Environment Matters

Engaging adolescents in literacy intervention, which is often the hardest kind of work for teenagers, requires something different. Intervention can never be more of the same, especially for students who have been intimately aware of their own actual and perceived deficiencies since early elementary school.  Too often intervention IS just more of the same.  The effort we are making with secondary intervention requires focus on motivation, improved self-efficacy and self-perception in addition to data-driven, differentiated skill development and vocabulary enhancement.  This all requires intentional relationship building in a brain-friendly learning environment.

When students visit our classroom, one I have shared with another literacy teacher,  the first thing they notice is our environment.  We even have students who wander into our room, without true awareness of the metacognitive torture we offer, and ask how they can get into our class.  Although the appreciation is nice, our goal is building a learning environment that makes it clear to students that this class is not just more of the same.  We attempt to build an environment that respects student needs on multiple levels.

I have the privilege of teaching in a summer academy with high school students who are interested in becoming teachers.   We offer students many real-world experiences and lessons about what it takes to be an effective educator.  One of their favorite “ah-ha” lessons is the jigsaw we do with the chapters from a book called Shouting Won’t Grow Dendrites: Twenty Techniques for Managing a Brain-Compatible Classroom by Marcia L. Tate. Our future-teachers make immediate personal connections between enjoyable learning environments and their best learning experiences. As a literacy instructor of students who find reading mostly painful, the environment is an important contribution to encouraging sustained periods of silent reading and enhanced learning through the intentional structure and organization of the classroom.  Since this post comes at the heels of a post on Thomas Armstrong’s book on effective instruction for the adolescent brain, today’s post is focused on the physical environment.  This can not be undervalued. 

Below is a review of some physical elements from Tate’s book (first edition) that are among those my colleagues and I apply to the general environment of our classroom. The pictures are from literacy classrooms all over our district.  

LIGHTING  

Classroom Application:

  • Reduce or reject fluorescent lighting
  • When natural lighting is not available, use lamps or alternative soft lighting
  • Blend options to reduce fluorescent lighting 

Benefits of more natural lighting:

  • Improves learning and cognitive processing
  • Improves behavior by reducing impact on central nervous system
  • Allows for more focus, more relaxation, and improved performance

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SEATING/ROOM ARRANGEMENT 

Classroom Application:

  • Create a structure that promotes easy movement, allows all students to engage with classroom action, and enhances classroom processes and procedures.
  • Provide alternative forms of seating (especially for independent reading)
  • Choose tables and chairs over desks for reciprocal teaching and other collaborative discussions
  • Develop locations where students can stand and work
  • Develop processes for efficient student movement into a variety of grouping structures 
  • Get students moving around to talk, share and present
  • Change groupings and seating locations regularly to build relationships and improve episodic memory

Benefits:img_20161005_101356978_hdr

  • Enhances episodic memory
  • Allows for movement to enhance connections and kinesthetic learning
  • Encourages curiosity, novelty, and anticipation for new learning
  • Facilitates comfortable and efficient transitions
  • Allows easier access to monitor and support student learning

COLOR

Classroom Application:

  • Use high-energy, warm colors for collaborative, engaging activities
  • Use relaxing, cool colors for calming and focus (silent reading, etc)
  • Provide feedback or corrections in cool colors
  • Ask students to add color for annotations and graphic organizers

Benefits with intentional application:

  • img_20161006_080704567_hdrBright colors (bold reds, oranges, & yellows) encourage activity and enthusiasm
  • Cool colors (blues, greens, lavenders) encourage relaxation or calmness.
  • Color assists in semantic memory and visual recognition  
  • Colors improve comprehension and retention

MUSIC

Classroom Application:

  • Develop a collection of music of different genres (catchy & calming)
  • Start your day/class with calming music
  • Use upbeat, catchy tunes for active engagement
  • Identify tunes that fit content or help enhance memory of content

Benefits of effective use of music:  

  • unspecified-21Creates positive emotional impact
  • Enhances personal connections
  • Fills the background space with positive sound
  • Contributes to increased relaxation, stress reduction, and improved memory
  • Awakens the brain for engagement
  • Improves of concentration 

SMELL

Classroom Application:  

  • Encourage alertness with cinnamon, lemon, or peppermint
  • Promote learning and reduce stress with lavender, rose, jasmine, or chamomile  
  • Consider student allergy concerns when using aromas
  • Pair calming aromas with calming music.

