Why Blog

I’m passionate about finding ways to simplify comprehension instruction and learning. I’m concerned that we are defining comprehension too narrowly as an accumulation of five or six meta-cognitive strategies when cultivating comprehension involves so much more than that. We need to help children acquire accurate fluent reading skills and strategies; build background knowledge; develop their oral language and vocabulary; make reading-writing connections, and acquire a repertoire of meta-cognitive strategies to use as and if needed.

So I invite you to join me in blogging about this ever-so-important topic. I look forward to hearing your ideas, teaching strategies, book recommendations, classroom stories, etc., basically anything that will inspire a healthy conversation among colleagues.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Technology in Schools—A Time and Place?

I know it's been a while...sorry. I just had to share this letter with you (and an accompanying New York Times article) that was sent to me by Renee Dinnerstein, an internationally recognized early childhood educator. It’s one you won’t want to miss as it makes us (me, at least) reflect on where our elementary schools are headed with their ever-growing push for more and more technology starting in the earliest grades. (Be sure to click on the link to the article this letter is in response to.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Picture Walks, KWL, and DRTA…And the Winner Is...! (An Interview with Dr. Kay Stahl)

I can’t wait to share this Voice of Literacy podcast with you. I’d listened to it when it was first broadcast in 2009, but stumbled across it again today while cleaning out files. It’s called “Picture Walks, KWL, and DRTA.” Dr. Kay Stahl discusses her research in comparing these three methods of guiding small groups of readers through text. Very interesting and informative as are all Voice of Literacy podcasts.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Matt Damon Speaks Out for Teachers

Here's an article/video that was sent to me last night by a parent of two delightful and former students—Gillian and Michael. In Laura’s own words about actor and activist Matt Damon’s speech this weekend at a Save Our Schools DC rally: “It’s so nice to know that someone with a high profile ‘gets it’.” Now if only we could convince our president and other policy makers that excessive testing is doing our students and our profession a huge disservice. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Guest Blog: Blogging and Comprehension

Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

I’m sharing Lindsey’s post with you in the hope it will motivate you to consider blogging with your students—if you haven’t already started.

Blogging and Comprehension by Lindsey Wright

While it's customary for students to write research papers or complete other one-off writing assignments everywhere from online college classes to traditional grade schools, many teachers at all levels are begining to discover that incorporating blogs into the curriculm provides for much more effective teaching. The main reason for this is that blogging is by nature dynamic, always growing and changing while providing fresh web content on a regular basis. As such, using blogs in the classroom allows students to tap into this continual flow of words to improve their own writing, gain critical technology-based skills, and aid in overall comprehension of school subjects.

Ultimately blogs provide an active forum for learning that can be utilized even in the early elementary classroom to engage students and improve interaction. Having to present ideas to their peers in a clear, concise manner on a regular basis requires students to expand their knowledge of class subjects and aids in overall comprehension. Likewise, the critical thinking skills acquired through blogging can be applied to other areas of life, including higher education and, eventually, the workplace.

Blogging as a Learning Tool

Blogs offer many powerful tools for teachers who are looking to integrate technology in the classroom. Serious bloggers create new posts several days a week, making blogging the ultimate writing project. It’s been well established that writing on a regular basis is the best way to practice and become a better writer overall. Blogs provide a focus for this type of practice and can be used to engage students in the act of writing far more often than large projects like research papers allow. This is as true for young students learning basic writing skills as it is for middle and high schoolers developing more advanced literary ability.

Integrating the active nature of blogging into the classroom can be done in several ways, each with its own advantages. Students may have their own individual blogs, or teachers can start a collaborative classroom blog to bring a class together on a particular project. The key is making use of the unique learning opportunities offered by blogs.

Student Blogs

Journaling has been a typical classroom activity for many years. As technology advances, individual student blogs become the next logical step. Blogs offer a sense of community not found with paper journals. When journaling for class, students know that the teacher is the only person who is going to be reading their work. However, with blogs, students can read each other’s posts, thereby creating a network of classmates who also have the opportunity to respond to the writing of their peers. This encourages students to really think about what they’re writing and put effort into presenting ideas in a clear, comprehensible manner.

Through continued use, a blog can improve student articulation and critical thinking skills. How does this translate to comprehension? Writing blog posts involves careful consideration of content. A good blogger doesn’t simply cobble a post together, throw in a few links and call it done. On the contrary, blogging involves the same critical thought as traditional classroom writing projects. Students who blog have to take the time to consider what they’re writing about and work out how to best present their opinions and ideas. In order to do this with clarity, students have to develop a solid grasp of the subject on which they’re writing.

Collaborative Blogs

Teachers can also create a collaborative or community blog for their students. The most important difference between this and individual student blogging is the ability of the teacher or instructor to easily moderate posts and comments. Most blogging platforms allow for the creation of a main or administrator account that can control the overall flow of activity on a blog. With this option, teachers set parameters so that they can review each piece of content before it appears on the blog, thus eliminating the possibility of inappropriate material going live. Moderation makes it possible to use collaborative blogging even with young children.

