Immersion Helps Children Envision the Possibilities

By Stacey Shubitz, 2018 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Instagram Stories have been around for two years. They came onto my radar about six months ago since several people I follow started creating them. I thought about dabbling in Instagram Stories, but knew I needed to watch a bunch of them before I tried on my own. (Even though Instagram Stories disappear from your profile after 24 hours – unless you save them to your profile from your private archive – I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself!) Therefore, I immersed myself in many Instagram Stories before creating one.

LFA2018-Stacey-ShubitzJust as I needed to view many Instagram Stories to help me figure out how one of my own would go, immersion helps young writers envision what their end products will look like. Regardless of the genre, time spent immersing children in the kind of writing you expect them to produce in a unit of study is time well-spent (Bomer, 2010; Caine, 2008); Eickholdt, 2015; Ray, 2006; Shubitz, 2016). After all, it’s hard to understand what’s expected if you don’t know what the finished piece could look like.

Typically, teachers share mentor texts with students during read aloud time. The first reading of a text should be to experience it as a reader. The second reading of a mentor text should be to notice craft or, rather, how the text is written. After reading a text twice, it is time to dig deeper to notice and note what an author did that made the writing come alive. Many teachers provide time for whole-class discussion of a text so that all students’ responses are honored and recorded on an anchor chart for future reference.

In addition, students can work with partners to read like writers. You may provide students with a variety of mentor texts (i.e., published, teacher-written, student-written) to read and explore together. Provide students with a variety of mentor texts – at different levels – so all students can engage in immersion with a partner.

There are many ways to help students read like writers.

Katie Wood Ray (1999) suggests:

  1. Notice something about the craft of the text.
  2. Talkabout it and make a theory about why a writer might use this craft.
  3. Give the craft a name.
  4. Think of other texts you know. Have you seen this craft before?
  5. Try and envision using this craft in your own writing. (120)

Ralph Fletcher (2011) encourages students to:

  • Make a copy of the writing and put it in your writer’s notebook.
  • Copy a sentence or short section of the piece in your writer’s notebook, maybe mentioning why you chose it.
  • Share it with a friend, zooming in on one part or craft element you really liked.
  • “Write off the text” – that is, create a similar piece of your own. (13)

While Katherine Bomer (2016) provides a third way to examine texts:

Step 1: Read Out Loud.

Step 2: Respond as a Reader.

Step 3: Reread.

Step 4: Read with a Lens.

Step 5: Talk.

Step 6: Record. (10-11)

There isn’t one way to read like a writer. Therefore, it’s important to provide students with a variety of ways to read texts – some are more structured than others – so students can find a process of their own to adopt. After all, we want kids to continue to do this work independently in the future.

After spending two to four days at the beginning of a unit of study to immerse students in a genre, it’s time to determine what they’ve absorbed. After immersion, set aside a day to administer an on-demand writing assessment (Calkins, Hohne, and Robb, 2015). On-demand writing assessments give students the opportunity to try out what they’ve learned after immersion. The data you’ll glean from an on-demand writing assessment will help you modify your whole-class instruction, if necessary, if you notice there are some big understandings about a genre the entire class is missing. In addition, you’ll be able to look at each student’s piece to determine strengths and areas for growth, which can help you set goals for one-to-one writing conferences. Furthermore, on-demand writing assessments provide you with data to create groups of students so you can create a series of small-group strategy lessons to meet multiple needs at one time.

We want students to feel confident when they begin the first non-immersion lesson in a unit of study. One of the best ways to empower kids to feel like they can create writing is to help them understand what it is they’re going to create from the start.

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Bomer, Katherine. 2010. Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching from the Brilliance in Every Student’s Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

—————. 2016. The Journey Is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Caine, Karen. 2008. Writing to Persuade: Minilessons to Help Students Plan, Draft, and Revise, Grades 3-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Calkins, Lucy, Kelly Hohne, and Audra Robb. 2015. Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Eickholdt, Lisa. 2015. Learning from Classmates: Using Students’ Writing as Mentor Texts. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fletcher, Ralph. 2011. Mentor Author, Mentor Texts: Short Texts and Craft Notes. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Ray, Katie Wood. 1999. Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

—————. 2006. Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Shubitz, Stacey. 2016. Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Using Oral Language as a Support for English Language Learners

By Kathy Ha, Primary Literacy Trainer

  • The Power of the Home Language – Remind family members of the importance of speaking to their children in their home language.  All language is rule bound, redundant, and highly predictable.  If children build a rich control of their native language the school can use this foundation of language learning to support the development of the English language.
  • Value and Utilize Students’ Home Languages During Teaching and Learning Opportunities – When the class is fortunate to have more than one person (either teacher or child) who speaks the home language of the ELL then the student can use her first language to practice what she wants to say before stating thoughts in English.  A student can also ask for clarification of directions in his native language or can seek support in learning how to say a particular word or phrase in English.
  • Listen More Closely – Marie Clay said, “If a child’s language development seems to be lagging it is misplaced sympathy to do his talking for him.  Instead, put your ear closer, concentrate more sharply, smile more rewardingly, and spend more time in genuine conversation, difficult though it is.  To foster children’s language development, create opportunities for them to talk, and then talk with them (not at them).”
  • Create Numerous Opportunities for Talk – Classrooms should be places where meaningful student talk and student listening is fostered and encouraged.  Providing these opportunities will allow all students to build on their knowledge of English vocabulary and how the English language works.

