Moving from Pictures to Text…Oh My!

Why do the images work so well and then when we present a text, we feel like we can’t get past the blank stares? Images are a great way to practice using the strategy for analysis with something relatively easier. Until the strategy feels comfortable, we may need to use a lot of pictures. After modeling and doing a couple with guided practice, continue to use the pictures at transition times while encouraging partners to talk it out. I’ve modeled with a few different images, but this has been a fun go to recently.

After modeling, I guide students through the process one step at a time, but relying on them to do the heavy lifting with their turn and talk partner. This image has been great for differentiating between evidence I notice and inferences I’m making (buckets). For example, as students turn and talk, if I hear in step one, “I notice a protest,” I will ask them to show me how they know. They will inevitably point to the signs, the gathering of people, the megaphone, the hashtags, and the open mouths. I will congratulate them for already noticing a pattern/bucket and they can jot that down, but they need to list everything they can explicitly and not implicitly see. The same goes for, “I notice a city.”

Students need so many opportunities like this when the stakes are lower to practice using the strategy. Once you take the time to model and do a couple guided practices, you can use these in shorter periods of time for students to talk through because they need to be able to talk through them to reinforce the skill but to build on ideas. Then when you send them off to do their independent reading, encourage them to pay attention to what they notice while reading and what patterns they may be seeing. Maybe they notice a series of character actions. I might think of Dallas Winston in The Outsiders, for example, and notice how each action is rude and vulgar in a particular chapter. I might think, what can this pattern show me? Well, maybe I can make a theory about the kind of person Dallas is. Dallas is the kind of person who pushes people away because he’s afraid he won’t be accepted or deserving of a real friendship or maybe it’s to make himself feel more powerful over others because he doesn’t feel very powerful inside. I might start to think about how this pattern of actions speaks to the theme. Maybe the author is using a series of rude and vulgar character actions to show the reader that people who don’t feel confident may push those around them away before they can be rejected. We can learn that what we see on the outside are the effects of the hurt that is on the inside.

We want to encourage students to use the strategy while they read and think deeper than the summary of what’s happening, and we have to model using this strategy as much as possible too. You can use your real-alouds to model too!

Moving to Texts

When I started revisiting classrooms after they had some time with images, I didn’t bring a long, giant text with me. I brought something super short yet meaty.

from The House on Mango Street

I read paragraph one aloud and asked them to turn and talk about what they thought it was about. I walked around and heard the same thing over and over again. It’s about what kind of hair people in this family have. What a perfect moment to encourage kids to break it down and think deeper because it’s about so much more than hair. I started thinking aloud about paragraph one and breaking it down more and more right in front of them.

I showed them what I noticed and how I was seeing patterns of descriptions and comparisons using figurative language. By looking closely at the figurative language I discovered that maybe it wasn’t the hair that was being described but the personality of each family member in paragraph one. I then ask myself, what does the author want me to know, think, feel, or believe about this? to think about theme.

After modeling, I read the second paragraph aloud and gave some turn and talk time to get, “Her hair smells like bread!!!!” out of their system. Then using the strategy kids noticed a lot, saw many different patterns, and came to new understandings.

Like the images, kids need many opportunities with texts to use the strategy and to have time to talk through it with a turn and talk partner. They can use their independent reading book, but another idea is to share excerpts from time to time that they can zoom in, look for patterns, and come to new understandings. This may be another way to share a book from the classroom library shelves. Let’s look close at a key scene in Ghost by Jason Reynolds, for example. Not only a great way to practice but to advertise a book!

Some Important Shout Outs!

I love going into classes and learning from kids as much as they learn from me. That’s why talking it out regularly is so important…we learn and grow from the perspectives of everyone around us!

When analyzing this image, I had a discussion with a group of sixth grade boys at Belmont Hills Elementary who noticed the repetition of orange, black, and white. They were wondering aloud if the colors represented the colors of prison jumpsuits and how that may relate to the message. I found that thinking pretty fascinating. Way to think beyond the literal!

