Text Levels– Tool or Trouble?

 

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

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This post was originally published on October 23, 2013

When my colleague Gay Su Pinnell and I created a gradient of text for teachers to use in selecting books for small group reading, we were excited about its potential for helping teachers make good text decisions to support the progress of readers.

Our alphabetic gradient is widely used by teachers for this purpose and has become an essential tool for effective teaching in guided reading lessons.

With every good intention, the levels may have been applied by professionals in ways we would not have intended. We did not intend for levels to become a label for children that would take us back to the days of the bluebirds and the blackbirds or the jets and the piper cubs. Our intention was to put the tool in the hands of educators who understood their characteristics and used it to select appropriate books for differentiated instruction.

We are well aware of the importance of communicating student progress accurately to families. Rather than the use of levels in reporting to families, we have encouraged the use of terms like “reading at grade level expectation” or “reading above grade level expectation” or “not yet reading at grade level expectation” on report cards along with other clear indicators of a student’s processing abilities such as understanding, word-solving abilities, accuracy or fluency. In addition we have encouraged the use of indicators related to amount and breadth of independent reading.

Students actually experience a variety of books at varied levels in a rich literacy program. They may experience complex texts as read aloud or shared reading selections and a range of levels in book discussion groups or independent reading. Highly effective teaching provides a range of opportunities with different texts for different purposes.

In our best efforts to use assessment indicators, we want to be sure that our purposes best serve the children we teach and give families the important information they need. This may not mean using labels such as book levels that hold more complexities and are intended for the use of the educators as they make day-to-day teaching decisions.

The Most Important Part of Strategy Instruction

By Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris, 2018 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speakers

With the publication of Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman
in 1997, ideas about comprehension instruction began to shift towards teaching students  to be strategic. Since then, powerfully influential books–such as Strategies that Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis and The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo–have helped us understand how to consider the strategic work of reading as a collection of processes that work together to help children comprehend text. While we agree that strategy instruction should be an instructional mainstay, we invite you to consider some of the more subtle aspects of teaching students to be strategic.

LFA2018-Kim-YarisLFA2018-Jan-BurkinsHere are five things to think about as you are working to develop strategic readers in your classroom:

  1. You can better teach reading strategies if you understand the reading processes of students.

    Listening to students read, talking to them about their understanding of texts, and knowing how they idiosyncratically approach and process text is quintessential to knowing which strategy will be most helpful to them. As a teacher you can know 1,000 reading strategies, but if you don’t know your students well enough to understand them as readers, you will not be able to effectively match the strategy with the reader.

  2. Students do not need 1000 strategies to be successful, in fact this may make them less successful. 

    The value of knowing a lot of strategies as a teacher is that we can then differentiate our instruction to meet the individual needs of students. Teaching lots of strategies to all of your students, however, will likely produce a cognitive overload. In the moment of figuring out the tricky part of a text, having three very-versatile strategies will prove more beneficial than having 15 specific strategies. In the moment of reading, problem solving must be on the run. Having too many strategies to sort through slows the whole process, which interrupts comprehension. Sometimes, less is more.

  3. It doesn’t matter how many strategies students know, if they don’t actually use them. 

    The real value of reading strategies is in their application! If students don’t–independent of teacher reminders and prompting–use a strategy, then it is of little value. The reading rubber meets the literacy road when you evaluate strategy instruction through the lens of student transfer–Do students know when, as well as how, to use strategies, and are they doing so independently?

  4. Isolated strategies are not the end goal. 

    The ultimate purpose of strategy instruction is that students integrate new strategies into their larger reading process. Knowing how to infer (or question or predict or clarify, etc.) is not enough. Proficient readers integrate strategies, flexibly using them in fluid ways. Putting all the strategies together is the ultimate goal.

  5. Not all students need explicit instruction in specific strategies. 

    Students who have balanced and integrated reading processes, who are already strategic and agentive as they work through text, probably need little (or even no) strategy instruction. They simply need more time to read. Their reading processes are already what Marie Clay referred to as “self-extending systems.” Be careful about one-size-fits-all strategy instruction, particularly if it replaces actual reading practice for students.

