When the COVID-19 crisis hit, probably like many of us, I sought out voices of hope. For me personally, I knew one of those voices would be Cornelius…Thoughts on a Way Forward: An Interview with Cornelius Minor
I was recently listening to the audiobook Dare to Lead by Brene Browm while on the treadmill. My mind was instantly thinking about how what she says about leadership can be directly applied within the classroom with kids and specifically with regards to teaching reading.
She makes a statement that we all know makes sense and rings true most of the time, but do not necessarily take to heart. Projecting an all-knowing attitude and presence, crushes curiosity and questions. I chose to use the word projecting because we can intentionally project outward how we want others to see us. We cannot set up an overly dominating presence that says we are all-knowing keepers of knowledge. Those days are over. Google is all-knowing more than we are.
Consider this scenario. A student might be reading about climate change and coral reefs. They might have an understanding that coral is a plant. If they are reading with preset an all-knowing attitude, then they will miss it when the writer states otherwise. Then as the writer proceeds to go deeper and paint a clearer picture for the reader based on the understanding and believes of their initial statements, the student will struggle to follow along. The student will not grasp the knowledge of how coral and algae depend on one another and how warmer temperatures are affecting the algae. The student will be confused and question why three sentences about trees being cut down in forests were plopped into a book about coral reefs. The student chose the book because it was about coral reefs. They often find themselves at odds with the writer, but do not understand why. The student will not understand the writer’s underlying themes surrounds climate change and how what happens on land affects the sea. They project an I already know this attitude and do not read with a curious mind. Hopefully, we are not leading with an all-knowing mindset ourselves. We have to change this.
When readers are task-focused and locked in on projecting an all-knowing attitude or presence because they believe that is what they are supposed to do, they miss most what the writers want them to understand. We need curiosity and the serendipity it brings in our classrooms. We need it for ourselves and our students. We do not need to be teaching for compliance and control over our students.
All-knowing attitudes and teachers who project themselves as the all-knowing force in the classroom tend to reduce reading to tasks. We try to be accommodating, and meet students where they are, or with what we feel they can handle, by breaking reading down into small chunks of instruction or task. This can become an act that generates compliance without clarity or vision of the larger purpose of reading. It reduced reading into isolated chunks of several jobs and a list of to do’s.
We read to gain knowledge, to fulfill our curiosity, and to learn more about ourselves through the lives and experiences of others. Reading helps fill in the gaps of the larger world, that kids can’t experience at home or in their neighborhoods. It fills our hearts and minds. When reading is reduced to tasks to complete, then these elements of the reading process are never broached. The larger purpose of reading is lost. A lot of the assessments given these days feed into this reading task-oriented philosophy that has mistakenly become the dominant focus of reading instruction. As I have stated in past blogs, we do not read to practice strategies. We read to understand and use strategies to help us do that. We cannot forget to teach these larger purposes behind reading and the more extensive thought processes readers must synthesize through.
To use a term that Brene Brown uses, we have to “paint” the full picture of reading. Reading is not a series of isolation tasks; it requires curiosity of the heart and mind; it requires an openness to learn, and engage. As readers, we must ask questions and challenge our thinking. It is not something that is a passive experience. It is an active process involving our hearts, minds, and intuition, our whole selves. You can complete the tasks of reading as some teach them, but not understand what you read or be able to read with real fluency. Fluent reading and comprehension take knowledge of semantics, the topic you are reading, life, and of the flow of the English language. The way reading is often taught today is often scripted and boring, without emotion and clarity of a larger purpose. Our students are not motivated to read.
Check out this past blog I wrote on this subject. https://troyafredde.blog/2017/11/27/keep-emotion-in-reading-instruction/
I miss my co-workers. I miss having those face to face moments. This may surprise those of you that know me well. I am usually a quiet, but thoughtful person who likes to take everything in before jumping conversations. I miss looking people in the eye and truly finding that connection that just isn’t there through Zoom. I miss being with my students tremendously. I am grateful to have Microsoft Teams as an option in my district to connect with them face-to-face. I have been able to meet with several of them.
