Why Literacy Educators Need to be Advocates for Science and Social Studies Education

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by Guest Blogger Nell Duke, Professor at the University of Michigan, Author, and 2016 Literacy for All Conference Keynote Speaker

Time devoted to science and social studies in elementary schools has been on the decline for some time (e.g., Blank, 2013; Center on Education Policy, 2008; Heafner & Fitchett, 2012). As citizens, there is little doubt that we should be concerned about this, but in this post, I argue that we should also be concerned about it as literacy educators.

Consider the following passage (Tierney & Pearson, 1981):

The batsmen were merciless against the bowlers. The bowlers placed their men in slips and covers. But to no avail. The batsmen hit one four after another with an occasional six. Not once did a ball look like it would hit their stumps or be caught.

Many readers, including myself, find this passage difficult to comprehend. But if you know the game of cricket, I’m told it is quite easy to understand. This example illustrates the important role that knowledge plays in reading comprehension. In a classic study, Recht and Leslie (1988) studied seventh and eighth graders who were either good or poor readers as determined by a standardized test of comprehension achievement. Some of the students in each group were knowledgeable about the game of baseball; others were not. All students were asked to read a passage that described a half inning of a baseball game and then to reenact and describe what they read. The researchers found that poor readers with high knowledge of baseball actually displayed better comprehension than good readers with low knowledge of baseball—such was the power of relevant prior knowledge.

Having knowledge related to a text seems to support text comprehension in a number of ways, such as through facilitating recognition of words, processing of known vocabulary, handling of existing vocabulary, and generation of inferences (e.g., Elleman, Lindo, Morphy, & Compton, 2009; Fincher-Kiefer, 1992; Kaefer, Neuman, & Pinkham, 2015; Priebe, Keenan, & Miller, 2011). As probably does not surprise you, general knowledge is a strong predictor of later comprehension achievement (e.g., Grissmer, Grimm, Aiyer, Murrah, & Steele, 2010). One study even found that students learned a new comprehension strategy better when it was taught in the context of texts for which they had a lot of relevant content knowledge (Gaultney, 1995).

As literacy educators, one of our major goals is to support comprehension development—and content knowledge supports comprehension development. Therefore, we should be advocates for considerable attention to content area education. We should resist the temptation to think that more time on literacy is always better. That may be true in the short term, but in the long term it could backfire. Students’ comprehension may suffer from a lack of content knowledge relevant to the texts they are reading. The problem may be particularly acute for students who rely heavily on school to develop content knowledge relevant to the texts they encounter in school.

Fortunately, we do not have to choose between attention to literacy and attention to content area education. Through content-rich approaches to literacy education and integrating literacy in science and social studies, we can support development of literacy both directly and through content knowledge-building (e.g., Guthrie, McRae, & Klauda, 2007; Strachan, 2015). In other words, by advocating for science and social studies, we can have our cake and eat it too. Let’s eat up!


Nell Duke is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference on:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.- Emphasizing Engagement: Why Literacy Engagement is More Important Than Ever and What We Can Do About It (Grades K-8)

10:15 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.- Projects for the Primary Grades (Grades K-2)


References

Blank, R. K. (2013), Science instructional time is declining in elementary schools: What are the implications for student achievement and closing the gap? Science Education, 97, 830–847. doi:10.1002/sce.21078

Center on Education Policy. (2008). Instructional time in elementary schools: A closer look at changes for specific subjects. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.cep-dc.org/publications/index.cfm?selectedYear=2008.

Elleman, A. M., Lindo, E. J., Morphy, P., & Compton, D. L. (2009). The impact of vocabulary instruction on passage-level comprehension of school-age children: A meta-analysis. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(1), 1–44. http://doi.org/10.1080/19345740802539200

Fincher-Kiefer, R. (1992). The role of prior knowledge in inferential processing. Journal of Research in Reading, 15(1), 12–27. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9817.1992.tb00018.x

Gaultney, J. F. (1995). The effect of prior knowledge and metacognition on the acquisition of a reading comprehension strategy. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 59, 142–163. http://doi.org/10.1006/jecp.1995.1006

Guthrie, J. T., McRae, A., & Klauda, S. L. (2007). Contributions of Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction to knowledge about interventions for motivations in reading. Educational Psychologist, 42, 237–250.

