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Close Reading Expository Worksheet

CLOSE Reading Expository Template

CLOSE Reading Expository Worksheet

At the end of this article, I provide a Close Reading Expository Worksheet for you to freely download and use with the next close reading of an expository article, document, selection from a textbook, etc. You will see a few revisions to what many publishers are selling as the close reading strategy. Even a good thing can use a little tweak here or there.

As of this writing, close reading is the primary reading strategy I now see used in schools across America. Having taught for awhile as an elementary reading specialist, middle school, high school, and community college ELA teacher, I’ve seen quite a few new and improved instructional reading strategies come and go. Close reading is an old reading strategy which was re-popularized with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards back in 2009. Among other reforms, the authors argued for a move to more rigorous expository texts and less narrative texts in both elementary and secondary classrooms. The authors championed the close reading strategy as a means to help students access the meaning of text as independent readers. Additionally, the authors stressed the need for text-dependent questions to improve reading comprehension.

As is often the case when we teachers throw out the old and take on the new, we wind up impulsively replacing what has a solid research-base and worked for students with a brand new shiny wrapped package may or may not have a solid research-base and may or may not work for students.

My take is that close reading does have the solid research-base and can work for our students. However, instead of a this or that mentality, we do need to hang onto some of the old research-based strategies. What we need a mid-course correction with the close reading strategy. I’m not alone in this assessment. Noted reading researchers David Pearson (who coined the term mid-course correction for close reading), Isabel Beck, Tim Shanahan, and others such as Grant Wiggins (Understanding by Design) agree that close reading is helpful, but needs fixin’. The Close Reading Expository Worksheet which follows keeps everything good about the close reading strategy while revising what is not so good.

Now mid-course corrections can be tough to pull-off in education. I think back to the early 2000 at the heyday of the differentiated instruction (DI) movement-think conferences with 20,000 attendees, best-selling books, rock star authors, etc. As a reading specialist, I bought into so much of the DI mission, especially teaching according to individual needs. However, so much of the DI focus on multiple intelligences, learning styles, etc. was simply philosophical and certainly not research-based. I tried to re-define DI for my own teaching and books and nudge DI adherents toward assessment-based individualized instruction, keeping the wheat and discarding the chaff. Not much success with my efforts, I’m afraid to say.

Whether teachers will adopt the necessary tweaks to the close reading strategy which will prevent it from becoming just another passing fad, only time will tell. Download the Close Reading Expository Worksheet to see if this mid-course correction makes sense to you and your students.

What Needs to Change

In a related article I provide details about two necessary revisions to the close reading strategy: 1. Eliminating the prohibition on pre-reading strategies which close reading purists claim stifles reader independence. 2. Reducing the dependence on teacher-constructed, text-dependent questions to help students dig deeply into the text.

A New and Improved Close Reading Strategy (The Close Reading Expository Worksheet)

Let’s keep the three separate readings used in the close reading strategy: 1. Key Ideas and Details 2. Craft and Structure and 3. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Let’s keep the Think-Pair-Share, Small Group Share, and Whole Group Discussion. Let’s keep the focus on text-dependent (not unhelpful beyond-the-text personal application) questions. Let’s keep on identifying the BIG IDEA before the first read.

In addition to these strategies, let’s go back to using pre-reading activities and pre-teaching (Marzano) to improve comprehension. No educator should believe that a tabular raza (empty slate) reader is preferable to an informed reader. Comprehension builds from comprehension.  Building prior knowledge can be teacher or student-driven. A brief lecture on the subject or student research before the first reading can make all the difference in comprehension. This revision to close reading is especially important with our diverse student populations.

Let’s go back to encouraging students to develop their own text-dependent questions as they read. The reading-research actually indicates that reader self-generated questions produces greater comprehension than teacher (or publisher)-generated questions. Download my SCRIP Comprehension Strategies with posters, bookmarks, and five introductory lessons at the end of this article.

