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.

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 .

Are You Teaching or Testing Comprehension?

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

All too often, successful comprehension has been regarded as a student’s ability to answer a teacher’s questions (which is one way of assessing comprehension), but it does not enhance the reader’s self-regulating power for processing a new text with deep understanding. Think about how your teaching moves may be focused on testing when you continually pose questions, or how you can shift to teaching or helping students learn how to comprehend texts for themselves.

Teaching for comprehending means supporting your students’ ability to construct the meaning of the text in a way that expands their reading ability. You can help them learn what to notice in a text and what is important to think about, how to solve problems when meaning is not clear, and provide scaffolds to develop their in-the-head systems for working through the meaning of the text. These abilities are generative, so students will be able to transfer what they learn how to do as readers before, during, or after reading to a variety of increasingly challenging texts in every genre.

Introduce the text to readers

When you introduce a challenging text to your students, be sure to help them notice how the writer constructed the meaning, organized the text, used language and made decisions about the print features. Help them know how the book works and get them started thinking about the writers’ purpose and message and the characteristics of the genre.

Prompt the readers for constructive activity

As students read orally, interact very briefly at points of difficulty to demonstrate, prompt for, or reinforce effective problem-solving actions that they can try out and make their own. Your facilitative language is a call for the reader to engage in problem-solving that expands their reading strengths.

Teach students how to read closely

Take the readers back into the text after reading to notice the writer’s craft more closely. Select a phrase, sentence or paragraph, or focus on helping them notice how the writer organized the whole text. Revisiting the text calls the reader’s attention to particular features.

Engage students in talk about texts

Talk represents thinking. When students talk about a text, they are processing the vocabulary, language and content aloud. This enables them to articulate their understandings, reactions and wonderings. When they learn to be articulate in their talk, they can then show their ability to communicate their thinking about texts in their writing.

Engage students in writing about texts

Writing about reading is a tool for sharing and thinking about a text. When students articulate their thoughts in writing, they confirm their understandings, reflect on the meaning and explore new understandings.

Testing is a controlled task for measuring what students can do without teacher help. Teaching is the opportunity to make a difference in the self-regulating capacity of the learner. Reflect on your teaching moves and engage in a discussion with your colleagues to shift from testing to teaching. When students focus on meaning-making with every text they read, they will be able to show their competencies on the test.

For more information about the Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative’s events and trainings, visit http://www.lesley.edu/crr

Elevating Teacher Expertise: Key to Literacy for All Children

irene_fountas_2012_webby Irene Fountas, Author and Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

Over the decades, we have witnessed a variety of perspectives on the essentials of high quality literacy opportunities for children. Though we have seen a variety of approaches to instruction and arguments about content, the key role of teacher expertise in schools must be at the forefront of systemic change if we are serious about educating every child.

This means abandoning the notion that adopting a new set of materials, another new program or getting better units will be the most important factor. Of course we want beautiful books and high quality materials that support global learning but we need to reckon with the fact that what teachers know and understand as they make minute-by-minute decisions within the act of teaching is what will make the biggest difference in student learning. This will mean an investment in continuous professional learning with a focus on creating a culture of teacher growth in our schools.

Four key areas of expertise are essential for literacy teachers:

1. Expertise in Systematic Observation and Assessment  

Teachers need to be able to observe carefully what students know and are able to do as readers, writers, listeners, talkers, or viewers and they need to be skilled at using this information to guide teaching. Skilled observers note the precise language and literacy behaviors the child reveals and understand how the behaviors reflect the child’s building of a processing system for literacy. They can use that knowledge to make their next teaching move. Responsive teaching meets the learners where they are and brings them forward with intention and precision.

2. Expertise in Understanding the Reading and Writing Process and How it Changes Over Time  

Teachers need to know what proficient reading and writing looks like and sounds like. Through observing effective processing and how it changes over time, teachers build understandings of how readers and writers build a literacy processing system and can teach towards those competencies. This means teaching forward with a clear view of the competencies and the ability to note changes along the way.

3. Expertise in Understanding the Demands of Texts  

When teachers understand the ten characteristics of texts (Fountas and Pinnell), they can anticipate the demands and scaffold each reader in taking on new ways of processing increasingly complex texts. When teachers are able to analyze mentor texts, they can help writers learn how to write for a variety of purposes and audiences from effective writers of every genre. Knowledge of texts also enables the expert teacher to use different texts for different purposes.

