To Graphic Organize or Not?

One of my ultimate goals for my students is for them to process a text efficiently in their heads. I have seen the skillification of reading as Vicki Vinton refers to it in her book Dynamic Thinking for Deeper Reading hurt striving readers. All readers, really. Skillification happens when teachers break down reading so much that students never get a chance to gather their thoughts and put together a complete picture of their thinking. I emphasize “their thinking.” Not a teachers’ modeled and scaffolded thinking.

Our students must get to experience doing the, in the head work of reading that readers do. This work is messy and not readily displayed for others to replicate. This type of work does not fit nicely onto a slide or graphic organizer. You cannot make it look pretty on social media. It is chaotic but purposeful. It is often slightly different for different students.
Using a graphic organizer of some sort is one way to build a bridge to help access some of that thinking and to discuss/describe the reading processes the brain has to execute for students to make connections and inferences, draw conclusions, and put details together by bundling them into meaningful realizations. Not all readers need them, however. They can slow down some readers and turn the reading process into a broken-down mess.

I constantly juggle with the decision to have students use a graphic organizer. With the striving readers I work with, one more step can lead to the shutting down of thinking and to just going through the motions and doing what the teacher asks without much thought. When they can, I usually ask students to code a text by underlining or using various symbols to identify their thinking. I prefer this to sticky notes for many reasons. Then I ask myself do I have them transfer the information they accessed from the author onto a graphic organizer. Will this process help support them through their thinking or slow it down or make it disjointed?

Should I instead be focusing on using meaningful talk as a strategy to help students access their thoughts and go through that inside of the head, meaning-making work? It depends on the students and the type of reading lesson I am asking them to complete. Is it a guided reading group, student-led literature circle, students working individually or with partners. All of this weighs into my decision. I have seen students go through the work of transferring their notes and the writers underlined details onto a graphic organizer and not make critical realizations until they can discuss it with the group. This often includes bantering the importance of and meaning of different details from the text. Was the use of the graphic organizer helpful? I often ask the students themselves and take notes as I confer with them as they fill them out. If they just copy information from the text into another sheet of paper, it is not helpful. The thinking process readers go through to evaluate and synthesize information the writer shares is most valuable. I ask them to put what they have underlined into their own words when using a graphic organizer.

Do not ask students to create a graphic organizer just to have something to display on social media that looks great! Or to have evidence for one reason or another to prove you are teaching the curriculum or to share in PD. Those reasons alone are not what is best for students. Some need the challenge of working through their own thinking first to make their own meaning. Students do not necessarily need to watch someone else do the work. Bend and stretch the curriculum when you need to.

Two quotes come to mind as I think through how and when to use graphic organizers or even explicit modeling when teaching students to think.

When you figure something out for yourself, there is a certain thrill in the figuring. After a few successful experiences, you might start to think that figuring things out is something that you can do. Maybe you are even a figuring out kind of person……..

Peter Johnston

This is what true agency is all about! Give students the space to work on becoming figuring out kind of people. When they are not motivated to do this consider incorporating some of Ellin Kneene’s ideas on engagement into your teaching. I wrote a post a while back about some of her ideas. Check it out here.

“In too many places, we ask kids to read and write so we can give them a grade that shows they learned some skills someone has decided they need to learn. Skills are important. But if we aren’t reading and writing so that we can grow, so that we can discover, so that we can change–change our thinking, change ourselves, perhaps change the world–then those skills will be for naught.”

Kylene Beers & Robert Probst

I want to give kids opportunities to think and learn by trying things out on their own as much as possible. I want to capture what they are doing naturally and strategically on their own. Then notice and name what kids are doing and look for opportunities to understand what strengths they already have as readers and thinkers. You must consider what skills and strategies they are using already that are a byproduct. A byproduct of giving them time and space and jumping in with support as needed.