Benefits of use of scents:

  • Creates a direct pathway to the brain
  • Affects learning by enhancing mood and mental clarity (proven with lavender and vanilla)
  • Increases concentration and attention (proven with lemon, peppermint)

Of, course the physical environment is only a single piece of a complex practice that must include intentional, thoughtful instruction and consistent classroom processes and procedures for learning (also included in Ms. Tate’s book).  The physical environment should only enhance good teaching practices.  A safe, warm, functional environment promotes learning.   Intentionality and an understanding of the impact all of these elements on the adolescent brain make for an experience that extends beyond your room, beyond a given day, or even beyond a given school year.

Where do you see the benefits of being intentional about environment?  Do you think students value  a classroom that honors their minds?  Which of these elements are you implementing and how is it benefiting your students?

Other resources to enhance the physical learning environment:

3 Quick Tips for a Beautiful, Brain-Friendly Classroom by
5 Research-Based Best Practices for Brain-Friendly Learning Environments
10+ Tips for Using Brain-Based Methods to Redesign Your Classroom  

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?

Literacy as a Survival Skill

I have been impacted as an educator, a parent, and a citizen by the work of Tony Wagner writer of The Global Achievement Gap (2014) and co-writer of Most Likely to Succeed (2015).  In the years before exposure to Wagner’s work, I was equally impacted by Thomas L. Friedman’s The World is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the 21st Century.  I am not one to accept much I read as all-encompassing truth or holistically change my life- or work-style based on even the most solid work of an investigative journalist.  What I am willing to do is be reflective about what I know of the world around me and adjust where it seems most logical for me and those I influence.  

More recently, as part of my work on a cross-content curriculum team, I was asked to re-read an excerpt from The Global Achievement Gap.  One of the takeaways from a critical reading of what Wagner calls the “survival skills” for the “new world of work” is that literacy interventionists must possess many of these skills in order to be truly effective.  I suspect all educators must have a takes-one-to-know-one attitude about these skills. As professionals, Wagner posits that we should possess all of these skills to be employed, contributing citizens in the 21st century?  I can only assume they are also easier to pass on if one knows what they look like, feel like, sound like, etc. However, when asked to work with a population of students who have been through a plethora of ineffective instructional efforts intended to close the gap in their literacy journeys, impactful literacy interventionists at the secondary level have to possess something extra, something different.  We have to convince the nearly un-convincible that we have something essential to offer that is worth their effort and will contribute to their survival.  

So after contemplating for myself all the ways I engage these skills as a literacy educator, leader and advocate, I took the list before my professional learning community of high school literacy interventionist to see what they thought.  First, I wanted to know how they believe interventionists engage, or should engage, in these skills as we fulfill the requirements of our practice.  I also wanted to know how we require, or should require, students to engage these skills. Where should we make adjustments?

The World of Work and the Seven Survival Skills” (Wagner, 2008) How I use these skills as a teacherHow my students use these skills as they learn
Initiative & Entrepreneurialism Developing new and differentiated materials and processes to help struggling readers

Implementing action research for instruction to enhance metacognition and related skills
Analyzing personal assessment data and identifying areas of desired growth

Setting and monitoring personal goals and seeking growth through personal effort
Effective Written and Oral Communication Discussing data and developing instruction in professional learning communities

Writing and speaking to parents about student needs and strengths

Conferencing with students to provide feedback and to apply strategies to independent reading
Discussing data and developing instruction in professional learning communities

Writing and speaking to parents about student needs and strengths

Conferencing with students to provide feedback and to apply strategies to independent reading
Curiosity & Imagination Exploring research for areas of interest or to support action research

Engaging in action research to determine solutions for instructional challenges
Questioning to extend thinking about a topic and set a purpose for further inquiry.

