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 Have Students Break Words?

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I am trying a new approach in the Word Study component of my guided reading lessons. Sunday Cummins shared this approach with me recently. Jan Richardson shared it with her. It comes from Michele Dufresne.  Twitter: @MicheleDufresne

It is really simple and makes great sense when you think about transitioning readers from using sound boxes into chunking words or breaking a word, a strategy you should be using with readers in stages Early – Fluent.

This strategy teaches readers to break words into meaningful parts or chunks. This is a strategy you should be prompting readers to use as you listen to them read and get stuck on a word. Breaking a word will help the reader hold onto the meaning of the word and sentence as they work through it. The alternative of asking readers to stretch it out, does not often work and it causes them to lose meaning of what they are reading. Breaking  a word should be used as part of the cross-checking strategy when students are reading.

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The old adage of sound it out is not effective when reading for meaning.

This new approach involves asking students to break words apart instead of asking them to build words during the word study component of guided reading.

When introducing this approach, you may want to tell readers where to break words at first. However you want them to be responsible for breaking the words themselves when possible. You have to know your readers and what they need. If they do not need to be told, then do not tell them. Let them figure it out.

Let readers take on as much responsibility as they can. Never start from the stand point that readers cannot do something, give them a chance and jump in when they need the support. Remember one benefit of guided reading is that the teacher is right there supporting students as they try things out. It will be more authentic for the student and they will remember it better when they do the work. Then they will transfer the skill more easily.

Example: Break chop in front of the vowel:  ch  op

Or just ask students to chunk/break the word.

If your students need to be told where to break the word I think it is important to say break the word in front the vowel. This will help reader distinguish vowels from consonants, a skill they must have when breaking apart larger, more difficult words. Recognizing different vowel combinations is very helpful.

In my 2nd grade group this week I practiced this strategy.  I wrote the word sticky on a white board and asked my students to build it and then break it out, without saying the word out loud. They came up with 3 different ideas.

                                                      st   i   ck y

                                                     stick   y

                                                    st  ick    y

All of these can be helpful to individual students. So, do not penalize readers for breaking the words differently. But make sure you ask them to explain their reasoning.  There are certain guidelines you will want to enforce, however.

Keep vowel pairs together: ea, ou,  ir

Keep digraphs together:  th,  ch,  sh

Keep blends together:  st,  sw,  sl

Keep prefixes and suffixes together

                                                    (This is not a complete list)

Look for meaningful chunks that keep common patterns(rimes) together:

CVC words like: p op,  s  at,   t ub

 

Readers in the Early stage of reading will probably need more support.

Here are a few more examples of words my students have broke apart this week.

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This student changed her break in the word to “con” “nect” when I asked her to explain reasoning for the break in the picture above. She even said at first I though it was “co” (with a long o sound) and then I thought it was “con”  I always ask student to explain why they broke the word the way they did and let them notice a better way to break it without directly telling them when at all possible.

The other students broke it like this:

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Here are the basic steps

Step 1:  Write a word on a dry-erase board. Do not say the word and tell students not to say the word. (chop)

Step 2: Have students take the letters off their trays and make the word.

Step 3: Tell students to break the word at the vowel. (ch   op)

Step 4: Have the students say each part chorally. (/ch/  /op/)

Step 5: Have the students put the word back together and read it. (chop)

Step 6: Tell the student to change a letter or two to make a new word (e.g. tell them which letters to change). For example, tell the student to “change the letter c to a letter s” so they have the letters for shop). Do not say the word and tell students not the say the word.  Students then break the word, say each part, and put the word back together as they read it.

Step 7: Write a word on the dry-erase easel with the same rime but different onset. Have students read it. (stop). If they need help underline the rime (stop).

Now when readers come to a difficult word and are trying to cross-check it, I have them try breaking it as an added strategy. When reading with this group of 2nd graders I had  to prompt them to break several words this week. They wanted to guess or try to stretch it out. A habit I am trying to break. They quickly put their finger on the word and eventually all solved their words by breaking them apart.

I like to say break the word instead of saying look for a part or word you know. Saying that can sometimes backfire on you. For example in the word: finger, recognizing the word in will not help. I am sure many of you have encountered many words where it didn’t help. You have to think about the word, text and student when making in the moment word solving decisions.