Let’s go back to a balance between reading both expository and narrative reading genre. Close readings can be highly effective in texts other than articles.

So let’s revise a good thing make it close reading a better reading strategy to develop independent readers. Interested in resources to help you do just that? Check out  the Close Reading Narrative Worksheet FREE resource download HERE. But first, download your Close Reading Narrative Worksheet below. So many free ready-to-use resources, news, and product discounts available only in the Pennington Publishing Newsletter. But first let’s download the Close Reading Expository Worksheet.

Get the Close Reading Expository Worksheet FREE Resource:

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Reading, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Independent Close Reading

I hesitate to criticize a good thing too harshly. We teachers tend all-too-often to abandon something that works for the new latest and greatest educational fad.  This is certainly not my intention in criticizing aspects of the close reading strategy and suggesting revisions.

By way of reminder, close reading is a multi-level strategy to encourage readers to access meaning independently.  Close reading advocates achieve this end by avoiding pre-reading strategies and using text-dependent questions to complete three reading tasks: during the first read, students focus on gleaning key ideas and details. In the second read, students focus on how the author has designed the text (craft and structure). In the third reading, students focus on the integration of knowledge and ideas, such as preparing to use the text in discussion, writing, and comparisons with other texts. Close reading is certainly nothing new and is only one means of helping students become more analytical readers, as I describe in a related article., “Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely.”

Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

Since the advent of the Common Core Standards and the concurrent re-popularization of the close reading strategy by the Common Core authors, teachers have been teaching more rigorous, expository text (a good thing). Teachers are training students to dig deeply into text and read for meaning (a great thing). Teachers have abandoned pure reader response, a.k.a. whole language, activities which focus more on what the reader brings to and gets out of the text rather than what the author has to say (a radical paradigm shift). Wahoo!

However, as noted U.C. Berkeley reading researcher, David Pearson, comments about close reading : “We need a mid-course correction, not a pendulum swing… but with BALANCE in mind… (making) sure that it applies to several purposes for reading (and will) encompass literal, interpretive, and critical reading tasks” (Pearson).

Mid-course Corrections: Two Proposals

1. Close reading advocates are wrong about avoiding pre-teaching. Cold reads in-them-of-themselves do not develop independent readers. Teachers do need to pre-teach (the “into step” of reading) and/or have students pre-research the topic (if an expository close reading) or the author, context and/or genre (if a narrative close reading), especially with rigorous reading-level close readings. Having students access prior knowledge and gap-filling with our diverse learners via pre-teaching strategies (Marzano) improves comprehension and does not turn our students into teacher-dependent learners. Indeed, comprehension builds upon comprehension and enables students to independently access text. The reading research of the last sixty years is quite extensive regarding the positive impact of pre-reading strategies.

2. Close reading advocates over-emphasize the value of text-dependent questions. Now, I certainly agree that we don’t want to return to non-dependent text questions, such as “How does this make you feel?” “How does this apply to your life?” How does your life apply to what the author says?” Aargh! My point is that text-dependent questions foster teacher-dependence during the reading process itself. The goal of reading becomes answering the teacher’s questions. Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t add insight and provoke relevant reader response with some of our teacher questions. However, if we are to create truly independent readers, we need students to develop self-generated question strategies. This interactive talking to the text has a solid research base and is key to improving reading comprehension.

So let’s tweak a good thing (close reading) and make it a better reading strategy that truly helps teachers develop independent readers. Let’s use Independent Close Reading to accomplish that end. Interested in resources to help you do just that? Check out the Close Reading Expository Worksheet FREE resource download HERE and the Close Reading Narrative Worksheet FREE resource download HERE. But first, download your Close Reading Narrative Worksheet below. So many free ready-to-use resources, news, and product discounts available only in the Pennington Publishing Newsletter.

