Clarifying Confusion, Part 2

As a follow-up the Clarifying Confusion post from April 2017, I am sharing sample presentations for introducing target clusters in our Clarifying Confusion unit for our intervention for 6th – 9th graders.  See April post for a better description of the standard for this unit and the targets for instruction. 

I see this unit as the heart of our work.  Our standards for this intervention are built around the tenets of reciprocal teaching (Palinscar & Brown, 1984).  When I work with students at the secondary and postsecondary levels, they express that among their greatest frustrations is not knowing what to do when they don’t understand what they’ve read or not realizing they do not understand until the end of the text or during a test.  The purpose of the standard for this unit, as mentioned in a previous post, is to help students develop a mental framework for how to identify confusion and resolve it. 

I initially present the process with an analogy for diagnosing and curing an illness.
I do not think of my students as ill, nor do I teach from a deficit perspective, but developing an analogy helps students consider the whole process, before engaging with the parts of how to repair their own confusion.  

Some teachers encourage students to come up with their own analogy for the process. This may be especially useful for students to record and represent their learning at the end of the unit and solidify the process as they continue to develop their clarifying skills independently beyond the intervention classroom.

So, when I introduce this sequence, I focus on three questions.  How do I know I am
confused? What is causing my confusion? How do I repair my confusion?  Between the explicit instruction for each question,  a great deal of practice and application must happen through authentic reading experiences.  For my students, this typically happens through explicit modeling and guided strategy practice, individual conferring, think alouds, and reciprocal teaching.  

Again, the following presentations merely introduce the concepts and vocabulary needed for metacognitive discussions about monitoring for comprehension and repairing confusion.

If you have questions about any of these resources, please comment or email helpteensread@gmail.com.

References for Further Study: 

Carter, C. (1997). Why reciprocal teaching? Educational leadership. (54)6: 64-68.

Palinscar, A.S., and Brown, A.L. (1984). Reciprocal teaching of comprehension: Fostering and monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction (1) 2: 111-175.

Tovani, C. (2000). I read it, but I don’t get it. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Literacy Lessons – Predictions

The lesson below explains an instructional strategy that I’ve used with narratives in our first unit for secondary intervention students.  This engages student thinking to make predictions, guide reading, and sustain interest in the story.  This strategy also offers space for front-loading important and unfamiliar vocabulary.  As students read, they gather evidence to make adjustments to their original predictions.  “Fragments from the story, in the form of clue words and phrases (context clues), enable readers to form an overall impression of how the characters and events interact in the story” (Vacca, Vacca, & Mraz). Variations of this strategy can be found in a variety of resources.  Here you can see how it connects to a standard and specific targets (Marzano) in our Strategic Reading curriculum.

Story Impressions

 

Standard:   

Activate prior knowledge specific to the text to determine the purpose for reading.  Use text and text features to develop logical predictions. Monitor the accuracy of the predictions, analyze textual evidence to adjust.

Target(s):

  • adjust predictions based on textual evidence.  
  • monitor the accuracy of predictions based on textual evidence.
  • use the text features and context clues to develop logical predictions.

 

 

Lesson Steps:

  • Students will receive a list of clue words “selected directly from the story and sequenced with arrows or lines to form a descriptive chain”(Vacca, Vacca, & Mraz). These words are chosen from a text that challenges but doesn’t frustrate students. 
  • Engage students in an effective strategy for exploring the unfamiliar vocabulary that is essential to the theme of the story.
  • After unfamiliar words have been explored and the Story Impression process has been modeled (the first time), students will use the clue words to write a story prediction for the short story or chapter they are about to read.  Students must use all of the words in the story chain.  Using all the terms requires students to predict the possible connections between the words and concepts.
  • Students share their ideas in pairs and volunteers share out.  If time allows, the teacher may facilitate quick discussion about how evidence fueled the predictions. 
  • Students will read the text using a process chosen by the teacher.  (Even a version reciprocal teaching could be used here.)  The teacher may identify stopping points for students to discuss adjustments and the evidence that supports them. 
  • During the reading process, the teacher can monitor conversations or conference with students about the applications of the target skills.

