Remote Workshop: Gradual Release of Responsibility

Recently I have been collaborating with an incredible group of ELA supervisors and coordinators from across the county regarding the professional development needs as a result of school closures and the subsequent shift to online instruction. Even though curriculum throughout the county may be different, while discussing best practice, we could all agree that a gradual release model was essential in any classroom, but especially in a virtual setting.

No one knows what school will look like come fall, but for the rest of this year and being proactive for next year, this is the best place to start to reflect on the instruction we have been releasing to students and focus our efforts on strengthening best practice.

The Model

Step One: Learning Objective

Learning objectives can come straight from the anchor charts we are using to guide instruction. In this example, I am focusing on examining character speech to determine themes.

In this writing example, however, the focus is on the ways to generate story ideas starting with thinking about moments of trouble.

Step Two: I Do – Modeling

Once the learning objective is determined and communicated, the second step is to model the strategy or content. This is where the students watch you do this work with a mentor text. I chose to use a video. I created a mini unit recently that maps out all the ways readers can determine theme by examining character. I then went on a hunt looking for video clips and short films, and as I watched each one, I made notes about the possible lenses (from the anchor chart) that could be modeled and practiced using them. This is a nice way to use a nontraditional text in order to focus on the strategy and help level the playing field for student access. Not to mention, a nontraditional text is also often shorter and keeps the modeling down to a small chunk of time.

In this video, I share the learning objective and model using the strategy with a mentor text.

Step Three: We Do – Guided Practice

Something that may be missing from our instruction is the guided practice, and this is such a critical piece! In the classroom we have students turn and talk and practice the strategy together step by step. This is when we eavesdrop and coach in. This is the real teaching and students need that time to collaborate and construct meaning together while receiving support and feedback.

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Guided Practice

Asynchronous

In an asynchronous environment guided practice could extend over the course of a couple days. It is slow! It could be a guided practice video like the one below followed by a discussion question on the learning platform (Schoology or Google Classroom)

Guided Practice with a Common Text

Students are also invited to read the responses of others and comment on at least three ideas using the following prompts:

  1. What confirmed your thinking?
  2. What challenged your thinking?
  3. What changed your thinking?

These discussions in the learning platform are a great way to formatively assess and provide feedback. You might even pull some and share “Shout Outs” for high quality thinking! Similar to the the eavesdropping and sharing we do in face to face instruction.

Synchronous

While we want to be sure that all students have access, it is possible to have some live opportunities using a tool such as Zoom. This may be ideal for the kids who are struggling with navigating the materials independently or who need additional support.

I’ve been working with some middle school students in an after school program using synchronous instruction. I invite them to the Zoom and do the same kind of work but live. I share my screen so they can see the slides and the video and I walk them through the strategy. I switch the chat settings so they can only send chat messages to me, the host. At different points, I ask them guiding questions and they type their ideas in the chat. I take the best ideas, along with some of my own and add them live to the slide. For example, I may ask what pattern they noticed and will label buckets in my slide using their ideas. Then continue to guide them with questions and sharing in this way.

This method is great for providing instructional feedback in the moment. If I ask what can readers learn, for example, and I get something about what the characters learn, I can guide them to restate it in a way that is bigger than the character.

The students I work with are getting very used to this model, and I am now starting to give them some more space by putting them in and out of breakout rooms to “turn and talk” and come up with combined thinking to share with everyone else.

While synchronous instruction like this cannot be the only mode of instruction, it is a great idea for conferring, small groups, and WIN time.

Step Four: You Do – Independent Practice (Formative Assessment)

Students are using their independent reading to practice using the strategy by adding post-its to their reader’s notebook or are completing an assignment using the practice from their independent reading on the learning platform. This is formatively assessed to see who needs more support or more maybe more guided practice in a Zoom session. This is the work that lets us know when they are ready for the last step and demonstrate learning.

Step Five: Demonstration of Learning (Summative Assessment)

This is when students use the strategies to show what they have learned. Many teachers are worried about cheating, but the summative assessments should be much higher on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and require students to produce.