The SCRIP Comprehension Strategies resource includes posters for each of the five comprehension strategies to prompt self-generated questions, SCRIP comprehension bookmarks, and five lessons to teach these strategies.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Reading , , , , , , , ,

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

Before my reading specialist colleagues and fellow English-language arts teachers jump down my throat, I do want to mention a few things at the outset:

  • I think close reading has its place in both elementary and secondary classrooms.
  • I’m still a fan of the Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading, as the document describes… not necessarily as some publishers and pundits have interpreted or applied these Standards.
  • I’ve been teaching for a quite awhile in both the reading and English fields (elementary reading specialist, middle school and high school ELA teacher, and community college reading professor), so I’ve seen a few of the “educational cycles” regarding both teaching reading and literary analysis. Solomon was right: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
  • Disclaimer: I am a teacher publisher and sell a terrific reading intervention program. Think biases.
Close Reading

Close Reading: Don’t Read Too Closely

But the problem that I have is that…

Some educators are making close reading and text dependent questions their only means of teaching reading comprehension and literary analysis. Over the last decade, close reading has just gotten “too big for its britches.”

A few definitions…

Although somewhat a false dichotomy because they really are two sides of the same coin, most educators use reading comprehension to mean “learning to read” and literary analysis to mean “reading to learn.” The former is seen as the stuff of elementary school and latter is practiced in secondary and post secondary.

In a nutshell, close reading means reading to uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension.  The strategy, despite permutations, utilizes text dependent questioning to complete three reading tasks: In the first read, students focus on the most important textual elements (key ideas and details). During the second read, students focus on how the text works (craft and structure). For the third reading, students focus on what the text means to the reader and how it connects to other experiences (integration of knowledge and ideas).

Historical Perspective

I do feel a bit of historical context may help explain where the close reading strategy came from and why we shouldn’t go overboard by using this strategy as our primary means of teaching reading comprehension and literary analysis.

Reader Response Theory

 

The reader response theorists emphasized the interaction of the reader and the text. Perhaps the greatest contributor to this field would be Louise Rosenblatt with her transactional reader-response theory, developed through many influential works beginning in the 1930s until her death in 2005.

Rosenblatt argued that a reader’s life and literary experiences and emotions influence the meaning derived from the text. The meaning of a text is shaped by what the reader brings to the text, what the author writes, and the context in which it is read. Thus, what the text says is both subjective and objective. Some in the reader response camp would go so far as to argue that text only has meaning when involving the reader.

The New Criticism Movement

 

In contrast to reader response advocates, the New Critics of the late 1960s, such as I. A. Richards, argued that a literary work should be read as is and apart from the outside influence of the reader and the historical, sociological, and psychological influences of a given text. Those in the New Criticism movement argued that the task of the reader is to discover the objective meaning of the text (what the text says in-it-of-itself) in its own context. The New Critics first coined the term close reading to describe this process of text dependent literary analysis. Those in this camp would believe that to properly understand the meaning of a text, readers need to put aside their own perspectives and biases. Some would go so far as to suggest that the author’s intended meaning should not be considered; only what the text says itself should be discussed and analyzed.

Many reading and English teachers leaned upon the instructional strategies of popular philosopher and educator, Mortimer Adler, to apply the tenets of New Criticism to focus on the meaning of the text itself.

Text Complexity

Mortimer Adler

 

Pre-dating the New Critics, Mortimer Adler (along with co-author  Charles Van Doren) popularized the essential techniques of what later became known as close reading with his influential How to Read a Book: The classic guide to Intelligent Reading in 1940. Check out an interesting discussion between Adler and Van Doren HERE

Adler, especially, was concerned about the populace’s preference for easy-reading literature instead of the more challenging classics. Adler advocated reading the Great Books, especially those which inculcated the ideas of Western Civilization. As I write, I’m looking at my set of Harvard Classics on the bookshelves.

