All things literacy!
Welcome back to our balanced literacy series! Today the focus is on planning for teaching during independent work time. What happens after you’ve sent the kids off the carpet? You know, when they’re all reading different books and writing different stories? Let’s talk about different options you have and how to know when to choose what.
Don’t forget to stop by every Tuesday to gain a better insight into using a balanced literacy framework within your classroom!
Off You Go!
You just taught a fabulous 7-12 minute mini-lesson and ended with those three magical and inspiring words. Your readers or writers leap off the carpet ready for action but… you linger in the chair. What now? What is your off you go? There are so many variables that could happen next for you and there is no coach in your classroom everyday to guide your choices. Let’s talk about them and ease your mind a bit so that the next time you say off you go you can go off with just as much confidence as your students!
Reading: Now What?
First things first before you can work with your readers you need to know where they are. Perhaps your school uses F&P BAS to assess readers throughout the year. Maybe your school uses DRA. Hopefully your school has some sort of system in place to assess readers. If not, it’s your lucky day because now you can become the advocate for your school. Research the systems available and determine which one would work best for your students. I advocated to switch from DRA to BAS at my current school and it took two whole years to do the convincing but now we switched and wouldn’t look back!
So before you can begin teaching readers you need to assess readers. You need to know exactly where they are. What is your baseline? What do they know and can do independently? What do they partially know but still need teaching on? What do they not yet know at all? You need to be able to answer these three questions for each reader in your class and the class as a whole. Then you need to determine what is the critical next step in teaching that they can work to take on independently and how you’re going to teach them. Let’s go!
One on One Instruction
Conferring is the primary mode of one on one instruction in reading. There are many different types of conferences you can have with your students. I usually begin my year or my unit with compliment only conferences. This reinforces the skills that students know while I jot down everything they’re going to need to work on within the unit. Then I choose what students I will confer with to meet goals and what students I would prefer to use a small group for.
Some years I have conferred with all readers and done no groups. Some years I have conferred with a limited amount. It all depends on your readers and you.
Small group instruction in reading can come in two different forms. Guided reading groups or strategy groups each have their own purposes and structures. It is up to you to decide which is best for your readers. If your readers are grade 2 or above you might also consider book clubs. We won’t talk about book clubs today and instead focus on the other methods. I am going to say this right now so that we’re all clear. Ready to listen? THERE IS NO ROUND ROBIN READING IN ANY OF THESE GROUPS. None. Don’t even think about it. Don’t. Ok, now that you know, let’s talk about each one.
During a guided group all students will be at the same level and will all read the same book. Guided reading lessons last for 15-20 minutes. During the lesson the teacher will introduce a new text, students will read the text at their own pace and the teacher will listen in, afterwards the teacher will lead the students in a comprehension conversation. Sometimes a guided reading group also includes word work.
During a strategy group all students might be at different levels and reading different books. They will be practicing the same strategy or skill. Strategy groups don’t last very long maybe only a week or two, sometimes less. The teacher will teach the skill or strategy and each child will practice in their own text at their own level. Sometimes the teacher will provide the text sometimes students choose what text to bring. Strategy groups will last 10-15 minutes.
Conferring is one-on-one with just a student and the teacher. The teacher typically follows the Research, Decide, Compliment, Teach method. First the teacher will observe and research the skills the reader has and does not have yet. The teacher will decide what teaching is best for this student next. Then the teacher will compliment the reader to reinforce a skill they have. Next the teacher will teach a new skill and practice it a few times with the reader before the reader is left on their own. This lasts about 5-7 minutes.
Writing: Now What?
One on One Instruction
I would have to say that this is the form of student & teacher work that I engage in most often in writing. I do small group instruction from time to time but have found that writers need more one on one instruction. This is just my personal experience. Take it with a grain of salt because you know your writers better than I do… I don’t even know them at all. Conferring is the name of the game.
Sometimes there is a need to pull a strategy group together. When I taught grade 3, I pulled a strategy group on using paragraphs once. Last week I pulled a strategy group on putting spaces between our words when we write. Group instruction should be between 10-15 minutes and should be short term.
