Student Choice – Building Mindful Confident Learners

by Mary Anne Buckley, presenter at the 2017 Literacy for All Conference

At an early Parent / Teacher conference Jacob’s mom was telling me how much he liked art and science but he what really loved this year was writing workshop. Jacob’s dad then chimed in, “And I’m sure you know you get “Best Teacher” points for letting him sit wherever he wants.” I was a bit taken aback by the somewhat accusatory tone, as if it was purely an egocentric act on my part to not assign seats. I stumbled through a quick explanation of student choice but felt pressed to cover the other, more typical topics of conferences.

Mary Anne Buckley - low resThe comment stuck with me and I spent the next hour ruminating about parent conferences and why I don’t assign seats. Typically parents ask, “Is she making good choices during reading?” or “Is he making good choices with his friends?” We all want our children/students to “make good choices.” Learning HOW to make “good choices” is an essential component of education and it takes time, mindful observation and patience. I happily realized the rest of my conferences could completely revolve around how choice drives our K/1 multi-age classroom!

Often we confuse student choice with lack of “teacher control”. Teachers have shared with me the panic they feel if a student doesn’t choose an “easy” topic for non-fiction research so…they control the topics. They feel frustrated when Grace sits next to Joshua and talks the whole time so…they control the seating chart. A typical worry is that student choice will throw off the Pacing Guide so…they keep the students’ discussions focused on an “logical path”. (Personal Pet Peeve sidebar: try to remember folks, it’s a GUIDE.)

As educators we have an enormous amount of outside demands placed upon us. Standards that seem to change yearly (even though they don’t really change at all), progress reports, benchmark assessments, allotted time frames for language and math instruction – sometimes it feels like I’m barely keeping my head above water from November to May! And it’s easy to fall into thinking that more control will ease that overwhelmed feeling. I thought imposing more control on my class would gain me time but the contrived compliance (or lack of it!) only increased my frustration and created a sense of distrust with my students. Now to I stay sane by nurturing student choice.

Control belongs in our classrooms when it means nurturing students to gain control over strategies in reading or developing conversational control during math share or gaining self control on the playground. The goal of control needs to be for students to become more independent, more mindful and more invested in their learning. We want students to make choices, evaluate outcomes and make adjustments in reading, writing, math, science – all academic arenas. We can only get to those higher levels of control if students are given opportunities to practice them in real life situations.​ When we provide social and emotional choice opportunities and explore them through explicit discussions and instruction students begin to trust that their school cares about them, the adults respect their feelings and listen to their concerns. And after building that relationship we can extend choice opportunities to our academic endeavors.

​Here are some ideas for exploring student choice in the beginning of the school year:

Try starting with no seating charts – not at desks or tables, not on the carpet, not at snack. And then watch what happens. There will be favorite spots and favorite friends, there will be giggles and disputes, collaborations and hurt feelings. And this provides fabulous opportunities for establishing what it means in your community to make choices. Use these real moments to discuss with the whole class what it means to “include” and “exclude” people. Read a book about Martin Luther King Jr. or Jackie Robinson or Trudy Ludwig’s ​Invisible Boy​ or ​Red ​ by Jan de Kinder. Students easily identify with being left out but the discussion can also lead to admitting to being the one who left someone out. This discussion, in early September, instantly raises the trust factor in your classroom.

Next try to loosen the reins of your Reading Workshop control for two weeks. Open the library all at once and tell them, “Stuff your book box with any book you want.” And then watch what happens. There will be favorite books and favorite topics. There will be focused reading buddies and there will be jokesters avoiding work. Use these observations of student choice to discuss with your class what reading ​really​ is. Every class is different and by involving them honestly in developing their reading community you build trust and respect. (Looking back on my first years teaching I see that without these real life classroom examples my anchor chart of “Reading Workshop Is…” should have really had the title: “Do What I Want So I Can Teach.”) Try the picture book ​Reading Makes you Feel Good​ by Todd Parr or Patricia Polacco’s ​Thank You Mr. Falker​ to start the conversation about why we read and how we can help each other love reading.

