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.

Young Writers and Sensory Detail

by Guest Blogger Brian Heinz, Author and 2016 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Brian Heinz

Remember that February trip to Puerto Rico? You stepped from the airport into warm tradewinds carrying the scent of the sea and hibiscus blooms. The chatter of fluttering bananaquits filled the treetops, and the cricket-like croak of the the tiny, elusive coqui punctuated the Spanish dialog and tropical music. Never been to Puerto Rico? It doesn’t matter. When you experience any place fully, it is internalized through your senses.

In my years of teaching Language Arts to elementary and middle school students, one of the shortcomings common to weak writing was the absence of sensory detail. Our young writers tend to be ‘visual’ writers, naming things that the reader can visualize, but forgetting that we experience places and events through all five senses. Many of my books for young readers are researched on location – riding a dog sled at -20 degrees in Canada, ten days in the Cheyenne River Canyon with wild mustangs, rafting swift rivers, or camping in wolf country. I amass sensory details that allow my readers to vicariously experience the environments and the events portrayed in my narrative fiction and nonfiction books.

With my young writers, I’ll often employ a “sensory template” to create a pool of words from which they can draw to enhance their writing. This list includes the five basic physical senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. (But remember, not only do your fingers ‘feel’ things. Our hair lifts with the breeze, our skin feels the dampness of a fog, your feet sink into mud or moss.)

We start with a statement that incorporates three critical elements of ‘story,’ the character’s name, a principal verb to create an action, and the setting (time and place.) This opening image launches our word bank. For example, if we decide to create a piece about a boy boating on a pond, the statement and choices may look much like this collection from a fourth grade class:

Michael is rowing his boat on a pond at sunrise.

See? : water, waves, ripples, flowers, grass, lily pads, fish (eel?), frogs, dragonflies, ducks, swan, trees (pines, oaks, or maples?), other boats, house, log, dock, people, clouds, bubbles, rocks, sand, reflections, alligator, turtle

Hear: croak, pop, buzz, splash, whoosh (wind), quack, crunch, plop, rustle (leaves), voices, laughing, chirp, thunder (rumble), snap, hiss, squeak (the rusty oarlocks, or a mouse)

Feel: wind, wet, rocking of the boat, sweat, raindrops, wooden oars (in his hands), tired, sleepy, warm sun on his face

Smell: roses (garden), smoke (fireplace), barbecue, dead fish

Taste: candy, chocolate, gum, sweat, peanut butter sandwich

I reminded this class that they need not include all five senses on their opening page. If Michael is rowing a boat, he may not be eating at the moment. This is the writer’s choice. The parentheses above are my doing, as I push my writers to be specific, to use precise language. Readers cannot visualize a ‘fish,’ but a mind readily captures the image of an eel. Keep a wary eye for students who generalize. Have them name flowers, or trees, or fish, or birds.

At this point, I create an opening paragraph using some of their words, which I underlined:

Michael pulled on the wooden oars. The boat rocked forward on a row of ripples. Frogs croaked from the lily pads and the sweet smell of roses drifted across the water.”

This paragraph pulls the reader immediately into the story. Now I can add another critical element: The Problem. Imagine this as the next paragraph: “At the center of the pond, Michael rested a moment. Suddenly, something large and dark raced upward and slammed into the floor of the boat, almost tossing Michael into the water.” Perhaps it’s the alligator from our word list? I haven’t said so yet. This creates suspense. Every student would want to turn the page. I could continue: “The water settled down. All was peaceful. A second time the boat was struck, splitting the floorboards, and water rushed in.” Now, I can mention that Michael can’t swim. The class is riveted. I’ve compounded the problem, still employing sensory detail.

In choosing mentor books, examine where, and how often, the authors employ sensory detail. Many of my books are used as mentor texts by teachers around the country. These include The Wolves, Cheyenne Medicine Hat, and NANUK: Lord of the Ice.

When a student, writing about being on the beach last summer, writes this – “While I was walking along the beach, I could smell food cooking on the barbecue.” – I don’t share in the experience. The sentence is permeated with passive verbs, general terms, and lack of sensory detail. But rewrite the idea this way – “My feet sank into warm beach sand as hot dogs sizzled on the grill.” We feel the sand, see the beach, hear the food cook, and smell a specific meat!