So back to my question. When are graphic organizers useful? I only use them when they provide students some form of generative value. They have to find value in them for themselves, not simply be filing one out because the teacher said to. I think they come in quite handy when kids are reading/viewing multiple texts over the same or similar topics. They can help students bundle their thinking and carry it over from one source to the next. You can create a graphic organizer to support kids in this effort where they can synthesize what the writer wants readers to understand from several sources on one form. A chart similar to the one below could be utilized.


This is a form I created for a group of 4th and 5th grade readers reading several articles on Invasive Species. I want them to carry over the information they learned from one article to the next to grow their thinking and understanding on the topic. The charts I ask students to use usually include a leading question they are reading to find answer to.

We will have to work on writing about how we feel about what we read. This reader was just not into the topic of Invasive Species that much.

They underlined information dealing with the problems, and solutions and took some notes to help them process the information they were reading on the articles themselves before completing graphic organizer.

One student came up with the idea of using P for problem and S for solution to help him make meaning. I was trying to lead Ss to make a choice like this, but come to it on their own.

It is not essential that students underline the exact same things on every article or write a note to themselves saying the exact same thing. For each student to get what they need out of this process, they need to do the work for themselves. If they are reading and rereading parts of the text when they need to and thinking about it on a deeper level using some questions to help them focus their thinking, it will have more generative value. I had two students discussing if a group of pelicans eating the goldfish in the above article was a problem or solution. Students had it marked differently. They were doing the work and the thinking. They are not just copying what I have done or what another student has done. To me, it did not really matter what conclusion they came to because they were deepening their level of understanding in the process. Graphic organizers do not need to look the same for every student. I am not always focused on answers themselves, but answers as a byproduct of thinking and talking about our reading. I work with striving readers, by the way, and we are a constant work in progress. ūüôā

Let me know your thoughts and experiences.

Making Black Lives Matter in Classrooms: The Power of Teachers to Change the World

This blog post reminds me of how we grow, and learn so much about life through reading. We change the world by opening minds through reading every day in our classrooms. All readers need to see themselves within texts as well as others. I always ask readers now, what can you learn from this text about life that might be able to help you in your own life. This way of thinking came into focus for me by way of Vicki Vinton.

A Will to Love

Race, Rights, and Responsibility Image

On Saturday, May 16, 2015, NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools held a conference titled, Race, Rights, and Responsibility: What Educators Can Do to Help Our Students Think Critically about Protest, Law Enforcement, and Civil Liberty.

This conference was not for everyone. And while it was a conference for teachers presented by teachers, it was designed mainly for teachers who care deeply about racial justice and tenets of teaching for change. It was for those teachers struggling to find pragmatic classroom solutions that might interrupt dangerous patterns of policing that brutalize Black and Brown bodies and terrorize communities of color.

As we‚Äôve come to realize in recent months, police overreach‚Äďeven to the point of murder‚Äďis not an isolated incident. It is not coincidental. It happens daily in settings such as New York and Baltimore, where the students we teach are striving and struggling to‚Ķ

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Listening is a thought.

I shared these two sentences today with some of my readers.

I then asked, “What ideas do you have about what they mean?”
They looked at me kind of confused. One boy blurts out they mean the same thing.” I responded with, “that is one idea, are there others?” It was just crickets. Then one girl raises her hand and adds, I agree, it means the same thing.
These words come from Michael Opitz and his book Listen Hear! 25 Effective Listening Comprehension Strategies(2004). I was wanting to help my readers focus in on the in-the-head work of listening. This requires putting aside your own thoughts for a moment and focusing on someone else’s. This is hard for our children to do. Heck, it is hard for adults to do. Children are often playing around with their thoughts and piecing together what we want to say. They might even hear what another says and be able to repeat most of it back but have not given any thought to it. We purposefully have to pause our thoughts and take in another’s and then have an actual thought about what they are saying. The simple repetition of statements differs from taking them in, reflecting on them, and responding to them.
Towards the end of our conversation, one girl states that “listening is like thinking.” Then another student added, “having a thought is thinking.”

