Saturday, April 26, 2014

Some Excellent Resources for Literacy 2.0

In today's post, I am sharing four books that have been very helpful as I work on my new book for Heinemann entitled The Reading Workshop 2.0: Teaching Reading in the Digital Age that will be out in 2015. There comes a point in preparing for your own writing where you feel saturated with what is available. Of the 40 or so books I bought and read, these 4 were the most informative in terms of pedagogical quality and a solid theoretical foundation. I feel ready to write my own version of this concept, but as always, we stand on the shoulders of others as we work on our own writing.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

PBD: Humorous Picturebooks Focusing on Writing

In today's Picturebooks of the Day, I share some of the new, funny picturebooks about writers and being a writer I have enjoyed recently. The Day the Crayons Quit is a humorous look at what happens if we mistreat our crayons by not attending to their sensitive nature. Little Red Writing plays on the traditional tale to share some insights into being a writer. Ike's Incredible Ink is about some ink gone wild. Each of these books offers opportunities for discussing the nature of writing with our students and children. Great lesson possibilities and great literature makes a wonderful combination.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Gradual Release of Responsibility Model Revisited

Since 1984 when Pearson and Gallagher wrote about the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model (GRR), it has served as a framework for many literacy instructional programs and approaches to developing comprehension lessons. The GRR model is based on the transfer of responsibility for a particular learning task (eg. reading a text) from the teacher or more proficient reader to the novice reader or student. The focus of this model is the level of responsibility the teacher must maintain to ensure a successful learning outcome or completion of a particular task, or the amount of responsibility the teacher releases to the student. It assumes that responsibility initially resides with the teacher and is given over to the students or learners. By focusing on the amount of responsibility released by a teacher this becomes a model for teaching, not learning.

In the opening chapter of Lessons in Comprehension, I wrote about a different perspective, namely an Emerging Expertise Model (EE) based on Pearson and Gallagher’s work. The EE model I described focused on the student’s emerging expertise or involvement in the learning experience, rather than the release of responsibility from the teacher. The focus in this model is on the student and the amount of responsibility the student accepts. The focus of this model is on learning, not teaching. I believe that both the teacher’s and student’s involvement are equally important components in any learning situation, and must remain part of any instructional model.

Margaret Mooney reconceived the GRR model according to the terms “To, With & By” referring to the teacher’s role in literacy instructional experiences. Teachers were required to include reading TO students, reading WITH students and reading BY students. Again, the focus is on the level of involvement of the teacher, assuming that students will accept the level of responsibility not accounted for by the teacher. However, when teachers are reading TO students, their role is to listen to the story and attend to the demonstrations being given. When students are reading BY themselves, it is the responsibility of the teacher to monitor the students’ progress and maintain a successful learning experience.

The level of support offered by the teacher, or the amount of responsibility released, has also been referred to as “scaffolding” by Bruner, Wood and Ross in 1978. In their seminal article, scaffolding has three aspects: 1) allowing a learner to do what they are capable of individually, 2) offering support for what a learner can almost do on their own, and 3) doing for learners what they cannot do. Drawing upon these three aspects, it remains the teacher’s responsibility for maintaining the quality of the learning experiences provided students. The level of responsibility a teacher provides must be in response to the amount of “expertise” a learner develops. The optimal amount of support or scaffold can only be determined in the context of the actual learning event through close observation of the learner’s ability and competence. We do not know what learners are capable of doing on their own or with our support until we get them involved in a learning task. This would require our assessments are always conducted in actual literacy experiences or tasks.

The scaffolds we provide can within a task, for example how much response we give a reader in a particular shared reading approach, and across tasks, for example when teachers decide to read a text aloud to students, with students or allow them to read independently. What we want to provide students, both within tasks and across tasks is a manageable amount of challenge. We don’t want students to become overly frustrated, however, we want them presented with enough challenge to require student involvement and thinking. This level of challenge will differ for each reader and cannot be accurately assessed outside the actual learning experience. It must assessed in the context of the learning experience and is based on the child’s developing competence or expertise. Because of this, teachers’ close observation of student literacy behaviors is paramount. What an individual can do with the help of a more capable other can only be understood in the actual context of learning something new. It is for this reason that the line representing the transfer of responsibility or the level of emerging expertise must remain flexible to continual revision during literacy instruction.