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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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References:

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.

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

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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!

What are some ways to effectively record anecdotes during guided reading?

Elizabeth DeHaven Webby Liz DeHaven, Intermediate/Middle Grades Trainer

**This blog post is a longer response to a question posed during our Twitter chat for the intermediate/middle grades last year.

Finding a recording method for anecdotal notes is often a journey that takes on varying forms over time until you find one that suits you. It’s a bit like shopping for jeans. You have to try on a few pairs, visit several stores, ask friends for recommendations and suggestions, and even buy a couple that don’t fit quite right before discovering the pair you were born to wear.

My own journey started with a sophisticated system of sticky notes and checklists, which was far more complicated and time consuming than it was effective. So I scaled down to a less sophisticated system, replacing sticky notes with mailing labels and adding multicolored file folders and a binder. Scaling down looked an awful lot like scaling up.

I thought the more complicated and colorful the system, the better I would be at recording information about my students. At the time I also thought fancy systems were the hallmark of a good teacher. What actually happened is that I maintained my system for roughly two days before becoming overwhelmed by the management required to keep it running that I neglected to take notes on the students.

I was more focused on creating a system with bells and whistles than finding a way to take and store meaningful notes about my students that would both be evidence of student learning and inform future work with these students.

Though this process of finding an effective system was long and expensive—I think I spent at least a week’s salary at Staples on labels of various colors and sizes—I learned several things.

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… and

  1. Bells and whistles are for cars, not systems for recording anecdotal notes.

 

If you haven’t had a chance to check out our Center’s guided reading pages, below are the links:

http://www.lesley.edu/guided-reading/primary-classroom/

http://www.lesley.edu/guided-reading/intermediate-or-middle-classroom/

 

Wanted: Texts For All Readers

by Heather Morris, Intermediate/Middle School Trainer

This post is the first in a series this winter/spring where we take questions that were asked during our guided reading Twitter chats last summer and answer them in greater length.

Question: I need ideas for upper grade students who read at lower guided reading levels. Texts are babyish.

Answer: A couple years ago, I was meeting with a group of four students in a guided reading group.  During our discussion of the text, one student exclaimed, “Oh, THIS is reading!  I don’t think I have been reading before.”  Mujeeb was in fifth grade reading Super Storms by Seymour Simon, a level M book. Eureka!  He was completely engaged in the book and was enjoying a lively discussion.

As intermediate and middle school teachers, we understand that some students may enter the classroom reading below grade level.  It is our job to observe readers carefully and get to know them in order to select a text to use during guided reading.  We choose books that are at that reader’s instructional level and that students will be interested in reading. Sometimes selecting a text can prove tricky for these readers.

So how might we go about finding these texts to use for our small group reading instruction?  One way is to read, read, read as many books as possible!  As we pour ourselves into children’s literature, it becomes clear what books will engage each of our readers, and the more books we read, the wider the selection from which we have to choose. Another way to find books is to ask your librarian to suggest some titles.  She/he is a wonderful resource!

Remember, you can always turn to a helpful resource to find texts that are written at a lower level but have high interest, like Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Books: Matching Texts to Readers for Effective Teaching.  There is also an online version, www.fountasandpinnellleveledbooks.com. On the online version, there is an advanced search option that allows you to look for books with mature content and lower level text demands. As you peruse your students’ instructional levels, you’ll find authors and series that your students will enjoy.

Lastly, creating a community of teacher readers at your school can be an invaluable resource to locate wonderful books to fill our school’s book room to use for guided reading.  Finding and purchasing books of high interest for below-grade level readers could be an agenda item for your school’s Literacy Team. Also, blogs contain a treasure trove of texts that colleagues around the world recommend:

www.readingyear.blogspot.com

www.nonfictiondetectives.com

blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/

www.hbook.com/category/blogs/read-roger/#_

www.greatkidbooks.blogspot.com

Taking the time to find instructionally appropriate texts that honor a student’s age and interests will unlock the door to reading  – just like it did for Mujeeb!

If you are interested in learning more about guided reading , visit our Center’s NEW guided reading resource pages at http://www.lesley.edu/guided-reading/