Engagement and Assessment

I am teaching a book study for my district using Ellin Keene’s book Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning K-8.

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One of the class activities was to participate in a Twitter chat. My district holds weekly Twitter chats over the school year. I wanted my class to chat about what they had been learning about engagement from Ellin’s book and how their thinking had changed about engagement or had not. A theme of assessment had already been chosen for the twitter chat of the month in question, but I was able to come up with some questions relating engagement and assessment together.

NKCchat 1

I want to thank @EllinKeene for jumping in on a few questions.

As I reflect back on the chat and what I have learned from the book myself and my peers taking the class, I have come to a several conclusions. First engagement is something you have to be talking about from the beginning of the year. Secondly, I think you have to ask students to draw on their personal experiences outside of school when first talking about engagement. Once you have established what engagement is and feels like together you can ask students to notice and think about activities they have been engaged in at school.

Then you can discuss times when you have been engaged and lost that engagement, or times when you do not feel the desire to engage in an activity but do so anyway, and end up absorbed in it wanting more. I think acknowledging these feelings happen to all of us is important. Then you can discuss how to reengage yourself into an activity, or how to choose to open yourself up to the possibility of engagement eventually occurring. Now this will obviously look different at different age levels.

You can then talk about choosing to be open to engaging in specific times when you have noticed students’ engagement lagging. Assessment could be one of those times.

     I know when students become aware of something, like engagement, they will be more willing to hold themselves accountable. When students become aware of something then they can start to assess themselves and think metacognitively about it. 

     I think you could create a self-assessment where students keep track of their own engagement all year long. Then they can visualize and verbalize goals and strategies that may help them engage in the areas where engagement has consistently been  weak. This is a tool that will look different at each grade level and possibly year to year within your own classroom.

Then, when it comes to engagement during district and state assessments towards the end of the year, you have evidence to fall back on and will have, already had conversations about engagement. This should help students recognize when they start to get restless and their mind wonders. They should be able to bring it back because of that awareness, with a little redirection.

I think another key ingredient for engagement during testing is for students to establish themselves as flexible thinkers. This can be done through modeling and talking about experiences. Being flexible is a mindset. Once they are flexible with their thinking students focus on being problem solvers. Students have to have a desire to figure things out and understand that they will be required to solve problems and look at tasks with an open mind. This needs to be established as an everyday expectation. In our classroom you will be challenged daily and often. You will have to be open to changing your thinking as you learn. And let them know you will be there to help them as they go and that you will be learning together. Let students know that in this classroom we will struggle sometimes and that we will pick ourselves back up and figure it out.  Students must aspire to figure tasks out and have a mindset to not give up as they wrangle with it.

Engagement will come and go for our students, so we have to give them the language and tools to notice and chose to engage or reengage when they sense they are losing focus. I think it should be an ongoing and adaptive conversation of modeling and discussion all year long. You need to center discusses around those intrinsic feelings that engaged people feel while immersed in an activity, not the extrinsic rewards they may get after the activity. I want students aware of what it feels like being in the action of deep thinking and engagement.  The have to know and be able to verbalize what learning feels while engaged. The know what it feels like when they are not!

These are a few quick thoughts on engagement and assessment. Hope you can find them useful. I would love some feedback! Troy

Backwards Planning for Writing in Response to Reading.

To help students dig deeper in to their understanding of what they read I have been requiring more of students writing in response to texts. I believe that when students can express text understanding through writing, they can strengthen that understanding as they write.

One strategy I use to set students up to write using fiction books is to think from the writer’s perspective to help deepen their understanding. I teach my students to ask questions like, why did the writer make the character do that or say that? Or, what does the writer want you to think/feel here? If they think about what the writer is attempting to get readers to feel and understand as they read, then it can deeper their thinking and help them make those sometimes-elusive inferences. I want my students to get beyond the generic understandings and ideas to the deeper ones that are more inclusive to text details not clearly stated but implied. It also gives them more than one lumped together sentence to write about.

 

In the text: Thin Ice by Anne Sibley O’Brien, the main characters are cousins.

Thin Ice

 

Rosa is older and often babysits her younger cousin Manny. On their way home from school one day during the beginning of a spring thaw Rosa is fretting about a story she has to write while Manny is carefree and creating adventures for himself. Rosa wishes her life was more exciting, more like Manny’s. Manny pretends he is a hockey player, darts over a fence and heads for a pond. Rosa yells to him that the ice is to thin to walk out on, as he grabs her notebook to use as a hockey puck. She tries to grab it back and it slips from his hands onto ice. Manny quickly goes after it. He falls through and so does Rosa trying to rescue him.

