The Reading Thinking Writing Process Puzzle

THINKING:  We just don’t put enough time into it in the classroom.  So several years ago I created a poster to remind my students to think while they are writing. It worked for a while, and then like so many strategies after a while it went by the wayside.  Recently after conferencing with students and listening to teachers, I decided the instrument needed to come out again.

We teachers have been taught the writing process, but how often do you put that puzzle in front of your students?  Many instructors remind students to draft, rewrite, edit, and revise.  But the pieces don’t come together that easily — true reading and writing are more of a puzzle.  Hence, The Reading Thinking Writing Process was created.

My thinking below is detailed and can be shortened for quicker pieces of writing or responding.  But as I wrote out tasks for my 6th grade “Problem Solving and Design” class two weeks before school ended, I pulled out the Reading Thinking Writing Process. They were having problems with planning through their problem-solving journals as well as their daily reflections. The great thing about the Reading Thinking Writing Process is that it works with all lengths and types of assignments.

My kids were frustrated at the length. I heard the same statements from my sixth and seventh and eighth graders: “Why do we have to go through all of the steps? Just let me write it!” We teachers know they can’t write well without going past a first draft. And when we conference, slowly students come around so they see it too.

The big idea here is that getting the students to THINK during the writing process helps them proceed so much further in their understanding; therefore the kids progress as learners. Because thinking really is such a big part of the puzzle!

YOU THINK about it: If the kids don’t THINK before they revise, have they really captured the information they’ve been given in the conference whether the feedback was from the teacher or their peer? Was that revision conference worthy of the time or worthwhile in anyway if the writer doesn’t spend time thinking about the information they were given?

The big causal factor I venture to say — they are the four cornerstones of the puzzle as well as the centerpiece — is BEING PATIENT TO TAKE TIME TO THINK.

When we teach students to be PATIENT, we have begun to teach them a life-skill that is needed for every job. We have also taught them an essential need for reading and writing and THINKING! Then the puzzle pieces fall into place more easily.

The Reading Thinking Writing Process

NO MORE FAKE READING book review

First, let me say that this book review is unsolicited. I have had the honor to work with author Berit Gordon, and it has been an enlightening two years!

I am lucky enough that my school district partnered with Berit, and I am looking forward to another year of being able to work with her. In fact, my assistant superintendent has made it possible so that I’ve personally been able to work with her to learn how to coach teachers regarding independent reading as well as reading workshop.

Her book, NO MORE FAKE READING, should be on every English teacher’s, literacy coach’s, and administrator’s reading list.

Berit Gordon is authentic. Lots of experts have not been in the field for a long time, but Berit has been. For example, when she goes into our classrooms she is willing to not only work with our students, but she works with our teachers and with our students too. She is a teacher. She was never just a consultant — it hasn’t been long since she was in the classroom. Berit is a teacher’s teacher.

So Berit has that experience that is so important to all of us. She is not an ivory tower person who claims to be an expert but has been too long out of the real day-to-day experience that we all face with our students learning to read and write.

This is not just a middle school teacher book nor just a high school teacher book. It spans the spectrum. That’s what I use it for since I work with grades six through 12.

As teachers we all face of variety of puzzle pieces every day. Whether it is the puzzle of our students minds or the puzzle of how we put together today’s lessons or the puzzle of how to get our students to understand a text — the puzzle pieces need to come together for us. This book helps with many of those pieces.

Berit repeatedly explains that book choice is what is going to entice our students to want to read and grab their interest. We have to give our students that time in the classroom to read. It is that volume of reading both at school and at home that will increase their comprehension as well as their desire to read. Berit endorses choice reading by far. However, she does acknowledge that the classics have a place in the classroom and is very clear about that in her text.

One of the things that Berit reminds us is that at the beginning of the year, modeling reading with our students is important. And then after a few weeks — the teacher needs to stop reading while the students continue. Students get used to the model of the moment they walk in the door, they begin reading. Perhaps, the teacher chooses to finish the last 20 minutes of class with independent reading. The problem with that is, as Berit explains, the last 20 minutes may not be there after all of the lessons and tasks of the day.

However, students reading in the classroom is an expectation they get used to! I’ve seen this happen in sixth grade, ninth grade, and AP classes! It’s amazing once the expectation stands: The kids are reading whether it is a regular classroom or my Tier 2 classes — the students read — and ask to read when the schedule is out of the norm — because the expectation has been set.

As Berit explains in her book, while students are reading, the teacher has the opportunity to pull students aside to have short conferences and rich conversations about their reading. Asking students about their interests and getting to know students more deeply because we get to find out about what the kids like tells us a lot about the students we work with. This is one of the points she clarifies in her book. Besides, as Berit explains, it opens the door to what our students understand and where we need to work with them individually to improve their comprehension.

This is a very usable text. Teachers don’t have time to read endless pages, and we want something we’re going to be able to turn around and use tomorrow in our classrooms. That’s what this book does for us. Whether it is the book buzzes, the resources at the end of the book, or how to set up a classroom library, there are a variety of immediate ideas to use. It doesn’t need to be read chapter by chapter because there are so many good ideas. The ideas flow from chapter to chapter and at the same time the pieces can be picked up at any point.

I also like that she actually gives real examples where she has worked in classrooms and shows ideas that teachers have shared with her or where she has used things that have worked. So these are not supposed ideas she is throwing out. They are concepts that really do work with our preteens and teens in the English language arts class.

To get the full concept of all of her ideas, you need to read her book. It’s from Corwin Press. I can’t express enough what a fabulous impact Berit Gordon has had on my teaching and the revelations she has created in so many educators I work with. Don’t lose this opportunity!

