Recognizing The Reader

Today in my 4th grade reading group we had just finished an article from Storyworks magazine called Saving America’s Wolves. I had asked students to underline information they felt the writer wanted readers to understand. After zooming in on a few sections for deeper understanding we were ready to write. We had kept a running list of the big ideas and points students felt writer wanted them to understand. We then thought about how we could group ideas and information together and highlighted the ones we felt the writer really wanted readers to understand. Then they used the list and their marked up text to write about what they felt the writer was trying to say about wolves.

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When I was conferring with one student he referred to a previous strategy we had worked on. The Coding Strategy. This is where students marked a text as they read with symbols indicating information as something new, something they already knew or as confusing. He talked about how he had thought about that strategy and used it indirectly to help him sort through the information he was reading. He was using the strategy on his head!

I jumped on the opportunity to point out what he had just done. He had decided on a strategy to use along with the one being taught. It was his choice. Readers have to do the thinking and decision making for themselves as independent readers.

I did not chastise him for not sticking to the strategy I had introduced and wanted them to try out during the current lesson. I helped him understand that he was doing what readers do all the time. I noticed and noted his work as a reader. He took one strategy and used it with another to make sense of the information.

He had still been underlining information and adding some of it to our list. He was internally using the strategy the coding strategy. This is what we want to happen with strategies right? We want students to internalize them. To use them in efficient ways that do not slow them down or cause them to lose the meaning of the text. The coding strategy is all about meaning! One reason I love it!

I shared what he had chose to do with the group and asked him to share the why he chose to use it and how.

He was trying out a taught strategy, and making it work for him with the text at hand. He had not been told to use it but gave it a try to help him make meaning. I would say transfer was taking place! We need students to experience this feeling more often. The feeling of choosing a strategy for themselves and applying  it without us telling them to. We have to give them opportunities for these experiences and teach the student in the moment so they can be aware of their reading successes.

If I had been so focused on teaching strategy after strategy as set by a curriculum guide, I may have missed the opportunity to notice and note this accomplishment. It was not the strategy introduced during the lesson.

I was teaching the student and the curriculum. You have to remain open to noticing the reader and teaching them along with the curriculum and the text.

Troy

Are we building bridges to transfer learning?

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I was having a conversation today with a colleague about a student’s Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark score. We discussed some of the student’s reading behaviors.  My colleague then went on to tell me about what the group this student is in had been working on, over the last several weeks.  The group had been working on comprehension, using some ideas from Sunday Cummins newest book: Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking,, and Writing Across Content-Area Sources.

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 The group had learned how to code a text and read several articles over the same topic.  My colleague was really hoping for some transfer to happen from instruction to the F&P testing situation. I pipped up thinking as the words were coming out of my mouth, “when being tested students probably do not feel like they are able to deconstruct a text and code it like you are doing in your guided reading group. They probably don’t feel like they can take the time.”

Students are not able to mark up testing books. I was implying that there was probably a disconnect happening between how the students are being taught and the testing situation we put them in. My colleague said something like, “well in the testing situation we are looking for automaticity.” That really struck me!

It did not strike me as wrong necessarily, but as a problem that we need to look into fixing. At one point and time it was said, to test the way you teach. Then some teachers started to teach to the test. Now we have started dissecting the teaching of reading into many pieces.

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We are using many tools (strategies) to do this. My question is how can we make sure students are putting the parts back together into meaningful pieces of information and building a bridge to transfer what we are teaching into something more automatic and functional in a testing situation. Are we giving students a chance to try out the tools for themselves and figure out which ones work best for different situations. Are we throwing too many tools at them without taking time to master the use of the most important one: reading for meaning! Reading with the purpose to figure out something, not do a strategy in of itself.

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Are we giving students opportunities to put the pieces together without telling them exactly how to do it? Yes we need to teach and model, but we also have to step back, bite our tongues let the students try things out. We can even let them struggle, so they can know what thinking through a text really feels like when they have to go it alone. We need to let them try a text out first sometimes also, and listen as they figure out what they need before we jump in and teach by modeling something they might not need. Students have to feel what the true work of reading feels like, that is very different from practicing things in isolation or with the intent on the use of the strategy, not meaning.  They need to know what it feels like when you struggle your way through a text and persevere after changing your thinking several times and trying many different things and putting it all together. That is the real reading work they have to experience!

If we expect students skill and strategy use be to automatic in testing situations, but we are breaking it down so much as we teach it then I can see transfer not taking place.

If we are teaching students to deconstruct a text by coding it and annotating it( see examples of this strategy on Sunday Cummins blog: http://www.sunday-cummins.com/blog.html)) and it is really helping them make meaning and then expecting them to be automatic with their strategy use, is it fair? We have to help them transfer those drawn out strategies and start using them in modified, fluent ways that do not to take up to 4 days to really dig into like they may within a guided reading groups.

When and how are we taking time to help students build the bridge that they can cross to make that transfer happen. Sunday does talk about transfer in her book and acknowledges how important it is. Thanks for doing that Sunday.  But when we are in the midst of teaching these tested skills and strategies we often loose site of how that transfer of learning will happen and what it will look like.

