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 ().
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.
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.