Skills, Rigor & Interest for our Students…Another Part of the Puzzle

One of the puzzle pieces in the classroom is finding effective units to teach students so that they can learn a skill, and teachers can still provide rigor while engaging students.  I wrote this unit of study for close reading to be used in grade 7 or 8 a few years ago when I worked with LearnZillion.  One of the things I love about this unit is that it uses the short story named A JURY OF HER PEERS as well as the play version titled, TRIFLES.  The author, Susan Glaspell, created an interesting alignment between these two pieces of literature which in turn creates a good example for compare and contrast.

I read a few years ago that if a student can compare and contrast and then move into writing the same, they are able to adapt their writing skills elsewhere more efficiently. This seems to be true from my own experiences. Getting students to understand compare and contrast, however, can be somewhat difficult.  Using my unit of study with Susan Glaspell’s writing creates that reading and writing scenario.

Kelly Gallagher, a respected researcher and educator, has written extensively about “writing through the literature.”  This entails writing throughout the time of reading and not just waiting to write after students finish a text.  Often this lack of writing through literature is a puzzle piece that is missing in the comprehension for many students.  This is where compare and contrast comes in. It is not just an organizer looking at the two parts of comparison and contrast, it is looking at how the parts come to the whole in a piece of writing — even a short piece of writing — similar to how the pieces of a puzzle start to make the puzzle look like the entire picture. Comparing even a little bit at a time and then adding contrasting a little bit at a time all the while reading the literature is what is helpful for students.

So by using this unit, teachers can accomplish multiple skills and goals:  Close reading, compare and contrast, and writing through the literature.  Of course, most importantly what comes out of this unit is that students improve their reading comprehension as well as their writing.

These texts are not easy, and at first I was questioned as to whether or not 7th and 8th graders could access this fiction.  One of the shifts from the CCSS  — of which I am a Connecticut and National Core Advocate  — is the expectation of rigor and depth not breadth.  The A JURY OF HER PEERS and TRIFLES unit was written with the idea that this required teacher instruction and guidance in order that middle school students can deal with the advanced stories and depth of knowledge. Before publishing, LearnZillion requires all work to be vetted; in fact this formal unit is based on one that I used in a five-level differentiated classroom. You will see the scaffolding within the written materials.  And for clarification, LearnZillion vets all of their writers prior to accepting them as part of the LearnZillion team.

The last piece of the puzzle in any classroom is to keep the student’s interest. If a student is not interested, they are not engaged. Although the stories take place in the early 1900s, and some people would say present students cannot relate to that time period, but Glaspell’s characters are rich, and the plot is full of twists and turns.  My students really enjoyed the readings.

So I provide you with a piece of the puzzle for your classroom!

https://ctcorestandards.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/CTDT_Gr_6-8_A_Jury_of_Her_Peers.pdf

Formative Assessment — Why Don’t Teachers Use It More Often?

Slide courtesy of Great Schools Partnership

 

Before I moved out of the classroom to become a coach and RtI instructor, I had “data grades.” My students got used to the idea that these numbers in the grade book didn’t count toward their final grade for the trimester but were information for both of us — the student and me. Little did I know that actually I was recording formative assessment data! I just knew that this was helpful information that let me understand whether or not my students grasped concepts and who I needed to re-teach, who needed review, and which students could move on. Ahh — light bulb — another form of differentiation!**

To many educators, data has become a dirty word; I don’t happen to think so. I see the value of how it gives us information — good and bad — and how it also sometimes doesn’t add up. That’s where formative assessment comes in — another piece of data.

Not all formative assessments have to be recorded. A quick show of hands, listening to student’s conversation, reading student work, 3 minute teacher-student conferences, or an exit ticket don’t have to be formally graded. This idea of not grading everything is often a hard idea for teachers to get used to.

In the past, everything was graded! If we didn’t grade it, what use was it. Students still ask, and it drives my peers and me nuts, “Is this graded”? I frequently hear, “If I don’t grade it, they won’t do a good job.” I disagree. Once students get used to formative assessments, they help them too, then “our kids” will put forth equally strong effort whether the task has a mark in the grade book or not. Key here is sharing the formative assessment with them. When students know the purpose of their learning, why they are doing a task, and how it leads to the end, we teachers get buy in.

I have been lucky enough to be part of my school’s committee for a partially funded grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The purpose of the grant, through the New England Secondary School Consortium and managed by Great School Partnership, is to further the implementation of mastery-based grading and personalized learning in our school. What I have learned over the past 4 years working with Great Schools Partnership is that instruction goes nowhere for our without formative assessment.

In my Tier 2 RtI classes, I give mini lessons and then a formative assessment. For those of my students who get it, they can move on to show their knowledge through practice, and for those who need more help, they work with me until the concept clarity is stronger. It works the same way in the regular classroom: Instruction moves forward according to the formative assessment. Throughout the period/block I am assessing whether or not my students are learning. Formative assessment doesn’t just occur once a day otherwise the kids could be working down the wrong path. It is my job as a teacher to help them stay on track and keep their learning on target.

By using these formative assessments, I am meeting the needs of my learners whether it is in a class of 25-30 students or in a room of 5-8. The children reflect on their learning and measure their own comprehension, share it with me, and I check it.

My plan for the next minutes and days are based on the progress students have presently made. I cannot forge ahead if students are not learning the present skills, and that is what educators have done for years: Keep moving without checking knowledge. Periodic quizzes and unit tests have their places, but only when students are ready for them, and that may very well not have been when the teacher thought it was going to be.

We have to pay attention to our students; we can’t move on with a unit plan if they don’t get it! And this all leads to personalized learning a topic soon to come. In the meantime, put formative assessments into action.

**If you are interested, below is the link to a professional development session I put together as Chairman of the English Department for our teachers to connect differentiation and formative assessment.

Formative Assessment as Differentiation Part 1