Is comprehension instruction in the content areas different?
I felt a need to have a part 2 to my Lesson Log this week as there were other areas I wanted to touch upon and reflect and of course share with my readers.
As a teacher I could completely relate to Harvey and Goudvis, Strategies That Work, when they reflect on the stress that teachers have to fit our minutes in for the week. For those of you not in education, we are expected to teach a certain amount of minutes in ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, and in our case Religion as well since I teach in a Catholic School. And let me tell you there are not enough minutes in our day to accomplish this, in any school in the country. Add to this the increase in rigor and standards and you now have teachers under a tremendous amount of pressure to fit it all in. Plus let us not forget those with added pressure of standardized testing.
We can help alleviate this situation by teaching cross curricular, using the content areas to achieve those ELA standards. Harvey and Goudvis write about 'active literacy' in content areas and the opportunities we can create in a classroom, "focus on comprehension and understanding rather than memorization" (p 207). They define, "Active literacy in all content areas is the means to deeper understanding and diverse, flexible thinking," (p206).
I highly recommend teachers consider buying this book and dive into these two chapters (12 and 13) where they discuss the strategies to help you with your crowded weekly minutes. The most important thing I took away here aside from the wonderful step by step strategies was the crucial role of the school librarian.
There needs to be a defined relationship between the classroom teacher and the school librarian to co-teach together. A librarian can access all kinds of resources to enrich the experience for the children. From picture books to news media, children can benefit from this opportunity. Librarians are not stuck in the library any more, now they can serve as a co-teacher. This model of flexible library allows the librarian an opportunity to be engaged in the classroom. Ensuring "that research skills are merged with reading and thinking strategies so that kids read to learn," (p 230).
What a great opportunity to teach together and be able to break your class into smaller groups that work collaboratively. This is an opportunity to make sure all students are engaged and participating. You now have "two teachers to model, guide and confer with students, effectively cutting the class size in half," (p 230).
We know that incorporating the resources the librarian brings into our classrooms can lead to active engagement from the students. We also know when there is active learning there is better comprehension.
What about teaching our students what is important in a text, how do we take notes, understand text features etc…? Susan Cummins, Close Reading Of Informational Texts, answers this by showing us how to unpack our standards regarding determining the central idea of text and analyzing it over the course of the text. Which by the way is what our students need to know by the end of 8th grade.
She focuses the unpacking for students in grades 3-8th as being able to do the following with challenging texts that increase in difficulty (p135):
Most people will describe the process as put water in a pot, when it boils add pasta, when the pasta is soft it is ready to eat. But what they forget to say is to drain the water. She shares, "…the author has pasta words and phrases in a text and 'water" words and phrases." Although the water was important to cook the pasta in the end…"what readers need to eat and digest are the author's pasta words and phrases — the language in the text that identifies the author's central ideas and supporting details," (p136).
Cummins step by step instructions for teaching the students how to determine importance in text reading is beneficial for all teachers to read.
Again, we reflect on the essential question: Is comprehension instruction in the content areas different? The answer is not simple. Essentially it is the same as these steps benefit all areas of reading comprehension. However, there are some strategies that would benefit one discipline over the other.
Is comprehension instruction in the content areas different?
This weeks reading was full of information; rich, enlightening and useful information as a teacher and as a parent. All of the authors would differ in how they answer this question, however the essence remains the same. This is where I throw fancy words that I have come to comprehend much more clearly since taking this class. Words such as schema and metacognition.
Keene and Zimmerman, Mosaic of Thought The Power of Comprehension Strategy Instruction, 2007, share with us that we have to build schema in our students. In simple terms schema is the building of the background knowledge or connecting with this knowledge to help us in understanding what we read. They go on to write, "…understanding schema sheds light on the ways children connect the new to the known, recall relevant information, and enhance their comprehension with insights only they can bring." (p71-72). Each of the authors from our selected text readings will agree here that building and connecting with the background knowledge is key with all comprehension but especially the more complex the text becomes.
Keene and Zimmerman will add that creating a sensory experience or making a visual connection will help students understand more complex text. They interestingly refer to students who struggle and how they become disengaged in reading anything in and out of school. They encourage helping these students create images that will help them connect to the text through sensory and visual language.
All of the authors also agree that no matter what content you are working with and no matter if you are working with primary or intermediate grades, it is essential to ask questions, think aloud, model, and provide ample opportunities and time for your students to share with each other, write, draw, etc…
Each of the authors also suggest using multiple sources to really teach comprehension in the content areas. Fisher and Frey, Scaffolded Reading Instruction of Content Area Texts, 2014, write in regard to needing more complex text "…learners need a host of experiences with rich informational texts and a sliding scale of scaffolds and supports to access the information contained with them." (p349). They too encourage teachers reading aloud to students to model their thinking.
