Before we move into the nuts and bolts of intentional instruction, it’s important to put to rest some of the common misunderstandings we have that affect our success and that of the students. These misunderstandings can prevent us from truly helping kids grow as readers and writers.
This is a common misunderstanding and as stated in the last post, The Three Legged Stool of the Workshop: Structure, is one of the reasons why the minilesson goes beyond the 7-12 minutes which takes time away from the independent work and small group instruction.
Remember the minilesson is the weakest tool in the shed. It is meant to expose students to the rigor of the work, but for many of your students, they have more foundational work that you need to address during the small group and conferring. By focusing on the mastery of the skills and strategies taught in the minilesson, you will no doubt be frustrated and your students will be too.
The best advice I was ever given by a staff developer at TCRWP is when it comes to the minilesson, get in and get out and if anyone left the miniliesson already mastering the skill, then they came to the minilesson already having that skill mastered! No one should be leaving the meeting area having mastered anything so get in and get out!
When students leave the minilesson they are not necessarily working on the strategy taught in the minilesson. Some students may not have the foundational work in place to be able to use such a rigorous strategy. They may not even be reading a book that lends itself to that work.
If students are in fourth grade, for example, and getting exposed to how characters are complicated, but the preassessment indicates that they are not even able to infer one or more less obvious trait, then they do not have the foundation in place to do the work they observed you do in the minilesson.
Additionally, if they are reading below grade level, the book they are reading is not necessarily going to have characters that are complicated.
We spent a lot of time in professional development on minilessons, and the sessions we read in our Units of Study books are so long that it can make us feel like this is where we need to put all of our time and energy. Again, this is the weakest tool in the shed, so why spend so much time and energy on it? Remember, get in and get out! The most important lesson will be the work you do in small group and conferring. This is where you will meet students where they are and develop a solid foundation.
You can reteach until you’re blue in the face and maybe some kids will grow; however, you will do more by being intentional with your time, meeting kids where they are, and supporting them as they develop the foundational work that needs to be in place to do the really hard on grade level work.
If a fourth grader, for example, is not able to notice one or more less obvious traits, the first thing I’m going to do is teach him to look at what characters do, say, and think and ask, “What does this show me about this character?” On a different day I am going to teach him to pay attention to how a character faces a problem and solves it and ask, “What does this show me about the character?” and these will be the strategies this student is using during the independent practice while reading his book.
As a district we are making a lot of gains in reading when we look at running record and NWEA MAP testing. We have so many more kids reading on or above grade level, and so we think that they can then do the really hard thinking work too. Again, this is why preassessments are so important. They show you where each student is in terms of thinking skills, and while they may be proficient or advanced readers according to running records, they may be below basic in terms of the thinking about reading.
Take a look at the data from this eighth grade class. According to running records, 74% of students in this class are reading on or above what is expected for September. Two data points from the preassessment; however, show that thinking about reading in terms of skills like inferring about character and analyzing theme is more in tune with what is expected in second and third grade. Proficient and advanced readers are reading on grade level, but they need explicit instruction in thinking about reading that goes back to where they are performing now and building the foundation from there.
Using data and the learning progressions to determine needs and how to best meet those needs is a huge part of the work I am doing now with many teachers. I will continue to share this work with you as we grow and learn together. If we can let go of these misconceptions and focus our time and energy where we are going to truly grow kids, we will be on the road to not only seeing kids who are reading on or above grade level, but forming a solid foundation for kids who are thinking on or above grade level too! This work takes all of us, and I’m excited for what the data shows in a few short years as we focus the time we do have on intentional instruction.