What’s missing from your reading instruction?

As the rest of you are settling into summer, my new school year is getting started. I work in one of two elementary schools in the state of Missouri to implement an extend year calendar. We go to school 30 extra days of year. Our new year always start in June, a few weeks after the previous year ends.

At a recent PD session when preparing for the new year we took a hard look at our reading data and the goal that our students would make a years growth. We did not do as well as we hoped with this goal. We took time to consider individually and then as a group why this may be happening and what we could do to improve.  We took a look the effect sizes of 250+ items that influence student achievement.  Transfer strategies were labeled with an effect size of 0.86. This is a large effect size. I started reflecting on how teachers are often encourage to model and isolate out skills and strategies without taking the next steps toward transferring and connecting the skills and strategies with texts the students want to read and are choosing to read. We cannot stop at modeling alone. We have to teach for transfer. Modeling a strategy in 1 or 2 mentor texts does not teach students how to transfer that strategy to their own books or any unfamiliar text. They have to practice doing the thinking!

It was mentioned in the PD session also that we have to do more than cover the curriculum. I was glad to hear that. We have to do more than model a reading strategy or skill. We have to do more than confer with a student using the same text we model from or a mentor text that students have already been exposed too many times. When you do this and only this students do not get a chance to think for themselves in texts of their own choosing or texts they have never read before.

Students have to be given the chance to practice with us beside them in texts of their own choosing, that are new, if we expect them to do it on assessments. Students have to have time to practice, refine and even alter the skills and strategies we teach for themselves. They have to authentically experience them, to own them. They have to believe in the power of reading and that being well read, well spoken and well written can change the trajectory of their lives and the community they live in. We have to believe that as well. We have to help our students create opportunities for themselves, across the curriculum, not just cover the curriculum. These threads are woven all through the book We Got This by Cornelius Minor (@MisterMinor).

We Got This

In the opening section of part one he talks about how he first became aware of superhero’s. He talks about hiding in a bathroom to read his hand-me-down copy of Spider-Man. He says, “I read quickly, voraciously. I did not savor the words and images. Time and fear of sister Jones would not allow this. Even so, I knew that this book was powerful.” Now he was talking about the power of the superhero origin in our society, and my mind was getting that, but it also thought about how he described the reading experience. He wanted to read the comic book and knew it was a powerful story, but he was probably not reading it with the depth and full understanding we want our readers to do. Striving readers would probably not comprehend a lot reading in that rushed fashion. He was distracted by his fear of being caught and because he didn’t have much time to completely immerse himself into it. Think about your striving reader as well as your high readers and what they could comprehend with distractions echoing in their minds. What are the students in our classrooms distracted by?

They get distracted by many things. Emotions and experiences they bring to school with them, that weigh them down. Or distracted when asked to use a strategy or skill they may not be ready for or being asked to use it in the way that may hinder and slow down their thinking because they have already mastered it. Frustrated might be a better word in this case. Are they being distracted from reading when asked to complete reading tasks. Like creating charts and diagrams that take up a huge chunk of time to create, that leave little time for reading and thinking through a text and carrying ideas through a text while changing them as the author gives them more information.

I am only on page 4 of part one, of Cornelius’s book but had to stop and reflect. I am excited to continue reading. I love how Minor states change is participatory. I say this is a true statement for students and teachers alike. We have to give students more chances to read and practice strategies in their own books for them to change as readers and transfer strategies. They have to participate in the instruction not just see it modeled or have it over-scaffolded for them. They have to do the thinking work of reading that is messy and evolves over time. Modeling alone during the focus lesson is not enough.

We have to believe in our students, to help them believe in themselves.  We cannot  do the thinking for our kids and overuse mentor texts without searching for and finding new ones that will represent  our current group of students. We have to know our classroom library and be willing to read along with kids to get to know books. We cannot say, I can’t confer with students in their own books because I have not read them or do not know them enough. Get to know each class and bring in new books each year as you read them, and yes take time to read the books and introduce them to kids.  If you do not have books that interest and represent your students they will not want to read.

We cannot mute our students voices. We have to celebrate their own thinking, and experiences, not just rely on our own when it comes to reading instruction.  We cannot mute or regulate their voices by limiting their book choices to certain genres or texts that you know have a place where a particular skill or strategy can be practiced and controlled. Transfer will not happen until we release that control.

Using the focus lesson along with recommended mentor texts that can be brought to a conference is only the beginning and a bit limiting. Doing that and then giving an assessment is covering the content not teaching it for transfer. Students need practice in their own books and books they have not experienced yet and want to discover to try out strategies, where they have to authentically figure out and and what to do for themselves after we model. It cannot be limited to what was introduced in the focus lesson either.

Often times this is where you wonder why your students didn’t do as well as you had expected on an assessment. You note that they were able to verbalize an acceptable answer when you conferred with them in a familiar text. Well of course! But don’t stop there!  Our students will struggle in unfamiliar texts unless we give them the time and space to try out what we teach and model in our focus lessons. If they can utilize the skills and strategies within books of their own choosing then we know they will be able to do well on assessments.