One of the reasons I love reading along side kids is because it provides me with so many ideas and connections. This week we saw videos with Will Smith’s speech shifting from negative to positive patterns. While reading my book, I too was seeing a lot of shifting. This is showing how characters are complicated! I also read in my book, right around the same time, an essay my character wrote in class about how Nicki Minaj is misunderstood just like I noticed Will Smith is misunderstood. I then had students look back at the patterns they were noticing in their independent reading when examining character speech and think about how their character is complicated and also misunderstood and what the reader can learn (theme) when examining the character this way. I even wrote my own based off the character Xiomara in my book, The Poet X. This serves as a model, but it also can act as a way to sell this book as a future choice for students.

Let’s Reflect

Take some time to look back at your ELA Reading and Writing lessons. Are you following the model for best practice? Which steps are you a shining star, and which steps do you need to rethink?

One more think to keep in mind. All 5 steps are not expected in one day. Since online class times in our district are shorter than the 50-60+ minutes allotted to a face to face setting, the I Do, We Do, You Do may take place over the course of a week. How you roll out the week may look different from class to class; however, the model should still follow the same steps.

Remote Workshop: Staying True to the Model

While learning a whole new way to deliver instruction during the quarantine, it is possible to accidentally take a wrong turn and shift the focus away from the fundamentals of the workshop model. So now that we’ve had some time to make the shift to remote learning, let’s take some time to reflect and evaluate our instructional practice.

Fundamental #1 – Modeling

We need to remember that we must model and do the work in front of students. The tool you choose to capture that modeling is the vehicle. Now you can get the fanciest vehicle in the showroom using all kinds of fancy tools and add ons, but without modeling, we can easily lose our way. So with every lesson ask yourself, “Am I using a mentor text and doing the thinking and writing work myself?”

Fundamental #2 – A Clear Focus

Just like in the brick and mortar classroom, the online classroom needs a focus. What is the skill you are teaching, and what strategies are you modeling to develop that skill?

Recently with a group of seventh and eighth graders I have been focusing on the basic yet very challenging skill of active reading. I determined in advance each strategy I would model.

Here is a video of one such lesson. Today I am teaching active readers to examine how characters react. The strategy follows the basic model for analysis. What do I notice? What patterns am I seeing? What do these patterns show? You will see today’s focus and you will watch me model using a mentor text.

Fundamental #3 – Active and Authentic

It is so easy with the introduction of all of these flashy online tools and resources to start assigning. But ASSIGNING is not one of the A words we should be holding dear.

We want kids to be active in their reading and writing. And we want the work to be authentic. Just as the modeling is authentic, we want to send them off to do the thinking work in their actual book or writer’s notebook. It’s easy to be attracted to cool looking assignments, but are they anything more than glorified worksheets and packets?

Ask yourself, “Am I sending my kids off to think in the book or text they chose? Am I sending them off to create? Am I sending them off to do real things in the real world?” If not, what can you do to move closer to supporting ACTIVE and AUTHENTIC readers and writers?

Fundamental #4 – Choice

Notice when I send students off to read, I am sending them off to their independent book. And even though I modeled being an active reader who examines character reactions today, when I send them off, they can choose to practice any of the four strategies I’ve modeled so far.

Fundamental #5 – Growth

When we are focusing on the fundamentals of the workshop, we are keeping in mind that every product is a formative assessment that shows us where kids are and what kids need. This information is used to drive our instruction. While I already have a focus of the skill and strategies I plan to teach, model, and expect students to practice within their own reading and writing, I want to use their products to gauge what other strategies they may need.

At the very end of my minilesson, I tucked in something I was noticing from recent responses. Sometimes those lessons, like reminders to use specific evidence, can be tucked into a planned minilesson, and sometimes we need to pause and present an additional strategy lesson because we don’t have the conferring and small group time that we do in the brick and mortar school. But this work comes from what we notice within their authentic work.

So I encourage you to reflect on and evaluate your online ELA instruction. Are you staying true to the workshop model and the fundamentals of the workshop? Are you using the online tools and add ons as a vehicle to drive your workshop instruction, or are you accidentally veering off onto the wrong road of assigning?

I am here to help with whatever your needs are in this new remote learning while holding onto best practice.

The Adventures of TDA: The Final Chapter

This adventure began with concerns from one sixth grade cohort at the elementary level. An unplanned extended leave of absence with a rotation of guest teachers created a challenge. While I firmly believe in embedding this work into what we already do with the Units of Study, the extenuating circumstances led us to create a short mini unit that wrapped up in time for the return of the teacher who is now continuing the work within the units.

