that is the key. Much like the thinking a reader does when previewing a text. Yes, it is helpful to consider a texts structure when trying top open your mind and prepare for what you are reading or are about to read, but you can understand a text without identifying its structure. When we try to turn the thinking processes of reading into concrete testable items, reading is turned into something it is not, and it becomes something not very engaging.

Anyway, I really had to make myself open up to the idea of noticing the types of details as being helpful. I am so glad I did, however. I think the fact that I was doing some planning and teaching some lessons with Sunday, helped motivate me.

As I introduced students to noticing the types of details a writer uses, I did so focusing on making meaning and text understanding, not as a separate task. I often asked students to consider “what information, opinion, or idea the writer is trying to open our minds to in a particular sentence?” Considering types of details and a texts structure must always be linked back to making meaning and text understanding, not become a separate task readers supposedly do as they read. It is the act of slowing down enough as a reader to consider what a writer wants from the reader that is important. 

Text Details

Cummins, S. (2018). Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content-Area Sources. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann.

My students started noticing and considering locations more often after I introduced this idea to them. Often times locations are very important to a texts understanding. Students have many ideas and have be exposed to information about many locations across the world they could be and should be making connections to and thus inferences about. They started noticing when the writer was describing something as fact or opinion more consistently. They began slowing down to consider a historical connection they had heard. I taught them to layer this with the the information the author just told them. This helps them add a depth to their understanding. Students were understanding more and engaging more with the texts after I introduced the idea of types of details to them.  They naturally started discussing the structure of the text, or structures I should say. A text is often written in multiple structures, depending on what the writer is trying to say or share. I then asked them to consider what the texts structure might be, like they are asked to do on an assessment. We completed the meaning work first.

By the way you can fairly accurately figure out a texts structure by looking at headings and the layout of a text or other text features, while skimming it. I have seen students asked to find a texts structure in this way before. While doing this however they are not considering what the writer wants them to understand, they are not adding depth to their thinking and building upon what they know. Students usually miss the real meaning of the text when doing this, but often get the structure question right on a assessment.

I could see falling into the same trap with types of text details. Keep the focus of reading instruction, on meaning.  When students are engaged in the meaning of the text and not initially reading to find an answer for a text question they understand more.

In her book Sunday goes on to discuss how comparing details between 2-3 texts over the same topic is very useful.

Check out Sunday’s Blog. Link is on the right side of this page.

What are your thoughts?  Keep Reflecting! Troy

Thoughts on readers as thinkers and strategy instruction. Part 2: The Importance of Engagement

Reading instruction has become very compartmentalized. We teach our focus lesson, and ask kids to read specific books to practice what was modeled during the focus lesson. We teach phonics at a separate time. Because of state testing, reading skills and strategies have been isolated out to make it easier to grade students on mastery of said skills or strategies, and so test questions can be precisely placed into easily manageable categories when looking at data. This has made it easier to grade and easier to assess, but at what price to our students. At what price for their engagement and motivation to read? Students are often less engaged in reading more than ever in classrooms where reading meaning is placed behind skills and strategy instruction based on state and district standards. We are not teaching students to read naturally.

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Compliance vs engagement

Student engagement during reading is always a struggle for some students. When we put the focus of reading instruction around strategies and skills, readers use, and ask students to practice those skills and strategies by completing a task, then we loose the engagement of even more readers. “Today we are reading to find characters traits.” “Today we are reading to figure out what text structure the writer used.”

That is not authentic reading. That is not the type of reading our students will be asked to complete at the College and University level. This is not how we read as adults. So why are we asking our students to read this way?

Please see my other posts for more on this reading for meaning vs skills and strategy use.

When you are engaged in something, you often loose track of time, you are in a state of deep focus. You are often engrossed in searching for something, wanting to know more. You are overcome by a desire to know more. They want to learn more about a topic or find out more about a character and their life. Then they can often apply what they read about to their own lives. When in a state of engagement it would be detrimental to a student’s learning to  ask them, to stop and complete a task so you have something too grade, as evidence of student learning of a particular skill or strategy.

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We read to learn more about the world and to take on new perspectives that are different from our own. Or to strengthen a perspective we already have. This requires us to read with some emotion. Teaching reading by leading first with skills and strategies takes out the emotion.  It does not lend itself to engagement, it lends itself to task completion through compliance.

