The Three Legged Stool: Intentional Instruction Focuses on Growth and What Students Need

We know the minilesson is the weakest tool. It exposes students to the rigor, but so many of our students are not ready to do this kind of work themselves. This is where small group and conferring comes in. Once students are released to do their independent practice, which should be the majority of their time in workshop, the real meaningful instruction can begin. Because this time is so important, and time is something we cannot increase, we need to be very intentional with our small group and conferring so that students are getting exactly what they need in order to grow as readers and writers.

Planning to be more intentional

Seventh grade teacher, Bridget, has been looking for more ways to be intentional with this time, and so we took the time to create tiered strategy lessons based on the learning progressions.

Based on the preassessment she gave in the beginning of the school year, the majority of her students fell into second grade thinking about theme. They could name a lesson the character learned, identified theme as one word, or missed the mark completely and summarized the story instead.

Preassessment data from one class period

Bridget continued to present theme through the rigor of the minilesson, but knew that that alone was not going to be what students needed. After a couple days modeling how to determine theme using the mentor text, Bridget was ready to pull small groups.

I took the learning progressions and armed with Serravallo’s Reading Strategies Book created tiered strategy lessons beginning with the difference between plot and theme all the way to pushing for deeper more sophisticated themes related to literary devices such as symbolism.

While creating the tiered strategy lessons, I pulled any additional tools and a text we could use to practice so everything was in one spot.

We decided we needed some additional formative data to show us where students were in their thinking about theme at that moment since they had some new exposure in the minilessons and were more than a month past the original preassessment.

We gave students a long post it note with lines and told them we wanted to see where they were in their thinking about theme so we could determine what they needed to move forward. We set the timer for two minutes and had them write down one current theme they were noticing in their independent reading book along with what in the text made them say that. Some really wanted guidance, but we assured them we needed to see what they know, kind of know, or don’t know at all about determining theme.

After two minutes we sent them off to their independent reading work and very quickly sorted the post its. We saw three patterns in each of the classes and decided to sort them accordingly.

  1. Students who left their post it note blank, wrote the definition of theme, or wrote a summary of the plot.
  2. Students who wrote theme as a commonly explored issue, such as belonging or independence.
  3. Students who wrote a theme statement.

Group 1

We looked through the tiered strategy lessons to determine where to begin with each group. For the first group, we introduced a common pitfall of writing a summary about the plot but used the second strategy in the tiered lessons to present to this group.

We used the text from a recent quarterly exam because it was a text they were all familiar with and walked them through the strategy. We encouraged them to use this strategy as they are stopping and jotting while reading their independent book and sent them off to read with a copy of the tool on their menu.

As Bridget continues to meet with this group, she will check in on how they are using the strategy, coach kids within their own reading, and present the next strategy in the progression of tiered lessons. Again she will send them off, but now with two strategies to use to guide their thinking about theme.

What about the lenses?

One question Bridget had took us back to the lenses for close reading. Are students still expected to use the lenses?

The answer is ABSOLUTELY! As you present a strategy, you are guiding students to use a lens, look for patterns, and determine a new understanding. In the case of this first group, we showed them how to look closely at a character’s actions, notice patterns, and use them to determine theme. The next strategy lesson for this group will involve looking closely at conflict to do the same thing!

Group 2

The second group we noticed used one word to determine theme. They were using the tool Commonly Explored Issues in Literature, but they were not getting past that issue. This group needed a strategy that fell later in the progression, which was #6 of the tiered lessons.

Group 3

The final grouping we noticed were students able to write a theme, but the themes were pretty basic in terms of sophistication. We complimented them on their ability to determine theme, but explained that now they had to push themselves to think deeper about theme and determine more sophisticated ones.

We decided to move them to strategy #7 in the progression of tiered lessons in order to push their thinking deeper.

Using recent data

We could have gone with the original data and all but one student would have been starting with the strategy #1 or #2 in the progression of tiered lessons, but by doing a quick check in, we were able to determine six weeks after the preassessment with some on grade level instruction where students were currently sitting in need.

By creating the progression of tiered lessons in advance, teachers have a quick tool to meet any one at any time where they are in their thinking about theme and what the next step should be for each student and/or group.

Some useful tips

Tiered strategies can be clipped together for each skill (in this case determining theme) and even hung on a hook for teachers to have quick and easy access. I was also able to open the lessons in PDF and print multiple on one page using 3×3 in order to have an easy way to have something for creating a menu for students to take back to their seat which I put inside the sheet protector behind each strategy.

Directions for Printing Multiple

Next steps

As we move past our work in the structure of the workshop model, the first leg of the stool, we now need to push ourselves to be more intentional with our time and materials and meet students where they are in order to grow their reading or writing.

If you would like to work on creating tiered lessons in order to implement intentional instruction, let me know how I can help. This work can be done in both reading and writing using the learning progressions and is especially quick when teams work together.

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