Seeking information (inquiry) based on specific interesting or curiosity
Critical Thinking & Problem Solving Skills Matching student needs to instructional strategies

Monitoring for and reflecting on student evidence to adjust instruction

Using a variety of data points to diagnose and remediate literacy needs
Identifying what makes text confusing and determining clarification strategies

Intentionally thinking about thinking to solve cognitive challenges around literacy across contents

Evaluating sources, points of view, and arguments as part of making meaning of text
Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence Collaborating with PLC members (literacy teachers across the district) to develop curriculum, assessment and instruction for intervention

Leading a literacy team and guiding professional learning for content teachers

Co-teaching as literacy access teachers in content classes to build student transfer of skills
Participating and leading reciprocal teaching group discussions about text

Relaying and modeling literacy strategies among peers in content classes

Leading class presentations around strategies and strategy application
Agility & Adaptability Monitoring learning & adjusting instruction in real-time.

Planning and adjusting to content needs in co-teaching setting
When encountering confusion, attempting and adjusting strategies to clarify confusion

Identifying and adjusting the purpose for reading a text

Identifying evidence to adjust predictions and inferences
Accessing & Analyzing Information Conducting pre-assessment, continuous formative assessment, and post assessment to identify patterns in student growth and needs

Analyzing student data to determine needs and strengths to differentiate instruction
Analyzing the connections between ideas in text and real-life

Evaluating sources, points of view, and arguments as part of making meaning of text

Reviewing personal data and identifying their own areas of strength and need.

I am sure we have missed some ways these skills are embedded, as I am sure there are many more ways we could be intentional and effective at deepening real-world application.   We must do that while not losing focus on our the foremost skill of need: to make meaning out of an overabundance of complicated texts with which they must engage as adults.

Wagner relays multiple times that these survival skills aren’t seen in educators or taught to students, repeatedly noting that we are still teaching for the needs of the industrial age. He veers away from blaming educators specifically and focuses more on blaming the educational system as a whole.  I do think there is a solid movement to engage students in truly practical and effective 21st century survival skills. Maybe that movement was fueled by voices like Wagner’s, but there are educators taking the lead on this. I believe I know some of them personally, and I have had the privilege to see them in practice.  I also realize the shift hasn’t been universal.   What do you think?What can education do to make a holistic, systemic shift? Where must that transition start?   Would you add any skills that aren’t listed among Wagner’s list of 21st Century “Survival Skills?”

Our district focus on employability skills includes many of Wagner's survival skills.

Our district focus on employability skills includes many of Wagner’s survival skills.

Co-teaching for Literacy Access

“…the 21st-century notion of co-teaching places it within the context of some of the most innovative practices in education” (Villa, et al., 2013).

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One of the unique elements of the secondary literacy model we currently implement in my district is the co-teaching piece.  We are in year four with an intervention model specifically used for students in grades six through nine. We’ve experienced a great deal of student success.  However, we are still growing, learning, and adjusting.

Over the last three years, many challenges arose in our work, and many of those were addressed by professional learning, collaboration and innovation from literacy teachers in our professional learning community. However, the co-teaching element needs more support and clearer direction over all.  With that in mind, I drafted a set of guidelines and expectations for literacy intervention teachers. This is not only intended to help literacy teachers gain a clearer vision of the plan and purpose of co-teaching, but it is also meant to be an additional data point for conversations with content teachers and building leaders.