Academic Vocabulary:

Prediction, adjust, context, text features, textual evidence 

 Monitoring/ Assessment:  

  • Written story impression using all of the terms/concepts provided. 
  • Exit Slip/Quick Write – How did the story differ from your prediction?  Provide evidence from the text to show the differences.
  • Student-teacher conferencing throughout the process.

Turning Reluctance into Resilience

GUEST POST  by  Dr. Cheryl J. Wright

As effective educators, we strive to meet students where they are. But what if where they are is “I don’t care”? Rather than conceding that students can’t do better, it is important that we

  1. Make connections to build on students’ interests and strengths.
  2. Take time to clearly define crucial teaching content and create achievable goals.
  3. Teach intrapersonal skills and real-life applications of lessons.
  4. Provide effective support while emphasizing student effort and acknowledging progress.

Here are some ways these tenets might play out in the classroom, especially when students struggle to muster their motivation.

Cultivating the Will to Succeed

Taking time to know students and welcome them to the classroom fosters not only a positive culture but a productive one. Students perceive a safe environment where asking questions, sharing ideas, and linking learning to prior knowledge are the norm. When establishing classroom culture, it is beneficial to “focus on what students need to succeed and build it into the learning and social environment every day” (Jensen, 2016, p. 111).

How This Might Look in Practice

  • Inspire hope: Greet with a smile, give high fives, and embed genuine affirmations (e.g., “It’s good to see you.” “Nice job getting here on time.” “Welcome back.” “You nailed it!”). Specify how learning is beneficial in students’ lives and be receptive to their thoughts and feedback. Integrate examples into your teaching of how individuals overcome adversity. Ultimately, interactions with students should serve as stepping-stones for trust and growth.
  • Express enthusiasm: Exhibit a caring disposition for students and excitement about the topics you teach. Convey instruction with positive energy and purpose. Students will be more likely to ask questions and pursue learning.
  • Be approachable: Have clear and consistent expectations for both learning and behavior while also promoting civility, equity, and respect. Nurture students’ curiosity for learning by guiding them to discover their talents and view situations from different perspectives.
  • Embrace teachable moments: Encourage students to reflect on learning experiences and tell them that their voices matter. Analyze what is going well, what adjustments are needed, and how different methods can get better results. Look at drawbacks as opportunities to solve problems creatively and build confidence.

Fostering Essential Connections

How often, despite our best intentions, do we assume we know what motivates learners? Do we take time to genuinely know students or explore their attitudes about school? These questions call to mind a middle school student I once met. He was sometimes sheltered from challenging work out of a misplaced concern that pushing him to think critically would be too frustrating for him. Basic lessons that required mere regurgitation of facts conveyed low expectations and insulted his potential. When I asked him, “What influences you to do well in school?” he said, without hesitation, “When teachers don’t give me the easy stuff!”

Educators who motivate clearly define objectives and provide opportunities for “learning by doing.” Feedback and multiple opportunities for practice help students understand expectations, monitor progress, and foster a can-do attitude.

How This Might Look in Practice

  • Focus on success and set achievable goals.
  • Clearly identify the topic and what students will learn.
  • Use multiple, kid-friendly ways to explain learning goals so that students purposefully engage in the learning process.
  • Connect lessons to what is relevant to students, including real-life examples and analogies to foster deep understanding.
  • Pinpoint crucial information; too much at one time can be overwhelming and confusing.

Not Academics Alone

Competency in our content areas alone does not inspire effort. We must be sensitive to the fact that students may have experienced failure many times before coming to us. Students can be apprehensive that teachers will talk to them in a condescending manner or won’t value them. A savvy teacher knows how to convey instruction in ways that give and garner respect.

How This Might Look in Practice

  • Share a personal experience.
  • Acknowledge when you get it wrong: “Sorry, this is my fault.”
  • Say, “I have no doubt we can get this done.”
  • Encourage self-confidence: “We’ll take it one step at a time.” “You’ve got this!”
  • Invite feedback: “What are your thoughts?” “How might this be done differently?”
  • Follow the 2×10 strategy and “invest 2 uninterrupted, undivided minutes a day for 10 consecutive days with the sole purpose of relationship building” (Mendler, 2000, p. 51).

