Setting the Stage for ­­­­Joy and Independence in Reading

by Irene Fountas, Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Author, and Featured Speaker at the 2016 Literacy for All Conference

A classroom is a place where children can thrive in a language-rich, print-rich, social environment every day of the school year. When you support continuous inquiry, children’s fascination with people and the world, and multi-text based learning, you engage the hearts and minds of your students. They learn how to learn and develop a sense of agency that will propel their literacy learning across the year.

2-kids-choosing-books

 

The foundation of growing up literate in our schools lies in authentic literacy learning that brings together children’s language and background experiences with the world of print and media. It begins with getting wonderful books in every child’s hands and selecting high quality complex texts that capture children’s attention with the language, craft and ideas of fiction and nonfiction texts. And it continues when the fabric of the classroom is reading, thinking, talking and writing about books.

The early milestones for developing students’ views of themselves as readers and writers include setting up an organized classroom library in a range of relevant and appealing categories, providing a variety of enticing book talks and teaching your students to do the same, teaching students how to select books that interest them and they can enjoy, teaching students how to talk to each other about books, and introducing the reader’s notebook as a place to reflect on reading through writing.

When students spend their time reading books, thinking about books, talking about books, and writing about them, they build the stamina and independence that places books at the center and promotes a lifetime of joy in reading.


Irene Fountas will be speaking at the upcoming Literacy for All conference, October 23-25, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. Her sessions include:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Celebrating the Twentieth Anniversary of Guided Reading: Elevating Teacher Expertise in Differentiated Instruction (Grades K-5) 

Irene Fountas, Author/Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University, MA
Gay Su Pinnell, Author/Professor Emerita, The Ohio State University, OH

 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Digging Deep: Teaching for Reading Power in Guided Reading Lessons (Grades K-5)

Irene Fountas, Author/Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, Lesley University, MA
Gay Su Pinnell, Author/Professor Emerita, The Ohio State University, OH

More on Text Levels: Confronting the Issues

New Irene Fountas Photo

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

In response to the many comments the blog has received this week on the Text Levels- Tool or Trouble blog post:

You have shared many important thoughts on the topic of text levels.  Of course, children should read the books they want to read—those that engage their interests and that will bring them enjoyment throughout their lives.  Levels are simply not for children and should not serve as another means of labeling them and damaging their self-esteem.  Nor do they belong on books in libraries or on report cards.

Levels have an important place in the hands of teachers who understand them.  Many of you have found the instructional benefit of levels in assessment and in the teaching of reading, so you can support each child’s successful reading development across the grades.  When a text is too difficult to support new learning in small groups, the reader becomes passive and teacher dependent.  Reading becomes laborious and nonproductive.  When a text is just right, the reader can process it with successful problem-solving and expands his reading power with the teacher’s support.  We hope teachers go beyond the level label to understand and use the ten text characteristics to understand the demands of texts on readers.

The classroom text base needs to include a variety of texts for a variety of purposes.  All children deserve numerous opportunities every day to choose books to read and participate with peers in listening to and sharing age-appropriate books that fully engage their intellect, emotions and curiosity.  Alongside these opportunities, all children deserve responsive teaching in small groups for a part of their day with books that are leveled to support the continuum of competencies that enable them to become independent, lifelong readers.

Each of you can advocate with your school team to educate all involved in the appropriate and effective use of levels as one small part of an excellent instructional program that meets the needs of diverse students.

Five Keys to Power Up Talk About Reading in Your Classroom

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

The amount of talk your students do each day in your classroom matters. Your students’ talk about reading reveals and expands their thinking. A set of learned behaviors and talk structures will provide rich opportunities for deep thinking and valuable learning about texts that will serve your students for a lifetime.

How many opportunities are there for meaningful talk about reading in your classroom? Of course I don’t mean just increasing the number of times or the amount of talk, but increasing opportunities for the kind of focused talk that promotes deeper understandings and new ways of thinking and conversing about texts.

Think about the following five ways that you can build a culture of thoughtful talk in your classroom.

1. Help your students understand that reading is thinking and that when they talk, they share their thinking and learn from the thinking of others.

