Reaching the Resistant Writer

By Mark Overmeyer, author of Let’s Talk: One on One, Small Group, and Peer Conferences, Stenhouse

Mark Overmeyer (1)

Mark Overmeyer will be speaking at the 2016 Literacy for All Conference at the following sessions. 

  • Sunday, October 23rd 11:00AM-4:00PM “Let’s Talk: Developing Writers Through Intentional Talk (GradesK-5)”.
  • Monday, October 24th 10:30AM-12:00PM “Scaffolding Instruction for All Learners in the Writing Workshop (Grades K-5)”  (This session will be repeated Monday, October 24th 1:30PM-3:00PM)

Reaching the Resistant Writer

One truth I have learned about resistant writers has helped me more than any other:

Resistant writers are better at resisting than they are at writing. They resist because they have practiced resisting.

I need to figure out how to nudge them toward practicing writing more than they practice resisting. And if I have a resister sitting in front of me, I am already behind because they have become very good at avoiding.

These kind of negative thoughts about resisters don’t help: “They just won’t write! They hate writing. It’s making me crazy. I’ve tried everything. If they won’t write, I can’t do anything about it.”

This kind of thinking is more helpful: “I wonder why this writer resists so much… I notice some days are better for him than others. What do I need to know about this writer to help him write more?”

When I think about my resisters as opportunities to learn – when I “love” the resistance – then I am more likely to provide meaningful support.

I do not claim to be an expert on working with resistant writers, but I have certainly had a lot of practice. I have become better at figuring out what to say and what not to say when working with resisters.

One resistant writer who taught me a lot was in my fifth grade class a few years ago. Jonathan was a passive resister. He didn’t say much at all during writing time, and he preferred to be left alone. Some days, Jonathan wrote nothing. Other days, he would write a few lines of text during writing workshop. I made the mistake of being overly enthusiastic about his progress one day, and he shut down for the next few workshops.

As I continued to observe Jonathan, he taught me that some resisters respond to an invitation to talk. Instead of being too enthusiastic – “That’s awesome, Jonathan! You got so much done

today! I knew you could do it!” – I started to talk to him more like this:

“Jonathan, I noticed you wrote more today than yesterday. What do you think made the difference for you?”

Allowing Jonathan into the conversation is what I was missing at first. When I started asking him what he thought, he engaged more willingly. I began respecting Jonathan as a writer who could articulate something about his own process. Our talks allowed him to learn strategies that he could replicate later. Peter Johnson, in his book Choice Words, would say that I am helping Jonathan build his identity as a writer here: I am no longer telling Jonathan what to do. I am including him in the conversation so that we can figure things out together and to build his agency.

One strategy I use now to help all writers, but particularly resisters, is to name specifically what seems to work. For example, if a conference reveals that choice makes a difference, I might say: “So today, it seems like choice helped you. I gave you some choices, but you also made a good choice about what to write. So one strategy that works for you as a writer is to choose topics you care about.”

On another day, we might come to the conclusion that talking with a partner supports writing: “Do you see how talking out your idea for even a few minutes helped you? You seemed more excited to start writing today because your partner liked your story.”

Slowly, over time, resisters like Jonathan who practice writing more than resisting start to change. As the months go by, writing replaces resistance.

Instead of being frustrated by resisters, try loving the resistance. Embrace the challenge. See resisters as opportunities to learn, as writers full of possibility.

 

Let’s Move from Word Study to Word Play!

