The Larger Purpose

I was recently listening to the audiobook Dare to Lead by Brene Browm while on the treadmill. My mind was instantly thinking about how what she says about leadership can be directly applied within the classroom with kids and specifically with regards to teaching reading. 

She makes a statement that we all know makes sense and rings true most of the time, but do not necessarily take to heart. Projecting an all-knowing attitude and presence, crushes curiosity and questions. I chose to use the word projecting because we can intentionally project outward how we want others to see us. We cannot set up an overly dominating presence that says we are all-knowing keepers of knowledge. Those days are over. Google is all-knowing more than we are. 

Consider this scenario. A student might be reading about climate change and coral reefs. They might have an understanding that coral is a plant. If they are reading with preset an all-knowing attitude, then they will miss it when the writer states otherwise. Then as the writer proceeds to go deeper and paint a clearer picture for the reader based on the understanding and believes of their initial statements, the student will struggle to follow along. The student will not grasp the knowledge of how coral and algae depend on one another and how warmer temperatures are affecting the algae. The student will be confused and question why three sentences about trees being cut down in forests were plopped into a book about coral reefs. The student chose the book because it was about coral reefs. They often find themselves at odds with the writer, but do not understand why. The student will not understand the writer’s underlying themes surrounds climate change and how what happens on land affects the sea. They project an I already know this attitude and do not read with a curious mind. Hopefully, we are not leading with an all-knowing mindset ourselves. We have to change this.

When readers are task-focused and locked in on projecting an all-knowing attitude or presence because they believe that is what they are supposed to do, they miss most what the writers want them to understand. We need curiosity and the serendipity it brings in our classrooms. We need it for ourselves and our students. We do not need to be teaching for compliance and control over our students.

All-knowing attitudes and teachers who project themselves as the all-knowing force in the classroom tend to reduce reading to tasks. We try to be accommodating, and meet students where they are, or with what we feel they can handle, by breaking reading down into small chunks of instruction or task. This can become an act that generates compliance without clarity or vision of the larger purpose of reading. It reduced reading into isolated chunks of several jobs and a list of to do’s. 

We read to gain knowledge, to fulfill our curiosity, and to learn more about ourselves through the lives and experiences of others. Reading helps fill in the gaps of the larger world, that kids can’t experience at home or in their neighborhoods. It fills our hearts and minds. When reading is reduced to tasks to complete, then these elements of the reading process are never broached. The larger purpose of reading is lost. A lot of the assessments given these days feed into this reading task-oriented philosophy that has mistakenly become the dominant focus of reading instruction. As I have stated in past blogs, we do not read to practice strategies. We read to understand and use strategies to help us do that. We cannot forget to teach these larger purposes behind reading and the more extensive thought processes readers must synthesize through. 

To use a term that Brene Brown uses, we have to “paint” the full picture of reading. Reading is not a series of isolation tasks; it requires curiosity of the heart and mind; it requires an openness to learn, and engage. As readers, we must ask questions and challenge our thinking. It is not something that is a passive experience. It is an active process involving our hearts, minds, and intuition, our whole selves. You can complete the tasks of reading as some teach them, but not understand what you read or be able to read with real fluency. Fluent reading and comprehension take knowledge of semantics, the topic you are reading, life, and of the flow of the English language. The way reading is often taught today is often scripted and boring, without emotion and clarity of a larger purpose. Our students are not motivated to read. 

Check out this past blog I wrote on this subject. https://troyafredde.blog/2017/11/27/keep-emotion-in-reading-instruction/

Also this one:https://troyafredde.blog/2019/08/25/thoughts-on-readers-as-thinkers-and-strategy-instruction-part-1/

Troy

Thoughts on readers as thinkers and strategy instruction. Part 2: The Importance of Engagement

Reading instruction has become very compartmentalized. We teach our focus lesson, and ask kids to read specific books to practice what was modeled during the focus lesson. We teach phonics at a separate time. Because of state testing, reading skills and strategies have been isolated out to make it easier to grade students on mastery of said skills or strategies, and so test questions can be precisely placed into easily manageable categories when looking at data. This has made it easier to grade and easier to assess, but at what price to our students. At what price for their engagement and motivation to read? Students are often less engaged in reading more than ever in classrooms where reading meaning is placed behind skills and strategy instruction based on state and district standards. We are not teaching students to read naturally.