When a partnership in sixth grade at Cornwells Elementary saw the pattern of the same colors, they didn’t know what to make of it. I told them about the discussion the boys at Belmont had. Another partnership overheard and shared they too saw the pattern, but they were thinking the colors represented the school colors of a recent school that faced gun violence and the protesters were using those school colors to show support.

A fourth grade class at Rush Elementary pointed out to me that the first paragraph was all about everyone in the family except mom. They all shared that one paragraph, but Mom had an entire, and even longer, paragraph all to herself showing the reader that Mom is the central and most important person. They noticed the author’s use of the structure to share a message!

Back at Cornwells Elementary, two fifth grade girls were discussing the second paragraph about mom and how maybe mom was not necessarily a person who is the comforting, nurturing, and safe person we need, but a place. A metaphor for the place we feel most safe and secure and how everyone needs that. WOW!

If you have great work, you’d like to share or would like support, you know where to find me. A special thank you to the amazing kids who have been teaching me in the last couple weeks!

Listen, Learn, Trust, and Expect

While planning for an after school reading clinic I do twice a week with some middle schoolers, I stumbled across a Ted Talk given by an inspiring young girl named Adora Svitak. While I watched it and took notes so that I could use it for a mentor text to show how I would use a strategy to help determine central idea, I discovered that this young lady was speaking to me…to all of us who teach!

Some quotes that stood out to me…

Learning between grown ups and kids should be reciprocal. The reality, unfortunately, is a little different, and it has a lot to do with trust, or a lack of it.

Adora Svitak

Now, what’s even worse than restriction is that adults often underestimate kids abilities. We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them. 

Adora Svitak

No matter your position or place in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children so that we can grow up to blow you away.

Adora Svitak

I have definitely learned from many years in the classroom that I don’t have all the answers, and in my role as instructional coach, I have learned just how important it is to admit that I am not the expert. For me, the more I’ve embraced this thinking, the more effective I have felt as an educator.

I learn from adults and kids every single day.

But something I’ve noticed when I have been modeling for teachers is that fourth grade has some really awesome ideas, and they are not afraid to explore them. My experience is as I model for grade levels above fourth grade, the students become less and less apt to share their thinking or even to explore it. It’s like they are afraid to be wrong. That self doubt that Adora Svitak speaks about of adults seems to start creeping in and by seventh and eighth grade it becomes stifling.

As self doubt creeps in I wonder if as teachers we begin to scaffold more and more thinking they can’t think deeply. But what if the scaffolding is causing more problems because we begin to expect less and take on more responsibility than the kids?

In my position where I work with so many grade levels in one day, it’s interesting how that same text can feel too hard for older grades.

Recently it feels like everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from fourth grade, and I make a huge deal out of that because it IS a huge deal and it needs to be celebrated. But every time you learn something from a student, I encourage you to make it the biggest deal.

I encourage you to not always go into every lesson having all the answers or worse all the “right” answers. I encourage you to provide opportunity after opportunity to learn from your kids and trust them to do that. I encourage you to raise the expectations and stop looking at them with a “They can’t do this” mindset because if that’s what you believe, that is what you will get from them.

I wish everyone had the opportunity to teach lower grade levels to see just how brilliant they are before the need to be right or fear of being wrong takes over. It would completely change how you approach your students.

And it was a child who reminded me of what deep down I already knew but sometimes can forget: listen, learn, trust and expect.

A Close Look at Why We Teach Analysis

Ask any student what analysis is and why we do it, and the responses are pretty telling. I know this because I’ve been doing just that lately. Asking kids.

Kids seem to think that analysis is just a school thing that we have to be able to do on the state testing, but outside of school, it’s not important. My conversations with kids have been makeing me wonder. We complain that kids don’t see value in the state testing, but do we take the time to communicate what analysis is, why it’s important, and what can be analyzed?

I think these are questions we need to ask ourselves and get state testing out of the forefront. State testing is a reality, and sadly is used to determine teacher effectiveness, but it should not be the primary reason we approach this work with kids.