In a shorter sentence, the scene has become vivid. We have pulled the reader into the scene and allowed them to re-live the experience by using specific language and sensory details.

A word of caution as your students begin to employ their sensory details. There is often a transitional stage where students tell their readers what to experience by using preparatory terms like I felt… I saw… I heard… I smelled…  and I tasted.

Examine these two paragraphs, the first with the telling tags, the second without such tags.

“When I was at the beach I heard sea gulls screaming. I saw them diving into the water. I felt the sun on my face and I felt the wind blowing my hair. I saw a wave coming and I heard it crash on the shore. I could smell cotton candy from the refreshment stand.”

“At the beach, screaming sea gulls dove into the water. The sun beat down on my face and waves crashed onto the shore. Wind blew through my hair and carried the scent of cotton candy from the refreshment stand.”

 

Brian Heinz is the award-winning author of 18 books for young readers. His picture books include fiction and nonfiction, in prose and in verse, and in multiple genres including historical, fantasy, nature, adventure, and coming-of-age tales. His teachers’ text, Construction & Revision: A Writer’s Handbook for the Language Arts Classroom, will be released this September. A native of Long Island, he taught Language Arts and Science for 28 years. He now presents at more than ninety schools and conferences a year, and teaches “Writing for Children” at the prestigious Hofstra University Summer Writers Program. Visit him on the web at www.brianheinz.com to peruse his works, awards, and program offerings.

Brian Heinz is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference on:

Monday (10/24):

1:30pm – 3:00pm: Story: How Do I Tell Thee? Let Me Count the Ways (Grades 5-8).

3:30pm – 5:00pm: Revision & Editing: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth (Grades 3-8)

Tuesday (10/25):

10:15a – 11:45am: Revision & Editing: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth (Grades 3-8) *repeat session

Five Ways to Create a Digital Reading Workshop

danajohansen1by Guest Blogger Dana Johansen, 2015 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker, Teacher, and Author

My reading workshop has transformed over the past five years- now it is digital. Have I tossed out students’ reading notebooks? No, of course not! Have I removed all the books in my classroom library and bought ebooks? No, students need printed books. Does a digital workshop mean that all my assignments are online? No. It’s a balance. My students have spiral reading notebooks and digital reading notebooks. They have a three-ring binder and an online folder. There is a harmonic balance of blending everything I hold dear (real books, fresh new chart paper, spiral notebooks and pencils) with technology that supports learning (Google Docs, KidsBlog, and Twitter).

My digital reading workshop is a blended-learning environment, which Catlin R. Tucker describes as a hybrid style of learning in which educators “combine traditional face-to-face instruction with an online component” (11). This teaching approach allows me to meet the needs of all my learners. I have found that it increases engagement, provides greater opportunities for individualized learning, and creates spaces for collaboration and participation. The Common Core State Standards call for students to read complex texts, identify literary elements, and read a variety of texts, both print-based and digital. My digital reading workshop helps me achieve these goals.

The following scene is a snapshot of what my digital reading workshop looks like in action. The purpose of this lesson is for my fifth grade students to transfer the strategy work they did with the digital text, Pixar’s La Luna, to the print-based text, My Ol’ Man by Patricia Polacco.

“I’m impressed by all the thinking we’ve been doing!” I say to my class. “We’ve been learning how to identify symbols in our reading. Yesterday, we talked about one strategy for noticing symbols. It was, “Noticing objects that are important to the characters.” If you look up here at our class chart, we created a list of the symbols we noticed in the short film, La Luna. So let’s see. Leah noticed that the little boy’s hat was important to him and Mira noticed that the broom was important to him. You can see that we created a long list of possible symbols in La Luna.”

“After we generated a list of ideas, you wrote on our blog. I was excited to read your posts about what these objects might symbolize. I noticed that some of you accessed the digital charts in your digital folders and reviewed what we talked about in class before writing your blog posts. Good strategy! Your posts revealed some thoughtful interpretations!”

“Today, we are going to think about La Luna some more and connect our strategy work about symbols to the book My Ol’ Man by Patricia Polacco. This will give us more practice today looking for symbols in texts and making connections between texts.”