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Compliance vs engagement

Student engagement during reading is always a struggle for some students. When we put the focus of reading instruction around strategies and skills, readers use, and ask students to practice those skills and strategies by completing a task, then we loose the engagement of even more readers. “Today we are reading to find characters traits.” “Today we are reading to figure out what text structure the writer used.”

That is not authentic reading. That is not the type of reading our students will be asked to complete at the College and University level. This is not how we read as adults. So why are we asking our students to read this way?

Please see my other posts for more on this reading for meaning vs skills and strategy use.

When you are engaged in something, you often loose track of time, you are in a state of deep focus. You are often engrossed in searching for something, wanting to know more. You are overcome by a desire to know more. They want to learn more about a topic or find out more about a character and their life. Then they can often apply what they read about to their own lives. When in a state of engagement it would be detrimental to a student’s learning to  ask them, to stop and complete a task so you have something too grade, as evidence of student learning of a particular skill or strategy.

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We read to learn more about the world and to take on new perspectives that are different from our own. Or to strengthen a perspective we already have. This requires us to read with some emotion. Teaching reading by leading first with skills and strategies takes out the emotion.  It does not lend itself to engagement, it lends itself to task completion through compliance.

We have gotten too caught up in some of the process of reading, without paralleling it with students desire to know more and for read for meaning. Reading processes runs in the background of our minds as we focus on text meaning. Yet we ask students to read focusing on skill and strategy practice. When we ask them to do this without switching or paralleling the focus to meaning, kids will think this is how we read. This is not how we read.

Reading instruction focused on strategy and skill isolation has made it easier for teachers too grade and for data collection, but at a cost. I do understand what classroom teachers are asked to do, but a shift is possible. When we get students to engage with texts, then we can ask them to go back into the text and pick it apart like a state assessment might ask them to do. This should not happen before they are reading it authentically and engaged with the text however.

Therefore, I think we need to show our kids what engagement is and feels like. Until you experience it, you really do not understand it. They have all experienced it. We have to help them bring that type of engagement into reading.  We need to teach this in conjunction with reading for meaning.  We need to be teaching kids that they can chose to engage in reading and re-engage in reading when they lose it. They will loose engagement. And some of the time they will have to make an effort to get it back, while other times their desire to know more will drive them. Below you see Ellin Keene’s Four Pillars of Engagement. We have to strive for these. We have to model and help kids experience these as they read.

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Keene, E. (2018). Engaging children: igniting a drive for deeper learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Once they have engaged or attempt to engage with a text then we can bring in strategies to help students deepen their understand of the text.

I do not lead with strategies first in my guided reading  lessons. I lead with emotion and text understanding. I give students a guiding question or questions to think about as they read.  A question based on text meaning. I did the same with my focus lessons in the classroom. Then I bring in a strategy or strategies on the second reading of a text. The strategy is used to help students build up their understanding, not take away from it. The focus remains text understanding and reading to figure out our questions and wonderings. I ask students to use the strategy to help them find answers to their questions and or the guiding question I started the lesson with. We build layers of meaning as we read and reread to clarify and figure out what text details mean. When we think about types of details and the organization of a text, we do so with in conjunction with making meaning. As we think about a texts structure, or details it adds to our understanding of the text, which is our ultimate goal. A student does not have to always accurately identify every text structure or type of detail to understand the text. For some kids, making them do this drive a wedge into their understanding. They may misidentify something, but this does not mean they do not understand the text. We cannot get too caught up with some of these state and district level standards and forget about making meaning. If not taught in more authentic ways it causes friction and separation. Some readers never get a chance to bring it together again.

The shift of leading with meaning is possible, even with Focus lessons. Even within phonics lessons.

Once students have read for meaning and used a strategy to deepen that meaning and have really engaged with the text then you could ask them to attempt some questions that might be on a state or district assessment . I might say, “If you had read this text on a test and were asked this question…….how would you respond?