I do not believe analysis is something we hurry up and teach kids before a test. In my mind, it’s a spiraling concept that helps us to understand something deeply. It takes us from getting the gist of something to breaking it down and looking at all the pieces to see how all of the moving parts create a new and deeper understanding.

That was pretty heavy! But think about it…anything could be analyzed and it’s all around us.

When people talk on social media or in the faculty room about the current season of say Game of Thrones. They are breaking it down and coming to new and deeper understandings. They talk about how the writers use things like symbolism and foreshadowing that encourages them to go back and re-watch previous seasons for a closer look. That’s analysis.

When all of America was shocked when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, viewers looked back to figure out how the coaching staff’s decisions and the plays that were used brought the underdogs to victory. That’s analysis.

When we look at our students or even our own children and ask ourselves, why is she behaving this way? What is the root cause? What patterns are we seeing that lead to this behavior or outcome? That’s analysis.

When the latest installment of Star Wars was released in theaters, blogs and articles were immediately shared about how this movie was written and if it lived up to the story originally created by George Lucas.

When I watch reality tv and especially my guilty pleasure, The Real Housewives, which my husband refers to as “The Screaming Show” I immediately go on social media after to see how others have analyzed and interpreted the big dramatic moment and how editing is used to twist and confuse perspectives.

A few things stand out to me in all of my thinking recently about analysis.

  1. Analysis is not easy — It’s is not cut and dry. It can’t be taught in a quick activity or in one essay nor can it be a weekly essay assigned, which is what my own daughter experienced last year. It’s something that should be constantly spiraling in what we do.
  2. Analysis is social — In real life we talk out our thinking whether it be after watching a sporting event, movie, or a decision that was made at work, we often talk about our thinking and dive deeper with people.
  3. Analysis is not about what happened so much as it’s about how and why it did — It’s about looking closely and coming to a new conclusion or a deeper understanding. It’s the act of not accepting something at face value.
  4. Analysis needs to be modeled and modeled and modeled some more — The more you model, the more you put in the work, because it is work, the more you will see how you can scaffold the work for kids and determine what they need and next steps. Kids also need to see that it is a struggle for you too. Analysis doesn’t just magically happen. It takes time and a lot of thinking!
  5. There is not one answer when it comes to analysis — What I love so much that continues to prove why it is a social act is how much I learn and notice when hearing other perspectives. On more than one occasion I have been blown away by what others notice that I did not see myself. Just last week Mrs. Barats’s fourth grade class at Rush noticed how a text we were looking closely at was structured. My mind was blown. It was a brilliant way to look at what the text was really about that I did not see myself!

I will be sharing some work I’ve been doing recently with teachers around analysis and look forward to learning from my own work as well as the work of some really awesome students and teachers! But if you have not taken the time to really look at why analysis is important aside from state testing, I encourage you to analyze the way you go about this work with kids and how your work does or does not grow deep thinkers who have solid understandings…because, in my honest opinion, that is what is most important.

TDA: Students Take on the Images

This is a great time of year to work in a lot of analysis work using images so students have lots of opportunities to talk and talk and talk!

I’ve been visiting some great fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classrooms this week and love the excitement kids get when doing this work. They don’t even realize they are working and the engagement has been incredible.

Here’s the gist of what I’ve been doing to model for teachers using their own students. Sometime after break I will revisit these classrooms and begin using lenses for close reading and texts, but in the meantime these teachers will be trying lots of image work with them.

The Modeling

Teaching Point + Strategy

Today I am going to teach you that readers come to new understandings when reading by looking closely for patterns. Watch me while I read this image by looking closely at the details I notice, the patterns I see, and then ask myself, “What so these patterns show?”

Active Engagement

Students work in partnerships not groups. Students are more actively engaged and on task when working closely with a shoulder partner. This time is just as quick paced as the modeling. I use timers, model fast and furious, and expect students to work fast and furious as well. The active engagement was not longer than 6 minutes and could have been condensed.