Recess is next. Ahhh, the sigh of relief that is released when we get to the playground – by kids and teachers! It can be easy to let go of control here and let kids be kids. And they need that. There will be negotiating, debating, collaborating, disagreeing, arguing and compromising. Recess is filled with tremendous opportunities to help students develop the skills of learning HOW to make choices. Use the incidents on the playground to exchange ideas on what is a “real tag” or how to tell a friend you don’t want to play with them today. ​Recess Queen​ by Alexis O’Neill or Mo Willems’ ​A Big Guy Took My Ball​ are great books to open up deliberations on playing fairly.

Our students face tricky and weighty social and emotional choices every day and when we explicitly teach them the tools of HOW to make choices the skills will carry over into our academic conversations and problem solving activities. ​Ultimately teachers are the decision makers in many ways. Deciding to keep the essential learnings our focus, we can pose questions, provide choice opportunities, and step back to watch our students learn HOW to make choices, find answers, and share their learning with confidence and joy. It’s then we know we’ve made a good choice.

Mary Anne Buckley is presenting at our 2017 Literacy for All Conference, October 22-24th.  She will be presenting on Tuesday a session titled “If We’re Not Mindful, It’s Not Education (Grades PreK-8)”.  Click here for detailed information on all of our workshops.

Poolside PD: Time for a few great reads

by Cindy Downend, Assistant Director, Primary Programs at the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

cindy-downendThe dog days of summer are upon us here in New England.  That means it’s the perfect time to grab a lounge chair, a cool beverage, and a good professional book to enjoy some poolside PD!  Here are a few suggestions to refresh and renew your passion for teaching just like a good dip in the pool can revive your body and soul.    

HeartHeart! Fully Forming Your Professional Life as a Teacher and Leader by Timothy D. Kanold – I’m reading this book slowly to savor the inspirational message that the writer provides.  The purpose of this book is to serve as a guide to reflect on your journey as an educator.  Kanold introduces the idea of a heartprint which he defines as the distinct impression that we leave on students and colleagues.  He challenges us to think about what we can do to make a positive difference in our school cultures.

joy writeJoy Write by Ralph Fletcher – As the title indicates, this quick read by one of the “greats” will reinvigorate your teaching of writing.  Fletcher leads us through an exploration of a concept he calls “greenbelt writing” which helps students experience the fun of writing and develop a passion for it!  Fletcher discusses how “low stakes” writing can lead to high levels of growth and help students to identify as writers.  This book is skinny, but it will leave you thinking deeply about your current work.  Perfect for an afternoon at the pool or on the patio!

Simple StartsSimple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom by Kari Yates – This book looks like a practical guide for creating a classroom environment in which children in grades K – 2 can become highly engaged and motivated readers.  Kari shares the essentials to help teachers: foster the love of reading in children; provide time for reading and discussion; and nurture independence through choice. Kari will be speaking at our annual Literacy For All Conference in Providence, Rhode Island on October 22 – 24th and I want to be sure to read her text before I have an opportunity to learn from her in person!

Powerful Book IntroductionsPowerful Book Introductions: Leading with Meaning for Deeper Thinking by Kath Fay, Suzanne Whaley and Chrisie Moritz – Written by our fabulous Literacy Collaborative colleagues in Fairfax, VA, this new text will be available from Stenhouse Publishers on July 29th.  This book takes a close look at the purposeful planning that goes into preparing meaning-driven guided reading book introductions.  This text promises to help you think about what to address in your book introductions and how to present that information to the readers.

What are you reading this summer? Please share some of the professional texts that you’ll be reading as you relax and rejuvenate on your patio or by the pool.