Students have to read with the same willingness to jump into a text to discover what the authors wants them to understand about life or a topic on an assessment as they do in a guided reading group. Read first for meaning, and open yourself up to engage with the text and reengage.  I believe the need for this shift is slowly being recognized by higher level administrators. They are seeing less student engaged in reading. Students are being more disruptive, or just compliant. Less students are making a years worth of growth in reading, which is often a standard measure that is looked at for reading instruction.

Breaking down and further isolating the reading process will not help. Reading for meaning and using the students natural desire to learn more on a topic or about life will. We connect with texts because we become emotionally involved with them, not because we can answer a question over what structure the text is or some other skill. Once a student is invested in a text them we can jump into use of skills and strategies.

When meaning comes first, students read to find answers and to add on to what they know or think they know. Then they can apply the skills and strategies authentically as they are reading, where they will find true use of them, not as an added on task to complete. We can notice, name what we see the student doing. We can model and name for them what readers often do when faced with a problem the text has caused for them.  We note for ourselves what they are doing as readers, what skills and strategies they used without prompting and which ones we had to prompt for or model.

Some questions we need to ask ourselves about engagement are. Some of these questions come from Ellin Keene and her book: Engaging Children

Are we OK with compliance?

How can educators facilitate engagement for all rather than accepting that some kids just seem more engaged than others?

Is it up to us to keep up a song and dance to sustain kids’ attention all day?

How can we serve as models of intellectual and emotional engagement?

How do we help a child engage when he or she is taciturn and resistant?

How might we turn over responsibility for engagement to students? Can they choose to engage?

How do we help children engage and reengage without the use of external reinforcements?

How do we show trust in students to find their own way into engagement?

How do we integrate modeling and discussion about engagement with students and colleagues into our already packed days of teaching and learning?

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

Culturally Responsive Teaching

On this Mother’s Day as I reflect on the mothers that have helped shape me and helped form the culture that I call my own I am thankful. As I look back upon my childhood, I see how strong, and loving my mom truly was. Where my dad fell short she was there at least trying to fill that void.

I am also reflecting on how the culture I grew up in shaped me. The rural community I grew up it had a culture much different from metropolitan areas. Different from the small community down the road, Nicodemus, Kansas.  This was a community of black people in the middle of white, midwestern America. The story of Nicodemus is very interesting if you want to pursue it history. Different cultures have always been a part of America before the white mans culture dominated.

The culture we grow up in shapes us as they shaped our parents. Our culture silently influences us as much as it does more outwardly.  The culture reflected on TV growing up closely mirrored the one that surrounded me. The books in my towns library and my schools libraries mostly reflected me or people who shared a very similar culture as my own. That was not the case for other children. And is still not the case for many children today. I took for granted that children everywhere saw reflections of themselves in the books they were reading and was ignorant about what was being broadcast on TV.

Through social media and the shrinking of our world because of the internet and immigration from all corners of the world, kids are aware of more diversity then I ever was growing up. With this comes a great responsibility. Ignorance cannot be accepted so easily anymore.

As a teacher in one of the most diverse elementary schools in the state of Missouri I can not afford to be ignorant. I am reading a book called Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond.

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Take this quote from her book and reflect upon it.

“As I said earlier, culturally responsive teaching isn’t a set of engagement strategies you use on students. Instead, think of it as a mindset, a way of looking at the world. To often, we focus on doing something to culturally and linguistically diverse students without changing ourselves, especially when our students are dependent learners who are not able to access their full academic potential on their own.

The true power of culturally responsive teaching comes from being comfortable in your own skin because you are not a neutral party in the process. You can never take yourself out of the equation. Instead, you must commit to the journey. This means we each must do the “inside-out” work required: developing the right mindset, engaging in self-reflection, checking our implicit biases, practicing social-emotional   awareness, and holding an inquiry stance regarding the impact of our interactions with students. “

We have to be aware of our own culture and own it, biases and all Hammond’s says, before we truly understand another how another persons diverges. The culture I was immersed in as a child was not an evil one, but it was not the only one as it was often portrayed to be or the most important or superior as it still is portrayed to be by some. We just can’t do culturally responsive teaching to students. Just like we can’t constantly ask students to do reading tasks and not do any real reading.