After minilessons with modeling and time for independent practice with embedded conferring and small group lessons based on need, we wrapped up our writing pieces. What made this mini unit so successful was student engagement. Based on my observations, I would attribute the high engagement to the following:

  1. Choice – Students read and did the thinking work for several stories, but they chose the one that they wanted to take through the writing process.
  2. Partnerships – Students had very strong partnerships throughout the entire process which provided support and investment.
  3. High Interest Text – It’s so much easier to do something really hard with something that is intriguing.
  4. Gradual Release of Responsibility – They watched a teacher do some heavy lifting, then they practiced with their partner with support, and when they felt confident, they were able to do the heavy lifting too.

The independent writing wasn’t perfect, but students grew and developed as they learned and applied their learning to their writing and it was worlds better than the preassessment. Below is a slide show of a selection from the independent writing.

Since we began with a preassessment, we ended with a post assessment as well. Students were actually excited to show how much they could now do. The confidence they felt was incredible to experience. We looked at the evidence of their close reading, their planning before writing, and their writing and compared the data from the preassessment to the post assessment. We also were able to determine who still needed guided practice in small group as well as other needs. Overall, the post assessment showed that 61% of the sixth graders in the morning class and 70% of the sixth graders in the afternoon class wrote analytically using at least two lenses and looking for patterns in order to come to new understandings. That is compared to 4 students overall who attempted but did not use at least two lenses in the preassessment. The exact data can be found at the very end of the post.

Below are some samples from the preassessment compared to the post assessment. The first example shows a student who understands the idea of examining the author’s craft; however, she only uses one lens in the prassessment and focuses more on the beginning, middle, and end of the story than on determining patterns. In the post assessment she was a super star! She was very grateful for all of the feedback she received throughout the entire process.

This student wrote a summary of the story in the preassessment which was very typical of the group as a whole. In the post assessment, you can see she made huge strides!

This student was one of my favorites. He struggled a great deal. He needed a lot of support and was one of a few who I conferred with every day and pulled into small group regularly. He was not nearly as confident, but he was persistent. He even chose to spend the time for independent writing at the small group table even when he wasn’t in small group so support was nearby. I was most curious about his post assessment because he relied so heavily on me that I worried I had done him a disservice. He asked to sit completely away from everyone during the post assessment because he knows he can get easily distracted. He received zero guidance and support on the on-demand post assessment. For the preassessment his writing was very neat and even in cursive, but he only wrote a summary of the story. He killed it on the post assessment. Clearly his concern was not on his handwriting because he put all of his time, energy, and focus into his thinking. I. Was. Blown. Away! Is it written perfectly? No, but the thinking has to come before the writing every time! Who cares if it’s beautifully written if there is no thinking…no content…no analysis!

Below is another student who struggles, and he is an English language learner as well. He wrote a summary on the preassessment. He was unable to finish in the time given as the post assessment was an on-demand timed assessment, but if you look at his annotations and his graphic organizer, you can clearly see he is on the right track. Fortunately, in state testing he will have the extra time he needs. Again I was so proud.

Something I have always believed that was proven to me time and time again is our kids CAN! Don’t discount any one of your students as kids who can’t because with the right support, they certainly can and will be successful!

One thing I see often in my travels are graphic organizers and worksheets created for kids by teachers. All I ever did was give kids blank paper. Kids need to learn and have the experience to create their own graphic organizers that make sense for them. Below are some samples of the graphic organizers students created for their post-assessment. They chose the lenses to determine how the author revealed a theme, and they chose how to organize their thinking before writing. They need to be in the driver seat more because they will not always have those crutches that when used too often can actually hold them back.

The sixth grade teachers are planning to continue this work while embedding it into the units of study they already use. As promised the data from the pre and post assessment can be found below.

How Do We Find the Time to Work on TDA?

This has been the biggest question I’ve been asked recently. Here’s the thing. We don’t stop teaching our core curriculum to work on developing these skills. They should be embedded in the work you are already doing using the Units of Study. The idea is to continue to use the strategy for analysis that was recommended by the Bucks County Intermediate Unit and shared during the TDA trainings last year and be more explicit about it when teaching. The strategy can be used in almost every minilesson, small group, and even in conferring!