By Timothy Rasinski, Ph. D, Reading and Writing Center, Kent State University

Tim. Formal. 2014%5b5%5d

Dr. Rasinski will be speaking at the 2016 Literacy for All Conference on the following dates:

“Why Reading Fluency Should be Hot?” (Grades K-8) Monday, October 24th, 1:30-3:00PM and again on Tuesday, October 25th, 10:15-11:45AM

“Phonics and Vocabulary Instruction: Word Study that Works!” (Grades K-3) Monday, October 24th, 3:30-5:00PM

I am a self-proclaimed and unapologetic lexophile, word nerd, or vocabulary zealot! I love words! I love to learn about how words came to be; I love the fact that some words have the same spelling but varied pronunciations and meanings while other words may have the same pronunciation but different spellings; and I love how words can be used to convey facts, tell a story, or elicit emotion. Words are wonderful for me. Yet, why is it that in many schools across the country students (and many teachers as well) do not find the study of words terribly interesting. Whether it is phonics, spelling, or vocabulary instruction, I have heard students use words such as “boring” or “not today” when word study is mentioned.

How can word study be so interesting for some and so boring for others? I think it is not in the words themselves, but in how words are taught. In many classrooms word study consists of rote memorization of lists of words or the daily completion of word worksheets that involve filling in blanks, matching words to pictures, or some other mind numbing activity.

A few years ago, my wife and I had an interesting epiphany. Every evening during the holidays, between Christmas and New Year’s, my family would have dinner together and then, after the dishes were done, we’d go back to the table to play a family game. When my wife and I were putting these games back into the closet a few days after New Year’s she said to me with a bit of startle in her voice, “Tim, do you realize the every game we played last week with our kids was a word game!” She was right. We had played Scrabble, Boggle, Wheel of Fortune, Taboo, Quiddler, Scrabble Slam, and several others. In each of the games knowledge of some aspect of words was essential to success. Most important, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as we played these family games. Yet, at the same time we were stretching our knowledge of and proficiency in words.

Why can’t word study be more of a game than a list of words for recitation? I think we need to take a new look at how we teach words in our classrooms. The more we make word study into a game-like activity, the more engaging students will be in word study, and the more enthusiastic they will be about words. And, for those of you who like to play games such as Text Twist or Words With Friends, have you noticed that is you play these games regularly you get better at them. We have a special name for when somebody gets better at something – -it’s called learning! As students engage in word play activities on a regular basis they will indeed get better at the activities, they will be learning words and developing in themselves a fascination with words that will go well beyond the classroom.

One word play activity that I will take some credit in developing is called Word Ladders. It is an activity in which students start with one word and are guided by their teacher to add, subtract, or change letters in the first word to make a series of new words. The teacher guides the students by giving them hints about the meaning of the new words they are making. In my word ladders the first and last words are often somehow related, and this is what turns it into a game-like activity. Here’s a word ladder that you can do with your students this month.

April Start with the word April, take away the r and rearrange the remaining letter to make another word for a bucket.

Pail Take away one letter to make another word for a friend.

Pal Change one letter to make the name of a dog or cat’s foot.

Paw Change one letter to make a word that is the past tense of “see” or a tool for cutting wood.

Saw Change the vowel to make another name for a female pig; or a word that means to plant seeds.

Sow Add one letter to make the opposite of fast.

Slow Change one letter to make a word that describes when you want to demonstrate or reveal something to someone.

Show Add three letters to the end of “show” to make a word that describes the kind of weather we often get in April

Showers!

April showers bring May flowers!

Now challenge your students to make a similar word ladder that start with May and ends with flowers.

When we turn word study into word play, I think we will go a long way to turn our students and ourselves into lexophiles and word nerds! I look forward to sharing with you many more approaches for making word play an integral part of your literacy curriculum at the Literacy for All Conference later this year.

Rasinski, T. V. (2005). Daily Word Ladders, Grades 2-4. New York: Scholastic.

Rasinski, T. V. (2005). Daily Word Ladders, Grades 4-6. New York: Scholastic.

Rasinski, T. V. (2008). Daily Word Ladders, Grades 1-2. New York: Scholastic.

Rasinski, T. V. (2012). Daily Word Ladders, Grades K-1: Word Study Activities that Target Key Phonics Skills. New York: Scholastic.

 

Robert Slavin on the Success and Promise of Reading Recovery

Featuring Kim Marshall, Author of the Marshall Memo

This week, Kim Marshall summarizes the article “Getting to Scale: Evidence, Professionalism, and Community” by Robert E. Slavin which was published in the Journal for Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR) in January 2016.

