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.

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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.

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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.

Taking an Inquiry Stance in the Writing Workshop

by Jill Eurich – Assistant Director,  Intermediate and Middle SchoolImage

“A unit of study in writing is not unlike a unit of study in science or social studies. It is a line of inquiry – a road of curriculum a trail of teaching, an excursion of knowing something about writing. It is some big thing that you and your class are digging into over time.”  – Isoke Nia

In the previous blog on an inquiry stance in the reading workshop, we discussed how students could read in a genre and record what they noticed in the writing which might be about genre or craft. These noticings not only deepen their understandings as readers, but also develop students’ abilities to read like writer, to bring to their own writing their understandings of what they have seen other authors do that they have found powerful. For instance, students might have noticed in a study of memoir in the reading workshop that authors not only write about an experience that is important to them, but also recount why it was significant, what they learned or felt. Inquiring into characteristics of memoir as they read them provides a foundation of knowledge that they can then bring to their own writing of memoir. As readers, students have experienced the power of writers sharing their thoughts and emotions related to an incident so they carry over that knowledge to include their emotions or thinking in the writing of their own memoir.

An inquiry approach to genre study repositions curriculum as the outcome of instruction rather than as the starting point. (Ray, 2006)

Similarly, in a study of feature articles the teacher might have conducted an open inquiry in which students were asked what they were noticing as they experienced feature articles through interactive read-aloud and their independently reading. The teacher might have also conducted a guided inquiry in which she asks students to analyze the different ways feature articles are structured. The information from this inquiry becomes vital to purposeful decisions students will make in the writing workshop. They will have learned different possibilities of how writers structured their feature articles so that they can be intentional in choosing a structure that will best fit the meaning and purpose of the article they are developing. Similarly students can inquire as to how pieces they admire are crafted and use that to inform their own writing.

When I think about an inquiry stance, I always feel like this reason alone – inquiry teaches students to read and think like writers – is reason enough to teach from this stance as often as possible. (Ray, 2006)

Another aspect of inquiry in the writing workshop has to do with self-reflection. In thinking about good characteristics of writing Carl Anderson has said that meaning is the most important trait. Our writing is strong and purposeful if we have a clear understanding of what we want to communicate to our reader so that we can find effective ways to do that in our writing. Asking ourselves, “Why am I writing this piece?” or “What is it I want my reader to know?” helps us as writers clarify our purpose and what it is we want to communicate. It can even be helpful to you’re your students write down what they are really trying to have their readers understand so that it can not only guide their first drafts but also inform the revision process as well.

The inquiry stance used in the reading and writing workshop carries over in exciting ways to poetry as well. We will explore that soon!

Ray, K.W. (2006). Exploring inquiry as a teaching stance in the writing workshop. Language Arts, 83, 238-247.




Discovering Cool Web 2.0 Tools to Enhance Literacy Teaching and Learning

by Cindy Downend

Now that summer vacation is here, why not spend a little time discovering some really exciting web tools that are great for engaging both students and teachers in literacy learning?   Here, in the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, we have been encouraging one another (and the teachers with whom we work) to integrate some web 2.0 tools into our teaching.  We have learned so much from one another, the teachers with whom we work, and notables in the field like Troy Hicks, Julie Coiro, and Nancy Anderson.

As we discover these new web tools, we have been highly intentional and purposeful in the way that we use them in our teaching.   It’s not about just using a 2.0 tool because it’s cool and flashy.  We really spend time thinking about how each particular tool may strengthen our teaching and make it easier for students to grasp the concepts we are presenting.

Listed below are just a few of the web tools that we have tried out and how they’ve been used.  I highly recommend that you visit the Edublog Teacher Challenge Blog.  This blog lists 26 different web tools, gives a definition and overview of each of their uses, provides a “teacher challenge” to get you started, and has many videos that support your experimentation.

So, happy experimenting and please share with us how you have been using web tools for your literacy teaching.

VoiceThread allows you to create an interactive slideshow using pictures, videos, documents, or even Powerpoint presentations.  You or your students can record video/audio that allows you to describe each slide in more detail.  But that’s not all…Viewers of your VoiceThreads can leave responses and comments to your VoiceThread.  This tool is excellent for supporting writing workshop.  I have seen it used for publishing a class poetry book, students created informational texts that they narrated, and one first grade class published their interactive writing about a class field trip to the zoo.   VoiceThread makes it really easy to share published works with families!

Wordle creates a “word cloud” that helps to interpret the meaning of the words by assigning font size according to how frequently the word appears in a text or is typed into the Wordle text box.  We have used Wordle for brainstorming and as a reflection tool at the end of a professional development session.  Below is a Wordle that was created during a session on reading fluency.

Glogster is a Web 2.0 tool used for creating an online interactive poster.  Glogster makes it easy to combine graphics, backgrounds, videos, pictures, sounds, text and even hyperlinks into really interesting online posters.   Glogster is a fabulous alternative to the traditional classroom poster project.