 

The Buzz About Phonics and Word Study From Spelling Bees to Classrooms – Sparking Students’ Interest in Words

by Jillian Fountain, Intermediate/Middle Literacy Trainer, Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

Jillian FountainLast month, ESPN aired the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee.  You may have watched some of the contestants as they asked for the etymology of a word, the pronunciation again, or the familiar question, “Can you please use it in a sentence?”  The contestants certainly appeared nervous, but if you looked closely, you would also have recognized the moment when a child’s eyes glimmered, the corner of her mouth ticked up just a bit, and she allowed herself to exhale.  The expression on each contestant’s face in that moment of recognition made me realize something.  We, as educators, craft belief statements about literacy instruction, but often we leave word study out of these written proclamations.  Yet, learning about words and how they work impacts all aspects of literacy.

I am in awe of how much interest the spellers in the Scripps National Spelling Bee have in words and how they work, and I began to think about what I might begin to put in a belief statement about phonics, vocabulary, and spelling.

Students will develop curiosity and excitement about words and how they work.

When children feel excited about something, it drives them to discover more about it.  Students who are curious and excited about words will notice new words and share them with classmates, talk about favorite words, and use words or parts of words learned in various instructional contexts in their own reading, listening, speaking, and writing.  The energy they exhibit becomes infectious.

Students will use what they understand about words to expand their knowledge.

Phonics, spelling, and vocabulary are complex concepts that require many years to develop.  As adults, we continue to grow our understandings of words and how they work.  We also know that learning builds on learning, meaning that broad understandings get refined as students participate in reading, writing, speaking, and listening over time.  If during a word study minilesson, a class learned that adding the suffix –al to a noun makes it an adjective, meaning “related to,” the next time they encountered a word like chemical, the students would notice it and refer back to their previous learning.  In writing, if a student wanted to describe something that happens over and over again, he could think about how it is a cycle, and use his knowledge of the –al suffix to call it cyclical.

Phonics_Event_PhotoStudents will recognize relationships between words.

Words are closely connected with one another.  Synonyms, antonyms, homophones, homographs, words that have similar meanings that are not exactly the same, multiple meaning words, words that share the same base word, etc., turn language into a puzzle.  If students can spend time thinking about how words are related, it will deepen their understanding of words and how they work, as well as help them more quickly recognize words and their meanings, and more rapidly access words to use in talk and writing.

Students will use their knowledge of words to more clearly understand, and more precisely communicate. 

Ultimately, the point of teaching phonics, spelling, and word analysis strategies is to develop students’ proficiency as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners.  If students internalize word-solving strategies, they can quickly and without much effort, accurately read books, articles, letters, and other pieces.  They can also produce a large amount of writing to create readable stories, poems, essays, and other pieces.  If they know a lot about parts of words and relationships between words, they can understand what the writer of a piece or a speaker is trying to communicate.  They can also consider the same information when deciding how to say or write something to get across the message they are hoping to convey.  Think of the power that lies in understanding and communicating precisely.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee occurs once per year, but what I learned from watching this year’s event will stay with me.  As I continue to help teachers think about word study instruction, and how to support students’ understandings of how words work across the school day, I hope teachers see the value in this work.  A curiosity and excitement for, and a depth of knowledge of words will help students throughout their lives.

For more information on our Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling in the Reading/Writing Classroom K-3 course August 7-11, 2017 in Cambridge, MA, click here!

 

Navigating The Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching

by Helen Sisk, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Faculty

 

helen-siskTeaching in a responsive manner requires us to think reflectively about literacy growth by noticing and analyzing student talk and written work. We reflect on why students respond in certain ways and know how to help them take on next steps in building a complex and flexible literacy processing system. It takes a skillful teacher to do this effectively.

One tool that can guide our decision-making is The Literacy Continuum: A Tool for Assessment, Planning, and Teaching (Fountas and Pinnell, 2017) It is a valuable resource to support us in observing what students know and understand as readers and writers and it informs our teaching. It is organized around eight literacy learning continua that span grades PreK-8. Not only is it aligned with literacy standards, it includes detailed descriptions of student progress over time.

The Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University is excited to offer an introduction to this continuum during our summer institute for teachers of grades K-6: “Navigating the Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching,” This institute is an opportunity to delve into the new, expanded edition of the Literacy Continuum, and learn how to use it as a guide to observe, plan, teach, and reflect on literacy teaching.

The reading focus in this institute includes extending teacher and student talk for effective processing during interactive read aloud and shared reading. Two other components that further address comprehension include guided reading and writing about reading.  All of these literacy elements will be explored.

The writing focus begins by understanding the continuum of word study and how it progresses over the school year and across grade levels. We will study student writing to develop purposeful mini-lessons and the talk surrounding teacher-student conferences to identify strengths and next steps to address in teaching.

Come hear Irene Fountas discuss the Literacy Continuum and its impact on teaching and learning. Work in small groups with literacy trainers and other teachers to refine your practice and expand your knowledge about the teaching of reading and writing.

We hope to see you here at Lesley University for our Summer Literacy Institute, July 10-13, 2017. Register now!

Making the Invisible, Visible: 5 Ways to Illuminate Learning in Our Classrooms

By Paula Bourque, Literacy Coach/Author and Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Paula Bourque

  • A student returns to class after pull-out support, looks around, and asks, “What are we doing?”
  • I’ve finished my mini-lesson and call on a student with a raised hand. “I don’t get it.” he says.
  • I conference with a student who holds out her paper and asks, “Is this good?”

These interactions remind me there is often a mismatch between teaching and learning.  Learning is that “in the head” process only perceptible through the work, behavior, or conversations of our students. So I need to keenly observe their words and actions to get inside their heads, see my teaching through their eyes, and better align pedagogy to student need. I need to find ways to make my intentions and expectations more visible and accessible to them. If I have any hope of cultivating self-directed learners they truly need to see the direction we are headed! Here are a few approaches I have found to be helpful.

Give them the box to the puzzle! For some of our students, school is a big puzzle. Routines and structure can be like the box to that puzzle for students; the big picture for how all the pieces fit together. Frameworks that use a workshop model, mentor texts, exemplars, anchor charts, and posted learning targets give a visible structure to the expectations. This predictability can free up working memory from what are we doing to focus more on how are we doing it.

For students who are pulled from our classroom for supports, it is critical that consistent structures are in place as they come and go. They should see assignments, anchor charts, exemplars, and/or learning targets posted so they can join in with minimal difficulty. They should have an idea of what the class was doing while they were away so they can continue to make connections to their learning. If students seem disoriented, confused, or disconnected, we need to find ways to take the mystery out of how school (or at least our classroom) works for them.

You can’t hit a target you can’t see. Unless students clearly understand the intended learning, it is difficult to meet the expectations. Students are shooting blind when the teacher is the only one who knows the exact location of the bulls eye. They may be aiming in the right direction, but their accuracy is severely compromised.  When we create ‘kid-friendly’ learning targets that address ‘bite-sized’ amounts of learning, it removes the blinders and allows for greater self-direction from students.  It makes the intention of the lesson visible and accessible to everyone, not just the teacher.

Try to see our expectations through our students’ eyes.  What would “right” look like? What would comprehension/understanding sound like? How will I know when I’ve “hit” the target? Many teachers use a framework for targets using this stem to increase visibility:  Today I will____, So I can____. I’ll know I have it when____. Students need to see how the activity they are engaged in moves their learning and skills forward. Time is too precious of a commodity in schools for students to engage in activities that do not explicitly advance their learning or understanding.  Making our expectations clear and visible can eliminate wasted time and energy for students trying to figure out what we want from them.

Learning Target                  LT w SC

Post Look-Fors. Anytime we hang student work in the hallways or publish it to an audience, we can’t be sure what others will notice. I encourage teachers to post Look-Fors that direct attention to the learning that happened while completing a piece of work.  If word choice was a focus for a writing project, a Look-For that illuminates this for the audience will give equal time to process as well as product. Ex: “We’d like you to notice our 4th graders worked hard on using more precise and descriptive words in this writing.”  Look-Fors invite others to appreciate the learning and encourages other students to try out those skills and ideas as well.