Grissmer, D., Grimm, K. J., Aiyer, S. M., Murrah, W. M., & Steele, J. S. (2010). Fine motor skills and early comprehension of the world: Two new school readiness indicators. Developmental Psychology, 46(5), 1008–1017. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0020104

Heafner, T. L., & Fitchett, P. G. (2012). Tipping the scales: National trends of declining social studies instructional time in elementary schools. Journal of Social Studies Research, 36(2), 190-215.

Kaefer, T., Neuman, S. B., & Pinkham, A. M. (2015). Pre-existing background knowledge influences socioeconomic differences in preschoolers’ word learning and comprehension. Reading Psychology, 36, 203–231.

Priebe, S. J., Keenan, J. M., & Miller, A. C. (2012). How prior knowledge affects word identification and comprehension. Reading and Writing, 25, 131-149. doi:10.1007/s11145-010-9260-0

Recht, D. R., & Leslie, L. (1988). Effect of prior knowledge on good and poor readers’ memory of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(1), 16–20. http://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.80.1.16

Strachan, S. L. (2015). Kindergarten students’ social studies and content literacy learning from interactive read-alouds. The Journal of Social Studies Research, 39, 207–223.

Tierney, R. J., & Pearson, P. D. (1981). Learning to learn from text: A framework for improving classroom practice (No. 30). In E. K. Dishner, J. Readance, & T. Bean (Eds.), Reading in the content areas: Improving classroom practice (pp. 1–38). Dubuque IA: Kendall Hunt.

For a number of additional resources related to advocating for science, social studies, and arts education, see http://knowledgematterscampaign.org/.

Setting the Stage for ­­­­Joy and Independence in Reading

by Irene Fountas, Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Author, and Featured Speaker at the 2016 Literacy for All Conference

A classroom is a place where children can thrive in a language-rich, print-rich, social environment every day of the school year. When you support continuous inquiry, children’s fascination with people and the world, and multi-text based learning, you engage the hearts and minds of your students. They learn how to learn and develop a sense of agency that will propel their literacy learning across the year.

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The foundation of growing up literate in our schools lies in authentic literacy learning that brings together children’s language and background experiences with the world of print and media. It begins with getting wonderful books in every child’s hands and selecting high quality complex texts that capture children’s attention with the language, craft and ideas of fiction and nonfiction texts. And it continues when the fabric of the classroom is reading, thinking, talking and writing about books.

The early milestones for developing students’ views of themselves as readers and writers include setting up an organized classroom library in a range of relevant and appealing categories, providing a variety of enticing book talks and teaching your students to do the same, teaching students how to select books that interest them and they can enjoy, teaching students how to talk to each other about books, and introducing the reader’s notebook as a place to reflect on reading through writing.

When students spend their time reading books, thinking about books, talking about books, and writing about them, they build the stamina and independence that places books at the center and promotes a lifetime of joy in reading.


Irene Fountas will be speaking at the upcoming Literacy for All conference, October 23-25, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. Her sessions include:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Celebrating the Twentieth Anniversary of Guided Reading: Elevating Teacher Expertise in Differentiated Instruction (Grades K-5) 

Irene Fountas, Author/Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University, MA
Gay Su Pinnell, Author/Professor Emerita, The Ohio State University, OH

 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Digging Deep: Teaching for Reading Power in Guided Reading Lessons (Grades K-5)

Irene Fountas, Author/Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University, MA
Gay Su Pinnell, Author/Professor Emerita, The Ohio State University, OH

Close Reading Workouts: 3 Engaging Strategies that Work!

 

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by Guest Blogger Lori Oczkus, Literacy Consultant/ Author and Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Is close reading the new black? Just like the trusty little black dress or classic dark blazer that become reliable staples in a wardrobe, close reading plays an integral role in our literacy instruction with students of all ages. Students rely on close reading to dig into challenging texts in a variety of settings; from eighth graders working in teams to scout out the tone of political articles, to fourth graders pouring over informational books about hurricanes for their blog posts, to first graders preparing to meet a guide dog by reading picture books about working dogs. Our students today need to carry a tool kit of effective reading strategies that they employ as they read a wide variety of texts. Close reading is one way for students to enhance and improve their comprehension when reading more rigorous texts.

Close reading involves rereading to highlight, underline, reconsider points, ask and answer questions, consider author’s purpose and word choice, develop fluency, and discuss the text with others (Oczkus & Rasinski, 2015). Instead of skipping over challenging texts, students need to develop strategies for digging into texts on their own (Fisher & Frey, 2012). Students also should learn to stick to the text at hand rather than going off topic. Close reading keeps students focused as they make meaning and dig deeper into texts for different purposes. Also, close reading helps solve the issue of spoon feeding students or constantly providing too much teacher support. Students learn to take responsibility and to attempt to tackle challenging texts on their own.

