Recognizing The Reader

Today in my 4th grade reading group we had just finished an article from Storyworks magazine called Saving America’s Wolves. I had asked students to underline information they felt the writer wanted readers to understand. After zooming in on a few sections for deeper understanding we were ready to write. We had kept a running list of the big ideas and points students felt writer wanted them to understand. We then thought about how we could group ideas and information together and highlighted the ones we felt the writer really wanted readers to understand. Then they used the list and their marked up text to write about what they felt the writer was trying to say about wolves.

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When I was conferring with one student he referred to a previous strategy we had worked on. The Coding Strategy. This is where students marked a text as they read with symbols indicating information as something new, something they already knew or as confusing. He talked about how he had thought about that strategy and used it indirectly to help him sort through the information he was reading. He was using the strategy on his head!

I jumped on the opportunity to point out what he had just done. He had decided on a strategy to use along with the one being taught. It was his choice. Readers have to do the thinking and decision making for themselves as independent readers.

I did not chastise him for not sticking to the strategy I had introduced and wanted them to try out during the current lesson. I helped him understand that he was doing what readers do all the time. I noticed and noted his work as a reader. He took one strategy and used it with another to make sense of the information.

He had still been underlining information and adding some of it to our list. He was internally using the strategy the coding strategy. This is what we want to happen with strategies right? We want students to internalize them. To use them in efficient ways that do not slow them down or cause them to lose the meaning of the text. The coding strategy is all about meaning! One reason I love it!

I shared what he had chose to do with the group and asked him to share the why he chose to use it and how.

He was trying out a taught strategy, and making it work for him with the text at hand. He had not been told to use it but gave it a try to help him make meaning. I would say transfer was taking place! We need students to experience this feeling more often. The feeling of choosing a strategy for themselves and applying  it without us telling them to. We have to give them opportunities for these experiences and teach the student in the moment so they can be aware of their reading successes.

If I had been so focused on teaching strategy after strategy as set by a curriculum guide, I may have missed the opportunity to notice and note this accomplishment. It was not the strategy introduced during the lesson.

I was teaching the student and the curriculum. You have to remain open to noticing the reader and teaching them along with the curriculum and the text.

Troy

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.

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     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

Building Ideas

Vicki Vinton and Sunday Cummins have reinvigorated my desire for teaching main idea/s. I have shifted how I teach finding the main idea because of their ideas. I am finding that texts and articles today with any depth to them are often written with more than one main idea . We also have to get kids to move beyond simply repeating information shared by the writer or combining information into one sentence.

In her book Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading Vicki shared two important concepts that stood out to me.

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Readers have to read with the intention and the want to, to figure out what all the information they are sharing means as they read. When kids read NF texts they often think all they have to do is regurgitate information the writer shares. Doing this may get you by in reading levels A-F, but it won’t even work there some of the time.

Vicki discusses how ideas are different from facts. Ideas are born out of knowing and understand facts, they are not the facts themselves. Main ideas are formed by piecing together the information the writers shares with readers as they incorporate it into their existing knowledge. They use their existing knowledge with what the writer shares and implies. I remember when I was in school and was taught the main idea of a text was often in the first or last paragraph. When that was actually the case that was in prepared texts that were often written for the purpose of identifying the main idea. We were not finding the main idea in real literature and articles like, what our students are reading and being asked to read today. We must evolve our teaching.

Readers have to be willing to work to understand what the facts mean when thinking about them together. This could also include trying to figure out how the writer feels about a topic because a writers opinion can cloud over the facts or put a new twist on the facts that the reader has to recognize and consider. NF writers often imply thinking that readers have to piece together as well. Vick talks about how patterns and themes in fiction texts are often repeated, but in NF texts readers often have one chance to notice something before the writer moves on.

I am experimenting with using a Combine and Synthesize Chart.  Vicki talks about this chart in chapter 9 of her book.  I started to play around with this chart and some of Vicki’s ideas about teaching from a problem-based approach. I was also incorporating ideas from Sunday Cummins new book Nurturing Informed Thinking.

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Both of these literacy consultants drive home the idea that as a reader of NF you have to do more than just repeat facts from the story and really work to combine and synthesize information into really understand what a writer wants readers to understand about a topic, which is often more than one thing, an idea not a fact.

I introduced how to use the combine and synthesize chart with a group of second graders reading this level F LLI  book.

