Are we building bridges to transfer learning?

bridge

I was having a conversation today with a colleague about a student’s Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark score. We discussed some of the student’s reading behaviors.  My colleague then went on to tell me about what the group this student is in had been working on, over the last several weeks.  The group had been working on comprehension, using some ideas from Sunday Cummins newest book: Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking,, and Writing Across Content-Area Sources.

nurture

 The group had learned how to code a text and read several articles over the same topic.  My colleague was really hoping for some transfer to happen from instruction to the F&P testing situation. I pipped up thinking as the words were coming out of my mouth, “when being tested students probably do not feel like they are able to deconstruct a text and code it like you are doing in your guided reading group. They probably don’t feel like they can take the time.”

Students are not able to mark up testing books. I was implying that there was probably a disconnect happening between how the students are being taught and the testing situation we put them in. My colleague said something like, “well in the testing situation we are looking for automaticity.” That really struck me!

It did not strike me as wrong necessarily, but as a problem that we need to look into fixing. At one point and time it was said, to test the way you teach. Then some teachers started to teach to the test. Now we have started dissecting the teaching of reading into many pieces.

dissect

We are using many tools (strategies) to do this. My question is how can we make sure students are putting the parts back together into meaningful pieces of information and building a bridge to transfer what we are teaching into something more automatic and functional in a testing situation. Are we giving students a chance to try out the tools for themselves and figure out which ones work best for different situations. Are we throwing too many tools at them without taking time to master the use of the most important one: reading for meaning! Reading with the purpose to figure out something, not do a strategy in of itself.

meaning

Are we giving students opportunities to put the pieces together without telling them exactly how to do it? Yes we need to teach and model, but we also have to step back, bite our tongues let the students try things out. We can even let them struggle, so they can know what thinking through a text really feels like when they have to go it alone. We need to let them try a text out first sometimes also, and listen as they figure out what they need before we jump in and teach by modeling something they might not need. Students have to feel what the true work of reading feels like, that is very different from practicing things in isolation or with the intent on the use of the strategy, not meaning.  They need to know what it feels like when you struggle your way through a text and persevere after changing your thinking several times and trying many different things and putting it all together. That is the real reading work they have to experience!

If we expect students skill and strategy use be to automatic in testing situations, but we are breaking it down so much as we teach it then I can see transfer not taking place.

If we are teaching students to deconstruct a text by coding it and annotating it( see examples of this strategy on Sunday Cummins blog: http://www.sunday-cummins.com/blog.html)) and it is really helping them make meaning and then expecting them to be automatic with their strategy use, is it fair? We have to help them transfer those drawn out strategies and start using them in modified, fluent ways that do not to take up to 4 days to really dig into like they may within a guided reading groups.

When and how are we taking time to help students build the bridge that they can cross to make that transfer happen. Sunday does talk about transfer in her book and acknowledges how important it is. Thanks for doing that Sunday.  But when we are in the midst of teaching these tested skills and strategies we often loose site of how that transfer of learning will happen and what it will look like.

Are we teaching them how to take that strategy and make it more automatic or just expecting it will happen. If you are working with a group of striving readers, then it will not happen unless we guide them across that bridge and then give them lots of practice at building multiple bridges across many text. Or by making them aware of when it does happen and help them notice and name it. Practice without over-scaffolding happening and without students directly being told what exactly to be doing needs to be taking place.

Close reading, and really digging into texts and taking the time to annotate and code texts or paraphrase texts can be powerful. It appears we are missing the next step however, the step where transfer needs to be allowed and nurtured to happen.

Are we teaching in isolation without giving students a chance to put it all together. Are we allowing them to be complacent on first reads of texts? Are we teaching for engagement and meaning or skill and strategy use.

I want to find a way to build that bridge from teaching students to deconstruct a text to putting it together in a more fluent way without needing to make reading a piece by piece drawn out process that is hard for striving readers to follow. Or to find that mix and show them how a readers might have to alter the approach within a testing situation. Don’t we want kids to gain as much as they can from a text during the first reading, applying strategies in a fluent way leading towards that automaticity. If so we have to teach for it. We can’t always teach in pieces.