Beyond the guidelines, I offer a few other resources to support initial thinking. To connect to our district’s work with Rigorous Unit Planning (Marzano), I developed a scale to help educators think about the progression of learning needed for this process.   I provide Dr. Richard Villa’s definitions and comparisons of four co-teaching approaches.  Lastly, I drafted a few ideas to troubleshoot common concerns.  I don’t presume these will be the solutions to all problems, but it is a place to start.  Additional support will be offered through collaboration, modeling and coaching.

Note: Literacy teachers in our secondary system teach two classes of  reading intervention (intended as a type of case load).  They also co-teach with two content teachers per semester in the same grade level as the students in their interventions classes. The hope is that they will also be an “indispensable resource” in the literacy initiatives of their buildings. We seek to contribute to a positive culture of literacy and to simply help teens read and write for learning.

The hope is always that the administrators and instructional leaders in each secondary building will be intentional about assigning co-teaching relationships with the students literacy development as the foremost priority in mind.   This is two fold.  First, both the content teacher and the literacy interventionist are clear on and committed to the ultimate purpose of providing students with research-based, strategies for processing text across disciplines.  Additionally,  there must be intentional time for planning.  Dr. Villa, among other scholars on this process, would say that where there is no intentional planning there is no effective co-teaching.

I welcome you to read through the attached document and offer feedback.  It is a fluid document meant solely to help teachers and building leaders deepen this valuable piece of our model.

2016-2017 Targeted Literacy Co-teaching Guidelines and Expectations

Continue to Be The Change

As we barrel towards the start of another new school year,  I want to take a moment to share one quote that syncs with my beliefs about the power of teachers to affect change for students in the gap.  Each new school year renews my hope that more lives really will be impacted by the effort of passionate, innovative teachers. 

“Allington and Walmsley (1995) remind us that there is no quick fix for our literacy dilemma, no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all recipe that can guarantee success for all learners.  Contrary to what some people in the field of education might want us to believe, effective literacy programs cannot be bundled into child- and teacher-proof curriculum packets and distributed throughout a building for all to use, one lesson plan at a time.  Rather, meaningful change must come from concerned educators who see a wrong and set about to right it, teachers who are willing to read about, reflect on, discuss, and experiment with innovative ideas in order to make a difference for their students.

“This is not a task to be taken lightly.  Change is difficult.  Change is slow.  Change takes time, effort and unwavering commitment.  It can be frightening, requiring us to take a risk, to leave behind something that we are comfortable with for the threatening shadows of the unknown.  It can be confrontational, as new beliefs and concepts clash with old ones.  It can be frustrating, as fresh ideas don’t pan out and untested methods backfire.  But meaningful change, evolutionary rather than revolutionary, can occur.  It can occur for one struggling reader, one class of lifers, one day, one week, one semester at a time.  And when it does, it surely makes a difference.”

Lifers by Pamela N. Mueller, 2001

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.

Summer Professional Reading

Have you put together your summer reading list yet?

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Even with several years of experience and training in reading and writing, I constantly feel the need to expand my repertoire of knowledge to help adolescents read, write, think, and speak better. Every year the needs of my students send me seeking more tools with which to intervene on their behalf.   I start each summer with a pile of books on my desk to read, books that I did not have time to read during the school year.  My professional learning focus is usually on my instructional queries from the previous school year, or on leadership or professional learning goals I’ve set for the coming year.

Below are a few titles I’ve read independently or in literacy courses that, in one way or another, altered my instruction or contributed to the development of intervention curriculum.  I could explain my reasoning for each, but my blogs already tend to be too lengthy.  The titles and the reputations of these authors provide plenty of justification for why each is on the list.