I introduced the idea of making a connection between text features and the writers accompanying words on the page. Sunday talks about doing this on page 40 of her book as one of her 9 lesson ideas to help carry readers thinking deeper.

I took her idea and tried to keep the focus of my lesson on meaning making and the thinking a reader has to do. I didn’t have students searching the book for different kinds of text features or do any scaffolding for them about content. We opened the book to the first page and I said “lets look at this text feature. It’s a photograph of a beetle.  Writers choose what text features they want to include in their book. As a reader we have to figure out why the writer included it, by asking what the writer wants me to understand about it.”

We talked about what we noticed in the feature and then read the accompanying  text and connected them together as we thought about what the writer wanted us to understand. We noticed that the beetles might be eating the leave on page 3 and that in the close up on page 2 the beetle has six legs. We wondered if all bugs have six legs and if bugs were the same as insects. The students actually came up with the term insect. As you can see we got more information from the photograph then we did from the writers own words. Our understanding is going to be much deeper than if we just glanced at the photographs.

Then I let the students read the rest of the text as I conferred with them individually. While conferring I focused students attention back on the text features and then connecting the features back to the writers words.

Students gained a lot of information from these text features. Each page showed similar features about different bugs.

By looking closely at the pictures they were able to have the word crawl already in their heads, which helped them quickly cross-check it as they struggled with it in text. They noticed that the ant was carrying something that seemed larger and heavier than itself. This brought out some information students already knew about ants being able to carry objects 10 times their body weight. We were able to verify that the ant indeed does have six legs as one student debated about the antennas. I tried to keep them away from brining in their background knowledge until we had examined the text features thoroughly. Although in reality they were probably using their background knowledge to help them understand the text features. This goes to show something I firmly believe. When you try to break down skills and strategies too much you end up hindering their natural thinking processes.

We did most of our work orally, but with readers in other guided reading groups I might makes copies of the text and let students annotate the text features and take notes.

After reading the book and completing a turn & talk about what new information they learned vs information they already knew, I introduced the Combine and Synthesize chart.

We completed the chart together digitally using an iPad displayed on a TV using Apple TV.

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This text did not require much synthesis but it worked well to introduce this chart and to introduce really looking at text features trying to notice and figure out why the writer included them.

This lesson helped these students learn to self-monitor their reading on their own and gave them a few strategies to use to push their thinking deeper in a more authentic way then having them search for text features and identify the type and writing it on a graphic organizer or sticky note. I did not over scaffold the text or do the thinking for them. I led the discussion and nudged them in the right direction holding true to a problem-based approach to teaching. I also didn’t simply follow someone else’s model but adapted the lesson to fit the needs of my students at this point in time after thinking through and reflecting on 2 literacy consultants ideas.

Let me know your thoughts and reflect with me!

Are we teaching for compliance or engagement?

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51vLk92FYEL._SX410_BO1,204,203,200_ When thinking about student engagement as I started reading Ellin Keene’s newest book Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning, I started to think about how I engage with people. Am I truly present in conversations with my wife and children. At times I admit I may appear to be listening with intention, however I am really being compliant, not fully mentally present. I am not truly engaged anticipating what might occur next, creating new background knowledge, asking questions, showing intense focus and concentration towards the topic of discussion and trying to apply what we are talking about in a new or interesting way to help solve a problem or give insight. That is what we want when we have conversations with people, right? I actually ask a lot of questions, but my questions tend to fall short of the intended focus of the conversation and often frustrate my friends and family.

Continue reading “Are we teaching for compliance or engagement?”

Do you connect your different types of reading instruction? You should!

Do you work in a school or district that utilizes both Guided Reading and Reader’s Workshop? If so are these two different types of reading instruction set up to complement each other? Or are they being separated out like two entirely different entities? If they are separated out, isolated from each other, I would argue students are getting different messages about what a reader does and what they are to do as a reader. You know kids must be exposed to new learning several times before being able to try it out for themselves. Let’s not compartmentalize our reading instruction but connect it, so we expose our kids to new learning across different types of reading instruction.       Check out what I mean.

Does this situation sound familiar?

