While balancing the structure of Writing Workshop is often a focus in the the early stages of becoming a workshop teacher, teachers need to next look next to the intention behind their instruction during the independent work time. This is where your strongest tools- conferring and small group instruction- are being used. It is during conferring and small group instruction that we are differentiating instruction and preparing writers to grow their own writing skills and craft because we are teaching them the strategies they need now and can draw from not just in one piece of writing but any time they write.
Think about this time with writers while conferring and pulling small groups as providing the right kind of support for individuals. The skills taught with your own writing in the minilesson are on or even slightly above grade level. It provides opportunities for exposure to higher level skills and rigor. But expecting mastery or even growth from this level for every student is unrealistic. They still need the exposure to the on grade level work and rigor, which is why the minilesson is such a small chunk of time. Once they move to the independent work time, they need differentiated instruction and time to practice and grow from that place. Think about it in terms of weight training. If doing curls with say 25 pound weights is considered “on grade level” does that mean it’s appropriate to hand 25 pound weights to every student and say, “Have at it!” Of course not. Some will need to start with learning form and building up from 5lbs, others, 8lbs, others 10lbs, and some may even need 30lbs. That is the power and beauty of conferring and small group. It is meeting writers where they are and providing the specific instruction they need to grow from that point.
.What does this look like and how do teachers prepare for this work? These two videos focus on bringing intentional instruction to conferring and small groups.
Conferring with Intentional Instruction
Small Group Instruction with Intentional Instruction
While balancing the structure of Reading Workshop is often a focus in the the early stages of becoming a workshop teacher, teachers need to next look next to the intention behind their instruction during the independent work time. This is where your strongest tools- conferring and small group instruction- are being used. It is during conferring and small group instruction that we are differentiating instruction and preparing readers to be independent thinkers because we are teaching them the strategies they need now and can draw from not just in the book they are reading but in any book.
Think about this time with readers while conferring and pulling small groups as providing the right kind of support for individuals. The grappling with skills and text in the minilesson are on or even slightly above grade level. It provides opportunities for exposure to higher level skills and rigor. But expecting mastery or even growth from this level is unrealistic. They still need the exposure to the on grade level work and rigor, which is why the minilesson is such a small chunk of time. Once they move to the independent work time, they need differentiated instruction and time to practice and grow from that place. Think about it in terms of weight training. If doing curls with say 25 pound weights is considered “on grade level” does that mean it’s appropriate to hand 25 pound weights to every student and say, “Have at it!” Of course not. Some will need to start with learning form and building up from 5lbs, others, 8lbs, others 10lbs, and some may even need 30lbs. That is the power and beauty of conferring and small group. It is meeting readers where they are and providing the specific instruction they need to grow from that point.
What does this look like and how do teachers prepare for this work? These two videos focus on bringing intentional instruction to conferring and small groups.
Conferring with Intentional Instruction
For more on conferring, check out the Heinemann Blog for posts written by Jennifer Serravallo and Carl Anderson.
Small Group Instruction with Intentional Instruction
I’ve been working with some middle school students trying to push their thinking about character by using the lenses to look for patterns that help us make more inferences about character. At the time we were watching parts of the movie The Blind Side. As students were examining Michael Oher, the main character, even when looking at patterns through lenses, their thinking about Michael was very obvious.
While students came up with lots of ideas about his character, they just felt confined to the left side of the learning progressions.
While it’s good to notice that Michael is quiet, shy, and lonely the reasoning behind it fell flat for me. He doesn’t have family or friends so he’s lonely. He doesn’t do well in school so he’s quiet. He’s different from everyone at school so he’s shy. I wanted more depth. More of what we see in the 6+ column of the progression, so I started thinking about issues and conflicts. The movie is full of them. He’s a teenage boy whose basic needs are not being met. Needs not being met are often at the the center of issues and conflicts.
I tried to have kids examine what the character really needs, and if the need is being met or not being met, what reaction do we see in the character? It took me back to my kids when they were little and finding the need behind their behavior. One of my children, for example, would become very angry and inconsolable at times. We could have ignored it and hoped it would go away, but the behavior was during times when his world was not predictable. He was a kid who needed order and structure and when that need was not met, he would act out because he didn’t feel safe. So why was Michael really so quiet, shy, and lonely? What need was not being met?
