Are we teaching for compliance or engagement?

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51vLk92FYEL._SX410_BO1,204,203,200_ When thinking about student engagement as I started reading Ellin Keene’s newest book Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning, I started to think about how I engage with people. Am I truly present in conversations with my wife and children. At times I admit I may appear to be listening with intention, however I am really being compliant, not fully mentally present. I am not truly engaged anticipating what might occur next, creating new background knowledge, asking questions, showing intense focus and concentration towards the topic of discussion and trying to apply what we are talking about in a new or interesting way to help solve a problem or give insight. That is what we want when we have conversations with people, right? I actually ask a lot of questions, but my questions tend to fall short of the intended focus of the conversation and often frustrate my friends and family.

Continue reading “Are we teaching for compliance or engagement?”

The Point of the Teaching Point

As I was reflecting on my guided reading lessons today, I started thinking about the teaching point. The teaching point is something I believe can be overlooked when you are first learning the guided reading format you are using. I think it is very important and should never be overlooked. I try to have a teaching point for every day of the lesson no matter if it is two, three or four days long. I make sure to include a teaching point even after conferring with students as they write about the book.

Next StepThis is how Jan Richardson introduces teaching points in her book The Next Step in Guided Reading (2009).

Each day, after students read the text, spend a few minutes teaching strategies for decoding, fluency, and/or comprehension. Always ask yourself what do these students need to learn next.  

The teaching point is something that you may plan for ahead of time as you anticipated what problems the text may pose to students. You may also choose something you noticed a student or students do or attempt to do and discuss what the student did at the point of difficulty, in an authentic point of need. I think you can go much deeper than teaching a strategy, by focusing on the thinking you have do before, during and after using a strategy. I love being able to notice and name what students do as they are experiencing true struggle and trying to make decisions of what they can do to help themselves. When you can discuss those moments as teaching points, students learn the invisible things readers do.

 

UnknownVicki Vinton explains the benefits of what she calls  noticing and naming in her book Dynamic Reading for Deeper Thinking (2017). Vicki says when conferring with readers she would notice and name what they had done to solve the problems the text posed in order to make thinking visible and transferable to other texts.” Keeping the focus on meaning and bringing in skills and strategies as students need them while conferring is a more authentic way to make sure transfer is happening. As readers we do many things at once without often realizing it. If we notice and name what we see the student doing along with the thinking they are doing, this helps motivate them and deepen their understand of what readers really do in their head. I think it is important while completing a teaching point to reference the thinking the student had to do. By doing that you make it more transferable to other texts.

 

A teaching point could be noticing and naming that a student paused or stopped because something didn’t make sense and sharing that as a teaching point can be huge! Getting students to stop and recognize that they need to figure something out is important. Those small pauses and stops are at the heart of self-monitoring, that teaching a strategy won’t expose kids too.

I always plan a teaching point I can talk about as I prepare  a lesson centered around the problems I think the books will cause and have a strategy ready, but I really prefer to highlight something a student or students did as I conferred with them. I want to establish that each child is a reader and already doing many things readers do. Notice I said “readers” do. I did not say “good readers” do. I use to use the phrase “good readers” all the time. Looking back on it I can see some looks of frustration and hurt many of my students faces. We need to build students agency as readers, not imply that they are bad readers. I  point out what they are already doing as a reader. Then I can build upon that strength, often getting to my planned teaching point if it fits the reader at that moment. It is key to always acknowledge what we notice readers doing well. This builds them up. After your teaching point you still have time to introduce and led students to practice a skill or strategy within the lesson and should have planned to do so. Your teaching point should only be 1-2 minutes and doesn’t need to be connected to the strategy you plan to teach later in the lesson.

David Pearson & Margaret Gallagher who first introduced the gradual release of responsibility model said “We could begin a sequence by asking students to try it on their own, offering feedback and assistance as students demonstrate the need for it.” I try to approach my conferring sessions that way! That assistance might be a quick modeling exercise that could become my teaching point. This can also be applied to readers workshop conferring sessions. Teaching points give you a chance to highlight what you notice readers doing during your conferring and set them up to apply a strategy, but not the place to teach a completely new strategy.  