We have gotten too caught up in some of the process of reading, without paralleling it with students desire to know more and for read for meaning. Reading processes runs in the background of our minds as we focus on text meaning. Yet we ask students to read focusing on skill and strategy practice. When we ask them to do this without switching or paralleling the focus to meaning, kids will think this is how we read. This is not how we read.

Reading instruction focused on strategy and skill isolation has made it easier for teachers too grade and for data collection, but at a cost. I do understand what classroom teachers are asked to do, but a shift is possible. When we get students to engage with texts, then we can ask them to go back into the text and pick it apart like a state assessment might ask them to do. This should not happen before they are reading it authentically and engaged with the text however.

Therefore, I think we need to show our kids what engagement is and feels like. Until you experience it, you really do not understand it. They have all experienced it. We have to help them bring that type of engagement into reading.  We need to teach this in conjunction with reading for meaning.  We need to be teaching kids that they can chose to engage in reading and re-engage in reading when they lose it. They will loose engagement. And some of the time they will have to make an effort to get it back, while other times their desire to know more will drive them. Below you see Ellin Keene’s Four Pillars of Engagement. We have to strive for these. We have to model and help kids experience these as they read.

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Keene, E. (2018). Engaging children: igniting a drive for deeper learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Once they have engaged or attempt to engage with a text then we can bring in strategies to help students deepen their understand of the text.

I do not lead with strategies first in my guided reading  lessons. I lead with emotion and text understanding. I give students a guiding question or questions to think about as they read.  A question based on text meaning. I did the same with my focus lessons in the classroom. Then I bring in a strategy or strategies on the second reading of a text. The strategy is used to help students build up their understanding, not take away from it. The focus remains text understanding and reading to figure out our questions and wonderings. I ask students to use the strategy to help them find answers to their questions and or the guiding question I started the lesson with. We build layers of meaning as we read and reread to clarify and figure out what text details mean. When we think about types of details and the organization of a text, we do so with in conjunction with making meaning. As we think about a texts structure, or details it adds to our understanding of the text, which is our ultimate goal. A student does not have to always accurately identify every text structure or type of detail to understand the text. For some kids, making them do this drive a wedge into their understanding. They may misidentify something, but this does not mean they do not understand the text. We cannot get too caught up with some of these state and district level standards and forget about making meaning. If not taught in more authentic ways it causes friction and separation. Some readers never get a chance to bring it together again.

The shift of leading with meaning is possible, even with Focus lessons. Even within phonics lessons.

Once students have read for meaning and used a strategy to deepen that meaning and have really engaged with the text then you could ask them to attempt some questions that might be on a state or district assessment . I might say, “If you had read this text on a test and were asked this question…….how would you respond?

Students have to read with the same willingness to jump into a text to discover what the authors wants them to understand about life or a topic on an assessment as they do in a guided reading group. Read first for meaning, and open yourself up to engage with the text and reengage.  I believe the need for this shift is slowly being recognized by higher level administrators. They are seeing less student engaged in reading. Students are being more disruptive, or just compliant. Less students are making a years worth of growth in reading, which is often a standard measure that is looked at for reading instruction.

Breaking down and further isolating the reading process will not help. Reading for meaning and using the students natural desire to learn more on a topic or about life will. We connect with texts because we become emotionally involved with them, not because we can answer a question over what structure the text is or some other skill. Once a student is invested in a text them we can jump into use of skills and strategies.

When meaning comes first, students read to find answers and to add on to what they know or think they know. Then they can apply the skills and strategies authentically as they are reading, where they will find true use of them, not as an added on task to complete. We can notice, name what we see the student doing. We can model and name for them what readers often do when faced with a problem the text has caused for them.  We note for ourselves what they are doing as readers, what skills and strategies they used without prompting and which ones we had to prompt for or model.

Some questions we need to ask ourselves about engagement are. Some of these questions come from Ellin Keene and her book: Engaging Children

Are we OK with compliance?

How can educators facilitate engagement for all rather than accepting that some kids just seem more engaged than others?

Is it up to us to keep up a song and dance to sustain kids’ attention all day?

How can we serve as models of intellectual and emotional engagement?

How do we help a child engage when he or she is taciturn and resistant?

How might we turn over responsibility for engagement to students? Can they choose to engage?

How do we help children engage and reengage without the use of external reinforcements?

How do we show trust in students to find their own way into engagement?

How do we integrate modeling and discussion about engagement with students and colleagues into our already packed days of teaching and learning?