Part 1 – Simplifying Small Group Instruction and Conferring with Progressions: Thinking about Character

This year teachers are feeling more than ever the struggle of limited time, but small group and conferring time is such an important piece, so I have been busy at work trying to help teachers to simplify the tools in order to make this important part of the workshop more manageable.

It All Starts with the Learning Progressions

Think of the skill or skills for an upcoming unit that are important. Using a highlighter, highlight the specific things students can do at each level for that skill then make a post it note for each.

from the resources provided with the TCRWP Units of Study for Reading

Then take those post its and place them in order in a notebook, sketchbook, etc. Remember to include the post its for your grade level and what comes before it. Below is using all of the progression, so it would be appropriate for grades 6-8.

This one would be appropriate for grade 4 since it uses the grade 4 descriptor as well as the grades before it.

This way as you pull up alongside a student, you have a menu, in order of complexity, to determine where a student is based on what you may see in current notebook pages and you can quickly determine what is next.

Examples Using Notebook Entries

In this example a student recently has been seeing patterns of the character Wilson being helpful and nice to other people. First, we want to compliment: Looks like you have a theory for your character based on patterns you are noticing. You are also using multiple character traits. What a great start!

Then you can teach: You are already doing so much great thinking, but I want to push you to the next step. People usually do things or act in certain ways for a reason. For example, I might be helpful at home or school because it’s my job as mom and teacher to help, but I might help there and in other places because it makes me feel good about myself, or because I want to be a positive role model, or because it’s the right thing to do. I might even be helpful because I want people to like me. Think about Wilson here. Why do you think he is being helpful and nice?

Then leave the student with the challenge of thinking of Wilson’s motivation in any trait that becomes a pattern.

Above is an eighth grade notebook page. This student is already thinking about motivation behind the pattern for two different characters who don’t have trust. The compliment: Look at the way you not only notice that both Rufus and Matteo have trust issues but you are asking yourself why that might be the case. A next step might be to start looking at hidden sides, or how pressures pull characters into conflicting ways. Show students what this might look like in life or in a mentor text/read aloud then walk them through this thinking in their own book, leaving them to continue to look through this additional lens.

By using the progressions to create a menu of strategies in the order of complexity, you can easily see where a student is right now and push them to what’s next. As always be sure to leave them with a post it to add to their own menu.

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