Diagramming Difficult Concepts

Have you noticed that some readers can give you a routine synopsis of a text they have read, but not be able to explain many details with any depth? Students might confuse a concept or idea the writer presents which keeps them from understanding key themes or layered ideas. They may still struggle understanding some concepts and details even after rereading. What can you do about this?

When rereading a section of text, give students a specific question to read to answer or a definitive type of information to search for that will requiring them to put information together to reveal an inferred or suggested idea.

Another strategy that may be combined with the previous one or stand alone is to read several texts over the same topic. Students should build up a deeper understanding of the topic and start to understand information that may have been confusing to them at first. This has been called creating reading ladders among other names. Students can code the texts with a pencil or mentally  noticing information they already know versus new information.

 

+ = new information

*= I already knew this

When reading a second or third text on a topic or concept, it is important to help students notice that writers often share the same information as other authors but add more details to it. Students may end up coding a sentence with both a + and a *  when a writer broadens a readers understanding in this way. When students read multiple texts about a topic, they should be able to read increasingly more difficult texts because they are becoming familiar with content specific words and gaining background knowledge. Therefore writers will give more in-depth information that should build a students expertise. Students are reading up the ladder in two ways. If you are not increasing the difficulty of text then students will mostly likely not gain much new information they can add to their schema.

Readers need to notice when writers add on to their understanding of a topic or concept as they read more about it. They need to train their brain to notice and note differences which may include contrasting information and more in-depth information so they can add it into their schema.  If we do not instill in our students a mindset to read to gain knowledge and figure things out about life, they often do not do this. Striving readers often do not have this mindset. Students may have this mindset in other areas of their life but not for reading. This mindset has to be modeled and noticed and named in students’ own books as they do it.

Another way to help students understand more difficult or abstract concepts is to have them draw a diagram of the elusive concept or idea you noticed comprehension breaking down with. This is something that can be done in conjunction with the other strategies I have talked about.

This is something that does not work with every book, but can be helpful when the idea lends itself to being drawn. Start with a discussion. Notice and note key words and add in any of the strategies I have already mentioned. Then you can have students draw a diagram representing their understanding. I did this with a group a striving 2nd grade readers.  They were reading the level J book All About Bats by Donna Latham

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Students were understanding the basic information about bats the writer shared. Information like bats being nocturnal and mammals or an animal that roosts. Some of this information they could have already acquired from other sources. When it came to the concept of how bats use echolocation to find food, students understanding broke down. To help with this I shared a video, which showed an animated diagram of echolocation taking place. When you read across a topic, it can include videos, podcasts and stand-alone diagrams or infographics.

Then we went back into the text and reread the section on echolocation and looked closely at the diagram the writer included in the text. The video added a layer of depth to the students understanding, so when rereading that section students were able to turn and talk to each other and explain echolocation with me helping them pull out some key words to use.

Students then drew their own diagrams and explained them to each other. I then had students write a description next to their diagram.  This really help them understand how echolocation works.

 

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     I did not focus on spelling with this part of the lesson. My focus was for students to write show their understanding of echolocation. They were able to verbally talk about their understanding more accurately then writing about it. My lesson objective was for students to use details from the texts to verbalize and write about how bats use echolocation. This group of students was able to understand echolocation with more depth than other previous groups.  I aways change one or more aspects of a lesson to make it meet the current groups needs and to improve upon it from previous teachings after careful reflection. I write a new lesson plan each time I teach a book no matter how many times I have taught it. I use the notes I took on the previous one as my guide.

 

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The bat sends a high sound and the sound bounces back to the bat and the bat eats the insect.

As you can see this student mixed up the words bat and insect, but was able to verbally explain echolocation correctly. This was first draft writing. I can build off of the strengths in his reading and writing.

You can even pull out certain sections of other texts that include the concept you want to focus in on with students. Students do not need to read entire texts when you know where and with what concept their meaning was breaking down.  As teachers we need to make those instructional decisions of where to focus student thinking. Sunday Cummins inspired me to dig into this type of work through her book : Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content Area Sources.nurture

Troy

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

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

Does this situation sound familiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a look at Lucy Calkins explaining Reader’s Workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questions To consider when having a Reading Conference

Confer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me know your thoughts!