Robert Slavin on the Success and Promise of Reading Recovery

            “One of the very, very few unquestioned success stories of evidence-based reform is Reading Recovery,” says Robert Slavin (Johns Hopkins University) in this article in Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk. First brought to the U.S. from New Zealand in 1984, this one-on-one reading program for at-risk first graders now involves about 6,000 teachers and 47,000 students in 42 states. Slavin attributes this going-to-scale success to three factors:

            • Evidence – Studies have established the success of Reading Recovery since the 1980s, says Slavin: “What this means is that in schools throughout the United States and in other countries, there is a well-defined group of struggling readers that can readily be taught to read. The evidence establishes, beyond any doubt, that nothing about these children means they are doomed to fail in reading.” Of course not all children succeed after 12 or so weeks of Reading Recovery, but that provides an excellent diagnostic indicator of out-of-the-ordinary reading problems requiring more-intensive interventions.

            • Professionalism – The key to Reading Recovery’s spread has been high-quality professional development (including behind-the-glass observation and critique of every teacher conducting lessons), well-defined procedures, and adaptation in light of new data.

            • Community – Reading Recovery works through district partnerships with 19 universities around the U.S., with teachers and professors, says Slavin, “engaged in a process of learning and contributing intellectually to a whole that is bigger than themselves.”

            The problem, Slavin concludes, is that Reading Recovery and other primary-grade remedial programs are reaching only about 6 percent of the approximately 800,000 first graders nationwide with moderate to severe reading difficulties. “In a country as wealthy as the United States,” he says, “why should every struggling reader not have access to Reading Recovery or a tutoring program with equal evidence of effectiveness? The reading success of first graders is far too important to leave to chance, yet in this as in many other areas of education reform, vulnerable children are left to chance every day. Why can’t educators use what they know to solve the problems they can solve, while working at the same time to expand their knowledge?

“Getting to Scale: Evidence, Professionalism, and Community” by Robert Slavin in an issue of Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk devoted to Reading Recovery, January-March 2016 (Vol. 21, #1, p. 60-63),

Want to read the full article? Access it through Taylor and Francis here.

Young Writers and Sensory Detail

by Guest Blogger Brian Heinz, Author and 2016 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Brian Heinz

Remember that February trip to Puerto Rico? You stepped from the airport into warm tradewinds carrying the scent of the sea and hibiscus blooms. The chatter of fluttering bananaquits filled the treetops, and the cricket-like croak of the the tiny, elusive coqui punctuated the Spanish dialog and tropical music. Never been to Puerto Rico? It doesn’t matter. When you experience any place fully, it is internalized through your senses.

In my years of teaching Language Arts to elementary and middle school students, one of the shortcomings common to weak writing was the absence of sensory detail. Our young writers tend to be ‘visual’ writers, naming things that the reader can visualize, but forgetting that we experience places and events through all five senses. Many of my books for young readers are researched on location – riding a dog sled at -20 degrees in Canada, ten days in the Cheyenne River Canyon with wild mustangs, rafting swift rivers, or camping in wolf country. I amass sensory details that allow my readers to vicariously experience the environments and the events portrayed in my narrative fiction and nonfiction books.

With my young writers, I’ll often employ a “sensory template” to create a pool of words from which they can draw to enhance their writing. This list includes the five basic physical senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. (But remember, not only do your fingers ‘feel’ things. Our hair lifts with the breeze, our skin feels the dampness of a fog, your feet sink into mud or moss.)

We start with a statement that incorporates three critical elements of ‘story,’ the character’s name, a principal verb to create an action, and the setting (time and place.) This opening image launches our word bank. For example, if we decide to create a piece about a boy boating on a pond, the statement and choices may look much like this collection from a fourth grade class:

Michael is rowing his boat on a pond at sunrise.