Our modeling and focus lessons are just the beginning. We must be there with our students conferring with them in their own books and supporting them as they try out what we modeled, shifting it it slightly to fit the text and their thinking at that point and time, which will be vastly different experience for them because we are an experienced reader. We have to help them create opportunity for themselves in their own books. Picking and choosing when and where to use specific strategies or skills as we notice and takes notes on what they attempt and their thinking. We have to get them to engage in books that we have not read for them, or modeled the most difficult thinking for them.

We have to listen more and ask our readers to describe more of their own thinking after modeling, not leave it at that. Transfer does not happen by us doing the work. When students engage and take ownership of what we have taught and make it work for them, in their own books then transfer will start to happen.  When you confer with a student in their own book you need to be assessing the strategies and skills that you notice and note the students using or attempting to use at that time. Authentic reading is taking place without you providing preconceived thinking. Then you can make suggestions and nudge them in the right direction if needed. You do not always have to try and assess the skills or strategy that you just modeled. If it happens great, but you have to meet the students where they are, not always where you are in the curriculum. Limiting students book choices also limits their thinking and growth.

We must be there to notice and name what we see them doing. Then we make appropriate suggestions and help students make connections to thinking they have already done across the curriculum and from past conferences. If appropriate lead them back into a discussion about the focus lesson. If not the same day’s focus lesson, then another day’s. You will eventually be able to assess students in their own books over all the strategies or skills you teach after using mentor texts to model and introduce. This takes a little nudging through book talks and reading aloud the first few pages of books as you acquire new ones and place them into your library. We can nudge readers into books, without limiting their choice.

We need to be keeping a living document for note taking where we can quickly look back and help students remember when they used a skills or strategy, or when they were able to talk about the thinking process they went through to answer a question or explain their thinking. When keeping notes electronically in a living document you can scroll back and find your notes from last week or 2 weeks ago. I go back and show them words they solved or sentences they shared their thinking about. I am using an app called Notability on my iPad to do this.

As I continue to read Cornelius’s book  I am reflecting upon how reading is taught in my building. I am also reflecting upon Ellin Keene’s book Engaging Children and Vicki Vinton’s book Dynamic teaching for Deeper Reading.

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I am thinking about what I have learned from all of this great people and how I can use it to help move my own teaching forward and that of all the teachers in my building to impact our students.

I will be conducting some action research this school year implementing what I have learned from these 3 educators and continue to learn day by day as I experiment and adapt my instruction.  I am excited to help classrooms teachers in my building implement some changes also.  I am not going to go about this action research simply trying to replicate what I have read. I am doing some deep reflecting and considering what can be implemented within my school and have the greatest impact with our students. We will figure out together what will work for our students and grow our own practice. We will have to rely each other and others for support and ideas as we move forward. Isolation and ignorance cannot be an option.

 

Troy

When Modeling Strategies can become Problematic?

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I was working on lessons plans for my 5th grade guided reading group and was thinking about a strategy to teach or review for the book I had chosen. A lesson I had taught earlier in the year came to mind where a student eagerly got started writing down some details, she felt were important from the text and changing a few words so that she followed the directions of putting them into her own words. Was this student doing what was asked? Yes, but she was not really thinking about what the writer wanted her to understand. She was writing down a few things here and there as she read. Actually she had filled up a whole page, but had read very little with an intent to understand. She could not talk about the book with any depth or deep understanding. She was not synthesizing information into new understanding.

I recalled a different student who eagerly underlined parts of a text he felt were important but could not put the underlined information together into an idea.  These students were doing a strategy without putting a whole lot of thought into it.

When it came time to have a discussion and dig deeper into thinking about what the writer’s words on page 4 could mean when put together with the paragraph on page 6 the first student struggled. Students often repeat writers’ words, but do not use them to help them create their own thinking, opinions and feelings. Or try to figure out what the writer might be implying but not directly stating. Striving readers and even high performing readers can get stuck doing strategies without putting much thought into them and staying on the surface level with their thinking.

I know you have experienced this in your classrooms. So, what can we do about it? David Person the creator of the gradual release of responsibility model says, “We could begin a sequence by asking students to try it on their own, offering feedback and assistance as students demonstrate the need for it.” Modeling of strategies have their place, but it does not always need to be first. When students have not realized they need a strategy or that meaning has broken down then teaching a strategy is often a futile task.

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After a student has had a chance to experience some struggle, they may be more prone to understand the value of a strategy.  For transfer to happen students have to figure out some of the why, where, and when of strategy before internalizing and using it on their own. Students will be more willing to accept the feedback and support once they have experienced some struggle with the text. If they struggled making meaning they will view the strategy as something that is helping them make meaning, not as something to do to be compliant.

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Why not begin by letting students read a piece of text that we have planned for or are familiar with and then jump in and offer feedback or model a strategy after they demonstrate a need for it. By observing students reading and asking the right questions, you can use the student’s own ideas to help them realize a way to help themselves.  Making this shift could help you do more than just cover the curriculum and take the learning deeper.