We have to give students practice with us supporting them through the thinking processes, not over-scaffold or tell them what to try and when to try it when. They should be practicing it, experiencing it for themselves. In sports kids often cannot understand how the pieces they learn in practice fit together until they experience it in game situations. Players have to think for themselves and make quick decisions out on the field during games.  When they experience how it feels, they start to gain some perspective and real understanding and the big picture starts to form. Then coaches go back in and coach them up where they need it. Kids do some great learning in game situations. Are we giving readers enough space to get some of that in game practice time and then coaching from the sidelines. We can’t be doing the majority of the thinking or suggesting. We have to make sure students are not being bogged down with so many isolated strategies that they do not know how to put the pieces together in the fluent manner that is expected in testing situations. Are we asking them to read with meaning in mind first, and use the strategies as tools to help them make that meaning? I think a feel an action research project taking shape!

Preparing Readers for Assessments

Hard

We are in the midst of Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark testing at my school. During a brainstorming moment I got the wild idea to create the video linked below for my schools families.

https://www.smore.com/tzs2f

     I hope it also is a reminder for other teachers. I was reminded of many things myself as I composed what I wanted to say within the video. I will share some of them now.

We cannot be pinning reading levels on our students. As educators we have to stop looking at readers as a level. They can and must be reading books at multiple levels in a range.  We have to teach the reader not a level. Text levels are there as guides and to help us get good fit books into kids hands. We use the patterns and text demands typically found within those levels to help us pinpoint what readers need. Good fit books for readers should be based on more than the level itself however. Most books are not easily leveled and may fall into a range of levels themselves. Multiple factors come into play like content, text structure, sentence structure and the depth writer ask reader go to figure ideas out and how much the writer expects the reader to already understand and many others.

If a student tests at a level H instructionally, then the range of books that is best fit for them might be G,H, I, J. The range will vary with every child. You have to consider what the testing book required the reader to do able to do and what others books in the levels surrounding it require. You actually have to look at books individually within a range surrounding their Instructional level thinking about all of those text factors that vary with each book to find the best fit books. That is why analyzing a students running record is critical along with analyzing all of the conferring data you have on that reader.

I hope that as teachers we are not constantly rescuing students, giving them words and revealing to them if they are wrong or right when looking at us for answers or over scaffolding the comprehension work they need to experience doing for transfer to happen. If do this then kids will struggle at F&P testing time when you are really trying to bite your tongue. You should have already been noticing teeth marks on your tongue long before the testing period.

reader

     When we bite our tongues we give our students time to practice the strategies we have been teaching. We give them time to figure out what strategy would work best in the situation.

I also hope our students are getting a chance to practice in books that they are not overly familiar with from read-alouds and focus lessons where most of the thinking work of reading may have been done for them. I hope we are giving them time to experience thinking through the tricky parts of a texts. I hope we are not always telling them what strategy to use without giving them practice at figuring it out for themselves and building agency as readers. They need this practice prior to asking them to do it on their own during an assessment.

We must be giving students opportunities to figure out what strategy to use when meaning breaks down, instead of only using a strategy when told to. They have to feel what it is like to recognize meaning breaking down and then think through for themselves what the best option would be to help themselves. If we let them experience this decision-making process and coach them through it as needed throughout the year then our students will be more successful on any assessment that requires them to read.

I hope we are teaching students to always read for meaning which requires them to go back and reread whole sentence when they notice meaning breaking down. They have to learn to clarify their thinking. We must instill in them the desire to figure things out and to monitor for meaning. This includes monitoring for accuracy and comprehension. We must make sure our students are cross-checking and can use multiple strategies at a time, sometime mashing them together. When students reread sentences for me they often correct their miscues and make better sense of what they just read.

I hope we are anticipating the problems students may encounter during assessments ahead of time and teaching them the thinking they need to do to solve them for themselves. We will of course equip them with strategies and tools but we also have to teach them to think through the decision-making of when, where and how to apply those strategies and skills within texts at multiple levels. We have to remember to be intentional and mindful of our good intentions. Also remember as Alan Lakein says “planning is bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it now.”

Troy