See? : water, waves, ripples, flowers, grass, lily pads, fish (eel?), frogs, dragonflies, ducks, swan, trees (pines, oaks, or maples?), other boats, house, log, dock, people, clouds, bubbles, rocks, sand, reflections, alligator, turtle

Hear: croak, pop, buzz, splash, whoosh (wind), quack, crunch, plop, rustle (leaves), voices, laughing, chirp, thunder (rumble), snap, hiss, squeak (the rusty oarlocks, or a mouse)

Feel: wind, wet, rocking of the boat, sweat, raindrops, wooden oars (in his hands), tired, sleepy, warm sun on his face

Smell: roses (garden), smoke (fireplace), barbecue, dead fish

Taste: candy, chocolate, gum, sweat, peanut butter sandwich

I reminded this class that they need not include all five senses on their opening page. If Michael is rowing a boat, he may not be eating at the moment. This is the writer’s choice. The parentheses above are my doing, as I push my writers to be specific, to use precise language. Readers cannot visualize a ‘fish,’ but a mind readily captures the image of an eel. Keep a wary eye for students who generalize. Have them name flowers, or trees, or fish, or birds.

At this point, I create an opening paragraph using some of their words, which I underlined:

Michael pulled on the wooden oars. The boat rocked forward on a row of ripples. Frogs croaked from the lily pads and the sweet smell of roses drifted across the water.”

This paragraph pulls the reader immediately into the story. Now I can add another critical element: The Problem. Imagine this as the next paragraph: “At the center of the pond, Michael rested a moment. Suddenly, something large and dark raced upward and slammed into the floor of the boat, almost tossing Michael into the water.” Perhaps it’s the alligator from our word list? I haven’t said so yet. This creates suspense. Every student would want to turn the page. I could continue: “The water settled down. All was peaceful. A second time the boat was struck, splitting the floorboards, and water rushed in.” Now, I can mention that Michael can’t swim. The class is riveted. I’ve compounded the problem, still employing sensory detail.

In choosing mentor books, examine where, and how often, the authors employ sensory detail. Many of my books are used as mentor texts by teachers around the country. These include The Wolves, Cheyenne Medicine Hat, and NANUK: Lord of the Ice.

When a student, writing about being on the beach last summer, writes this – “While I was walking along the beach, I could smell food cooking on the barbecue.” – I don’t share in the experience. The sentence is permeated with passive verbs, general terms, and lack of sensory detail. But rewrite the idea this way – “My feet sank into warm beach sand as hot dogs sizzled on the grill.” We feel the sand, see the beach, hear the food cook, and smell a specific meat!

In a shorter sentence, the scene has become vivid. We have pulled the reader into the scene and allowed them to re-live the experience by using specific language and sensory details.

A word of caution as your students begin to employ their sensory details. There is often a transitional stage where students tell their readers what to experience by using preparatory terms like I felt… I saw… I heard… I smelled…  and I tasted.

Examine these two paragraphs, the first with the telling tags, the second without such tags.

“When I was at the beach I heard sea gulls screaming. I saw them diving into the water. I felt the sun on my face and I felt the wind blowing my hair. I saw a wave coming and I heard it crash on the shore. I could smell cotton candy from the refreshment stand.”

“At the beach, screaming sea gulls dove into the water. The sun beat down on my face and waves crashed onto the shore. Wind blew through my hair and carried the scent of cotton candy from the refreshment stand.”

 

Brian Heinz is the award-winning author of 18 books for young readers. His picture books include fiction and nonfiction, in prose and in verse, and in multiple genres including historical, fantasy, nature, adventure, and coming-of-age tales. His teachers’ text, Construction & Revision: A Writer’s Handbook for the Language Arts Classroom, will be released this September. A native of Long Island, he taught Language Arts and Science for 28 years. He now presents at more than ninety schools and conferences a year, and teaches “Writing for Children” at the prestigious Hofstra University Summer Writers Program. Visit him on the web at www.brianheinz.com to peruse his works, awards, and program offerings.

