You’ll love this research-based reading comprehension curriculum. Check out ReadWorks.org!
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The passive voice is a misunderstood entity in the world of writing. It is unfairly judged by many authors. Some writers, without taking the time to get to know this grammatical structure, avoid it at all costs. Others use it ineffectively because they do not understand how
Via Lynda Dickson
Ryan McCarty outlines a few easy-to-implement ways to engage your students with complex text.
The Common Core Standards call for teachers to use more complex texts more often. One of my previous blogs shared ways to help all readers access complex text. Even when teachers are committed to using more complex texts, though, they often struggle to fit them within their school day.
Here, then, are practical suggestions of how to incorporate more complex text in existing structures — namely guided reading and independent reading — when redesigning them is not an option.
Elementary schools often have a set-aside time for literacy instruction — a “literacy block” — that ranges from 90-120 minutes in length. These blocks are often designed to foster a balanced approach to literacy instruction, with time allotted for different literacy instructional formats and practices.
For example, Fountas and Pinnell’s Language and Literacy Framework “three blocks” approach calls for a language/word study component, followed by a reading workshop or writing workshop. Within the reading workshop block, teachers traditionally use instructional practices such as minilessons, shared reading (where student and teacher read together from the same text, often including teacher questions and time for discussion and rereading), guided reading (where the teacher works with a small group of students grouped by reading level who are reading the same text), and independent reading, where students read a book of their choosing.
Though teachers occasionally incorporate routines for close reading in their instruction, the approach I see most often used by teachers trying to teach to the Common Core standards within a traditional literacy block is to use complex/on- grade-level text during the minilesson and shared reading portion of the block, since this is the learning segment that is most teacher scaffolded. During this time, the teacher explicitly connects a reading skill or strategy to previous knowledge, reading a complex text aloud while modeling how to use the strategy, then leading guided practice with that text.
This gives all students “exposure” to complex text. This approach has been influenced by the popular strategy of categorizing texts as being at a “frustration level,” “instructional level,” or “independent level,” based on the percentage of words a student can read accurately with comprehension. The idea behind identifying these levels is that we don’t want to “frustrate” students with a text that’s too hard, so let’s buffer them from that experience by letting them apply the strategies they’ve been exposed to in texts more appropriate for their reading levels. We’ll give them time with the teacher during guided reading with a short “instructional level” text, and let them choose an “independent level” text to read during independent reading.Rethinking Guided Reading
However, literacy experts have begun to challenge traditional notions of how we categorize texts as frustration level, instructional, or independent, since there is little research supporting these hard and fast “levels” of texts (Shanahan, 2011). Research, in fact, indicates that achievement may be accelerated by working with texts previously thought to be at a student’s “frustration level.”
Traditional approaches to guided reading advocate the use of an “instructional level” text that will be “supportive but with a few problems to solve” (Fountas and Pinnell, 1996). However, limiting guided reading to only instructional texts limits a student’s opportunity to engage with complex text with teacher support. Rather, teachers should use guided reading time flexibly, incorporating complex text that poses similar challenges to the text in the minilesson or shared reading, or giving students additional time to reread or struggle productively with that same text.
The structure can be similar to a traditional guided reading lesson, but with minimal prereading/purpose setting, and more focus on questions that target the levels of meaning, text structure, language features, or knowledge demands that make that text complex. For instance, a complex literary text may have an intricate structure with multiple points of view and unpredictable time shifts. This article by literacy guru Tim Shanahan shares many suggestions for getting started with scaffolding complex texts.Rethinking Independent Reading
Complex texts require strategies that are not just generic. Always turning kids loose with “independent level” books of their choosing during independent reading time means they won’t have the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in the minilesson or shared reading to a text posing similar challenges, and text complexity is the secret sauce of the Common Core standards.