When students are in a classroom environment that promotes reading as thinking, they learn to bring together their own thinking with the writer’s thinking and with the thinking of others. They take risks by sharing their voices and build a richer understanding of a text than any one reader can get for himself.

2. Teach your students to turn and talk effectively with each other.

Turn and talk is a structured opportunity for your students to share their thinking and learn from the thinking of their peers. When students turn and talk, every student gets the opportunity to talk.

Help your students learn how to turn and talk first with a partner and then in threes or fours in ways that are productive. Be sure to help them learn how to get started right away, to look each other in the eyes when talking and to listen attentively to the speaker. Model how to respond to and build on what the speaker said in a way that results in authentic dialogue that accomplishes richer thinking not just random talk.

Consider having your students turn and talk during interactive read aloud, reading minilessons, guided reading discussions, literature circles, whole group share as well as during lessons in any of the disciplines.

3. Give your students wait time and teach them to give each other wait time.

Wait time gives a person a little time to process. Help your students develop patience with a little wait time for their peers and be sure you model doing the same. Often a little wait time is followed by evidence of good thinking that is well articulated. Wait time is think time. Your students can develop the kind of sensitivity to each other that is supportive to each other’s learning.

4. Demonstrate through your talk the kind of language that fosters equal participation, respect for each other’s thinking, and promotes building on each other’s ideas.

Your language provides a model for the productive talk your students need to engage in with each other. Your tone of respect and patience and the careful modeling of language that promotes analysis becomes the language that your students will use with each other. It creates an expectation for the kind of talk about reading that is valued in their classroom.

Be sure to demonstrate and prompt your students to support their thinking with personal experience or evidence from the text. Invite a variety of perspectives and encourage your students to notice the writer’s decisions. Encourage inquiry through genuine curiosity about the content of the text and the craft of the writer. Use language or prompts such as:

  • What made you think that?
  • Is there another way of think about that?
  • What was the writer really trying to say?
  • I noticed the writer ……..
  • I didn’t think about that so now I am wondering…
  • Talk more about that.
  • I want to understand how….
  • What do you notice about the way the writer….?

5. Listen carefully to your students and set the norm with them that they listen attentively and respectfully to each other.

A good listener can understand the speaker better and respond better than one who is always thinking about what he wants to say next. Teach your students to listen actively to each other to honor each other’s thinking and respond in precise ways to one’s ideas. Encourage them to share their thinking generously and graciously with their peers and be sure to invite the thinking of each member of their group. To help the group develop their talk power, be sure to plan for them to evaluate the quality of the talk and their participation.

When you power up the talk about reading in your classroom, your students will take all their rich thinking to their writing about reading. They will develop essential tools for a lifetime of successful literacy.

If you’d like to learn more about how to support student comprehension through talk, we have sessions at the upcoming 2015 Literacy for All conference! You can also view the full brochure to see the entire conference schedule and workshop listings.

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/

Running Records- Part 2

diane_powell_2012_webby Diane Powell, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

See Part 1 of this post for questions #1 and #2 (http://wp.me/p1r9V1-tg)!

3. Are Running Records taken from unseen text or previously used readers?

That depends on what you’re trying to do as the teacher.  If you’re forming groups for guided reading in the fall of the year, you will be using a benchmark system to see what the readers can do without teaching: where they are right now and in that case, the Running Records will be taken on unseen texts. This is also the case when you receive a new student throughout the school year. Find out what they can do without your teaching or influence and take a Running Record on an unseen text.

 When taking a Running Record on a seen (or previously read) text, you’re looking to see how your teaching has influenced the reader’s ability to process the text. This is the kind of Running Record teachers use regularly during the school year.  The reader has had a chance to read the text previously with the support of the teacher and other readers in the group and you’re checking to see how he does without further instruction. That is the kind of information you can then use to make next steps for the reader: does the reader need to be moved to another group because his reading is moving forward quickly or because his reading is moving more slowly than the rest of the group? How can you work with the reader individually to teach him something else he needs to learn how to do after a Running Record is completed? 

Both kinds of Running Records are important to your teaching – what they can do without teaching and what they are able to do after your teaching.



New RR Graphic #24. What level do you start taking Running Records?  Is it beneficial to take them on a level AA or A or .5?