PBD: Flora and the Flamingo

My last wordless picturebook review for awhile is the Caldecott Honor book Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle. The lovely pink art deco designs and the reflection of the flamingo movements by Flora are a visual delight. This wordless picturebook is highly interactive, flaps and half pages to open. Young readers will really enjoy playing with this lovely book.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

PBD: Locomotive

I have been exploring Wordless Picturebooks for my upcoming column in The Reading Teacher (IRA). Locomotive is one of my favorites so far. The detailed information and settings explored in this wordless book are rich in American History. Learning about the history of trains in America through the stunning visually rendered narrative would entice boy and girl readers alike.

Brian Floca's website contains lots of great information for further exploring this picturebook and his other works (especially Moonshot).

Rethinking Comprehension: Some Thoughts

Some excerpts from:

Serafini, F. (2012). Rethinking Reading Comprehension: Definitions, Instructional Practices, and Assessment (pp. 189-202). In E. Williams (Ed.), Critical Issues in Literacy Pedagogy: Notes from the Trenches. Illinois State University Press.

It may be useful to reconsider the term comprehension (as noun), referring to comprehension as a commodity that is individually acquired, or some amount of knowledge that is literally taken away from every successful reading event. Instead, it may be more appropriate to use the term comprehending (as verb), to suggest reading is a process, a recursive cycle of generating meanings that changes each time readers transact with a text across particular contexts. This shift from comprehension as a noun to comprehending as a verb would also require comprehension assessment to take place during the act of reading and discussing a text, rather than simply measuring how much of a pre-determined amount of meanings a reader accumulated and could represent after reading a text.

Research from a socio-cultural perspective focuses on the types of meanings that readers construct, how these meanings are affected by the social context and reading practices that readers are located within and the purposes of constructing particular responses (Gee, 1992; John-Steiner et al., 1994; Weaver, 1994). Readers construct readings (plural), not as originators of meaning, but as human subjects positioned through social, political and historical practices that remain the location of a constant struggle over power. Every classroom is a site for the production of meaning, and every interpretive community has some alignment with a particular literary tradition or perspective (Fish, 1980). The shift from a cognitive to a socio-cultural perspective assumes that cognition is constructed by the social context, not just embedded within the social context (Lewis, 2000).
An expanded definition of reading comprehension should address the process of generating viable interpretations in transaction with texts, and one’s ability to construct understandings from multiple perspectives; including the author’s intentions, textual references, personal experiences and socio-cultural contexts in which one reads. In addition, reading comprehension should be viewed as an orchestration of the following four processes: (1) navigating textual elements, including written language, design features, and visual images and other multimodal elements, (2) generating meanings in transaction with texts, (3) articulating one’s ideas and meanings within a community of readers, and (4) interrogating the meanings constructed in a recursive, socially grounded process.

The following are some assertions based on a socio-cultural perspective on reading:

1. there is no unmediated access to texts, there are only particular readings that are privileged over others, no God’s Eye View or transcendent authority is available as an objective reading to compare other readings with.

2. texts are social artifacts, created by authors and read by readers that are embedded in particular social contexts and practices.

3. meaning is always socially constructed.

4. meaning is always historically embedded in local and particular contexts.

5. meaning is always political, working towards particular interests.

6. each reading has particular cultural capital, some readings are more privileged than others in the context of the classroom.

Based on these assertions, meanings constructed during the act of reading are socially embedded, temporary, partial and plural (Corcoran, Hayhoe, & Pradl, 1994). There is not an objective truth about a text, but many truths, each with its own authority and its own warrants for viability aligned with particular literary theories and perspectives. The meanings constructed by readers at any one point in time are plural and open for reconsideration at another time when transacting with the text.

Students are constructed as readers of particular types by the reading practices available to them and by the discourses which locate and situate reading practices and readers. As we expand our definition of comprehension to include the socio-cultural, political and historical aspects of reading, we are better positioned to reconsider the instructional approaches and assessment frameworks that would best support readers in their development. Teaching readers to simply employ particular cognitive strategies without consideration of the social and cultural contexts in which they read is myopic, if not theoretically antiquated.

Monday, April 21, 2014

PBD: Desert Seasons - A Year in the Mojave

About ten years ago, I illustrated my first picturebook with photographs from the Mojave Desert. Working with a teacher friend, Ruth Devlin from Las Vegas, NV, we created this multimodal journal to share with children our love of the desert. The book is out of print now, and some of my images were not well reproduced, but it was still my first, and as they say you never forget your first!

