Friday, March 24, 2017

The Reading Strategies Book Study - Goal #7

Supporting Comprehension in Fiction:  Understanding Theme and Ideas

by Jen Burton

This goal brings me back to my roots as a teacher and coach. Some of the first work I did with teachers as a coach was collaborating around how to teach theme. Our "go to" resource was the Comprehension Toolkit. Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis' work inspired me to teach these skills through authentic reading experiences and the importance of letting our students in on our reading process, so we can provide them with strategies in how they can too can do this work to go deeper in their thinking. I was thrilled to see that Jen referenced this work in her introduction for this strategy.
Below are five lessons, and the prompts, that are key in supporting students in understanding theme and the big ideas in a text.

Lesson 7.12 Digging Deeper to Find a Story's Topic

When thinking about theme there are a couple ways to get after it. You may be reading along and you just have a gut feeling about what the theme is for that text. THEN you go back and find evidence to support this theme. This is represented in Lesson 7.12, "Dig Deeper to Find a Story's Topics" with "Maybe it's..." in referring to the theme or topic. It's interesting to me that these are called "topics." Jen suggests that naming these topics are a great starting point, but that we should expect students to state the theme in a whole sentence. She gives the example, "You can create your own family by surrounding yourself with people who love you" instead of just, "family." This makes me wonder and want to clarify then, what is the difference between a theme and a thesis statement? In the past we've talked about a theme being one word and a thesis statement being a whole sentence or thought. Maybe the thesis statement is more tied to the specific text?

I think it's helpful that there is an anchor story identified for each theme/topic.
Themes Harry Potter Characters Taught Us


  • Can you think of one word that fits with this story?
  • Think about the character's problem. If you said it in one word, what would it be?
  • Check the chart of words that are common topics in books. Do any fit with this one?
  • Explain your thinking.
  • You might say, "I think it could be ________ (topic) because _______."
  • Think about how the story ends. What's the last thing you're left thinking about.

Lesson 7.4 What Can Characters Teach Us?

Or you may look over the evidence that you've collected, and that leads you to a theme. Lesson 7.4 "What Can Characters Teach Us?" gestures towards that kind of work. I like how the characters name is in the middle of the web with the evidence from the text, connected to theme words or topics, are all around. Then have students do some "long and strong" writing about the main theme. I think you could also have a theme word in the middle, and have evidence, just for that theme, around. Then students "write long and strong" about that theme. Jen also talks about how we want our students to notice multiple themes in a story, not just the dominant theme.
  • Find a spot where the characters shows a good trait.
  • How would you describe how the character is acting here?
  • What can the character teach you?
  • What are you learning from this character?
  • You can try saying, "______ taught me that if ______, you should ______."
  • You can try, " _______ is acting like _______, so I'm learning _______."
  • Think about that trait. What can you learn?

Lesson 7.2 The Difference Between Plot and Theme

Jen gives a hat tip here to Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement by Harvey & Goudvis. This is basically the lesson I had done when I was first working with this strategy. This double entry journal allows you to combine both approaches from above. You may fill in the "theme" column first, as it just hits you. Or maybe you've collected evidence of the important events in the story and then you infer a theme from that evidence.
  • What's happening?
  • What's most important in all you just told me?
  • What is your idea about what's happening?
  • What else do you think is a possible big idea from the story?
There are two other lessons that I can't leave out as we talk about helping students identify theme:

Lesson 7.1 Notice a Pattern and Give Advice

Both of the above strategies are more aligned with higher levels of text. I like lesson 7.1 Notice a Pattern and Give Advice because it makes this thinking work accessible for our youngest readers. I love the visuals! It makes it soooooo simple, getting right to the heart of what theme is all about. In order for a big idea to be a theme you should be able to find a pattern of evidence to support that theme (CCSS R.1 & R.3). And it is connected to a life lesson or central lesson (CCSS R.2).
  • What does the character do over and over?
  • What's the pattern here?
  • What would you tell the character?
  • Give advice.
  • Start with, "You should ______."

Lesson 7.18 Character Change Can Reveal Lessons

We know how important it is for our students to identify how a character has changed across a story. I think connecting that work to this bigger work in Lesson 7.18 "Character Change Can Reveal Lessons?" makes it more meaningful. It's grounded in "What do you notice?" "Now push your thinking, what does that mean?" "Why is it important?"
Here's a video of Jennifer Serravallo in a "Research-Decide-Teach" conference around this goal.