I started playing around with tools to help push this thinking while leaning a bit on some basic Maslow. It helped, but it wasn’t enough.
I consulted with Brandi Hamnett, our SEL Instructional Coach, and she helped me lean on the work of Nonviolent Communication, which is about seeking to understand while building connection and empathy in conflict. This work is not only important as teachers who seek to understand our students without judgement, but for kids to to use in their own relationships as well, and what better way to practice this work than with characters!
I revised the tools, and we got back to work.
Let’s Try This Work…
Watch this short clip. Examine Michael during this conflict with his football coach.
Think to yourself, What does Michael need or value here?
You might have thought he needs connection and in particular to be understood.
His coach does not understand him and gets frustrated and that leads us to ask, “What do you see as a result of the need to be understood not being met?”
Michael reacts to not being understood or having a connection by being confused and overwhelmed. He’s stuck making mistake after mistake.
Then we see Leigh Anne step in. She shows that she understands him and gives him direction that meets this need. After the need is met, what do we notice?
We could look at the conflict between the football coach and Michael and say that in the beginning of the scene Michael is confused and overwhelmed. We see this in the continuous mistakes he makes which only further frustrates his coach. Michael is confused and overwhelmed as the result of his need for being understood not being met. We can infer that Michael doesn’t respond well to criticism. Later, when Leigh Anne, who takes the time to understand Michael, explains to him what he needs to do, we notice a change in Michael. We see his facial expressions changed and his body language relax. He looks more at ease and looks hopeful and encouraged. When he goes back to practice we see his confused actions are changed to confident and powerful ones. We can infer that Michael is someone who needs connection and understanding in order to respond positively.
By really examining why Michael responds the way that he does, we are thinking deeper about his character as he faces conflicts and issues which pushes us to the right side of the learning progressions.
This is really challenging work and needs a lot of modeling and peer discussion in the form of turn and talk. But with persistence, I am seeing that the work is paying off. The inferring about character has grown deeper than the obvious surface level thinking and there is plenty of room to scaffold this work.
I may still tweak the tools as I continue to experiment, but I thought it was worth sharing for the upper elementary and middle school grade levels who might want to experiment with this work as well.
If you try this work with your students, I would love any and all feedback and would be happy to plan with you. Additionally, Brandi Hamnett was a wealth of information on this subject and a valuable asset for all SEL needs. Thank you, Brandi!
In the past I would use some gamification to improve things that were an issue in the classroom. It is not uncommon for middle schoolers to come to class unprepared and struggle with transition time…they are gifted time wasters! I would establish competitions between class periods to battle it out each marking period for the prized donut breakfast with table cloths and everything. Cost me some money, but for me the investment was worth it.
I noticed this year, with my after school Reading Clinic being virtual, that kids were still coming, but I was getting smaller numbers and the active participation was a challenge compared to in-person learning of the past. So, I used two things that I’m pretty good at (patting self on back) and got to work.
First, my kids get a kick out of my over the top reminders and announcements. I enjoy making them…it’s like crafting for me. I post them each day in the Schoology Updates.
Since I was already using my advertising skills and it was working…I started to add in some gamification to help with attendance too…enter Battle of the Teachers!
Each night the kids in clinic were dying to know who was winning, and I would post updates in Schoology. I don’t know who got more competitive, the teachers or the kids! More and more started showing up so their teacher could win bragging rights and a sweet morning treat.
While more and more kids were showing up, we all know that that is not enough. I needed them to be active participants as well, so Battle of the Students was born. Students were given a point for showing up, a point for each thoughtful answer to a question in chat, and two points for posting live on our Jamboard which we used for discussions. The more points you earn, the more entries you get in a drawing at the end of the week for a $10 gift card. Since I always brought snacks to in person sessions (a student favorite) I decided to use the money I normally invested into a variety of gift cards. At the end of the week a name is randomly selected!
