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.

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)

Read to them…just because…

by Guest Bloggers JoEllen McCarthy and Erica Pecorale, Literacy for All Conference Speakers

Because

Every

Child’s

Awareness and

Understanding is

Strengthened

Every time they are read to.

Read alouds matter. They create opportunities for a vibrant tapestry of rich classroom discussions. They provide pathways to broader thinking and reflection about the world. The empirical research about the benefits of read aloud is abundant, but there is “heart evidence” too.  Books touch our students’ hearts and minds.

Read alouds open up opportunities for gaining new perspectives or different appreciations in ways that only beautiful literature can.  Teachers read aloud… because…“Strong young minds continue to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who send their books out into the world like ships on the sea. Books give a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”  (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

In a fast-paced world where events, images and media are constantly sending messages, our students need opportunities to deconstruct their thinking. The choices we make about the texts we share with our students, convey big messages, strengthen relationships, and promote a greater understanding for ourselves, develop compassion for others and appreciate the diversity of our world.

Teachers understand that the precious gift of read aloud is something we must do just because…of all it offers. Stories must be savored. It goes beyond the teaching of literacy. It is about teaching the hearts, minds and hands of all students. Because our time allotted for read aloud needs to provide examples of  rich diverse literature.

Just because.

We need literature that empowers students through responsive teaching that imparts knowledge, skills and attitudes (Gloria Ladson Billings). Literacy and life lessons are about knowing, feeling, and doing work that matters.

Just because.

Because they promote empathy, like in Lend a Hand, John Frank and London Ladd’s book of poetry celebrating acts of kindness.

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Because they encourage creativity and inquiry, like in The Wonder, Faye Hanson, wondering about the world, with joy and love and imagination for what it possible.

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Because they make us think differently, in Yamada’s companion to What Do You Do with an Idea, exploring problems as opportunities.

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Because they spread love, like in J.J. Austrian and Mike Curato’s Worm Loves Worm. Because “Love is art. Love is education. Love is accountability. And it needs repeating. Love is love is love.” – Brendan Kiely

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Because they take us to new places, where we can deepen our understanding about the world.  Like in Susan Verde and Peter Reynold’s Water Princess we thirst for a future where everyone has access to basic human needs.

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Because awareness and mindfulness call us to action. In Kids Who Are Changing the World, by Anne Jankeliowitch, real issues, inspire real children to pursue their passions and solve problems, while helping others.

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Because they change perspectives and priorities.  Like in Yard Sale, by Eve Bunting and Lauren Castillo, where readers discover that the best things in life aren’t things.

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Because they show us how to be human. In If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson, we are reminded that the way we react to new situations can have strong implications. The choice is ours.

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Read aloud to all students…just because…

“Books can often show us who we are and how we, the people of the world, regardless of race, color, or creed, are all connected at the core of humanity. ”    –Marva Allen

 


Join JoEllen McCarthy and Erica Pecorale to explore more books and life lessons for talking, reading, writing, and reflecting on the diverse world we live in at the Literacy for All Conference  Monday, October 24, 2016 from 1:30-3:00. Their session is entitled, Literacy and Life Lessons (Grades 3-6).

BIOS:

#AlwaysLearning, JoEllen McCarthy, is a lead learner and staff developer who spends her days working collaboratively in schools and districts to support best instructional practices, co-teaching, planning, coaching and supporting the curriculum of children.

As the Educator Collaborative’s Book Ambassador, JoEllen spreads a love and enthusiasm for learning and the role books plays in all aspects of education.  

Erica Pecorale is the Director of Teacher Education and an associate professor at Long Island University, Riverhead.  In addition to her work in preparing future teacher candidates for their educational endeavors, she continues to provide professional development support to teachers, administrators, parents and students in K-8 school settings.

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.

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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.

Bronwen’s Guide to Dystopian Novels

by Guest Blogger Dan Feigelson, Author and Literacy For All conference Featured Speaker

5th grader Bronwen, like many upper elementary and middle school students, couldn’t get enough of dystopian novels. After going through the entire Hunger Games series in a week and a half, she had moved on to Lois Lowry’s The Giver. When I sat down for a conference with her and asked what she was noticing about the genre, she thought for a minute. “Well, they aren’t the easiest kind of books,” she finally responded. “You sort of have to know how to read them.” Intrigued, I asked her to say more. “Well, there are certain kinds of parts you really have to stop and pay attention. Like here in Chapter Two – Jonah’s parents are telling him about the Ceremony Of Twelve, where he’s going to find out what his job will be when he grows up.”

“Hmm,” I responded, genuinely curious. “You said before there were certain kinds of parts. So what kind of part is that one?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“Well, it’s like when there’s a big ceremony it’s usually really important,” she reflected. “And also, Jonah’s parents are explaining it to him. I’ve noticed that when a parent or some older person explains something to a younger person that’s usually a big deal.”