When close reading first came on the scene along with the Common Core Standards (2010), many teachers complained that close reading as an instructional routine was “boring” or that it took too long. Eyes rolled and students sighed with dread as they forced themselves to read passages multiple times. In my work in classrooms around the country, we decided to try an interactive lesson sequence that features practical ways to engage students in close reading lessons. The protocol features proven strategies from reciprocal teaching along with a dash of fluency (Oczkus & Rasinski, 2015). Here are some practical ways you can add some serious pep to your close reading lessons:

  1. Make Lessons Interactive
  • Mark It Up

Try making your close reading lessons more interactive by encouraging students to mark the text in a variety of ways, using colored pencils, highlighters, and crayons. Also, invite students to sometimes circle, box, or annotate in margins or on sticky notes with symbols. You might even assign each table just one of the symbols to look for in the text. So for example, one table rereads the text to underline sentences that are confusing while another puts exclamation points in the margins for surprising information. Then encourage students to share their markings.

  • Talk About It

Invite students to reread on their own and mark texts but to briefly discuss their findings after each rereading. Discussion promotes comprehension!

  • Let Students Choose

Allow students to select which passage or page from the book is worthy of a close read. Use the agreed upon portion of text to conduct a series of rereadings. Be sure to ask students to justify why they wanted to reread that particular text. Reasons for close reading might include: challenging vocabulary or concepts, confusing plot twists or character actions, or even well written text that warrants rereading for deeper enjoyment.

  1. Try the “Fab Four” to Dramatically Boost Reading

Reciprocal teaching (Palincsar & Brown, 1986), or the “Fab Four” (Oczkus, 2010) is an effective and research-based reading discussion technique that works well for a close reading routine and yields dramatic results. Research shows that students who participate in reciprocal teaching show improvement in as little as 15 days (Palincsar & Brown, 1986) and after three to six months they may grow two years in their reading levels (Hattie,2008; Rosenshine & Meister 1994). When we use reciprocal teaching as a close reading routine, comprehension improves and student reading levels soar!

  • Natural 4 Steps for Close Reading Lessons

Reciprocal teaching is a scaffolded discussion technique that includes four critical strategies that good readers rotate through as they comprehend text– predict, question, clarify, and summarize (Oczkus, 2010). When rereading a text, these four strategies provide a practical protocol and can be discussed in any order. As students move through the strategies and reread for each, they can also mark texts by underlining, circling, and writing in margins. The students begin to use the strategies on their own as the process becomes second nature whenever they read!

Predict 

First the reader briefly glances over the text to make predictions and to consider the author’s purpose.

Read

Depending upon the grade level the students may read the first time through a text on their own. Then the teacher reads it aloud after they’ve attempted it. For younger students or struggling readers, the teacher reads the text first and students reread it.

Clarify 

Next the reader reads the text through identifying challenging words or ideas.

Question 

Then the reader and the teacher ask questions including text dependent ones.

Summarize 

During the final rereading of the text the reader summarizes the text and author’s purpose.

  1. Sneak Fluency into Close Reading Lessons

Close reading, by definition, requires that students read a text more than once and for different purposes. One purpose of repeated readings is to learn to practice reading a passage with fluency (Rasinski & Griffith, 2010). Since we are asking students to reread texts during close reading lessons, fluency instruction is a natural fit! Here are some easy ways to incorporate fluency into your close reading lessons.

  • Model the Three Aspects of Fluency

Fluency includes three important aspects that can be quickly highlighted during close reading instruction. The teacher reads aloud the passage fluently and can model and point out one aspect of fluency such as appropriate rate, accuracy, or prosody.

Rate:  Encourage reading with expression, volume and at a conversational pace.

Accuracy:  Praise self-corrections.

Prosody:  Point out during your modeling how to group words together to sound natural or how to read with expression and emotion.

Close reading lessons boost reading when you employ reciprocal teaching, engagement strategies, and fluency modeling.