The idea of working towards a prize was motivating for sure, but what I noticed was it opened the floodgates to some very thoughtful conversations and chats.
One example from a seventh grade chat they initiated on their own.
In this excerpt from a chat, I asked them to look through a particular lens for our text and they were responding what they were noticing along the way.
These chats and discussions then led to more participation on our Jamboard that opened even more discussion.
I’m still thinking of ways to keep the kids not only coming but engaged and actively participating and will continue to share as I learn, but I wanted you to see how novelty and some competition can help us achieve our goals.
If anyone has some great ideas to share, please do!
Two years ago three of the instructional coaches went to a training at the Bucks County Intermediate Unit that was meant for coaches and leaders to turn around in the district. It was three full days packed with new information and lots of practice pertaining to text dependent analysis (TDA), but we learned so much that we were able to turn around and train small groups of teachers over the course of 3 half days. This post is dedicated to providing asynchronous training and exploration of all things TDA for teachers who are new, have changed grade levels, or just want some refreshers.
As always, I am available to our Bensalem teachers for planning and instructional coaching. In addition to four training videos, I have included some previous blogs that showcase the work I have done in classrooms last year.
Training Session #1 – What is Close Reading?
In this first session we looked at the definition for TDA that was provided by the Department of Education that shows the need for close reading, what that actually is, and how to use a framework for close reading to do the work necessary for analysis as defined.
Using Images…What Does That Look Like in the Classroom?
Training Session #2 – How Does the Framework for Close Reading Work with Fiction?
The second session was spent looking at the challenges of PSSA prompts and how the Close Reading Framework we’ve adopted, as recommended by the Bucks County IU, along with the use of a Close Reading Menu can assist in providing instructional support for teachers and students as they grapple with this challenging work.
Using Short Texts and Even Independent Reading to Model and Practice This Work
Moving from Pictures to Text…Oh My! not only looks at the transition to more challenging texts but the diversity in thinking that must be celebrated so kids know they can make inferences and come to new understandings without the worry of “being right”.
What’s the Deal with All These Sticky Notes shows how the work of close reading can be used within the independent portion of the workshop, but it requires a lot of teacher modeling. I recommend using books from your classroom library as this will serve as double duty and sell books to kids too!
Training Session #3- How Does the Framework for Close Reading Work with Non-Fiction/Informational Text?
Session three was actually a bonus session provided during an in-service day that resulted from many questions asked about how is thinking about nonfiction and informational text different. We used the same framework for close reading but a different close reading menu based on the kinds of elements that pop up in our standards and eligible content as well as our learning progressions and bands of text complexity for reading nonfiction and informational text.
Supporting This Work Across Content Areas
Active Reading Beyond ELA shows that this work can also be practiced in other content areas that use nonfiction and informational text.
Training Session #4 – How Do Learning Progressions for the Units and TDA Inform Instruction?
Learning Progressions are meant to inform instruction and allow for differentiation based on strengths and needs of individual students. This final session took a deep dive into how the learning progressions for our units and for TDA are similarly designed and serve similar purposes. The progressions for TDA are broken down into three underlying components: Reading Comprehension, Analysis, and Essay Writing. Each component addresses specific criteria.
Moving On from Thinking Work to Organization and Essay Writing
As we learn and grow in our practice, more may be added to this post. It is certainly not meant to be tackled all in one sitting. During the actual trainings, teachers left each session with tools and homework to practice the work back in the classroom before returning for the next session. I recommend that this post be used in a similar way. Watch each video, explore some of the supporting resources under it, and try the work out in your classroom before moving onto the next video. If there is something specific you would like to see more of, leave a comment or shoot me an email. And as always, I am here to support Bensalem teachers.
I recently attended a webinar with the Aim Institute for Learning and Research. Having attended several professional development opportunities in the teaching of vocabulary, this one was packed with researched activities that teach vocabulary in the context of what we do.
Why Is Teaching Vocabulary Important?
According to research, vocabulary is a strong predictor of reading comprehension. For those who teach ELA, let me present Scarborough’s Reading Rope. There is so much that goes into skilled reading, but the endgame is for readers to not only comprehend but make meaning. Each strand works toward this.