Strategy for Analysis

How can the work be embedded? Look at the Learning Progressions from the Units of Study. They are full of lenses that can be used to look for patterns and determine types of understandings. By using the common language all throughout the year and from year to year, students will have a better chance for success because of the consistency.

The Learning Progressions for Inferring about Character show us in each grade level how we can look closely to determine a type of understanding like character traits, for example. The lenses can continue to be used in subsequent grade levels.

Let’s look at the Learning Progressions for Theme.

In addition to the Learning Progressions that drive the teaching points for the units, we use anchor charts that also show us the lens work within the minilessons.

Even the tools we use with students within the Units of Study show us the lenses and types of understanding we can use.

The work of analysis and strengthening skills related to text dependent analysis does not require us to fit in one more thing that we don’t have time for. It’s about marrying the work we already do with the strategy for analysis and the language we learned within the TDA trainings. It’s about looking closely at how authors use their craft to develop characters, reveal themes, construct central ideas, and any other type of understanding. This is not new work. We are fortunate that the strategy the Bucks County Intermediate Unit recommended for analysis came from the work outlined in Falling in Love with Close Reading which is authored by two people who have worked for many years as staff developers with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, the birthplace of our reading and writing units and an institution that values the reading and writing workshop which our district has embraced as an instructional model.

If there is anything I can do to support you in the marriage of this work with our units, please let me know.

The Adventures of TDA: Chapter 5

Now that writers know what they need to prove, it’s time to draft. I approached this work by inviting students to notice, much like the work of Jeff Anderson.

While students turned and talked with their writing partners, I listened in for what they noticed about the structure of the introduction that I wrote for “Feathers”

These invitations to notice were very brief so over the course of a couple days, we were able to use the minilesson time as well as the midworkshop interrupt to look at the different parts of an essay that students could use as a mentor text for their own writing.

While students worked independently, they were able to confer with their writing partner when needed so that I could pull small groups. To determine small group instruction, I looked in their writing folders for patterns of needs. For example, on this particular day, I noticed four big patterns.

  1. Two students who used the introduction to retell the story
  2. Three students with unnecessary details and one with no background information in the introduction
  3. Two students who need to explain the evidence in the body paragraphs
  4. Five students who were struggling with writing a claim.

I was able to meet with all four groups and begin conferencing with individuals. For small groups I pull on the fly I like to use a giant post-it to quickly write out the strategy. If it’s one I know I’m going to do ahead of time, I might do the same thing or take the extra minute to create the strategy tool in slides so I can print it or use it electronically.

By having strong writing partnerships, students have support from their peer so that my time is free to pull groups.

Here’s a glimpse at some of the writing so far!

The Adventures of TDA: Chapter 4

Students, for the most part, wrapped up their reading, noticing, and noting for the three texts and we moved on to the next minilesson. This lesson was to help them organize their thinking and push it a bit further, in order to determine their claim, what they had to prove in their essay. Each student chose the story they wanted to use to write their TDA and even though they have strong partnerships, they did not need to choose the same story as their partner. They know enough about all three stories that they can still be a support but have the choice that keeps them engaged.

I realized after the first class that I made a huge mistake by showing them the final product of my thinking work and not modeling the work. To say they were lost and confused is an understatement and I realized I was spending way too much time conferring with kids who were off task because they did not know what to do.

So I did what I should have done the first time and did the work right in front of them and the results were much better!

Here is a selection of graphic organizers created by kids in order to prepare their claim and how they will support it. Notice that they created their own organizer in order to determine what they would use and what they needed to prove. Next we will be ready to start writing!!!

Avoiding the Panic Associated with TDA

The work of text dependent analysis is challenging. It’s challenging for me, and I’m highly qualified, trained, and experienced, so I can only imagine how overwhelming this challenge can be for kids. Like anything, I learn more and can support kids because I do the work myself. All. The. Time.

Doing the work that I expect kids to do keeps it real, and I get a lot of respect from kids as a result because I am rolling up my sleeves just like I ask them to do. I experience just how challenging and frustrating it can be, and I pay attention to the strategies I use to work through the challenges.

By doing the work myself, I can better determine what kids need because they need specific, direct instruction. They need a whole lot of modeling. They need coaching in small groups and through conferring. And what I rediscovered last night while I was writing, they need to be able to talk about it a lot. If you are not providing ongoing and continuous support in these areas, you will no doubt be met with frustration, and I highly recommend that you stop assigning the work.

