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

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

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.

 

Keep emotion in reading instruction.

WonderI went to see the movie Wonder adapted from the book by R.J. Palacio with my wife and two daughters. My daughters and I have all read the book. As a family we have had so many conversations about books that lead to discussions about life. I think reading helps us make sense of the world and understand each other better as people. This is true for fiction and nonfiction texts. We learn a lot about life of all forms and how they interact and behave.  I think reading instruction should embrace that.

Reading instruction based solely on learning skills and strategies doesn’t motivate kids to want to read, grow and learn as humans. Readers have to have certain skills in place to learn to read, but it takes thinking through a text to bring those pages to life.

As a reader, you have to efficiently solve words and read for meaning so you can focus on the what the author really wants you to understand and to figure out how you feel as a reader and react to the text as a human. We have adapted our teaching of math to make sense for students by having them apply the skills they are learning as they will have the opportunities to do as adults, as they go into the work force and lead their lives. Should we not do the same for reading instruction? Instead we are breaking reading into isolated skills.  You can learn so much about life as a reader. When we take the focus away from learning how to be a better human being as we read both fiction and nonfiction then you are taking the emotion and thus kids motivation to read.  I think students are often being bombarded with the teaching of too many strategies they do not need at the time or are not ready for. Strategies they maybe be able to acquire more independently with our prompting and questioning,  taking ownership of them, instead of over modeling and scaffolding by their teacher. I am not saying skills and strategies cannot be beneficial or needed, however they should not take away from reading for meaning and reading emotionally. You can still meet your curriculum requirements and teach kids to read for meaning with emotion.

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The statement above is one I have really reflected on.  I ask myself am I over-scaffolding my instruction and not letting students think for themselves by doing the actual thinking reading requires for them?  Am I being too quick jump in and rescue them? When it comes to grit have we become a culture where it is OK to over scaffolding and do the heavy thinking for our students so we can say we are challenging them and teaching at a high level state standards often dictate. Shouldn’t I be meeting students where they are and lead them to think through a text, maybe suggesting a strategy to try after they have exhausted their own ideas, not giving it to them before they have a chance to think it through, and learn that as readers we are always evolving our thinking and often struggle. It does not come out squeaky clean on our first attempt most of the time.  Even for us, that is a reason why we plan lessons.

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I love this statement!

I have read a few articles lately that mention classroom reading instruction has become focused too on skills and moved away from reading for meaning, which is really the only reason we read. I have seen this happen. The skill becomes more important than reading for meaning. I know that sounds a little crazy when the skills we are teaching should help students get the meaning of the text, but it happens! Students are being asked to use all of their cognitive ability on a skill and lose the meaning of the whole piece, until the teacher comes to the rescue. Some students do need this skill work, while others do not. If you are an observer first, then you can let the student show you what they need and when they need instruction. I get the pleasure to come into classrooms & confer with kids during readers workshop. I ask them about what they are reading. I ask, What just happened?  Tell me what you just read. They often cannot tell me what the text is about because they are focused on pulling out certain information, highlighting or looking for certain text features and such.  These students can do what the teacher is asking but not understand why they are doing it or what it has to do with understanding as they read. The texts are often too hard even with support because the students lack background knowledge over the subject or letter sound knowledge and word solving skills. Practicing a skill  often leads students away from true understanding of the text. Student are not reading for meaning. I remember hearing Debbie Miller say once that not all kids need guided reading. Those who do not, need to be reading independently. I agree with her 100%. So isn’t she saying that not all students need every reading skill in our curriculum explicitly taught to them and state standards broken down in isolation.

UnknownVicki Vinton talks about this and how we model how to think through a specific type of text, taking it out of the students’ hands to discover and learn on their own, even if they struggle at first. I say give this instruction to the student when they need it and will use it in books they are choosing to read. Hopefully they will develop it on their own with a little prompting on our part, but without us spoon feeding it to them by to much modeling and scaffolding.  I do not want to slow some kids down, preventing them from reading for meaning and really understanding and thus enjoying reading. Modeling and scaffolding instruction are two well researched teaching strategies that have their place and are needed. We just have to be careful about the overuse of them to meet high standards. Kids must think for themselves and struggle at it sometimes, before being rescued.

Kids enjoy reading when they understand what they read, and can relate to it on an emotional level, on a human level. I think feeling and emotion are being taken out of reading instruction in many ways. I have started asking the questions, how does that make you feel? Or How do you think the author wants you to feel right now? These often throw students for a loop causing them to slow down and really think about the text. They are simple but powerful questions that get right to understanding the main idea or ideas of a text. Feeling and emotion should be allowed to go hand in hand with thinking through a text. I think that can still be done focusing on what the author says directly and infers, without letting students get lost in text to self connections that are not meaningful. I think you can still hit the skills you need to asses, focusing on reading for meaning and the emotions you go through as a reader. Vicki Vinton talks a lot about how to do this in Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading. I want students to enjoy reading, react to it and truly understand what they read beyond the gist and apply what they learn through reading to their lives.

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