Adler developed the rudiments of the close reading strategy to help readers tackle the textual complexity of these challenging books. His belief that everyone could understand any literary work, given the right instructional tools, was highly influential in the 1950s and 1960s. Many educators in private and some public schools developed Great Books programs to implement Adler’s ideals.

Like Adler, the authors of the Common Core State Standards believed that students were not being exposed to complex texts. The authors relied heavily on the 2006 ACT report, Reading Between the Lines, to argue that K–12 reading texts had been “dumb-downed” over the last 50 years and that teachers need to increase the levels of text complexity to better prepare students for college and careers, which will demand better readers. In Appendix A the authors summarize the relevant reading research:

Jeanne Chall and her colleagues (Chall, Conard, & Harris, 1977) found a thirteen year decrease from 1963 to 1975 in the difficulty of grade 1, grade 6, and (especially) grade 11 texts. Extending the period to 1991, Hayes, Wolfer, and Wolfe (1996) found precipitous declines (relative to the period from 1946 to 1962) in average sentence length and vocabulary level in reading textbooks for a variety of grades… Carrying the research closer to the present day, Gary L. Williamson (2006) found a 350L (Lexile) gap between the difficulty of end-of-high school and college texts—a gap equivalent to 1.5 standard deviations and more than the Lexile difference between grade 4 and grade 8 texts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Unlike Adler, the Common Core authors did not advocate a return to the Great Books to increase text complexity. Instead, they legislated a move to informational/expository texts, such as technical documents, non-fiction novels, and articles. However, the authors adopted and expanded upon Adler’s close reading strategies to access these complex texts.

Text Dependency

One hallmark of close reading is its dependence upon the text to inform the reader. Two of the primary Common Core authors, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, have argued against the reader-centered approach to reading comprehension, in which what the reader brought to the reading (prior knowledge) and what the reader took out of the reading (in light of the reader’s own experience and needs) were primary emphases.  Instead, in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards these authors have championed the idea that to develop reading comprehension and understanding of complex texts, the questions which teachers use to prompt student engagement with the text need to be text dependent, not reader dependent.

Classroom Application

Close reading in one good reading strategy to promote reading comprehension and discuss the author’s ideas and information. However, there are pitfalls to avoid.

1. As Alex Reid says, “Arguing ‘against close reading’ … is not an argument to say that we should stop paying close attention to texts.” In fact, other reading strategies are just as effective as the close reading strategy. Check out “How to Teach Reading Comprehension” for ideas.

2. The close reading technique necessitates reading brief passages, documents, short articles, etc. The breadth of longer text and the author’s flow of ideas, development of theme and character, etc. are not possible. Yes, teachers need to move away from exclusively teaching novels, but reading longer text produces stamina and joy. Too much close reading does not foster a love for reading.

3. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Any instructional time is reductive, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some advice from Timothy Shanahan, reading researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago:

Of course, not every text deserves a close read. Sometimes it’s okay to be interested only in the story—considerations of craft and structure and deeper implications are beside the point. And classroom reads don’t always have to emphasize close reading; the key is to incorporate close reading into your instruction, not use it exclusively. No one knows how many teacher-led close reads would be a good idea, but don’t overdo it; one or two close reads every couple of weeks (some taking place over multiple days) seems like the right dosage.

4. Close reading tends to produce teacher-dependence, rather than equipping students to become skillful independent readers. True that close reading and accompanying text dependent questions can teach students the tools to unlock the meaning of complex text; however, the value of independent reading at accessible independent levels of word recognition produces the same results by exposing students to the vast array of ideas, text genre, and vocabulary development. See this collection of articles advocating the value of independent reading, especially as homework HERE.

Additionally, teachers need to help students monitor their own reading with self-generated questions. The five SCRIP Comprehension Strategies reading comprehension strategies work for both narrative and expository text and provide a language of instruction for literary analysis and discussion: Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict.

