The Coding Strategy – Helping Students Self-Monitor while Reading Info Text

sunday cummins

Do you have students who read a text and are clueless about what they read? Or when you prompt them to share what they learned from a text, they frantically look back at the last sentence they read and then spit it out verbatim?

Before we get into conversations about main ideas, author’s point of view, summarizing content and so forth, we may want to provide time for students to grapple with questions like:

  • What did I understand or learn in this text (or section of text or even just this sentence)?
  • What did I not understand?
  • I didn’t understand this, so what can I do to figure it out?

I use the Coding Strategy (Hoyt, 2008) to introduce or reinforce self-monitoring with students. After each sentence or paragraph or section of text, students stop, think, and code the text with one of the following:

*I already knew this information.

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My Thoughts on Transfer

Goldfish jumping.

I was listening to a Heinemann Podcast tonight while on the treadmill. This podcast featured Cornelius Minor discussing his new book: We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to be who our students need us to be.

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He starts talking about transferable skills. He wants to make sure kids know that the skills they are learning in the classroom can be used outside of the classroom and must be used outside of the classroom. Teachers need to make sure this happens. I think when we do this we might get kids to engage themselves more in our lessons.  For example students need to know that the skills they are learning while writing an argumentative essay can be used when they need to articulately stand up for themselves outside of our classrooms.

I started thinking about this notion and how I can apply it to teaching younger students to transfer the reading strategies and skills. When we model  strategies in controlled practice situations in our classrooms we need to moved to less controlled academic situations. We need to be teaching for when we are not there beside them.  So bear with me as I write my thinking down. This thinking might be unchartered territory.  These are ideas I look forward to growing, and refining.

I have seen reading instruction over the last several years be broken down into easier taught parts that we can model and have students practice in a very dictated fashion.  I have started wondering if this has been more beneficial for teachers and administrators or students. It allows for a quicker snapshot of learning and can be easily assessed. I feel for a lot of striving readers it causes them to view the reading process as something disjointed and full of isolated steps, where reading for meaning has been pushed aside.

Transfer happens when students take ownership of the strategies and can figure out for themselves what strategy will work best.  They have to do the thinking and be aware of the connections. We need to support that not teach in isolated chunks.

I think when kids transfer skills and strategies into their own reading and lives outside of school that it will not look exactly like how we modeled it. It will not be as neat  as when the kids practiced it in books we chose specifically for the strategy taught. It will be a very messy altered version of the strategy applied to the written text, movie, TV show, podcast, video game or real life situation.

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Messy with a purpose and crafted from the foundation we provide so we can help them strengthen their thinking into something articulate,  and meaningful.

When we model strategies we need to put the focus on making meaning and being able to transfer them across many forms of texts. We cannot just teach students to do strategies, we have to teach them the thinking processes they have to be able to go through when meaning breaks down to choose the right one or multiple ones that will work in the situation.

As Cornelius stated in his podcast we have to give students a reason or need to value and want to apply the strategies. For example students have to learn to infer in many different ways and situations academically and outside of school. We need to show kids how the strategies we teach can apply across many texts and situations by crafting them to focus on understanding and thinking about what they can do to help themselves understand, in addition to teaching the strategy itself. We cannot teach all the parts without showing them how the parts fit together and make sense. Transfer happens when things make sense. Some of our kids can put the pieces together, but a lot cannot.

Do we need to see exact replications of what we modeled all the time. No! Do the assessments we give require that? No.  Texts vary and the knowledge students bring to a text varies, so how students apply strategies will vary. They may mix several strategies and skills together using pieces of some of them. When we see them using different pieces of strategies, we can say to them for example, you just used part of the Thieves strategy. You took the step of using the table of contents to help you start thinking like the author may want readers too. Then you moved to the glossary where you checked the meaning of a few words. Then you applied what you read to what you happened when you played the video game. You just used 2 different strategies to help yourself understand.

We can still notice and name different strategies that students mix together in messy ways to help them become aware of what they did, so they can apply them in similar ways to other texts and situations. I think we may need to model this type of strategy use ourselves so students can see it and understand that it is not always going to be easy, but a messy struggle sometimes.  We can still nudge students into using one strategy or another that is more efficient. During a conferring session something like this may occur.

