The time is “Now”

During this time of reflection and intense activity on Social Media over race in this country, we need to seize this opportunity to teach our students how important learning to read and write well is essential. 

The last several years have brought to light the need and movement to provide diverse books to our students of color. This need is real so that all of our students can imagine themselves in the books we share and read in our classrooms. I hope we are sharing success stories for our students as well as the stories of struggle through current events. I want them to imagine themselves as successful and fulfilled as well as understand the struggles of their lives. 

I want them to see how being well-spoken and well written can lead them to a better life where they are more respected by their peers. These reciprocal processes build upon each other continuously. One criticism of our current president compared to the previous one (Barack Obama) is that he is not well-read or well-spoken. He is not taken seriously and often considered an embarrassment.  

Educators need to seize this opportunity to help our students become well spoken and well written to equip themselves with the knowledge to be perceived as articulate, leading to respect and admiration. We have to use the “now” as a bridge to help students see how reading and writing well, can help them get the things they want in their lives.  

Cornelious Minor puts this thinking front and center in his book “We Got This.” (Heinemann 2019). He says, “The first thing I have to do is be clear on the actual skill I want to teach kids, not just the activity I want them to complete.” Tasks or activities do not go deep enough at times to challenge students to adapt their thinking and help them practice the processes of thinking while relating it to their lives. He also states that he wants to build “a bridge between what we are doing in class and the lives that they lead outside of class. I want to be able to show kids how each skill I teach in class makes life right now, better outside of class.” I have been trying through several blog posts to show how actual reading and writing need to be authentic in our classrooms to get kids to engage and commit to it. We cannot choose tasks just because they are easy to grade or pretty to show off. We have to choose a task that requires real acts of thinking and then doing essential reading and writing. 

I chose to lead off my June session of e-learning with two articles about the protests gripping our nation right now for my 5th-grade reading group. I choose an article from NEWSELA, “We’re sick of it”: Anger over police killings shatters U.S. Next, I chose an article and video from the Kansas City Star newspaper talking about our local mayor. He joined the protesters in Kansas City. I got the following response out of an ELL student. This response we creative and real for her, not an expected response elicited from a pre-packaged program that does not know my students as I do. This response was an improvement from what I usually receive from her. It was creative and authentic. 

I wrote a blog post about putting emotion back into reading instruction. We have to make sure that what we teach is emotionally engaging for our students. Minor addressed this extensively in his book. A student’s interests usually help fill a social need, in and outside of our classroom. 

He also helps paint the picture I have been trying to paint for everyone for a few years. I have been very outspoken about how reading tasks are just that a task, and they can not be a replacement for actual reading and the thinking reading requires. I have written about this in previous blog posts. In this post Teaching Reading Skills in isolation, I describe how the task of asking students to look for similes using the words like or as, is a meaningless task. It does not hold true to the skill I want readers to understand and notice in reading and use in writing. Which is you can use metaphors and similes in speaking and writing to help you make your thinking, point, or idea clear to others. It would be more meaningful to teach students about language and how we can use it to elevate how we are perceived and respected or admired by our peers and others. The language used in our speaking and writing helps us achieve status now and in the future. If we can get kids to see this as we teach students to use similes and metaphors in their writing and speaking, it becomes meaningful. 

I also reposted an interview with Minor from the Two Writing Teachers Blog. He also speaks there of how you have to not only plan for students’ futures but help them take what you are teaching and use it now in their lives. Reading tasks that required kids to fill out graphic organizers have become way overrated and do not require kids to do the thinking required as readers. We have to bridge the gaps and cause reading and writing to be relevant to kids’ lives now. We must do so authentically not with glorified tasks that reduce the hard work to something more comfortable to complete, but robotic in nature. Our classrooms should not be a vacuum from kids’ lives outside but a bridge to becoming stronger. We can bring in their lives that are chaotic and messy, with thoughtful and reflective lessons as we watch and listen to them. Their behavior is a language of its own. We can do this and still have our students hold to the learning environment we are creating that is a safe place. I urge you to read Minor’s book if you have not and grow your practice. This is a link to my blog post on My Thoughts on Transfer,” which links you to a Heinemann podcast featuring Minor. We have to set students up to transfer what we are teaching to use in their lives. 

Troy

The Larger Purpose

I was recently listening to the audiobook Dare to Lead by Brene Browm while on the treadmill. My mind was instantly thinking about how what she says about leadership can be directly applied within the classroom with kids and specifically with regards to teaching reading. 

She makes a statement that we all know makes sense and rings true most of the time, but do not necessarily take to heart. Projecting an all-knowing attitude and presence, crushes curiosity and questions. I chose to use the word projecting because we can intentionally project outward how we want others to see us. We cannot set up an overly dominating presence that says we are all-knowing keepers of knowledge. Those days are over. Google is all-knowing more than we are. 

