What’s the difference? Skills vs Strategies?

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Timothy Shanahan wrote a blog post explaining the differences between these two often mixed terms.     Skills   vs   Strategies

Check out his blog post.

http://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/comprehension-skills-or-strategies-is-there-a-difference-and-does-it-matter#sthash.BWBhTyQ4.RvtuLH4W.dpbs

Then go back and read my post about teaching skills and strategies in isolation.

https://troyafredde.blog/2018/02/06/teaching-reading-skills-in-isolation/

I did not clarify how the two terms are different in my post, but stressed the need to make sure all skill and strategy instruction be directly linked to a text where the focus is on reading for meaning not use of a skill or strategy in itself which easily happens.

I read a comment from Shanahan’s post where a teacher said

“I found students comprehended with few strategies or skills articulated and taught in isolation. The one comprehension strategy I did teach repeatedly was the use article features such as titles, sub-titles, section titles, photo and photo captions. Acquisition of the skills used to comprehend was assessed through the content and the use of format in their completed written feature articles. ” 

This really shows shows what students are transferring into their own reading. Notice also that this teacher said the strategy she taught repeatedly is one the students used. That is not a coincidence. I would venture to say most skills are being taught in isolation with very little use of strategy instruction to support them. Some skills are useless without a strategic reason to use it. Students may know a skill but not when to use it or the thinking it requires to use it on their own. Noticing text features is a skill students need that becomes very effective when used strategically while reading for meaning.

As Shanahan points out strategy instruction is centered around the thinking a reader must do. He says,

“The basic premise of strategies is that readers need to actively think about the ideas in text if they are going to understand. And, since determining how to think about a text involves choices, strategies are tied up in meta-cognition (that is, thinking about thinking).”

I feel skills are the prerequisites that a reader must have in place to effectively apply strategies to comprehend. Shanahan talks about how comprehension instruction today has become skill based and it should be taught more as a strategic process. I whole heartedly agree. When taught as a skill which is implied to be something that becomes automatic without much thought, or only about recognition. Comprehension requires more than simple recognition of a metaphor or a text structure. Comprehension of a text requires you to get down and dirty and think. It is a process, more than a skill. It is an invisible process and not black and white. It is not easy and is harder to assess than a skill. As Shanahan implies it has been approached more like a skill to fit into standards that we so want to be able to easily assess.  It is certainly not done that way for the student. Comprehension instruction taught strategically with meaning in mind not isolated skills makes good sense.

That being said skills are more easily modeled than strategies. Strategies require students to do the thinking. If teachers only model strategies doing the thinking for students and limit their practice to using certain books where most of the thinking has already been done for students then transfer of the strategy will never happen. For that to happen students must be taught the language they must use to verbalize their thinking. Teachers must notice and name specifically what students are doing as readers in the act of reading, not rely solely on modeling and provide them opportunities to practice different strategies as they arise in their own texts.

Thank you Timothy for your post, it helped me reflect on my own post with more depth, meaning and understanding. I hope others do as well!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use of Technology In guided reading Part 2

Another way to use technology within a guided reading lesson is by sharing multiple sources on a topic with students. I have been incorporating short video’s that connect to the topic of the text, to enhance meaning. It does not have to be videos however. It can be short one-page pdf documents that show different graphics, charts or other information related to your topic. Any type of infographic or short video clip can work if it enhances student meaning. Make the source has a purpose that students can either talk about through turn & talks, take notes on or write about. If it is a video you can break it up into short chunks like you do a printed text.

Also remember the study I shared in the last post. Reading one page digitally does not seem to take away from comprehension but reading more than a page does.

Sunday Cummins shared a lesson plan format on her blog recently that can be used to incorporate multiple sources into a guided reading lesson. I have found it very helpful. Check it out.
Sunday: Three Phase Plan with “A Day in Space”

I think that you can include multiple sources of information with fiction texts as well as NF texts. You can find short pieces of NF texts or videos that relate to a fiction book you are reading. Pairing fiction and NF texts has been proven to be beneficial. It works really well pairing NF pieces with historical fiction and realistic fiction, but I think it can easily work with Science fiction as well.

