Category Archives: Reading Literacy

Visual Thinking

I’m kind of a New York Times (NYT) junkie. A few years ago, we bought a subscription to the Sunday Times at home, which additionally provided us unlimited digital access. I signed up for news alerts and a few news digests, like “Education” and “Tests and Assessments,” so I’m sent short abstracts of articles that pertain to those categories.

It was in one of these digests, recently, that I encountered the headline: “40 Intriguing Photos to Make Students Think.” Not the catchiest of titles, but the photo accompanying it piqued my interest:screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-9-27-02-pmSo, I clicked. That’s where I was reminded of another great service The Times offers: The Learning Network. In essence, they deliver education resources like lesson plans, news quizzes and the like all based on NYT articles, photos, graphics and more. Better yet, you can access the Network’s many features without a digital subscription.

Back to what brought me to The Learning Network in the first place: the above picture. It’s part of a weekly feature called, “What’s Going On in This Picture?” Readers are asked three standard questions about a visual text:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

Then, they are encouraged to acutely observe (a.k.a. closely read) the image, find evidence, and post and respond to comments of others online. Partners, Visual Thinking Strategies facilitate the online discussion Mondays between 9a – 2p Eastern Time (6a-11a Pacific). On Thursday afternoons, Learning Network writers reveal a caption and backstory below the photo on the site.  Check out this week’s photo below (week of October 17):

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As for classroom applications, I immediately thought of a warm-up. Whether you participate live through the Learning Network or want to spark an in-class dialog, there are images that relate to nearly any subject are. Five minutes at the beginning of class is plenty to take in the photo and respond, turn to a partner and compare perceptions. Cogs are turning, awareness is heightened and students are engaged in analysis–great practice for getting into the day’s content. And, what a great way to build a community of inquiry, teacher included!

In 21st Century literacy, when we hear or say text, we need to be mindful of the myriad forms that word may conjure. Our students are consuming these many texts in record numbers, daily. Teaching the tools to become informed about what they consume doesn’t get more real.

 

Happy International Literacy Day!

Followers, first-timers and those in between, welcome back to school! It’s a new year full of new possibilities, including our hope to bring you interesting, informed literacy and math news, ideas, and musings here at Coaches Corner!

I really need to start writing my blog ideas down, so I don’t do what I did coming into school this week: panic! Once I talked myself off the ledge, an idea sparked, then smoldered, and finally caught flame: September 8th, International Literacy Day! In its honor, we’re sharing some of our favorite literacy sites and ideas from around the web.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-07-32-pmFirst up is The International Literacy Association or ILA (formerly the International Reading Association), the lead sponsor of International Literacy Day, which focuses on global literacy needs with project ideas and a profile on a spotlight country. Additionally, they are a leading source for professional learning, publications, and of course literacy advocacy. These are the folks who co-produce ReadWriteThink with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), where teachers can find peer-reviewed lesson plans and literacy ideas galore.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-06-00-pmTeachers College at Columbia University is home to the Reading & Writing Project. Lucy Caulkins, Mary Ehrenworth and other literacy giants anchor this site where teachers can download running record reading assessments, view videos of classroom laboratories and find a host of professional learning opportunities and publications. BTW, Lucy Caulkins is presenting in Portland next week!

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-12-55-52-pmLast Spring I got hooked on A Mighty Girl. It was one of those pop-up “we think you’d like” sites that showed up in my Facebook feed. A Mighty Girl celebrates all things mighty about girls and women. Since we’re talking about literacy, we’re linking you to A Mighty Girl Book Club and from there, you can explore. Like (as in the verb) their Facebook page, and you too, can be the recipient of mighty information like Today in Mighty Girl History.

02dias-blog480Here’s an updated article about young literacy superstar, Marley Dias, creator of #1000BlackGirlBooks. You probably remember her story: 11-year old Marley got tired of not seeing main characters that looked like her in any of the books being read at school. So, she went about collecting donations of 1000 books for young readers that feature black girls as the main character. As you might expect, she far exceeded her initial goal and partner GrassROOTS Community Foundation has cataloged books appealing to readers of all ages, races, cultures and more.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-12-56-34-pmMy consistent favorite site for “all things bookish” is BookRiot! Its edgy posts are probably most appropriate for older teens (high school) and up. But, that doesn’t mean that the recommended books are inappropriate. Take Kelly Jensen, for example. She authors a recurring BookRiot newsletter called “What’s Up in YA” where I get information about a wide variety of Young Adult book news from “25 YA Paperbacks to Read This Fall” to “3 on a YA Theme: Conjoined Twins or Siblings You Never Leave;” there’s truly something for everyone. There are several other newsletters to choose from; sign up and they’ll faithfully fill your Inbox.