Student Look Fors          Look Fors

Good demonstration is good communication. Think alouds and demonstrations are nothing new, but I think they are often underutilized in classrooms that feel time-compelled to fit more and more into a busy day, but they are one of the best ways to make the invisible (thinking) more visible (words and actions).  They require us to slow down and accurately recreate the thinking and behaviors that go into successfully completing a task or understanding a concept.

However, I would encourage us to reflect on our demonstrations and consider how closely they mirror the thoughts and behaviors of all the students in our classrooms. Frequently we model or think aloud the right way to do something, yet we have students who don’t grasp what we are doing. Our modeling is outside their zone of proximal development. If we asked ourselves, “How might a struggling student approach this task?” and offer a demonstration with this in mind, we may provide a more accessible model. What are some typical misconceptions we are seeing with students? How can we offer demonstrations to address and support them? What if our think alouds walked students through common confusions?

The best demonstrations offer our students a visible path from where they are to where we want them to be. Modeling expectations without contemplating the starting point of our learners may end up leaving many behind.

Create/document a learning history.  Sometimes it takes visible proof to help students see their learning and foster a growth mindset. Because it happens so incrementally, students often don’t believe they are growing. Keeping samples of student work in portfolios (either digitally or on paper) can be a powerful visual documentation of their learning history.

Students who keep writer’s notebooks are often amazed near the end of the year when they look back at their early work. (“I never even used to paragraph!”) Students who keep reading logs/lists are frequently stunned at how much they read. (“Oh wow, I forgot I read all those Flat Stanleys!”) Keeping samples of math work can demonstrate the increasing complexity and variety of math work students worked on during the year. (“That’s so easy now.”)

Opportunities to reflect on learning over time is a powerful way to develop a growth mindset that can sustain students when they encounter new challenges. Invite them to reflect with stems like: I used to ________ but now I ______.   Some things that used to be hard for me were: _____.  Then encourage students to lean on those revelations to buoy them in the future: “When I have assignments that are hard next year, I’m going to remember_____.”

In the same way, we make physical growth visible with lines drawn on door frames, and we can make their cognitive growth more visible as well. For many of our students, seeing is believing. We need to make the invisible, more visible.

Twelve Tips for Powerful Teaching in Guided Reading Lessons

By Irene Fountas, Author and Founder/Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

irene_fountas_2.JPG

The following are some guiding principles from Irene Fountas that may help you get more power in your teaching:

  1. Notice the student’s precise reading behaviors.
  2. Eliminate ineffective behaviors and help the reader do what proficient readers do.
  3. Select a text on which the reader can learn how to read better- not too difficult and not too easy.
  4. Teach the reader not the text.
  5. Teach the student to read written language not words.
  6. Teach for the student to initiate effective problem-solving actions.
  7. Use clear precise language that passes the control to the reader.
  8. Only ask the student to do what you know he can do.
  9. Don’t clutter the teaching with too much talk.
  10. Focus on self-monitoring and self-regulating behaviors so this reader becomes independent.
  11. Build on examples of successful processing.
  12. Teach for fast responding so the reader can process smoothly and efficiently.

If you’re looking for an introductory course on Guided Reading either online or on-campus, click here!

Diving in with Ownership

by Guest Blogger Dr. Gravity Goldberg, Author/Educational Consultant and 2017 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker. You can reach her on Twitter @drgravityg.

We all know what it is like to be put in situations where we are going to “sink or swim” by being pushed into the deep end of the pool. It can be a terrifying and even traumatic experience. We know that most students do not learn by being thrown into the deep end without having had enough scaffolding and teaching first, and that maybe throwing them in is not so kind.