Teacher: “I noticed when we were talking about this part in your book (pointing to the paragraph) that you seemed confused. What can you do to help yourself understand this part? Do you remember when I was reading Fly Away Home to the class and how I had to stop because the part where the boy was saying he felt like the bird in the airport confused me?  What are some of the strategies I used to help myself understand that part? Could you try something similar to what I did to help you understand this part?  Even though you are only seeing one side of the conversation you are seeing that the student is being held accountable for choosing a strategy, not being told what one to use.

Note that this is a very different process from modeling a strategy and then assigning students to replicate it within similar books that you may have specifically selected or limited their choice to choose from. Transfer does not happen when we teach for replication and students cannot be expected to replicate perfectly the use of strategies in the texts of their own choosing without messing them up and trying it out in different ways to make it work for the particular text with the knowledge they have at that particular time. To do this they have to be reading for meaning and trying find answers to their questions, or figure out what the author may be saying about life that they can take and apply to their own life. The strategies they use help them make meaning and understand deeper, they do not become what they are reading to do or tools to help them understand what the writer is saying. To help them think about why the writer chose to say that and what the writer wants readers to think and feel.  We have to put meaning back into our reading instruction. If students are reading to do a strategy then transfer will not happen because they have not been taught to figure out how to try out different strategies until they find one that works in their current situation. They have to be able to take ownership of the strategies and apply them when needed, not simply practice it when told to, without figuring out for themselves what they need to do.

I am very interested to read Cornelius’s book and to continue to think of ways I can can use some of his ideas and apply them for my students and their unique situations and for myself as a reading teacher.  I talk about growing your own practice in a past blog.  Grow Your Own Practice

I think this is a perfect example of trying to grow your own practice. Taking something and making it work for you! That is what we need students to do with transferable reading strategies after we model for them, giving them a foundation to start from and releasing them to try out the strategies as needed in their own reading and lives outside of school and helping them make the connections back to the strategy itself after meaning was made. I think you have to be more flexible when letting students read their own books. We cannot always be asking them to replicate the strategy we just modeled bringing our own texts. This is not teaching for transfer but replication, this is not giving them a chance to try out strategies for themselves, figuring out what works best to help them make meaning of what they are reading, not repeat a strategy they watched you do. Copying a strategy someone else did in a text you didn’t choose or where your choice was limited in choosing a text is very different from figuring out what strategy to use when you notice that you don’t understand something in texts of your own choosing.  

Note these are my current thoughts and I am always reflecting. They will grow and change as I dig deeper in to this! 

Let me know your thoughts!

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!

National Board Teaching Certification

This past Saturday I received my scores for my National Board Certification. I achieved! I can now say I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Literacy: Reading-Language Arts.

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I am very proud of this achievement, but I do not plan to stop here, however. I plan to continue to grow my practice and strive to become a leader in the field of literacy. The process I went through to achieve will continue to be a process I use daily. Teaching is about continuous reflection, goal setting and growth for your students and yourself. I want to make sure my teaching is always at the highest level and accomplished!

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My principal included this in his morning email today. I know NBCTs challenge themselves daily.

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You have to challenge yourself to grow professionally. The National Board process helped challenge me. It was not overwhelming but was challenging. I had to reflect on myself, my students, my school, my community and all the other factors that I encounter daily teaching in a Title One school. Reflecting on your own teaching and beliefs is not always easy but a must as an effective teacher or educator. You cannot change and grow without reflection and acceptance of your own and your students needed areas of improvement.  I think the National Board process is well worth it because of this challenge!

This is a post from the National Board’s blog site. This teacher summed up some of how I had been feeling waiting for results.

“I got an email this evening reminding me that the scores for the components I submitted for National Board Teacher Certification would be available December 1. It’s not as if I needed this reminder. It’s not as if ANY teacher working toward achieving NBCT status needed that reminder. We’ve all been acutely aware of the date and waiting with bated breath for score release. We’ve been counting the months, the weeks, the days, and now the hours since submitting last May.

So this Saturday I will know if I certified. For that I am grateful. It will be the end of the anxiety. But let me tell you what I am more grateful for: the journey.

