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.

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?

Professional Standards in the Intervention Classroom

“Standards for Reading Professionals—Revised 2010 (Standards 2010) sets forth the criteria for developing and evaluating preparation programs for reading professionals. The Standards describe what candidates for the reading profession should know and be able to do in professional settings. The Standards are performance based, focusing on the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for effective educational practice in a specific role. Also, the Standards are the result of a deliberative process that drew from professional expertise and research in the reading field.”

www.literacyworldwide.org

www.literacyworldwide.org

Below is an abbreviated and adapted version of the ILA standards.  That adaptions are an attempt to apply these standards specifically to reading intervention efforts.

Standard 1 – Foundational Knowledge:  [Literacy educators] understand the theoretical and evidence-based foundations of reading and writing processes and instruction.   

Extensive knowledge is the foundation of being an effective literacy educator.  The knowledge is built on an understanding of the developmental reading processes of students PreK-12 blended with a working knowledge of how to diagnose and remediate effectively for students who fall behind.  This knowledge is intended to ensure “ competent performance for the betterment of society.”  In the intervention setting, educators facilitate processes that close gaps so students may have every possibility of productive, fulfilling lives.

Standard 2 – Instructional Approaches: [Literacy educators] use instructional approaches, materials, and an integrated, comprehensive, balanced curriculum to support student learning in reading and writing.

The application of Standard 1 happens through data-driven instruction provided by professionals who apply their knowledge of evidence-based strategy instruction through an effective curriculum. Literacy educators understand the conceptual framework of developing effective reading programs or applying the elements of an effective curriculum.  In intervention, that implementation requires authentic differentiation based on student needs.

Standard 3 – Assessment and Evaluation: [Literacy educators] use a variety of assessment tools and practices to plan and evaluate effective reading and writing instruction.

Professional literacy educators have a comprehensive knowledge of literacy assessment options and the purposes for each.  They demonstrate the skilled use of assessment, the ability to analyze data, and the capacity to communicate findings to stakeholders.  Primarily, the literacy educator uses data to inform instruction for the ultimate benefit of students.  In intervention, this is how specific needs are determined for striving readers.  Limited instructional time must be planned for with intentional focus on a student’s specific assessment data to help a student close the gap as quickly as possible.

Standard 4 – Diversity: [Literacy educators] create and engage their students in literacy practices that develop awareness, understanding, respect, and a valuing of differences in our society.

The interest of an effective literacy educator is to provide students with opportunities to access information and literary experiences that broaden their understanding of the diverse culture in which they contribute and engage. Intervention teachers know that this “broadening of horizons”  builds students’ background knowledge, increases their vocabulary, and encourages a curiosity for a world full of opportunity.  The hope is that increased exposure and awareness also builds better citizens that appreciate the value of all humans in a global society.

Standard 5 – Literate Environment: [Literacy educators] create a literate environment that fosters reading and writing by integrating foundational knowledge, instructional practices, approaches and methods, curriculum materials, and the appropriate use of assessments.

A strong literacy-rich environment can make good instruction even more effective.  In any class, but especially in an intervention classroom with students who have experienced feelings of failure, a safe, low-risk environment with high expectations and highly effective instruction can motivate students to engage and connect to literacy strategies that encourage authentic application of skills. Intervention should allow time and accessibility to resources and more of the opportunities striving readers need. Providing choices for reading and writing based on interest and providing a variety of methods to demonstrate their skills can increase student motivation and self-efficacy while building a more positive self-perception as students enjoy these chances to experience success.

Standard 6 – Professional Learning and Leadership: [Literacy educators] recognize the importance of, demonstrate, and facilitate professional learning and leadership as a career-long effort and responsibility.

Given that literacy is the foundational skill of all learning experiences, literacy professionals are often called upon to share knowledge and support others in the application of effective integration of literacy strategies across disciplines.  When done in an effort to build a culture of literacy, it benefits striving readers by supporting needed skills in authentic ways outside a reading intervention setting.

ILA Standards for Reading Professionals (2010)

Data-Driven Literacy Intervention: the Assessment Process

Using Data to make differentiated data decisions
In my district, our intervention program (more a of an anti-program) for secondary is available for grades 6-9.  That includes all the middle school grades and the first year of high school.  There are reasons for not extending past 9th grade, but that is a whole other post.  Our goals are NOT to keep students eternally in intervention classes, but to identify their needs and reinforce strategies to support complex reading across content areas, so they can continue growth beyond the intervention classroom.  Literacy teachers also work (co-teaching, coaching) with content teachers to support them in using effective strategies for their content. Again, this co-teaching is a topic for a whole other post.  My focus today is on the importance of collecting authentic data.  We can’t begin true intervention without effective data.  We use limited district testing data for entrance and exit requirements, but I deepen that assessment process throughout my limited time with students so that their experience will be a life changing one.  I don’t want students to enter my class with a one-size-fits-all curriculum that doesn’t meet every student’s needs in some significant way.  I want them to enter my class feeling right from the start that I really SEE them.  I want them to exit knowing their ability has been enhanced.  With all that in mind, I focus on three levels of assessment, with an intention that students don’t feel ASSESSED all that time.

A typical student data file.

A typical student data file.

We are three years into the implementation of this intervention process proposed for secondary students.  Through the practice in the classrooms of 24 targeted literacy instructors, including my own lab classroom, we adapt and deepen elements as we grow and learn.  The pre-and post-assessment requirements we ask our literacy instructors to use has stayed fairly stable.  I recognize that different teachers have managed the process in different ways, but the purpose, to provide data-driven, timely, differentiated instruction that meets student needs, has remained the same.