5. Publishers and school district personnel have produced ready-to-use close readings, many of which only focus on factual or literal text dependent questions. Teachers need to ignore these or supplement with pre-reading and reader-response activities, and add on higher order inferential and application questions. David Pearson, Professor Emeritus at U.C. Berkeley has concerns about the Common Core authors’ narrow and restrictive views about text dependent questions. Pearson fears that “We will operationally define text dependent (questions) as literal, factual questions, forgetting that LOTS of other questions/tasks are also text-reliant.” For example, comparison and contrast questions both use the text and go beyond the text.

6. Teachers do need to pre-teach (the “into” of reading), even with close reading. Accessing prior knowledge and gap-filling are still essential vehicles to promote the reader’s understanding of complex text. The role of the reader still has a place in understanding text. Reading remains a two-way street. Yes, we teachers may have gone overboard with reader response in the past. The KWL (Already Know, Want to Know, What I Learned) reading strategy and its variations come into mind. Because the first two components are reader-centered, there are significant limitations. Students don’t know what they don’t know and they similarly don’t know what they Want to know. Or, they may Want to know what is inconsequential, trivial, or not available in the reading or available resources. More HERE.

Grant Wiggins, educator and author of the influential Understanding by Design, argues for a balanced approach in close reading in his article, Authentic Education:

As I noted in my previous post, this does not mean, however, that we should ignore or try to bypass the reader’s responses, prior knowledge, or interests. On the contrary, reading cannot help but involve an inter-mingling of our experience and what the author says and perhaps means. But it does not follow from this fact that instruction should give equal weight to personal reactions to a text when the goal is close reading. On the contrary: we must constantly be alert to how and where our own prejudices (literally, pre-judging) may be interfering with meaning-making of the text.

7. Re-define the term close reading to mean a variety of strategies that readers use to look closely at text. As noted reading researchers, Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown, state: “Our view of deeper understanding of text, which we have coined as ‘grist,’ is akin to close reading. Our definition of close reading is keen attention to fine details of language for the purpose of appreciating authors’ craft toward figuring out how broader-level meanings are developed.”

I’ll leave U.C. Berkeley reading researcher, David Pearson, with these last words about close reading and text dependent questioning: “We need a mid-course correction, not a pendulum swing… but with BALANCE in mind… (making) sure that it applies to several purposes for reading (and will) encompass literal, interpretive, and critical reading tasks.”

Get the Close Reading Narrative Worksheet FREE Resource:

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , ,

To Read or Not to Read: That is the Question

Don't Read Class Novels Out Loud

Class Novels

In terms of teaching literature, I live in two worlds. I am an English-language arts teacher and a reading specialist. Although the two worlds would seem to be quite complementary, this is not always the case.

As an English-language arts teacher, I love teaching the nuances of the author’s craft. I live to point out allusions, symbolism, and an occasional foreshadowing. I am ecstatic when I am able to lead my students into the “ah ha” experience of how a passage reinforces the theme of a novel. I believe that we English-language arts teachers do have “content” to share with students. Go ahead… try to convince me that being able to identify the omniscient point of view is not a critical life skill. Make my day… My students need me; they are dependent upon me to teach them this content.

However, as a reading specialist, I also believe in the skills/process side of reading. In this world, my aim is to work my way out of a job. I have to change dependence into independence. The more students can do on their own to understand and retain the meaning of text, the better I have accomplished my mission. I need to train students to become successful independent readers in college, in the workplace, and at home.

Which leads us to our dilemma. When we teach a novel or short story, how much of our instruction should be teacher-dependent and how much should be teacher-independent? My thought is that we English-language arts teachers tend to err too frequently on the side of teacher-dependence and we need to move more to the side of teacher-independence.

As a reading specialist/staff developer at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels, I have had to opportunity to see hundreds of teachers “in action,” teaching a novel or short story to students. From my experience, the predominant way that English-language arts teachers work through a text is by reading and dissecting the entire text out loud (an in class).