Invitation to Practice Independently

Students were invited to try this work in their independent reading books. Whether they use post-its or a readers notebook, they are encouraged to stop and jot what they notice while reading and identify patterns. Then they can do some deep thinking work and ask themselves what the patterns show.

The work that students did today included what they noticed about the lenses of repetition, setting, and even tone. When they noticed patterns they were able to discuss different aspects of the image including central idea/theme, the author’s purpose, and the effect it had on the reader.

After the break we will move from pictures to short texts, but in the meantime, students will have lots of opportunities to practice with images with a partner, try the work in their independent reading, and receive specific lenses in small group and conferring to notice.

Everyone can try this work! This image for Juicy Couture was a fun one to try with sixth graders.

Click here and try as many as you can!

Let me know if you would like support too!

TDA: Starting with Images

Last year we had a pretty intensive training on text dependent analysis for ELA teachers in fourth through eighth grade. One of the things we learned in the training were the three steps to get to analysis that helped us focus on the craft of the author. Often we want to start with the big idea and ask something like, “What’s the theme and what in the text makes you say that?” While we have been doing this move for a long time, it does not encourage close examination of craft and intentional moves an author may have taken to push a particular message through.

The anchor chart

Instead of starting at the bottom and determining a new understanding such as character traits, theme, effect on reader, central idea, and author’s purpose, we start at the top and teach readers to pay attention by asking what do you notice? What do you explicitly see?

Once we have noticed a lot, we want to look and see if there are any patterns. When it comes to patterns, we are thinking about buckets. What do we notice that could all go into one bucket, and what would we call that bucket?

After seeing a pattern or even multiple patterns, we want to look at those patterns and determine a new understanding. If we are looking for theme, for example, we may ask, “Based on the bucket(s) and what’s inside, what does the author want us to know, think, feel, or believe? What message(s) is the author pushing through?”

Analysis takes a lot of practice and scaffolding!

Before kids can write, they need lots and lots of opportunities to discuss with partners. Analysis is hard stuff so many times we can use images to get us going. Jackie, a sixth grade teacher at Rush, showed me what she was using and I LOVED the idea. During the training we shared lots of images from a series by the New York Times called, “A Picture a Day”. Jackie decided to also incorporate advertisements including this one below.

I decided to try one out myself. Look at this add for Camel Lights.

You could model using one and then provide some guided practice with another. I might have turn and talk partners try this one next as they are guided through step 1, then 2, then 3.

How one teacher supported students

Jackie noticed her students were struggling with noticing patterns, and so she created a scaffold which she will soon take away just to give them a nudge. She gave them some possible buckets to fill for the Heinz Ketchup advertisement and now that they have had some experience, she will have students determine the patterns they are seeing moving forward.

Jackie’s sixth graders then wrote their thinking while supporting their ideas with specific moves the author/artist made. The student example below proves her thinking by including how the author/artist used color, words, and even formatting.

If this is all new to you or you haven’t gotten your feet wet with this process, click here to use some of the pictures we’ve compiled and try it out yourself!

And if you would like some modeling with your students or simply would like to plan with your current unit, you know where to find me!

One rule of caution! There is not one “right” answer and there can be different patterns noticed. We want to celebrate and push for individual thinking.

Coming Soon!

Once you get your feet wet with the images, I will share out the use of the lenses to look through while reading.

Notebook Status Report

Independent reading is not just about reading for pleasure. We are teaching students to read actively and push their thinking beyond being able to summarize and retell.

Recently, I tried something I have never done before. I used one of the books in the classroom library to read, stop and jot, and write in my notebook. I highly encourage everyone to try this work.

I found several benefits to doing this work as though I were a student and kids loved seeing my progress and the possibilities of writing about reading.

I used it time and time again in conferences and during minilessons to show my process for how I was writing about my thinking and not summarizing.

It also helped me to better understand what kids may need to be successful and how the notebook could be used to track thinking in order to write about deeper meanings.