These students started the process of “uptake.” Martin Nystrand coined the term “uptake.” Uptake is the process of taking in, responding to, and growing someone else’s thinking (1997). I believe this includes the growth of an idea as a byproduct of disagreement and an extension of thought by adding onto it. We have to be able to grow from each other’s thinking and ideas. There has to be an intent and openness for that to happen. There has to be a belief that it matters when we engage in talk. We can grow our thinking beyond what we can do alone. We can learn and adapt from listening to each other. We can change and think for ourselves with the help of others beyond what we can do alone. This is a powerful process in the classroom. It should be a process that takes place in Washington DC and all across America with working adults.
I will dig into the work of really listening and having thoughts about others thinking with my readers. This thinking work is very abstract and hard to grasp. It is messy to teach and grade. However, it is essential to make sure we have literate, well-spoken students who can think for themselves and form opinions based on facts. We have to get out of our heads, and listen to what we hear, reflect on it.

More to come on this topic.

Troy

Building an Understanding!

As I listen to readers transitioning from the Early stage of reading to the Transitional stage, I see them struggling most with understanding the content of what they are reading. They have built up a solid foundation of High-Frequency words that are automatic to them and can solve most words phonetically. They can solve some when applying meaning, but this is where their skills of transferring knowledge start to break down. They strive to understand the vocabulary and or plow through it without much thought to it. Their primary focus might be to read the text and be able to say I’m finished. Or they might be reading to complete a specific task related to different areas or levels of comprehension of the text. The students often lack the ability to mediate an understanding of what they are reading into broader insights and ideas. We often forget how comprehending a text works at the cognitive processing level and focus instead on evaluating the skills listed in our curriculums and tested on district and state tests. Knowledge is grown over time. It accumulates like snowflakes on the ground.

Readers have to make connections, accessing all parts of their lives as readers. Do not ask them to build walls as a reader and compartmentalize. Ask them to use their imagination and what they know and understand in all areas of their life as they read. Then, ask them to focus on understanding the ideas the writer’s words conjure up and apply it with what they know of the world within the situation described on the page. Simple right!

I think we need to apply a lot of what we have learned about teaching math over the last decade to reading. We teach number sense and teach students to use the skills we give them across many different types of equations. We are asking them to be fluid with their thinking and how they apply strategies. We are teaching them to problem-solve. When it comes to reading, we often do not ask them to be problem solvers but stick to rigid scripts that some have been taught to say “good readers” follow. I despise those two words, “good readers.” The implications they create are far more negative than positive for striving readers at all stages of reading.

We have to be problem solvers, connectors, and builders of knowledge. We often have to ask readers to restructure their understandings of life sometimes. Some readers resist this notion and hold rigidly to false misconceptions they have built through the environment they are living in. We have to ask students to break down what they are reading to the word, phrase, and paragraph levels. We have to ask readers to read a text closely. As Cummins (2013) describes, close reading occurs when the reader analyses any given text at the word or phrase level and the paragraph and section levels. She describes how a reader determines which details are most important and how they fit together logically to convey the author’s central ideas. A reader’s understanding of life as they have experienced it and perceive it, play a huge role in this. We have to do more of this type of work with students using Informational and fiction texts. We have to show readers how to put the pieces of information they read and understand together to build new knowledge.

Much like the pieces of a puzzle hold specific details that are important to connect to the surrounding pieces, so do words build on ideas at a sentence, paragraph, and chapter/section level. Then all of it connects, building up to a final picture or ideas.

Troy

Cummins, S. (2013). Close reading of informational texts: Assessment-driven instruction in grades 3-8. Guilford.

The Power of Revisiting

When I am reading research and books from well known literacy consultants, I am hearing more and more the word revisit. To revisit a text, a topic or strategy, thought, or concept is often at odds with the demands placed on classroom teachers to cover curriculum.