I did not have to tell any of these 2nd graders the words we chunked this week. They solved every one.

Let me know if you try this out and how it goes. Email me if you would like a copy of this complete strategy.

 

 

 

Three Phase Plan with “A Day in Space”

I love how Sunday is continually thinking and adapting her lessons plans to meet her needs and the needs of the Ss she is working with. I think it is important to remember that lesson plan forms can always be adapted to fit you and your students needs. When I taught guided reading in the classroom I was always creating and adapting my own lesson plan forms. I was always finding ways to improve them. You have to be willing to grow and learn as a teacher and make things work for your needs with guided reading. Don’t be afraid to try things out for yourself. It is good to try out using different pre-made plans before trying to create one of your own, so you know what works and what does not for you, your students, building and district.
I love how Sunday centers her lessons around reading form meaning, and making sure students really understand what they are reading beyond the surface level. She is not placing the use of a reading skill above making meaning. Love that!

sunday cummins

Here’s an example of a lesson I gave using the three-phase  learning plan that I introduced in the last blog entry. The source is an article from NASA.gov entitled “A Day in Space” (posted by NewsELA). This lesson might be used with 3rd-5th grade students or striving middle school readers. Below is a link to the filled-out plan. There’s so much of teaching that I can’t get into a “lesson plan,” though, so below is a more detailed explanation of what happened in each phase.

Three Phase Plan Day in Space

Phase One – Meet the Source

The teacher and I gave the students a hard copy of the article to read as a whole.  I started the lesson with this synopsis:

This article is about how astronauts live and work in space. One of the main ideas in this article is that astronauts do some…

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Ideas from Sunday

I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful PD session today with Sunday Cummins. I plan to blog about several of the take always I got from the session over the next few weeks. This helps me process through the information and reflect on it. Hopefully someone else will get something out of it as well.

I work in a district that has supported reading instruction exceptional well. We have implemented Reading Work shop and continue to use Guided Reading as well. We use the Fountas & Pinnel Benchmark Assessment system as one way to access reading.

http://www.fountasandpinnell.com/assessment/

The session was on working with transitional readers using a lesson plan taken from Jan Richardson’s book: The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.

Next Step

Transitional Readers are students reading at levels J-P.

When conferring with students as they read during a guided reading lesson Sunday shared that she focuses first on-

1st Monitoring/decoding

2nd Fluency

3rd Comprehension

If they showing competence in one area move to the next.

I think this makes sense because monitoring/decode and fluency both effect comprehension.

When moving to check comprehension when conferring we focus on using Fountas & Pinnell’s Systems of strategic actions:

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

Checking Understanding on:

                                        1st – Thinking Within the Text

                                        2nd – Thinking Beyond the Text (inferring)

                                        3rd – Thinking About the Text (authors craft)

 

When conferring with students who are in the writing phase of the guided reading lesson focus on-

1st– meaning 

            2nd – syntax (language structure)

            3rd – Spelling

I say address capitalization and punctuation if time as you see fit to meet the kids needs, but remember that when we ask students to write about what they read we are doing it as a way for them to show understanding of the text and to extend that understand at the Transitional stage.

When writing always make sure you provide students time to plan their writing with you and then orally rehearse it. Students who need guided reading are often readers who lack good language skills. 

Please contact me if you have any thoughts or questions!

Check out Sunday’s blog at: https://sundaycummins.wordpress.com/

 

Keep emotion in reading instruction.

WonderI went to see the movie Wonder adapted from the book by R.J. Palacio with my wife and two daughters. My daughters and I have all read the book. As a family we have had so many conversations about books that lead to discussions about life. I think reading helps us make sense of the world and understand each other better as people. This is true for fiction and nonfiction texts. We learn a lot about life of all forms and how they interact and behave.  I think reading instruction should embrace that.

Reading instruction based solely on learning skills and strategies doesn’t motivate kids to want to read, grow and learn as humans. Readers have to have certain skills in place to learn to read, but it takes thinking through a text to bring those pages to life.