After reading My Ol’ Man to the whole class, I ask my students to talk with their reading partners about the symbols they found. I also ask them to connect their interpretations about these symbols to those from La Luna. After students meet and talk, we come back as a whole class and discuss. Using a combination of digital texts and print-based texts helps my students learn to read across a variety of texts, use the strategies they’ve learned to identify the literary elements, and construct interpretations about what they’ve found.

Here are five ways that you can create a digital reading workshop experience in your classroom:

  1. Virtual Reading Logs– Having students use an online reading log or book list can save paper and time. I do not have my fifth graders log their pages each day but I do require them to keep a list of the books they’ve read. Each student has a Google Doc that is shared with me. Students cannot lose their list and can access it easily.
  2. Tweet Authors– Tweeting authors live during your reading lessons is a great way to connect your readers to the global community. Take a moment during a minilesson to ask students if they have any questions for the author and then tweet. I like to print out the authors’ answers and post them on a bulletin board in the classroom for students to reread throughout the year.
  3. Blogging– Creating a classroom blog provides an excellent space for students to collaborate and participate. It also improves readers’ writing skills. Grant Wiggins discusses the importance of creating authentic writing experiences for students. He says, “By introducing a real purpose, a real audience– hence, consequences– we get the feedback we desperately need to become good writers” (33). Blogging provides a real audience for our readers, and in turn, helps them become better writers.
  4. Classroom Charts– Posting pictures of your classroom charts to your classroom website, blog, or a shared Google Folder is a great resource for your students. No longer do you need to keep all those charts hanging in the classroom. Students can refer to them online. Plus, they can access them at home. This is a terrific way to make your workshop digital.
  5. Digital Bins– Creating a text set of digital texts is a great way for students to read across texts and use the strategies they’ve learned in class. Plus, it is really fun! Imagine creating a symbolism digital bin with two photographs, an advertisement, and a short film. Students can use the strategies they’ve been taught in class to identify symbols and construct interpretations. To create a digital bin and learn more about them, visit LitLearnAct@wordpress.com

References:

Cherry-Paul, S. & Johansen, D. (2014). Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Tucker, C. R. (2012). Blended Learning in grades 4-12: Leveraging the Power of Technology to Create Student-Centered Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Wiggins, G. (2009). Real-World Writing: Making Purpose and Audience Matter. English Journal, 98(2), 29–37.

Dana’s bio:

Dana has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. She currently teaches fifth grade in Connecticut and is earning her doctorate in Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. Dedicated to the ever-expanding applications of technology in the classroom, Dana is a literacy consultant who presents on Flipped Learning, the Digital Reading Workshop, and STEM in the English Language Arts classroom. Passionate about this work, her first book, Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning, co-authored with Sonja Cherry-Paul, helps educators use technology in exciting new ways to teach students how to interpret the literary elements and do close reading.

Follow Dana on Twitter @LitLearnAct or visit her at LitLearnAct@wordpress.com

Dana’s Literacy for All conference sessions include:

  • Digital Bins: Creating Digital Text Sets (Grades 3-8)
  • Power Blogging: Strengthening Students’ Reading Responses, Independent Writing, and Book Clubs (Grades 3–8)

Moving Beyond Modeling with Student-Centered Coaching

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by Guest Blogger Diane Sweeney, author of Student-Centered Coaching and Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Imagine you hired a tennis coach to help you improve your game. Then you showed up for the first lesson and he suggested that you observe as he played for the next hour. You’d probably ask for your money back. What if he suggested that he spend the hour observing you? He’ll take some notes and then the two of you will go through it later. Again, you’d be wondering why you are paying this guy. What if he suggested that you focus on your game and, since you are so busy, he will help you out by picking up your balls? You would be wondering when this guy actually planned to provide you with some coaching. By now you may have recognized some of the most common practices used by literacy coaches; modeling, observing, and serving as a resource provider. While each of these methods offers some value to teachers, there are other ways we can take coaching to the next level.