*Lifers:  Learning from At-Risk Adolescent Readers
Pamela N, Mueller (c) 2001

A Guide to Co-Teaching: New Lessons & Strategies to Facilitate Student Learning
Richard A. Villa, Jacqueline S. Thousand, & Ann I. Nevin  (c) 2013  Third Edition

*Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Retelling: Skills for Better Reading, Writing, and Test Taking       Emily Kissner (c) 2006

Rigorous Reading:  5 Access Points for Comprehending Complex Texts
Nancy Frey & Douglas Fisher (c) 2013

51yVSHHSZvL._AC_US160_Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Learning for All Learners       Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison (c) 2011

*Reciprocal Teaching at Work K-12: Powerful Strategies and Lessons for Improving Reading Comprehension   Lori D. Oczkus (c) 2010  2nd Edition

Reflective Teaching, Reflective Learning: How to Develop Critically Engaged Readers, Writers and Speakers    Edited by: Thomas M McCann, et al.
Recommended:  “Reading Level Response: Helping Students Write About Literature” by Declan FitzPatrick

Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions
Dan Rothstein & Luz Santana (c) 2011

*What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs    Richard L Allington  (c) 2012 Third Edition

41ynKI9kNAL._AC_US160_*I Read It, But I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers
Cris Tovani  (c) 2000

ESL (ELL) Literacy Instruction: A Guidebook to Theory and Practice
Lee Gunderson, et al.  (c) 2014 Third Edition

Qualitative Reading Inventory – 5
Lauren Leslie, Joanne Schudt Caldwell  (c) 2011

*Intervention Strategies to Follow Informal Reading Inventory Assessment
JoAnne Schudt Caldwell & Lauren Leslie  (c) 2013  Third Edition

Included on my professional reading list for this summer:

Visible Learning for Literacy: Implementing the Practices that Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning       Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, & John Hattie (c) 2016 

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*Qualitative Reading Inventory  – 6
Lauren Leslie, Joanne Schudt Caldwell  (c) 2017

Meeting the Challenge of Adolescent Literacy: Practical Ideas for Literacy Leaders   Judith L. Irvin, et al (c) 2009

The Motivated Brain: Improving Student Attention, Engagement, and Perseverance     Gayle Gregory & Martha Kaufeldt (c) 2015

*How to Make Decisions with Different Kinds of Student Assessment Data
Susan M Brookhart (c) 2016  

  • These titles are especially recommended for beginning literacy intervention teachers or content teachers who want to expand their literacy knowledge.

No matter how diligently I attempt to keep up with the current thinking and research around literacy, I know there is so much more out there. These are just a few resources that have impacted me.  I gain the best recommendations from conferences and other educators.

What books, journals, or websites have impacted your instruction?  For which challenges in the literacy classroom are you looking for resource support?  

 

Foster Student Self-Evaluation

 

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A few of my 2015-2016 Strategic Readers

 

I haven’t posted in a while, because like many of you, I’ve been plodding through the second busiest time of the school year.  After the first weeks of school, the next busiest time for me is finals week.  

Even high school reading intervention classes engage in a version of finals. The final in my class has multiple purposes, the least of which is a larger-than-normal notation in the grade book. My focus is on helping my students understand their own growth.  The freshman year is the last opportunity for this type of intervention in this district. The intervention process I proposed for secondary was implemented district-wide in grades 6-9. Since I teach students in the last year of the intervention, I want students to move forward with a grasp of what they have gained through this experience, where they still need to improve, and what they can do to continue to grow.

Throughout each semester, every piece of data produced by the students is kept in their individual files.  This includes strategy lessons, annotated texts, reading reflections, morphology practice and weekly quizzes, reciprocal teaching documentation, exit slips, etc.  All of it is used to help the students develop and apply skills to become better readers, writers, and thinkers and help me make instructional choices for the students.  Intervention instructional decisions are not always clear-cut, but they are made with attention to formative data. Each piece of data contributes to a picture and feeds daily instructional choices.

At the end of a semester, or for some students the end of the school year,  they are asked to analyze the details of this picture to help them develop their own image of their growth.  The end product of the analysis is an essay. The requirements of this essay are consistent with our intervention focus to improve each student’s literacy skills, motivation, and self-perception as reader.  Often the process to construct this final essay is the moment the students finally realize their gains, the impact of their effort, and the changes in how they see themselves and the purpose of the class. 

