Questions To consider when having a Reading Conference

Confer

I recently shared these questions to ponder with teachers at my school after my principal asked for noticings about conferring during Readers Workshop. As a reading teacher in my building I am lucky enough to get to go into classrooms and confer with students during their Readers Workshop time while also being able to pull them during Guided Reading time for a guided reading group. I get to see what is going on in classrooms and make sure students are transferring skills taught in guided reading with me ,to the classroom and vice versa. I really like being able to do that!

Anyway these are some questions I asked myself and want everyone to ask themselves who confer with students.

  • Consider how much time your students are getting to read independently in books of their own choosing.
  • Consider what would be more beneficial, completing a reading task or reading.
  • Are some tasks better to use within a Guided Reading group where I am there to give more support?
  • When my students are completing reading tasks are they connecting the tasks and skills used to read for meaning and transfer the skills?
  • Are my students getting time to approximate the research and teaching I am doing with mentor texts in their own texts?
  • Am I teaching reading skills in isolation?
  • Am I teaching each reader or putting to much focus on teaching a book or skill?
  • Am I spending more time researching/assessing than noticing and naming and teaching the reader when conferring?
  • Am I looking for skills I have previously taught in student books to reinforce?
  • Am I researching with students in their own books to teach for transfer of skills and noticing and naming skills when I see students use them or teach a skill when it arises authentically in the student’s book, where they have to do the thinking with you there to support them?
  • When introducing a skill, do I try to keep the focus on reading for meaning and introduce the skill as a tool to help the reader understand the text deeper?

I am really starting to think about reading tasks vs reading and what is more beneficial. I know there is research out there discussing this. I think no matter how well you model thinking readers do, by thinking aloud for students, they will not completely get it until they are doing the thinking while reading books of their choice and have an “Ah Ha” moment where transfer takes place. I am wondering if students are being asked to practice reading strategies as reading tasks that can become a separate activity altogether in the students eyes, when that is clearly not the teachers intention.  They are focused on completing the task, but forgetting to think about meaning. Maybe students do not have a good grasp of these strategies before they are being asked to independently practice. These are questions we have to ask ourselves.

I feel reading skills and strategies are tools we use to help us read for meaning. The independent reading time within Readers Workshop should be used for independent reading. Not for completing a task for skill practice associated with a strategy causing authentic reading taking a backseat or not happen at all for some students.

This is a deep topic and I have barely scratched the surface asking some questions. I have intentionally not included any research with this post. I am just wanting to get a conversation started for myself and others!

Let me know your thoughts!

Teaching Reading Skills in Isolation

Have you ever had this problem?

You are working on metaphors and similes, and have just taught a focus lesson on them. You release students after your lesson to go back and practice noticing them in a piece of text. When you meet with a few students you realize they are just skimming the text for the words “like” or “as”.

They end up marking several places where the author used the words like or as, but not in the context of a smilie. You may be thinking, ugh! What have I done? This is the way I was encouraged to teach this lesson.

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Here are a few suggestions to stop this from happening.

Keep the focus of the lesson on reading for meaning. Make the importance of recognizing similes and metaphor seem like a tool that can help you continue to read for meaning.

Focus on why the author chose to use one. Make the focus of your teaching show how the author is comparing two things, places, or characters. Lead your discussion focusing on why the author chose to do this. Ask what might the author be suggesting here? What does the writer want me to think or feel here?  What does the author want me to understand here? Metaphors and similes help us  gain a deeper understand of a person, place or thing. That is why they are important to recognize. Don’t make the focus be on “like” or “as.”

Introduce metaphors & similes in an authentic way. Keep the focus on reading for meaning. You can still do a read-aloud and model how, noticing metaphors or similes can help you understand what the author is saying better. When you model, model the thinking process a reader goes through trying to understand what the author is saying in the comparison. You might say something along the lines of , “This seems strange. What does the author mean here? I don’t think these normally go together.” Or “when the author compares a character, place or thing, or idea with something else, this is a clue for me to slow down and figure out what the author wants me to understand. The author chose to make this comparison for a reason. What could that reason be? You might wait to name the comparisons as a metaphors or simile. You might ask them to keep an I out for comparisons in their reading today, and to be willing to share any examples they notice.

Keep pushing the idea that comparisons help us understand the authors meaning better. Ask them to keep a list of comparisons they find, snap phots of them or something. After students have found some comparisons then you can dig down and talk about if they notice any similarities or differences within them. They may notice more than you think. When they notice details on their own they will probably remember it better then you spoon feeding it to them. If they are not noticing them on their own, notice them in your read-aloud and make your own list over several days. Notice them in the students books and and snap a photo of it to add to the list. Once you get a handful on the list start looking at them closer and let the students discover what they can as you lead. You could have them annotate a simile or metaphor by using and arrow and asking them to share what it means in their own words.