Locally, Literary Artsscreen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-19-28-pm is a cornucopia of literacy bounty in the Portland-Metro area. They sponsor Portland Arts & Lectures, Writers In The Schools (WITS), and the recently revived Wordstock! Our schools in Gresham-Barlow have been recipients of professional Writers-in-Residence partnering with classroom teachers on instruction. In addition, I’ve personally been involved in their College Essay Mentoring Project where high school juniors have an opportunity to get face-to-face feedback on the development of their college essay from professional writers and community members. And, last but not least, don’t forget to check out Wordstock’s 2016 line-up of authors The one-day event is Saturday, November 5th.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-07-57-pmOf course, we couldn’t end this piece without giving a shout-out to our local libraries! Multnomah County Library’s many branches have a wealth of resources to support your literacy needs in the classroom. School Corps is a great starting place to learn how the library can support your teaching and your students.

Obviously, these are just a few of the myriad sites out there that support literacy teaching and learning. Please share one or more of your faves in the Leave a Reply box below to help us grow our list of go-to’s. In the meantime, Happy International Literacy Day today and every day!

Two trains are heading in the opposite direction…: Teaching problem-solving

I’ve always hated the train problem; you know, the one in the title?  I’m not sure why; I think because I would typically read through it once and become defeated since I couldn’t immediately come up with an equation I could apply. Therefore, it must be hard.  My experience has been that most students feel this way about problem-solving.  The STEMtistic below says it all.

THIS IS A PROBLEM!

Our education standards for mathematics expect that students are engaged in problem-solving.  The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Principals and Standards for School Mathematics has verified that problem-solving is an integral part of learning.  OK, then how do we rewire students’ brains so that they don’t fear math problems?  How do we help students access the math?

To start, we need to teach our students how to read like a mathematician. 

We need to teach our students how to bring the linguistic and math clues to the surface.

We need to engage students in understanding the problem before they try to solve it – or worse, freeze and dismiss it all together.

Close reading is eduspeak for reading deeply for a purpose. It is more than just skimming. In the literacy world, close reading includes three phases:

  1. Reading for Key ideas
  2. Rereading for craft and structure
  3. Rereading to integrate knowledge and ideas.

I’ve been to several trainings on how to close read science and social studies texts and articles, but I have never been trained on close reading in math; I didn’t think it even applied.

Then came those 5th grade classroom teachers I was privileged to visit last month. During one of those visits, I saw close reading . . .  in math!

The close reading strategy was called the 3 Reads Protocol. In this protocol, students read the problem three times, each with a particular focus. While the strategy was used in a 5th grade classroom, it can be used just as effectively at the middle school and high school levels.

Below was the problem given to the 5th graders:

On the first read, the problem was read chorally (as a class) then covered up and students were asked, “What is the problem about?” Students talked to their study partners about what they remembered of the situation – not the math, just the context. Students answered that the boy in the problem was doing some of his homework before dinner and some after.

Next, students read the problem aloud a second time with their partner and were asked to determine the key quantities and key words from the problem.  After 2 minutes of partner time, the teacher listed the quantities and words on the board.  The students answered with the obvious fractions, then included a smattering of words such as completedbefore, after, remaining, dessert, and the rest. Students were asked why these words were important and how the quantities were related.

The third read,  again with a partner, focused students on the question, What is the problem asking us to find out?  After determining this, students were asked to draw a diagram that included the quantities and their relationship. Some students started with a tape diagram, others with an area model.

Only after these three readings and active thinking did students begin to actually solve the problem in partners. There was a lot of math discourse happening around the room that continued for a good 15-20 minutes.  During this time, the teacher walked around the class, listened in, asked questions about student thinking, and noted which students she would call on during the whole class discussion.