In guided reading you tend to meet the reader where they are using a chosen text that is at a level that will challenge the student but not overwhelm them. Within your guided reading group you really focus on reading for meaning, to understand the content and build upon the knowledge they already have. You may even use guided reading as a way to get in content from your science or social studies standards. You may be choosing more Non-fiction texts than fiction texts to work with students in. Therefore the focus is on reading for meaning. Guide Reading also gives you opportunities to shoring up any missing phonics or fluency needs and depending on the stage of reading your groups are in some high frequency word work. The Pre-A and Emergent stages are centered around the learning letters and their associated sounds & high frequency words, but still you promote reading for meaning. All the other stages put the focus on reading for meaning. When you look at Fountas & Pinnell’s wheel of Systems of Strategic Actions, most of it is filled with actions related to meaning. Even when completing all components most guided reading, lessons always go back to reading for meaning. Kids naturally want to make meaning. In stages Early -Fluent the writing component is about writing a response to reading or writing to extend learning.

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http://www.fountasandpinnell.com/resourcelibrary/id/184

I believe phonics and wordy study definitely have their place in guided reading, but even as you move through the stages of reading, word study options becomes more about meaning.

Your reader’s workshop might consist of a 15-20 minute focus lesson centered around a reading skill or comprehension strategy. These skills and strategies are pulled from your local and state standards. If you are not careful you end up teaching the skill or strategy in isolation and ask students to practice it in isolation using certain books hand-picked for the skill. Next you may have students completing a reading task within their reader’s notebook or on a graphic organizer. Students leave the focus lesson intent on completing a task instead of reading. For example:

a teachers focus lesson might be on recognizing the difference between facts and opinions. After the focus lesson students might be asked to read pre-selected texts and create a chart or list writing down fact and opinions they notice in the list. In the process reading for meaning gets lost and kids cannot tell you much about the article at all.

Or after a focus lesson on similes readers were asked to find similes in a text and write them down or mark them some how. Student might end up marking every sentence where the word like is used but not understand the text at all. 

In either case is the reading being asked to read for meaning. No. In the case of thinking about fact or opinion the readers could have been asked to think about why the writer chose the facts they did, and what those facts may imply (the writers opinions). This would be a more authentic way of reading and still recognizing facts vs opinions. This would even help readers understand the writers message that my be more implied and lead to a deeper main idea and understand of the text.

In the case of recognizing similes, the simile itself should not be the focus. The meaning the writer is trying to convey using a comparison should be the focus. It does not matter if the writer used like or as to make the comparison, but it does matter that the readers understands the writer’s implied meaning behind the comparison. Marking them does not help students understand them, but focusing on meaning does.

Does much transfer happen in this scenario? Do you see a mixed message here? Reading tasks vs reading for meaning. Do you see how these two different types of reading instruction could be working against each other, not complementing each other? This can happen when reading instruction becomes compartmentalized.  Reader’s workshop was not designed for skill instruction.

Take a look at Lucy Calkins explaining Reader’s Workshop

https://fast.wistia.net/embed/iframe/3qiacy4zjg?popover=true

Reader’s Workshop was not designed for skill instruction like the scenarios above.

When the teacher comes around to confer with kids do they center their conferring around the skill taught in the focus lesson? Teachers may bring with them a mentor text to use to confer with that student. This is a text they are familiar with. A text that has been discussed with the whole class where many students have their shared opinions and thinking about it. The teacher has probably used this book to model and think aloud with, sharing his own thinking about it. If students were paying attention they probably have learned the gist of this book and heard many ideas and details shared about this book and can repeat them back when the teacher brings the book a conference. At this point you are probably not getting a lot of original thinking from the student. If the teacher is using the conference to assess the student on the said skill, then they will probably not get accurate results. This might be something you do for some readers, but not all readers. You have to know your readers, if they do not need that much scaffolding don’t waste their time or yours.

In this conferring scenario are students getting time to independently practice the skill in their own text? Will transfer happen? For some yes, but we are not teaching just for some, we are teaching for all students. If a reading skill is important enough to have made it into your local and state standards, then your students will have to use it while independently reading in their own books. I promise it will come up if your district has sound standards. It might not come up the same day you single it out in a focus lesson, but it will if students are reading a rich variety of texts. If you are meeting a student where they are when coming to them to confer there will be a skill and strategy you can coach them on to. It will be more meaningful to them when using their own book. It will be something they can take with them and transfer to other texts when you lead them to figure it out, not give them the thinking which can easily happen when the same texts get over used.

Teachers should be using the same framework to guide teaching decisions in Guided Reading as they are in Reader’s Workshop and conferring. After all you are conferring with students in every guided reading lesson you teach and in every workshop session.