Making a Difference

Unmotivated students can challenge any teacher. However, consistently framing each day as an opportunity to get stronger, and giving students the supports to do so, can encourage them to persevere. Over time, reluctance shifts to resilience, and students’ excitement for learning reawakens. What could be more rewarding than giving struggling students hope and a chance to hold their heads a little higher?

References

Jensen, E. (2016). Poor students, rich teaching: Mindsets for change. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Mendler, A. N. (2000). Motivating students who don’t care: Successful techniques for educators. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Cheryl J. Wright is an instructional coach in Kansas City for Kansas Public Schools.

Originally Posted in ASCD Express, Vol. 12, No. 23. Copyright 2017 by ASCD. All rights reserved.  Reposted with permission from the author.

Summer Reading List 2017

IT WAS A SHORT, BUSY SUMMER…

The following lists of texts represent what consumed my summer and caused a temporary BLOG hiatus.   My summer was spent engaged in graduate work for my Ed.S., teaching a pre-service education course, and facilitating a collaborative inquiry cadre focused on digital literacy.  Limited opportunities for weekend road trips allowed me to enjoy a few examples of the best of young adult literature.  When all was said and done,  I spent relatively little time focused on literacy instruction specifically but still strengthen my resolve around the systemic (local, state, and national) need to advocate for our CLD students (and their teachers) in urban education.  My focus will always be literacy, but literacy instruction involves much more than skills.  We must provide all students with relevant, rigorous, and empowering learning experiences that incorporate resources present in the unique knowledge and experiences of each child.  You may see that as a common thread in many of the resources listed below.  These are not all of the texts I read this summer; here I seek to share resources I found most impactful to my thinking as a parent, an educator and an instructional leader.

Culturally Responsive/Sustaining Pedagogies

 

Culture in School Learning: Revealing the Deep Meaning, 3rd Edition
Etta R. Hollins (c) 2015

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice 
Geneva Gay (c) 2010

Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement & Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
Zaretta Hammond  (c) 2015

Building Racial and Cultural Competence in the Classroom: Strategies from Urban Educators
Karen Manheim Teel & Jennifer E. Obidah (c) 2008

 

Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World
Django Paris & H. Samy Alim (Eds.)  (c) 2017

Literacy Topics Across the Curriculum 

 

Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines
Doug Buehl (c) 2011 – New Edition Released 2017

Literacy in the Disciplines: A Teachers Guide for Grades 6-12
Thomas DeVere Wolsey & Diane Lapp (c) 2017

Collaborative Coaching for Disciplinary Literacy Strategies to Support Teachers 6-12
L. Elish-Piper, S.K. L’Allier, M. Manderino, P. Di Domenico (c) 2016

Collaborative Inquiry for Educators 
Jenni  Donohoo (c) 2013

Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World
Kristen Hawley Turner & Troy Hicks (c) 2015

Young Adult Literature 

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 
Benjamin Alire Saenz (c) 2012

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas (c) 2017

Everything I Never Told You
Celeste Ng (c) 2014

Echo 
Pam Munoz Ryan (c) 2015

I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World
Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick (c) 2014

March: Book Three 
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell (c) 2016

SOME Still on the Book Pile (Or in Process) 

 

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too
Christopher Emdin (c) 2016

Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning 
Jenni Donohoo (c) 2017

Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines
Doug Buehl (c) 2017

Everything, Everything       
Nicola Yoon (c) 2017

American Street 
Ibi Zoboi (c) 2017

What summer reading impacted your practice as a teacher or your functioning as a citizen?  I can add those to the pending list.  Have a great school year!

Signs and Fix-ups

As a follow-up to my April post about Clarifying Confusion,  I am sharing links to introductory lessons for clarifying and repairing confusion.  Below are two resources from the Help Teens Read page at Teachers Pay Teachers.