Readers in my guided reading typically explain the book being about falling through the ice. As Rosa eventually pulls herself out of the ice and helps keep her cousin from going under students start to think about Rosa being a hero. There is a deeper meaning to this story, however. It focuses on Rosa feeling sorry for herself and worrying about what she could write for her story because her life is so boring. She states all she does is babysit. The ending of the book helps clarify this theme when Rosa appears to not be upset about what Manny caused because it gave her something to write about. My striving readers easily overlook this deeper theme that can be built up into explanation of what the writer wants readers to understand about life.

 

I planned my lesson for this book through backwards planning. I planned what I wanted students written response to focus on and thought about what strategy would help students be able to notice the underlying theme.  I want a better written response then simply saying this is a book about a girl saving her cousin when he fell into a pond, which is technically right but readers can figure most of that out from the cover of the book. We need to be able to go much deeper.

I chose to have students focus on Rosa and how she was feeling about her life at this point in time as they read. They would have to be able go deeper than the rescue itself to understand what the writer wants readers to understand about Rosa, beside her being a hero.

After reading the text through one time, I asked students to reread specific sections, underline sentences and words that can help them understand how Rosa was feeling that day. Then annotate the text making notes about the why of what she was feeling and to jot down some of their inferences. They will use their notes to help them write in detail about what Rosa was feeling about her life that day. I prompted with questions like I mentioned above, “what does the writer want readers to think here?” or “why would the writer make that happen?”as students marked their text.

Readers will use their notes to help them make a plan for writing and then as they write I confer with them and help them stick to their plan or lead them back into the book so they can clarify something. This will lead to a much more in-depth understanding of the text then I use to get and a clear purpose for students to keep in mind as they read knowing they will be writing about Rosa.

It often appears that teachers will make a plan for student writing as they are finishing up the text readings. This is not something a recommend doing. This makes your lesson objectives isolated and your writing disconnected from your teaching points. Backwards planning with the end in mind will help striving readers make the connections they need to and not practice strategy instruction in isolation where reading becomes about strategy use along and very general understandings of text. Readers will not end up reading for meaning and building meaning through writing.

If the lesson is not planned to set students up for the type of writing you want, then they will not be able to build on and extend their understanding of the text in a cohesive and manageable way through writing. Your reading and writing objectives for the lesson must be aligned, even in your lower level guided reading groups. As the teacher you will possibly end up providing them with the details you decided you wanted them to write about.

Troy

 

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart's Law

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engagement and Understanding text beginnings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are your thoughts and experiences?

 

Troy

Goal Setting, Habits, and Motivation

In 2017 I conducted an action research study over motivation and student goal setting with a colleague.  As I started reading Atomic Habits by James Clear this week, it made me want to revisit this research and reflect on it again.

We looked at different types of goals students were being asked to set. We looked at performance-oriented goals and task-oriented goals. We thought about how a goals focus can impact a student’s commitment to the goal. Schunk & Zimmerman (2008), say according to most goal orientation theorists (e.g., Ames, Dweck, Elliot, & Markiewicz; Midgley and colleagues), the purpose of a performance goal is to gain positive judgements of personal competence, whereas the purpose of learning or task-oriented goal is to actually increase one’s competence. Performance goals are often driven by outside influences and how things appear to be. They go on to say that performance goals work better for already confident learners. Learning goals, or as we chose to call them, task-oriented goals will motivate both confident and unconfident learners. Task oriented goals are more inclined to support intrinsic motivation, which can still be influenced from  forces outside of ourselves but are more geared towards helping students become truly engaged for themselves and absorbed in what they are learning or reading about.

In our research we found that the task-oriented goals our students made did have a positive impact on their motivation to read.  We believe this ultimately impacted student independent reading stamina and overall reading performance.  The data revealed that 14 out of the 15 students who participated grew at least one or more reading level. Most increased multiple levels. Teachers ask students to set reading level goals all the time in educations.  We wanted to steer the focus away from the performance goals related to reading levels and focus more on smaller task-oriented goals. We helped students form goals related to the content of their reading and reading choices. They also created goals dealing time spent reading.

I was starting to understand and now more fully understand how we needed to be focusing on goals dealing with the processes of thinking someone must sustain to be a reader. Goals to form habits of thinking based on reading for meaning.

This brings me to  Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning by Ellin Oliver Keene.

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She states, “there is evidence that motivation to read in the elementary and middle school years is related to reading achievement, with more proficient readers being more motivated and less proficient readers being less motivated. I bring this up because that is a factor that influenced our research. I agree with this statement when thinking about how students’ progress through these years of school. When it comes to reading, they are often motivated by the habits their parents helped them form. Habits of enjoying a good story and learning from a good book.  Students motivation to read is linked to success because of learned reading behaviors they are introduced to at school. Behaviors that focus students’ goals to be centered around speed and quantity are often stressed over reading to gain knowledge and enjoy a good story while learning something about people and life. Or being able to read a book at a certain level.