No, I don’t mean the Selected Response and Structured Response test that I fretted over or the three written portfolio entries and the weeks of gathering data or the days of poring over it. I don’t mean the hours upon hours of filling up form upon form in single-spaced, bracketed rigidity. Nor do I mean the double-spaced analysis of every choice I made that was always too long before it became an acronym&ampersand-riddled code to save space and fit into the regimented required page limit. And I certainly don’t mean the part about deciphering hundreds of pages of instructions that were paradoxically both meticulously precise and entirely vague. I could have done without that part.

What I mean when I mention the journey is the process all those requirements forced upon me….the poring over student work….the making meaning of all that data….the better effort to communicate with my students and their families….the hours of planning lessons that never were finished without my asking myself why?….why am I teaching this?….why am I approaching my lesson this way?….what are my goals for my students?….where are they now?…how can I best move them toward the mark????? So many whys and hows that have become an integral part of every lesson (even the ones I don’t get all typed up and turned in on time). I am grateful for the discussion board I created in Canvas this week…the one that made students respond to scholarly articles and each other. I’m grateful for the more meaningful approaches to feedback and the guidance I am better able to give. I’m grateful that all this has made me a more thoughtful teacher…and I think a better one, too.

So tonight, when I got that email while reading through student responses on the discussion board, I felt so thankful that I had taken this journey. Whether I make the cut or have to retake some portion, I know I have grown from this experience. I know my students are benefiting from my increased awareness of what it means to teach. For that I am immensely grateful.

Waiting for results was difficult to do at times. It did give me more time to reflect on what I could have done differently to improve upon the work I submitted.

I understand this teachers sentiment and understand the main point they were trying to make and agree with it. It is going through the journey and process itself that will help strengthen you as a teacher, the certification itself and being able to put the letters NBCT by your name are not most important.  I question one thing this teacher says however. The journey this teacher talks about is something all exceptional and successful teachers already do informally. I cringed a little bit when this teacher said “What I mean when I mention the journey is the process all those requirements forced upon me.” I hope most of them were not forced upon this teacher. I hope they were already doing most and refined them through the journey. The requirements for completing my boards that were forced upon me were not those dealing with the pedagogy of teaching but getting the writing style down and formatting my writing and forms correctly. Pouring over student work….the making meaning of all that data….the better effort to communicate with my students and their families….the hours of planning lessons, the teacher mentions, are a constant of successful, accomplished teachers, not something you are forced to do. Those are things I feel I must do. For me they come from within and  are instinctual things I do for my students and myself. Most were things I was already doing, but my National Board work helped me strengthen how I do those things and helped me find better and more effective ways of doing them. It did help me spend more time reflecting and planning for some lessons. I think I have become a more strategic planner and efficient planner through the Boards process. It helped me make sure all my decisions are sound ones, based on student needs and or building, district and state requirements. Based on my own needs as well. I am seeing my teaching in smaller pieces and bigger pieces more if that makes sense. I am able to focus in on small details and see the big picture of where I want my students to go with more clarity now. Practice and accountability are great things! Accomplished teachers hold themselves accountable and the Boards process can help you hold yourself accountable with more vision and clarity. Thinking about and referring back to the National Board standards overall and standards for my certificate area in literacy helps me hold myself accountable. I will not lose site of those standards as I continue to incorporate them into my district and state standards.  I will hold true to the National Board’s 5 Core Propositions!

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The National Board’s journey has helped me grow as a teacher in my educational practices, but also specifically in literacy practices. I am definitely a better teacher after going through the process.

 

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I was able to hone in on some of my instincts and build up new ones through the process. I have changed, strengthened and acquired new teaching skills and processes as a result. National Boards helps good teachers continue to grow their practice. To achieve I feel you have to already have in place a lot of what is required of you through the process and be willing to work on strengthening and improving those. Going through the journey even if you do not achieve your first try can and should be a learning experience to help you grow your practice. Exceptional teachers and successful accomplished National Board teachers already have a good foundation in place for themselves and work continuously to improve it! Boards definitely help you improve it.

There are schools and districts out there that require much of what is required within National Boards. I believe I work in one of them.

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I am lucky to work in an environment where continuous growth and reflection is expected just as it is within the National Boards process. I will continuously strive to meet board standards.