Lori Oczkus is speaking at the Literacy for All conference on:

Monday (10/24)

10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.- Close Reading Workouts With Paired Texts (Grades K-8)

3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.- Guided Writing: Practical Lessons, Powerful Results! (Grades K-6)

Tuesday (10/25)

10:15 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.- Close Reading Workouts With Paired Texts (Grades K-8)- repeat session

References

Common Core State Standards Initiative. 2010. Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Washington, DC: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Fisher, Doug, and Nancy Frey. 2012. “Close Reading in Elementary Schools.” The Reading Teacher 66(3): 179-188.

Hattie, John A. 2008.  Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement.  Oxford, UK. Routledge.

Oczkus, Lori D. 2010. Reciprocal Teaching at Work: Powerful Strategies and Lessons for Improving Reading Comprehension.  2nd Edition. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Oczkus, Lori D. and Timothy V. Rasinski. 2015. Close Reading with Paired Texts. Series K-5. Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education.

Palincsar, Annemarie Sullivan, and Ann L. Brown. 1986. “Interactive Teaching to Promote Independent Learning from Text.” The Reading Teacher 39 (8): 771-777.

Rasinski, Timothy V. 2010. and  Lorraine Griffith. 2010. Building Fluency Through Practice and Performance.  Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education.

Rosenshine, Barak, and Carla Meister. 1994. “Reciprocal Teaching: A Review of the Research.” Review of Educational Research 64 (4): 479-530.

Making Joy a Reading Standard

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by Guest Blogger Mary Anne Buckley, Literacy for All Conference  Featured Speaker

I was on an interview a few years ago and the final question was a wordy jumble of educational buzzwords and teacher-ese lingo that left me questioning if I actually knew anything at all about literacy instruction. So I asked the panel to repeat it and when they did I was able to tease out their real question… what did I consider to be an essential component of a literacy program? Without thinking I answered, “Joy” and thought that would wrap up the interview and the job. The bemused chuckles and blank stares made me realize I had some explaining to do.

I went on to describe how Read Alouds can promote fluency and reading rate, how Shared Reading can delve into word families and sentence structure, how Interactive Read Alouds can deepen prediction, inferring and comprehension strategies. I described how literacy workshops can reach all the benchmarks and standards of the Common Core, the DRA, the F&P, but without joy they won’t develop enthusiastic, independent, discerning readers.  It may, to quote G.M. Trevelyan,  “…[produce] a vast population able to read, but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.”

Today reading instruction in many classrooms has a narrow approach focused on checking off strategies and skills within specific book levels. These checklists then determine when a student can move forward in their reading and even what books they are allowed to read!  Teachers may mean well in following these programs but the formulas, the checklists, the assessments overtake their judgment and they lose sight of the bigger picture. When we put those directives aside for just a moment and focus on our students we discover something new. We see Carlos choosing books from several different levels and genres.  We ask why Anna loves chapter books as she organizes her post it notes and we listen to Ben and Simeon question each other as they read Open Wide: Tooth School Inside we find the purpose of our instruction. We find joy in reading and then we balance that with thoughtful, systematic, explicit instruction. This begins the development of readers who take risks, contemplate thoughtfully and question independently.

Joy is reading Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems. It is a delightful tale that brings our classroom community together in silly joy. And when we look deeper and explore the tenderness Leonardo feels when he chooses to hug Sam instead of “scar[img] the tuna salad out of him” an opportunity is created for students to share times when they have offered kindness to someone and how it changed the situation. Or when they accepted kindness from a peer and how it changed them. As readers we begin to look for compassion in other characters, to find connections of compassion across genres and discover compassion in real world news.

Another joy is holding March Reading Madness this past year. Eight books were placed in a bracket and every Thursday three classes gathered together to read and vote for a favorite.  As a group we examined the cover art and made predictions, we paused and discussed the problems and possible solutions, and we shared out favorite quotes by referring back to the text. After the ballots were cast one class would tally the votes and announce the winner for that week. The final pairing was held in the auditorium with great fanfare and popcorn!

One class extended the learning by writing persuasive paragraphs about their book choice; another made short video book reviews. Some children made their own brackets with books from their reading bags. They read with great enthusiasm to one another attempting to convince the other that the cunning ways of Jack and Annie were superior to that of Nate the Great.

When our class read A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams the children wondered why Rosa and her mother used all the money to buy a chair. After all a chair is a chair, right?  We read the book with a second grade class  and after many readings and discussions the students came to see how each one of them had a precious object that offered them safety and comfort. Together the students created posters of both the chair and their individual objects. The joy of the poster activity strengthened the students’ understanding of why we reread books, why we ask questions when we are confused, why we share ideas.