Our students need to revisits concepts, thoughts, ideas and strategies often as they begin to wrestle around with how to use them and proceed to use them effectively. You can not grow an idea without revisiting it and reflecting on it. I am purposefully building in moments of time to revisit information with students and seeing the benefits.

I look over my notes from my last conferring session before each new one. I take notes on my iPad now. I am using a notes app called Note Writer Pro right now. I have used Notability as well. Both work good with my Apple Pencil. The most convenient thing about using an app is that I can quickly save them digitally and pull them up again. I purposefully let students know what I am writing down. I do this this because I know we will both need to revisit the notes I am taking. My notes also provide a space for students to work on solving unknown words. Taking the word from the text and writing it within my notes helps students to focus in on it. It also let’s both of us refer back to it, when they are figuring out another word. A word that allows me to use their previous word as an analogy to the current one. I can look back at my notes to help us remember a strategy that was applied successfully a few days ago or a week ago. Here is an example of my use of an analogy, to help a student solve an unknown word.

A student was striving to solve the word beach. I knew they correctly worked out eat, last week. So I pulled up that page on my notes and said remember this word? What is it? They replied eat. I asked, what is saying the long e sound in eat. They answered ea immediately. I responded, how can knowing that ea in eat help you solve this word, and pointed to beach in their book. The student hesitated and then started with the b and smoothly read the word, chunking it like this b each. They subconsciously picked up on the word each, which I can also use when applicable.

I pulled up the note the following day when I came in to confer with him and asked him to explain how he used eat to help him figure out beach. Using known words to help yourself solve unknown words takes time for student to appreciate and apply consistently along with other Cross Checking strategies. I revisited it purposely and asked him to try using the strategy again today as he reads.

I use my notes to purposefully revisit past conferring session for my students and my own reflection. So I guess they are really our notes. We both gain a lot revisiting them.

The Power of Reflection

Here are some quick thoughts on the power of reflection.

The 2020-2021 school year has defiantly been a challenging one. One that has, for me, caused me to lose focus on thoughtful reflection at times. Our classrooms have been turned into a rough lunar landscape compared to spaces usually envision and create. I know sometimes I have taught and listened to my students but have not truly reflected on my teaching or student thinking. It makes me think about what Martin Nystrand call “uptake.” The process of taking in, responding to, and growing someone else’s ideas. This process works when only when we allow another’s thinking to affect our own. We need to apply this idea of “uptake” to the time we spend teaching and reflecting.

Are you continuing to take in children’s thinking, colleagues thinking, and any others thinking with an openness to do more than listen, nod, and then insert your thinking. We have to be willing to reflect in the moment for our students, but also after those moments have passed. We need to be reflecting in silent contemplation. Then other times out loud in the presence of others. Herbie Hancock once said, “In life, as in jazz, there is great beauty in collaboration.”
Silence can be a decisive reflection move.

Try sitting in silence and listening for your breath. Then notice the thoughts that are coming forward. Break them into two categories, ones you can change and ones you cannot. Focus on the ones within your life or teaching practice, you can change and effect. Reflect on what happened, what you wanted to happen and what you can change. One great aspect of working in education and with kids is that we can reteach lessons, we can grow and learn and change right along with our students. There is no growth without reflection. Memorization only gets you so far. John Dewey reminds us, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on an experience.

Teaching is an art, we cannot rely on only our reflexes to the content we are teaching. We are teaching humans who are growing and changing daily.
I am reading a book called Building Bigger Ideas: A Process for Teaching Purposeful Talk by Maria Nichols. I recommend it! She is featured on the Heinemann podcast also talking about the book. I feel a lot of the processes she recommends for teaching purposeful talk in our classrooms can be applied in specific ways toward reflection. She says, “In the dialogic classroom, feedback spurs reflection, and helps children become aware of the breadth and depth of meaning they constructed and the role of purposeful talk in the process.” We can grow ourselves and others on our teams and our whole school with reflection and Nystrand’s “uptake”. I think we also need to teach our students to reflect. In all of the classroom scenarios Nichols describes in her book, the students are in careful reflection. They are in reflection of their thoughts and their classmates thoughts also. The process of “uptake” is happening.
Let’s keep reflection alive, and part of our daily routines, folks, our growth, and our students’ growth depends on it.

