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.

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)

 

Brain-Friendly Intervention

My post today is more a book review. A colleague and I recently decided that we wanted a book study this year that focused on our learners as much as our content or instruction.  We chose Thomas Armstrong’s 2016 ASCD publication, The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students.  As I read the first two chapters, I chased my own teenage children around the house telling them how amazing their brains are, how challenging it is to be an adolescent (so it IS all in their head, so to speak), and warning them of the side effects if they don’t use their mental capacities before their brains start the “pruning and wiring of circuits involved in decision making.”  The adolescent brain’s “pruning” process is introduced with a quote from Jay Giedd that summarizes the concept well:  “You are hard-wiring your brain in adolescence.  Do you want to hardwire it for sports and playing music and doing mathematics–or for lying on the couch in from of the television?”  When sharing this idea with my son, I might have switched out the word television for the term video games.  With his active teen brain, he understood my point.  Even though he passively said, “Okay, Mom,”  he is choosing to spend fewer hours hunting down zombies. Sometimes all adolescents really need is awareness provided as a friendly FYI, versus commands that say they can’t draw their own logical conclusions.

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As an educator, this book piqued my interest and increased my level of concern for how we engage students’ brains.  In a seven to eight hour school day, imagine how much we must contribute to or detract from effective hardwiring as our adolescent students build brains for adulthood.  I often refer to interventions classes as thinking classes.  Is that really true?  Do I or other teachers in our intervention “thinking classes” provide “brain-hostile” environments or “brain-friendly” environments to grow brains needed for college and career?  As I contemplated our intervention program for 6th through 9th graders and observed classes with Armstrong’s list of brain-friendly practices in mind, I wasn’t surprised that many intervention teachers make sincere efforts to engage students with brain-friendly instruction.  Although Dr. Armstrong provides eight brain-friendly practices, each with its own idea-packed chapters,  I am exploring the five recommended practices I see most frequently in interventions classes I’ve taught or observed.  We could very effectively use all eight practices, but I’ll leave the other three to your own reading exploration.

Below, I provide some examples of how I or my colleagues are striving toward brain-friendly practice.  Based on my knowledge of our work,  I can often think of more we all can do. When reading The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students, you’ll find extensive support for your own efforts to develop a brain-friendly learning environment, no matter what content/skills you teach.

Opportunities to Choose
What our students are doing:

    • Choosing independent reading materials
    • Choosing collaboration partners for metacognitive strategy practice
    • Developing class norms

What we could help our students do more of:

    • Allow students to choose topics for strategy articles
    • Facilitate student choice of roles for collaboration
    • Provide choices for demonstrating skill proficiency  

Self- Awareness activities
What our students are doing:

    • Responding to and reflecting on a reader self-perception survey
    • Responding to and reflecting on a reading attitude survey
    • Identifying personal learning goals
    • Reflecting on personal assessment data
    • Writing about personal strengths and weaknesses based on data and work

What we could do more of: 

    • Reinforcing a growth mindset over a fixed mindset
    • Helping students track their own growth
    • Exploring age-appropriate social-emotional topics

Peer-learning activities
What our students are doing:

    • Collaborating to make meaning of text in reciprocal teaching groups
    • Engaging in games to explore vocabulary

What we could do more of: 

    • Participating peer-to-peer feedback/ coaching.  
    • Reflecting on the use of strategies
    • Modeling effective thinking with and for other students

Affective learning
What our students are doing:

    • Honoring high expectations offered through consistency and care
    • Experiencing one-on-one conferences about skills, interests, and needs
    • Learning in safe environments that allow for risk and mistakes
    • Connecting to books that explore their own personal obstacles

What we could do more of: 

    • Providing students with articles and texts for strategy practice that connect to what matters in their lives immediately
    • Celebrating learning and growth

Metacognitive strategies
What our students are doing:

    • Setting their own learning goals
    • Tracking their own learning goals
    • Practicing metacognitive strategies with many opportunities for authentic application 

What we could do more of: 

    • Reinforcing growth mindset over fixed mindset
    • Coaching/conferring with students individually to make connections between personal effort and personal success
    • Monitoring growth with students in small groups and individually and adjusting practice as a result
    • Providing more opportunities for students engagement in authentic metacognitive strategies across disciplines (through effective co-teaching)

If you are a literacy intervention teacher, what would you add to these areas?  If you are an intervention-minded individual or an advocate for all students, what would you like to see added to any of these areas of brain-friendly instruction?

