Navigating The Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching

by Helen Sisk, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Faculty

 

helen-siskTeaching in a responsive manner requires us to think reflectively about literacy growth by noticing and analyzing student talk and written work. We reflect on why students respond in certain ways and know how to help them take on next steps in building a complex and flexible literacy processing system. It takes a skillful teacher to do this effectively.

One tool that can guide our decision-making is The Literacy Continuum: A Tool for Assessment, Planning, and Teaching (Fountas and Pinnell, 2017) It is a valuable resource to support us in observing what students know and understand as readers and writers and it informs our teaching. It is organized around eight literacy learning continua that span grades PreK-8. Not only is it aligned with literacy standards, it includes detailed descriptions of student progress over time.

The Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University is excited to offer an introduction to this continuum during our summer institute for teachers of grades K-6: “Navigating the Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching,” This institute is an opportunity to delve into the new, expanded edition of the Literacy Continuum, and learn how to use it as a guide to observe, plan, teach, and reflect on literacy teaching.

The reading focus in this institute includes extending teacher and student talk for effective processing during interactive read aloud and shared reading. Two other components that further address comprehension include guided reading and writing about reading.  All of these literacy elements will be explored.

The writing focus begins by understanding the continuum of word study and how it progresses over the school year and across grade levels. We will study student writing to develop purposeful mini-lessons and the talk surrounding teacher-student conferences to identify strengths and next steps to address in teaching.

Come hear Irene Fountas discuss the Literacy Continuum and its impact on teaching and learning. Work in small groups with literacy trainers and other teachers to refine your practice and expand your knowledge about the teaching of reading and writing.

We hope to see you here at Lesley University for our Summer Literacy Institute, July 10-13, 2017. Register now!

Diving in with Ownership

by Guest Blogger Dr. Gravity Goldberg, Author/Educational Consultant and 2017 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker. You can reach her on Twitter @drgravityg.

We all know what it is like to be put in situations where we are going to “sink or swim” by being pushed into the deep end of the pool. It can be a terrifying and even traumatic experience. We know that most students do not learn by being thrown into the deep end without having had enough scaffolding and teaching first, and that maybe throwing them in is not so kind.

Gravity GoldbergThe Gradual Release of Responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) helps teachers consider an alternative to “sink or swim” by offering a clear framework for helping students take on more and more responsibility over time. You could picture it as students walking down the steps of a ladder into the deep end of the pool. Rather than offer direct instruction and then “assign and hope” for learning, the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model moves from teacher modeling (I Go), to shared experiences (We Go), to independent practice (You Go). In this model, teachers move along this gradient of doing less over time, based on the pace that their particular students need. When we add student choice to our instructional model our end goal is not simply independent practice that is directed by the teacher, but independent application that is directed and chosen by the student because it is relevant (You Choose To Go).

What if rather than pushing our students into the deep end (sink or swim model), or telling students to walk down the ladder into the deep end one rung at a time (gradual release model), we gave students a choice about whether or not and when they wanted to go swimming (ownership model)? This helps student readers develop excitement about feeling ready to take the leap themselves into the water. Once in the pool they choose if they want to tread, do laps, or float.

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Figure 1: The Gradual Release of Responsibility Instructional Model Re-imagined with student ownership as the goal

In order for students to make choices about their own reading lives teachers must view student ownership as a realistic and valuable goal, and open up spaces in their classrooms for more student-direction.

Believe in Student’s Ability to Make Choices

The psychology research is clear that whatever we expect from students is what they will demonstrate (Achor, 2010). Positive psychologist , Shawn Achor explains, “the expectations we have about our children-whether or not they are even voiced—can make that expectation a reality.” This is called the Pygmalion Effect and means that if we believe student readers can make wise choices about their own reading lives or that they can’t, we will be proven correct.

I know not every student enters our classrooms knowing how to make choices or being confident in their ability to make choices and this gives teachers the opportunity to teach them how to make a choice. If and when students struggle with making choices about which book to read, which strategy to use, what to talk about with their book buddy, then we can take note and be grateful we now know what to teach them. We can view students’ struggle with choice-making as a necessary part of the learning process.

When we look at the steps of the typical Gradual Release of Responsibility Model we see that student’s independent practice is the last phase. But, what about all of our students who only use strategies when they are told to use them? What about all of our students who are afraid to make a wrong choice so they wait for us to make choices for them? If we believe students can learn to make wise choices about their reading then our classrooms will make space for students to be self-directed.

In my book Mindsets and Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge (2016) I included several lessons that help students learn to make choices for themselves. The lessons fall into three main categories: how to set goals for yourself as a reader, how to make choices based on your goals, and how to reflect on your learning towards that goal. Just because we believe students can make choices does not mean we don’t also spend time mentoring them in the process.

Open Up Spaces for Students to Make Choices

It is not enough to say we believe student readers can make wise choices, we actually have to create space for them to be able to make them. Let’s consider a typical reading lesson. At the beginning of the lesson are you assigning students a strategy to use that day or reminding them of their strategy choices? We often think we are offering students opportunities to make choices, but in reality all of the reading time is directed by the teachers. I suggest we all study our own classrooms and notice just how much space and time there is for students to actually take charge.

The following chart shows a few examples of what our teacher language might sound like when we are assigning and directing and when we are creating space for students to be self-directed.

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The Benefits of Ownership

There are so many benefits of teaching students to make choices and one major one is the level of engagement and ownership students experience. Rather than having to cajole a student into using a strategy or forcing them to read, they begin to self-initiate and truly transfer learning. Students begin to view instruction as adding to their toolbox and they decide which tool to use when. We can help every student shift from reading on their own to owning their reading. I have seen so many students choose to “jump from the high dive” and find joy in their decision and ultimately find joy in reading.

