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
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.
While the running record assesses the reading comprehension of a child through snapshots that indicate a just right reading zone, performance assessments assess an independent ability to think. Often times teachers will say to me that all of their students comprehend far below grade level, and I will look at the running record data and find a majority are actually reading on or above grade level. The students don’t necessarily need reading comprehension strategies or lower level texts; they need support to strengthen their thinking about reading. Those are a completely different set of skills.
I have heard many times that pre assessments are a waste of time. However, the purpose of the performance assessment is to guide decisions about small group instruction, additional minilessons, and even read aloud choices.
Using the Learning Progressions to Differentiate
A performance assessment will focus on a small number of specific skills like inferring about character. By matching the thinking to the learning progressions, teachers can determine at what level individuals are thinking about reading for 2-4 skills at a time and use that information to determine what strategies students need to grow their thinking.
We might also find through the performance assessment that a student’s thinking level is higher than their independent reading level. It is just as crucial to take this into account when meeting needs. That’s where read alouds and guided practice come in. These readers can still be given opportunities for thinking about reading and practicing these skills with a text they may not have been able to access independently, and they need these opportunities.
When we look only at independent reading comprehension or at independent thinking without also looking at the other, and we do not provide the differentiated instruction and opportunities to meet readers where they are, we are doing a huge disservice to them.
That is why using performance assessments to inform instruction is a powerful tool. One note of warning, however. Learners need a space for approximation. Don’t feel the need to assess and grade everything. Practicing skills can be clumsy, but we want kids to know that it’s okay to not have perfect notebook entries every day as they practice skills. Feedback not evaluation is important for growth.
Taking Ownership of Growth
One strategy to help learners take ownership of their growth is to invite them into the process. If they are writing about character, for example, use the learning progressions to show the good, better and best and determine where their current thinking sits and what they need to do to grow their thinking.
When you understand the purpose of any assessment and how it can work for you and your students, it becomes more valuable. Performance assessments provide us with very clear data that shows us exactly where kids are in their thinking and what they need next. While we want our students to be strong readers, we also need them to be strong readers who can think.
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.
*Note this same work can be done with the spiral unit book as well as the viewer’s guide within the virtual units.
Use the Viewer’s Guide in the Virtual Units of Study. It is such a powerful tool get yourself grounded in what is most important.
The Viewer’s Guide can be found in the introduction of the virtual unit.
When you open the Viewer’s Guide, you will get a session by session glance of what the teacher is teaching and what the students are doing.
By reading through what teachers will be teaching and what students will be doing, you will see a clear roadmap of where students are headed as well as patterns for what is most important.
Here’s a road map of what I noticed in the sixth grade personal narrative unit.
Prior to beginning any unit, it’s helpful to use the Viewer’s Guide to create your own roadmap to ground yourself in what’s ahead and to find the patterns that are most important because we can’t teach everything but the kitchen sink and hope it’s going to all stick.
I noticed when creating the roadmap for this unit that what was truly at the heart was craft and elaboration.
It would also be helpful to study student writing from past years or from the online resources for your units.
This unit, as many do, offers examples of student writing. By reading these examples, you might get a better picture of what to expect. It would also help to share these student samples with students. Let them know you are about to begin an exciting unit exploring personal narrative, for example, and share what previous students have written.
Ask them, “What do you notice about personal narrative?” and for each example, “What do you notice this particular student did when writing his/her personal narrative?” Let students make discoveries and have opportunities to discuss them. Then share the road map of the unit with them. This will help them to see what they are doing and why along the way.
You will also need to fold in some additional work based on what you notice students need based on their pre-assessment writing.
Determine the additional work you will be adding in based on what you notice in student writing that will serve as critical areas in conventions that need to be developed. This may become a secondary road map for you and students.
This work is blended in using mentor sentences. We want to develop their skills of paying attention to what writers do, why they do it, and the effect it has on the writing. Read more about that here in “Where Does Grammar Fit Into the Workshop?” We want to use our mentor sentences and what students notice to create anchor charts and use that work to revisit their own writing pieces and revise with this work in mind.
Keep what’s most important front and center. In almost every writing unit I have looked through I’ve noticed that what is at the heart of each unit is being a writer.
Each unit, no matter the type of writing, focuses on writers who set goals and make plans to achieve those goals; studying a great deal of mentor texts to notice craft moves and determining which moves to try out and use within their own writing; reflecting on goals, plans, craft choices, and growth as a writer; and determining new goals and new plans.
The idea is to teach the writer more so than the type of writing. That is not to say that the type of writing is not important, but it is secondary to teaching writers to become independent. Teaching them to set goals, create plans, use resources, and reflect. If you are able to foster that independence, then your writers will be able to succeed in anything they need or want to write.