Troy

Readers usually use multiple strategies simultaneously.

I was pushing into a classroom today to confer with a 1st grader I work with. Yes, I can push in as long as I am not with the student more than 15 minutes.

I bring my own books into read just in case they do not have access to a book where they can work on the skills we are working on in guided reading group. I will usually listen to them read from their book of choice and then pull out my books. Other times I give them a choice between the books I bring and the ones they have. It varies but they often choose the books I bring.

I brought this book in today.

The student got to this page and read: I like my purple hat. The text reads: I like my purple cap. This is an Early level text with a pattern. I like my purple………………..

She stopped and corrected the miscue without me saying anything. Yes victory! I let her finish the book and then directed her back to that page. I said, “I love how you noticed you read this word wrong(pointing to cap) and went back and fixed it. Readers fix their mistakes all the time. Great job noticing it and fixing it. How did you know hat was wrong?”

She told me first she noticed the word started with a “c” and knew hat started with an h. I asked her what else she noticed about the word. She noticed cap did not end the same way as hat. We celebrated her hard work, and even shared what she had done with her teacher. She expressed to her teacher she knew the two words hat and cap had the same meaning. Her teacher asked her if she used the picture for support and had her talk about the different word solving strategies that were on the wall of their classroom. As teachers we had different ideas of what we felt she might have used. However, it was clearly evident that this student used all three cuing systems to solve this word, and most likely simultaneously or within one to two seconds of each other. She knew the meaning of the word, was looking at word visually and knew the pattern of the book and could use the illustration. All of these things contributed to her being able to solve the word.

I feel this happens more often than we realize. We isolate out different strategies and never help students notice how putting them together is a very powerful thing to do. That is why I love the Cross-Checking strategy which combines multiple strategies into one. Here is an old blog post I wrote about cross-checking. Even if our students can’t completely verbalize how they exactly figure words out, we have to make sure that they recognize the effort and thinking it takes to do so. They have to become conscious on some level of doing it. This will help them make a mental notes about the word so they can retrieve it for later use. We do not want them to completely draw a blank and not recognize the word the next time they see it, not remember what worked for them as a reader when solving it. This happens so often when we tell them the word or if it is used in a slightly different context. Heck it happens from page to page with some readers. We have to make sure students recognize all readers have to solve words. We just get more efficient at it as we become more familiar with letter combinations, word parts and learn more words.

Students need understand that there are multiple ways to solve words and that our brain will utilize them all if we let it. This will help them become flexible word solvers. As we teach word solving we cannot be putting more emphasis on one strategy over another, or even teach students an order to use the strategies. When we ask students, “What can you try?” or provide suggestions make sure to mix around the order in which we suggest strategies. Striving readers often fixate on one strategy and over use it.

When using meaning teach students to think about what they know about the book over multiple pages. Readers can build up clues across several pages to help them use meaning more efficiently. Striving readers go to strategy is too often, to stretch a word out, when using multiple strategies is much more efficient. Try this out and let me know how it goes.

Troy

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 РРUnderstanding РРEvaluation 

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

To Be of Use

I heard this poem the other day and it has really resonated with me. It made me think about a past blog post I  wrote about Growing Your Own Practice.

I love the first line, it sets the tone for the whole poem.

The people I love the best jump into work headfirst without dallying in the shallows……

The only element I would add is the need to think and reflect before jumping in.  An enormous part of our job is to think and reflect because we are the decision makers in our schools, and classrooms.

I think the writer describes our natural instincts that we develop with experience as educators and leaders with the line:

They seem to become natives of that element,

I think this is what leaders do! We jump in, but not without thought or purpose. We plan with the end goal in mind, planning backwards! Teaching becomes very instinctual! Leaders can voice why are how those instincts have come about.