Brian Heinz is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference on:

Monday (10/24):

1:30pm – 3:00pm: Story: How Do I Tell Thee? Let Me Count the Ways (Grades 5-8).

3:30pm – 5:00pm: Revision & Editing: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth (Grades 3-8)

Tuesday (10/25):

10:15a – 11:45am: Revision & Editing: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth (Grades 3-8) *repeat session

The Art and Science of Responsive Literacy Teaching

searchby Irene Fountas, Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative and Author

What really matters for each child in his journey of reading development is your response to his attempts to process a text. When you respond precisely to the reader’s observable behaviors, you can meet the child where he is and lead him forward.

Clay helped us understand that when we notice and build on a reader’s strength instead of targeting deficits, our teaching can be highly effective in building the student’s agency and independence. Each child’s response is often not simply right or wrong but “partially correct” (Clay, 300-301).  For example when a child reads “stairs” for “steps,” he made a meaningful attempt that fits the syntax and has letters that look similar. It is too simplistic to say it is wrong.

Think about the reader’s logic each time you notice a reading error. Think about what information the child used to make the attempt and how you can expand what the child can do to make sure the attempt makes sense, sounds right and looks right. For example, use language like the following:

  • “That makes sense, but does it look right?”
  • “That looks right but does it make sense?”
  • “You are almost right. Check the middle.”

My colleague, Gay Su Pinnell, and I have explored the effects of teacher language in facilitating the reader’s construction of problem-solving behaviors in working through a text. The teacher’s “facilitative language” promotes the reader’s thinking. As a reading teacher, we encourage you to eliminate judgmental comments like, “nice work” or “good job” and replace the comments with language that confirms the reader’s precise reading behaviors and enable him to develop new ways of thinking.

When you teach in this way, every time a child reads a book, you have the opportunity to support their construction of an effective literacy processing system. Instead of teaching your student “how to read this book,” your student will learn “how to read.” We refer to this as “generative” reading power.

How do these ideas make you think about your moment-to-moment responses to readers within the act of teaching?  Let’s continue the conversation about the language you can use to support “generative learning.”  We’ll have more examples to come in our next blog post…

References:

Clay, Marie, M. (1991). Becoming Literate: The Construction of Inner Control. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (2012). Prompting Guide Part 1 for Oral Reading and Early Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

More on Text Levels: Confronting the Issues

New Irene Fountas Photo

by Irene Fountas, Author and Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

In response to the many comments the blog has received this week on the Text Levels- Tool or Trouble blog post:

You have shared many important thoughts on the topic of text levels.  Of course, children should read the books they want to read—those that engage their interests and that will bring them enjoyment throughout their lives.  Levels are simply not for children and should not serve as another means of labeling them and damaging their self-esteem.  Nor do they belong on books in libraries or on report cards.

Levels have an important place in the hands of teachers who understand them.  Many of you have found the instructional benefit of levels in assessment and in the teaching of reading, so you can support each child’s successful reading development across the grades.  When a text is too difficult to support new learning in small groups, the reader becomes passive and teacher dependent.  Reading becomes laborious and nonproductive.  When a text is just right, the reader can process it with successful problem-solving and expands his reading power with the teacher’s support.  We hope teachers go beyond the level label to understand and use the ten text characteristics to understand the demands of texts on readers.

The classroom text base needs to include a variety of texts for a variety of purposes.  All children deserve numerous opportunities every day to choose books to read and participate with peers in listening to and sharing age-appropriate books that fully engage their intellect, emotions and curiosity.  Alongside these opportunities, all children deserve responsive teaching in small groups for a part of their day with books that are leveled to support the continuum of competencies that enable them to become independent, lifelong readers.

Each of you can advocate with your school team to educate all involved in the appropriate and effective use of levels as one small part of an excellent instructional program that meets the needs of diverse students.

