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 Part 2

As a Reading Specialist I always talk about reading being a skill that can help you change your life in a positive and powerful way.  When introducing the coding strategy to a group of 5th grade striving readers I related it to being a tool readers use to help them self-monitor.  I teach in a year round school and get the opportunity to support readers and grow my practice all year.  I have found if I do not tie a strategy to reading for meaning and text understanding, students do not understand its function and see its power or connect it back to reading for meaning. They instead see it as something their teacher is asking them to do, that often takes away from the meaning of the text because it has become so isolated out as a standard to be address in the curriculum or a heavy hitter on state tests. Those can be factors you take into consideration when teaching the strategy but never take the focus away from meaning.

I intentionally taught this group of students the coding strategy which includes annotating and then went back and connected it to self-monitoring wanting then to make the connection themselves. I also did this because I knew 2 of the students had used the coding strategy in the past and wanted see when and how they were applying the strategy.  I could then use the 5 Why Approach I had just read about and see if it has an impact on transfer. I feel to be effective the 5 Why Approach has to be used once students have had experience using a skill or strategy.  They have to use their experience to help them answer the questions that are generated.

I let this group of 5th grade students code 2 different non-fiction articles using the coding strategy before we attempted the 5 Why’s.

This was our first attempt.

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The students wrote answers to the generated questions in silence, not hearing or seeing others responses.  Then they shared responses which I used to generate the next question. In the future I think I need to be more specific with the questions that I generated from students answers. Or maybe this approach needs to start with a more direct question. Students I feel will become more specific with their answers as we complete more 5 Why’s together.  The question of self-monitoring is not one that lends itself to a tight and succinctly worded answer. These students really generated a wonderful reason for reading which can be our reason for self-monitoring also. Although the coding strategy (which lends itself as a way self-monitoring non-fiction texts) was not specifically discussed in this 5 Why chart, I set it up to be discussed in later lessons with a chart. I can also go back to this chart when teaching self-monitoring in fiction texts, by using the Stop, Think, Paraphrase (STP) strategy or the Know/Wonder chart strategy. I will go into these strategies in future posts.

Students connected reading with thinking and meaning making. I am pleased with the result. As long as the students understand and transfer this thinking, and use it to help motivate themselves to self-monitor then the lesson served its purpose. We have talked about my goal for them is to be able to self-monitor using the coding strategy in their heads as they move into high school. I want them to use the strategy with automaticity when reading.  I think even then and as adults however, there will be times when readers are better served to complete the coding and annotating on paper or the text itself.  The coding strategy is ultimately a form of note taking when completed on paper.

 

When teaching strategies we must keep the focus of reading on making meaning. The strategy itself is not more important than text meaning which in part is how the text is interpreted by the reader, which is influenced by personal experiences. That being said a reader has to also be thinking about the writers intentions, taking into consideration the intent of the language the author is using to try and make readers feel and react in certain ways. As readers we cannot leave the writers voice and purpose behind thinking only on our own believes and understandings of the world.   Strategies are effective when used as tool to help readers make meaning. They are not and should not be used solely as a method for grading a students reading ability. As readers we do not let the use of strategies limit our text selection or hold us back as readers and thinkers. We should not do this to our students as well. Strategies are tools to help not dominate the reading process. They should not take away from the messy thinking process reading really is. Never make strategies more important then the reading itself or the act of self-monitoring for meaning.

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

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart's Law

 

Charles Goodhart is an economist who came up with this principal: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Simply put when numbers becomes more important than the purpose behind it then numbers can become misleading or stagnant.

Within education we fall into this trap when tracking certain kinds of data. We optimize what we measure for. Or we teach to the measurement tool. For example when we put too much emphasis on tracking students’ words per minute read and lose sight of the purpose for tracking this measure. This leads to kids who are mostly focused on reading fast and forgetting to think and feel as they read.

The purpose for tracking words read per minute is to use it as an indicator that says, hey this kid is not performing at the same level as his peers, let’s stop and figure out what could be causing this. We should not be simply set a goal saying I will read _____ words in one minute and only focusing on rate.  Don’t forget the purpose.

calltime

Words per minute is one indicator that a student could be struggling with reading. Reading success is not about speed alone.

I cringed when I saw ads on Instagram for a word game. The ad promoted it by saying something like playing this game every day will improve your reading speed and make you smarter. Ugh! That is a very misleading ad and when our teenagers see that ad what message does it send to them!