These are the people I love the best in my profession:

People who: 

experience empathy,

feel a desire to pause, ponder and dwell with a mindset to solve problems,

generate new ideas,

imagine new possibilities,

advocate and evaluate,

are engaged,

want to act  based on what they have read or learned and experienced,

show a willingness to struggle,

can describe their own progress,

can define and describe how their thinking has changed,

pursue compelling questions,

experience moments of insight or clarity.

It really made me think about the people I want to surround myself with. Thinking from an administrators perspective who would I want on my staff, from a parents perspective who do I want in my child’s classroom, or from a teammate perspective. As an educator within my school, my district and profession as a whole; who do I want others to see me as, and who do I want to be!

We could dissect it line by line, but think about growing your own practice and leadership in education as you read it. Let me know your thoughts.

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Marge Piercy, “To be of use” from¬†Circles on the Water. Copyright ¬© 1982 by Marge Piercy.
Troy

Goal Setting, Habits, and Motivation

In 2017 I conducted an action research study over motivation and student goal setting with a colleague.  As I started reading Atomic Habits by James Clear this week, it made me want to revisit this research and reflect on it again.

We looked at different types of goals students were being asked to set. We looked at performance-oriented goals and task-oriented goals. We thought about how a goals focus can impact a student’s commitment to the goal. Schunk & Zimmerman (2008), say according to most goal orientation theorists (e.g., Ames, Dweck, Elliot, & Markiewicz; Midgley and colleagues), the purpose of a performance goal is to gain positive judgements of personal competence, whereas the purpose of learning or task-oriented goal is to actually increase one’s competence. Performance goals are often driven by outside influences and how things appear to be. They go on to say that performance goals work better for already confident learners. Learning goals, or as we chose to call them, task-oriented goals will motivate both confident and unconfident learners. Task oriented goals are more inclined to support intrinsic motivation, which can still be influenced from  forces outside of ourselves but are more geared towards helping students become truly engaged for themselves and absorbed in what they are learning or reading about.

In our research we found that the task-oriented goals our students made did have a positive impact on their motivation to read.  We believe this ultimately impacted student independent reading stamina and overall reading performance.  The data revealed that 14 out of the 15 students who participated grew at least one or more reading level. Most increased multiple levels. Teachers ask students to set reading level goals all the time in educations.  We wanted to steer the focus away from the performance goals related to reading levels and focus more on smaller task-oriented goals. We helped students form goals related to the content of their reading and reading choices. They also created goals dealing time spent reading.

I was starting to understand and now more fully understand how we needed to be focusing on goals dealing with the processes of thinking someone must sustain to be a reader. Goals to form habits of thinking based on reading for meaning.

This brings me to  Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning by Ellin Oliver Keene.

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She states, “there is evidence that motivation to read in the elementary and middle school years is related to reading achievement, with more proficient readers being more motivated and less proficient readers being less motivated. I bring this up because that is a factor that influenced our research. I agree with this statement when thinking about how students‚Äô progress through these years of school. When it comes to reading, they are often motivated by the habits their parents helped them form. Habits of enjoying a good story and learning from a good book.¬† Students motivation to read is linked to success because of learned reading behaviors they are introduced to at school. Behaviors that focus students’ goals to be centered around speed and quantity are often stressed over reading to gain knowledge and enjoy a good story while learning something about people and life. Or being able to read a book at a certain level.

These external and internal motivation as Keene describes it is linked to an outside factor. It is often a person you want to be like or a person you want to impress.  Both Keene and Clear talk about how engagement or continual meeting of goals will not happen or be sustained with motivation alone. Engagement as Keene talks about and identity work as Clear talks about help drive sustained success or learning.