I have been modeling my TDA work recently with sixth graders when it was brought to my attention how many kids were frustrated when doing an on-demand preassessment for a reading unit in the middle school.

I did what I recommend every teacher do and took the assessment myself to have a clearer picture of how I would go about it. It wasn’t easy, but I used the strategies that I teach and went through all of the steps myself.

Imagine if every teacher on a team did the work. Imagine the possibilities we would see because they should not all look and sound the same. They should not all have the same claim or number of paragraphs. This should and can be done at every level. Yes, I know our plates are full, and it would take time. I am telling you, however, the insight gained is worth every single second and will not only save you time in the long run on planning but will save your students a whole lot of frustration because you can better support them. Better yet, by doing the work, kids will have more respect for what you have to say because you are showing them that you are willing to learn right along with them and overcome the challenges of the TDA.

Fortunately, I am seeing first hand how deliberate direct instruction, modeling, partnerships, conferring, and small group work is providing the sixth graders at Faust with the tools to be successful, and it is such a blessing to see their confidence grow. While the struggle is real, frustration and panic is not an issue.

I apologize for standing on my soapbox, but I truly believe in the power of this work. I look forward to sharing more of the Adventures in TDA soon!

The Adventures of TDA: Chapter 3

On Wednesday we began a new story. The story “Charles” by Shirley Jackson intrigued the sixth graders as they read about Laurie, a kindergartner who came home for lunch daily to tell his parents all about Charles, the bad kid who caused all kinds of trouble and chaos in the classroom. The twist ending caused explosive conversations!

Students turned and talked about possible lenses that would work well with this particular story. I love having students determine the possible lenses and am always excited when they come up with one I didn’t even think about! One student who typically struggles asked if repetition would work for this particular story. I asked what he meant and he was able to give several examples of different kinds of repetition. YES! Not only did he come up with a great lens, his idea was used by a lot of partnerships as their focus…what a confidence builder!

I reminded students of the work we needed to do before moving into writing because if they don’t take the time to do the thinking work with the strategy I taught them last week, then they would not be able to successfully and confidently write their text dependent analysis. Partnerships made a plan for the lens work they were going to tackle that day and then they got to work.

While students worked I pulled up to partnerships and coached them into finding examples of the lens they were examining. Some needed specific direct instruction, for example, to determine who was saying what when they were examining dialogue between multiple characters.

After class I looked through their work and noticed a lot of identifying but not a lot of annotating. Without the annotating I knew they would struggle to see the patterns. So I knew they needed more modeling of this work.

I showed them how I notice something, immediately pause, and annotate with my thinking. This definitely helped move many students to combine this work instead of only underlining evidence of their lens thinking they would go back and annotate after. Once students made a plan for the independent work, they went of to do the work in their partnerships. I was able to conference with every partnership and pull two small groups.

The next day the students continued to examine with one lens and move onto a second, and some even a third, but first I wanted to push their thinking about coming to new understandings. Students were feeling super confident in their thinking about character at this point, but I wanted them to use that confidence to push theme work, which was not an area they had strength.

I continued conferring with partnerships and pulled a small group that needed coaching to make the their theme universal.

Friday we moved into our last story, “Into the Rapids” which I snagged from www.commonlit.org. The idea of using three texts in the past week was twofold: to provide students with ample opportunity to practice using the strategy while using a variety of lenses to focus their reading and to provide choice when it’s time to begin writing a TDA. Each student will choose the text from the three they will use to practice using the writing strategies for TDA,

Since we were on our third text, students felt very comfortable digging right in with their partners and were all engaged in the lenses they chose. By the end of today, I was overwhelmed by the level of thinking they were bringing to the text. One particular student who struggles and receives EL support has grown so much in the last week. His partner was absent on Friday and while he was only able to finish one lens during the independent time, his thinking made me so proud.

While moving around to confer with partnerships, I was coaching one group into theme when we realized that we needed to tweak the strategy. This was a great opportunity for a midworkshop interrupt and ended up helping many other partnerships too. Midworkshop interupts are great when coaching students through a strategy and realizing something that others may need to use too!

