Thoughts on readers as thinkers and strategy instruction. Part 1

Take a look at this quote:

“Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.”

 

This quote brought me back to my reflecting on transfer and strategy instruction.  I am considering what I have learned from Sunday Cumins, Vicki Vinton and  Dorthy Barnhouse and reflecting on the works they have written. I am currently putting many of their ideas into practice with my students.

nurture         Unknown    What Readers Really Do

 

I believe like Barnhouse and Vinton say in their book “What Readers Really Do” reading happens within three modes or processes and those modes are recursive. Students flip back and forth continuously between these three modes.

Comprehension – – Understanding – – Evaluation 

We use different strategies while we read within these modes. Readers are constantly engaged in the process of drafting an understanding and revising it as they read.

Comprehension  is done line-by-line and paragraph-by-praragraph, page-by-page as readers try to comprehend the text literally and inferentially.  Readers consider and assign meaning  to the line-by-line details they. This is comprehending at the basic level. Next readers piece together those literal and inferential  ideas into interpretations of the text (Barnhouse/Vinton).  Reader assign more value to some details  without completely disregarding others.   Or they should. Striving readers often dismiss what they find confusing or initially understand. They do not carry details with them to consider as they read on.  This is often a missed component of the basic level of comprehension.

As readers connect details they make interpretations  that lead to some understandings about a text on a whole level or on multi-layered levels. You are building upon those literal and inferential thoughts and are considering and interpreting what the writer might be saying about a topic or life, which can lead to understanding an emerging theme or overarching idea. This is your first-draft understanding (Barnhouse/Vinton). Then you evaluate this understanding you have pieced together and re-examine the text on the page and in your mind. This re-examining of parts of the text is crucial to building a rough draft understanding. This is where you might go back into a text to reconsider some of your thinking, look closer at confusing parts, or simply try to understand what the writer might want readers to take away from a text. This close re-reading of different parts of a text are critical.  This is where you may reconsider those confusing details, you hopefully carried with you. You  weigh your interpretation and consider their worth. This is a recursive process through the whole text.

Sunday Cummins talks about reading a text closely in her book “Nurturing  Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content-Area-Sources.” Vinton discusses reading closely instead of reading a text multiple times through different lenes. Reading closely requires readers to hold on to the confusing details, and the details that confront what they believe and consider them across a text. This is something we have to get better at in schools. When students do not notice and note inconsistencies, misunderstandings and confusing details as they read on, they never reach the understanding and evaluations stages with the depth they need.  We have to be wiling to hold onto what we do not understand as readers because we never know when a writer will expect us to refer back to them.

Teachers often expect students to quickly comprehend what they are reading and move them along, to make interpretations and build understandings, without doing the basic comprehension work. This is the invisible thinking of considering the text details and what they might mean literally and inferentially line by line before the considering whole text and its theme or the writers overall point on a topic.  I think we are trying to move students through the modes of comprehension and understanding much too quickly.

When most teachers model, they are modeling a strategy in isolation, and it ends up being more of a task added to the reading process.  Teachers are often asked to design a lesson that makes a strategy the teaching point, without considering the thinking and understanding a reader has to consider before using of the strategy. We often meet readers with the thinking we want them to achieve at the end, skipping over the thinking work that is not as easy to evaluate and grade.

I think that a teaching point can be more about the thinking readers do or something that readers speculate about as the they consider what the writer might want them to feel or think. It can be helping readers create the mindset they need to do this thinking work. A teaching point can help move readers between the modes of comprehension, understanding and evaluation.  Consider using a strategy as a tool to help readers meet the teaching point, not the teaching point itself. In her book Dynamic Teaching For Deeper Reading, Vinton, describes this as a teaching point in one lesson: “Sometimes writers don’t come right out and tell us exactly what’s happening, so readers need to be aware of what they don’t know and then try to figure out what hasn’t been said by paying close attention to the details the writer gives them.”   This is not what I see as a typical teaching point. It does not put a typical strategy front and center.  Vinton brings readers attention to the behind the scenes thinking a reader has to accomplish. This is what I feel is missing in reading instruction. When we try to make the abstract, concrete we often end up making the strategy something readers do outside of meaning making and a step that separates itself out from meaning making. We too often want to make a strategy something that we have to do to a text, or on a separate piece of paper, not the thinking itself that a reader must complete internally before anything can be shared as an understanding about a text.