Students were then brought together as a class.  The teacher asked specific partners to share the models they had drawn.  As each model was shown, the teacher asked questions of the class such as:

  • How does _________’s diagram show 3/7?
  • Where is ¼ in ________’s diagram?
  • How are ¼ and 3/7 related in this diagram?

She made sure to ask students who had made models that had taken a divergent path to explain their thinking and asked the same questions she had asked the students with the correct models. Once the teacher went back to the class list of key words, the class came to an agreement about which model (s) made the most sense and the answer that was correct.

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After whole group discussion

We want kids to learn how to solve problems on their own. We need to give them strategies to do it!   Like any skill we want to master, teaching kids how to read closely in math will take time, practice, and coaching – especially if we want to change attitudes about word problems in general.

So, try the 3-reads protocol in your math class! Like most new strategies, it is not likely to go super smooth the first time. Don’t give up! Try it again and get your students out of the bathroom and cleaning up in math instead!

BTW:  I solved the train problem…eventually!

Train Problem - SOLVED!

 

 

 

Building Literacy in Native Language Texts

Over the summer, I looked for Spanish language articles for my 7th grade daughter who attends a Spanish Immersion program in PPS, and I was bummed that my options were limited. I did find TweenTribune, which I’d known about in English. The good news, there were some articles appropriate for Sophie. The not so good news: the offerings were slim; there was no option to change the Lexile Level to meet learners’ needs; teachers couldn’t “assign” the Spanish articles to students as they could articles in English (with a free account); and there was no quiz option. Still, I could read in English what I asked Soph to read in Spanish, and design my own questions for her to respond to.

Recently, I asked Maranda Turner, our district’s Sheltered Instruction Coach, about the benefits of providing some options for students to read text and respond in their native language, and she pointed me to some research: “Research over the last three decades on second language acquisition, brain development, effective programs, and ‘best practices’ in teaching English learners (Olsen, 2006; Rivera & Collum, 2006) has shown that when teachers foster the development of children’s home language in the classroom, ELLs learn English faster and perform better in school long term (Escobar, 2013).

In immersion, Sophie spends part of her day reading and writing in Spanish and more of her day doing the same in English. Why would we not provide similar opportunities for English Language Learners in our mainstream English Language Arts classrooms? There are definitely myths that abound about English language acquisition, but to set the record straight, consider this: As [researcher Laurie] Olsen explains, “Literacy skills are not language specific; they can be learned in one language and transferred to another language, drawing upon a common cognitive base” (Escobar, 2013). In essence, strengthening native language skills strengthens English language skills.

Then, something amazing happened! Just the other day, I subscribed to a service called SmartBrief on EdTech, and wouldn’t you know it, the very first issue I scanned included this linked headline: Newsela offers news articles in Spanish. WHAT?! I clicked, and voila! I was transported to a page that looked like the squares from the Brady Bunch introduction, except, where Alice should be, there was a Kids category story about parents and students rethinking homework.

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Brady Bunch Squares and Newsela Grid

I know several of you already use Newsela to find informative articles to supplement your curriculum. It doesn’t appear as though every article is translated yet, but there are several. Just like Newsela articles published in English, you can choose from four or five Lexile Levels in Spanish, and the service provides you Word Count and Grade Level match as well. Quizzes are also available in Spanish.

I’ve included a screenshot below to demonstrate how to find the Spanish language articles on Newsela. Hover over “Articles” in the task bar across the top, scroll down and click on Spanish, toward the bottom of the bar. The articles are color coded and categorized, but you don’t have the option to search by Spanish categories as you do in English.

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Scroll to Spanish in the Articles tool bar

Finally, Venisha Bahr, our K-8 District Library Coordinator, just sent me a link to a recent edition of the School Library Journal (SLJ, November 17). Specifically, she sent me to this post, Translations of Popular Teen Titles. Listing more than 20 books (with ordering information, teaser, and link to review), including personal fave Eleanor y Park, these titles are most appropriate for 7th grade and Up.

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Teach middle school, never fear! At the bottom of that post, there’s a link to some Spanish language middle grades novels, too! Further resources for classroom connections to Spanish Language resources can be found in Libro por Libro, a monthly-ish column in SLJ.

I wish I had such language resources to share in Arabic, Russian, Vietnamese, and more of the reportedly 50+ languages spoken in our district. Given the ever decreasing size of our home planet thanks to technological innovations, perhaps they are coming. If you’re aware of other second language resources, please leave a reply, so others may learn from you!