Most of us would define a good coach as someone who helps you get better at your game. Someone who is on the court, by your side, making sure you reach your goals. When we model an entire lesson, it assumes that transfer is as easy as watching and doing. This can lead to an uneven relationship that puts the teacher in a passive role. On the other hand, observing teachers may feel more like evaluation than coaching. If my tennis coach took this approach, I’d be anxiously wondering what he really thought, if I looked silly, or if I was on the right track in my game. Then again, when we serve as resource providers, we are being helpful at the expense of coaching. There is no question that teachers are overwhelmed and busy. But this is all the more reason to get in there and coach the teachers towards their goals for teaching and learning.

Four Strategies for Co-Teaching

Co-teaching is an untapped strategy that provides coachable moments throughout a lesson. It is a dynamic process in which the teacher and coach work together to move student learning forward. In a classroom where co-teaching is occurring, it’s hard to tell who the teacher is and who the coach is, because both are engaged and involved partners in the delivery of the lesson. To get there, the teacher and coach develop a shared vision through co-planning and then work side-by-side to ensure that they get the results they are looking for. The following strategies for co-teaching create partnerships that are the hallmark of student-centered coaching.

#1: Noticing and Naming

Noticing happens when a teacher and coach are actively tuned in and looking for evidence of student learning. Naming happens in the explicit use of this information, either on the spot or planning after the lesson, to make decisions about what the students need next. For example, the coach and teacher may engage in discussions with a group of students to uncover their thinking, listen in as students discuss their learning with peers, note what the students are independently reading and writing, or all of the above. The key is for the coach and teacher to collect evidence that will inform future instructional decision-making. Evidence may include observational data, conference notes, short assignments, exit slips, notes from student-led discussions, student reflections on their own learning, or a myriad of other ways wherein we monitor student learning as it happens.

#2: Micro Modeling

While we haven’t banished modeling from our coaching practice, we like to use it in targeted and strategic ways. A good tennis coach models certain aspects of the game, such as how to serve the ball or play backhand. The key is to model what’s needed in the moment, rather than the whole game. When planning the lesson, the coach may ask, “What would you like to do? And what would you like me to do?” For example, a coach may model the send off at the end of a mini lesson, demonstrate a few reading conferences, or teach a think aloud. The objective is for the modeling to directly connect to the goal the teacher has set. This ensures that the coach is supporting the teacher in a way that will have an impact on future lessons.

#3: Thinking Aloud

We can’t underestimate how much decision-making occurs throughout a lesson. When a coach or teacher thinks aloud, they make their thinking visible by sharing their thoughts and instructional decisions as they happen. Many teachers are comfortable using think aloud to share their thinking with the students. We suggest for coaches and teachers to use the same practice when they are co-teaching. Thinking aloud also provides opportunities to address coachable moments rather than waiting until a future planning conversation. Examples of thinking aloud include; real-time problem-solving, clarifying vocabulary, supporting student engagement, or adjusting the pacing of the lesson to better align with the needs of the students.

#4: Teaching in Tandem

With this move, the coach and teacher deliver a lesson as partners rather than as individuals. Like the others, this strategy requires co-planning so that the teacher and coach are clear about the instructional practices that will be used to move student learning forward. When co-planning, the teacher and coach think about how they will maintain high levels of engagement, how they will differentiate and formatively assess, and strategies for managing behavior. When you think about all the factors that go into a successful lesson, teaching in tandem starts sounding like a great idea.

In Closing

I’ve modeled a lot of lessons over the years. In fact, when I started as a coach, I did little else. I’d teach what I thought was a fabulous lesson and then wonder why I didn’t see it transfer to what teachers did in their classrooms. Needless to say, this is a bit embarrassing to admit now. Using a variety of strategies for co-teaching has helped me create more coachable moments with teachers. We are on the court together, working through all of the details that add up to high-quality teaching and learning.

A short video on co-teaching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4a8em_wVPo8

Diane Sweeney is the author of Student-Centered Coaching, Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level, and Learning Along the Way (Stenhouse, 2003) has been an educator for over twenty years. Diane holds a longstanding interest in how adult learning translates to learning in the classroom. Currently she is a consultant serving schools and districts throughout the US and abroad. For more information, please visit www.dianesweeney.com.

Diane is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference in Providence, RI:

Monday, November 16, 2015:

  • Student-Centered Learning Labs

Tuesday, November 17, 2015:

  • Building a Culture for Student-Centered Coaching and Collaboration  
  • What is Student-Centered Coaching?

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