In fact a teacher modeling their thinking aloud to their students is one of the most effective ways to teach comprehension and metacognition. Metacognition refers to the student/reader's ability to listen to the voice in your head you hear when you are reading. This occurs as the student is either reading or being read to. The student starts making associations with what they are hearing. They might make connections with a character, or recognize a book that they have read before and enjoyed. They hear themselves making comments to themselves: Oh, mom read me this book. I have pet dog too. I love this book. I wonder if this author has another book I want to read.
Can we then answer our title question with a yes or a no? Not really because there are slightly different ways to address comprehension for fiction and non-fiction. Although the strategies that Harvey and Goudvis write about in Strategies That Work, 2007, are very similar to each other, when looking at content specific to Social Studies and Science they differ slightly for their discipline. But essentially the core strategies mentioned above are to be used across the board in different content areas for comprehension teaching.
Continue to Theme 3 Part 2 for more on this weeks readings.
The biggest question I get lately is… WHY? or HOW? in reference to going back to school.
I understand the conundrum, I already hold a BS in Special Education with an emphasis in Mentally Impaired. I hold a MEd with an emphasis in Behavioral Disorders. I am certified to teach special education K-12 and regular education Pre-K-3rd grade. I have received training and continued education in various areas from ADD/ADHD, ESL, Vision Impaired, Orton-Gillingham etc…
Why in the world would I want to go back to school?
Well, for one I am a life long learner. I love to learn and keep up to date with latest in best practices in education.
I am also a firm believer that as educators we need to stretch ourselves and re-invent ourselves periodically. In the work force, most people move from company to company or climb a corporate ladder. In the professional world outside of education you are given bonuses, incentives, and promotions. The lack of these are a contribution to the reasons we lose good teachers. I am not going to attempt to say I have a solution for this.
I can hear some of you non-teachers right now…you are either on the side of… "Teachers are amazing and I could never do their job." OR You are on the side of… "Why do you gripe you get the summers off?" (By the way the latter is a myth…we are not contracted to work summers, therefore we are not paid for our summers, but yet most of us do some sort of work during the summers in preparation for the following school year.)
It doesn't matter what side you are on. The truth is we are professionals, who went to college, who took one or more certification exams, who have to keep attending continuing education and continue to re-certify every few years, to maintain a job whose pay has not kept up with inflation or the economy. I won't get into the fact that more is thrown on our plates, and that my counterparts in public schools have the added pressure of test performance for their students.
So, I digress to why I am back in school. As teachers we need to continuously keep ourselves fresh or we will become the stereotype of what people gripe about. We need and should pursue teaching other grades and not become conformed to just one grade. We have to take the risk and try something new. We have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. There is great reward in learning YOU CAN!
A few years ago I was asked to switch to 1st grade. My co-teacher asked me why I wanted to do this? I had been in pre-k for 3 years and it was a solid team. I looked at her and said, "Because I can." I have taught middle school, high school, pre-k, and now 1st. I will keep moving. It is good to see and learn what you are capable of. We aren't going to be given promotions or bonuses, we need to move ourselves around. It is up to us to dictate how we grow ourselves in our profession and personally.
What can you do to stretch yourself? There are a lot of Professional Developments around us and opportunities to attend conferences. Take them when you can. If your school or district has money ask to go. Learn something new that will make you want to freshen up your classroom and rejuvenate your plan book. GO back to school and certify in a new area.
Back to answering the question, WHY?
Because I can.
Because I want to learn more, be better, share what I learn with my colleagues, and take my students to a new level.
With some patience, sacrifice and support from my family. My children are learning you're never too old to go learn something new. It's kind of fun to be in post graduate classes while my daughter is a college student and my son is finishing up middle school. If anything they have learned, if mom can go to college, work and keep us alive then we can do it too.
NOW, how will you stretch yourself in the coming school year?
My new saying or question is "Was it caught or taught?"
It seems we are expecting a lot of our children these days academically. I am in favor for most of it as these children are born digital natives and are different learners than you or me.
However, some things we need to teach, that we don't. One of them is how to pick a book to read.
In my classroom, I teach my students to read the first page of a book and see if they make 5 or more errors. If they do, the book is likely not their level and they should look for another book that they could read with less errors.
Today, I modeled for a little 4th grade friend of mine how to pick a good book to read. By this point most children are reading on their own. Parents either take them to the library to pick books out, or to Amazon on their reading device. Often we rely on recommendations from other parents or children. This is still a good way to pick a book.
However, what research tells us is that students comprehend better when they can make a connection with the text.
Here are some guidelines the next time you find your child needing to pick a book.
1-Start by grabbing an assortment of books. In the case of my friend, I grabbed 15 books in the area of historical fiction and non-fiction all in a range of books a little lower than her level to a little over her level.