 

References

Achor, S. (2010) The Happiness Advantage. New York, NY: Random House.

Goldberg, G. (2015). Mindsets and moves: Strategies that help readers take charge. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Literacy.

Pearson, P. D. and M. C. Gallagher, “The Instruction of Reading Comprehension,” Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 1983, pp. 317-344.

When Independent Reading Isn’t Working

by Guest Blogger Kari Yates, Educator/Author and Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

I can think of nothing in the school day more authentic, more differentiated, and more essential than the joyful time when students nestle in with self-selected texts for high-volume, high-success reading (Allington, 2009). Whether you call it independent reading, read-to-self (Moser and Boushey, 2014) or reading workshop, engagement is the priority for readers at every age and stage of development. This is the time of day students can grow leaps and bounds, applying what they’ve learned elsewhere to texts they are personally invested in.

Kari YatesYet, sometimes getting and keeping a whole classroom of diverse readers settled in and reading for real can be a challenge. And of course, if they aren’t engaged, this becomes nothing more than lost time.

So, what can you do to maximize every reader’s engagement during independent reading? Below are five suggestions to help you do just that (and without points, prizes, or prodding).

  1. Confer every day as much as you’re able.

When you confer, you pull up alongside a student in order to offer your partnership as a fellow reader. You engage in authentic, in-the-moment assessment, through observation and conversation. You listen with openness and empathy, working to identify interests, successes, and struggles. You celebrate efforts and strategic actions, nudge students forward toward next steps, and help them make plans and set goals to help themselves as readers. Regular conferring gives you a front row view of a child’s reading life; positioning you to make wise decisions for instruction across the literacy framework, including future conferences, flexible small groups, and whole group instruction. Without regular conferring, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever leverage the full power of self-selected independent reading. Conferring is just that powerful.

  1. Consider book choice first.

Engagement during independent reading begins and ends with the books students hold in their hands, as well as those they’ve selected for standby. Whether it’s a fancy basket, a simple plastic storage bag, or a cereal box, having portable personalized collections at their side provides students a direct link to engagement for independent reading. When every reader chooses and regularly curates their own good-ft collection, they will always have a variety of topics, authors, genres, lengths, and levels at their fingertips. When a reader finishes or needs a break from one book there’s no need to go searching; he can simply reach into his box to find something else. So, if you’re worried about engagement you’ll want to start by getting curious about that reader has chosen for this collection. A quick conference to get a peek in the book box and have some conversation with the reader can provide loads of information.  Find out what kind of texts they’re truly excited about and which texts aren’t really working for them, then provide strategic support. Every choice a child makes can provide clues as you work toward helping the student become a more strategic book shopper. Book choice deserves more than a few quick lessons in the fall of the year; it is crucial work that goes on throughout the year. Helping students become savvy book selectors can be a messy business, but is essential if they are to be able to carry on a reading life in the real world. Helping readers develop their capacity to regularly find books worthy of their time and attention – books that they both can and want to read- is a critical skill; one worthy of our time and attention.

  1. Bless many ways to read a book.

If every reader in the class is expected to read every book word-by-word, page-by-page, cover-to-cover engagement is likely to suffer for all readers, but particularly for readers who don’t yet have the skills or stamina for processing long stretches of text. However, when you make room for young readers to have choice not only about what to read, but also about how to read the books they’ve chosen, you open up a world of possibilities for meaning-making and critical thinking. To raise engagement levels of all readers, consider teaching students other ways to read a book such as read the pictures, retell, reread favorite parts, reread the whole book, choose sections of interest, focus on features, alternate time spent reading a more challenging text with time spent reading a more comfortable text, and occasionally decide to abandon a book altogether.

  1. Be sure the classroom library is well-stocked and well-organized.

Healthy independent reading practices develop in the context of a thriving, growing classroom library. The library, like all living things, needs regular attention including grooming, feeding, and occasional weeding. Take a moment and step into your classroom library. Imagine yourself shopping for books there each week. Is the collection inviting, well-stocked and well-organized or has the school year taken its toll? Are the baskets clearly labeled?  Do they contain topics, authors, series, or genres that reflect the interests of every reader in the class?  Without regular attention, classroom libraries can quickly fall into disarray, reducing, rather than increasing the likelihood that students leave the library equipped with good-fit texts.  And when students leave the library texts they are less than excited about, you can be sure engagement will suffer.

  1. Regularly take time for reflection.

How are we doing? What can we celebrate? What might we need to do differently? As a professional you likely use questions like these to you reflect on your practice, keeping the wheels of improvement in motion. But when you can involve your students you can multiply the positive effects of reflection. Taking just a few minutes at the close of independent reading to look back and reflect can serve invaluable in terms of shaping independent reading habits. As you scaffold reflective practices for your students, they learn to identify successes and struggles, learning from both and using what they notice to make intentional plans for the future. When we value reflection enough to take time for it even a few times per week, it impacts not only independent reading, but empowers students with a skill that can be applied to any setting or situation.

Independent reading can and should be a joyful and productive time of day for all readers. With these five suggestions as starting points, more engaged independent reading can be within the reach of every child.

Please join me at Literacy for All for more conversation about conferring with readers, embracing the messiness of choice, and taking your next move toward move toward high levels of engagement in a reader-centered classroom.

Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader Centered Classroom, Heinemann, 2015.

Simply Inspired Teaching

@Kari_Yates

Allington, Richard L. 2009. What Really Matters in Response to Intervention: Research-Based Designs. Boston: Pearson.

Boushey and Moser. 2014. The Daily 5 (Second Edition);Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

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