As I stated earlier I lived a short drive away from Nicodemus, Kansas. A town that had a very difficult culture from my own. I found out about its history on my local PBS station. I did not grow up with cable or satellite TV. We have many cultures within our country as I do within my school.  I have to do more than just acknowledge them by briefly talking about some of their holidays or traditional foods. I have to know my own culture and its biases so I can curb them as I observe, interpret and evaluate my students behaviors with me and each other.

Being aware and owning your own culture does not mean forcing it on others. Acknowledging your own culture can help you identify differences it has from others.  We have to teach ourselves observe and describe culturally and linguistically diverse students behaviors before we react to them, keeping in mind how they separate from our own. Not react first.

At the same time she acknowledges that we cannot let cultural differences stop children from becoming aware and adapting their behaviors to fit different situations they encounter at school and will in public for the rest of their lives.  We can still hold them accountable while helping them be true to their culture, by not reacting first.  I have only just began this book and can’t wait to get deep into it.

I am very inspired by what a young lady by the name of Marley Dias has done. I belief she is now only 14 years old. She stated the  #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign. Check out this video of her talking about why.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6H_PoqzX8q8&feature=youtu.be

She has made it her mission to find books she can see herself in by authors that are black and often women. We need to find more books from authors writing about their own cultures , not someone of one culture writing their interpretation of another culture. This is being referred to #OwnVoice stories. Check it out: https://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2019/05/07/ilachat-why-students-need-ownvoices-stories

I am making it my mission to provide my students access to books they can see themselves in.  As I am reading more #OwnVoice stories, I am experiencing and understanding more and more about my students lives. I owe this to my students and my school.

Here is another resource: https://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog%2fliteracy-daily%2f2019%2f05%2f09%2fownvoices-resources

Troy

Engagement and Assessment

I am teaching a book study for my district using Ellin Keene’s book Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning K-8.

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One of the class activities was to participate in a Twitter chat. My district holds weekly Twitter chats over the school year. I wanted my class to chat about what they had been learning about engagement from Ellin’s book and how their thinking had changed about engagement or had not. A theme of assessment had already been chosen for the twitter chat of the month in question, but I was able to come up with some questions relating engagement and assessment together.

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I want to thank @EllinKeene for jumping in on a few questions.

As I reflect back on the chat and what I have learned from the book myself and my peers taking the class, I have come to a several conclusions. First engagement is something you have to be talking about from the beginning of the year. Secondly, I think you have to ask students to draw on their personal experiences outside of school when first talking about engagement. Once you have established what engagement is and feels like together you can ask students to notice and think about activities they have been engaged in at school.

Then you can discuss times when you have been engaged and lost that engagement, or times when you do not feel the desire to engage in an activity but do so anyway, and end up absorbed in it wanting more. I think acknowledging these feelings happen to all of us is important. Then you can discuss how to reengage yourself into an activity, or how to choose to open yourself up to the possibility of engagement eventually occurring. Now this will obviously look different at different age levels.

You can then talk about choosing to be open to engaging in specific times when you have noticed students’ engagement lagging. Assessment could be one of those times.

     I know when students become aware of something, like engagement, they will be more willing to hold themselves accountable. When students become aware of something then they can start to assess themselves and think metacognitively about it. 

     I think you could create a self-assessment where students keep track of their own engagement all year long. Then they can visualize and verbalize goals and strategies that may help them engage in the areas where engagement has consistently been  weak. This is a tool that will look different at each grade level and possibly year to year within your own classroom.

Then, when it comes to engagement during district and state assessments towards the end of the year, you have evidence to fall back on and will have, already had conversations about engagement. This should help students recognize when they start to get restless and their mind wonders. They should be able to bring it back because of that awareness, with a little redirection.

I think another key ingredient for engagement during testing is for students to establish themselves as flexible thinkers. This can be done through modeling and talking about experiences. Being flexible is a mindset. Once they are flexible with their thinking students focus on being problem solvers. Students have to have a desire to figure things out and understand that they will be required to solve problems and look at tasks with an open mind. This needs to be established as an everyday expectation. In our classroom you will be challenged daily and often. You will have to be open to changing your thinking as you learn. And let them know you will be there to help them as they go and that you will be learning together. Let students know that in this classroom we will struggle sometimes and that we will pick ourselves back up and figure it out.  Students must aspire to figure tasks out and have a mindset to not give up as they wrangle with it.

