Types of Details

Sunday

I have recently started having my 4th and 5th grade reading students think about the types of details they are reading in Non-fiction texts. We have done a lot with coding a text and taking notes, but have not tackled what the types of details are within texts.

Sunday Cummins introduced this idea in a new way in her book Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content-Area Sources. I have also had conversations with her about this in some PD sessions of hers I have been in.

Types of text details may include: 

identify

description

function

location

historical connection

comparison

real-life example

quotes

opinions

humor

You can probably find a few more types, but this list works with most texts.

I have to admit, I was hesitant to try this at first. I think it might have been that, this is something that can lead readers right into identifying a texts structure. There are some similarities between types of details and a texts structure. Over emphasizing the need to find a texts structure is something that I have grown to have a problem with. Many states and districts have chosen to address this within their state and local assessments. They have made the idea of identifying a texts structure something more important than it is, all in the name of addressing standards. When thinking about text structure I feel it should be used to help readers deepen their understanding of the texts meaning. It should not become a huge focus of itself, with lots of test questions requiring a reader to label a texts structure correctly. The end goal should not be that our readers have to identify a texts structure correctly, every time they read. We should not be assessing a readers ability level by identifying a texts structure correctly.

It is the thinking a reader does while considering a texts structure, that is the key. Much like the thinking a reader does when previewing a text. Yes, it is helpful to consider a texts structure when trying top open your mind and prepare for what you are reading or are about to read, but you can understand a text without identifying its structure. When we try to turn the thinking processes of reading into concrete testable items, reading is turned into something it is not, and it becomes something not very engaging.

Anyway, I really had to make myself open up to the idea of noticing the types of details as being helpful. I am so glad I did, however. I think the fact that I was doing some planning and teaching some lessons with Sunday, helped motivate me.

As I introduced students to noticing the types of details a writer uses, I did so focusing on making meaning and text understanding, not as a separate task. I often asked students to consider “what information, opinion, or idea the writer is trying to open our minds to in a particular sentence?” Considering types of details and a texts structure must always be linked back to making meaning and text understanding, not become a separate task readers supposedly do as they read. It is the act of slowing down enough as a reader to consider what a writer wants from the reader that is important. 

Text Details

Cummins, S. (2018). Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content-Area Sources. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann.

My students started noticing and considering locations more often after I introduced this idea to them. Often times locations are very important to a texts understanding. Students have many ideas and have be exposed to information about many locations across the world they could be and should be making connections to and thus inferences about. They started noticing when the writer was describing something as fact or opinion more consistently. They began slowing down to consider a historical connection they had heard. I taught them to layer this with the the information the author just told them. This helps them add a depth to their understanding. Students were understanding more and engaging more with the texts after I introduced the idea of types of details to them.  They naturally started discussing the structure of the text, or structures I should say. A text is often written in multiple structures, depending on what the writer is trying to say or share. I then asked them to consider what the texts structure might be, like they are asked to do on an assessment. We completed the meaning work first.

By the way you can fairly accurately figure out a texts structure by looking at headings and the layout of a text or other text features, while skimming it. I have seen students asked to find a texts structure in this way before. While doing this however they are not considering what the writer wants them to understand, they are not adding depth to their thinking and building upon what they know. Students usually miss the real meaning of the text when doing this, but often get the structure question right on a assessment.

I could see falling into the same trap with types of text details. Keep the focus of reading instruction, on meaning.  When students are engaged in the meaning of the text and not initially reading to find an answer for a text question they understand more.

In her book Sunday goes on to discuss how comparing details between 2-3 texts over the same topic is very useful.

Check out Sunday’s Blog. Link is on the right side of this page.

What are your thoughts?  Keep Reflecting! 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?

Thoughts on readers as thinkers and strategy instruction. Part 1

Take a look at this quote:

“Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.”

 

This quote brought me back to my reflecting on transfer and strategy instruction.  I am considering what I have learned from Sunday Cumins, Vicki Vinton and  Dorthy Barnhouse and reflecting on the works they have written. I am currently putting many of their ideas into practice with my students.

nurture         Unknown    What Readers Really Do

 

I believe like Barnhouse and Vinton say in their book “What Readers Really Do” reading happens within three modes or processes and those modes are recursive. Students flip back and forth continuously between these three modes.