In the Readers workshop scenario above students may be getting in some authentic reading where they get to practice thinking through a whole text, struggle with its meaning and make connections across it but probably not enough time, for transfer to happen, if the books they practice in have had a majority of the thinking done for them or when they practice skills in isolation.

You should be teaching using the same transferable thinking processes when you confer in guided reading and reader’s workshop. Kids are reading in both types of reading instruction. Skills and strategies can be brought into your conversations as tools that can help you make meaning, not become the focus of what you are doing. You cannot expect all readers in your classroom to be at the same level of knowledge and use of skills or strategies. Stop conferring with them like they should be. Meet them where they are. Students truly learn how to use a skill or strategy only when they have to put it into practice for themselves with the teacher noticing and noting what are doing. Putting names to what the student is doing and helping them make connections for themselves. I think modeling & thinking aloud are great teaching strategies and they must be present in your reading instruction. I use them every day, but not to isolate out a skill over meaning of the text, but too connect it. 

All of this confusion could be happening in schools despite good intentions. Any reading skill or strategy taught must always be linked back to reading for meaning. If you cannot link it back to meaning, then you should not be teaching it. Even when learning letters and their sounds we do so to learn to make meaning (words) and read for meaning. No strategy or skill being taught should be more important than reading for meaning or the reader. Remember that not all readers will need to utilize every skill or strategy you teach, some may be beyond it, and you have to honor that. Skills and strategies are tools that can help us read to understand. If they are not being taught that way then kids are getting mixed messages, which is causing confusion for many of them.

Read through this handout from Ellin Keene. She also tends to encourage teachers to set kids up to make meaning using skill and strategies as tools, not the focus of the instruction.

http://mosaicliteracy.com/docs/talk_about_understanding_may_2015.pdf

Guided Reading and Reader’s Workshop should be complimenting each other. Reading for meaning should be the focus of all reading instruction. Different types of reading instruction should build off each other helping students build on their strengths and connect processes of reading together. Please do not compartmentalize your reading instruction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questions To consider when having a Reading Conference

Confer

I recently shared these questions to ponder with teachers at my school after my principal asked for noticings about conferring during Readers Workshop. As a reading teacher in my building I am lucky enough to get to go into classrooms and confer with students during their Readers Workshop time while also being able to pull them during Guided Reading time for a guided reading group. I get to see what is going on in classrooms and make sure students are transferring skills taught in guided reading with me ,to the classroom and vice versa. I really like being able to do that!

Anyway these are some questions I asked myself and want everyone to ask themselves who confer with students.

  • Consider how much time your students are getting to read independently in books of their own choosing.
  • Consider what would be more beneficial, completing a reading task or reading.
  • Are some tasks better to use within a Guided Reading group where I am there to give more support?
  • When my students are completing reading tasks are they connecting the tasks and skills used to read for meaning and transfer the skills?
  • Are my students getting time to approximate the research and teaching I am doing with mentor texts in their own texts?
  • Am I teaching reading skills in isolation?
  • Am I teaching each reader or putting to much focus on teaching a book or skill?
  • Am I spending more time researching/assessing than noticing and naming and teaching the reader when conferring?
  • Am I looking for skills I have previously taught in student books to reinforce?
  • Am I researching with students in their own books to teach for transfer of skills and noticing and naming skills when I see students use them or teach a skill when it arises authentically in the student’s book, where they have to do the thinking with you there to support them?
  • When introducing a skill, do I try to keep the focus on reading for meaning and introduce the skill as a tool to help the reader understand the text deeper?

I am really starting to think about reading tasks vs reading and what is more beneficial. I know there is research out there discussing this. I think no matter how well you model thinking readers do, by thinking aloud for students, they will not completely get it until they are doing the thinking while reading books of their choice and have an “Ah Ha” moment where transfer takes place. I am wondering if students are being asked to practice reading strategies as reading tasks that can become a separate activity altogether in the students eyes, when that is clearly not the teachers intention.  They are focused on completing the task, but forgetting to think about meaning. Maybe students do not have a good grasp of these strategies before they are being asked to independently practice. These are questions we have to ask ourselves.

I feel reading skills and strategies are tools we use to help us read for meaning. The independent reading time within Readers Workshop should be used for independent reading. Not for completing a task for skill practice associated with a strategy causing authentic reading taking a backseat or not happen at all for some students.

This is a deep topic and I have barely scratched the surface asking some questions. I have intentionally not included any research with this post. I am just wanting to get a conversation started for myself and others!

Let me know your thoughts!