Are we teaching them how to take that strategy and make it more automatic or just expecting it will happen. If you are working with a group of striving readers, then it will not happen unless we guide them across that bridge and then give them lots of practice at building multiple bridges across many text. Or by making them aware of when it does happen and help them notice and name it. Practice without over-scaffolding happening and without students directly being told what exactly to be doing needs to be taking place.

Close reading, and really digging into texts and taking the time to annotate and code texts or paraphrase texts can be powerful. It appears we are missing the next step however, the step where transfer needs to be allowed and nurtured to happen.

Are we teaching in isolation without giving students a chance to put it all together. Are we allowing them to be complacent on first reads of texts? Are we teaching for engagement and meaning or skill and strategy use.

I want to find a way to build that bridge from teaching students to deconstruct a text to putting it together in a more fluent way without needing to make reading a piece by piece drawn out process that is hard for striving readers to follow. Or to find that mix and show them how a readers might have to alter the approach within a testing situation. Don’t we want kids to gain as much as they can from a text during the first reading, applying strategies in a fluent way leading towards that automaticity. If so we have to teach for it. We can’t always teach in pieces.

We have to give students practice with us supporting them through the thinking processes, not over-scaffold or tell them what to try and when to try it when. They should be practicing it, experiencing it for themselves. In sports kids often cannot understand how the pieces they learn in practice fit together until they experience it in game situations. Players have to think for themselves and make quick decisions out on the field during games.  When they experience how it feels, they start to gain some perspective and real understanding and the big picture starts to form. Then coaches go back in and coach them up where they need it. Kids do some great learning in game situations. Are we giving readers enough space to get some of that in game practice time and then coaching from the sidelines. We can’t be doing the majority of the thinking or suggesting. We have to make sure students are not being bogged down with so many isolated strategies that they do not know how to put the pieces together in the fluent manner that is expected in testing situations. Are we asking them to read with meaning in mind first, and use the strategies as tools to help them make that meaning? I think a feel an action research project taking shape!

Grow Your Own Practice

I recently read an article by Cornelius Minor put out by Heinemann. The article was adapted from Mr. Minor’s new book, We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us To Be (Heinemann, 2018)

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The article really hit home with me. It made me think about the National Board Teacher certification process and growing your own practice which are really dual paths.

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When thinking about the career continuum above you have to be doing the thinking and curriculum blending/bending Mr. Minor talks about to move towards becoming a National Board Certified Teacher.

Take a look at the National Board Certified Teacher(NBCT), Architecture of Accomplished Teaching and think about Mr. Minor’s ideas shared in the article.

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These are things all accomplished teachers have to be doing as they reflect and help build and bend curriculum and programs to meet the needs of their students. To be a NBCT you cannot simply follow scripted programs or curriculum that keep you from growing your practice.

“Growing your own practice” is something I heard Sunday Cummins said once in a PD session.  To me this means take what you are being given, and improve upon it for your students needs and your own. Turn, it, twist it and reflect on how it can be applied with your own students. Figure out what is working for your students and what is not. Grow and build upon what you are being given. NBCT’s and teachers who grow their own practice don’t simply criticize and complain. They know and understand the vision of their school and district and meet those visions and along with student needs by bending curriculum, not breaking it. They also move beyond mimicking. It is not enough for your own students or yourself not to thinking and reflect and grow. You have to take the information you are being given and use it to build upon and improve your own instruction, not mimic someones else. Now to be fair you may start out as a mimic but you will never continue to grow if you stay there.

I looked up the word practitioner and the definition is: a person engaged in the practice of a profession, occupation, ect.  I feel it has become kind of a buzz word these days, and I feel to grow your own practice, you have to be a practitioner of literacy or mathematics and so on. I feel the word engaged is a key word to remember in that definition.  Mimics I feel are only partly engaged. You are not completely engaged when you are just copying another. True engagement requires more in-depth thinking then that.

I think the same should be said about curriculum. Mr. Minor states several things in the article that hold true to growing your own practice when it comes teaching a curriculum or program. As he points out “any curriculum or “program”that we buy, adopt, or create is incomplete until it includes our students and until it includes us.”  We have to take that grow your own practice approach with programs and curriculum. Take what is given and build on it. Mr. Minor goes on to say that “my job as a teacher …is to seek to understand my kids as completely as possible so that I can purposefully bend curriculum to meet them.”

He talks about how programs and curriculum that are any good, must be flexible and allow you to bend it some. The curriculum must also help teachers continue to grow. You cannot grow with rigid programs that leave out the teacher decision-making processes, which probably leaves out opportunities for kids to make decisions for themselves as well. He really focuses in on getting to know your students needs and backgrounds and using that to help you bend the curriculum to fit them. I hope that in your schools, you are allowed to bend the curriculum for your students. Use what you are given, understand it, try it out, and shift what you need to as you continue to grow your own practice, be your own practitioner. Don’t expect your district to be your practitioner! On the same note remember programs and curriculum are written to help us, and are full of some great things! We do not have time to build our own from scratch. Use the solid foundation they create for you and that you are expected too, but bend and build as you need to, for your students.

Check out the article and let me know your own thought!

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I will have a part 2 to this post coming soon, applying this specifically to literacy instruction.

Thanks Troy