 Teaching is a continuous process and National Boards respects and expects that process!  They teach you to hold yourself accountable when making the many daily decisions we make as teachers. The National Board process is for all teachers who want to grow! All schools and districts should embrace it and encourage it for their teachers.

Troy

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

 

 

Building Ideas

Vicki Vinton and Sunday Cummins have reinvigorated my desire for teaching main idea/s. I have shifted how I teach finding the main idea because of their ideas. I am finding that texts and articles today with any depth to them are often written with more than one main idea . We also have to get kids to move beyond simply repeating information shared by the writer or combining information into one sentence.

In her book Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading Vicki shared two important concepts that stood out to me.

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Readers have to read with the intention and the want to, to figure out what all the information they are sharing means as they read. When kids read NF texts they often think all they have to do is regurgitate information the writer shares. Doing this may get you by in reading levels A-F, but it won’t even work there some of the time.

Vicki discusses how ideas are different from facts. Ideas are born out of knowing and understand facts, they are not the facts themselves. Main ideas are formed by piecing together the information the writers shares with readers as they incorporate it into their existing knowledge. They use their existing knowledge with what the writer shares and implies. I remember when I was in school and was taught the main idea of a text was often in the first or last paragraph. When that was actually the case that was in prepared texts that were often written for the purpose of identifying the main idea. We were not finding the main idea in real literature and articles like, what our students are reading and being asked to read today. We must evolve our teaching.

Readers have to be willing to work to understand what the facts mean when thinking about them together. This could also include trying to figure out how the writer feels about a topic because a writers opinion can cloud over the facts or put a new twist on the facts that the reader has to recognize and consider. NF writers often imply thinking that readers have to piece together as well. Vick talks about how patterns and themes in fiction texts are often repeated, but in NF texts readers often have one chance to notice something before the writer moves on.

I am experimenting with using a Combine and Synthesize Chart.  Vicki talks about this chart in chapter 9 of her book.  I started to play around with this chart and some of Vicki’s ideas about teaching from a problem-based approach. I was also incorporating ideas from Sunday Cummins new book Nurturing Informed Thinking.

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Both of these literacy consultants drive home the idea that as a reader of NF you have to do more than just repeat facts from the story and really work to combine and synthesize information into really understand what a writer wants readers to understand about a topic, which is often more than one thing, an idea not a fact.

I introduced how to use the combine and synthesize chart with a group of second graders reading this level F LLI  book.

I introduced the idea of making a connection between text features and the writers accompanying words on the page. Sunday talks about doing this on page 40 of her book as one of her 9 lesson ideas to help carry readers thinking deeper.

I took her idea and tried to keep the focus of my lesson on meaning making and the thinking a reader has to do. I didn’t have students searching the book for different kinds of text features or do any scaffolding for them about content. We opened the book to the first page and I said “lets look at this text feature. It’s a photograph of a beetle.  Writers choose what text features they want to include in their book. As a reader we have to figure out why the writer included it, by asking what the writer wants me to understand about it.”

We talked about what we noticed in the feature and then read the accompanying  text and connected them together as we thought about what the writer wanted us to understand. We noticed that the beetles might be eating the leave on page 3 and that in the close up on page 2 the beetle has six legs. We wondered if all bugs have six legs and if bugs were the same as insects. The students actually came up with the term insect. As you can see we got more information from the photograph then we did from the writers own words. Our understanding is going to be much deeper than if we just glanced at the photographs.

Then I let the students read the rest of the text as I conferred with them individually. While conferring I focused students attention back on the text features and then connecting the features back to the writers words.

Students gained a lot of information from these text features. Each page showed similar features about different bugs.

By looking closely at the pictures they were able to have the word crawl already in their heads, which helped them quickly cross-check it as they struggled with it in text. They noticed that the ant was carrying something that seemed larger and heavier than itself. This brought out some information students already knew about ants being able to carry objects 10 times their body weight. We were able to verify that the ant indeed does have six legs as one student debated about the antennas. I tried to keep them away from brining in their background knowledge until we had examined the text features thoroughly. Although in reality they were probably using their background knowledge to help them understand the text features. This goes to show something I firmly believe. When you try to break down skills and strategies too much you end up hindering their natural thinking processes.