Here is the process as it is still implemented in my classrooms:

PRE-ASSESSMENT

I initially assess for three things: student literacy skill, student motivation as it relates to reading specifically and literacy generally, and student self-perception of reading skills.  I assess these elements because these are the areas of change I seek.  I don’t like to overwhelm students with measurement activities, so these are spread out between other introductory activities throughout the first two weeks of class. I chose these specific measurement tools so I can understand each student better.  Most of these resources are recommended by the Reading Specialist Licensure program at Emporia State University.

Pre-assessment we are currently using:

  • MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) –  This is our district’s apples-to-apples growth measuring test. It is how my district generally measures growth starting at 3rd grade.  This is the score on which entrance and exit is determined at this time.
  • QRI (Qualitative Reading Inventory)  – This is my own apple-to-apples growth measurement choice.  The MAP is for the district data needs, but I gain more clinical knowledge on this assessment.  I am currently using the QRI-5, but have excitedly received the QRI-6.   The QRI-5 has always been very effective for me in this setting I’ve developed.
  • Metacognitive Reading Awareness Survey OR Metacognitive Awareness of Reading Strategies Inventory – These options are intended to identify what strategies students can already apply.  It also identifies misconceptions about what “works,” which turns out to be the more valuable information.
  • Rhody Secondary Reading Attitude Assessment (Variations on this resource can found in the 5th Ed. of  Improving Reading: Interventions, Strategies, and Resources by Jerry L Johns and Susan Davis Lenski) – With a likert scale  format, this focuses on how a student feels about reading specifically.
  • Reader Self-Perception Scale  (Variations on this resources can also be found in the Johns & Lenski text.) – Again with a likert scale format, students relay their beliefs about themselves as readers.
  • Writing Samples – I ask students to produce one narrative about their thinking on their collected and sorted pre-assessment data and one response about a short piece of text at their instructional level.

At the high school level, I have my students score the surveys for their own knowledge.   I also have them write about what they think the scores on the reading attitude and self-perception scale mean about them as readers, writers and thinkers.  Prompts for writing should be adapted to the age and skill level of the students. Examples may include the following?  What do your response scores tell you about how you feel about reading? What do you think about yourself as a reader based on the scores?   What surprises you?  

There are likely other surveys, inventories, etc.  that will give similar information.  I encourage teachers to find what informs them and their students best.  I encourage teachers to remember that without motivation and a stronger self-perception, the skill development doesn’t tend to stick.  This is especially true for students who have spun through several cycles of remediation/intervention.  It’s all circular.  If you can motivate a student to do the work of skill development and success if experienced,  he gains a stronger self-perception.  This increases motivation and a creates a deepening sense of self-efficacy.  A stronger motivation to continue to grow is a consequence of believing that work is worth the effort.  Perpetuating this process is a big deal for students who have spent too much time feeling like failures.

CONTINUOUS ASSESSMENT
Every lesson and practice produces data to inform the next instructional choice. Solid differentiated intervention requires constant checks for understanding.  Examples of this daily process can include annotation on text, graphic organizers around thinking/strategies, student strategy journals, workshop model conferences, independent reading conferences, or written reflections (exit slips) about perceived proficiency with a skill, to name a few.  I also regularly track growth on the QRI with an independent version differentiated based on the student’s total comprehension level on the previous QRI assessment.

ILA Blog recently posted this commentary on formative assessment.  Although it is mostly elementary focused, many of the authors’ points are universally applicable.
LINK:  Better Than CBM: Assessments That Inform Instruction

POST ASSESSMENT
In post-assessment, we repeat everything except QRI.  As I already mentioned, I use a independent version of the QRI through continuous assessment to track QRI growth.  This data carries a lot of weight with me, and even with students, because it shows actual reading skill growth.  I would prefer to sit with students and do a post- QRI process face-to-face, but the time needed is enormous.  I do offer a post face-to-face version to provide growth data for students on IEPs.                   

I make my students aware of their growth and challenges and encourage them to develop goals specific to what they most want to improve.  After each independent QRI, I conference with students (usually during Reading Workshop time) to address recurring concerns.  Students typically WANT to improve, and appreciate knowing what they can do to improve.  At the high school level, part of my goal is to help my students fully understand their strengths and struggles as a reader.   I’ve always attempted to write up a summary of the students data with commentary on the interpretation of that data.  That is a consuming task.  I work streamline it for other teachers to use. This semester, I used a document from Richard Villa called “Cooperative Teaching Student and Class Summary.”  This provides students with my reflection on their growth.  It also allows feedback from content teachers as we work together to improve authentic literacy growth.

One of the last actions my students take before they exit the class is to write an essay about their growth and where they still need to grow.  I do provide a graphic organizer to help students with structure.  The students use the information in their personal data files to develop the essay.   I include easy-to-read comparisons of all pre- and post- assessments, all scores on the QRIs as they grew (which they all do), evidence from all of their strategy work, annotated texts from reciprocal teaching groups,  morphology work, summaries and writing about strategy application, and my own conference notes.   The essay they write is one typed page about what the evidence says about their growth, where they think they still need to grow, and how they believe they will use their new skills in the future.

All of this data collection and application sounds daunting, and it can be, but I try to keep it organized and streamlined.  Management requires staying on top of daily data and making real-time decisions about that data.  Don’t let it build up.  

This is a lot of information.  What parts of this can you implement fairly easily? What other types of assessment do you use to get to know your students and their needs?