  • What were you thinking about in the beginning of the book?
  • What were you thinking about at the end of the book?
  • Who is this character as a person?
  • What did the character learn?
  • Think about what has happened.
  • When I am trying to look for bigger ideas, I try this, "Even though _______, you should ________."
  • Are you saying ________, what kind of person would do that?
  • Yes, that is an idea about you, not from the book.
The work of this goal is what I might call our end game as teachers and readers. It makes me think of the Comprehension Continuum. To reach towards the loftier end of this continuum we ask, "How has what I read changed me as a reader?" and "Now that I know this, how can I change the world?" This work of inferring theme allows us to begin to answer those questions.
I also like how Jen talks about the work of this goal as using multiple skills. We are not just inferring, but also determining importance and synthesizing. It gets to the idea that it's not about one skill or strategy, but that ultimately we want our students to use strategies flexibly to get to deeper meaning in a text and impact their lives and others!
A tool we've been using to help our students go deep with their thinking and evaluate their own work are micro-progressions from Kate & Maggie Beattie Robert's DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence.

Here's a video from Teachers College using a micro-progression with theme:
I was thinking that at the end of our book study we could celebrate with a Twitter Chat. We'll have a combination of a slow chat and a regular chat on April 6th, the day after our book study ends. So this means we can post all day to #TheReadingStrategiesBook. Then at 6pm CST I'll host a regular Twitter Chat. That way we can interact live. Hope you can join in! It would be great to connect.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Small Group & Conferring Institute DAY 4: Small Groups in Reading

Evolution of Small Groups Across a Unit and Across the Year
Posted by Jen Burton

This is the day I had been waiting for, Small Groups in Reading! Like I had mentioned in earlier posts, I have felt comfortable with the concept of flexible grouping in the upper grades (2nd-ish through 5th) for a while now, but what does that look like in primary? I've actually walked away with principles that apply to both primary and intermediate, as well as the nuances between them.

Across the grades, we start the year off with conferring. We know how important it is for us to get to know our students, so this time is critical and fun. Treasure those moments of discovering who your students are, what they like and dislike, their strengths and challenges. As we begin a unit, we typically start off with table conferences, as this allows us to make sure everyone is on track, heading in the right direction. I had posted about different grouping structures earlier, so I won't go into those now.

Once everyone is on a roll and we've built some stamina to work independently, we can begin conferring. Once we've collected data through conferring, we may notice trends, and start pulling some strategy groups. What we are teaching in the strategy groups, the teaching points, are from the units, so they are developmentally appropriate. If students are off level, then you would go back to earlier, or later, points in the progressions. Since the progressions for reading don't start until second grade, we are using the F&P Continuum of Literacy Learning for our progression of reading skills for levels A-L.

It's when we notice students plateauing at a level, THAT is when we plan a SERIES OF LESSONS or as The Guide to the Reading Workshop refers to them, a ladder of lessons, to help move students along to the next level of text complexity; for intermediate we consider bands of text.

A series of lessons is designed around the idea of the gradual release model. The initial lessons with the students will start with a heavier scaffold, more support, more coaching, while the later lessons will have a lighter scaffold, less support, leaner coaching. The goal being to get them to independence at this new level or into the next band of text. After every lesson we ask, "How close are they to this new level?" and "What supports do they need to be successful at this new level?"

Before we can begin planning this series of lessons however, it is helpful to do a running record and some error analysis to know what kind of support, including word work, will best support moving the students into this next level. A series of lessons could look like this:

    • Day 1 could be shared reading. Select words to cover and cues to give based on error analysis & based on that F&P level.  (High Scaffold)
    • Day 2 might be strategy group. A teaching point is pulled from the F&P level descriptors and applied in their own or a shared text. (Medium to Low Scaffold)
    • Day 3 might be a guided reading lesson. Pull a focus for meaning, structure, & visual to highlight in book intro. (Medium to High Scaffold)

Shared reading and writing will be relied on more heavily in the primary grades than the intermediate, especially to move students up the early levels of text.

The "aha" for me in this, was that the shared reading and strategy group sessions in a series of lessons is targeted to the F&P level or band, highlighting and explicitly teaching the behaviors from that level that we believe will bump them up.

As you wrap up the series of lessons these are possible next steps, based on what you notice about your readers:

    • Possible Next Steps:

      • If students rocked it. Then next time, do another guided reading group (leaner intro) (Medium Scaffold) or if they really rocked it a strategy group. (Low Scaffold)

      • If students still struggle. Then maybe more shared reading in books at that level (High Scaffold) or guided reading with more support & coaching, and an introduction. (High to Medium Scaffold)

You continue with small groups until you run out of data. Then you return to conferring, until you have more data to form small groups again. This is the evolution or cycle of small groups and conferring. As we notice student behaviors, data, then we form small groups around:

  • behaviors connected to the non-negotiable teaching points of the unit,
  • behaviors that will move students through the levels of text complexity,
  • behaviors connected to habits of thinking, motivation, or engagement.

This is what we form small groups around in reading. So much of this is dependent on our professional judgement.