As a reader, you have to efficiently solve words and read for meaning so you can focus on the what the author really wants you to understand and to figure out how you feel as a reader and react to the text as a human. We have adapted our teaching of math to make sense for students by having them apply the skills they are learning as they will have the opportunities to do as adults, as they go into the work force and lead their lives. Should we not do the same for reading instruction? Instead we are breaking reading into isolated skills.  You can learn so much about life as a reader. When we take the focus away from learning how to be a better human being as we read both fiction and nonfiction then you are taking the emotion and thus kids motivation to read.  I think students are often being bombarded with the teaching of too many strategies they do not need at the time or are not ready for. Strategies they maybe be able to acquire more independently with our prompting and questioning,  taking ownership of them, instead of over modeling and scaffolding by their teacher. I am not saying skills and strategies cannot be beneficial or needed, however they should not take away from reading for meaning and reading emotionally. You can still meet your curriculum requirements and teach kids to read for meaning with emotion.

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The statement above is one I have really reflected on.  I ask myself am I over-scaffolding my instruction and not letting students think for themselves by doing the actual thinking reading requires for them?  Am I being too quick jump in and rescue them? When it comes to grit have we become a culture where it is OK to over scaffolding and do the heavy thinking for our students so we can say we are challenging them and teaching at a high level state standards often dictate. Shouldn’t I be meeting students where they are and lead them to think through a text, maybe suggesting a strategy to try after they have exhausted their own ideas, not giving it to them before they have a chance to think it through, and learn that as readers we are always evolving our thinking and often struggle. It does not come out squeaky clean on our first attempt most of the time.  Even for us, that is a reason why we plan lessons.

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I love this statement!

I have read a few articles lately that mention classroom reading instruction has become focused too on skills and moved away from reading for meaning, which is really the only reason we read. I have seen this happen. The skill becomes more important than reading for meaning. I know that sounds a little crazy when the skills we are teaching should help students get the meaning of the text, but it happens! Students are being asked to use all of their cognitive ability on a skill and lose the meaning of the whole piece, until the teacher comes to the rescue. Some students do need this skill work, while others do not. If you are an observer first, then you can let the student show you what they need and when they need instruction. I get the pleasure to come into classrooms & confer with kids during readers workshop. I ask them about what they are reading. I ask, What just happened?  Tell me what you just read. They often cannot tell me what the text is about because they are focused on pulling out certain information, highlighting or looking for certain text features and such.  These students can do what the teacher is asking but not understand why they are doing it or what it has to do with understanding as they read. The texts are often too hard even with support because the students lack background knowledge over the subject or letter sound knowledge and word solving skills. Practicing a skill  often leads students away from true understanding of the text. Student are not reading for meaning. I remember hearing Debbie Miller say once that not all kids need guided reading. Those who do not, need to be reading independently. I agree with her 100%. So isn’t she saying that not all students need every reading skill in our curriculum explicitly taught to them and state standards broken down in isolation.

UnknownVicki Vinton talks about this and how we model how to think through a specific type of text, taking it out of the students’ hands to discover and learn on their own, even if they struggle at first. I say give this instruction to the student when they need it and will use it in books they are choosing to read. Hopefully they will develop it on their own with a little prompting on our part, but without us spoon feeding it to them by to much modeling and scaffolding.  I do not want to slow some kids down, preventing them from reading for meaning and really understanding and thus enjoying reading. Modeling and scaffolding instruction are two well researched teaching strategies that have their place and are needed. We just have to be careful about the overuse of them to meet high standards. Kids must think for themselves and struggle at it sometimes, before being rescued.

Kids enjoy reading when they understand what they read, and can relate to it on an emotional level, on a human level. I think feeling and emotion are being taken out of reading instruction in many ways. I have started asking the questions, how does that make you feel? Or How do you think the author wants you to feel right now? These often throw students for a loop causing them to slow down and really think about the text. They are simple but powerful questions that get right to understanding the main idea or ideas of a text. Feeling and emotion should be allowed to go hand in hand with thinking through a text. I think that can still be done focusing on what the author says directly and infers, without letting students get lost in text to self connections that are not meaningful. I think you can still hit the skills you need to asses, focusing on reading for meaning and the emotions you go through as a reader. Vicki Vinton talks a lot about how to do this in Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading. I want students to enjoy reading, react to it and truly understand what they read beyond the gist and apply what they learn through reading to their lives.

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