Frey and Fisher (2013) recommend a “constrained choice” approach that guides students toward texts that align with the content being taught and increases in complexity over the course of the year. This approach also calls for students to be held accountable for applying the approaches or strategies they learned during the minilesson through writing reflections, discussions about the reading, or conferences with the teacher. This maximizes the learning potential of independent reading, and gives students the practice they need with more complex texts so they will be able to transfer these skills to their own reading outside the classroom.A Caveat
While incorporating more complex text into guided and independent reading will help teachers boost the amount of complex text in their instruction and help prepare students to meet the Common Core standards, that does not mean students should never have the opportunity to read books of their choosing or books that are easy for them. Creating opportunities for wide reading from a wide range of choices is essential for developing vocabulary and word knowledge, especially when students read a number of books on the same topic (Liben, 2013).
I’m not arguing that guided reading and independent reading should only occur with complex text. However, we are missing out on opportunities to boost student learning if we think of guided and independent reading rigidly as times for “instructional” and “independent” level texts. Instead, teachers should seek out opportunities to incorporate more complex text into these times during their literacy block.
What are you thoughts? How will you incorporate more complex texts within your existing literacy block? Let us know in the comments below!
Ryan McCarty is a coach with Achievement Network, a nonprofit organization that helps school leaders support teaching that is grounded in standards, data, and the best practices of schools across the country. He partners with schools in Massachusetts. Prior to that, he was a literacy coordinator, instructional coach, and teacher in Chicago, IL. All views are his own. Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanP_McCarty.
Words, Words, Words
Field Notes: Meaningful Work, Meaningful Words
Josh Patterson and Ashley Roberts
As members of our school's instructional team, we regularly use data to guide our professional development plans. Three years ago, our MAP (measures of academic progress) assessment data exposed student challenges with academic vocabulary, especially when we looked at data from one grade level to the next. Our students could read, but as curriculum progressed to more specific grade-level content, students struggled with academic vocabulary deciphering tier three words. Although we believe our earlier practices were beneficial, we've come to realize that vocabulary learning really thrives in a project-based environment.
Reading with a Purpose
First and foremost, students grow their vocabularies by reading. Teachers support this by regularly conferencing with students to determine interests and needs and carving out time for continuous student reading and writing. Although it may be challenging, students should continuously read and write for 75 percent of their day.
With project-based learning (PBL), students have not only a purpose for reading but also a reason to do a lot of it. In the PBL framework for instruction, students are regularly asked to read, research, and respond to texts on meaningful, student-driven topics. After all, inquiry-based instruction requires students to have a deep understanding of concepts. They become invested in their learning as they spend significant time reading independently, with partners, and within small guided groups.
TIPS for Unlocking Words
Students need tools to navigate the academic vocabulary they are exposed to in texts. The TIPS—term, information, picture, sentence—chart strategy provides students with multiple examples of academic words (Rollins, 2014). The chart is a graphic organizer that serves as a reference for the academic terms in a unit. Once students or teachers have identified a term to study, they gather information from their readings that describes the term, draw a graphic representation of the term, and use the term in a sentence. TIPS helps students put vocabulary learning in their own words and pictures, thus providing "just right" instruction at their individual level. Students, especially English language learners, need multiple exposures to words before feeling confident enough to use them in their written and verbal communication.
As PBL allows deeper immersion into topics, students also experience multiple, contextualized uses of academic vocabulary. We've found that TIPS is a valuable student resource for scaffolding word knowledge. One way we use it is in our 2nd grade PBL unit on weather. Prior to the start of the unit, students participate in an immersion center, complete with various weather tools and texts. While at the center, students observe, research, make predictions, and collect vocabulary words to add to the TIPS chart. The class as a whole then refines this list of essential terms through discussion. We find that students are more engaged and committed to word study when they have a tool that invites student responsibility and involvement.
Students need time to practice newly learned words. Sentence starters and frames can help support this practice, especially for reluctant learners or English language learners. Students need many opportunities to talk and write like experts. How do we know authors are knowledgeable about their content? They use academic vocabulary and expert language when writing about a topic.