In all of this we can't forget that what makes the most impact, along with targeted, explicit instruction, is lots and lots and lots of independent reading. One of our most important jobs is to get our students to LOVE to read. I'm so glad that Jennifer Serravallo's book, The Reading Strategies Book, has specific lessons to address engagement and motivation. If students aren't independent reading, it's not their fault, it's on us to use the instructional strategies at hand to support them in getting there.

Guided reading can be such a hot topic as there are so many interpretations of what it looks like. Here are some thoughts shared at the institute:

Guided Reading
  • Lower Grade and Upper Grade Versions
  • Monitor and Fix (Foundational Skills)
  • Explicit teaching point at the end
  • Same text (not independent level) to help get ready to move)
  • Need support and scaffolds
  • Work to release scaffolds
  • Not everyone NEEDS guided reading

Guided Reading in Primary

Guided Reading up through level L is still supporting students in putting all the parts together. They are reading the same book, a text level just above independent.
  • You can do a mix of guided reading and shared reading, along with making texts with kids (especially w/ ELs) because they’ve used what they know to make meaning.
  • Stagger the pages kids are reading, so they are NOT reading the same page at the same time.
  • IF finding way too much prompting shift to shared reading - gives a nice bump.
  • Kdg - Sometimes in kindergarten, kids need time. Jan/Feb is a good time to start grouping.

Structure for Guided Reading at Levels A-L (10 minutes!)
  • Book Introduction (mini - 2-3 minutes)
    • Meaning: Give some background about the book
    • Structure: Grammar or language structures to pre-teach
    • Visual: Word study patterns to support decoding
  • Coach - Get students reading quickly - stagger their reading of pages, so they are NOT reading the same page.
    • Below H - subvocalize - whisper read
    • H and above - read silently in their minds and ask to whisper read when you get to them.
  • Discuss briefly
  • Give a Teaching Point for that F&P level to move them up.

Guided Reading in Intermediate

Level L/M and up typically you don’t need a lot on monitoring words - you mostly need to support comprehension. Intermediate you really only need guided reading to move students from one band of text to another. :
  • M to N
  • Q to R
  • T to U
  • W to X
The best way to identify the behaviors to target is an error analysis of a running record. Then you can look for patterns and behaviors to support for comprehension or word work.
Structure for Guided Reading at Levels M-Z (10 min.!)
  • Book or short text introduction and text level introduction (best with a series):  What will be new in this band to pay closer attention to?
  • Leave it there OR
  • Coach them to thinking, giving them prompts or ?s, rhetorical ?s to ask themselves, not quizzing, but prompting them to be thinking in a part of the text. So we can talk at the end of what they learned, give a teaching point to support them around.

If they are not yet ready, reflect on how close are they now. Then we can think, “How can we support them now?”

As students run into trouble don’t drag out prompting, leading them on, we can tell them:
  • Could the character be doing...bc of this and this and this, go back and reread and see if this is a possibly.
  • If miscue Pumpkin???? Could it be pumpkin, go back and reread, triple check the word. Ya it’s pumpkin bc there’s a pumpkin and there’s the word, now keep reading.
Try a couple of strategies, if they don’t work, give it to them so they can go.

Traps of Guided Reading
  1. We spend a long time giving a book into. If we have to spend that long, students may not be ready for that level. We want to give just enough for them to be able to read. There should be things they’re struggling with and you’re giving them a bit of support. If the text is easily read, then they don’t need guided reading
  2. Our prompting. We want to keep the readers moving. We get trapped with one student, giving too many prompts & strategies.

Hierarchy of Prompts - From lesser Scaffolding to More
  • First prompt is always wait time
  • Shrug
  • Huh?
  • First prompt w/o pointing
  • Lean prompt - “Check that.”
  • What part are you stuck on?
  • Does that sound like a word you know?
  • You know, _______ from our word wall, could that help you? (Then confirm how the kid knows it.)
  • A couple tries - give it.
  • Could that word be “around.”
  • That word is “around.”
We wouldn't do all of these prompts at once, obviously, but knowing our students, we start with the leanest possible prompts first.

Other nuggets:
  • Have multiple lenses as you do a read aloud. These are choices to jot about as you read aloud. Then they can practice in independent work.
  • We can’t forget to support habits and thinking in conferences and small groups.
  • Not everybody needs guided reading. Guided Reading was originally designed for very early grades to help kids in how to orchestrate the reading process. It has morphed and taken on the meaning of a group in which any type of guidance is provided.
  • If you do guided reading all the time; they’ll always need you.
  • We do guided reading when students are just close enough to that next level or band of text and with support of the behaviors needed for that next level or band, along with pre-teaching words/features they might miss, they will be successful and move to becoming independent at this level.
  • Guided reading groups should be 10 minutes.
  • Often kids are reading harder and harder texts, but not developing a depth of understanding. We just keep moving them ahead. We need to think about where text complexity intersects with student’s depth of understanding.
  • Kids that get pulled out should be pulled OUTSIDE of their class reading time. That time should be 10 min of instruction and the rest of the time more independent reading.
  • Small groups & conferences can often be extensions of the mini-lesson.
  • We can use a hybrid of guided reading by bringing over four students and have them work in a book slightly above their just right” level, possibly giving a little introduction and letting them supporting each other, while we coach in how to be a supportive partner. You can also use an anchor chart or mini-chart, and post-its. Then every few pages put a post-it on the page and have students talk about it.