I can see drafting a teaching point around how readers need to hold on to details that are confusing, and misleading. Another teaching point might be pointing out that readers are often asked to reconsider current beliefs and consider news ones. These teaching points leaves it open for students to be decision makers. They set them up to be their own problem-solvers by focusing on the thinking work, without teachers answering text specific questions for students. This is a teaching point that could lead into using the strategy of  thinking about what we know versus what we don’t know as we read. Some students may need to see this thinking on a What We Know/What We Wonder Chart. (Barnhouse/Vinton). It could lead to using a coding strategy and then annotating some of what was coded with what we wonder or are interpreting. You could use the STP strategy of “Stop, think, Paraphrase with this teaching point, to help you consider what you understanding and what you don’t understand yet, that you will read to find out. If you keep the focus on text understanding and bring in strategies to enhance meaning, not lead it, then students are able to build up some agency to their reading.

We have to give students a chance to consider the many things that might be running through their heads. The what if’s, and might be’s our mind has to consider before making a claim at understanding and being able to evaluate that understanding.  When we skip these over this type of thinking, young readers might feel very frustrated because we are expecting them to do what more experienced readers sometimes struggle to do. Our students need more time to consider a text, and be shown how to do that.

Part 2 coming soon.

Troy

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.

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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

Backwards Planning for Writing in Response to Reading.

To help students dig deeper in to their understanding of what they read I have been requiring more of students writing in response to texts. I believe that when students can express text understanding through writing, they can strengthen that understanding as they write.

One strategy I use to set students up to write using fiction books is to think from the writer’s perspective to help deepen their understanding. I teach my students to ask questions like, why did the writer make the character do that or say that? Or, what does the writer want you to think/feel here? If they think about what the writer is attempting to get readers to feel and understand as they read, then it can deeper their thinking and help them make those sometimes-elusive inferences. I want my students to get beyond the generic understandings and ideas to the deeper ones that are more inclusive to text details not clearly stated but implied. It also gives them more than one lumped together sentence to write about.

 

In the text: Thin Ice by Anne Sibley O’Brien, the main characters are cousins.

Thin Ice

 

Rosa is older and often babysits her younger cousin Manny. On their way home from school one day during the beginning of a spring thaw Rosa is fretting about a story she has to write while Manny is carefree and creating adventures for himself. Rosa wishes her life was more exciting, more like Manny’s. Manny pretends he is a hockey player, darts over a fence and heads for a pond. Rosa yells to him that the ice is to thin to walk out on, as he grabs her notebook to use as a hockey puck. She tries to grab it back and it slips from his hands onto ice. Manny quickly goes after it. He falls through and so does Rosa trying to rescue him.

Readers in my guided reading typically explain the book being about falling through the ice. As Rosa eventually pulls herself out of the ice and helps keep her cousin from going under students start to think about Rosa being a hero. There is a deeper meaning to this story, however. It focuses on Rosa feeling sorry for herself and worrying about what she could write for her story because her life is so boring. She states all she does is babysit. The ending of the book helps clarify this theme when Rosa appears to not be upset about what Manny caused because it gave her something to write about. My striving readers easily overlook this deeper theme that can be built up into explanation of what the writer wants readers to understand about life.

 

I planned my lesson for this book through backwards planning. I planned what I wanted students written response to focus on and thought about what strategy would help students be able to notice the underlying theme.  I want a better written response then simply saying this is a book about a girl saving her cousin when he fell into a pond, which is technically right but readers can figure most of that out from the cover of the book. We need to be able to go much deeper.

I chose to have students focus on Rosa and how she was feeling about her life at this point in time as they read. They would have to be able go deeper than the rescue itself to understand what the writer wants readers to understand about Rosa, beside her being a hero.

After reading the text through one time, I asked students to reread specific sections, underline sentences and words that can help them understand how Rosa was feeling that day. Then annotate the text making notes about the why of what she was feeling and to jot down some of their inferences. They will use their notes to help them write in detail about what Rosa was feeling about her life that day. I prompted with questions like I mentioned above, “what does the writer want readers to think here?” or “why would the writer make that happen?”as students marked their text.

Readers will use their notes to help them make a plan for writing and then as they write I confer with them and help them stick to their plan or lead them back into the book so they can clarify something. This will lead to a much more in-depth understanding of the text then I use to get and a clear purpose for students to keep in mind as they read knowing they will be writing about Rosa.

It often appears that teachers will make a plan for student writing as they are finishing up the text readings. This is not something a recommend doing. This makes your lesson objectives isolated and your writing disconnected from your teaching points. Backwards planning with the end in mind will help striving readers make the connections they need to and not practice strategy instruction in isolation where reading becomes about strategy use along and very general understandings of text. Readers will not end up reading for meaning and building meaning through writing.

If the lesson is not planned to set students up for the type of writing you want, then they will not be able to build on and extend their understanding of the text in a cohesive and manageable way through writing. Your reading and writing objectives for the lesson must be aligned, even in your lower level guided reading groups. As the teacher you will possibly end up providing them with the details you decided you wanted them to write about.

Troy

 

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.

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

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?

time to

 

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?”