They will have some time to finish up their thinking work, but many will be ready to move onto choosing and organizing their best thinking to begin writing. We will continue to use the anchor chart created at the start of this mini unit to drive our minilessons. I did add writing in third person to the chart as that is what is expected based on the learning progressions for text dependent analysis! Here are more examples of the thinking that came from Friday’s work.

The Adventures of TDA: Chapter Two

On Thursday we started the class with a read aloud of Gary Soto’s short story, “Seventh Grade”. The sixth graders, who are anticipating their move to middle school in a few months, loved the story about a boy named Victor who was starting his first day of school in seventh grade.

After the read aloud, students turned and talked about what the story was about while I listened in. Since they had a solid understanding of the events, I presented the teaching point.

Then using the text, I modeled by looking through the lens of inner thinking.

I then asked partnerships to make their plan for the day. They could choose to examine the text through the lens of Victor’s actions or through Victor’s speech. Once partnerships had a plan they got to work using one color to underline all evidence of either speech or actions and looking closely to find patterns.

On the second day partnerships turned and talked about other possible lenses and then chose a second lens to look through from the list.

The sixth graders did amazing work in their partnerships. While they worked, their teacher and I moved about the room sitting with partnerships to coach them through the strategy.

We were flexible with each partnership. Some were only able to accomplish one lens, many two lenses, but one partnership got the hang of it quickly and was able to practice looking through three lenses by the time we finished day 2. All partnerships finished day 2 with more of an understanding of the strategy for analysis.

Notice that students did not need to write the TDA to show their thinking. This is HARD work and HEAVY lifting for the students. Before they can write TDA essays, they need the time to gain their confidence in using the strategy for analysis.

Students Need

  • A lot of modeling of the strategy
  • A lot of time practicing using the strategy in partnerships
  • A lot of time being coached through the strategy
  • A lot of choice in what they are looking closely for
  • A lot of time, opportunities, choice, and talk to gain confidence

Notice the students engage with the text by doing all of their work on the text. They do not need graphic organizers created for them or worksheets to fill out. They need the strategy, the text, their partner, choice, modeling, and coaching.

On Tuesday we will put “Seventh Grade” aside and look at a new text. I am so excited to see how they tackle this next short story with confidence!

The Adventures of TDA: Chapter One

The Backstory

I was recently asked by one sixth grade team to help determine student needs around our favorite topic, text dependent analysis. The TDA is naturally on many minds as we approach testing season. I decided to begin this work by finding out what kids can do and what they need to know before moving forward.

After giving two classes of sixth graders a preassessment which included a short text and a TDA prompt, I read all the responses and determined the strengths and needs., and from there the first chapter of The Adventures of TDA began.

What We Know vs What We Found

What we know from our TDA trainings is that readers need to look through two lenses in order to make inferences and show a new understanding. What we found was that half of the sixth graders wrote a summary of the story when asked to analyze how the author developed the theme. A large number wrote a summary then tagged a theme at the the end. A small number wrote the theme and tried to support it with text evidence in the form of quotes. And only 5% of the students attempted to use one lens but did not take what they noticed to a new understanding.

What we did discover, and this will make so many teachers happy, was that of the 45% who determined a theme, all but one had a theme that worked for the story and none of the themes were one word! That is amazing!

Now What?

After seeing what students needed, I pulled all the resources around TDA including the Student Friendly Learning Progressions we created based on the Learning Progressions released from The Center for Assessment and PDE. From there I created an anchor chart that would focus the learning as we moved forward.

Before beginning any instruction, I rolled up my sleeves and took the preassessment myself. This way I had even more insight into the challenges of the work and what strategies I used myself that may help kids.

I think before starting anything new, it’s so important to let students preview the kind of work we will be doing. I copied my TDA, and we looked at one paragraph at a time. I read the paragraph aloud and instructed students to turn, talk, and jot about what they noticed.

The sixth graders were awesome and noticed a lot! After each paragraph we regrouped and I shared what I heard them say in their partnerships, adding in some of the things they did not notice. After examining all of the paragraphs, I showed them the anchor chart to highlight what they would be learning in the next couple weeks.

Tomorrow we begin the real work. As we move forward, I will share what we did and what we noticed. I’m looking forward to taking on the Adventures of TDA with these awesome sixth graders and their teachers and sharing our learning and planning with all of you!