The first item is a Cornell Notes printable (student and teachers pages with visuals) for identifying the six common signs of confusion.  See description below:

This poster shows the concepts included in the Clarifying Confusion resource.

As the first step in helping our students be metacognitive about the process of identifying their own confusion, isolating causes of their confusion, and choosing options for repairing our confusion, we teach students the common signs readers experience when confusion occurs.  This Cornell notes task introduces students to the common signs,  engages students in Cornell note taking, and supports instruction of main ideas, supporting details and summary writing.  These are all targets within our intervention curriculum for students in grades 6-9.  The commentary and graphics are developed by the Helpteensread.org contributors, but the content is based on Cris Tovani text, I Read it, But I don’t Get It.

Elements provided with the Fix-up Cornell notes resource

The second item, also a Cornell Notes printable with visuals included,  is used once students have a fair grasp of when they feel confused and what causes the confusion. See description below:

Helping students use effective strategies to repair confusion as they read is an important and challenging step to helping secondary students become proficient readers.  The steps may be intuitive to proficient readers, but some students need explicit instruction and authentic practice.  This Cornell notes task introduces students to the ten common repair strategies,  engages students in Cornell note taking, and supports instruction of main ideas, supporting details and summary writing.  These are all targets within the intervention curriculum for students in grades 6-9.   The fix-ups are divided into three segments.  Students may find learning and practicing use in authentic ways a few at a time helps them become more independent at applying each when needed. Ultimately, students can develop a toolbox of many strategies that apply to their own common challenges.  The commentary and graphics are developed by the Helpteensread contributors, but the content is based on Cris Tovani text,  I Read it But I don’t Get It.

Clarifying Confusion

The common secondary literacy intervention we use in our district is intended to be Tier 2, based on RTI (Response to Intervention) framework. This means that it attempts, within the district parameters, to adhere to the following characteristics:

  • It builds on the literacy needs for Tier 1 and should be in collaboration with Tier 1 instruction.  One element of this collaboration for our model is co-teaching for the purpose of integrating the application of literacy strategies across disciplines.  
  • It meets 3-5 times a week.  It should meet 8-12 weeks, but we must honor a semester schedule.   
  • It focuses on no more than three to five foundational skills in reading.  We focus on comprehension and vocabulary (morphology) to contribute to comprehension, independent reading, and collaboration (building knowledge in a community of learners).
  • Teachers are intended to use consistent formative and diagnostic assessments to determine students’ strengths and needs.   With a focus on student data-driven instruction, teachers are supported through professional learning and by a literacy coach to use research-based intervention strategies and track student progress toward specific goals based on gaps.

Our model has only four comprehension standards, but they are dense.  They are taught in units built by using the Marzano Instructional Design.   This allows teachers to unpack a dense comprehension standard into individual learning targets and organize them in a logical progression that scaffolds skills for cognitive complexity and student autonomy with the standard. In intervention, autonomy with a standard means that students build independence with literacy strategies that help them make meaning of a text.  This is as complex, and sometimes as overwhelming, as it sounds.  However, when students are in an intervention, the goal is to help them practice and deepen the use of proficient reader skills that have long been unattainable. They need effective and thoughtful instructional processes to get them there.

Arguably our toughest standard is for clarifying confusion:

During reading, detect signs of confusion, diagnose causes of the confusion & determine effective reading strategies to resolve confusion and improve comprehension.


The thinking and processing for addressing this standard for clarifying confusion, by far the most challenging of our for standards/units, was born long ago while reading Cris Tovani’s classic book,
I Read It But I Don’t Get It.   Much of the vocabulary for the targets and the progression were shared by Tovani, but implementing them as replicable strategies that work for a diverse group of students with many layers of strengths and needs has been a long journey that continues to expand with every new student in need of strategies to clarify their confusion.

If you were to ask the secondary interventionists who teach to this standard, most would say that helping students identify, and give language to, what causes their confusion is a tall order.  The targets (based on the standards above) are ordered below are order in complexity from bottom to top as follows:

3.0 Learning GOAL Targets   (“learning targets that demonstrate attainment and mastery performance of the academic standard”)

  • resolve confusion (apply strategy)  to improve comprehension.
  • determine effective reading strategies to resolve confusion.