We read a slew of books about the power of words – Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rapport, Trouble Talk by Trudy Ludwig, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna, Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter and spent time thinking about the words we use and how they affect people. Then we brainstormed words that we could use to help make our community and the world a more peaceful place. As readers we began to discover the thoughtful and purposeful word choices authors make when describing a character, a setting, a gesture. We discussed words that carried powerful peace within them and wanted to be a class that spread peace.  We hung our mural in the hallway and students and adults alike stopped to read and enjoy our joy.

Joy is in listening to and being moved by words and joy is in crafting words that move others. Joy is in recognizing ourselves in characters as well as challenging ourselves to see things from a different perspective. Joy is connecting and reflecting with one another.  I wrote that I answered the last question from the interview panel without thinking but in all actuality I’ve been thinking about that answer for years. When we remember our own personal joy of reading and infuse that into our instruction the lessons themselves become joyful.

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is not found in finishing an activity but in doing it.

– Greg Anderson


Mary Anne is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference:

Monday, 10/24

1:30pm – 3:00 pm- Friendship Workshop: How to Integrate Social, Emotional and Literacy Learning (Grades K-2)

Tuesday 10/25

10:15am – 11:45am-  Friendship Workshop: How to Integrate Social, Emotional and Literacy Learning (Grades K-2) (repeat session)

1:00pm – 2:30pm- It’s Not Education If It’s Not Mindful (Grades PreK-2)

Save the Day with Flipped Lessons: Our Superheroes in Reading and Writing Workshop

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by Guest Bloggers and Literacy for All Conference Speakers Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul

Are you like us? Do you occasionally turn to YouTube for tips and tutorials? From baking salmon so that it’s flaky and crispy to changing a flat tire, we turn to YouTube to learn. It has also helped us in the classroom. If we have a tough grammar or writing concept that we’re going to teach, we might refer to TeacherTube and YouTube as resources. These online tutorials have been like superheroes to us as adults, and we began wondering how we could create online lessons to help our students too.

Over the past few years, we have been thinking deeply about the pedagogical approach known as flipped learning. Traditionally, flipped learning has been defined as a learning environment where students learn new content independently. Such learning has typically occurred outside of the classroom for homework, and this approach has been used primarily with high school students in content areas such as science or math.

We were intrigued. And yet, we had questions. Does flipped learning work for elementary and middle school students? How could we incorporate flipped learning in reading and writing workshop? Could we design lessons to be used in the classroom, as well as out? Could we use flipped lessons to teach new content and to review previously taught material? But mostly, would flipped learning truly benefit our readers and writers in elementary and middle school and if so, how?

Picture a reading or writing workshop with a whole-class minilesson and the teacher conferring with students one at a time after the minilesson. Now, add to this image a few students learning additional reading and writing strategies from a flipped lesson on their own after the minilesson. In this blended-learning environment, students can take ownership of their learning and access instruction on reading and writing concepts that have been previously taught or concepts that are new. Flipped learning allows each student to move at his or her own pace. We discovered additional benefits as well.

  • Individualized Instruction – We love the gentle chaos of the reading and writing workshop. By gentle chaos, we mean the individualized learning that is taking place. Our students are not in lockstep and our instruction is differentiated. Flipped learning helps our students access the instruction they need, when they need it. How many times have we had students who say, “I’m done!” during the first week of a unit? And how many times have we had students who need to review strategies over and over throughout the course of the year? When using a flipped learning approach in writing workshop, students can set goals at the start of the workshop, mid-way through the workshop, or at the end. In these ways and more, flipped lessons can be used to foster individualized learning in the classroom.
  • Efficiency – How many times in our classrooms have we wondered aloud, “If there were only two more of me…” or exclaimed, “If only I could just clone myself!” In the reading or writing workshop, teachers are juggling multiple balls in the air on any given day. Flipped learning can be used to help our workshops run more efficiently. Picture this. On any given day, some students need help with a revision strategy. Others need practice inferencing. And still others need help getting started with selecting a book or an idea to write about. All of this is happening while you’re trying to confer with students or teach a minilesson to a small group. Flipped lessons function as superheroes who save the day! Flipped learning helps all students get the specific instruction they need, when they need it.
  • Engagement – Flipped learning is a way to increase motivation and student engagement in reading and writing workshop. These short, creative lessons capture students’ attention and they feel encouraged to apply what they have learned to their reading or writing. We want to encourage our students to become active participants in their learning. Flipped learning helps students take initiative and become engaged learners.
  • Assessment – Flipped learning requires rich, iterative assessment to move students forward. It is not a replacement for face-to-face interactions with teachers, and neither is it the panacea for all writing ailments in the classroom. Our role as teachers is critical. Our students NEED us to teach, guide, and follow up. As a result of accessing a flipped lesson, a pathway for students to assess themselves and receive additional support is key. Also, students should have a clear understanding of exactly how their teacher plans to assess their progress. This assessment can take many forms from conferring with students, to reviewing their reading or writing notebook or drafts, to completing an entrance/exit ticket, and more.