As a Reading Specialist in my district I come across so many kids who think reading is about word calling and speed, instead of meaning and feeling, along with accuracy and rate. Reading words too quickly can hinder comprehension as much as slow laborious reading does.

In todays word driven by numbers and the competition created by the publicly released test scores, we often stop teaching the micro or atomic habits that need to be instilled in readers. There has been a swing to undervalue anything ephemeral or quantitative that is harder to quantify. We mistakenly begin to think the only factors that matter are the ones we can measure and or attempt to measure on an assessment where conversation does not take place. Or give a grade to, so we can easily have accessible data to look at. Data is only worth looking at when you can identify the purpose behind it, and how it fits into the bigger process of reading.

Sometimes this leads to putting more value on visible reading task that students can put into graphic organizers. Simply identifying the visible aspects of reading instruction is not enough and leads kids to identify reading as something you do without much thinking or feeling.

I implore you to consider how you can apply Goodhart’s law to our data driven educational word. Data can be an essential part of high performing schools when used with purpose, not as a showcase of numbers. It can be satisfying for students and teacher to track things like words per minute and increases in test scores, but we cannot be asking students or districts to have those be their only goals. They also need to be setting smaller goals that can help create habits out of those internal as well as the outwardly visible processes readers use.

I would love to hear from you how you have seem educators fall into this trap and how you have seen them overcome it.  Troy

Engagement and Understanding text beginnings.

I have a group of 5th grade readers who often struggle to fully engage in reading. It is often a choice they are making because they feel like the text may be to hard or they may not like the content or may be districted by any number of reasons. I  know this group of readers has a hard time recognizing information that is important at the beginnings of texts. To help overcome these struggles I have started to read the first 1-2 pages of a text to them as they follow along. I select a stopping point that should leave them with lots to think about. I read enough to peak the students’ interest with the text. I want them to get their feet wet with the topic or story line. I want them eager to know more about the characters or topic. If I pick the right spot, they will feel a need to read on, to find out what happens or what the writer might inform them of next. I do not want students thinking impeded by language structure, vocabulary or word solving at that time. We will tackle those as they arise when I confer with them individually as they read. With this group of students comprehension is where they struggle more. Before they can dig into the type of thinking required with in the graphic below, they have to understand the basic information and recognize what information they do not have or do not understand.

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            I believe it is my job the help entice kids into texts they may have never chosen to read on their own. I believe we can get kids to choose to engage in a text they may not want to at first and to expose them to many different types of texts they may not pick up on their own.

Kids choose to engage and re-engage in activities all day long. I have seen multitudes of students over the years not want to engage in a text for various reasons and then choose to engage with the text after hearing another student read a section they struggled with or overheard a conversation between two students or a student and the teacher. There have been times when I have not wanted to give a text a try and regretted it later.  I have started texts and not finished them, regretting the choice it when I hear about information I missed out on thinking through and discovering for myself. Or I missed a great story that I realize now I would have enjoyed and maybe learned something about human behavior from.

For this group of 5th graders who are already reluctant to come with me for reading support because they are fully aware of their struggles, this approach has worked. My text choice is intentional as much as the stopping point is. I make sure to choose a text that will help my mumble reader want to figure the words so he can find out what happens.

I know that in guided reading students are asked to do all of the reading. I also know that guided reading is designed to meet readers where they are, to meet their needs and to still be able to adherer to the curriculum.  If I am teaching the reader and know these readers struggle with engagement and with understanding the basics of texts at the beginning, then I will adapt my instruction to meet those needs.

I can also have real conversations with them about my own regrets with texts I didn’t start or finish. I can model how to slow down at the beginning of texts. How to attack a text from the beginning and read with the intent of figuring out what the writer might be wanting me to feel and think about the topic or characters. What pieces of information has the writer given me in the first few pages that I may have not given enough thought to, or skipped over because it was an unfamiliar word or phrase? I have to make sure my students understand that information given at the beginning of texts may seem boring or unimportant, but it should not be considered so. They need to understand writers use beginnings to set readers up to understand the rest of the text. There is often information that seems insignificant at first that we know may become important to understand later. We know this as experienced readers, I need to show my students this who may be very inexperienced readers.

So, I believe there is a time and place where it is Ok to read part of a text aloud to students in guided reading groups. I do so with a pre-planned purpose however. It is often a muti-layered purpose like I have been describing.  I want to make clear that I am not doing any thinking for them, or telling anything. I suppose I am providing a scaffold for them, but not a scaffold that is taking away the thinking work of reading for meaning.