As I read, I would stop and jot along the way, placing the post-its in my book. At the end of each reading, I took 5-10 minutes (no more than 10 minutes!) to look over my post-its and choose a pattern I was noticing and what new understanding I was having as a result of noticing the pattern.

When I finished reading, I found myself jotting big ideas that I could see throughout the book and in my notes.

By doing the work myself, it gave me some new insight about what I want to see students doing which is to read actively in order to think deeper about reading. I noticed how I could better support them and could model how I push myself to think beyond the events. Essentially I am using various lenses, looking for patterns, and coming to a new understanding while modeling for students how to do the same. This needs to be modeled, practiced, and discussed with reading partners regularly.

Analysis is HARD! It needs to be modeled regularly, part of the every day practice, and discussed in partnerships often. It’s not a matter of stop everything and analyze for a few days. It’s not a one and done.. It’s not a sometimes. It’s a daily practice! By doing your own notebook work, you will be able to determine just how challenging this work is and what students may need to be more successful.

One of the great benefits I’ve noticed of using a reader’s notebook instead of separate pages, packets, or worksheets is it becomes a tool and truly promotes real thinking and writing about reading. It shows teachers over time how students are progressing and what they may need to grow. It’s a basic yet mighty tool for both teachers and students.

Fourth grade teacher, Michelle, has started doing this work with her kids and writing about her thinking while reading in front of kids. She modeled the pattern she noticed by looking closely at what characters do and say to think deeper about the character and encouraged her students to do similar work during independent reading.

I’ll leave you with two more examples of tracking thinking in front of students. I recently visited Diane’s eighth grade and Bridget’s seventh grade classrooms and found that both were using chart paper to model for students their own thinking while reading their independent books Girl in Pieces and The Cellar.

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.

The Three Legged Stool of the Workshop: Preparing for Intentional Instruction by Clearing Up Some Common Misunderstandings

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.

The Three Legged Stool of the Workshop: Structure

For several years we have been working hard to roll out and refine the Structure of the workshop model, but Structure is only one leg of the workshop stool. I am currently doing a lot of work with teachers around the other two legs of the stool and will be sharing more about this work throughout the year as we grow our practice as workshop teachers.

For those who are new or need a refresher, the Structure of the workshop model is the first we learn and the first we roll out because without this leg firmly in place, adding the other two legs can get tricky.

The Structure of the workshop is pretty consistent and allows students to know what to expect so they can be independent and successful.

Minilesson (7-12 minutes)

It is imperative that the minilesson is kept tight. Many teachers fall into the trap of making sure students have mastered the skill/strategy taught in the minilesson. However, the skill/strategy taught in the minilesson is meant to expose students to the rigor. It is known as the weakest tool in the shed, so by spending too much time on the minilesson you will be at risk of losing students through frustration, minimizing independent practice, and taking time from small group and conferring, which are your strongest tools…so keep it tight!

If you feel you are spending too much time on the minilesson, talk to your kids about it. Let them know that you are working to keep to the 7-12 minute lesson because it’s so important that they get to the real work in their independent reading books and have time for small groups and conferring. Set a timer and reflect on the parts that are eating up your time.

Common Time Eaters!

  1. One common time eater is not having a routine. If students are not joining you in the meeting area with the correct materials in a quick way, that is something to teach and practice for sure!
  2. The biggest time eater is calling on students. By cold calling on students, teachers don’t necessarily know what they are going to say or if it’s going to move the lesson in the right direction. And of course kids don’t always get right to the point so again more time wasted. If you find yourself asking a question and then looking for hands, STOP and tell kids to turn and talk. Give about 20-30 seconds, always interrupting their conversation and share what you heard from students, even if someone didn’t necessarily say it. Trust me, they won’t ask!

Independent Time (the majority of the time)

This is when students are reading within a band of “just right” to practice reading and thinking about what they’re reading. They may try to use the strategies taught in the minilessons; however, more often they are practicing strategies you have taught in conferring and small group based on what they need. More about what they need will be addressed in the second leg of the workshop stool – Intentional Instruction.