It is hard balancing my school work, housework, and family time. I have 2 kids at home doing E-Learning and three dogs all wanting attention. My youngest daughter made dog treats for a school project for them. My wife is a Pre-School director and teacher. She is providing Facebook live story sessions and Zoom meetings with her students. I applaud, her dedication to her students.
They truly miss there teachers and friends and she provides a real need in filling that gap. The kids parent truly appreciate as well. Well done! I hope I am doing as well. We are mixing our living and workspaces and trying to find and set boundaries.
I am trying to remain curious as I tackle new ideas and digital tools daily. I think remaining curious and open is a must in education, but even more so now. There are so many tools and free resources being offered for us. Take advantage of these. Please be open and curious about trying them out. Also trying out new things on the tools you have become familiar with. I am making a goal to try out something new every two-three days. I am learning more about Seesaw daily.
I want to thank my district for providing so many webinars and chat sessions to help us move forward and improve our practice each day.
I hope you are finding some joys and learning new things about the people you are living with, in these trying times. Stay curious and see what you can learn that is new about each other. Grow together, not apart in these times. Pause, before quickly reacting. Take moments to reflect and enjoy the small moments.
Teaching online with elementary students has been tricky to get used to. It is easy to slip into a tell and not teach mode. That would lead right back into the worksheet mentality we have worked hard to avoid over the last decade because of research findings.
I do think we can take advantage of these times to really hone our skills when it comes to creating our focus lessons at the beginning of our Readers and Writers workshops. What a golden opportunity to work on think aloud’s. You are recording the lesson to send to students so, why not take time to reflect on it for yourself as well. What a superb opportunities for coaches to work with teachers.
I think we must use this time to learn more about technology but also about our teaching skills. So I implore you to take a moment to watch and reflect on the videos you are posting for your students after they have been posted and students have responded to them. Are you teaching or just telling? Watch the recording with and without sound and see what you notice. Do a quick transcription of the video and reflect on what your spoken words are asking and saying and what you intended. Jim Knight has a neat coaching cycle that would work great for this. It is called “The Impact Cycle.” I encourage you to check it out.
When thinking about the idea for this post I started exploring the think aloud. I have been reading about meditation and listening to podcast on it as well. Some of the techniques used in meditation I feel lend themselves to teaching reading comprehension and thinking aloud for our students. When you meditate you are asked to pay attention to your thoughts, notice them and make mental notes of them and think about the feelings those thoughts brought on. Consider how you wanted to react to those thoughts or did react to them.
I want to use those ideas and transfer them into my reading instruction, specifically do a think-alouds. While we read we have to notice and pay attention to our thoughts before they disappear. We have to consider the tone of the thought and what our initial reaction to the thought was. How do I feel about what I just read? Was my reaction positive or negative? How does it impact my understanding? These thoughts and many others need to be considered. We have to make a mental note of our thoughts and embrace them enough to be able to retrieve them later. We have to keep it in the background as we continue to read. Do not take for granted some of this thinking we do naturally, that our students may not be experiencing. Or they may not be noticing these thoughts enough to be able to retrieve later.
We often skip over the thinking we expect our students to have already processed through. They may have not been noticing their thoughts as they read enough to embrace them and discuss them when we ask them to. We will have to show readers how to do this by thinking aloud. They may be focused on the visual aspect of reading and have not yet become fully aware of how this inner thinking that readers are asked to do works. I think we have to keep it simple. Start by thinking aloud of noticing simple thoughts. I am thinking………. maybe this will be important later, so I need to remember it as I read on.
I know others in the literacy world have been considering aspects of this type of thinking already, but thinking about it in relation to meditation may help us as teachers be able to embrace it more effectively and put it into action.
I often use this blog to record my thoughts and am thinking about this as I write, and creating, revising etcetera as I go. I am just touching the surface and will explore this topic further, but needed to get it put to paper so to speak. Maybe you will want to take this journey with me as I dive into it. If so let me know and leave a comment. Then continue to comment as I read research and reread research so I do not subconsciously say the words of others without acknowledging them as such.
Troy F NBCT
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!