After a couple more minutes of conversation, I suggested to Bronwen that her reading work for the next several days could be to put together a Guide To Dystopian Novels, teaching other readers where they should stop and pay attention. Here’s what she came up with:

Bronwen's Guide to Dystopian Novels

My conversation with Bronwen didn’t come out of nowhere. Most people who become teachers do so, at least in part, because they are fascinated with the way kids think. At one time or another each of us has marveled at some idiosyncratic piece of wisdom coming from the mind of a child.

Sadly, once we enter the hectic life of the classroom the ideas of students tend to take a back seat to standards and units of study. Schools and districts are under enormous pressure to achieve, to test well. This means kids must be able to perform at a level comparable to other children of the same age. A teacher who cares about the success of her students has little time to concentrate on the quirky ideas of each individual kid – especially when it comes to core academic subjects like reading.

It’s not that paying attention to literacy standards is a bad idea; wise curriculum is critical for a good reading class. Indeed, we wouldn’t be doing our job as educators if our 4th graders finished the year without knowing the stuff 4th graders are supposed to know. But the truth is most students are raised on a steady diet of clever comprehension questions, formulated by teachers or commercial programs. The result is that kids – even those who do well on state tests – often have a hard time knowing how to approach a complex text when there is no one there to tell them what to think about.

Over the last several years I’ve had the good fortune to explore this issue with many courageous teachers. What we’ve realized is that at least some of our time in reading class should be devoted to teaching kids to recognize, name, and extend their own ideas about what they read.

To do this well means getting back to that original passion which all teachers share. We need to allow ourselves the time and space to be fascinated with what our students think. This means when we ask them to comment on a story or an informational text that we listen for the most interesting part of what they say and ask them to say more about that, rather than quickly going on to the next child – or jumping in with our own agenda. And lo and behold, when kids do reading work based on their own thinking they are more engaged, more independent, and willing to take on new challenges. The classroom takes on a whole different sort of buzz. In other words, the rigor goes up, not down – and it carries over into whole class curriculum work as well.

In Reading Projects, Reimagined, I’ve laid out a series of steps for teachers to use in individual reading conferences so their students can engage in rigorous work based on their own thinking. My hope is that these sorts of conferences will help create joyful, independent student readers who are just as good at coming up with their own ideas about books as they are at answering questions on tests.


Dan is speaking at the Literacy for All conference in Providence, RI on Monday, November 16. His sessions include:

  • Reading Projects, Reimagined Workshop: Student-Driven Conferences to Deepen Critical Thinking
  • Practical Punctuation: Teaching Mechanics in the Writing Workshop

Dan Feigelson is an international literacy consultant who has led institutes, workshops, and lab-sites around the world on the teaching of reading and writing. He worked extensively in New York City schools for 27 years as a principal, local superintendent, network leader, staff developer, curriculum writer, and teacher.  An early member of the Teachers College Writing Project, Dan served as a fellow at the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Learning where he helped develop literacy standards for New York and other cities. A regular presenter at national and international conferences, Dan is the author of Reading Projects Reimagined: Student-Driven Conferences to Deepen Critical Thinking (Heinemann 2015), and Practical Punctuation: Lessons In Rule Making And Rule Breaking For Elementary Writers (Heinemann, 2008).

Thinking about Text Choices for Readers Who Struggle

by Cindy Downend, Assistant Director of Primary Programs and Helen Sisk, Intermediate/Middle Grades Faculty Member, Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

We’re busy in the Center right now preparing for our Summer Institute on Teaching Struggling Readers: Elevating Teacher Expertise in Grades K–6 and we have been pondering all that we need to consider when selecting texts for our students who are finding it difficult to read. Fortunately, Gay and Irene have provided us with some guidance in When Readers Struggle that is (as always) sage advice:

  1. Readers need to be engaged with delightful texts. Often, the most struggling students are given the least appealing texts that would be off-putting to any reader. Select texts about interesting topics in nonfiction or appealing characters in fiction. Also be sure to provide visually interesting books with compelling illustrations or photographs.
  1. Next, think about how the child will understand the text. Struggling readers need something they can relate to their own experiences and understandings. When selecting a text ask yourself, “Does the text have enough support to allow them to predict, to make inferences, to learn something new?” (Page 402)
  1. Consider if the print features of the text will support comprehension. Beginning readers need simple font with clear spaces between lines and words. Print layout becomes more complex along the gradient of text, but you will want to ensure that the text layout is not confusing. Students need to learn to deal with complex text features, but be sure that there is not too much for the reader to handle.   
  1. Use books with language that is accessible to the reader. Written language will always be different than what is spoken. However, you will want to think about the match between a child’s oral language and the language structures in the text. At the earlier reading levels the match needs to be close so children can use what they know about language to help them read. As readers move into higher text levels, the language becomes more complex. This gradual increase then expands the reader’s processing system. 
  1. Analyze the text structure to ensure that the reader will be able to understand the meaning. Think about how the book is organized and the reader’s current ability to follow a story or manage different kinds of organization. Stories with a repeating pattern are much easier to comprehend then a text with a more challenging structure of multiple episodes, flashbacks, etc. With nonfiction, consider how the text “works” and support the reader by explaining any unfamiliar structures. The ultimate goal is to enable readers to figure out how texts are organized.
  1. Evaluate the illustrations to ensure that they support meaning and do not confuse the reader. Beginning readers need a well-defined story and the illustrations at the earliest text levels carry most of the meaning. Look for pictures that are clear with no distracting information. At higher text levels, the illustrations will extend understanding and are meant to enhance the meaning of the book.