Below are the  elements students use to prep the essay.   I also linked a couple of essays.  The first sample is from a student (Monica) who doubled typical yearly growth in a semester to earn a grade level score (220) on the MAP. Our goal as a district intervention is to at least double the typical yearly growth in an effort to close the gap. Additionally, Monica’s QRI (Quantitative Reading Inventory) instructional reading level moved to an upper middle school level from the 4th grade level at which she started the quarter.   Monica is also an ESL student who intentionally seeks to expand her use of English vocabulary.  I think her essay shows some of her growth in this area as well. 

In the second sample, the student (Destiny) did double typical growth in the first semester, but dropped in her second semester, and did not meet her overall personal goal or attain a grade level MAP score.  She had a larger gap to bridge and computerized standardized tests produced obvious physical anxiety for her.  So even though the MAP did not show her obvious growth, her QRI scores did.  Destiny also grew from an instructional reading level of 4th grade to an instructional level of upper middle school.  I also found her thoughtfulness about her process to be one of the greatest indicators of development. 

How do you assess student literacy development?  What formative data do you collect to make decisions or assess short-term growth?  What summative or standardized assessments does your district require to determine that students are making adequate progress?

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.

Progress Monitoring: A Student Perspective

Our district is currently progressing through Marzano Instructional Design training during our weekly/monthly professional learning opportunities. I am supporting that process through content professional learning for the district’s literacy instructors.  An element of Marzano’s process that is most useful for intervention is helping students think through their own proficiency with a specific skill or strategy.  Part of the instructional design process requires that students internalize how they are developing with the standards (skills).  Students must understand what the specific learning goal (target) is for the day.  Teachers must be intentionally transparent about what proficiency with the skill or strategy looks like.  

During class a teacher must engage in continuous checks for understanding to monitor student progress during small group, paired or independent learning. At the end of a class, especially when the day’s learning is new, the teacher needs to know how students perceive their success with the new skill/strategy and where they believe they still need help.  We use an exit slip that asks students to gauge their proficiency for the day.  We also ask them to validate their beliefs with evidence from the work we’ve done in class.  We provide them with a guided exit process (shown below) in order to gather good data to make decisions for continued instruction.

Note:  I am privileged to work with a graphic designer turned literacy educator who transforms our work into visuals.  Any full-color posters or visuals in this blog (in this case the target exit slip) are more than likely his design.   His collaboration is invaluable. 

Below are suggestions for using the linked resources:

Step 1: Engage students in the critical content (Marzano vocabulary) to begin the lesson. Activate prior learning connected to the concepts being taught.  Clarify new vocabulary that will be used repeatedly from direct instruction through independent processing. One way to get students thinking is have them write the “target” or goal for the day on the “exit slip” prior to beginning the activating process.

Step 2:  Teach your lesson toward the target. The Workshop Model is effective when teaching strategy lessons in intervention reading.  The “work time” is a blend of guided small group and pairs work leading to individual processing.

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Step 3: Ask students to choose the perceived level of proficiency (on a scale 0-4) after the day’s learning process is complete.  They will document the rating on the back of the target exit slip next to “Target Number Achieved.”   It is understood that choosing a number does not result in a specific grade.

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Step 4:  Ask students to explain their rating.  We tried this a few ways before deciding the students needed very specific guided support for their responses.  This is still action research from my perspective, but the student responses are now deeper and more useful for adjusting instruction.   (The visual below is linked to a Google Document.)

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Step 5:  Use the the responses and the students’ work for the day as data for the next lesson.  If all or a vast majority of your students feel they are at a two and their work reflects that as well,  use that knowledge to take a step back in the lesson and support the student needs.  If only a few students are at a 1 or a 2, use the exit slips and the students’ work to conference with the specific students and repair gaps or misconceptions.  If you have a mix of responses, this data can fuel flexible grouping or station work based on students’ level of development with this skill/target.