Common Time Eaters!

  1. One common time eater is not having a plan. Before students leave the meeting area, have them turn and talk about the work they are doing in their book.
  2. Another time eater is the routine. There should be a routine for quickly and quietly getting to their independent spots with all of the materials they need. Again if students don’t know where to go or what to take with them, this is something to teach and practice.
  3. A lack of stamina and engagement can eat time as well. How can you get to the work of conferring and teaching small groups if you are too busy redirecting students? Often times students who are not in a band of “just right” are off task and not engaged. If they think they are in a “just right” book, have them read a page out loud to you. Pay attention to miscues and ask them to describe what they see in that part. If they struggle to describe what is happening accurately, they are not in a “just right” book. More times than not, it’s the struggle that is getting in the way. If books are “just right” but stamina is an issue, you can use mid-workshop interrupts as a quick break. Each day space the interrupts a little further.

Share Time (5-10 min)

Students need time to write about their reading. Many teachers are doing a 4-5 minute timed Fast and Furious Write based on 1-2 of their stop and jots (what they noticed while reading.

Additionally, students need time to discuss what they are noticing in their books, any patterns they are seeing, and new understandings they are coming to about character, main idea, theme, effect on reader, etc.

Common Time Eaters!

  1. This time is often neglected because we run out of time, but again this tool is stronger than the minilesson! This is where the students are practicing analysis skills (to practice analysis they need to talk a lot) and hearing about books that they too might want to read next. That’s why we need to be diligent in keeping our minilessons tight.
  2. One common time eater is reading without a plan. Students don’t know what to write about if they are not using strategies to not only read but think about what they are reading. If you notice students who are not taking the time while reading to stop and jot, this is something that could be turned into a small group lesson. More about this will be shared during the second leg of the workshop stool – Intentional Instruction.

The first month of school is often used to make sure the structure is tight. Routines are learned, students are in books that are “just right” and teachers are determining student needs in order to begin putting into place the second leg – Intentional Instruction.

Moving forward, I will spend time to share out some of the work we are doing with Intentional Instruction; however, if you need any support with any of the aspects of Structure, let me know. I am here to support you!

Pressing Pause to Fold in What Students Need

I recently had the pleasure of working with two fourth grade teachers who were working so very hard. The problem was they were working too hard. I know we all can relate to trying to balance this giant plate full of everything we need to accomplish while trying so hard not to drop it on top of our head, but in this case, for the kids’ sake and their own, they needed to put the plate down and walk away for a minute.

I want you all to know that it’s okay to push the pause button and deal with the issues that get in the way of moving kids forward. Now, I’m not saying you stop following IEPs or attending parent conferences or to abandon the workshop model, but it is okay to hit pause in the curriculum when something isn’t working. In the case of these two classes, we had a combination of needs that we determined through data collection.

  1. A number of students were struggling with routines.
  2. A larger number of students were struggling with the rigor and pace of the first unit.

In order for any workshop to run smoothly, there are routines that need to be in place. These routines need to be taught, consistent, and practiced so that less workshop time is wasted. We need those minilessons to truly be mini because students need the time to independently practice the work. Even as an eighth grade teacher, I would take the time in the first weeks of school to practice the routines in engaging ways, but I want this post to really focus on the second need.

The fourth graders were struggling with the rigor and pace of the unit. The first thing we did was look at the pre-assessment for the unit. When looking at their written responses compared to their running record and NWEA-MAP data, we saw some conflicting results. They were not necessarily struggling readers, but the data did show they were struggling thinkers.

Part of our job as workshop teachers is to get our kids to read and read and read. But just reading is not enough. We also need to teach strategies for thinking about our reading that can be transferred to any text.

The written responses from the pre-assessment were showing more summarizing and not thinking deeper about things like character and theme.

We decided to use the reading progressions, starting with inferring about character, and look at what is expected from each grade level. Since students were only summarizing events and not thinking about character, I looked from each progression and noticed three teaching points within the skill of inferring about characters that could be used to develop their thinking while reading that students need as a foundation before they can do the work of fourth grade readers.