If you would like to think more about the role of text selection as well as all of the other facets in supporting readers who struggle, come to Cambridge this summer and join us for Lesley University’s summer institute on readers who struggle being held July 13–16.

During this four-day institute, you will join educational leaders Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, and university faculty in exploring the characteristics of students who struggle with reading and examine the teaching practices that support their reading growth. Students who struggle with reading require instruction that builds on their strengths and scaffolds their next steps.

This institute is available for noncredit or credit. To register go to: http://www.lesley.edu/summer-literacy-institute/

Resisting the Frenzy: Staying the Course of Common Sense in Literacy Teaching

3.20.15 Irene Fountas Photo

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

In the past several decades, there have been a variety of movements that have shifted literacy teaching in our schools. Often the newest trend has meant a total mind-shift of instructional practice for teachers. Certainly something important can be learned from the emphases of each movement, but each swing of the pendulum has also left out some important areas of literacy teaching and learning. One cannot simply make the assumption when there is a new movement in the midst that the worthy new areas of emphasis are not already implemented in schools that are implementing a high quality literacy approach.

When we have articulated our values and beliefs about meaningful, authentic literacy learning in our schools, we can examine the contributions of each new movement in the light of well-grounded principles and stay the course of common sense in our responsibilities to our students, instead of shifting to a new bias that may compromise our commitment.

I will address a few of the key areas we have articulated in our work in supporting high quality literacy approaches that we believe have stayed the course of common sense for almost three decades.

First, every student deserves to have a meaningful and interesting reading life and writing life in school.

This means students read and write for real purposes every day in school and have choice in what they read and write. Choice breeds students’ sense of agency and promotes engagement, and furthers the development of one’s tastes in reading and one’s voice in writing. With the appropriate learning environment and scaffolding, students learn that reading and writing are thinking and that they can think about a variety of topics, authors and genres when they read and mentor with the thinking of the best of writers when they write. They experience some teacher-selected high quality literature and nonfiction, but also a good selection of self-selected material that builds their understanding of their selves and their physical and social world. They learn from their teachers how to make the good choices that offer enjoyment and expand their breadth and depth as readers, writers, and global citizens.

Second, students need a variety of structured opportunities to talk throughout the day.

Talk represents thinking. Students need to think and talk in school. This means pair and triad talk, small group talk, and some whole class discussions that have intent, not just talk for talk’s sake. This includes such instructional contexts as reading or writing conferences, literature discussion groups, guided reading groups, and interactive read aloud lessons that include pair or small group talk. Teachers sometimes don’t realize they are dominating the talk and robbing the students of the process of learning through verbalizing their understandings and building on or challenging each other’s ideas. The one who talks is the one who learns. Teachers play a key role in helping students learn how to use language that promotes conversation and the analysis of texts with others to achieve deeper understandings than any one reader could achieve on his own. When students discuss a variety of fiction texts, nonfiction texts, and poetry in a community of readers and writers, they learn how to use the language and vocabulary of literate people. These rich experiences build their background knowledge and academic vocabulary and put each learner in the role of a literate being.

Third, the text base for learning needs to include a variety of high quality fiction and nonfiction texts, primary and secondary sources, as well as poetry. 

The classroom text base needs to provide access to age appropriate, grade appropriate material that is of high interest and value. Sometimes the texts students are asked to read simply aren’t worth reading or don’t engage their intellectual curiosity. The texts need to be meaningful, relevant, developmentally appropriate and made accessible. Alongside this rich base, students need the opportunity to lift their reading powers with the precision teaching made possible with the teacher’s use of carefully leveled, challenging texts at the student’s instructional level. These texts allow for the differentiated, intentional teaching that each student deserves to develop an effective processing system and move forward as a self-regulating, independent reader.  Photo of Girl Reading

Fourth, students deserve to be acknowledged as unique learners.

Every student and every group of students is different. When teachers learn how to systematically observe the strengths and needs of individuals, the assessments can inform instruction and the teaching can be responsive. No assessment is valuable if it doesn’t result in better teaching. Good assessment gives information on how students process texts and what they understand about words, language, and text qualities. High quality literacy opportunities are built on the strength of the teacher’s expertise in assessing the readers and writers he/she is teaching. Some teachers fall into the trap of teaching students as if they are all the same or focus on teaching the book or program, not the diverse group of students in front of them. Effective teachers assess at intervals to document progress and assess by the minute to fine tune their decisions in the act of teaching.

Staying the Course 

These are some of the mainstays of high quality literacy opportunities for every student. Learning to read and write is complex and will require the complexity of teacher decision-making with sound rationales that are rooted in students’ observable reading, writing and language behaviors. Let’s look to the new movements for what they add to our expertise but keep our good sense about what really matters.

For more information about the Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative events and trainings, visit our website at www.lesley.edu/crr .