I will share some of what I feel are the best strategies to help kids who struggle with text beginnings and the basic information the writer shares in some of my next posts. I will also share what I do next with this group of students to make sure they are doing the thinking work after I have read aloud.

We are your thoughts and experiences?

 

Troy

When Modeling Strategies can become Problematic?

strategy (1)

I was working on lessons plans for my 5th grade guided reading group and was thinking about a strategy to teach or review for the book I had chosen. A lesson I had taught earlier in the year came to mind where a student eagerly got started writing down some details, she felt were important from the text and changing a few words so that she followed the directions of putting them into her own words. Was this student doing what was asked? Yes, but she was not really thinking about what the writer wanted her to understand. She was writing down a few things here and there as she read. Actually she had filled up a whole page, but had read very little with an intent to understand. She could not talk about the book with any depth or deep understanding. She was not synthesizing information into new understanding.

I recalled a different student who eagerly underlined parts of a text he felt were important but could not put the underlined information together into an idea.  These students were doing a strategy without putting a whole lot of thought into it.

When it came time to have a discussion and dig deeper into thinking about what the writer’s words on page 4 could mean when put together with the paragraph on page 6 the first student struggled. Students often repeat writers’ words, but do not use them to help them create their own thinking, opinions and feelings. Or try to figure out what the writer might be implying but not directly stating. Striving readers and even high performing readers can get stuck doing strategies without putting much thought into them and staying on the surface level with their thinking.

I know you have experienced this in your classrooms. So, what can we do about it? David Person the creator of the gradual release of responsibility model says, “We could begin a sequence by asking students to try it on their own, offering feedback and assistance as students demonstrate the need for it.” Modeling of strategies have their place, but it does not always need to be first. When students have not realized they need a strategy or that meaning has broken down then teaching a strategy is often a futile task.

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After a student has had a chance to experience some struggle, they may be more prone to understand the value of a strategy.  For transfer to happen students have to figure out some of the why, where, and when of strategy before internalizing and using it on their own. Students will be more willing to accept the feedback and support once they have experienced some struggle with the text. If they struggled making meaning they will view the strategy as something that is helping them make meaning, not as something to do to be compliant.

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Why not begin by letting students read a piece of text that we have planned for or are familiar with and then jump in and offer feedback or model a strategy after they demonstrate a need for it. By observing students reading and asking the right questions, you can use the student’s own ideas to help them realize a way to help themselves.  Making this shift could help you do more than just cover the curriculum and take the learning deeper.

A sequence like this is harder to show evidence for but needed to help readers get beyond only doing strategies. I am starting to question the effectiveness of strategies when we ask students to physically create a graphic organizer or write something down without an oral structure built into it when they have not struggled with the text and see a real need for the strategy. Especially striving readers.  These readers often struggle with spelling, sentence structure and neatness. They often find it easier to copy down or underline the writer’s words without thinking. After observing and jumping in when a need is demonstrated by having a conversation and them maybe modeling is another option.

I want readers to be efficient and fluent readers. Are we teaching for that in reading? Or are we teaching students to break reading apart more than put it together in a fluent manner. If we only ask students to do a strategy before they know they experience the need for it, they are just going through the motions. Students need to practice thinking through what they know and believe in their heads.  Put thinking on paper to support the students in visually seeing it is great when they need it, but it should not be the final expectation.

I want a reader to be able to read something the first time when possible and understand it. I do not think we are teaching for that. We mostly teach for readers to read a text multiple times and to break a text down into parts without thinking enough about the whole and how the pieces fit together. We are teaching them a time-consuming process. Students are often told to read fluently with the emphasize on speed when reading out loud, but then to take your time, and reread a text multiple times to dissect at other times. What a mixed message for striving readers.

I want readers engaged in reading. Not doing strategies. Strategies should be tools to use when meaning breaks down. If meaning is not breaking down for a student, then why do they need to use the strategy. If a student is understanding and thinking differently than another student or differently than you anticipated, they may not need the strategy you just modeled.

I must continue to think about my students needs along with the curriculum and reflect on how to meet both and show evidence of both. Teaching is a continuous cycle of planning, assessing, teaching, adjusting, reflecting, and decision making that can never stop. I continue to grow my practice and share it here. Let me know your thoughts. I want to thank Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse for influencing my thinking on this.

Troy