2.0 Foundational Learning Targets  (“essential prerequisites, knowledge, and basic processes not explicitly stated in an academic standard”)

  • diagnose causes of the confusion during reading.
  • identify common causes of confusion.
  • identify confusion while reading text of different types.
  • identify signs of confusion during reading.
  • describe the six common signs of confusion.
  • recognize or recall specific vocabulary:  detect, diagnose, signs of confusion,  fix-up  strategies, sensory images,  clarify, text features, adjust

Over the next few blogs, I plan to provide resources and techniques for addressing these targets to facilitate progression toward the “mastery of the academic standard.” However, the challenge with learning to clarify confusion is that it is a “work in progress.”  From the ways my children first learned to acknowledge their “huh?” moments and try to fix their own discomfort to the ways I make sense of dense and complex academic research,  we must keep reading and growing.  Students must have replicable strategies with which they can begin their journey, but as they continue to progress through the reading challenges of this life, and hopefully as we keep challenging them as educators, they will deepen these strategies and develop variations of their own. Of course, they must believe they can and know they have the power (fodder for other posts).

Resources:

I Read It, but I Don’t Get It  by Cris Tovani  (1999)

Creating and Using Learning Targets & Performance Scales: How Teachers Make Better Instructional Decisions by Carla Moore, Libby H. Garst, and Robert J. Marzano  (2015)

Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Success by Regie Routman (2014)

 

Strategy Discussion Cards

HelpTeensRead has added a new resource to Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT).   It has been a busy time for us both. We will try to be more diligent in posting resources in the future. Please respond to this post to let us know what types of resources interest you.  Our literacy resources are intended to support secondary literacy intervention and secondary disciplinary literacy strategy instruction.
Below is the explanation offered as part of the resource:

Reciprocal Teaching
Discussion  Cards

Our district secondary intervention requires reciprocal teaching as a way to encourage discussion and blend the strategies learned in class.  Although we started with the brilliant resources of Lori Oczkus (Reciprocal Teaching at Work), over the last decade, Help Teens Read teachers (Brian Hubbard and Tracy Cooper) have developed many variations on the reciprocal teaching techniques to scaffold and deepen student literacy skills through discussion with other learners. Our most successful variations and extensions have been in core content classes where we support literacy skills in disciplinary reading.   

At the upper middle and high school levels, our goal is authenticity of skill use. We build reciprocal teaching processes for meaning making strategies directly through the annotation of text.  We focus on disciplinary text and current events that build the students’ vocabulary and background knowledge.   We want students to apply the skills of developing predictions, clarifying confusion, asking questions, retelling and summarizing as they encounter complex text in school and life.
(Rationale for adding retelling, see Emily Kissner, 2006)

The discussion card set provided is one example of how we guide students through individual roles as they read segmented text (3-5 chunks with stopping points, see simple example provided) that allows for strategy application.  Each discussion card provides a student with a guide for their assigned role as he participates in the collaborative group. Traditional reciprocal teaching groups have four roles.  We have embedded a process for students to stop, think, and retell (a 5th role)  in order to address confusions and misconceptions along the way.

The role cards can be used in many ways.  Here are some example:

  1. The roles can be assigned as differentiation to address students specific skill needs. The role cards can stay with one student for the whole text or be shifted at each stopping point when you feel students understand process and product for each role.
  2. The teacher may wish to add the strategies as the students work toward autonomy. For example,  a teacher may wish to explicitly support the retelling process and allow students to read text in pairs and take turns reading, retelling, and adjusting the retell.  Maybe students are struggling with questioning and clarifying, the teacher may have students use only these strategies during reciprocal teaching until these skills are strong enough to blend with the other strategies. 
  3. After you teach each strategy through explicit and guided instruction, you may wish to only add that strategy to reading and retelling.  For example, one student may read a chunk of text,  the next student may retell (students will discuss accuracy) and then the third student may adjust predictions.  These roles may stay stable for this whole text, or students shuffle at the end of each chunk.   Once you teach the next strategy, clarifying for example,  then add that strategy to the discussions.