Authentic writing is another component of PBL. During the PBL unit on weather, students create their own nonfiction books on various storms and recommend precautions to take during severe weather. Students are required to include several nonfiction text features, including their own personalized glossary. When students write about their learning, they demonstrate their level of understanding. Teachers can tell by the inclusion and appropriate use of academic vocabulary in students' writing whether or not they know what the terms mean.
A list of words and definitions is not enough when expecting students to learn vocabulary words. As Maya Angelou stated, "Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning." Classrooms should be filled with discussions about rich texts, authentic student work, and student-created anchor charts and graffiti walls. As educators, we must provide students with multiple opportunities to discover, study, and use words.
Ultimately, the hallmark of increased student vocabulary is student empowerment. When students take ownership of their learning and have the time and tools they need to explore, they not only learn the meaning of words but also become confident owners of the words they use. Then, vocabulary learning becomes more than a study of words; it becomes a voice for students—and hope for a fulfilling, purposeful future.
Rollins, S. P. (2014). Learning in the fast lane: 8 ways to put all students on the road to academic success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
The National Writing Project developed the shark tank as a format for teachers to tap student feedback on curriculum-in-process. When it comes to the effort it takes to writing and to write well, students are investors.
Lynnette Van Dyke's insight:
If a student feels that an assignment is worth “investing” in, he or she will be more likely to engage deeper with the material and work harder--Young people actually have a lot to say about what they’re asked to do in school, and we don’t ask them enough. The Shark Tank format, known to many from the TV show, provided a structure for asking.
The authors explore the experiences readers must have in order to navigate the digital texts they will encounter, as well as the kinds of lessons that must be developed to enhance those experiences.
Lynnette Van Dyke's insight:
Many of our young students come to school with vast experience in the digital world but too often use digital tools in limited ways because they view technology as merely another form of entertainment. Educators William L. Bass II and Franki Sibberson believe that teachers can help students recognize their expertise in out-of-school digital reading and extend it into the world of school. For this to happen, we need to redefine reading to include digital reading and texts, learn how to support digital reading in the classroom, and embed digital tools throughout the elementary and middle school curriculum.
Listen to a conversation between the authors and Principles in Practice editor Cathy Fleischer (13:22):
|Rescooped by Lynnette Van Dyke from 21st Century skills of critical and creative thinking|
"Are you interested in integrating media making into your classroom? Making media, such as videos, narrated slideshows and online maps, can be an engaging way for students to demonstrate knowledge and build critical thinking skills. Find instructions, videos, worksheets and rubrics for implementing media-making projects with students. We also have self-paced professional development courses that you can take to learn media production!"
Cross-curricular activities can increase the relevance and engagement of STEM lessons.
This week’s strategy features students in Ms. Monica Marsing’s 6th grade class tracking food waste in their school cafeteria in order to create solutions for reducing the waste and reusing the rest as compost.
This lesson is exceptionally appropriate because it hits on so many concepts: statistics, problem solving, ecosystems, resource management, and more. In short, the lesson covers every aspect of STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
This lesson is also standards based, addressing the following standards:Use ratios to explore and solve real-world problems.Find the mean of a data set, describe overall patterns, and identify deviations from the overall pattern.Analyze and interpret data.
Watch the video to see how Ms. Marsing executes this lesson, then download the lesson guidebook for everything you need to adapt this lesson in your own classroom. The guidebook also links to additional resources for effective teaching of STEM concepts.
(1) Strategy instruction is effective when the instruction is concentrated. In all of the studies, students were given daily ongoing instruction of and practice with strategies. Programs that give occasional doses of instruction in various strategies may be effective, but there are no studies of that kind of practice.
(2) Strategy instruction can be effective at improving reading comprehension scores at a variety of grade levels, including the primary grades. This surprised me, too. I was pretty sure that comprehension strategies made sense with older students, but not so much with younger ones. That’s not what the research has found, however.
(3) Strategies are not all equal. There is a greater payoff to some strategies than to others, so I would definitely put my instructional nickel on the ones with the big learning outcomes. The most powerful strategies by far are summarization (stopping throughout a text to sum up) and questioning (asking and answering your own questions about the text). The weakest: teaching students to think about how to respond to different question types (effect sizes so small that I wouldn’t waste my time).