What Works for Me: Reciprocal Teaching

unspecified-4Reciprocal teaching is a collaborative structure used to help students engage in essential proficient reader actions with the support of a peer group.  Many years ago, before my reading specialist education,  the desire that fueled my summer research reading was to find a method to support non-readers, reluctant readers, and struggling readers in my content classes (ELA & Social Studies), or according the NAEP, about 64% of 8th graders and 63% of 12th graders in 2013.  I started reading anything about best practices that would help adolescents read strategically in my class.  The data around reciprocal teaching grabbed my attention and has held it for most of my career.  My education since those days has only reinforced my desire to find the most effective method for implementing reciprocal teaching in content classes, as well as in my intervention classes.   I have used many variations to structure reciprocal teaching over the years.  Most recently the process below is bringing the strongest results to-date. I embed re-telling into the process, at the risk of complicating the collaborative structure, but the results have been positive.  Below you will find the general process I currently use, although please note that I adjust and tweak as needed based the struggles and strengths I observed as I monitored student progress.

Sample framework for reciprocal teaching session (with retelling embedded):

  1. Activate prior knowledge on the topic.  The topic should be chosen to engage and challenge the readers.  A variety of options exist, including but not limited to: KWL, Connect-Extend-Challenge, Question Formulation Technique.
  2. Groups can all meet at once or meet in a rotation as part of a station structure.   The READER will read until he/she reaches a “STOP”  break in the document.  I keep text to a manageable length and add 3-4  “STOP” breaks in the text.
  3. The RETELLER, who has annotated for essential vocabulary, will use those essential terms to retell the main ideas.  Other students are encouraged to help adjust the retelling if they feel the author’s meaning is altered or main ideas were excluded.
  4. The CLARIFIER, who has been annotating for words and concepts that were confusing, will offer those to the group for discussion and clarification.  If background knowledge of the group is not sufficient, a discussion on and application of fix-up strategies should ensue.
  5. The QUESTIONER, who has annotated for important ideas and inferences, asks explicit and implicit questions to check for understanding.   This is how I use the questioning element.  It is an extension of the Question Answer Relationship strategy and encourages students to focus on what is important in the text.  This is not the only way to use this questioning element.
  6. This process will be repeated at each of the 3-4 stops in the text.
  7. The READER, who is also the SUMMARIZER, will develop a summary independently or with the collaboration of the group.  If completing the summary independently is the option, the final summary is shared with the group to discuss if anything should be added or subtracted.  Another options requires all members of the group to prepare a summary independently and share out for similar feedback.

NOTE:  This process will develop over time.  Add each strategy to the process as you provide direct instruction, modeling and practice.   You can start with reading, retelling, and prediction/purpose setting, and then add the other strategies as they are introduced. Students can complete one strategy for the whole article or switch after each stop.  Be intentional about assigning roles to encourage practice and growth where needed.

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If you would like more comprehensive guidance on how to implement reciprocal teaching in an intervention class or a content class, I recommend the thorough support that comes from Reciprocal Teaching at Work: Powerful Strategies and Lessons for Improving Reading Comprehension by Lori D. Oczkus (2nd Edition, 2010).  In this text, Oczkus includes the research that supports the validity and long-term effectiveness of this instructional practice (also see Palincsar & Brown, 1984).  Additionally, in Visible Learning for Literacy, Grades K-12, Implementing the Practices that Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie, 2016) reciprocal teaching is identified with an effect size of 0.74.  The authors note that the evidence supporting the effectiveness of reciprocal teaching is broad and that “researchers have found it to be effective with students with disabilities, English learners, and bilingual students.”   It is especially useful as an intervention strategy when used with fidelity.  

When I say this comprehension strategy should be used with fidelity, I do not mean that there is one classroom room process that works for all in every situation.  As noted earlier, organizing the use of the skills collaboratively and authentically can happen in a variety of ways.  However, there are some common mutations that alter success:

  • Focusing on engagement versus monitoring comprehension as a primary goal/objective.  
  • Altering the use of the strategies in unison. Strategies should be explicitly introduced and modeled individually, but the long-term development is built on using the strategies in unison, as they would authentically be used by a proficient reader.
  • Lack of specificity around the processes of questioning and clarifying strategies.
  • Not holding students to fidelity of each strategy as students collaborate to make meaning in reciprocal teaching groups.
  • Too much scaffolding (lack of gradual release by teacher or ownership by students) that prevents students from working towards independence.  
  • No scaffolding.  This involves not having a clear instructional process proven to support learning strategy development.

If you are using a structure for reciprocal teaching that is encouraging authentic student conversations and building natural application of comprehension strategies,  please comment about how your process works in your classroom.   I enjoy hearing how teachers at all levels and in every content areas are helping students make meaning from challenging text.