2-Have them look at the cover of the books to see what they find appealing. We were able to eliminate a lot of books this way.
3-Encourage them to ask questions or ask them questions. Why did you remove that book from the selection? What did you like about this one you kept? You're looking to see if they are connecting with one of the books more than the other.
4-Read the back of the book to see what the summary says about the book. Eliminate again some choices. And again ask questions.
5-If you don't know the level of the books you should. My classroom books are labeled with AR or DRA levels. In this case we looked at the levels of the books that remained left to see if that ruled out any that might be too hard or too easy.
6-After a few more questions about the books that were left (4 historical fiction and 1 biography) we narrowed it down to two books.
7-Now I had my friend read the first page of each book to check a few things. 1) Is this book truly her level? 2) Did she find one more interesting than the other? 3) Was there one she just wanted to read more about?
Answer: YES! She picked a great I Survived Book.
IF, your student is picking a book from the web/reading device I encourage you to still follow these steps. You can teach your child how to find a summary of the book, reviews from people who have read the book, and in some cases you can download a portion of the book to see if it's a purchase you want to make.
Next post I will discuss how I started to teach my friend comprehension strategies to help her as she reads. You can do it with your own child at home as well.
Why is text selection impotant in reading comprehension?
The more I read, the more need for a well trained and certified Reading Coach is needed in all schools today. What a benefit it would be to have someone who could go into the school building and not only train teachers but also service the students as in the numerous examples in Sunday Cummins book Close Reading of Informational Texts: Assessment-Driven Instruction in Grades 3-8.
Why is text selection important to reading comprehension?
The answer to this question at first is easy, you must select text the children are interested in and connect with. Of course you must take into account their reading level as well. But that just simply answers the obvious of what we know about selecting text. It doesn't take into account the fact our classrooms are filled with text books we must teach from and that likely is not on the interest level of most children, at least not for every subject.
I think there is a fallacy that exists among many parents and teachers. I believe it to be that teaching reading and comprehension belongs primarily in the lower elementary level. There has also been an increase in rigor in classrooms and yet we don't have the supporting study skills being taught to our children. Somehow we have become a society where these skills are expected to be caught not taught.
In Chapter 4, Understanding the features of a text, Cummins addresses the need of teaching the students how to appropriately use a text book to improve comprehension. When students pay attention to both the features that are a part of the text and the text itself, then the student can navigate and comprehend the way they read the new and unfamiliar text (p 79). Another important element to take away from this chapter is the importance of selecting good solid textbooks that meet the requirements outlined in Table 4.1, Features Commonly Found in Shorter Texts and Their Purposes (p82). These include features such as titles, deck, headings and subheadings, photographs and illustrations, captions and labels, diagrams, charts and graphs, tables, boxes and sidebars, and finally maps. We know that schools get locked into certain textbooks for years, so this is something that should be given a lot of attention. Taking care to see that the features indeed help the student navitgate the content.
Choosing textbooks for the classroom would probably be best if done by a committee of teachers, support staff, administration and if available a reading coach. Having the knowledge of what is expected in the classroom, what goals the teacher needs to have their students meet and really looking at the book to see if it includes such features as those mentioned above would give the students a leg up.
Morgan and Rasinski write about the importance of including primary sources in the classroom to support these texts, The Power and Potential of Primary Sources. As stated, "Primary sources provide students with a sense of what it was like to be alive during a certain time." They go on to write how the materials can help the students make connections to a person or event or a period of time. As I read this, I am compelled to think we have unused resources in our communities that we can be utilizing for this. Beginning with families at our schools who certainly could share in artifacts. They may have a collection of or share stories first hand of an event. At our school we have become very resourceful in tapping into our families especially when it comes to their jobs. There is something about having an in house field trip where Elise's daddy comes to talk to us about his job as a Firefighter when we are learning about fire prevention and community helpers. It helps 1st graders connect.
Harvey and Goudvis write about the importance of developing language and communication in the classroom so that we "… can create a climate that encourages kid's participation…" (Strategies that Work, p.45). Children love artifacts. Recently we read "If I Built a Car," by Chris Van Dusen, I shared with the students my prior experience of cars when I was 7. I shared with them the way cars were in the 1970s and how we did not have seat belts, navigation, and we had to crank our own windows down. They giggled and laughed. But this started to build for them some background knowledge about progress, technology and inventions. We transitioned to read and learn about Alexander Graham Bell as an inventor, next they had questions for me about what the telephone was like in the 1970s. Using a picture book to help with the transition to a biography, followed with some fun allowing them to think of what they could invent, genuinely helped these children with their comprehension of the biography. They were actively engaged and participating. They genuinely wanted to learn more about Alexander Graham Bell and had the year not come to an end we could have expanded into the biography of Steve Jobs since the classroom interest was pointing us to move in that direction.