For these reasons and many others, we began using flipped learning in our reading and writing workshops. If you’re intrigued about flipped learning in your writing workshop, a great place to start is to think about 3-5 lessons that would be good to flip. Ask yourself, “Which lessons do I find myself reteaching during the school year?” These might include: a lesson about how to write a single paragraph, a lesson about how to identify a theme in reading, or a lesson about dialogue punctuation. Then ask yourself, “Are there any lessons that my novice readers and writers might want to refer to over and over throughout the year?” “Any for my advanced readers and writers?” Reflecting on questions such as these along with the needs of your students can help you to brainstorm your first lessons to flip.

We’re looking forward to talking much more about flipped learning at the Literacy For All conference in October. If you’re curious about flipped learning in the reading and writing workshop and would like to start making flipped lessons, come join us!


Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul, authors of Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach & Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning, are speaking at the Literacy for All Conference being held October 23-25, 2016 in Providence, RI. You can also find Dana and Sonja on Twitter at @LitLearnAct and on their Facebook Group called LitLearnAct.

Dana and Sonja’s session at the conference is:

Monday, October 24, 2016

10:30 pm – 12:00 pm- “Flipping Without Flipping Out in Reading and Writing Workshop”  (Grades 5-8)

Interventions: The Observant Teacher Knows That There Are Times All Learners Need Them

By Guest Blogger Laura Robb, Author and 2016 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

“I never thought that Josiah would need help,” Mrs. Kensey said. “He’s one of my best readers and he works hard. But he struggled to make inferences with informational texts.”  Like Mrs. Kensey, many teachers believe that students who work hard and excel at school won’t require interventions. However, if we look at our students through the lens of independent and dependent learners, we can adjust our view of intervention. Independent learners have the confidence, skill and strategies to solve learning problems while dependent learners lack self-confidence and the skill and strategies needed to support completing challenging tasks on their own. Students (and adults) move back and forth between being independent and dependent learners. Let’s understand this swinging pendulum by looking at a two examples:

  • When teachers present a new strategy such as inferring with informational texts, there will be students who can infer with fiction but can’t transfer the skill to nonfiction.  However, by modeling the process of inferring with nonfiction in an intervention conference and asking students to practice, you can observe their strengths and needs, scaffold their learning, and move them to independence.
  • If students lack the vocabulary and background knowledge to read and comprehend new information such as space geometry, nuclear meltdowns, or the Cold War, they will need interventions—scaffolds that build vocabulary and background knowledge so they can comprehend  unfamiliar information.

It’s important that teachers understand that independence is not a fixed point on the achievement scale. Instead, when a student who is a high achiever faces a learning roadblock, he or she will ask for and accept help without losing self-confidence and self-efficacy. It’s the student who lacks self-confidence and has negative feelings toward school and learning who teachers must continually observe and interact with because they are unlikely to ask for help when they encounter difficulty. To observe whether students have absorbed and can apply the strategies and tasks you’ve modeled, embrace and use the three interventions that follow.

Intervention 1: Two-to-Three-Minute Conversations

An important purpose of this brief intervention is to decide which students you can support during a two-to-three minute conversation and who requires a five-minute exploratory conference. Observe, listen, and ask students’ questions as you circulate among them while they are reading, writing, or working in small groups. Such daily interactions enable you to check on the progress of students you previously helped and continue monitoring all students as they practice new tasks and work independently.

As you circulate look for behaviors that show students are disengaged from the work: the student isn’t reading, writing, or sharing during a student-led discussion; a student is doodling in his notebook, slumping in her seat, or resting his head on the desk. Have an on-the-spot informal conversation with each student and decide whether you need more than a short conversation to scaffold the learning. Difficulty with applying a strategy, completing a writing plan, revising a journal entry, or taking notes, usually requires a longer conference. However, issues such as changing a text that’s too difficult, figuring out the meaning of a tough word, or getting started on a response to a text can usually be supported during a two-to-three minute conversation. Jot the high points and suggestions of this conversation on a sticky note and give it to the student as a reminder.