Helping Young Readers Think Like Historians

Deborah Hopkinson 2015by Guest Blogger Deborah Hopkinson, Author and 2015 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

I’m excited to be speaking at the 2015 Literacy for All conference, in part because I learn so much from educators. Teachers and librarians are the literacy experts. Me? I’m just a former fundraising professional and now full-time author who loves to write about history.

When I visit elementary and middle schools, I’ve found more young amateur historians out there than you might think. I almost always begin a session by asking students what kinds of books they like to read. It’s no surprise that readers are enthusiastic about scary stories, animal stories, mysteries, fantasy, and dystopian novels. But I’m always gratified to find a few students who like historical fiction or nonfiction.

History used to be considered boring: a litany of names and dates to be memorized. I remember being uninterested in my history textbook, but fascinated by the stories in the shaded boxes, which made me curious about what it would be like to live in another place and time.

As an author, I’ve sought to discover these stories through both historical fiction and nonfiction, including my new nonfiction title, Courage & Defiance, Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in WWII Denmark and my forthcoming historical fiction set in New York City, A Bandit’s Tale, The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket.

Bandit_Final_Jacket_medium

I’m interested in how we study and teach history, and how authors and educators together can inspire young people to develop a lifelong interest in learning about the past. I believe story is an important element in making history fascinating. Through stories, we better understand who we are and where we have come from. Putting good books into children’s hands help them imagine themselves in the place of someone else, whether it is the kid sitting next to them or someone from another time or place.

Professor Sam Wineburg, who founded the Stanford History Education Group, has said, “Coming to know others, whether they live on the other side of the tracks or the other side of the millennium, requires the education of our sensibilities. This is what history, when taught well, gives us practice in doing.”

The Stanford History Education Group (https://sheg.stanford.edu/home_page) has some tremendous resources for teachers to help students learn to read – and think — like historians. Instead of memorization, inquiry is at the core of each lesson plan. There are also classroom posters available that feature the four principles of historical thinking:

Visual literacy can also be an important tool to engage students’ interest in history. Many students are visual learners. When I present to students in schools, we spend time looking at historical photos to examine what pictures can tell us. “What’s going on here?” I ask. “And what do you see that makes you say that?”

I’ve found this exercise immensely helpful. In our bright, technology-driven, colorful world, it can be hard for young people to connect emotionally with a black-and-white photograph. But when students have the chance to imagine themselves in the picture – building the Empire State Building, taking courageous action against the Nazis, fighting a cholera epidemic, or walking along the decks of the Titanic, the past becomes more real.

Pioneering 19th century history educator Lucy Maynard Salmon said, “History must be seen.” In addition to looking at photographs, I like to challenge students to use their own eyes and look around at their own families and communities to help discover more about history.

When I encounter people of the past I feel a deep connection to other human beings who preceded me, and curious to know more. In crafting my stories for young readers, I strive to share that connection. I hope my stories help spark critical thinking as well as curiosity and emotional connections.

The object of study, Lucy Salmon said, should be “the search for truth.”

History, after all, is a lifelong study, a search for truth and meaning, not just of the lives of others, but of our own.


Deborah is speaking at the Literacy for All conference on Monday (11/16) and Tuesday (11/17). Monday’s session is entitled, “Be a Detective! Helping Readers Think, Research, and Write like Historians.” That session will be repeated on Tuesday and she has an additional Tuesday session, entitled, “Imagine Possibilities: Picture Books for All Readers.”

Deborah Hopkinson is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for young readers including picture books, historical fiction, and nonfiction.  Deborah’s nonfiction includes Titanic, Voices from the Disaster, Shutting out the Sky, Life in the Tenements of New York 1880-1924, and Courage and Defiance, Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark. Deborah’s historical fiction title, The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, won an Oregon Spirit Award. Her forthcoming books include, Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of the Borrowed Guinea Pig, and A Bandit’s Tale, The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket.

A native of Massachusetts, Deborah received a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts and an M.A. in Asian Studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Follow Deborah on Twitter @deborahopkinson or visit her on the web at www.deborahhopkinson.com.