Cummins continues to focus on the importance of the student knowing the purpose of the lesson and activating that background knowledge. I love that she includes not just the stages of development but gives specific descriptions of what the students responses may look like for this stage. And then she also includes suggestions for the coach to follow up with instruction (Table 4.3). It is concise and easy to read and use for assessment to meet your student where they are. Harvey and Goudvis also add on to this with 'purposeful talk.' There are studies even to prove that in "high-achieving classrooms, kids spent significant amounts of time engaged in discussions about their reading and learning (p53)." This talk then furthers their thinking.
My personal favorite strategy still comes from Harvey and Goudvis when they discuss writing about reading. Truly annotating in the margins and with sticky notes (see photograph above) has been a life saver for me in this journey. I know my students love sticky notes and given the opportunity to use them in reading will be huge. As they wrote, "…these notes give kids an easy, accessible way to monitor their comprehension and leave a record that helps us assess their understanding, (p57)".
One of my current sticky notes has me listing the Harvard expectations article of reading for their students ( http://hcl.harvard.edu/research/guides/lamont_handouts/interrogatingtexts.html ) as a must read as soon as I am finished with this blog. Again, (p. 56), they refer to marking up the margins of your text with words rather than highlighting. I still continued to highlight because it helps me but I then I gave myself permission to write in the margin and on sticky notes. I then go back over what I highlighted, wrote, and the sticky notes and write in my notebook what I took from the reading. This is a skill that many children go an entire education without "catching". I know that teachers are teaching this way. However, are we prefacing it with the purpose of teaching the students this way. Are the students understanding the purpose?
So, we go back to the original question we started with…"Why is text selection important in reading comprehension?" Harvey and Goudvis answer this by writing, "Kids must be reading texts they can and want to read if they are to successfully read, think and get something meaningful from text," (p. 70). They write about the 3 levels of readability for choosing a book and again we see that there needs to be a purpose for the children to read. There has to be a purpose, an interest and read ability to help us select text to encourage comprehension. We need to pick books that will challenge but not frustrate our students. Carefully considering the text itself and the level of the students. We need to consider short texts to accomplish what we are teaching with out loosing their attention. We need primary sources that will engagae our students in what they are learning in core subjects. This combination will help us successfully select text to increase comprehension.
The end of the school year is like the end of a book. And in this case it is the end of a great book. On my Facebook post I wrote how I was having a hard time putting this book away. I loved getting to know my 22 characters. And like a good book I want more. I want to know how these characters develop and where their journey will take them. I think every teacher thinks about this. It's one of the biggest reasons we love when our students come back to visit and tell us where they are or what they are doing. I tell my students and my parents… once you are a part of my classroom you are a part of my family.
When you have been teaching as long as I have then you know it is very rewarding to have students visit or keep in touch. I have students who now have children. I have colleagues that I taught. It's always so neat to see where these kiddos end up. You actually sometimes worry about those you don't hear about. I want to know if my ESL/VE (English as a Second Language and Varying Exceptionalities) students made it safely out of the projects. Or if my student I was trying to write a Transition Plan is still in jail or if he got out and turned his life around like he promised me. Trust me I look at faces of those who are homeless or come on the news because of an arrest. There was a time I worked with such population.
Unfortunately, I also have been teaching long enough to have gone to funerals for past students. It still breaks my heart that very early in my teaching career I had to say goodbye to a great kid who unfortunately had congestive heart failure. I just learned the other day that one of my all time favorite students (YES, we do have them), Sonia, past away 2 years ago. Some of the best stories in teaching I have from that girl. She taught me patience. She taught me to not take things for granted. She taught me how to laugh at myself.
You see, some of the toughest students or classes teach you something.
This year goes into my book of hardest classes. Likely, because the class before it was also tough, but in a different way. This class of 22 characters buried themselves into my heart. I learned that I still have a lot to learn. I stretched myself as a teacher more than I thought I could be stretched. I always knew I was a good teacher but now I know I can be great. They made me go there, to the other side of what I was comfortable with. They made me read more and learn more. And because of my 22 I will be a better teacher for the children who continue to pour through my classroom. Because of the 22 I learned to focus on taking care of me as well. I am useless in the classroom if I don't take care of myself.
So, if you are part of the 22 or perhaps part of another group that has come through my classroom in Orlando, Nashville, or Winter Park, I hope you will come see me one day down the path of life. I want to know you're okay and I want to know where you are.
And if you have never been a part of the Mazzotti class family then don't forget to find the teacher. You know the one. The one who made you feel like you were a part of their family. The one who pushed you to who you might be today. The one who made the difference in your life's journey. GO tell them you're okay and thank you. So to Mrs. Fletcher, Mrs. Wilkes, and Mrs. Henderson, "Hey, I am okay!"
Wife, Mom, Educator and Lifelong Learner