A sequence like this is harder to show evidence for but needed to help readers get beyond only doing strategies. I am starting to question the effectiveness of strategies when we ask students to physically create a graphic organizer or write something down without an oral structure built into it when they have not struggled with the text and see a real need for the strategy. Especially striving readers.  These readers often struggle with spelling, sentence structure and neatness. They often find it easier to copy down or underline the writer’s words without thinking. After observing and jumping in when a need is demonstrated by having a conversation and them maybe modeling is another option.

I want readers to be efficient and fluent readers. Are we teaching for that in reading? Or are we teaching students to break reading apart more than put it together in a fluent manner. If we only ask students to do a strategy before they know they experience the need for it, they are just going through the motions. Students need to practice thinking through what they know and believe in their heads.  Put thinking on paper to support the students in visually seeing it is great when they need it, but it should not be the final expectation.

I want a reader to be able to read something the first time when possible and understand it. I do not think we are teaching for that. We mostly teach for readers to read a text multiple times and to break a text down into parts without thinking enough about the whole and how the pieces fit together. We are teaching them a time-consuming process. Students are often told to read fluently with the emphasize on speed when reading out loud, but then to take your time, and reread a text multiple times to dissect at other times. What a mixed message for striving readers.

I want readers engaged in reading. Not doing strategies. Strategies should be tools to use when meaning breaks down. If meaning is not breaking down for a student, then why do they need to use the strategy. If a student is understanding and thinking differently than another student or differently than you anticipated, they may not need the strategy you just modeled.

I must continue to think about my students needs along with the curriculum and reflect on how to meet both and show evidence of both. Teaching is a continuous cycle of planning, assessing, teaching, adjusting, reflecting, and decision making that can never stop. I continue to grow my practice and share it here. Let me know your thoughts. I want to thank Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse for influencing my thinking on this.

Troy

 

Grow Your Own Practice

I recently read an article by Cornelius Minor put out by Heinemann. The article was adapted from Mr. Minor’s new book, We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us To Be (Heinemann, 2018)

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The article really hit home with me. It made me think about the National Board Teacher certification process and growing your own practice which are really dual paths.

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When thinking about the career continuum above you have to be doing the thinking and curriculum blending/bending Mr. Minor talks about to move towards becoming a National Board Certified Teacher.

Take a look at the National Board Certified Teacher(NBCT), Architecture of Accomplished Teaching and think about Mr. Minor’s ideas shared in the article.

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These are things all accomplished teachers have to be doing as they reflect and help build and bend curriculum and programs to meet the needs of their students. To be a NBCT you cannot simply follow scripted programs or curriculum that keep you from growing your practice.

“Growing your own practice” is something I heard Sunday Cummins said once in a PD session.  To me this means take what you are being given, and improve upon it for your students needs and your own. Turn, it, twist it and reflect on how it can be applied with your own students. Figure out what is working for your students and what is not. Grow and build upon what you are being given. NBCT’s and teachers who grow their own practice don’t simply criticize and complain. They know and understand the vision of their school and district and meet those visions and along with student needs by bending curriculum, not breaking it. They also move beyond mimicking. It is not enough for your own students or yourself not to thinking and reflect and grow. You have to take the information you are being given and use it to build upon and improve your own instruction, not mimic someones else. Now to be fair you may start out as a mimic but you will never continue to grow if you stay there.

I looked up the word practitioner and the definition is: a person engaged in the practice of a profession, occupation, ect.  I feel it has become kind of a buzz word these days, and I feel to grow your own practice, you have to be a practitioner of literacy or mathematics and so on. I feel the word engaged is a key word to remember in that definition.  Mimics I feel are only partly engaged. You are not completely engaged when you are just copying another. True engagement requires more in-depth thinking then that.

I think the same should be said about curriculum. Mr. Minor states several things in the article that hold true to growing your own practice when it comes teaching a curriculum or program. As he points out “any curriculum or “program”that we buy, adopt, or create is incomplete until it includes our students and until it includes us.”  We have to take that grow your own practice approach with programs and curriculum. Take what is given and build on it. Mr. Minor goes on to say that “my job as a teacher …is to seek to understand my kids as completely as possible so that I can purposefully bend curriculum to meet them.”

He talks about how programs and curriculum that are any good, must be flexible and allow you to bend it some. The curriculum must also help teachers continue to grow. You cannot grow with rigid programs that leave out the teacher decision-making processes, which probably leaves out opportunities for kids to make decisions for themselves as well. He really focuses in on getting to know your students needs and backgrounds and using that to help you bend the curriculum to fit them. I hope that in your schools, you are allowed to bend the curriculum for your students. Use what you are given, understand it, try it out, and shift what you need to as you continue to grow your own practice, be your own practitioner. Don’t expect your district to be your practitioner! On the same note remember programs and curriculum are written to help us, and are full of some great things! We do not have time to build our own from scratch. Use the solid foundation they create for you and that you are expected too, but bend and build as you need to, for your students.

Check out the article and let me know your own thought!

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I will have a part 2 to this post coming soon, applying this specifically to literacy instruction.

Thanks Troy