I came out of our research really thinking about goals and what a student has to be willing to do to make chose goals happen. Setting a goal is the easy part. You simply have to voice it, publicly or not. Then comes the hard part, putting steps into motion to help yourself achieve the goal. Identifying and completing these steps is what trips up children and adults.

In his book James Clear talks about goals and systems. He states that he learned the distinction between goals and systems from Scott Adams. “Goals are about the results you want to achieve, and systems are about the processes that lead to those results.” This shares the beliefs of the researchers mentioned above. He¬†talks about how you have to have the right systems or as I say processes in place for habits to be formed and to continuously keep meeting goals.

After the research was completed, we noticed that even when the students voiced their desire to continue setting task-oriented goals for themselves they were not able to. Goal setting did not become a habit for these students even when they saw some success with it.

In our research we did not help our students internalize the system they needed to continually achieve their goals. The system was not in place long enough for students to grasp the processes of what helping them meet their goals.  The system may have been conflicting the system their classroom teachers were putting in place. Also the habits did not have time to form, before we concluded our research. I think when too much emphasize is placed on the goal itself, students do not consciously become aware of the system or processes they went through to achieve their goals or when they do not meet it  they become discouraged instead of thinking about what adjustments need to be made. If we are not aware of the processes, then we cannot repeat them to keep the cycle going.

You may meet some goals by pure desire, but those goals are not something you continue to meet without the right system in place. When you think about winning sports organizations it is the systems, they have in place that help them have continued success, not simply setting the goals to win. The term the ‚ÄúPatriot Way‚ÄĚ was coined because of the continued winning the New England Patriots team has done over the last almost two decades. ¬†It was not used to describe their goal setting savvy ( or cheating ways), but the systems and process their players had to buy into and to describe the identity players who came to the organization adopted. The systems that most legendary coaches put into place include goals, but they will tell you success is driven by habits they instill in players and identities their players take on.¬† I feel that along with achieving mastery over the processes and building a winning system that lead to a cycle of success you have to make adjustments as you go. Winning teams and coaches know how to make with-in the game adjustments as well as out-of-game adjustments. Clear talks about this also when he addresses “bad” habits. I like to think of them as habits you need to shift and adapt to your current situation or students.

I feel we can learn and apply a lot of what Clear says to education. Keene and Clear are on the same wavelength with their thinking. Helping students form habits that set them up to engage in learning are critical.

I want my students to form the habits that lead them to be successful readers and to be successful in life.

My colleague and I were on the right track with our research into motivation. We wanted to help students form reading habits that would help them continue to set and meet reading goals focused on learning, not speed, level and quantity of reading. We knew they needed to be reading to explore the many experiences they may not get the chance to experience outside of a book until they become adults if ever. We want them to be able to learn about life through their reading. The performance-oriented goals will take care of themselves when students master the processes readers go through.

Right now my mind is absorbed with thoughts on how I can adjust my teaching to help my students form habits that set them up for engagement and sustained success by reading for meaning.¬† As a National Board Certified Teacher in Literacy I see parallels with the National Board’s Five Core Propositions and Architecture of Accomplished Teaching and forming habits, motivation, and goal setting.

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  National Board-Certified Teachers are teachers who go through the process or system above continuously, creating habits of accomplished teaching. Habits all accomplished teachers share. Anyone who has attempted to achieve National Board Certification or achieved understands that the process you go through changes you as a teacher. It build habits that over time lead to the success of your students. You have to understand and commit to the processes of accomplished teaching to achieve National Board Certification. You are asked to renew your certification every five years to make sure that the process has become a habit. At least that is the way I think we have to look at it.

We have to choose the right identity as Clear puts it. We have to view ourselves as an accomplished teacher and understand what the process of accomplished teaching looks like and set goals that fit into that process. Clear states mastery requires patients and that what seems like overnight success is a really the result of lots of hard work and building of habits that merge together to finally break through into some success.

I want to continue to improve my teaching practice and make changes to improve my life.  I will try to share some of the adjustments and habits as I work towards improving instruction.

Troy