Create a document that shows what your readers know and what sort of know and what they don’t yet know. Similar to this one I’ve created below. Please know that these are made up children and are in no way based on actual students in my class currently or in my class previously. I believe it is really important to keep all student data private. The example listed is just for reading.
In looking at this data I might want to do a whole class mini-lesson on 1:1 matching. I realize that we don’t all have a class size of 10… I don’t have a class size of 10!
Depending on the students I could pull Amari, Ania, Filip, and Oscar into a strategy group on fluency. Since these are just made up children we don’t really know much else about their fluency. As the teacher of your class you would know more details.
Michael and Rick might get pulled into a guided reading group together. They can work to build high frequency words and work on their 1:1 matching skills.
Kuba and Piotr might work well in a guided reading group. Kuba might do more of the work during a text introduction while Piotr might do a little more of the work during the conversation that follows reading. Victor could also fall into this group if his needs were similar. Victor could also be a candidate for conferring.
Randy would be a good candidate for conferring because he needs to work on skills that don’t necessarily match the other readers.
Knowing your students is the key to responsive teaching. Try to make a chart like this for your class. You might want to add columns to reflect the zone of proximal development. One column could be for known skills, one for skills within the zone of proximal development, and one for unknown skills. This will help you start to look at your class. You might notice that you need to add in a whole class mini-lesson on something. Knowing your readers and writers is essential to teaching. Take the week and get to know your kids!
Each Tuesday a new post will appear giving you more insight into the life of a balanced literacy teacher! Next week our post will focus on conferring during independent reading or writing time.
Use the comments section to ask any lingering questions or leave any comments with things I can do to better help you on this journey to implementing a balanced literacy framework within your classroom.
How do you look at student data? How do your observations guide your instruction? What questions do you have about planning for instruction?
There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing teaching the child not the program. The skills we teach students today should be transferrable to all stories or all writing or all problems. We need to teach for transfer and help students make connections.
We used to teach the book, writing or problem
Teachers used to pick up books like The Sign of the Beaver (one of my most hated whole class texts) and think, “what lessons does this book teach?” Then they would teach the book. I made a map of main out of dough. I had to look up new vocabulary words in every chapter even if I didn’t find any new words. My classmates built log houses out of sticks and the activity list could go on and on. While these activities may have helped me understand The Sign of the Beaver, I couldn’t take those same skills and apply them to another text. When we finished that book we went on to another one and repeated the same process again with no connection to the previous book.
In writing, teachers would circle mistakes in red pen and students would correct the mistakes. Students would make the same mistakes every time and then the teacher would circle it and they would fix them. This cycle could continue indefinitely. Some kids would receive things that were circled that they didn’t even know how to fix. Worse yet, some teachers never even had their students write for an authentic audience. They just wrote in response to prompts or in other ways but never produced writing on their own. While student writing might have looked nice with all the correct capitalization and punctuation, if the student couldn’t really do it on their own did they really know how to do it?
In math we solved problem after problem with no connection between the problems. Teachers would see students make the same mistakes over and over and would teach them how to solve that specific problem. In word problems this happens especially. We teach the problem instead of teaching strategies to solve all word problems. Sarah has six pennies and then she got five more. How many does she have now? Ugh… actually most teachers might go through a template that doesn’t allow for student thinking instead of teaching them comprehension skills. A lot of math teaching still looks like this hilarious Kid Snippets video.
What's the Problem?
The problem with taking a book like The Sign of the Beaver and pulling out all the lessons kids could learn in that specific book or circling all the mistakes a child makes on one specific writing assignment or telling the child how to solve one specific math problem is that there is no transfer. The child cannot walk away from that book or writing assignment or math problem and take what they’ve learned and apply it to their future learning.
When teaching reading, we want to teach skills that all readers can use in any book.
In writing, we want to teacher the writer skills that they can apply to any writing piece.
In math, we want to teach mathematicians strategies they can take to the next problem.
When we begin to teach the CHILD instead of the book or writing or problem we are creating independent learners. That child can take the knowledge they’ve learned and apply it to the next time they read or write or solve a problem. They have learned transferrable skills.
