Friday, June 17, 2016

Moving Toward Independence

I just finished reading a book by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris called  Who's Doing the Work?  It very much validated what I have been trying to do but also helped me stretch my thinking.  I love it when that happens!  I feel very motivated and inspired.  I would highly recommend reading this book.

The book is causing me to really reflect on my teaching practices.  The gist of the book is that students are being conditioned to wait for teacher prompts, introductions, and/or confirmations before moving on and really reading.  I get it.  I definitely have seen students who seem so helpless without the teacher really prompting.  It makes me think about when teachers say, "Sally knows the strategies, she is just not using them."  In fact, I have said that many times!

The book helps teachers to plan instruction that will support readers but also help them become more independent.  It provides questions to ask yourself as the teacher.  It helps you think about how to use read alouds, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading.  It focuses on using the gradual release of instruction so that students learn to solve problems on their own.

When I fist started reading the book, I thought about the Common Core and how one of the shifts is that students need to learn to read a text closely.  We want them to be able to read a grade level text independently.  That is not a big deal for many students, but for others…WOW!  Am I really going to expect ALL students to do this.  Yes!  I do have the same standard or goal that I want them to be able to achieve. I just need to give them the tools or the "map" to get there.  I need to move them toward independence.

I am reminded of an incident that happened in my classroom a few years ago.  I was teaching a social studies lesson on the topic of transportation.  I usually use lots of trade books and magazines to teach concepts.  I decided that I wanted to utilize our social studies text book.  My thought was that my students were going to encounter these type of texts, and I wanted to see what they could do with it.  We had read and discussed a little of the passage together, but then I told them to read a certain part independently and be ready to share an important fact or idea.  I knew that I was asking something really difficult for a few of my students.

After a few minutes, I asked the students to share something that they read or thought was important in that part.  I purposefully called on "Danny" to see what he would say.  Danny was reading around a kindergarten or beginning first grade level.  This incident was late in the year in a second grade classroom.  (I was prepared to offer supports so that he would be successful in sharing).  Anyway, I fully expected Danny to say something off the mark or at best really superficial.  Instead, he explained how transportation had changed over the years due to advances in technology.  He didn't use those exact words, but he blew me away!

I realized that Danny had many strategies for tackling a complex text.  He didn't read every word, but he  was able to get the gist of the passage by zeroing in on key words.  He also knew how to use other text features like pictures, captions, sub headings.  He used a balance of print strategies and meaning strategies that really helped him comprehend.  And he did it by himself!

I felt bad that my expectations for Danny were too low.  I thought because he was only reading a level D or E that he would never be able to understand this grade level passage.  I was too focused on the level and not on what strategies Danny had learned to use.  He was much better equipped to read and understand that text than several other students who were reading "on grade level."

I am not advocating giving a student a steady diet of text that I think is too hard for them.  I certainly don't think that is helpful.  But I do think it is OK to let them try something outside of their Zone of Proximal Development.

I learned that I should not get too hung up on what level a child is reading.  I should, instead, be more concerned with what they do when reading.  I need to be a better observer.  I know that often I do DRA's or running records on students, but I don't take the time to really analyze what they are doing.  If I know that a student is relying too heavily on print strategies, I can teach them to use meaning strategies.  I want the student to be able to see what is going well and what he or she needs to work on. I want the student to know what strategy to try without me telling them.

In the end, I ask myself, "What am I doing to move my students toward independence?  Do my students know what to try and when to try it?  Are they comfortable making mistakes?"

I love thinking about this stuff!  What are your thought on teaching reading?  How do you help students become independent?


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