Consider this scenario. A student might be reading about climate change and coral reefs. They might have an understanding that coral is a plant. If they are reading with preset an all-knowing attitude, then they will miss it when the writer states otherwise. Then as the writer proceeds to go deeper and paint a clearer picture for the reader based on the understanding and believes of their initial statements, the student will struggle to follow along. The student will not grasp the knowledge of how coral and algae depend on one another and how warmer temperatures are affecting the algae. The student will be confused and question why three sentences about trees being cut down in forests were plopped into a book about coral reefs. The student chose the book because it was about coral reefs. They often find themselves at odds with the writer, but do not understand why. The student will not understand the writer’s underlying themes surrounds climate change and how what happens on land affects the sea. They project an I already know this attitude and do not read with a curious mind. Hopefully, we are not leading with an all-knowing mindset ourselves. We have to change this.

When readers are task-focused and locked in on projecting an all-knowing attitude or presence because they believe that is what they are supposed to do, they miss most what the writers want them to understand. We need curiosity and the serendipity it brings in our classrooms. We need it for ourselves and our students. We do not need to be teaching for compliance and control over our students.

All-knowing attitudes and teachers who project themselves as the all-knowing force in the classroom tend to reduce reading to tasks. We try to be accommodating, and meet students where they are, or with what we feel they can handle, by breaking reading down into small chunks of instruction or task. This can become an act that generates compliance without clarity or vision of the larger purpose of reading. It reduced reading into isolated chunks of several jobs and a list of to do’s. 

We read to gain knowledge, to fulfill our curiosity, and to learn more about ourselves through the lives and experiences of others. Reading helps fill in the gaps of the larger world, that kids can’t experience at home or in their neighborhoods. It fills our hearts and minds. When reading is reduced to tasks to complete, then these elements of the reading process are never broached. The larger purpose of reading is lost. A lot of the assessments given these days feed into this reading task-oriented philosophy that has mistakenly become the dominant focus of reading instruction. As I have stated in past blogs, we do not read to practice strategies. We read to understand and use strategies to help us do that. We cannot forget to teach these larger purposes behind reading and the more extensive thought processes readers must synthesize through. 

To use a term that Brene Brown uses, we have to “paint” the full picture of reading. Reading is not a series of isolation tasks; it requires curiosity of the heart and mind; it requires an openness to learn, and engage. As readers, we must ask questions and challenge our thinking. It is not something that is a passive experience. It is an active process involving our hearts, minds, and intuition, our whole selves. You can complete the tasks of reading as some teach them, but not understand what you read or be able to read with real fluency. Fluent reading and comprehension take knowledge of semantics, the topic you are reading, life, and of the flow of the English language. The way reading is often taught today is often scripted and boring, without emotion and clarity of a larger purpose. Our students are not motivated to read. 

Check out this past blog I wrote on this subject. https://troyafredde.blog/2017/11/27/keep-emotion-in-reading-instruction/

Also this one:https://troyafredde.blog/2019/08/25/thoughts-on-readers-as-thinkers-and-strategy-instruction-part-1/

Troy

E-Learning Noticing Part 2

I miss my co-workers. I miss having those face to face moments. This may surprise those of you that know me well. I am usually a quiet, but thoughtful person who likes to take everything in before jumping conversations. I miss looking people in the eye and truly finding that connection that just isn’t there through Zoom. I miss being with my students tremendously. I am grateful to have Microsoft Teams as an option in my district to connect with them face-to-face.  I have been able to meet with several of them.

air hugs

It is hard balancing my school work, housework, and family time.  I have 2 kids at home doing E-Learning and three dogs all wanting attention. My youngest daughter made dog treats for a school project for them. My wife is a Pre-School director and teacher. She is providing Facebook live story sessions and Zoom meetings with her students. I applaud, her dedication to her students.

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They truly miss there teachers and friends and she provides a real need in filling that gap. The kids parent truly appreciate as well. Well done! I hope I am doing as well. We are mixing our living and workspaces and trying to find and set boundaries.

 

I am trying to remain curious as I tackle new ideas and digital tools daily. I think remaining curious and open is a must in education, but even more so now.  There are so many tools and free resources being offered for us. Take advantage of these. Please be open and curious about trying them out. Also trying out new things on the tools you have become familiar with. I am making a goal to try out something new every two-three days. I am learning more about Seesaw daily.

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I want to thank my district for providing so many webinars and chat sessions to help us move forward and improve our practice each day.

I hope you are finding some joys and learning new things about the people you are living with, in these trying times. Stay curious and see what you can learn that is new about each other. Grow together, not apart in these times. Pause, before quickly reacting. Take moments to reflect and enjoy the small moments.

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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 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.

messy

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?

bridge

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.

nurture

 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.

dissect

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.

meaning

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 practice 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 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 challenging 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 teacher’s 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 the 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 National Board 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 see my teaching in smaller pieces and more significant pieces. I can focus on little 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 Board’s process can help you keep yourself responsible 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 sight 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 methods as a result. National Boards help 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! The process definitely helps you improve it and allows it to become part of what you do naturally.

There are schools and districts out there that require much of what is necessary 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.
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