Whatever process you choose, you may ask students to individually or collaboratively write a summary at the end of the RT discussion.  Monitoring the reciprocal teaching discussion, student annotations, and the summaries allows you to adjust instruction for areas of strength and weakness.

Reciprocal-Teaching-Discussion-Card
This TPT resource includes PDFs for five role cards (example in image above), a sample text that shows how we chunk text for this variation on reciprocal teaching, and the explanation shown above.   If you find a reason to use this resource, please leave a rating. We like to know if it is useful to you.   Please feel free to contact me through the blog with any questions.

Growth Mindset Intervention

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”          ~Albert Einstein

Lately, I see more memes and posters with this quote than ever.  While I agree with the sentiment of not judging intellect based on weaknesses rather than strengths, I think it tells our students that they can acknowledge something is a weakness and call it done. If a proverbial fish out of water truly had a need to climb a tree, and the fish believed he could determine or learn a way to accomplish this task, he would indeed get up that tree somehow, even if by adaptation.  However, our kids aren’t fish. 

When students enter any intervention class, but for our purposes, a reading intervention class, they feel like a fish out of water.  They don’t need to learn to climb a tree.  They need to get back in the water a lot more and perfect skills they need for survival. 

“I am not good a good reader.”
“I don’t like to read.”
“Reading isn’t my thing.”
“I am good at math, not reading.”

Readers-in-need are “fish” who’ve been allowed out of water too long, and they no longer know how to swim effectively in the new, more aggressive pond (Tired of this analogy, yet?)   Many of our intervention students had one or both of two types of experiences, and these will be defined too simplistically.  First, they experienced a developmental challenge with reading early and found themselves in pull-out interventions that did not have actual reading at the heart of the process. As a result, they were in a perpetual gap.  Second, as they got older, they weren’t required to read much for learning or found ways to avoid it, (and possibly suffered from the first situation), so they aren’t convinced of the value of challenge in reading.  They now lack the skills to be successful.  One outcome of those two situations, is that students often think they can’t read well, that it can’t be changed, and they don’t want to keep engaging in risky attempts that make them look foolish or feel inadequate.  Some pretty outrageous classroom behaviors are born from these beliefs.

The majority of our reading intervention students suffer from what Dr. Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset.   All too often, in the name of support, students are told isn’t their fault that they struggle (and it probably isn’t)  and they can’t really do much about it because that’s how they’re built.  The fallacy being supported, mostly through actions more than words, is that the students can’t learn to be as good at reading (or wri
ting) at the same level as their more successful peers.  According to Dr. Dweck:

“Growth-mindset teachers tell their students the truth (about where they are) and then give them the tools to close the gap (where they CAN be)…Not just lip service to the idea that children can learn, but a deep desire to reach in and ignite the mind in every child.”

Depending more on Dr. Dweck to expand a point,  I would like to share the following coaching anecdote from her 2006 edition, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success: How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential (2006).  In her chapter on the impact of growth mindset parenting, teaching and coaching, she shares a comparison between two coaches (Bobby Knight & John Wooden) and how their coaching style impacted player growth, especially players that weren’t perceived to have the highest levels of talent. Sometimes it’s our fixed mindset that might be the obstacle.  Consider the following (insert readers for players):

“Don’t you have to go with your talented players and give less to the second stringers? [John Wooden] didn’t play all players equally, but he gave to all players equally.  For example when he recruited another player the same year as Bill Walton, he told him that he would play very little in actual games because of Walton. But he promised him, “By the time you graduate you’ll get a pro contract.  You’ll be that good.”  By his third year, the player was giving Bill Walton all he could handle in practice.  And when he turned pro, he was named rookie of the year in his league.”