We did most of our work orally, but with readers in other guided reading groups I might makes copies of the text and let students annotate the text features and take notes.

After reading the book and completing a turn & talk about what new information they learned vs information they already knew, I introduced the Combine and Synthesize chart.

We completed the chart together digitally using an iPad displayed on a TV using Apple TV.

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This text did not require much synthesis but it worked well to introduce this chart and to introduce really looking at text features trying to notice and figure out why the writer included them.

This lesson helped these students learn to self-monitor their reading on their own and gave them a few strategies to use to push their thinking deeper in a more authentic way then having them search for text features and identify the type and writing it on a graphic organizer or sticky note. I did not over scaffold the text or do the thinking for them. I led the discussion and nudged them in the right direction holding true to a problem-based approach to teaching. I also didn’t simply follow someone else’s model but adapted the lesson to fit the needs of my students at this point in time after thinking through and reflecting on 2 literacy consultants ideas.

Let me know your thoughts and reflect with me!

Using A Problem-based Approach to teaching reading in Readers Workshop

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I am teaching a course using Vicki Vinton’s book Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: Shifting to a Problem-Based Approach and we are diving into understanding and trying to use a problem-based approach to teaching reading. We are striving to understand how this approach can be used within a readers workshop approach where skills and strategies have been pushed front and center with the use of explicit modeling during the focus lesson and individual conferring sessions.

The problem-based approach keeps the focus on reading for meaning or understanding, not reading to necessarily to complete a task or practice a skill. I like to say a problem-based approach to teaching reading, teaches students to read for meaning while using skills and strategies as needed as tools to enhance the meaning making processes they are going through, not become the focus. It shifts the focus from isolated skills and strategies to using skills and strategies to expand and deepen understanding by helping students continually connect and clarify by bringing pieces together for fuller understandings.

Instead of teaching skills and strategies in isolation it helps students integrate those skills and strategies with a clear purpose, meaning. It does not break apart reading comprehension into individualized components that a lot of readers in classrooms never connect back together.

In this approach the central point of the focus lesson is not to model the reading task, strategy or skills in isolation. It is to model the thinking a reader goes through when deciding what skills or strategy to use and maybe what task they may need to accomplish to understand their reading deeper. This is more of the role teachers are being asked to take on within math and sciences lessons across the country.

This approach asks students to ask questions like what strategy can help me here? You have to continually observe students noticing what they are doing well and what they are struggling with and then be present and ready to step in to support at the point of need.  You can still meet district curriculum requirements and teach the standards you have to, with a slight shift towards making meaning. We can ask questions like,

What can you try?   What can you do to help yourself understand this section better? What strategy will help you figure out what the writer wants readers to understand here? Why did the writer do that? What does the writer want readers to feel here? What have you figured out?

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We want readers to be constructing knowledge and reading for meaning, not just completing reading tasks in isolation. You have to ask yourself if having students complete reading tasks and to explicitly practice a skill or strategy in isolation would be productive reading or unproductive reading. Often when isolated out the skills and strategies become the focus and reading for meaning is all but forgotten except with your highest readers. If students are not reading to understand the text then reading is often unproductive. Students often end up pitting completing the task their teacher expects against reading the book for meaning. This is an unintentional side effect, but a side effect for many students none the less.

Modeling within this approach needs to be more strategic. As the teacher when you start off by modeling explicitly all the thinking and providing specific texts for student to practice in then transfer usually doesn’t happen. Modeling is a great teaching tool and works great in reading, but can work even better when it is used to set students up to think for themselves, not have us do most of the thinking for them.  We give them a chance to thinking ideas through, maybe evening struggling a bit like we do in math and science.  They have to think things through and experience strategies for themselves in authentic moments for transfer to happen with us noticing and naming what we see and nudging them along to use the most affective and efficient strategies to help enhance meaning.

I plan to suggest ways to integrate using this approach within focus lessons and the readers workshop in the next several blog posts, so please come back and check this blog out again. I hope to suggest ways to still use explicit modeling during focus lessons and conferring when it will help the student enhance meaning and think deeper about a text.

Keep reflecting on your practice!

Troy