Engaged Reading in Content Classes

One way a reading or intervention specialist can support a content teacher is to make the process of reading-to-learn more manageable.  I enjoy helping teachers use instructional strategies (or techniques) that engage all students and require all students be accountable for their own reading and learning.  Sometimes the best text to address a difficult concept is lengthy and requires considerable concentration from students. Teachers want ways to help students read AND learn the content.

This semester, I had the privilege of co-teaching in Biology classes. Access teachers (special education, ESL, reading specialists) sometimes feel intimidated by content for which we are definitely not experts. I certainly feel this way in Biology.   However, access teachers have the expertise to accommodate students in processing lengthy texts to learn important new information.  Because Biology is a difficult topic for me, my modeling of meaning-making strategies are genuine and authentic.  I am a reader trying to make meaning of content that doesn’t come naturally to me as a learner. This is just part of the power of the access teacher – content teacher collaboration.

Below is a process I collaboratively implemented in Biology classes in my building.  I realize I am very fortunate to work with content teachers so willing to help students read to access new knowledge.

Collaborative Guided Summary & Jigsaw Groups 

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  1. In “expert” groups students all receive the same text.  This can be fourths of a larger text or different texts that address a topic from multiple perspectives, etc. In Biology, we divided a long text about Charles Darwin’s development of the Theory of Evolution into 5 pieces.  Each piece was independently comprehensible. The first section is used to model the entire process (in parts or all at once) and introduce students to the topic.  The four other sections are copied and divided among “expert” groups, meaning all members in the group have the same piece of text about which they will become “experts.” 

2.  The co-teacher and access teacher model all of the steps:

A.  Access teacher reads and highlights important vocabulary. (Model
first couple paragraphs, guide students with the next couple.)
B. Content teacher “retells” using the highlighted vocabulary
(words & phrases)  to relay 
the main idea(s) of the section.
C. Access teacher asks any clarifying questions about the content.  This would include questions about concepts, language, & vocabulary that block understanding of the text.
D. One of the teachers models merging these ideas on the guided summary sheet.  Again, break this process down as works best for your class.

  1. Before reading:  The students begin the process of completing the “Guided Summary” form.  This, too, is modeled by the content teacher.  Before reading, students will identify title, subtitle, and use the text features to identify the topic of the text.  This form is completed by each student so that they will have the accurate information when they switch into a jigsaw groups.
  1. Students complete the reading process adhering to the following ROLES:
    1. Reader reads aloud 1-2 paragraphs at a time. The stop points can be designated on the text by the teachers in advance. 
    2. Reteller (who, like all of the students, has been annotating for essential ideas and vocabulary) retells (summarizes) the section aloud.  Other students offer any adjustments.
    3. Recorder identifies important words and phraseunspecified-33d, especially those repeated frequently, to the vocabulary section of the Guided Summary
    4. Clarifier asks clarifying questions. These should be identified by the students as the reader reads each section.  Additional confusions may arise as the reteller verbalizes the main ideas from the section.  If the retelling is too difficult, confusion is probably present.

 

  1. The content and access teachers are checking for adherence to process  and understanding of content.  When confusion can’t be clarified within the group, the content teacher can support students by answering questions or guiding students through a process to repair the confusion.  Teachers may also “Catch and Release” by stopping students to address common confusions with completing the process. 
  1. Students repeat the process until the entire passage is read, verbally summarized, and all the essential vocabulary is recorded on the “Guided Summary.”  
  1. Students work together as an expert group to use the  title/subtitle, topic, and vocabulary to develop an overall main idea for the text.  (This is modeled with the initial piece of text prior to the students’ efforts.)  Students then go section-by-section and use their annotation and vocabulary to develop a structured summary that supports the main idea.   This may be the last step in a class period. 
  1.  Potentially in a second class period (we function in 80-minute blocks),         students then shuffle to jigsaw groups.  This is a group that, once  gathered, has one student representing each of all four sections of the text (in this case about Charles Darwin). They share their summaries and ask each other clarifying questions.
  1. Then, as a group, Students read and  answer a few targeted implicit and
    explicit questions prepared by the  content teacher about the article  These questions are developed to  intentionally need the collaboration of all members and use multiple sections  of the text. The students are required to work together to think through  application of the new knowledge.   

Recently, I completed a similar process in an ESL class reading Romeo and Juliet. The content teacher chose four pieces of text about arranged marriages (both pro and con). We co-taught (team teaching model) using this same process, but with four different different texts, different perspectives.  The final questions still required students to pull evidence from more than one of the texts to answer focused questions about the cumulative learning.

This process is a lot more challenging to write about than to demonstrate in person.  If visualizing this process through my writing is challenging, please ask questions.  On the other hand, if it seems to makes sense, consider using it on your own or in a co-teaching setting, and let me know how it goes.