4. Expertise in Core Instructional Procedures  

Teachers need to develop an expertise in a set of highly effective instructional procedures that can be linked to student learning. The procedures need to reflect elements of high impact teaching such as good pacing, intensity, and transfer. This includes knowing when whole group teaching, small group teaching, or individual teaching is appropriate and effective for the students. This also requires knowledge of the texts that provide the appropriate amount of support and challenge to assure new learning.

We have long known that what teachers know and can do is the most important factor in student learning. This means going beyond scripts and one size fits all lessons delivered the same way to students to complex teaching that is grounded in teacher understanding. We argue for the kind of thoughtful teaching that means not just changing what teachers do, but how they think about what they do. This means a school filled with educators who value and actively seek continuous professional learning and administrators who understand the investment in teacher expertise is the soundest long-term investment in student learning.

Our team at the Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative provides a high level professional development for teachers and administrators to support these areas of expertise. We hope you will join us for an institute, a seminar series, or a long-term partnership to create the systemic change that assures every child grows up literate in our schools. www.lesley.edu/crr 

Charts: Purpose Is Key

by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz, Authors and Featured Speakers at the 2013 Literacy for All Conference

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Charts are here, there, and everywhere. Teachers spend a great deal of energy and time creating charts. They hang from every nook and cranny of each and every classroom. They are the expected norm, a part of pedagogy, and a sense of pride. But they are also an ongoing challenge. Why? Because in spite of this attention, interest, and passion for charts on the part of teachers, students often appear oblivious to the charts. They do not seem to grasp the reason for charts, the why of charts, and often do not use the charts as a result. For many students charts have become blended into the background like wallpaper, absorbed into the subconscious, or simply exist in schools like fire bells and cafeteria smells. They just are. But when charts seem unimportant to the audience we hope to reach, then it is the purpose that needs to be made perfectly clear for both students and teachers.

Start by asking why you make charts in the first place. We have found the most effective charts come out of a need to make our instruction crystal clear. Charts help when planning lessons because a chart forces you to break down an idea into concrete steps. They help us test out the language that will be used and repeated over and over. They lead us to think about student engagement. And charts help us consider the different learning modalities that exist in our classrooms. Which children need visuals? Repetition? Linear-sequential steps? The sketching out of a chart allows for revision and editing which leads to efficiency and effectiveness in our teaching.

Then we need to make sure our students understand the purpose behind the charts we make and how charts can help them meet the increased challenges we plan to set forth. Try asking some students what they think the charts are for, but don’t be discouraged if you hear things like, “They’re for the teacher” or “They’re when you don’t know something and you have to cheat.” This just means they really don’t understand the purpose of the charts and this is a quick remedy. Start with some real life scenarios that illustrate how people in the world use checklists to help them be more strategic or to remember complex steps. Commercial pilots know how to fly jets, but they still use charts to double-check themselves and to set the right course. Doctors are very smart people who use charts and checklists so they can look for patterns and be more strategic in figuring out a patient’s needs. Even your own use of the notes function on your smartphone shows how you need help remembering things you know but don’t want to forget. The most brilliant people in the world use charts to scaffold and support the work they do.

Finally, find opportunities to model how the charts in the classroom can be used to make students become more strategic, flexible, and innovative as they grow and learn. For example, when San Ho kept finding himself starting every piece of writing the same way, he went up to the chart on writing leads: Hook your Reader, and decided to try some of the other suggestions. He shared that he was getting bored with his own writing and that using the chart got him to try out some new strategies which helped him be excited about his writing again.

Charts are here, there and everywhere for a reason. They help both teachers and students clarify, challenge, and scaffold in ways that are authentic and useful. Charts also help teachers turn learning into an active process for students by making information visible and accessible to all.

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz are co-authors of Smarter Charts (Heinemann 2012). They will be presenting two workshops at this year’s Literacy for All Conference in Providence, R.I. on November 4 and 5: Visible Learning: Charts in Action and Beyond the Basics: Optimizing Classroom Charts for Independence.

Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units in the Writing Workshop by Katie Wood Ray

By Jill Eurich

Assistant Director, Intermediate/Middle School Trainer, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

In the past few months I have posted a series of blogs about inquiry.  In light of that work I wanted to recommend Katie Wood Ray’s Study Driven to you.  At the heart of this book is this essential understanding: “Framing instruction as study represents an essential stance to teaching, an inquiry stance, characterized by repositioning curriculum as the outcome of instruction rather than the starting point.” P. 19

This book is divided into three parts.  In the first section Katie deepens our understanding of how study, as both a noun and a verb, help us, as teachers, and our students analyze the kind of writing we are going to produce ourselves.  By studying a stack of writing similar to the writing we will create, we become familiar with genre, audience, purpose, content, craft, voice, length and conventions.  Katie also helps us think about the concept of, “Before Revision, Vision.” P. 35  In other words, to effectively develop and revise a certain kind of writing, we as writers, can’t envision the kind of writing we first need to envision what that writing is like.  Some of the ways Katie Wood Ray expands on this topic of study in the writing workshop is to address Selecting Texts to Anchor Close Study, Reading Immersion in Close Study, Writing Under the Influence in All Phases of Study and The Tension of Time, the Promise of Depth. These and other chapters help us with rationale and best practice around this method of teaching.

The second element in this book is a Craft Pause that happens at the end of each chapter in the first section.  This is an exploration of craft moves you might discover with a close study of text. It provides rich examples of a variety of writing instruction we can teach our students, as we, and they examine text closely. It helps us think about these craft moves but also implies that this is just a small taste of the endless ways we can learn from writers.

The last part of the book provides information on a wide variety of units of study we can engage in with our students.  The Study Possibility is briefly described.  There may be an example of the kind of writing provided followed by suggestions of resources where that kind of writing can be found.  This might include picture books, magazines, collections, excerpts and newspapers.  The idea of learning about writers from other writers is an exciting prospect but finding a pile of appropriate examples is daunting so this becomes an invaluable resource.

If you are not already familiar with it, I strongly recommend you put Study Driven at the top of your professional booklist of “must read” for the summer.   It eloquently articulates how and why to take an inquiry stance in our teaching.  “Inquiry does not narrow our perspective it gives us more understandings questions and possibilities than when we started.” p. 26-27

Source

Ray, K.W. (2006).  Study driven: A framework for planning units of study in the writing workshop.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.

An Inquiry Stance in the Poetry Workshop

by Jill Eurich

 

One of my favorite teaching moments came in a discussion fifth grade students were having about “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. It was as if, like in the cartoons a light bulb lit up over this boys head as he exclaimed,

“This isn’t just about a road you know!”

In experiencing poetry having students work together to think about what they are understanding from the poem and what they are noticing about how the poem is written generates rich conversations, conversations that can cause an epiphany like the one my friend had with “The Road Not Taken”.

Katie Wood Ray has talked about setting up an inquiry stance that is “structured for surprise”. One way to do this is to give groups of three or four students about a half dozen poems and ask them to make as many connections between them as they can. They can make connections between as few as two or as many as all of the poems.  An extension of this can be to have them create a visual representation of the connections they are making. If there are certain elements you have been studying in poetry like figurative language, line spacing, theme, rhythm or rhyme schemes you can choose poems to reflect that curriculum. In the spirit of open inquiry though, freely choosing the poems can yield fascinating and unexpected results. Another choice to think about is whether you want groups of students to have the same poems so that they can see the different ideas they come up with, or if you want each group to have different poems and present them to each other.

Choral reading can be a powerful extension of poetry workshop and be significant in helping students become more fluent expressive readers. One way to help students connect how something is written to expressing to expressing its intended meaning is to have groups of students practice how they would read the same poem or speech and then share them with each other. In this case the inquiry results from students thinking about the writers intended meaning and how they can best represent that by making decisions like voice volume, tone and expression, pacing and what lines will be read solo by two, three, the whole group, all boys or girls. Inquiring together as to how best to read the piece will not only makes your students aware of decisions related to oral interpretation, but also heightens their thinking of the decisions the writer made around punctuation, print features and line breaks as a way to guide the reader. In turn this will helps students make purposeful decisions in the writing of their own poetry.