If one strand becomes frayed it will have an impact on the end game. The depth, breadth, and fluency of vocabulary interacts with other strands including academic vocabulary. This is where ELA meets content area teachers. Through direct instruction across content areas, students can access 300-400 words each year, but what they need to acquire in order to be successful is 2500-3000 words each year!
Direct instruction refers to systematic and intentional instruction within any curriculum. The remainder of the words needed each year will come from the use of intentional independent word-learning strategies that also require direct instruction as well as indirect language experiences met through teacher and student talk, read aloud, and the structured independent reading already achieved in a reading and writing workshop.
The strategies included in this writing lend themselves to intentional instruction that can be used in any subject area and aid in the acquisition of 300-400 words each year.
Word Choice Approaches
There are three approaches to choosing words. When word lists are not already provided, we can fall on the tiered approach and the guidelines.
One way to use the guidelines is to utilize a shared text such as a mentor text, read aloud, or vocabulary for a particular content area unit.
Once you have a list, it’s best to start with a kid-friendly way to preview the words. Jamboard is a great tool for students to use when previewing vocabulary words in a virtual setting. Jamboard is an interactive whiteboard and part of G Suit. Students move each word to the appropriate category. Stranger words are words the students never heard of before; acquaintance words students have heard of but don’t know what they mean; friend words are words the students know; and BFF words are words the students not only know but uses regularly in speaking and writing.
Once students are able to provide a baseline by rating their familiarity or knowledge of each word, the systematic direct instruction can begin through work with word meaning and relationships that use visuals as well as repetition.
One activity to teach definitions and provide opportunities for visuals and repetition is to use a four-square. This does not need to be done for every word, but might be a good idea for those words that are strangers or acquaintances thus providing differentiation.
This can also be done in a Jamboard using the add text and add image tools. What is great about Jamboard is that the tools are very limited which allows the focus to be more on the word work and less on the many bells and whistles a student would need to navigate through in other applications.
Using Semantic Relationships and Connections
Students can continue to experience opportunities for visuals and repetition while exploring relationships and connections.
Once again Jamboard is a great no-frills tool for students to make associations and utilize visuals.
An added bonus would be for student to justify their choices verbally through Zoom breakout rooms or in writing.
Another way to explore relationships and connections is through scaling/semantic gradients. This is similar to the shades of meaning we often use in reading a writing.
Using Jamboard students can move synonyms for overused antonyms (fast/slow) onto the gradient in the order of intensity according to them.
Students can also justify verbally or in writing why they chose the order that they did.
Sentences from the text can be pulled for students to illustrate what they visualize in order to make meaning.
Word walls are another way to visualize using the parts of speech.
Speaking and Writing
While speaking and writing can be used throughout it can be the activity as well. In the virtual setting students can use tools such as Screencastify, Loom, Flipgrid, etc. to explain their thinking or can continue to use live discussion using breakout rooms in Zoom.
In this activity words and pictures are added to the Jamboard for students to match before explaining their reasoning.
Reasoning can also be shared in writing.
There may be multiple interpretations so like many things there is not always one right answer.
Where to Start
Start with a text that you are using as a mentor text, read aloud, or shared reading. Pull the words that you would like to have students explore and begin with the preview to determine the needs. From there you can create many opportunities for students to visualize and learn through repetition.
Just remember that whatever you do, provide opportunities for students to think, speak, and write. If they can think it, they can talk about it, and if they can talk about it, they can write it. The more they think, speak, and write, the better the chances for the acquisition of vocabulary and less opportunity for that essential strand to fray.
There is a great Facebook page with lots of how to ideas and troubleshooting for any subject area. It’s call “Teachers Using JAMBOARDS.”
Like anything else in the classroom, you will need to begin using Jamboards by laying down the ground rules and establishing norms. This could even be it’s own partner or small group activity. One of the complaints is the scribbling some students will want to do. It might be a good idea to give them a minute to get the scribbling out of their system on a blank frame or incorporate drawing at times.
There are lots of great ways to use Jamboards for the whole class, small groups, and even partnership collaboration.