Primary prompts for partner work in hybrid guided reading:
  • The character is acting like…
  • important because…
  • What does the word _____________ mean?
  • The character feels ___________, so next I think ________________.
  • This part fits with the part when ________________________.

Intermediate prompts for partner work in hybrid guided reading:
  • Here the character is learning ________________.
  • This shows the relationship is ________________.
  • This is an issue because ________________.
  • The _____________ is a symbol for ________________.
  • The setting her is showing the mood ________________.  (Don’t just say the setting say the mood too.)

Partnerships & Book Clubs

  • Coaching Students to Talk…
    • To use the criteria in the classroom
    • To listen, clarify, extend, and challenge each other
    • To come to new thoughts

    • Better Content in Conversations - (substantive)
    • Better Linking Ideas to Each Other
    • Better Matched to Parts

There is a lot to consider when implementing small groups in reading. If we stick to what's most important, the idea of letting our students and what we notice about them as readers guide us, then we'll be on the right track. Trust your professional judgement as you consider how to best support your students and plan for instruction. The closing remarks from the institute were the best. Amanda Hartman encouraged us to go out and not just try one thing, but try everything and to not be afraid to fail miserably. It's suppose to be messy, that's when we do our best learning. I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues as I go back and figure out together what this looks like in the classroom. They also left us with some ideas of how we can study together:

What questions and new learning do you have about small groups in reading?
What do you plan to go and try?
How do you plan to collaborate in your learning?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Small Group & Conferring Institute DAY 3: Conferring in Reading

We started off today by comparing the many similarities of conferring in reading to conferring in writing:

  • Similar structure: Research, Decide, & Teach (A conference with Jennifer Serravallo)
  • A clear teaching point
  • We give a compliment that is just at the student's edge of learning, something we hope they keep doing.
  • Students have an opportunity for multiple tries
  • We use a tool to support conferring - a demonstration notebook or a mini-chart
  • We give students ambitious and purposeful work
  • We take notes to inform our instruction

My new favorite way to take notes is with a class list. I like having three columns per skill to record repeated practice. This allows you to hone in on the non-negotiables of the unit:

There are important conferences to have with students:

Important Kinds of Reading Conferences

  • Matching Kids to Book & Volume of Reading

  • Thinking While Reading
  • Solving Tricky Words/Parts (Identifying Trouble)
  • Connecting and Synthesizing Parts of a Book
  • Beginning and Middle and Ending of a book

What is key to me that we talked about was the importance of studying student work. This is helpful for two reasons:

1. As we study students' work we'll see trends emerge and allows us to see a progression of learning. Not only do we use that to inform our instruction, but we can create a micro-progression on a chart to put up in the class for students to evaluate their work. This is my big take away from this week. I need to continue to work at supporting students to be independent in applying the non-negotiable skills and strategies from our units. Here is a GREAT video on micro-progressions from Kate Roberts & Maggie Beattie Roberts and their book DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence: Micro-progressions

2. Also, as we look at an individual student's work we can see possible compliments and teaching points. It was so helpful to practice doing this as a group. We watched a video of a student reading and generated this list. Here's how the progression of that work went as a group. (By the way I just loved my small group and the fun friends I met at large group! #friendsforlife)

We talked about getting ready for a conference, the research phase...

We talked about possible questions & lines of dialogue to ask and follow during research:

Then we watched a video to see what we could learn about this student as a reader and what questions do we have about her...

We generated a list of possible compliments and teaching points...

Then we prioritized them...

It was so helpful to collaborate around this work and share our thinking. There were many questions about, "How do we know what to teach?" And Katrina (@katrinadavino), my amazing small group leader, had some great words of wisdom, "As we build our content knowledge of the progression of skills for both reading and writing, then we will know what to teach, but until then, teach the teaching points from the lesson/unit." Take the pressure off, use the charts you've created to support your conferring and small group work!

I am struck once again by the importance of collaborating around this work. It's so much easier, and more fun, to develop our content knowledge together as we talk and share our thinking about student learning and our instruction to support that. Thank you to my small group, my large group, and the fun teachers and coaches from Lisle, IL that I collaborated with this week.

For me, I'm looking forward to tomorrow, Small Groups in Reading. I feel I am getting so much more clarity in this area for primary (K-1), but I need to be with my people and talk through some of this stuff! Can't wait!