(4) Strategy instruction can be effective with about 6 weeks of teaching and practice. Here I’m going with the modal length of strategy studies. Perhaps the effects would have been apparent with fewer weeks of instruction, per Willingham’s contention, and, yet, this hasn’t been studied. Weaker dosages may work, too, but with so little evidence I’d avoid such strong claims.
(5) Even more strategy instruction than this may be effective, but, again, with so little research no one knows. We do have studies showing that 3 years of phonics instruction are more effective than 2 years of phonics instruction, but we don’t have such studies of reading comprehension teaching, so let’s not pretend.
(6) You raise a question about the value of different strategies, Willingham does not. The research reviews show that the teaching of multiple strategies, either singly in sequence or altogether, is beneficial—with stronger results than from single strategies. Multiple strategy teaching may be better because of the possibility that different strategies provide students with different supports (one strategy might help readers to think about one aspect of the text, another might foster some additional insights or analysis). Teach multiple strategies.
(7) The Willingham claims fails to consider the outcome measures. Strategies are good or bad, but he doesn’t focus on what they may be good at. His focus is on motivating readers, but the studies of strategy teaching do not focus on this outcome. I think we overdo the strategy thing, and yet, I’d be surprised if an overemphasis on strategies is why kids don’t like reading. The whole point of strategy teaching is to make students purposeful and powerful, focused on figuring out what a text says. Those kinds of inputs usually have positive motivational outcomes.
(8) It is great that comprehension strategies improve performance on standardized reading tests, but their bigger impact has usually been on specially designed instruments made for the research. Thus, summarizing usually helps students to summarize a text more than it builds general reading comprehension. I think the best test of strategies would be to give two groups a really hard text—like a science textbook—and have them read it and see who would do the best with it (passing tests, writing papers, etc.). I suspect strategies would have a bigger impact on that kind of outcome than passing a test with fairly short easy passages, multiple-choice questions, in a brief amount of time. If I'm correct about that, then strategies would worth a more extensive emphasis. Willingham apparently hasn't read the studies so he is considering only what they have found, not what they haven't considered.
(9) Most students don’t use strategies. Though we know strategies improve comprehension, they are not used much by students. I suspect the reason for this is our fixation on relatively easy texts in schools. The only reason to use a strategy is to get better purchase on a text than one would accomplish from just reading it. If texts are easy enough to allow 75-89% comprehension (the supposed instructional level that so many teachers aim at), there is simply no reason to use the strategies being taught. Teachers may be teaching kids to use strategies, but their text choices are telling the kids that the strategies have no value.
(10) Willingham is trying to reduce the amount of comprehension strategy instruction so that kids will like school better. I doubt that he spends much time in schools. He hasn’t been a teacher of principal or even a teacher educator and his own research hasn’t focused on practical educational applications. I’ve been conducting an observational study of nearly 1000 classrooms for the past few years, and we aren’t seeing much strategy instruction at all. There definitely can be too much strategy teaching, but in most places any dosage, not overdosage, is the problem.
By almost all accounts, Albuquerque, New Mexico, music instructor Nick Prior is an all-star teacher. He runs six choirs, which serve nearly 200 students at the city’s Eisenhower Middle School. His choirs have won state competitions three times, and in multiple categories. Last year, his students swept a national choir...
The texts of beginning reading instruction influence children’s reading performances, which, in turn, predict subsequent success. This report describes how well two quantitative indices identified in the Common Core State Standards—Lexiles and Coh-Metrix—discriminate among different levels and types of beginning reading texts. The differences across text levels predicted by Lexiles were due to sentence length, not vocabulary. Only one of five Coh-Metrix measures—referential cohesion—predicted increased difficulty of beginning texts. Neither system gave sufficiently specific information to match beginning readers with texts. Other systems are needed to make optimal matches between beginning readers and texts