Working with English Language Learners in Reading Recovery- Part Two

Suggestions for Reading Recovery teachers who work with English Language Learners

by Eva Konstantellou, Reading Recovery Trainer

One of the basic tenets of Reading Recovery is that children take different paths to literacy learning.  Teachers must meet the child where he/she is and find ways to take the child into new learning.  This principle applies very well to the teaching and learning of English Language Learners as they are developing their linguistic competence in English.

The following suggestions have been found to work well for all children but are particularly relevant for working with English Language Learners.  Successful Reading Recovery teachers routinely:

  • Engage children in conversation and let them do much of the talking.  Most valuable are conversations over “shared experiences”—something the child noticed in the hall, something the teacher observed in the child’s classroom, or ideas about shared books.
  • Recognize the importance of children listening (not just talking, reading, and writing), as listening is how children get their input of new language; the language they hear from the teacher is their source of new language.
  • Understand the value of reading to children from books that have language structures a bit more complex than their own.
  • Carefully review the books they select for children and consider what parts might require more explanation during the book introduction, for instance unknown concepts or new vocabulary that children need to grasp in order to access the meaning of the whole story, or language structures that may be outside the child’s control.
  • Recognize the importance of repeated practice of structures (in particular of idiomatic phrases) so they plan to have the child hear and use the structures in the book.
  • Try to pay attention to culturally relevant books during books selection, as it is important to build on the familiar to give access to the new.
  • Welcome approximations and don’t focus too much on accuracy as they realize that errors come from the child using what he knows to try to problem solve; usage of correct forms will occur over time.
  • Emphasize the value of articulation to children as they think about sounds and try to distinguish between them.
  • Understand the importance for ELLs having more “wait time” as it may actually take them more time to think as they’re contending with another language system.
  • Appreciate that developing language takes time so they negotiate for more oral language in the classroom.

In supporting the learning of English Language Learners, it is critical for teachers to avoid positioning these learners as deficient—after all, knowing another language is a “resource” not a problem.  By honoring the English Language Learners’ attempts to extend their learning into new territory, teachers build a sense of agency in these learners and help them construct a positive identity that allows them to take control of their own learning.

Recommended readings:

Patricia R. Kelly, “Working with English Language Learners:  The case of Danya,”The Journal of Reading Recovery, Fall 2001, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 1-11.

Judith C. Neal, “Teaching for Comprehension and Language Development of English Learners:  Insights from Reading Recovery,” in Achieving Literacy Success with English Language Learners:  Insights, Assessment, Instruction. Edited by Cynthia Rodriguez-Eagle (pp. 85-108).  2009.  Worthington, OH:  Reading Recovery Council of North America.

Cynthia Rodriguez-Eagle & Annette Torres-Elias, “Refining the Craft of Teaching English Language Learners,” The Journal of Reading Recovery, Fall 2009, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 58-59.

Working with English Language Learners in Reading Recovery

by Eva Konstantellou

Part One:  Serving English Language Learners in Reading Recovery

As Reading Recovery teachers are about to start another year teaching first graders who have great difficulty with literacy learning, they should be prepared to respond to questions frequently asked by colleagues and administrators at the time when children are assessed to be to selected for literacy services:

  • Should we serve English Language Learners in Reading Recovery?
  • Shouldn’t we wait until the English Language Learners become proficient in English first?

Having witnessed the success stories of English Language Learners in Reading Recovery, I’m very puzzled by these questions.  Based on the evidence from research that documents the positive impact of Reading Recovery on the literacy learning of English Language Learners teachers should ensure that English Language Learners are not excluded from service in Reading Recovery.

In fact, the framework of the 30-minute Reading Recovery lesson:

  • Provides rich opportunities for meaningful language interactions between the child and a competent adult speaker of English.
  • Allows the teacher to carefully and systematically build upon and extend the child’s control over language structure to support his reading and writing.
  • Allows for daily reading and writing connected text which exposes the child to new vocabulary, concepts, and language structures.

Last year I had the pleasure of working with Pedro, a precocious first grader, who spoke Portuguese fluently and was learning to speak, read, and write in English.  A supportive classroom and the supplementary Reading Recovery lessons helped him build his language skills at a faster pace compared to many of his classmates who did not have the opportunity of one-to-one instruction.

Pedro was eager to read and converse in English and his language interactions with me around the stories he was reading and writing fostered his oral language development, which in turn helped support his literacy learning.

  • Reading familiar stories with expression was his favorite activity and he was always curious to find out what new book I would be introducing to him.   He couldn’t wait to read about the Bear family adventures and Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s troubles with the farm animals.
  • Writing was harder for him because he had challenges with composing since his command of English language structures was just emerging.  However, his exposure to massive amounts of reading helped him take on the language of books and soon enough he started using what he knew in reading to compose stories of increasing complexity, which he wrote down with my help.

Pedro finished the year reading above grade level (Reading Recovery level 20; level K on the Fountas & Pinnell leveling system).  His writing had grown stronger too.  He could compose and write at least two long sentences using vocabulary and literary language structures similar to the ones in the books he was reading.

Pedro was one among many English Language Learners who made accelerated progress as a result of his participation in Reading Recovery.   So to the question, “should we select English Language Learners for Reading Recovery?” the response should be a resounding, “yes!”

Recommended reading:

The Journal of Reading Recovery, Inaugural Issue: Serving English Language Learners, Fall 2001, Vol. 1, No. 1


Part Two:

Suggestions for Reading Recovery teachers who work with English Language Learners