One place to use Jamboards is for a student check-in. Whether it’s to check-in on emotional state, check for understanding, or simply to get a pulse on student thinking, Jamboard is a quick way to get the info you need.
Share Thinking About Read Alouds or Content Area Texts
Jamboards can be used to share thinking and collaborate using a common text. Again this can be worked on as a whole class, in small groups, or partnerships.
Differentiate Based on Choice
What starts off as a whole class stop and jot can quickly be used to determine most popular responses to move students to a smaller discussion based on their thinking.
Notice, Wreck-It, and Imitate Mentor Sentences
Mentor sentences are most useful when students can share their thinking and build on ideas with peers. Jamboard can provide that platform to zoom in on what authors do, deconstruct it to see exactly what the author did, and imitate it before going off to use it in their own writing.
Annotate Text (Small Group or Partnerships)
The beginning of a unit is generally a great place to look at a type of text and notice what authors do when writing. Before writing an informational writing or a realistic fiction piece, readers can study a mentor text for the moves authors make when crafting this type of text.
Strategy Lessons and Guided Practice
Any strategy in The Reading Strategies Book or The Writing Strategies Book can be turned into a Jamboard for a small group collaborative space for guided practice with you.
Small Group Progression Lessons
Progressions can also be posted for students to evaluate themselves and determine their next steps or to examine a particular progression in a mentor text.
As we transition to a hybrid model, we need to consider one of the necessary interactions that could be missing from our instruction. The student-to-student interaction often done through turn and talk and partnerships was a huge part of our instructional practice prior to March 2020, but it may have gotten lost as we were thrown so quickly into remote instruction.
How Do We Bring It Back?
Students who are in person can still turn and talk even though we will be 3-6 feet apart. It will just be much louder, but what about those at home or when the discussion is too complicated for such distance?
The Slow Chat
There is the option of the slow chat which is a discussion in the learning platform (Schoology for secondary teachers and Google Classroom for elementary). A discussion question can be posted and students can respond, read the responses of others and respond to them as well. This is called a slow chat for a reason. It’s not the quickest of turn and talks, but it does provide the student-to-student interaction that is crucial in learning.
The breakout room feature in Zoom is a great way to incorporate the student-to-student interaction that is a quicker than the slow chat. During synchronous instruction, those who are in the Zoom can be put into breakout rooms with a partner for a quick turn and talk opportunity while those in class can physically turn and talk.
Another option is Jamboard which is a Google App and collaborative whiteboard space.
A Jamboard can be worked on by an entire class or slides can be assigned to partnerships. Here’s a video that shows the basics of getting started.
More information and ideas to come using Jamboard!
As a parent, teacher, and instructional coach, I am saddened by the turn education has taken in a few short months. Frustration and anxiety are at an all time high for teachers, students, and parents. Many of us are just trying to survive on a daily basis. As teachers so much of this is outside of our control. We certainly are not responsible for the pandemic or the decisions districts make to keep our communities safe, but we are responsible for committing to best practice. In the last two months I have personally seen so many great teachers rise to the occasion, learn new and innovative ways to deliver instruction, and continue to hold close the fundamentals of best practice in reading and writing workshop. As we move toward a new hybrid model, I encourage everyone to do the same. The simplicity of it may be just what we need as we enter another new chapter that no doubt feels overwhelming.
The fundamentals of reading and writing workshop never change no matter the model– synchronous, asynchronous, full remote, hybrid, or 100% in person, but they do need to be reimagined.
In a hybrid, synchronous model, the minilesson is still mini. Whether you use the UOS virtual learning videos or give the minilesson yourself, a minilesson will fall somewhere in the 7-12 minute range, build an anchor chart, and include explicit modeling and even some guided practice.
In the hybrid model, one cohort in in the classroom receiving the instruction in person. The other cohort is in the Zoom where you may be sharing your screen.
So far we’ve done this…
Today, I’m going to teach you this…and model what that looks like using the mentor text or read aloud.
But What About Guided Practice and Turn and Talk?