They can begin to see that reading skills apply to all books not just to certain ones. Nonfiction readers do the same thing regardless of text. Fantasy readers use the same strategies regardless of text. Historical fiction readers need a certain set of skills regardless of text. Decoding skills and learning new words can be the same in every text.
In writing if we correct every single mistake then they child can’t become a better writer. If this week you teach that writers use punctuation to help guide the reader. Then that child can focus in on punctuation. Punctuation might not be in every child’s zone of proximal development. If it isn’t in their ZPD then don’t waste time on it. Look for the skills that they do need. A child can learn that regardless of genre all writers find a way to draw in their audience.
In math they can see that mathematicians are always making connections. Math is built upon reasoning and relationships. Strategies you use in addition can be used in subtraction and multiplication and fractions and so many other things! The different operations and problem types don’t live in a silo and mathematicians know how to connect different math concepts.
What to do Instead
First of all, we shouldn’t be teaching whole class novels anymore… a good topic for a new changing our thinking post. For more on best practice in Literacy join me on Tuesdays and check out the Literacy Instruction tab at the top of the page.
Think about the skills each reader needs. Books can teach a wide variety of skills. In one Bailey School Kids book I can teach about the mystery genre and how readers try to solve mysteries along with the characters. I can teach decoding skills as kids discover words they don’t know. I can teach fluency skills and encourage readers to let their voice reflect the tone of the story. I can teach that readers reread when things don’t make sense. I can teach that readers of a series learn about the characters and pay attention to their traits. I can teach that readers can connect the previous chapter to the current chapter. I could go on and on.
Switch your thinking. Instead of what skills can this book teach? Think, what skills does this reader need? Not every reader needs the same skills and most books can teach the reader the skills they need.
Teachers should no longer be editors in the writing classroom… another topic for a changing our thinking!
As you watch your writers work, notice their mistakes. Notice the skills that they have independently mastered and compliment them on those skills. Notice the skills that they use correctly most of the time but still make errors on from time to time. Notice the skills that they are beginning to correct on their own but don’t do it frequently. Notice the errors that they make all the time but don’t correct at all. Notice everything they do. Then decide what to teach.
When deciding what to teach not all writers will need the same skills. If a child is able to do something on their own, they don’t need to be taught that skill. If a child makes errors but never corrects them, this skill might not be in their zone of proximal development yet. They might not be ready for it yet. Teach in to the mistakes that they are beginning to correct on their own but don’t have down yet. Become their coach and teach them those skills.
Writers use punctuation to guide their reader. Writers use capital letters at the start of a sentence. Writers break their writing into paragraphs to organize their ideas better and make their writing easier to read. Writers use strategies to spell words correctly. These are all teaching points that can be applied to any piece of writing.
Switch your thinking. Instead of, what is this writer doing wrong? Think, what skills does this writer almost have? What can I teach them today that they can learn to do independently and apply to the next piece of writing?
Oh, math. So often in math we teach and prompt kids in the easiest way for them to get the answer. Isn’t math just answer getting? If you haven’t watched this video about answer getting in math then take a moment to do so. Math is not all about answer getting. When we don’t teach for reasoning and understanding we often teach for answer getting.
Instead of teaching the specific problem ask yourself what is a skill this mathematician could apply to every problem they encounter. Maybe they need to know that mathematicians struggle but they keep going when it is hard. Mathematicians construct arguments to explain their reasoning. Mathematicians create a model to try to solve an unknown problem. Mathematicians use different strategies to solve problems.
Switch your thinking. Instead of, how can this student get the answer? Think, what skills does this mathematician need? What skills could I teach them today that they can apply to future problems as well.
What I've Learned
Teaching for transfer has completely changed my teaching. I now reflect a lot of each child’s zone of proximal development and how to teach for independence. When I think about transfer it means that the child can do the skill without you and can bring this knowledge with them to any problem, book, experiment, or whatever.
Leave your thoughts in the comments below! I would love to hear about your journey in teaching for transfer and answer any questions you may have.