Comprehension – – Understanding – – Evaluation 

We use different strategies while we read within these modes. Readers are constantly engaged in the process of drafting an understanding and revising it as they read.

Comprehension  is done line-by-line and paragraph-by-praragraph, page-by-page as readers try to comprehend the text literally and inferentially.  Readers consider and assign meaning  to the line-by-line details they. This is comprehending at the basic level. Next readers piece together those literal and inferential  ideas into interpretations of the text (Barnhouse/Vinton).  Reader assign more value to some details  without completely disregarding others.   Or they should. Striving readers often dismiss what they find confusing or initially understand. They do not carry details with them to consider as they read on.  This is often a missed component of the basic level of comprehension.

As readers connect details they make interpretations  that lead to some understandings about a text on a whole level or on multi-layered levels. You are building upon those literal and inferential thoughts and are considering and interpreting what the writer might be saying about a topic or life, which can lead to understanding an emerging theme or overarching idea. This is your first-draft understanding (Barnhouse/Vinton). Then you evaluate this understanding you have pieced together and re-examine the text on the page and in your mind. This re-examining of parts of the text is crucial to building a rough draft understanding. This is where you might go back into a text to reconsider some of your thinking, look closer at confusing parts, or simply try to understand what the writer might want readers to take away from a text. This close re-reading of different parts of a text are critical.  This is where you may reconsider those confusing details, you hopefully carried with you. You  weigh your interpretation and consider their worth. This is a recursive process through the whole text.

Sunday Cummins talks about reading a text closely in her book “Nurturing  Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content-Area-Sources.” Vinton discusses reading closely instead of reading a text multiple times through different lenes. Reading closely requires readers to hold on to the confusing details, and the details that confront what they believe and consider them across a text. This is something we have to get better at in schools. When students do not notice and note inconsistencies, misunderstandings and confusing details as they read on, they never reach the understanding and evaluations stages with the depth they need.  We have to be wiling to hold onto what we do not understand as readers because we never know when a writer will expect us to refer back to them.

Teachers often expect students to quickly comprehend what they are reading and move them along, to make interpretations and build understandings, without doing the basic comprehension work. This is the invisible thinking of considering the text details and what they might mean literally and inferentially line by line before the considering whole text and its theme or the writers overall point on a topic.  I think we are trying to move students through the modes of comprehension and understanding much too quickly.

When most teachers model, they are modeling a strategy in isolation, and it ends up being more of a task added to the reading process.  Teachers are often asked to design a lesson that makes a strategy the teaching point, without considering the thinking and understanding a reader has to consider before using of the strategy. We often meet readers with the thinking we want them to achieve at the end, skipping over the thinking work that is not as easy to evaluate and grade.

I think that a teaching point can be more about the thinking readers do or something that readers speculate about as the they consider what the writer might want them to feel or think. It can be helping readers create the mindset they need to do this thinking work. A teaching point can help move readers between the modes of comprehension, understanding and evaluation.  Consider using a strategy as a tool to help readers meet the teaching point, not the teaching point itself. In her book Dynamic Teaching For Deeper Reading, Vinton, describes this as a teaching point in one lesson: “Sometimes writers don’t come right out and tell us exactly what’s happening, so readers need to be aware of what they don’t know and then try to figure out what hasn’t been said by paying close attention to the details the writer gives them.”   This is not what I see as a typical teaching point. It does not put a typical strategy front and center.  Vinton brings readers attention to the behind the scenes thinking a reader has to accomplish. This is what I feel is missing in reading instruction. When we try to make the abstract, concrete we often end up making the strategy something readers do outside of meaning making and a step that separates itself out from meaning making. We too often want to make a strategy something that we have to do to a text, or on a separate piece of paper, not the thinking itself that a reader must complete internally before anything can be shared as an understanding about a text.

I can see drafting a teaching point around how readers need to hold on to details that are confusing, and misleading. Another teaching point might be pointing out that readers are often asked to reconsider current beliefs and consider news ones. These teaching points leaves it open for students to be decision makers. They set them up to be their own problem-solvers by focusing on the thinking work, without teachers answering text specific questions for students. This is a teaching point that could lead into using the strategy of  thinking about what we know versus what we don’t know as we read. Some students may need to see this thinking on a What We Know/What We Wonder Chart. (Barnhouse/Vinton). It could lead to using a coding strategy and then annotating some of what was coded with what we wonder or are interpreting. You could use the STP strategy of “Stop, think, Paraphrase with this teaching point, to help you consider what you understanding and what you don’t understand yet, that you will read to find out. If you keep the focus on text understanding and bring in strategies to enhance meaning, not lead it, then students are able to build up some agency to their reading.

