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

Visions of Online Learning

Are we, as educators, approaching this in the right way?

To deal with the growth, the University of California is launching an extensive effort to make sure applicants’ online high school courses are on par with traditional classroom instruction.

More students across US logging on to online classrooms – The Boston Globe

To be honest, I am not sure that I want online courses to be “on par” with traditional classroom instruction. While I do not want to get in a finger-pointing, name-calling game, the fact of the matter is that “traditional classroom instruction” is becoming more and more a relic of education’s past, not a model to emulate.

Moreover, what is it about the “online experience” that makes it an online experience? If it is simply listening to video versions of lecture and completing the same homework assignments that have been given year after year with Word or Excel instead of a pencil, paper, and calculator, then we are going about it all wrong.

Shouldn’t, instead, the purposes of online learning be to engage students in reading and writing tasks that require multimedia authoring, collaboration with others with whom we typically would not or could not work, and engagement with materials that are fresh, relevant, and contextually useful to one’s own inquiry?

This is not to say that there is not a place for some traditional “content” in online learning. However, my experience as an online instructor was one where I simply monitored students as they were supposed to work independently through a prescribed set of curriculum. One of our coordinators called it the “nag and brag” version of online teaching, only to touch base with students when they did something wrong, fell behind, or did a great job on something.

This, to me, is the failure of our current paradigm about online learning. We do not need to replicate traditional classroom experiences. Instead, we need to think about what it means to engage with content and collaborate with others in ways that will both catch the attention of and expand the abilities of our students.

I hope that Michigan, as the first state to adopt an online learning component, is able to move beyond the traditional visions and be, instead, visionary. Perhaps we are moving in the right direction.

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Notes on Timothy Shanahan’s “The Role of Research in US Reading Policy”

Here are notes from a talk today:

Timothy Shanahan, Current President of the International Reading Association

Tim Shanahan is a professor of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the director of the UIC Center for Literacy. He has played a leadership role at the federal level in making connections between literacy research and educational policy. Dr. Shanahan served on the National Reading Panel, chaired the National Literacy Panel on Language and Minority Children and Youth, and chairs the National Early Literacy Panel. His research interests include: the relationship between reading and writing, the assessment of reading ability, family literacy, and school improvement. Dr. Shanahan has published numerous research articles and written and/or edited several books including Teachers Thinking, Teachers Knowing (1994) and Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Literacy Research (1992).

Notes from the session, “The Role of Research in US Reading Policy”:

  • Understanding reading in the context of US policy; having become a combatant in the “reading wars”
    • I had been invited to be a part of the National Reading Panel and served on it for two years trying to synthesize research through a meta-study
    • The real upswing of all this is that it led to $5 billion infused into reading education
  • An Ideological History Lesson
    • Governmental role in education
      • 1600s: MA, CT, and NH establish public schools for religious reasons
      • 1788: US Constitution ratified, no mention of education
      • 1791: Amendment X for state’s rights
      • 1791: 7 states make constitutional provision for public education (e.g., establish school boards)
      • 1800s: Freedmans‘ act for curriculum for freed slaves
        • First time that feds intervened in local schools at such a large and systematic level
      • 1900s: Increased centralization, immigration
      • 1950s and 60s: ESEA and focus on science and technology
      • Current: More centralized curriculum
  • Current forces in education
    • Explosive growth in informational technology
    • Internationalization of economic markets
    • Changes in the relationship of literacy attainment and well being
  • Current changes in the economy
    • Growth of service sector and decline of manufacturing
    • Transformation of low education blue collar work into skilled labor
    • Free trade movember of low-paying jobs and workers
    • Outsourcing of middle-income jobs and immigration of high-income workers
  • Changes have led to:
    • More jobs that require reading
    • Increased correlation of reading achievement and economic success
  • Current status of education
    • Since “A Nation at Risk,” US education is continually in “reform” mode
    • From 1971 to 1994, there has been no improvement in reading for 4th graders
    • Cost of education has risen in real terms
    • Public dissatisfaction is still there because the fundamental problems have not changed
    • Educators have not been sure footed (neither convinced of the need for reform nor clear on how to make things work better)
      • Where are the experts at the table in most of these debates?
  • What’s the Point?
    • The politicians aren’t crazy — reading has to improve
    • Their “solutions” are frequently wrong, but they deserve credit for making serious attempts to solve a real problem
    • They are deeply frustrated by educators who don’t seem to recognize the problem (or who want to respond with the union shop kinds of solutions)
  • Context for NCLB
    • Low NAEP scores and the reading wars in the 1990s
      • As it got bigger and bigger, politicians decided to do something that they hadn’t done in education before: appoint an expert panel
        • I had become a member of the National Reading Panel
          • They didn’t want our opinions; they didn’t want opinions, they wanted a determination of fact
          • We can’t make recommendations except for recommendations on more research
          • Can’t tell how well we thought things would work, or not
    • Changes during the Clinton administration
      • focusing Title I money on poorest schools
        • This hadn’t happened before, and the dollars were focused a little bit more on poor districts
      • Reading Excellence Act (SBRR)
        • Some direct money is given to states for reading education, given on a grant basis, although this was done before the NRP was finished
        • Every state was able to decide what they wanted to call; “research” and there were no standards on it at all
      • Pushing adoption of proven curriculum
      • Move from professional development to volunteers
        • Big fight on money for teachers vs. volunteer tutors
  • National Reading Panel
    • Appointment process began in 1997
      • How do you build authority and trust?
      • Took 300 nominations and the Secretary of Education created the panel
    • Open meetings with transcripts
    • Public hearings around the country
    • Explicit methodology: replicable searcher, pre-established inclusion criteria, research had to be consistent with questions, meta-analysis
      • Some things we were not able to find conclusive evidence about things, so we didn’t include it
    • Findings on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, professional development
    • Controversy
      • There was a very real chance that this would have all ended up on a shelf, but we had a new president come in and he made it the cornerstone of federal literacy policy
  • No Child Left Behind
    • 2001 reauthorization of ESEA
    • More Title I funding, but more accountability
    • Reading First ($1 billion a year for K-3 PD, curricula, materials)
    • This allows Congress a way out of the unholy bargain. We can control quality without being a part of local decision making since the NRP did it
      • Congress keeps its hands clean of the controversy
  • Results of all of this…
    • Higher 4th grade achievement on both the NAEP and the NAEP trend items (reduction of achievement gap, sizable gains, highest trend performance ever)
      • What’s indisputable is that 4th graders are reading better now than they were 12 years ago, despite how you spin the politics on how the gains have been made and by whom
      • With all the state and federal focus on K-3, there has been some improvement at 4th grade. But…
    • No improvement for older students
      • 8th graders are not moving up, so we are losing the gains between 4th and 8th grade
      • What you see in the whole body of ed research is that Reading Recovery, Head Start, and other programs is that we know how to raise achievement early but that we don’t know how to sustain it
        • For instance, the difference between kindergarten full and half days had their gains erased by the end of first grade because all the same students did all the typical first grade curriculum.
      • We need to reform the system at all levels from the ground up. We need to keep all day kindergarten and then do PD for teachers in first grade to work with these higher achieving students.
  • NCLB/RF Problems
    • Accountability of goals of NCLB are unreachable and fail to reward success
    • The costs of testing are burgeoning in terms of lower morale, corruption, mistrust, etc.
    • States are encouraged to reduce standards
    • Peculiar corruption of Reading First
    • Subtle shift of NRP to WWC
    • Problems with the newer panels (NELP, NLP)
  • What is needed to make research-based policy work?
    • Substantial public support for research
    • Open way of determining specific research priorities
    • Benefits for researchers who choose to do this work
    • Is this likely? No:
      • We don’t see evidence so public support for research.
      • The feds are maintaining power over priorities.
      • There is no real infrastructure for carrying out recommendations for policy into practice.
      • There is likely to be evidence soon of the effectiveness of the Reading First policy.
      • There is no increase in university commitment.
  • Question and answer session
    • Shifts in thinking: Clinton and the Democrats wanted national testing in the 1990s, but the conservatives didn’t want to lose local control; now it is vice versa because all the states have their own standards.
    • Reading First: There is survey data to show that Reading First teachers actually feel better now that they “know how to teach reading” and have books in their classrooms. Part of the reason for this success is the Reading Excellence Act.
    • What is dividing the field is not methods, but thinking about the social and cultural aspects of what counts as evidence.
      • What grad students need to do is set aside the rhetoric of whether things are “good” or “bad,” and look at the field as a whole. It doesn’t mean that there are times when different questions demand different kinds of evidence, especially as it relates to policy.
      • There are people in medicine who do anthropology, but they don’t move into the policy debate.

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