Doug Fisher’s “Improving Adolescent Literacy: Strategies at Work”

Doug Fisher’s “Improving Adolescent Literacy: Strategies at Work”

Fisher outlined a program that he and teachers at their high school (he has been on loan from SDSU) use for literacy achievement.

Some Foundations

  • Reading time every day — practice makes permanent as it relates to SSR
  • Rationale for choosing strategies:
    • Is it research based?
    • Is it transferable across content areas?
    • Will these strategies have high utility in college?

Literacy Strategies

  • Seven literacy strategies that teachers use in every class, all day, from K-12, that all the staff members agreed to:
    • Writing to learn
      • Not process writing like in ELA
      • Helps clarify students’ thinking and used as a daily assessment
      • Kids are only expected to write 6.5 minutes each day, on average, in high school content area classes
    • Read aloud/shared reading
      • These happen in every class, every day (5-7 minutes in a block of 90 minutes, and the teachers shares/models his/her thinking). Comprehension modeling happens in every classroom and kids can apply these ideas to all their other classes.
      • Good selections
      • Connected to the class
      • Access to the text?
      • Four categories of read alouds
        • Comprehension only
        • Vocabulary — thinking through it and getting contextual clues to solve word parts and meaning or access other resources. Thus, we should never tell students to “skip it” when they come across a difficult word. We would never model skipping; we model solving.
        • Text structures — teachers noticed and explained when they noticed certain text structures like cause and effect, problem and solution, etc. This works for both informational texts and narratives, too.
        • Text features — what do you add as a writer to improve comprehension? Graphics, titles, headers, fonts, etc.
    • Anticipatory activities (building background)
      • KWL
        • In 1998 when this began, high school teachers didn’t really know about this strategy. Fisher talked about a teacher who did the KWL for his students and thought that “the students don’t know anything.” He talked about how this is a shift in teachers’ thinking, not just implementing a strategy.
      • Discovery
      • Anticipation guides
      • Questions
      • Quick writes
      • Discrepant events
      • Demonstrations
    • Vocabulary development
      • General words used in everyday language with agreed meaning across contexts
      • Specialized (academic) vvocabulary are words with multiple meanings in different content areas
      • Technical, discipline-specific vocabulary that is dependent to field of study (photosynthesis)
    • Reciprocal teaching
      • Built by a class to class habit
    • Graphic organizers — students must do this work. Teachers shouldn’t just make a Venn Diagram and then expect students to fill it out.
      • Concept maps
      • Diagrams
      • Text structure charts (cause/effect, temporal sequence, problem/solution)
      • Students’ #1 choice — most helpful for remembering information
    • Cornell note-taking
      • Every class uses this note-taking structure with a major column, minor column, summary space at the bottom of the page
      • Note-taking is the single greatest predictor of college success
      • They teach this starting in kindergarten

Model of Instruction
One of the things that is very absent from school is a “gradual release of responsibility” from teacher to student.

  • Focus lesson – “I do it”
  • Guided Instruction – “We do it”
  • Collaborative – “You do it together”
  • Independent – “You do it alone”

We can not have the “do it yourself” model where teachers give a few instructions and turn kids loose. We also need to consider time for kids to collaborate with one another so that they can consolidate what they are learning. We need to increase the amount of time that students are using academic language with one another. Fisher gave a great example of learning how to work with his cell phone and how the sales person led him through “guided instruction” so that he could learn how to do it. Everything that I have learned how to do, he explained, has come from this gradual release model.

He is worried that reading strategies are becoming “curricularized” for large chunks of time (for a four week unit, for instance). He talked about how a student read “Stone Fox,” and how the kids had been predicting “everything, man.” The student will necer mobilize predicting on his own because it has always been a teacher-driven aspect of his learning.

You have to do this work with interesting and engaging text. For instance, see Phineas Gage.

1 thought on “Doug Fisher’s “Improving Adolescent Literacy: Strategies at Work””

  1. Doug,

    You have helped us in many ways but our focus is being lost on too many things. We have lost the mission on gradual release. I would love to have a conversation on the essentials. Band wagon bound.

    Crossroads middle school


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