The reasons that we hang on to the teacher-dependent mode of reading out loud (or via student popcorn reading/CDs]podcasts) and dissecting the text are varied:

1. We want to earn our pay-checks by being the ones responsible for student learning.

2. The text is too hard for students to understand it on their own.

3. We like being the “sage on the stage.”

4. Students lack sufficient prior knowledge.

5. Reading out loud is a behavior management tool.

In sum, we distrust the readiness of students to handle the challenging tasks of reading and thinking on their own. We know that we do a better job of understanding the text than our students.

The way we casually describe what we are teaching is informative: In the staff room, a science teacher asks what we are teaching. We respond, “I’m half-way through teaching Julius Caesar,” not “I’m teaching my students such and such a Standard…”,” nor “I’m teaching Roman history through…”, nor “I’m teaching these reading and literary skills through…”, nor “My students are learning…” We tend to view the literature as our curriculum and not as an instructional vehicle. When the literature is treated as an end–in-itself, we are ensuring that our instruction remains teacher-dependent. After all, we are the keeper of the keys. We know “Julius Caesar” better than the students (and probably Will himself). A high school colleague of mine literally had memorized every word of the play and worked her students through the play from memory. That’s teacher-dependence.

How to Move toward Teacher-Independence

Create Independent Readers

Create Text-Dependent Readers

1. Lose the Guilt

We really need to relieve ourselves of the self-imposed or colleague-imposed guilt that we are not really teaching a short story, poem, or novel unless we read and dissect every word out loud.

2. Become a Coach

We need to become coaches, not spoon-feeders. Let’s coach students to become effective independent readers by giving them the skills to understand the text on their own. Here are some effective reading comprehension strategies that will move students toward that independence: https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/how-to-teach-reading-c…

3. Get strategic

Some reading out loud and dissecting text is essential. But when to do so and when not to do so?

A good guideline to help us decide how much to read out loud, with explanation and gap-filling, is word recognition. Simply put, if the novel, story, etc. is at 95% word recognition for the vast majority of students, then there should be less reading out loud, i.e., the reading is at the independent reading level of students. If there is lower word recognition, then more reading out loud/working through the text will be necessary (or the book selection is inappropriate for the students) for this instructional reading level. For more on how to use word recognition to inform instructional decisions, see my blog at https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/how-to-get-students-to… As a relevant aside, I feel that word recognition is a much better indicator of an appropriate student to text match than a lexile number.

4. Trust Your Judgment-Not Just Data

Of course, using this rather clinical criterion of word recognition has its limitations: maturity of theme, unfamiliar historical context, amount of allusions or figures of speech etc. After all, we all know students who “read” the last Harry Potter book and Twilight with enjoyment, albeit limited comprehension, when their word recognition rate was at the instructional end of the spectrum, so motivation is an important factor in determining what can be left to independent reading.

5. Focus on the Pay-offs

Independent reading of text has significant pay-offs. Reading independently at the 95% word recognition level of text will expose most readers to about 300 unknown words in 30 minutes of reading. Learning 5% of these words from the surrounding context clues of the text is realistic. This means that students will learn about 15 new words during a typical reading session.

6. Experiment with Alternative Instructional Approaches, But…

Reciprocal teaching, literature circles, GIST strategies, partner reading, jigsaw. Yes. But don’t leave out what should be the primary instructional approach: independent reading with teacher and peer support. My FREE download below will be a helpful start toward this goal.

If our goals are to foster the abilities to read independently with good comprehension/retention and to inspire young adults to read for purpose and pleasure as lifelong readers, then we’ve got to cut the cords and become more teacher-independent and less teacher-dependent.

*****

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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How to Memorize Using the Grouping Technique

Grouping Memory Strategy

Grouping Memory Technique

The grouping technique (also referred to as the chunking strategy) can be an effective tool to help you memorize items that can be placed into categories. We know from recent hemispheric brain research that our brains act as computer file folders, slotting newly learned information in the same file as already-learned information that fits within that same file. If we take the time to organize new information in same way that our brains do, we can enhance our retention of that information.