I want my students to be able to construct an understanding of the text’s meaning as they work through problems the text caused. I want them to completely engage with the text bringing their whole self to it, not only a strategy or skill to practice and ask them to think about what they did as readers and highlight those moments through teaching points. I want them to use their feelings, experiences, observations and thoughts to make reasonable interpretations towards the texts meaning while using a strategy as needed as a tool to enhance meaning. Using teaching points this way can lead to so much more self-reflection for students and can be used as student self-assessments. You can even create more formal student self-assessments once students are have experienced thinking about themselves as readers in this way. Teaching points are a place to make the invisible work of reading visible to students focusing in on the thinking it takes.

 

Sunday Cummins states she that when conferring during a guided reading lesson, she first looks for monitoring/decoding problems,  then fluency and lastly comprehension when listening to students read. So depending on student and group needs your teaching point can look very different. Even when zeroing in on decoding I feel the focus should be on making meaning. I keep the focus on cross-checking vs individual decoding strategies, because as readers we usually use multiple strategies at once. This is a good rule of thumb to follow. Jan Richardson says regardless of your focus, always emphasize rereading the text to be sure it makes sense. I love keeping the focus on meaning! 

When planning for guided reading and teaching points ahead of time consider thinking specifically about the problems a reader faces individually and with the specific text. When doing this Vinton say “ you’ll be able to come up with precisely targeted solutions.” She says to consider 3 questions as you plan:

  1. What kind of problems is this reader facing?
  2. What kind of text does this reader need?
  3. How can we help this reader develop a more complex vision of reading?

Keeping these questions in mind can help you plan lessons and teaching points. They will help you be prepared for problems students encounter as they read.

 

Troy

 

Reading with Patrick

I read a very thought provoking book over my break called Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo.

Patrick

 

This book made me very angry at times. I had a hard time trusting the author at first. She won me over with her honesty however. Questions the authors intentions and honesty is something we want our students to do. I find myself doing just that more and more when I read. If I cannot do it, I should not expect my students to or ask them to. The author discusses her experience as a Teach For America teacher, teaching in Arkansas for 2 years. It really brings to the forefront the cycle of poverty that exists today in America even in more rural areas. As an educator who has worked with elementary age students in title 1 schools for my whole career it really drove home the need to be a focused, passionate, and reflective teacher. If we can bridge the achievement at the elementary level, then students like Patrick should be able to better grow their skills and start to excel as learners in middle school and high school. I do not want my middle school and high school partners in education to have to try and play catch up with students like Patrick. It brought to light the need for some schools in America to go year-round, and pay teachers well to do so. I am fortunate enough to work in a district that has 2 elementary schools going year-round. I work at one of them.  We are not using the traditional year-round method where the days of the school year are spread out more evenly, without actually increasing student minutes or # of days in school. My district actually adds 30-31 more student days each year to the regular school calendar year. This has been very beneficial for our students in many ways.

The author mentions how much regression Patrick seemed to show in his reading ability after he dropped out of school. I feel with Patrick, it was more a lack of necessity  than regression because of the cycle of poverty his community was stuck in.  His skills were still there, but he had just not used them in a while. This is true for some of the kids I work with as well. When they are not in school, reading is not a necessity in there family unit. Year-round schooling can defiantly help with this problem.

As an educator, I have taught in 2 very unique places where learning still happened. I started my career teaching in a charter school that was located in a high-rise apartment building in downtown Minneapolis. The students were 95% immigrant kids from Africa. I then moved to Kansas City and taught at a school in Kansas City, Kansas located by the Strawberry Hill neighborhood. This was a neighbor again full of immigrant populations. It had a high Spanish speaking population mixed with families from Europe and the Middle East. I saw best friends torn apart because of their family religious beliefs and cultural differences because their families were from neighboring countries that had had conflicts. Poverty was high. Yet we had students excel there. A classroom can be anywhere, even in a jail as it was for Patrick for a while. As a teacher you create the magic, and help bring out the magic in the literature your students are reading.  I wonder former students as high schoolers and adults now, and I hope I made a difference in their lives! I worked my butt off trying to do so, and have gotten smarter and more efficient with my teaching every year and will continue to do so, never stopping my own learning. I wonder what I could do with them now!