 

Summer Opportunities Coming Your Way!

Whether you’re more of a fan of The Jamies (Summertime, Summertime) or Alice Cooper (School’s Out for Summer) or fall somewhere in the middle, one thing is clear, Summer is fast approaching! For our final post of the year, we’re offering a little something for you (check out our Events page for a host of classes/workshops), and if you read on, a little something for your students.

In my literacy world, one of the greats of summertime is the Summer Reading Program run by Multnomah County Library a cornerstone of our district’s Middle School Summer Reading Program, offering schools a variety of adventures for students!

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Why summer reading, you may ask? Well, a big reason is heading off the summer skills slide. A landmark study done by Barbara Haynes (1978) who followed 6th & 7th graders for two years revealed the following effects of summer reading participation:

1. The number of books read in summer is consistently related to academic gains.

2. Children in every income group who read six or more books in summer “maintained or improved their reading skills while kids who didn’t read any, saw their skills slip as much as an entire grade level.”

3. The use of the public library during the summer is more predictive of vocabulary gains than attending summer school.

4. The major factors determining whether a child reads over the summer were: whether the child used the public library; the child’s gender (girls read more than boys); socioeconomic status; and the distance from home to a library.

5. More than any other public institution, including the schools, the public library contributed to the intellectual growth of children during the summer. Moreover, unlike summer school programs, the library was used by over half the children and attracted children from diverse backgrounds.

There have been notable studies since this original publication, if you’re looking for additional research, such as the 1982 “Beginning School Study,” by researchers Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle of the National Center for Summer Learning and a 2001 report, “The Role of Public Libraries in Children’s Literacy Development,” by the University of Michigan’s Susan Neuman and Temple University’s Donna Celano. The bottom line: summer reading, including free, independent reading of a student’s choice is a must! And, remember, reading doesn’t need to be limited to physical books. Some of our more reluctant readers can be turned on by an e- or audio book, a graphic novel, or Zine. There’s also a whole informational text side to reading that appeals to some, which could include anything from newsy articles to infographics to “reading” a museum exhibit. Truly, the possibilities are limitless! Check out the summer reading programs in your community and get your kids pumped to include reading in their down-time!

As we bid you adieu for the summer months, we hope you will spend 5 minutes browsing the Events page and find a class or workshop that resonates with you. If you know of anything we may have missed, send us a note and we’ll add it.

Until September….

 

Rigorous Reading Across Content Areas: Text-Dependent Formative Tasks

Back in February, I had the opportunity to attend the Oregon Reading Association’s Winter Institute, featuring Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. For a self-professed literacy geek like me, this experience was akin to IT folks hearing from Steve Jobs, Classical Violinists spending a day with Itzhak Perlman, or Craft Brewers (hey, we are in Oregon) being addressed by Fritz Maytag. It’s not often we get to see our professional mentors live and in person, at the Holiday Inn PDX Airport, no less.

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Their presentation provided guidance for teaching complex texts and raising the level of rigor in the classroom, which are Common Core literacy cornerstones. A bonus of our participation in the session included walking away with a copy of Fisher & Frey’s 2013 title, Rigorous Reading, 5 Access Points for Comprehending Complex Texts. Although each access point is worthy of its own blog post , the one this post is devoted to is Access Point #5: Demonstrating Understanding and Assessing Performance. In this section of the text, the authors posit the need for after-reading “Text-Dependent Tasks” such as the following:

Perspective Writing: Perhaps too often, we teachers assume the role of audience for a student’s writing. Writing from differing perspectives or to a different audience can stretch students’ decision-making powers. Who is the audience? What then is the purpose of my writing? What register must I employ in my style?

Many teachers have heard of and have used the RAFT strategy developed by Santa and Havens (1995) requiring students to understand the Role, Audience, Format, and Topic for each piece of writing. Fisher & Frey resurrect it here as a strategy for formative assessment. In one example they cite, an English teacher learns she needs to review author’s purpose and the introduction to The Metamorphosis because her students don’t show evidence of understanding beyond the literal level when presented this RAFT:

Role – Gregor Samsa

Audience – Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, his parents

Format – Note

Topic – Why don’t you notice me?