While you find the time to confer with a student, have him or her work on a task that he or she can successfully complete independently such as reading a self-selected book or working on a project with a peer partner. If you have time, schedule a five-minute exploratory conference that day or the next day, so you can decide the kind of support that student requires.

Intervention 2: Five-Minute Exploratory Conference

The purpose of this one-on-one intervention is to help you decide how much support a student needs to move to independence with a task. It’s possible that you can clear up the student’s confusion in one to two conferences. However, there will be times when your observations of the student practicing a task such as finding text evidence or comparing and contrasting two characters indicate the need for a series of three or more short conferences to move that student to independence.

Intervention 3: A Series of Five-Minute Conferences

If your exploratory intervention reveals the need for more in-depth scaffolding, schedule a series of five-minute conferences. Hold five-minute conferences in a quiet place in the classroom while other students are completing work independently. Set up a small table or a student desk away from other students so you have privacy while conferring. A student will be reluctant to share his or her feelings and concerns if everyone in the class can hear.

By spending five minutes a day with a student you gain the time to model, have the student practice and think aloud in front of you, then gradually release responsibility for competing the task to the student. These conferences support students if you focus the task. If students need help with text structure, decide what genre you’ll focus on and identify exactly what the student needs to understand.

Most five-minute conferences are between the teacher and one student. However, if there are two to four students practicing the same strategy with you, you might bring them together once they are close to achieving independence. Often, at this point in the scaffolding, asking students to practice together and share and discuss their process can quickly move them to independence.

Pre-Plan Five-Minute Conferences

Pre-planning asks you to carefully reflect on your observations of a student, focus the conference, but also develop several possible scaffolds. It’s beneficial to have several scaffolds ready to try because there is no one sure fix-up strategy for a student. This way, if one scaffold derails, you can immediately try another on your list of possibilities.

The conference form that follows provides you with a written record of what transpired during each scheduled meeting. Use this documentation to decide on your next teaching moves and to point out progress to students. As students experience success and learn to associate positive feelings with solving learning challenges, they will develop the self-confidence and self-efficacy needed to be independent learners—most of the time.

*All names are pseudonyms.


Five-Minute Scaffolding Conference Form

Student Name_____________________Date____________

BEFORE THE CONFERECNE

Focused topic:

Teacher’s preparation notes:

 

AFTER THE CONFERENCE:

Student’s comments:

 

Outcomes:

 

Negotiated goal:

 

Check one:

___schedule another conference

___have the student work with a peer

___let the student work independently

 

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Laura Robb is speaking at the 2016 Literacy for All conference in Providence, RI on:

Monday  (10/24/16)

10:30 am – 12:00 pm– Deep Reading, Deep Writing Using Multiple Texts (Grades 3-8)

3:30 pm – 5:00 pm–  Quick and Meaningful Intervention Tools and Strategies for Classroom Teachers That Can Move Students to Independence (Grades 3-8)

 

Tuesday (10/25/16)

10:15 am – 11:45 am– Deep Reading, Deep Writing Using Multiple Texts (Grades 3-8)

 

Bringing Back Some Teacher Control to Reading Instruction

Thumbnail- Wiley Blevins

by Guest Blogger Wiley Blevins—Author (A Fresh Look at Phonics) and
2016 Literacy for All Conference speaker

As teachers, we know our students better than anyone else. Yet in some schools, teachers are given curriculum and told to follow it with fidelity—meaning, do exactly what the teacher guide says and never veer. To compound this issue, principals and district personnel visit these teachers, observe their teaching, and criticize or punish them when the lesson hasn’t been followed verbatim.

This happens for a variety of reasons that are important to understand. A district reading coordinator, for example, is responsible for the academic growth of all the students in the school system. She purchases a packaged curriculum with research data to support its efficacy and believes that this program will have a strong, positive impact on student growth. She devotes a great deal of time and money to select, purchase, and train on the use of these new instructional materials and practices. So, it makes sense that the district administrator would want these materials used properly and implemented well. When principals and district-level personnel visit classrooms for observations, some have reading expertise, others do not. So, what do they do? They pick up the lesson and follow along as the teacher teaches. Of course, any deviation from that plan will be noticed. Over time, teachers begin feeling like these observations are increasingly punitive and decide it’s best to just “follow the plan.” In some instances the result is teachers who are going through the motions. It’s fear-based teaching and it’s the most disheartening thing I see in classrooms. So what do you do?