Are we teachers with a growth mindset, for ourselves and our students? Do we coach/teach all students as if at the end of the day our goal is to see them be as successful as any other student?   Do we believe that we can grow all students:  the high, the low, and the poorly behaved?  Do our students believe that it is within their power to have all they can image out of their literacy lives? If we believe it, we can help them believe it.  They have the power to change their stars even if they gave up hope a long time ago.  We just have to reignite the hope.  The recipe: a strong relationship with a motivating, interested adult, an understanding and belief in their own powers to grow and learn, and the skills required to develop.

Let’s clarify the terms.  The definitions of fixed and growth mindsets wer
e established through the aforementioned research of Dr. Carol Dweck, but the working definitions below are taken from
The Growth Mindset Coach: A Teacher’s Month-by-month Handbook for Empowering Students to Achieve (Brock & Hundley, 2016):

Fixed Mindset: “The belief that we’re born with fixed amount of intelligence and ability.  People operating in the fixed mindset are prone to avoiding challenges and failures, thereby robbing themselves of a life rich in experiences and learning.” As a result, individuals with this mindset may seek constant praise for the skills they believe they possess innately (extrinsically motivated).
Growth Mindset: “The belief that with practice, perseverance, and effort, people have limitless potential to learn and grow.  People operating in the growth mindset tackle challenges with aplomb, unconcerned with making mistakes or being embarrassed, focusing instead on the process of growth.”  As a result, individuals with this mindset tend to be rewarded by the growth challenge and overcoming obstacles (intrinsically motivated).   

It is not my intention to tout another series of buzzwords, but this concept applies
heavily to our students.  I do not visit a classroom where I do not hear concern over motivation. In our district, our intervention model reinforces a belief that without
motivation and a positive self-perception/self-efficacy it is difficult for secondary students to close the gap in their literacy skills.  Much of our students’ motivation is zapped by a fixed mindset that has been reinforced by years of inadequate progress.

Ok, how do we do it?  Well, just like anything else that really works for students, it depends on the individual.   Part of our district intervention, is helping students learn who they are as learners so they can leverage that knowledge by identifying their strengths to repair their weaknesses.   This is impossible if students don’t think that kind of power is even attainable. The first thing they may need to know about themselves is their current mindset, and how that affects their success. 

So I challenge you to do some research of your own.  Intentional effort spent on relevant challenge is something our kids deserve to experience and need to truly thrive. In our district we often repeat the phrase, “literacy is a civil right.”  I believe that, but more than that the skills to change and grow and overcome obstacles are life skills school SHOULD be providing all students as well.

There are some initial resources to consider.  I started with the 2006 edition of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, but there is a newer edition published in 2016.  I have intervened for teen readers for most of two decades, and I the book kept me rapt. The concepts are so central to working with underperforming students.  The second edition provides some new research and new insights about aspects of mindset that weren’t being used effectively.   If the book is too big a bite during the school year, start with Dr. Dweck’s Ted Talk: “The Power of Believing You Can Improve”  and an article from Ed Week, “Carol Dweck Revisits the Growth Mindset.”  Even if you have seen a lot of general information and posters about growth mindset, it requires some authentic research to internalize its breadth.  

For a practical support for practical application in the classroom, I recommend The Growth Mindset Coach: A Teacher’s Month-by-Month Handbook for Empowering Students Achieve by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley (2016)

If you are already engaging in this work with students, let us know what is working.  We have to be in this together.

Levels of Understanding Poster

We use this Levels of Understanding Target Poster in our secondary literacy (Strategic Reading) classes to help students pre-assess their level of understanding of a literacy strategy (pre-instruction), and reevaluate their understanding upon completion of instruction.  The question prompts for each level are intended to ignite students’ ability to verbalize what they know and what they still need to know or be able to do.

The complexity of the thinking for this process falls under the metacognitive level of the Marzano taxonomy under Monitoring Accuracy:  “The student can determine how accurate their understanding of knowledge is and defend their judgment.”  

Here is a sample plan for how to use this resource:

  1. Prior to engaging in new learning, students reflect on the learning target (or standard/objective) for the day’s instruction and rate their current understanding.  We have students write the learning target (or standard/objective) on their exit slip form (not included here).
  2. At the close of an instruction segment, students reconsider and reflect on how their level of understanding has developed. They again choose a rating from the target.
  3. In writing, students explain and justify their rating choice using reflection prompts prepared for each level.