I love how the author really reflected on her experiences with Patrick in this book and adapted her teaching to meet his needs. She didn’t follow a script, but thought, reflected and taught Patrick what he and other kids needed. This book brought back so many memories. It is worth the read. It drove home many things, from the importance of mentor texts, for your students and yourself, to  how students need to be able to make their own meaning as they read without over scaffolding taking place. It really shows how the legal system and society in general does make it hard for someone to make it out of a neighborhood like Patrick’s. It can happen though, and as a teacher you have to believe that or you are wasting the students time and your own. Aways teach with passion and high expectations or get out of the profession like the author did.

Book Recommendations

Kidsbookreview

http://readwriterecommend.blogspot.com/

 

This is a book recommendation site I created a few years ago. I am trying to find some ways to reinvent it,  so to speak and put some new life into it. Our district is now 1 to 1 with iPads at the elementary level, so I need to do something to peak their interest more. So stay tuned! I am always open to suggestions as well!

 

 

Ideas from Sunday Part 2

A few more points to reflect on from Sunday Cummins. My thought are in italics.

  • Keep your hand out of the book, make the student do the work!

This is very simple, but sometimes very hard to do. You have to hold yourself back at times when you want to jump in. I think it would be Ok to pull out a white board and try using an analogy to help students solve a word after they have tried their own suggestions. For example, if a student was stuck on the word bound, write the word out on a white board and ask them what the word is, and what is saying the “ou” sound and apply it to the word bound. I would probably follow up with an analogy chart using ow and ou very soon!

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  • When a child looks up at you, or asks is that right after reading a word, don’t answer yes or no. Respond with “What do you think?”

If you respond, yes or no, then you are doing the part of the monitoring for the student. Students have to monitor and cross-check independently as readers. Remember this was with a group of transitional readers, levels J- around P. The support you give should be helpful but not take monitoring and cross-checking out of their hands. You should not be doing the thinking of reading for them when they are reading. 

  • Sunday says the support you give should have generative value and cause a ripple effect.

Students should be able to transfer the strategy across texts and writing. 

Reflect

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Here’s my first post. You should probably check out my Why I Reflect page. I gave a few reasons for wanting to do this blog. Reflecting is something I have read that Bill Gates and others make part of their daily routine. They take time to sit in a quiet place and just reflect without distractions. You also hear out of struggle comes great things, even beautiful things. I would add reflection to that statement. You keep struggling if you don’t reflect and make  the right changes. When it comes to education is struggle a good thing?  Must students struggle before they succeed.  I think yes and no is the answer. It depends on many factors and upon what they are learning. Each student is different. The struggle must be productive and reflection must be part of the process. Perseverance must be taught also. In what area of education is struggle most productive? How do you scaffold your instruction if you want to see some struggle?

I ask about student struggle because I have been reading Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: A Shift to a Problem-Based Approach by Vicki Vinton.  She answers some of my questions above in terms of comprehension instruction. I have loved reading this book, and agree with a great deal in it, but not all of it.  Vinton discusses how she feels students need to struggle a little without a lot of scaffolding when practicing thinking through a text. Students need to experience the internal thinking of reading, forming opinions as they read to make meaning without teachers giving them to much.

As I reflect I know I need to let the kids show me the best way they learn.  I agree we cannot always scaffold the difficult thinking for them, just to say they are reading challenging text. Students have to learn that as we read a text, we have to constantly reevaluated our thinking. Our thinking will evolve from the beginning to end as we read. We have to reflect on what we read. So maybe struggle is not the right word, to use here. Anyway this is a must read the book for exploring comprehension instruction. It is about helping students read for meaning using a problem based approach. I am exploring this book further leading a book study on it, in my district. I look forward to learning and growing with other teachers as we dig through it.

I caution however going overboard with implementing her ideas or anyones. Reflect on what your students need right now. You have to decide when your students will be ready for this approach, or need it. There is no one way to teach something. Though there are more efficient ways to teach something or solve a problem. I think that is key to keep in mind. I believe you have to give students what they need, when they need it, and no program or curriculum can do that alone, it takes teachers making informed decisions after  assessment & reflection. That being said, you have to know your curriculum, and the programs that best compliment it. When it comes to teaching reading that includes readers workshop and guided reading when the kids them. I will probably talk a lot about how I feel these 2 big ideas for teaching reading should implemented in this blog, and I hope those views will continue to grow and evolve as I go. I also hope some things stick however, things I know work, for some kids at particular times. I hope someone choses to reflect with me as I go.

Troy