These external and internal motivation as Keene describes it is linked to an outside factor. It is often a person you want to be like or a person you want to impress.  Both Keene and Clear talk about how engagement or continual meeting of goals will not happen or be sustained with motivation alone. Engagement as Keene talks about and identity work as Clear talks about help drive sustained success or learning.

I came out of our research really thinking about goals and what a student has to be willing to do to make chose goals happen. Setting a goal is the easy part. You simply have to voice it, publicly or not. Then comes the hard part, putting steps into motion to help yourself achieve the goal. Identifying and completing these steps is what trips up children and adults.

In his book James Clear talks about goals and systems. He states that he learned the distinction between goals and systems from Scott Adams. “Goals are about the results you want to achieve, and systems are about the processes that lead to those results.” This shares the beliefs of the researchers mentioned above. He talks about how you have to have the right systems or as I say processes in place for habits to be formed and to continuously keep meeting goals.

After the research was completed, we noticed that even when the students voiced their desire to continue setting task-oriented goals for themselves they were not able to. Goal setting did not become a habit for these students even when they saw some success with it.

In our research we did not help our students internalize the system they needed to continually achieve their goals. The system was not in place long enough for students to grasp the processes of what helping them meet their goals.  The system may have been conflicting the system their classroom teachers were putting in place. Also the habits did not have time to form, before we concluded our research. I think when too much emphasize is placed on the goal itself, students do not consciously become aware of the system or processes they went through to achieve their goals or when they do not meet it  they become discouraged instead of thinking about what adjustments need to be made. If we are not aware of the processes, then we cannot repeat them to keep the cycle going.

You may meet some goals by pure desire, but those goals are not something you continue to meet without the right system in place. When you think about winning sports organizations it is the systems, they have in place that help them have continued success, not simply setting the goals to win. The term the “Patriot Way” was coined because of the continued winning the New England Patriots team has done over the last almost two decades.  It was not used to describe their goal setting savvy ( or cheating ways), but the systems and process their players had to buy into and to describe the identity players who came to the organization adopted. The systems that most legendary coaches put into place include goals, but they will tell you success is driven by habits they instill in players and identities their players take on.  I feel that along with achieving mastery over the processes and building a winning system that lead to a cycle of success you have to make adjustments as you go. Winning teams and coaches know how to make with-in the game adjustments as well as out-of-game adjustments. Clear talks about this also when he addresses “bad” habits. I like to think of them as habits you need to shift and adapt to your current situation or students.

I feel we can learn and apply a lot of what Clear says to education. Keene and Clear are on the same wavelength with their thinking. Helping students form habits that set them up to engage in learning are critical.

I want my students to form the habits that lead them to be successful readers and to be successful in life.

My colleague and I were on the right track with our research into motivation. We wanted to help students form reading habits that would help them continue to set and meet reading goals focused on learning, not speed, level and quantity of reading. We knew they needed to be reading to explore the many experiences they may not get the chance to experience outside of a book until they become adults if ever. We want them to be able to learn about life through their reading. The performance-oriented goals will take care of themselves when students master the processes readers go through.

Right now my mind is absorbed with thoughts on how I can adjust my teaching to help my students form habits that set them up for engagement and sustained success by reading for meaning.  As a National Board Certified Teacher in Literacy I see parallels with the National Board’s Five Core Propositions and Architecture of Accomplished Teaching and forming habits, motivation, and goal setting.

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  National Board-Certified Teachers are teachers who go through the process or system above continuously, creating habits of accomplished teaching. Habits all accomplished teachers share. Anyone who has attempted to achieve National Board Certification or achieved understands that the process you go through changes you as a teacher. It build habits that over time lead to the success of your students. You have to understand and commit to the processes of accomplished teaching to achieve National Board Certification. You are asked to renew your certification every five years to make sure that the process has become a habit. At least that is the way I think we have to look at it.

We have to choose the right identity as Clear puts it. We have to view ourselves as an accomplished teacher and understand what the process of accomplished teaching looks like and set goals that fit into that process. Clear states mastery requires patients and that what seems like overnight success is a really the result of lots of hard work and building of habits that merge together to finally break through into some success.

I want to continue to improve my teaching practice and make changes to improve my life.  I will try to share some of the adjustments and habits as I work towards improving instruction.

Troy

When Modeling Strategies can become Problematic?

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

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

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

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

struggle

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

strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Troy