For example, if readers do not have the skills developed to make character theories (third grade), they will struggle with determining what drives a character to make particular decisions (fourth grade).

From what I noticed in the progressions, I was able to create three strategy lessons, each strategy providing a foundation for the next.

Three strategy lessons based off of the learning progressions to push thinking about character

When developing strategy lessons, you can find some tips and actual strategies in the Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo, or you can walk yourself through what you do as a reader to meet the goal.

Once I had three strategy lessons to help support readers as they practice developing their thinking about character, I grabbed a book that I could use to model each strategy. I set the minilesson up just like any of the lessons in the units of study so the routine continues to be consistent and predictable.

Basic Outline of a Reading Workshop Session
Session 1 of 3

After reflecting on this lesson, we determined that students would benefit from a tool that listed a variety of character traits to help build vocabulary. I often gave students a binder ring and we would add tools as needed. In my class the notebook, independent reading book, post-its, and toolkit were in their reading folder, but many elementary and middle teachers also use gallon size storage bags.

The next day I introduced the tool and a new strategy to push our thinking.

After this lesson, we used the independent time to move around and check on the traits they noticed yesterday while reading. Readers who didn’t have any post-its from the day before, did the work right then and there through some guided practice. They read a page or so of their independent reading book aloud to us, and we listened in for what the character was doing, saying, and thinking and prompting them through the strategy.

Those who had post-its we checked to be sure they were noting about traits and not feelings and providing any tips that might help.

At the end of this session, I took three minutes as students joined me back in the meeting area to show them how I took a post-it note or two and wrote long to explain my thinking. We set the timer for 3-4 minutes and students wrote fast and furious about a sticky or two they chose before sharing their thinking with their turn and talk partner.

I highly recommend this work for a number of reasons, but most importantly it provides daily practice which builds engagement and stamina. A short burst of writing each day also allows students the opportunity to determine for themselves what is important to explore, giving them the choice and ownership that they need to develop their thinking about reading without relying on being told what to think about. This foundation is essential for students to have developed long before entering upper grades.

This type of writing is not meant to take more than a few minutes with time to share with partners; however, by doing short bursts each day, students will gain confidence and also have a record of their thinking over the course of a book to go back and choose something to really explore in longer and more formal writing such as text dependent or literary analysis.

On the third day we added one more strategy lesson that had students using the work they were already doing from the two days prior and creating theories about character.

During the active engagement, one partnership came up with a theory about Ruben that blew us away!

“Ruben is the kind of kid who takes responsibility for his actions.”

fourth grade partnership

During the independent work time, we continued to conference with students to see the kind of work they were doing and offer any additional tips or strategies to support them. Again we walked through a strategy right then and there with their independent reading book with anyone who was struggling.

Time to Push Play!

Now that students were exposed to three foundation strategies to work with, the teachers were ready to press play again on the unit. The minilessons in the unit are rigorous and provide exposure, but not all of the students may be ready to implement the strategies from the unit anchor chart until they have a more solid foundation to build on.

Normally we teach these foundational strategies in small group, but since the data showed this foundation was lacking for the majority of the students, we folded in this three session If…Then…type of mini unit. Not every fourth grade classroom across the district has the same needs, but by using your data, determining needs, and paying close attention to the learning progressions, you may need to fold in some different If…Then…units and mini units at various points throughout the year in order to best support the students who are sitting in front of you.

Moving forward, the students will not only use the anchor chart for the unit to guide their thinking about their independent reading but also have the option of using any strategies taught in the If…Then… mini unit or from small group and conferring lessons.

While meeting with the fourth grade teachers after pressing play, the teachers were happy to report that the engagement and confidence in their fourth graders was evident. I could feel their sigh of relief and renewed excitement in their work.

Because this type of scaffolding work is so dependent on the students who are currently in front of you, I am happy to meet with any teams that feel like their students are struggling with the pace and rigor of the units at any point in the year. Together we can support student needs!