The Most Important Part of Strategy Instruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  4. Isolated strategies are not the end goal. 

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

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

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

LFA Banner for Blog

Immersion Helps Children Envision the Possibilities

By Stacey Shubitz, 2018 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

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

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

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

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

There are many ways to help students read like writers.

Katie Wood Ray (1999) suggests:

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

Ralph Fletcher (2011) encourages students to:

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

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

Step 1: Read Out Loud.

Step 2: Respond as a Reader.

Step 3: Reread.

Step 4: Read with a Lens.

Step 5: Talk.

Step 6: Record. (10-11)

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

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

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

LFA Banner for Blog

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

Umbrella Minilessons for Reader’s Workshop

by Jill Eurich, Intermediate/Middle School Trainer

Minilessons are a way to provide short, explicit instruction that students can apply independently and then deepen their understandings through a share at the end of class. Each minilesson has its own teaching point but when minilessons are clustered around a broader topic it has several advantages.

  • Focuses on one particular aspect of reading or writing over time to allow students to investigate the concept in different ways.
  • Provides students with the opportunity to deepen and broaden their understanding of the teaching point.
  • Gives students an opportunity to stay with the same concept over time and apply the concept to future learning.
  • Provides an opportunity to develop the reciprocity between reading and writing.

Here is an example of an umbrella reading minilesson:

Readers think about the ways authors provide information about characters in order to learn more about   them and deepen their understanding of the text.

In teaching this minilesson I might ask students to provide ideas of how we as readers learn about characters and chart their responses. Here are some of the ideas they might share:

Ways We Learn about Characters

From their actions

From their thoughts

From their appearance, habits or lifestyle

From ways they change

From ways they react, respond or relate to others

From what others say about them

From the way others react, respond or relate to them

To finish that minilesson I would then ask students during their independent reading to put a post-it next to any place they gain information about characters in their book and then be ready to discuss how they learned about characters during share at the end of the lesson.

Based on the list they come up with and perhaps some ideas of my own, I would then take one week or two and explore each of these ideas in more depth, providing strong examples from mentor texts and having them look for examples we could share from their independent reading.  Here are a few examples of minilessons I might develop:

*Readers notice physical descriptions to help visualize and gain information about  the characters.

*Readers notice the character’s actions in order to get more information about the character’s personality.

*Readers notice the character’s inner thoughts to gain a better understanding of how the character thinks and feels.

In this way students would become familiar with the broader concept that there are different ways for readers to learn about characters and then have the opportunity to explore some of those ways in greater depth through subsequent minilessons. Umbrella minilessons followed by related minilessons are a strong teaching tool for exploring an idea in depth.