To keep students actively engaged in minilessons we utilize brief moments to turn and talk about our own thinking. In this particular lesson, I am thinking about the characters in my read aloud and I need to determine who has the least to greatest amount of power before I can model my thinking about how a character responds to power. I might in a normal classroom say, “Here are the characters we’ve learned about so far. Turn and talk about the order you might put them in from greatest amount of power to least and what makes you say that.” But how does that work for the students at home? How does that work in the classroom with 6 feet of distance between turn and talk partner?
Well, it could be a turn and shout. Or it could be everyone at home is put into a breakout room for one minute with a partner to discuss while we turn and shout in the classroom. But something tells me that won’t be preferable to some. Maybe instead my in class students have white boards they can write on then turn and show. Turn and talk might instead be in the classroom, “Partner A – write down who you think has the greatest amount of power so far and why. Partner B – write down who has the least so far and why?” and after one minute they turn and show their thinking. The cohort at home can still use the breakout room to chat or you might say to those at home, “Jot your thinking in the chat”. After the minute you can share some thinking from the chat and the whiteboards you can see to avoid the close contact of the typical eavesdropping. If this is a system you use daily, it will be clunky at first in the beginning, but like everything else will smooth out as you and students become familiar with the procedure.
Now I’m ready to model how to think deeply about dystopian characters by using the next strategy of thinking about how characters respond in different ways to power. I might model my thinking for how Luke responds to power and provide more guided practice. I might send students back to the chat box or to the breakout room to discuss a different character while my in person students return to their whiteboard.
Even though students can’t lean in and discuss, it does not mean we abandon such an important practice. Utilize whiteboards, a piece of paper even, the chat box, and the breakout rooms so students can still participate in guided practice and conversation that is so essential for growing readers and writers. As you reimagine a practice, it will be clumsy at first for both you and kids, but when it becomes a part of what you do daily, it will quickly become second nature, much like the words, “turn and talk” do within a week of it being a norm in your typical classroom.
Once the minilesson is complete, we will continue to provide the sacred time of reading and writing independently. We will remind them of the kind of work they can do today by referring to their anchor chart and send them off.
If I have the ability to use multiple devices I might keep a timer going on one or set a timer on my phone to keep track. I live by my timers, and they can help some kids with time management and keeping focused. They can even be added inside student notebooks for students by inserting a video!
But What About Small Group and Conferring?
The minilesson exposes students to the rigor, but the real magic happens in small group and conferring. This is time where you are using your best tools in the shed to grow readers and writers. We may not have our small group table since furniture has been removed from classrooms to space student desks six feet apart, and we may not feel comfortable sitting along side a student to properly confer, but that does not mean we abandon our best tools! Much like turn and talk and guided practice, we need to reimagine what this will look like. This might look different from room to room depending on just how many actual students are in the room, but keeping six feet apart and trying to run a small group in person could be a challenge. The volume of your projected voice alone would be a distraction to the independent readers and writers in the room. What I might do instead is pull small groups from the cohort that is working from home into a breakout room. I’d let those in the classroom and at home know that during the independent reading and writing time, I will be pulling certain students at home into a breakout room. From there I will work on what kids need based on data from running records, performance assessments, and what I am seeing in reader’s and writer’s notebooks. I have the ability to open any students notebook if it is a digital one and confer — compliment, teach (what does this student need next?), send off to practice. This time is so incredibly sacred as it provides the differentiation for students and allows relationships to be built. This time cannot be put on the back burner.
A lot of times the last 5 minutes of reading workshop is a time to write fast and furious about what we noticed and our thinking. This doesn’t change in a hybrid setting. What may change is the share time. I may even use this 5 minutes to do my own writing based on the mentor text, read aloud, or my own independent reading.
Since we may not be able to end the class every day with turning and talking about what we worked on, we can at the very least utilize Zoom for those at home in the final minutes. We can use the breakout rooms to partner up students to talk about what they worked on today, what they noticed, and what it made them think. In writing, they might talk about what they worked on today, how it worked for them, and what they still need to do.