Instructional Trajectory

            Numerous educational publications of late have described in arduous detail the characteristics or components of effective reading comprehension lessons. These descriptions have included lists of resources, including children’s literature and other texts, lesson plans, instructional approaches, and even suggestions for assessment techniques to ensure  students are understanding what they are reading. However, one aspect of these comprehension lessons seems to have gone unnoticed; what these lessons should do for novice readers in the future, after the lesson is over. As classroom teachers and literacy educators, we need to consider the residual effects or the consequences of our reading comprehension lessons. It is this residual effect that I am calling “Instructional Trajectory.”
            Instructional trajectory is a concept that looks at the effects of a lesson to consider what range, depth and support these lessons provide. Let me explain in more detail what I mean by Instructional Trajectory, and then I will provide some brief examples for further clarification.
            Instructional Trajectory is a consideration of the lasting effects a lesson may have, and the types of supports the lesson may offer. Instructional Trajectory has several components. First, the range of a comprehension lesson considers in how many future contexts individual lessons will support readers. Effective lessons in comprehension should work in a variety of contexts, enabling novice readers to comprehend a variety of texts, for a variety of purposes. I don’t mean to imply that these lessons are “universal strategies” that readers simply apply every time they encounter a text. What I mean is that the focus of our lesson should be its future uses with texts yet to be encountered, not only those texts being read at one particular moment. For example, the lesson I have entitled “Approaching a Text” has an extensive range because it can be used with virtually any text a reader selects, for a variety of purposes. A lesson that focuses on how to read a single Haiku poem may be effective, but it certainly has a limited range for most readers.
            Second, lessons should be examined for their relevance. By this I mean, lessons should prepare novice readers to use strategies that will help them in reading events they will encounter in the world, not just in school. Some lessons seem to prepare readers for solely school-based literacy events, not those that occur in the world outside school. Learning how to construct a mobile based on a book character may help students garner approval in some classrooms, but I strongly doubt it will help them effectively perform in any literate events once outside the school grounds. Our lessons have to be relevant to the literacies of our lives.
            Lessons should also be examined for their ability to help students generate interpretations before, during, and after reading, or what I would call the lesson’s Interpretive Focus. In other words, this might be considered the depth of a particular lesson. The goal of comprehension lessons should be comprehending texts. This may sound redundant, but I have seen some lessons that stop short of the goal of comprehending. We need to keep our “eye on the prize” so to speak. In this case, the prize is making sense of what we read. An example I have used in some recent workshops speaks about a classroom where the focus of the lessons was on learning how to predict. Although, I would agree that prediction may help in comprehending some texts, in some particular contexts, the goal is not to get good at predicting. The goal is to get good at using predicting to make sense of texts. Our lessons need to keep the focus on generating interpretations, not the isolated use of the strategy itself.
            Another example is the creation of classroom charts or artifacts during some comprehension lessons. In many, if not all of the lessons that I have written about describing effective teaching, I have included the creation of charts to support the focus of the lessons being taught. These charts serve as an “audit trail” of where the lessons have been and allow teachers to build upon these foundations in subsequent lessons. But the goal is not to create beautiful charts. The goal is to use charts to extend thinking and discussion. These charts are just a thinking device used “in service of meaning,“ not the primary focus of the lesson.
The fourth, and certainly the most important component of Instructional Trajectory, is whether our lessons help change and improve the way teachers and students think, talk about, and respond to what they are reading. This is called Sustainability. A lesson should not just be about what happens that day, but the changes it affects in the students’ future readings and thinking. Quality lessons should have a sense of “teaching forward.” In other words, the effectiveness of the lesson is measured in what happens after the lesson, not during it.
The primary goal of the Reading Workshop instructional framework that I have been developing over the past decade is to help novice readers and teachers see texts in new ways, talk about texts in more meaningful ways, and comprehend what they read from a variety of theoretical perspectives. Although this is not easy to define, assess or predict, it is the primary consequence for our lessons and should be used to judge the quality of the lessons we provide.
            At this point, you might be asking, “Where does one find evidence that any of these things are occurring?” I believe that we may find evidence of the residual effects of our lessons in the writing our students do in their reader response logs, the discussions of texts we have in whole class settings and literature study groups, the strategies our readers employ when reading independently, and the growth we observe during our comprehension strategy groups. Our lessons should help students manage the challenges they encounter as the texts they read become more complex, and the knowledge base required to understand becomes more substantial.

It is not enough to say that one has taught a certain strategy. It is more important to consider whether that strategy is effective in developing the types of readers we want to support, and whether there is evidence that our lessons are being taken up by the readers in our classes. Our lessons should be coherent demonstrations of the types of literate behaviors we want our students to develop in their reading lives. Quality lessons should include and address the four aspects of Instructional Trajectory described above, namely; Range, Relevance, Interpretive Focus, and Sustainability. These are the essential components of Instructional Trajectory.