My collaborator, a talented former graphic designer turned educator, and I are now beginning the process of adding our literacy intervention and general instructional resources on Teachers Pay Teachers.  This free resource is our first offering.  If you are interested in particular types of resources for literacy intervention, please let us know.  It is probably in our vault somewhere.

Motivation Starts Here

In our district, secondary literacy intervention teachers are asked to focus on three elements of development for a productive literacy learning community:  skill, motivation, and self-perception/self-efficacy.   Secondary struggling/striving readers are unspecified-5a complicated lot.  Many factors have contributed to their general lack of success with reading and writing.  Lack of skill and the reasons for that are important.  However, students must feel motivated to give the effort required for growth, and they must believe their effort matters.  That needed motivation is significantly fueled or hindered by a student’s perceptions of who he is as a learner, more specifically, as readers and writers. Students must find what intrinsically motivates them, or we need to help students determine what intrinsically motivates. According to Daniel Pink in his book Drive,  “humans are built to be intrinsically motivated, but have been taught to be extrinsically motivated through years of overt control applied to ‘encourage’ us to work,” or in this case learn.   Do offers of rewards or threats of consequences ever do more than get kids to comply?  The evidence suggests that learning is rarely the outcome of extrinsic motivators. 

Motivating a middle or high school student is no easy process.  Their journey has already been long and arduous.  Along the way students lose track of why reading is matters to anyone, and more personally, why it matters to them. We have to presume that many other capable teachers have attempted to build literacy skills in our students and many have tried to convince students that the extra effort will be beneficial.  More often than not, the students have decided that their ability level is a pre-determined, innate part of them. They are not readers.  They aren’t built to be good writers.  Their future will be built on something that requires some skill they innately possess, and reading or writing isn’t it. Now, after multiple years without proof to the contrary, a secondary literacy teacher is telling them that being a proficient reader is a life skill and that they must possess it to be successful.   Worst of all, it is going to take many challenging hours of practice with skills built around the very things our students have learned to despise: reading and writing and thinking about reading and writing.  

Relationship building is the first step, no matter what the next steps are.  The next steps may be more influenced by the motivation philosophy you accept, but relationships are first.  I’ve yet to see a student authentically motivated without the foundation of a positive relationship.   We’ve all heard that students need to “know that you care, before they care what you know.”  That is never more true than with adolescent students-in-the-gap.  A great deal of what we do and say to convince students that the effort matters to them, must be built on acceptance from the student that the message comes from a credible, fair and consistent source holding high attainable expectations. They must believe the message is built on sincere love and respect for students.  That’s heavy stuff.  Nothing life-changing really happens before that exchange of positive beliefs occurs.  Often, when an adult reflects on the place in their journey when they found focus and direction for life, it was through the relationship with an excellent teacher.  (No pressure, right?) 

Resources for building relationships with resistant, challenging students: 
Classroom Management Strategies for Difficult Students
The Teacher as Warm Demander

So I am on a rabbit hole journey through the concepts of motivation, habit development, and growth mindset.   My hope, over the next few months and through this blog, is to make practical connections between effective classroom instruction and the research on how motivation and growth mindset happen for humans in general. There is a great deal being published about these topics. Theories and research can seem overwhelming and difficult to apply.  However, above all else, teachers seem to want to understand how to motivate students and help them build the skills needed for an information-rich society. Frequently, teachers feel forced to desperately offer extrinsic rewards for short-term gains, but their sincere efforts rarely lead to good habit development, stronger motivation to engage or a change in the students self-efficacy.

Personally, I don’t believe that the universal struggle to motivate our readers-in-need is simple or easily assigned as a characteristic of a generation.  I am driven to help teachers address the causes and effects for our students.  I would appreciate hearing from you about your questions and concerns for your under-motivated students.   I will use the questions you offer up, along with the ones from my colleagues, to guide my posts about this topic over the next few months.