Avoid the Pitfalls
Instead of trying out every single digital tool that’s being thrown out there, choose maybe one or two and get good by doing them. I am a super simple online teacher. I use my slides, digital notebooks, and features in zoom like chat and breakout rooms. Even my notebooks are simple, much like the composition books I used in the classroom for years. I include the anchor chart right on the page for easy access for students, maybe some post its depending on the unit, and rubrics or guides when and as needed.
2. Avoid the scavenger hunt. Teachers don’t mean to do it, but this one I learned while trying to help my own children. If there are too many directions, too many links, too many things to open and try to find, it is exhausting and even I start to shut down. That is why I love the digital notebook and putting everything they need in one spot.
3. Not everything needs to be done through a screen. The independent time in reading, for example, is a solid 30+ minutes (unless the child is pulled for a small group that day) to read a book. Synchronous instruction for those in the remote cohort are not watching and listening to you all period. They are getting the minilesson and doing the independent practice. Avoid returning to an entire period of the sage on the stage. It was not best practice before and it’s not now either.
In other words…keep it simple. Consistency and the basics will be your friend now more than ever!
How Have YOU been Reimagining the Workshop?
I would love to hear your ideas. Comment here or shoot me an email. We are all in this together and can benefit from the thinking of our colleagues,
In order for any assessment to be of value, it’s important to know what you are looking for and make sure the tool and protocol match. The approach is meant to be from a place of inquiry not inquisition. It’s a time to get to know readers and their reading behaviors.
If a fourth grade student, for example, is retelling and summarizes by telling about every single event and detail from beginning to end, teachers can make note that this is a student who could benefit from some small group or conferring work using a strategy that focuses on characters, setting, what’s most important in the beginning, then the middle, and the end.
By noticing reading behaviors and matching them with the Learning Progressions, teachers can map out a plan for individuals and small groups in order to differentiate instruction. Once the student is able to show growth using this strategy then look for what’s next in terms of complexity to teach.
In the above case, the next teaching point will add problem, solution, and lesson learned. I might use this strategy and tweak it to add a component for what the character learned from the problem or the solution before moving into the next teaching point found in the learning progressions.
Above we see the next step emphasizes retelling using a cause and effect or problem and solution structure with more nuanced work in theme. At this point I might also refer to the Learning Progressions for theme.
While studying the reader during the running record, you might notice a pattern in the types of words that are mispronounced or a struggle. Maybe you notice a pattern of stumbling over multi syllable words. That can then be a note for what this student needs next to be successful and look for a strategy to use to support this reader.
Behaviors during a running record can provide so much information. It might indicate what could be getting in the way of comprehension. Maybe the student can only remember that last part read and focuses on that as the retelling. While making training videos for running records several years ago, I found that my own child went back and reread the first sentence in each paragraph to retell. Somewhere along the way he learned the first sentence makes the main point for a paragraph, but does that work outside of informational texts? This was a behavior worth noting to determine what he needed for a narrative text.
Take Note of What’s Next to Prepare and Support Readers
If we give running records in order to merely check a box that we have completed them each testing period, then it’s possible we don’t see their value.
Running records provide a snapshot into a student’s approximate reading comprehension and the the information we gather from it informs us of the work required in their just right reading zone as well as into a more complex reading zone, what comes next.
A student who is reading within a band of O/P/Q who is ready or soon to be ready for R may need some support with something like keeping track of long strings of unassigned dialogue and being able to infer story action in these parts.
A student who is reading within a band of S/T/U who is ready or soon to be ready for V may need some different supports including switching settings, flashbacks, and words used figuratively that could pose a challenge.
With that said, students may choose to read a text that is considered outside of their just right reading zone because maybe, for example, it’s historical fiction and they love to read historical fiction and have a lot of background knowledge in the time period and events of the the setting. It’s okay to read within a band of text complexity or even stretch themselves with a book outside their just right zone, but knowing where they are in their most recent snapshot to determine the kind of support they may need, maybe support with multiple plot lines or quick perspective changes, would be a valuable tool.
It’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of stop, drop, and test–checking off a box 5 times a year. However, using running records to examine reading behaviors and inform teaching practices in order to differentiate instruction and meet individual and small group needs is the point of running records. And that information, approached from a place of inquiry, can provide the most valuable data that can grow readers.