I’m not sure what a AA or .5 level text is since it’s not part of our benchmarking system, but I would say that if you’re gathering readers together or reading individually with readers, you’d want to capture what they’re doing when they read orally.  You can learn a lot about a reader by observing what they do and don’t yet do while reading. Having said that, I would want to be sure to say that we don’t think it’s necessary or appropriate to move guided reading instruction down to preschool classrooms. Children in preschool classrooms need massive amounts of oral language and hands on experiences and play as part of their curriculum. If, however, you realize that a student is reading, I’d have some age/grade appropriate texts available for him to look through and learn from without the push of formal instruction. We certainly want to provide opportunities for readers to learn more about reading every time they engage with a text, but we’re not advocating guided reading with 4 year olds.



5. Besides Running Records, what are some other great assessments for readers?

We feel Running Records are the best assessments to capture what’s really going on with the reader.  It’s authentic since it’s what readers do – read. It’s not artificial like some of the resources teachers are being asked to do to check on readers. Having said that, though, we’d certainly want to be talking with readers about what they’re reading to make sure they are understanding and/or learning from the text. Having conversations with readers lets you into their thinking beyond and about the text. It also let’s you know if anything was puzzling about what they read and if they didn’t get to the deeper understanding of the text.  Once readers have had lots of experiences talking about what they’ve read, they can begin to be supported to write about their reading. That would need to be scaffolded by the teacher through modeling/demonstrating how to write about reading through contexts like interactive or modeled writing.  If teachers ask readers to do this kind of work without this powerful demonstration teaching, about the only thing readers can do is retell the story – a rather surface level  understanding of a story without necessarily getting to the deeper meaning of the text. And our hope is that the reader would be responding to a text, not retelling it. How do they react to the text through their experiences? It’s important that readers have the opportunity to respond to reading as they are learning to read so that they are able to do what’s being asked of them through more sophisticated standards that are currently driving our thinking.

I hope I’ve been able to help you think more about the power, purposes and rationales behind running records.

LFA Brochure CoverIf you would like to learn more about Running Records, our upcoming Literacy for All conference (http://www.lesley.edu/literacy-for-all-conference/) in Providence, Rhode Island, November 2-4, 2014 will offer a Reading Recovery session by Sue Duncan on Running Records (session # RRB-2) entitled, Making the Most of Opportunities: Selecting the Clearest, Easiest, Most Memorable Examples on Monday, November 3: Explore the idea of noticing and capitalizing on what the child can do to extend the processing system, using examples, running records, and videos.     http://www.lesley.edu/literacy-for-all-conference/workshops/

Text Levels– Tool or Trouble?

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

irene_fountas_2012_web

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.

Level or not level?

By Irene Fountas

The concept of arranging texts in a gradient of difficulty has many important advantages for teachers. Fountas, I.C., and Pinnell, G.S. 2009 The Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Book List K-8+. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 

As a teacher’s tool, leveled texts are essential for differentiating instruction. When the level of the text is the student’s instructional level (90 to 94 percent accuracy and satisfactory comprehension, levels A through K or 95 to 97 percent accuracy with satisfactory comprehension levels L through Z), the teacher can provide a minimum amount of support and the student can learn how to read better.  When a student can successfully work through most of the text independently, he is not overwhelmed and can attend to a small amount of new learning. This is often referred to as the reader’s “learning zone”- the text is not too easy and not too difficult so it supports new learning. (Vygotsky, L.S. 1978. Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; Vygotsky, L.S. 1986. Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Think what it would be like to process a hard text day after day. You have noticed the reading behaviors of a student who works through a text without smoothness or momentum. Usually you can notice that comprehension is lost and the reader resorts to inefficient means of solving words. The first way you can support the reading success of all students is to provide texts that are well leveled in a small group instructional context.

Of course our students need a reading diet that includes more than leveled texts. They need many opportunities with age and grade appropriate texts that are not leveled in instructional contexts such as independent reading, book clubs, shared reading or in read aloud time. These texts engage our students’ interests, build their background knowledge, and expand their language structures and vocabulary.

Our goal is to provide a multitude of high quality learning opportunities for every child. Leveled texts and those not leveled will need to be in our set of tools to reach the differing needs and support each student’s path of literacy learning.