Gravity GoldbergThe Gradual Release of Responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) helps teachers consider an alternative to “sink or swim” by offering a clear framework for helping students take on more and more responsibility over time. You could picture it as students walking down the steps of a ladder into the deep end of the pool. Rather than offer direct instruction and then “assign and hope” for learning, the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model moves from teacher modeling (I Go), to shared experiences (We Go), to independent practice (You Go). In this model, teachers move along this gradient of doing less over time, based on the pace that their particular students need. When we add student choice to our instructional model our end goal is not simply independent practice that is directed by the teacher, but independent application that is directed and chosen by the student because it is relevant (You Choose To Go).

What if rather than pushing our students into the deep end (sink or swim model), or telling students to walk down the ladder into the deep end one rung at a time (gradual release model), we gave students a choice about whether or not and when they wanted to go swimming (ownership model)? This helps student readers develop excitement about feeling ready to take the leap themselves into the water. Once in the pool they choose if they want to tread, do laps, or float.

Picture1

Figure 1: The Gradual Release of Responsibility Instructional Model Re-imagined with student ownership as the goal

In order for students to make choices about their own reading lives teachers must view student ownership as a realistic and valuable goal, and open up spaces in their classrooms for more student-direction.

Believe in Student’s Ability to Make Choices

The psychology research is clear that whatever we expect from students is what they will demonstrate (Achor, 2010). Positive psychologist , Shawn Achor explains, “the expectations we have about our children-whether or not they are even voiced—can make that expectation a reality.” This is called the Pygmalion Effect and means that if we believe student readers can make wise choices about their own reading lives or that they can’t, we will be proven correct.

I know not every student enters our classrooms knowing how to make choices or being confident in their ability to make choices and this gives teachers the opportunity to teach them how to make a choice. If and when students struggle with making choices about which book to read, which strategy to use, what to talk about with their book buddy, then we can take note and be grateful we now know what to teach them. We can view students’ struggle with choice-making as a necessary part of the learning process.

When we look at the steps of the typical Gradual Release of Responsibility Model we see that student’s independent practice is the last phase. But, what about all of our students who only use strategies when they are told to use them? What about all of our students who are afraid to make a wrong choice so they wait for us to make choices for them? If we believe students can learn to make wise choices about their reading then our classrooms will make space for students to be self-directed.

In my book Mindsets and Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge (2016) I included several lessons that help students learn to make choices for themselves. The lessons fall into three main categories: how to set goals for yourself as a reader, how to make choices based on your goals, and how to reflect on your learning towards that goal. Just because we believe students can make choices does not mean we don’t also spend time mentoring them in the process.

Open Up Spaces for Students to Make Choices

It is not enough to say we believe student readers can make wise choices, we actually have to create space for them to be able to make them. Let’s consider a typical reading lesson. At the beginning of the lesson are you assigning students a strategy to use that day or reminding them of their strategy choices? We often think we are offering students opportunities to make choices, but in reality all of the reading time is directed by the teachers. I suggest we all study our own classrooms and notice just how much space and time there is for students to actually take charge.

The following chart shows a few examples of what our teacher language might sound like when we are assigning and directing and when we are creating space for students to be self-directed.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 5.00.40 PM

The Benefits of Ownership

There are so many benefits of teaching students to make choices and one major one is the level of engagement and ownership students experience. Rather than having to cajole a student into using a strategy or forcing them to read, they begin to self-initiate and truly transfer learning. Students begin to view instruction as adding to their toolbox and they decide which tool to use when. We can help every student shift from reading on their own to owning their reading. I have seen so many students choose to “jump from the high dive” and find joy in their decision and ultimately find joy in reading.

 

References

Achor, S. (2010) The Happiness Advantage. New York, NY: Random House.

Goldberg, G. (2015). Mindsets and moves: Strategies that help readers take charge. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Literacy.

Pearson, P. D. and M. C. Gallagher, “The Instruction of Reading Comprehension,” Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 1983, pp. 317-344.