Engagement will come and go for our students, so we have to give them the language and tools to notice and chose to engage or reengage when they sense they are losing focus. I think it should be an ongoing and adaptive conversation of modeling and discussion all year long. You need to center discusses around those intrinsic feelings that engaged people feel while immersed in an activity, not the extrinsic rewards they may get after the activity. I want students aware of what it feels like being in the action of deep thinking and engagement.  The have to know and be able to verbalize what learning feels while engaged. The know what it feels like when they are not!

These are a few quick thoughts on engagement and assessment. Hope you can find them useful. I would love some feedback! Troy

Engagement and Understanding text beginnings.

I have a group of 5th grade readers who often struggle to fully engage in reading. It is often a choice they are making because they feel like the text may be to hard or they may not like the content or may be districted by any number of reasons. I  know this group of readers has a hard time recognizing information that is important at the beginnings of texts. To help overcome these struggles I have started to read the first 1-2 pages of a text to them as they follow along. I select a stopping point that should leave them with lots to think about. I read enough to peak the students’ interest with the text. I want them to get their feet wet with the topic or story line. I want them eager to know more about the characters or topic. If I pick the right spot, they will feel a need to read on, to find out what happens or what the writer might inform them of next. I do not want students thinking impeded by language structure, vocabulary or word solving at that time. We will tackle those as they arise when I confer with them individually as they read. With this group of students comprehension is where they struggle more. Before they can dig into the type of thinking required with in the graphic below, they have to understand the basic information and recognize what information they do not have or do not understand.

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            I believe it is my job the help entice kids into texts they may have never chosen to read on their own. I believe we can get kids to choose to engage in a text they may not want to at first and to expose them to many different types of texts they may not pick up on their own.

Kids choose to engage and re-engage in activities all day long. I have seen multitudes of students over the years not want to engage in a text for various reasons and then choose to engage with the text after hearing another student read a section they struggled with or overheard a conversation between two students or a student and the teacher. There have been times when I have not wanted to give a text a try and regretted it later.  I have started texts and not finished them, regretting the choice it when I hear about information I missed out on thinking through and discovering for myself. Or I missed a great story that I realize now I would have enjoyed and maybe learned something about human behavior from.

For this group of 5th graders who are already reluctant to come with me for reading support because they are fully aware of their struggles, this approach has worked. My text choice is intentional as much as the stopping point is. I make sure to choose a text that will help my mumble reader want to figure the words so he can find out what happens.

I know that in guided reading students are asked to do all of the reading. I also know that guided reading is designed to meet readers where they are, to meet their needs and to still be able to adherer to the curriculum.  If I am teaching the reader and know these readers struggle with engagement and with understanding the basics of texts at the beginning, then I will adapt my instruction to meet those needs.

I can also have real conversations with them about my own regrets with texts I didn’t start or finish. I can model how to slow down at the beginning of texts. How to attack a text from the beginning and read with the intent of figuring out what the writer might be wanting me to feel and think about the topic or characters. What pieces of information has the writer given me in the first few pages that I may have not given enough thought to, or skipped over because it was an unfamiliar word or phrase? I have to make sure my students understand that information given at the beginning of texts may seem boring or unimportant, but it should not be considered so. They need to understand writers use beginnings to set readers up to understand the rest of the text. There is often information that seems insignificant at first that we know may become important to understand later. We know this as experienced readers, I need to show my students this who may be very inexperienced readers.

So, I believe there is a time and place where it is Ok to read part of a text aloud to students in guided reading groups. I do so with a pre-planned purpose however. It is often a muti-layered purpose like I have been describing.  I want to make clear that I am not doing any thinking for them, or telling anything. I suppose I am providing a scaffold for them, but not a scaffold that is taking away the thinking work of reading for meaning.

I will share some of what I feel are the best strategies to help kids who struggle with text beginnings and the basic information the writer shares in some of my next posts. I will also share what I do next with this group of students to make sure they are doing the thinking work after I have read aloud.

We are your thoughts and experiences?

 

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