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.

Jim Burke’s “Teaching: The First Ten Minutes”

Burke Jim Burke’s “Teaching: The First Ten Minutes”
Presentation at MRA 2007

Jim Burke
began by inviting participants to think about the actions that students must engage in to be successful in their core academic work. He then talked about how students need to continue a number of academic skills in classes that have traditionally not been heavily focused on those skills. for instance in health.

He showed us a matrix of “academic essentials” that he invites students to use as they analyze texts. He discussed how this matrix can be used as a kind of mental weightlifting in which students push beyond what they initially are able to do into harder tasks. They move beyond what they are typically able to do in order to build up mental muscle.

Then, he shared a “time use evaluation” model, asking us to think about how we divide up our class periods and how many “teaching moves” we make in a period. The goal for the first ten minutes, then, is to consider what you do, how you do it, and why so that the initial class time is purposeful and focused. We don’t want to do “drive by literacy instruction,” where we are so focused on checking off the standards that we forget what good teaching consists of. It is not a model of responsive instruction. Burke suggests that kids work well with about three instructional moves per class.

Some examples that he shared came from the Academic Workout series that he has created for First Choice Publishers. One example is a “types of questions” overhead. The four types of questions that readers can ask of texts are:

  • Right there — factual questions that use the same wording from the passage
  • Think and search – interpretive questions that require searching and skimming
  • Author and you – answers to these questions are not directly in the texts and require inferential thinking
  • On your own – answers here are based on your own experience

As a lesson, he would have the overhead up for students at the beginning of class and give them three minutes to take notes on the types of questions. Then, he shows a model and works with the class to generate a question about that text at each level. Finally, he moves from the first ten minutes into the rest of the lesson where students would do their own independent reading and develop their own questions. Through this process, students develop academic language.

For another example, Burke showed an image from Cameron Clapp’s website and asks students to create a list of nouns, verbs, and adjectives describing what is going on, and then develops that into a full paragraph. He gives another example of a painting of a soldier with a number of elements that inspire thought and discussion. Questions could include:

  • Who is this? Where is he?
  • Why is he carring a gun different from the bullets he has over his shoulder?
  • Why is he wearing three dog tags?

He begins his teaching with the idea in mind, “What do I need to do to help kids be successful?” He gives another example of a structured conversation that happens in the first ten minutes that can then help students structure the next task. For instance, having students talk about a text before they begin writing an essay. He then moved in to possible examples based on his current teaching with Crime and Punishment.

Possible Beginnings for Your Class

  • Open with a question: “What is a crime?”
  • Post a quotation: “THe past is not dead; it’s not even the past” William Faulkner
  • Visual: painting, photo, ad, video, infographic
  • Text: Nietzsche, poem, article, excerpt
    • Bring one powerful paragraph back over and over again through the course of a unit so students can track their thoughts and opinions about it over time
  • Opinionaire: “When is an action a crime?”
  • 4Rs: Read, retell, respond, relate
  • Mini-Lesson: summarizing, questioning, compare/contrast writing
  • Discussion: share and compare
  • Generate: types and examples of punsihment
  • Priming the mind: questions to consider and background
  • Write: compare similarities and differences
  • Quiz: explain a line from the chapter
    • Reflective reading quiz: generate five words about tone, character, etc and choose the best word to describe tone/character/etc and why it’s the best
    • This embeds the language of testing (“choose the one that best describes”) in the context of an authentic lesson

He also mentioned the Linda Darling-Hammond article about making homework purposeful, such that students want to do homework so they can come to class engaged and ready to work. Other research:

  • Nystrand in RTE (2005): Nothing has more significant benefits in comprehension and engagement than structured use of classroom conversation
    • The average teacher only allows for one minute of conversation in class per week, although even that one minute makes a difference
  • Wilhelm (2006): talks about organizing your class around an inquiry. Rather than just reading Romeo and Juliet, ask “What makes a good relationship?”
  • Reading Next (2004): teaching for meaning, not just to get through things

Telling the Technology Story in K-12 Schools

The past week or so has been crazy. Yes, busy crazy for me personally, for sure.

But, I am talking about another kind of craziness.

I am talking about the number of teachers that I have talked to who have been fighting filters, trying to get equipment to work, and generally trying to make meaningful use of technology in their classrooms.

After last week’s Teachers Teaching Teachers about infrastructure, and being invited to talk with the group again this week, there are two stories that I feel I need to tell. The first comes from a research project about blogging and podcasting in which I am collaborating with an RCWP colleague, Dawn Reed. The second, from another RCWP colleague, Stacy Schuh who was trying to figure out who to get colleagues in her school to use blogs.

First, Dawn and I have been working for the past few months to create an opportunity for students in her speech class to blog, podcast, and offer peer response to one another. In so doing, she has run into multiple layers of complications in regards to allowing audio content over her school network, having the appropriate equipment in her classroom for students to listen to podcasts, getting technical support, and having parents sign off on a consent form for students to post their work online (or, perhaps, getting students to take the consent form home for parents to sign…). In short, she feels that:

Basically, I need help to get around what our technology is set up not to do.

Now, this is not a matter of Dawn throwing up her arms in frustration at the first sign of a problem. Instead, I feel that this comment speaks to the deep and sometimes unseen forces that school infrastructure — both social and physical — can have on a teacher’s ability (and willingness) to engage in technology-based work with her students. These roadblocks that she has encountered are indcative of how we refuse to change what Tyack and Cuban would call the “grammar of schooling”: the ways in which the traditional school day, quarters, semesters, and years are structured as well as the generally restrictive and skill-and-drill ways in which we view using technology in school. These visisons continue to propel our decision making processes about why and how to use technology, even though the changes are happening faster than we can keep up with if we are willing to innovate, let alone if we are not.

Second, Stacy a teacher at RCWP — who works at a public charter school — has essentially become the webmaster for her school because she was able to get the free Lunar Pages account for K-12 educators. The school didn’t have a website, nor did teachers have email, until she set up the site a year ago. She has had her students blogging this year on a Word Press blog that she installed on the site.

Recently, she wanted to create a blog for her colleagues but everything in her school is filtered (Blogger, Edublogs, etc) except for the domain that she created through Lunar Pages because it is, essentially, the school website. So, as she and I were trying to think through all the options, I just suggested that she install another Word Press blog. She did. And they are blogging now.

As I think about these two teachers and the infrastructure problems that they are encountering, I think that someone needs to help out. Perhaps NWP — or at least local sites — could team with a hosting company like Lunar Pages to make things easily available to teachers that can help them do their work better and empower them to make their own decisions related to technology. Then, teachers would have control over their domains, both classroom and web-based ones.