In some school districts I’ve worked with, I’ve recommended using an 80-20 principle of instruction. I didn’t make this up (I wish I had); it was something used by one of my principals back in the 80s and something common to high-tech companies today. Here’s the basics behind the 80-20 principle. Workers devote 80% of their time to the assignments given them by their managers. The other 20% of their time is theirs, time in which they can innovate to create new product ideas and grow and develop. This creates a situation in which the company is getting the work they need from their employees, and the employees are respected and highly engaged because they have time to be creative, use their training, and possibly create breakthrough ideas.

How does this apply to the teaching of reading? What this means is that 80% of the time teachers use the district approved materials and resources (including tools for differentiation). 20% of the time, teachers examine their student needs and use their own creative ideas and best practices to meet those needs. This can occur in many different forms.

In one district, teachers followed the curriculum 4 days a week (80% of the time). The 5th day was called a “Flex” day. The teachers could meet the stated learning objectives in any way they saw fit. Some teachers would “bank” their flex days for a month and have a “Flex Week” in which they would do an author study, book study, or larger project-based learning mini-unit.

In another district, they built in places in the lesson plans each day where teachers had choices. Some were simple places, such as the selection of the daily read aloud. The district’s curriculum only provided a read aloud for one day each week, yet students need to be read to every day. So, the district created a list of books from collections they had purchased, books available in the school library, and other recommended titles that the teachers could choose from related to the unit’s theme. The teachers could also choose any book of their own that they liked. The teachers were given a generic read aloud protocol (routine for selecting a book, identifying vocabulary words to highlight, writing text-based questions, etc.) to use with the books they chose. Teachers loved this freedom and the amount of reading aloud increased in the classrooms. That’s a simple fix.

In other places of the lesson, teachers were asked to think about the formative assessment data they had collected throughout the lesson or week and make decisions about what to do next based on their students’ needs, rather than what the curriculum suggested. For example, on the last day of an instructional cycle in any reading program (generally Day 5), teachers are given a series of review activities, one per main skill taught that week. In classrooms where teachers felt punished for not following the curriculum, they would simple march through these (often simple and boring) activities without regard to whether or not their students needed them. In an 80-20 situation, teachers instead look at which skills their students need reinforcement on (and which students need what), then select from the activities provided, a list of additional more-engaging activities provided by the district, or create their own activities to use. This is so much more fun for teachers and more purposeful for students! If a district observer entered the classroom and picked up the lesson plan, they knew this was a place the teacher was thinking about her students’ needs and innovating using her wealth of experience, resources, and expertise.

Another example of bigger choice involved the use of novel studies. For the last unit of the year (in which the district really wanted to reinforce the skills taught during the year in a longer text than those provided in basal reading anthologies), teachers could choose to do the unit provided in the basal or replace it with a novel study. The specific novel used was selected by the teachers after several were distributed for review and a vote taken. (Teachers must have a say in some of these decisions.) A few master teachers then worked together at the district level to create a lesson guide including some support for vocabulary selection and instruction, text-dependent questions, writing experiences, etc. However, teachers were asked to evaluate their students’ growth on all the major standards for the year and focus on those that students still needed work on. That means teachers could innovate on the plan provided. Additional support readings were provided to supplement the novel. These were often short, informational text pieces so those skills could be addressed, too.

We need to put systems in place like these in which teachers are respected, highly engaged, thinking professionals with the necessary support tools. This involves a system in which district level administrators also know that their efforts (time, money, expertise) are being utilized and publishers are comfortable that their materials are being implemented with enough efficacy to ensure their success. But remember, a textbook or instructional resource is only a tool. And no one tool will be perfect. You want to find and use the best tools possible for your students. But you and only you can take that tool to the next level by adjusting it to your students and their specific needs.


Wiley Blevins is speaking at the Literacy for All conference on:

Monday (10/24) from 10:30 am – 12:00 pm– The Key Characteristics of Strong Phonics Instruction and the 10 Common Causes of Failure (Grades K-2)

Monday (10/24) from 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm, Navigating Nonfiction (Grades 3-6)

Tuesday (10/25) from 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm– The Key Characteristics of Strong Phonics Instruction and the 10 Common Causes of Failure (Grades K-2) (repeated)