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!

Resisting the Frenzy: Staying the Course of Common Sense in Literacy Teaching

3.20.15 Irene Fountas Photo

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

In the past several decades, there have been a variety of movements that have shifted literacy teaching in our schools. Often the newest trend has meant a total mind-shift of instructional practice for teachers. Certainly something important can be learned from the emphases of each movement, but each swing of the pendulum has also left out some important areas of literacy teaching and learning. One cannot simply make the assumption when there is a new movement in the midst that the worthy new areas of emphasis are not already implemented in schools that are implementing a high quality literacy approach.

When we have articulated our values and beliefs about meaningful, authentic literacy learning in our schools, we can examine the contributions of each new movement in the light of well-grounded principles and stay the course of common sense in our responsibilities to our students, instead of shifting to a new bias that may compromise our commitment.

I will address a few of the key areas we have articulated in our work in supporting high quality literacy approaches that we believe have stayed the course of common sense for almost three decades.

First, every student deserves to have a meaningful and interesting reading life and writing life in school.

This means students read and write for real purposes every day in school and have choice in what they read and write. Choice breeds students’ sense of agency and promotes engagement, and furthers the development of one’s tastes in reading and one’s voice in writing. With the appropriate learning environment and scaffolding, students learn that reading and writing are thinking and that they can think about a variety of topics, authors and genres when they read and mentor with the thinking of the best of writers when they write. They experience some teacher-selected high quality literature and nonfiction, but also a good selection of self-selected material that builds their understanding of their selves and their physical and social world. They learn from their teachers how to make the good choices that offer enjoyment and expand their breadth and depth as readers, writers, and global citizens.

Second, students need a variety of structured opportunities to talk throughout the day.

Talk represents thinking. Students need to think and talk in school. This means pair and triad talk, small group talk, and some whole class discussions that have intent, not just talk for talk’s sake. This includes such instructional contexts as reading or writing conferences, literature discussion groups, guided reading groups, and interactive read aloud lessons that include pair or small group talk. Teachers sometimes don’t realize they are dominating the talk and robbing the students of the process of learning through verbalizing their understandings and building on or challenging each other’s ideas. The one who talks is the one who learns. Teachers play a key role in helping students learn how to use language that promotes conversation and the analysis of texts with others to achieve deeper understandings than any one reader could achieve on his own. When students discuss a variety of fiction texts, nonfiction texts, and poetry in a community of readers and writers, they learn how to use the language and vocabulary of literate people. These rich experiences build their background knowledge and academic vocabulary and put each learner in the role of a literate being.

Third, the text base for learning needs to include a variety of high quality fiction and nonfiction texts, primary and secondary sources, as well as poetry. 

The classroom text base needs to provide access to age appropriate, grade appropriate material that is of high interest and value. Sometimes the texts students are asked to read simply aren’t worth reading or don’t engage their intellectual curiosity. The texts need to be meaningful, relevant, developmentally appropriate and made accessible. Alongside this rich base, students need the opportunity to lift their reading powers with the precision teaching made possible with the teacher’s use of carefully leveled, challenging texts at the student’s instructional level. These texts allow for the differentiated, intentional teaching that each student deserves to develop an effective processing system and move forward as a self-regulating, independent reader.  Photo of Girl Reading

Fourth, students deserve to be acknowledged as unique learners.

Every student and every group of students is different. When teachers learn how to systematically observe the strengths and needs of individuals, the assessments can inform instruction and the teaching can be responsive. No assessment is valuable if it doesn’t result in better teaching. Good assessment gives information on how students process texts and what they understand about words, language, and text qualities. High quality literacy opportunities are built on the strength of the teacher’s expertise in assessing the readers and writers he/she is teaching. Some teachers fall into the trap of teaching students as if they are all the same or focus on teaching the book or program, not the diverse group of students in front of them. Effective teachers assess at intervals to document progress and assess by the minute to fine tune their decisions in the act of teaching.

Staying the Course 

These are some of the mainstays of high quality literacy opportunities for every student. Learning to read and write is complex and will require the complexity of teacher decision-making with sound rationales that are rooted in students’ observable reading, writing and language behaviors. Let’s look to the new movements for what they add to our expertise but keep our good sense about what really matters.

For more information about the Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative events and trainings, visit our website at www.lesley.edu/crr .

