Literacy Lessons – Predictions

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

Story Impressions

 

Standard:   

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

Target(s):

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

 

 

Lesson Steps:

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

Academic Vocabulary:

Prediction, adjust, context, text features, textual evidence 

 Monitoring/ Assessment:  

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

Turning Reluctance into Resilience

GUEST POST  by  Dr. Cheryl J. Wright

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

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

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

Cultivating the Will to Succeed

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

How This Might Look in Practice

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

Fostering Essential Connections

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

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

How This Might Look in Practice

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

Not Academics Alone

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

How This Might Look in Practice

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

Making a Difference

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

References

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

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

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

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

Clarifying Confusion

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

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

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

Arguably our toughest standard is for clarifying confusion:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:

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

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

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

 

Strategy Discussion Cards

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

Reciprocal Teaching
Discussion  Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Levels of Understanding Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_20161017_124434776img_20160503_075430408

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.

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.