An instructor-moderated blog in which the entire class can participate opens the door to endless possibilities. Teachers can post writing prompts or discussion questions and have students respond in the comments section, thus creating an open forum for discussion. This free flow of ideas requires the same sort of careful thought that students should be applying to everyday classroom discussions. However, having to articulate their answers through writing encourages students to slow down and consider the words they’re using. A comprehensive knowledge of the subject at hand is also required to facilitate interaction and promote the academic sharing of ideas.

Since it’s possible to post a blog comment from anywhere, community blog activity isn’t restricted to the block of time reserved for a subject during the school day. When at home both students and teachers participating in a blog can take the time to write thorough, thoughtful posts and comments as well as respond to each other in ways that aren’t possible during class. This further aids comprehension in that teachers can provide more in-depth information for students to read on their own time, along with links for further reading.

Blogs vs. Research Papers

The thought of a traditional research paper makes most students groan in anticipation of long hours spent at the library, mountains of notes, and the final frantic scramble to bring everything together. While traditional research is still very important for students to practice, teachers should consider the benefits that blogging has over bigger writing projects.

The fact that a blog post isn’t as long as a whole paper is a plus. Rather than having to wade through page after page of information, both students and teachers can break a subject down into manageable chunks. Students get the luxury of using the Internet to do research on their own time, and teachers are spared having to read and correct sheaves of lengthy reports. It’s also much easier for teachers to check the sources used by students in blog posts, given that links are included right with the writing rather than being listed in the ubiquitous bibliography pages at the end of a traditional paper.

Additionally, knowing that the teacher is going to be checking their work this closely should motivate students to find quality information and put together thoughtful blog posts. Student blog posts have the potential to be more comprehensive and original than a paper comprised mostly of information regurgitated from sources that the teacher may never see.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Highly Recommended Book on Reading Comprehension

Just a brief post to recommend a professional book that I think every elementary-grade teacher should own. It’s called Teaching Reading Comprehension to Students with Learning Difficulties by Janette K. Klingner, Sharon Vaughn, and Alison Boardman. This short volume offers clear, practical, and research-based practices to improve students’ comprehension. And in this age of high teacher accountability and standards, this may be just what we need to keep ourselves grounded and feeling confident that we are doing the very best for our students. It’s one that I keep at the very top of my pile.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Retelling as Written Response" Ideas

[This post is based on a question Lisa posed in the June 25th comment box.]

Dear Lisa,

I think you’re “right on” when you have your ELL first graders talk about the book you’ve read aloud before asking them to respond in writing. The types of guided responses you've asked them to make and the prompts you've provide seem varied and developmentally appropriate. And I totally get how this is so much more difficult when they attempt them on their own. This is always the case and, as you well know, their skill develops over time. So we need to be patient.

Let’s focus for a moment on the “retelling” part of your question. You’ve expressed concern that asking kids to retell stories would be tedious and boring. It may be, but the extend to which it actually is depends on how often we ask them to retell and the types of retelling we engage them in. Two things need to come into play: First, we need to balance written responses with oral responses such as readers theater, book talks, etc. and visual representations such as making pictures, character maps, etc. Second, we need to expand the scaffolds we provide for students as they retell. 

You mention Beginning-Middle-End (B-M-E) as one scaffold. In The Next Step in Guided Reading, Jan Richardson offers two others that work with early readers such as yours. They are Somebody-Wanted-But-So (S-W-B-S) and the Five-Finger Retell.

Here’s how Richardson describes S-W-B-S:

“The students write a one-sentence summary using the S-W-B-S scaffold. At first you will need to help students write this response, but eventually you should be able to say, Write a ‘Somebody-Wanted-But-So’ for this story.

Somebody: Who is the story about?
Wanted: What did this character want?
But: But what happened?
So: How did it end? What happened next?

The response should be written in a complete sentence. As students write independently, you should circulate among the group and scaffold students who need your help.”

In addition Richardson discusses the Five-Finger Retell where each finger represents one aspect of story grammar.

Thumb: The characters are…
1st finger: The setting is…
Tall finger: The problem is…
Ring finger: The events are… (What happened first? Next? Then?)
Little finger: At the end…

Since your students are young and ELL, this is a scaffold you would introduce and initially use in whole-class settings. However as the students get the hang of it you might ask them to write about “one finger” with enough detail (and perhaps a picture) to show they understand how it works with the story as a whole. And of course, they will need multiple demonstrations of what you mean.

I close with this reminder. While responses to text—written and otherwise—are important and should be something kids do during their independent reading time of day, we need to remember that providing voluminous opportunities for them to read just-right books is still our number one priority. Kids can’t improve their reading if they don’t read.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Daniel Willingham Podcast-Background Knowledge and Reading Strategies

I was going through some files preparing for an institute I'm doing this week in ohio and came across a link to a podcast given to me by a soul-mate teacher in Portland, Oregon. Well...I finally listened to all 15-minutes of it and am so glad I did! It's Daniel Willingham talking about background knowledge—how important background knowledge is and how comprehension strategy instruction is being over-done. Now that you have a bit more time—assuming you've already begun your well-deserved summer break—take your laptop on your deck, grab a cool drink, and listen... Bet it will start you thinking about next year.