This simple memory technique will help students of all ages place many items into the long term memory. Using the grouping technique, the  specific details of a lecture or reading can be organized into meaningful and memorable categories. Grouping is an effective strategy for reviewing notes and chunking information into memorable categories for test preparation. Why not score core higher on tests and make study fun by learning the way our brains are organized?

The categories we develop to remember similar items don’t have to be organized by content. Any similarities can be used to classify items as a group. For example, a group of people could be classified according to sex, body size, color of skin, eye or hair color, introverted-extroverted—the possibilities are endless.

Let’s learn how to use the Grouping Technique to remember a list of nine items. You are driving into work and your friend phones to tell you that you’ve been invited to go on a backpacking trip next weekend. “Sure, I’ll remember what to bring,” you respond to your friend. The equipment list includes the following:

  • tent
  • flashlight
  • stove
  • matches
  • sleeping bag
  • fuel
  • utensils
  • ground cloth
  • food

At first glance, the equipment items might appear to be quite random and you may be thinking that you will have to sacrifice your pride and call your friend back later to remind you of some of the items the backpacking list. After all, if you are responsible for bringing the food, you don’t want to forget that item! But, instead, you take a few moments to apply the Grouping Technique and you have the list memorized perfectly. You simply categorize the items into these groups:

Sleeping

  • sleeping bag
  • tent
  • ground cloth

Light/Fire

  • matches
  • stove
  • flashlight
  • fuel

Eating

  • food
  • utensils

Works, doesn’t it? Notice that the categories do not have to contain equal numbers of the similar items. Also, a few exceptions would certainly be easier to remember than memorizing the entire list of information as random, un-related items.

For abstract concepts, try substituting them with concrete objects to place them within your groups. For example, it is easier to substitute and place the concrete Liberty Bell into a category than the concept of “freedom.”

Not only does the grouping memory technique help convert short-term memory into long-term memory, grouping also helps us organize and synthesize seemingly unrelated information. By comparing and analyzing details, we can form main ideas. Perfect for pre-writing and literary analysis.

Students using Cornell Notes and the AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) strategies will especially appreciate the grouping memory technique as a review and organizational aid. For example, from a lecture on Spanish colonization of the Americas, a student might organize the narrative notes into, say, these categories: explorers, discoveries, indigenous peoples, successes, failures. What a great way to organize notes for memorable test study.

Memorizing using the Grouping Technique will enable you to retain the memory of many seemingly unrelated items. Frequent rehearsal of the categories and their items will place the information into your long-term memory. Useful for upcoming tests, speeches, lectures, conversations, party planning, shopping lists? I should say so.

Check out these other brief articles on helpful memorization techniques: catch sentencescatch words, linking, association, This Old Man, and location.

The author’s Essential Study Skills is the study skill curriculum that teaches what students need to know to succeed and thrive in schoolOften, the reason why

Essential Study Skills Program

Essential Study Skills

students fail to achieve their academic potential is not because of laziness or lack of effort, but because they have never learned the basic study skills necessary for success.

The 56 lessons in Essential Study Skills will teach your students to “work smarter, not harder.” Students who master these skills will spend less time, and accomplish more during homework and study time. Their test study will be more productive and they will get better grades. Reading comprehension and vocabulary will improve. Their writing will make more sense and essays will be easier to plan and complete. They will memorize better and forget less. Their schoolwork will seem easier and will be much more enjoyable. Lastly, students will feel better about themselves as learners and will be more motivated to succeed. Essential Study Skills is the ideal curriculum for study skill, life skill, Advocacy/Advisory, Opportunity Program classes. The easy-to-follow lesson format of 1. Personal Assessment 2. Study Skill Tips and 3. Reflection is ideal for self-guided learning and practice. Contact the publisher for affordable site licenses.

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