Though, RAFT is not only for the realm of the English Teacher. Apply RAFT after reading a famous historical speech, such as Susan B. Anthony’s “Women’s Rights to the Suffrage, 1873.”

Role – Participant

Audience – Susan B. Anthony

Format – Letter

Topic – Reaction to this speech

In Science: After reading the article, “West Coast starfish are dying, but why?” convince Congress that the plight of sea stars is farther reaching than just one species:

Role – Researcher

Audience – U.S. Congress

Format – Speech Talking Points

Topic – Explanation of metaphor: “…starfish are sentinels about conditions in our oceans….”

Here are a few other Text Dependent Task ideas to include in your repertoire:

  • Admit Slips: Akin to Exit Tickets, students instead respond to an assigned topic as they enter the classroom. “Describe the water cycle.” “Why are irrational numbers important in science and engineering?”  “What factors motivated the character to commence her journey?”
  • Found Poems: As students reread a text, have them find key phrases to arrange into a free-verse poem, linked with connector words (articles, conjunctions, “to be” verbs, etc.)
  • Yesterday’s News: Summarize the information presented the day before, from a film, reading, lecture, or discussion.
  • Write a letter to people who have made a difference. Write to Albert Einstein about the negotiations for a present day nuclear deal in Iran. Write to an author about his/her influence on a particular topic (TC Boyle on the environment; Roald Dahl on imagination, for example).

Students beginning some of these tasks may need a reminder to go back to text and quote or paraphrase in their responses. Sentence frames to introduce text are helpful aids to guide students:

  • (author) states, “….”
  • In her book _______, (author) maintains that, “….”
  • X disagrees when he writes, “….”
  • According to the text, “….”

Supplemental frames to assist students with explaining their evidence can prevent the infamous “hanging quote,” when students mistakenly think that quoted text speaks for itself:

  • Basically, X is saying _______.
  • In other words, X believes ________.
  • X‘s point is that ________.

Finally, writers also need to make a distinct connection, identifying the reason for including the quote/evidence. Simple connector frames could be:

  • This statement is important because ______.
  • This relates to _____.
  • This contradicts _____ because ______.

Perhaps May isn’t the time that you’re thinking about doing “heavy lifting” in the classroom, but consider these ideas seeds. Let them germinate over the summer if you’re not ready to harvest them today. You never know what you might reap in the Fall.

Finding/Creating Text Sets Just Got Easier

File this post under, “You know you’re an Edu-geek when….” My enthusiasm is right up there with Navin Johnson’s declaration, “The new phonebooks are here! The new phonebooks are here!” Read on English Language Arts, Social Science, CTE and Science teachers, ye beholden to CCSS Literacy Standards!

Venisha Bahr, our District K-8 Library Coordinator (extraordinaire) shared an email today announcing a new service from Newsela: Text Set Collections and the ability to create your own text sets! First, simply a definition from their website: “A text set is a collection of articles that share a common theme, topic, or standard.” In addition, the text sets featured by Newsela and ones you create through their resources are all available at multiple reading levels, allowing for easy differentiation.

If you’re not already familiar with Newsela, I encourage you to check out their web-based service. There is a free version and a paid subscription Pro version. Text Sets are accessible and can be created in either version. In this era of Common Core and its assessments, text sets also allow for comparison/contrast and analysis of multiple sources based around one topic/theme.

I went through the process of developing my own text set; the simple process is described in a series of support articles in their Text Sets Toolkit:

Step 1: Create a Text Set Create a “folder” by topic, theme, or other category.

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Step 2: Add articles Once you’ve created a Text Set folder, add articles by searching the archives for compatible titles:

  • Open an article
  • Click the “Add to” drop down menu
  • Select the text set to which you wish to add the article
  • OR Create a new text set in the drop down menu
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Step 3: Share your Text Set(s) On the “My Text Sets” page, select a text set name and click “Make Visible” to share with colleagues/team members and others in the Newsela community via email, Facebook, Pinterest, and/or Twitter.

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Yes, you can edit your text sets adding and deleting articles as you see fit. You can also assign text sets to your students if you choose to create a class. Our efforts to make school real for our students by explicitly teaching and providing opportunities for practicing literacy skills is paramount. Using text sets help model the research process where students dive into a topic, read multiple texts, and draw conclusions on an important topic. Good for you; good for them.