I just got Sunday’s new book: Nurturing Informed Thinking in the mail yesterday. I think it will be a great resource for me on using different sources of information to enhance comprehension. Digital sources and other print sources. I can’t wait to dig into it!

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Here is a link to a blog post where she talks about it. Heinemann blog

Let me know your thoughts!

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!

Teaching Reading Skills in Isolation

Have you ever had this problem?

You are working on metaphors and similes, and have just taught a focus lesson on them. You release students after your lesson to go back and practice noticing them in a piece of text. When you meet with a few students you realize they are just skimming the text for the words “like” or “as”.

They end up marking several places where the author used the words like or as, but not in the context of a smilie. You may be thinking, ugh! What have I done? This is the way I was encouraged to teach this lesson.

Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 9.50.41 PM

Here are a few suggestions to stop this from happening.

Keep the focus of the lesson on reading for meaning. Make the importance of recognizing similes and metaphor seem like a tool that can help you continue to read for meaning.

Focus on why the author chose to use one. Make the focus of your teaching show how the author is comparing two things, places, or characters. Lead your discussion focusing on why the author chose to do this. Ask what might the author be suggesting here? What does the writer want me to think or feel here?  What does the author want me to understand here? Metaphors and similes help us  gain a deeper understand of a person, place or thing. That is why they are important to recognize. Don’t make the focus be on “like” or “as.”

Introduce metaphors & similes in an authentic way. Keep the focus on reading for meaning. You can still do a read-aloud and model how, noticing metaphors or similes can help you understand what the author is saying better. When you model, model the thinking process a reader goes through trying to understand what the author is saying in the comparison. You might say something along the lines of , “This seems strange. What does the author mean here? I don’t think these normally go together.” Or “when the author compares a character, place or thing, or idea with something else, this is a clue for me to slow down and figure out what the author wants me to understand. The author chose to make this comparison for a reason. What could that reason be? You might wait to name the comparisons as a metaphors or simile. You might ask them to keep an I out for comparisons in their reading today, and to be willing to share any examples they notice.

Keep pushing the idea that comparisons help us understand the authors meaning better. Ask them to keep a list of comparisons they find, snap phots of them or something. After students have found some comparisons then you can dig down and talk about if they notice any similarities or differences within them. They may notice more than you think. When they notice details on their own they will probably remember it better then you spoon feeding it to them. If they are not noticing them on their own, notice them in your read-aloud and make your own list over several days. Notice them in the students books and and snap a photo of it to add to the list. Once you get a handful on the list start looking at them closer and let the students discover what they can as you lead. You could have them annotate a simile or metaphor by using and arrow and asking them to share what it means in their own words.

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Students really should not be reading for the purpose to identify metaphors and similes.  The purpose for reading should always be to read for meaning.  The reading skills we teach should be tools that help us understand our reading deeper. They cannot take away from meaning and become the focus. When they do kids end up doing reading tasks, not authentic reading like the example at the top of this post.

Teaching skills are important. The skills we are asked to teach & assess, from our district and state standards give students another tool to use, to read for meaning.  We have to assess those skill and they have their place. Just do not teach them in isolation and lead students away from reading for meaning in the process. Notice and name skills as students attempt to use them authentically in their reading, or model for them the thinking needed to use them in their books of choice, along with your read-aloud books. They will show up in the books kids are choosing to read. If they are not showing up quickly enough you can bring your own texts, and notice and name them when they do pop up. Do not rely only on the texts you bring and have read aloud or modeled from however. You have done most of the thinking for students in those books and they will never transfer the skill across texts when the only practice they have is from using books brought to them, or read aloud to them. They need chances to authentically use the skills we teach in books they want to read and are reading independently as we confer with them. When we notice and name the skills they are using, that is powerful! We are acknowledging they are doing what readers do.