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Students really should not be reading for the purpose to identify metaphors and similes.  The purpose for reading should always be to read for meaning.  The reading skills we teach should be tools that help us understand our reading deeper. They cannot take away from meaning and become the focus. When they do kids end up doing reading tasks, not authentic reading like the example at the top of this post.

Teaching skills are important. The skills we are asked to teach & assess, from our district and state standards give students another tool to use, to read for meaning.  We have to assess those skill and they have their place. Just do not teach them in isolation and lead students away from reading for meaning in the process. Notice and name skills as students attempt to use them authentically in their reading, or model for them the thinking needed to use them in their books of choice, along with your read-aloud books. They will show up in the books kids are choosing to read. If they are not showing up quickly enough you can bring your own texts, and notice and name them when they do pop up. Do not rely only on the texts you bring and have read aloud or modeled from however. You have done most of the thinking for students in those books and they will never transfer the skill across texts when the only practice they have is from using books brought to them, or read aloud to them. They need chances to authentically use the skills we teach in books they want to read and are reading independently as we confer with them. When we notice and name the skills they are using, that is powerful! We are acknowledging they are doing what readers do.

 

Three Phase Plan with “A Day in Space”

I love how Sunday is continually thinking and adapting her lessons plans to meet her needs and the needs of the Ss she is working with. I think it is important to remember that lesson plan forms can always be adapted to fit you and your students needs. When I taught guided reading in the classroom I was always creating and adapting my own lesson plan forms. I was always finding ways to improve them. You have to be willing to grow and learn as a teacher and make things work for your needs with guided reading. Don’t be afraid to try things out for yourself. It is good to try out using different pre-made plans before trying to create one of your own, so you know what works and what does not for you, your students, building and district.
I love how Sunday centers her lessons around reading form meaning, and making sure students really understand what they are reading beyond the surface level. She is not placing the use of a reading skill above making meaning. Love that!

sunday cummins

Here’s an example of a lesson I gave using the three-phase  learning plan that I introduced in the last blog entry. The source is an article from NASA.gov entitled “A Day in Space” (posted by NewsELA). This lesson might be used with 3rd-5th grade students or striving middle school readers. Below is a link to the filled-out plan. There’s so much of teaching that I can’t get into a “lesson plan,” though, so below is a more detailed explanation of what happened in each phase.

Three Phase Plan Day in Space

Phase One – Meet the Source

The teacher and I gave the students a hard copy of the article to read as a whole.  I started the lesson with this synopsis:

This article is about how astronauts live and work in space. One of the main ideas in this article is that astronauts do some…

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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. 

Ideas from Sunday

I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful PD session today with Sunday Cummins. I plan to blog about several of the take always I got from the session over the next few weeks. This helps me process through the information and reflect on it. Hopefully someone else will get something out of it as well.

I work in a district that has supported reading instruction exceptional well. We have implemented Reading Work shop and continue to use Guided Reading as well. We use the Fountas & Pinnel Benchmark Assessment system as one way to access reading.

http://www.fountasandpinnell.com/assessment/

The session was on working with transitional readers using a lesson plan taken from Jan Richardson’s book: The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.

Next Step

Transitional Readers are students reading at levels J-P.

When conferring with students as they read during a guided reading lesson Sunday shared that she focuses first on-

1st Monitoring/decoding

2nd Fluency

3rd Comprehension

If they showing competence in one area move to the next.

I think this makes sense because monitoring/decode and fluency both effect comprehension.

When moving to check comprehension when conferring we focus on using Fountas & Pinnell’s Systems of strategic actions:

http://www.fountasandpinnell.com/resourcelibrary/id/184

Checking Understanding on:

                                        1st – Thinking Within the Text

                                        2nd – Thinking Beyond the Text (inferring)

                                        3rd – Thinking About the Text (authors craft)

 

When conferring with students who are in the writing phase of the guided reading lesson focus on-

1st– meaning 

            2nd – syntax (language structure)

            3rd – Spelling

I say address capitalization and punctuation if time as you see fit to meet the kids needs, but remember that when we ask students to write about what they read we are doing it as a way for them to show understanding of the text and to extend that understand at the Transitional stage.

When writing always make sure you provide students time to plan their writing with you and then orally rehearse it. Students who need guided reading are often readers who lack good language skills. 

Please contact me if you have any thoughts or questions!

Check out Sunday’s blog at: https://sundaycummins.wordpress.com/