Writing Matters- Teaching and Learning from the Heart

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Guest blog post by Peter Catalanotto and JoEllen McCarthy, 2014 Literacy for All Conference Speakers

Unless we reach into our students’ hearts, we have no entry

into their minds.”

-Regie Routman

Getting at the core of what matters most to all readers, writers and thinkers, is the “heart” work of education. As Regie Routman said, we need to reach into their hearts in order to reach their minds.

Children live what they learn. Young writers learn from explicit instruction, modeling and emulating what they see strong writers do. Studying these authors inspires creativity, and supports a vision of what is possible for kids to do.

Books touch the hearts and minds of all readers. Powerful picture books serve as mentor texts to lift the quality of student writing, but more importantly they can also have the “power” to lift students up. Books can connect us as members of a growing community of learners. Books can leave heartprints: they can touch our lives and leave lasting impressions on our hearts. That’s why it isn’t enough to choose the mentor texts for the what, but it is also important to think about the why.

“Mentor texts are more than just craft coaches for writers- they can also offer inspiration and life lessons.”

– Georgia Heard

To teach is to touch a life.

When Peter started school, he wrote backwards and upside down, a condition called dysgraphia. Because he wrote backwards, he never aspired to be a writer. Several teachers had him practice writing. More importantly, his third grade teacher, Miss Dunn, put into practice the belief- allow a child to lead with their strengths.

When she noticed Peter’s struggle with writing, she suggested for a book report that he simply read the book and draw a series of pictures. When she saw his drawings she said it was clear that he read and understood the story. Then she asked if there was a way she could know what the characters in the pictures were feeling and thinking, or what they might do next. Peter looked up at her and said, “I could add words.”

“That’s brilliant!” she exclaimed. “Yes, you can add words to your pictures!”

Powerful words: “Yes you can.”

Yes we can in fact, reach into the hearts and minds of our students. We reflect on the what and why of our students’ needs. Isn’t that what matters most? Now, more than ever, we need to practice kindness, practice patience, and practice love. Because children won’t remember most of what you say and do. But they remember how you made them feel. What matters most in writing, (in reading, in life—) touching the hearts of all learners.

Miss Dunn touched Peter’s heart and mind. Who is your Miss Dunn? More importantly, whose Miss Dunn will you be?

Mentor author/ illustrator Peter Catalanotto and educator, JoEllen McCarthy offer an invitation to connect with them, collaborate, and celebrate what matters most to reach the heart of all learners.

Join the conversation at the Literacy for All conference session LCF-9 Tuesday, November 4th: Writing Matters: Learning From and With Mentor Authors (Grades K-5)

The Power of Write-Alouds

by Guest Blogger, Leah Mermelstein, speaker at the upcoming Literacy for All Conference hosted by Lesley University

 “Students have diverse strengths and needs. This diversity is part of what makes teaching writing both exciting and daunting. Many teachers ask me for ideas on how to supplement the typical writing workshop to meet the needs of these diverse learners. To that end, here’s an exciting tool called write-aloud.

– Leah Mermelstein, Literacy Consultant and Author of Reading/Writing Connections in the K–2 Classroom and Don’t Forget to Share: The Crucial Last Step in the Writing Workshop

In this short article [pdf], Leah Mermelstein defines “write-aloud” and provides a brief write-aloud model that teachers can use.  Distinguishing write-aloud from shared/interactive writing, Leah states that the goal of write-aloud is composition and not writing mechanics. In write-aloud, she said, students listen to and watch their teacher as she writes aloud, all the while noticing the teacher’s thinking strategies.

She also shares four strategies for teachers who want to incorporate write-aloud into their instruction, which are:

  • Separating write-aloud from the writing workshop
  • Using write-aloud to introduce a writing unit of study
  • Using a previous write-aloud piece to teach important concepts in minilessons and conferences
  • Using write-aloud during small-group instruction

Leah encourages teachers to try write-aloud in the classroom, stating it is “incredibly transformative teaching, especially when paired with a strong writing workshop. Try it and watch your students’ speaking, writing, and confidence soar.”

She will be presenting at the Literacy for All conference in Providence, RI on Monday, November 7 and Tuesday, November 8, 2011. Workshop topics will include Don’t Forget to Share: The Crucial Last Step in the Writing Workshop, K–6 and Guided Reading: Taking a Deeper Look at Book Introductions and the Transfer to Independent Reading, K–2.  See the Literacy for All Conference website for details.

Leah also writes for her own blog.