We have to give students a chance to consider the many things that might be running through their heads. The what if’s, and might be’s our mind has to consider before making a claim at understanding and being able to evaluate that understanding.  When we skip these over this type of thinking, young readers might feel very frustrated because we are expecting them to do what more experienced readers sometimes struggle to do. Our students need more time to consider a text, and be shown how to do that.

Part 2 coming soon.

Troy

The 5 Why Approach and Transfer of Strategy Instruction

I recently read an article in The Reading Teacher journal called It All Begins with asking Why.  Pettigrew, K., & Hui, J. ( 2019). It all begins with asking why. The Reading Teacher, 731), 119– 121https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1783

It made me think about transfer of learning. Transfer of learning in reading has been a concern of mine because of the way teachers have been trained to teach reading strategies mostly in isolation. Teaching reading strategies has become so compartmentalized that it has had unattended consequences(see my others posts for details). Strategies are being taught in isolation without proper scaffolding taking place. Students are not going through the complete processes of instruction, application and coaching which should include guided practice along with independent practice in students own books. Transfer does not take place for most striving readers, and even for some readers who are excelling at a quicker rate, when students are not applying what has been taught outside of the controlled focus lesson’s and reading tasks that often use preplanned texts. Yes this is part of the scaffolding process but we have to make sure strategies are being applied in students independent practice also. We do this through coaching/conferring. Why can’t we apply the 5 Why approach to help students transfer.

The article talks about a teacher who had a checklist students used for writing. Students were showing some success with the checklist but did not seem to understand why and how the checklist and its content were linked their success. So he decided to implement the 5 Why problem solving approach (Taiichi Ohno 1988) after reading about how it is used in business. I am not always a proponent of bringing what works in business and applying it to education because the values of education that help shape the culture in schools is very different from the values in the business world. Businesses also get to choose their cliental and promote themselves to certain consumers, where in public education we educate all students without choosing some and trying to ostracize others.  This however is a good idea and very practical.

The approach is very simple: when faced with a problem, ask “why” five times. With each question, you dig deeper, moving quickly past easy answers, in search of solutions with more depth and meaning that have the potential to stick with students. How often do we let student get away with easy answers in our classrooms? This will help promote the deeper thinking we all want for our students. I can see this being used to help solve my transfer dilemma.  This graphic shows how the teacher from the article used this approach to help students understand why transition words mattered.

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If students truly understand why transition words mater and why using them contributes to a writers ability to get their point across to readers then they will use them even when they are not explicitly being asked to or being asked to practice them for a specific task. For true transfer to take hold, students have to apply cognitive reasoning skills or executive functioning skills. They need the ability to multitask or almost simultaneously focus on the many tasks of reading and writing they must apply to write a coherent piece of text in this case.

I want to apply this 5 Why problem solving approach to the teaching of reading strategies for transfer. I think it needs to be included as part of the scaffolding process before we release students into independent practice. It also needs to be a part of independent practice because some students will not get the strategy until they have to apply it for themselves in a book of their own choosing that they are motivated to read and willing to put in the work to comprehend. I believe conferring is at its best when we meet students where they are with books of their own choose within their level range so we can see what they have transfered and are applying without prompting. Paying attention to the reading processes students are successfully using while checking for comprehension is very important. We have to notice and note what cognitive abilities our students are showing and not showing us. Going through this 5 Why approach could shed some light on that.

This might be an approach you can refer students back to when conferring with them. When you notice and note what you see a student doing and help them understand on a conscious level what they just did and why, they can actively apply the strategy again in more difficult pieces of text they reading. Or when you have to prompt them to use a strategy because it is not become part of their personal toolkit of understanding that readers do.  Going through the 5 Why’s could help move it closer to being in their toolkits. I will be mulling this over and deciding how to approach this idea and writing more about it. So please let me know if you try this out and how it is working for you.

Troy