Triangle Talk

Monday, December 13, 2010

I attended a C.L.A.S.S. training session last week, and picked up a few fun tricks! First, for those of you who are unfamiliar with C.L.A.S.S., the acronym stands for Connected Learning Assures Successful Students. Their website describes their philosophy saying: “The C.L.A.S.S. philosophy is grounded in the belief that best teaching practices are based from the understanding of the human brain; a systemic understanding of human beings; and the interactions among human beings and the environment.”

Every C.L.A.S.S. training that I’ve attended has provided several fun ideas, but the best part is that they are easily implemented into the classroom the very next day! You don’t have to spend hours of planning to implement these strategies, you just plug them right in to the things you do every day.

Triangle Talk is a strategy that can be used in reading groups or in whole group reading sessions, and can be easily modified to meet any topic or content that you are teaching. All you need is half a piece of paper (the long way) and a plan. You begin by folding the paper into three even sections and labeling each section with one of the focuses of the lessons. My example shows new information/questions/favorite fact. Other options could include beginning/middle/end, three important facts, or KWL. After you read and write, you tape the triangle together to create the finished product.

Study Guides and Strategies

I recently came across a site called “Study Guides and Strategies” that is dedicated to providing helpful tips and tricks for students. An overview of the site explains: Since 1996 the Study Guides and Strategies Website has been researched, authored, maintained and supported by Joe Landsberger as an international, learner-centric, educational public service.

As I looked through the (many) links on this page, two of them immediately jumped out because of their connection to reading content material and helping with the comprehension of nonfiction (which is a focus of this blog).

Taking Notes from a Textbook (link)
Even though note-taking is a skill that many of us do automatically, it is a skill that many students need to be explicitly taught. This site presents tips that students can use when reading a text book and needing to take notes. Because most students do better with a model first, I would suggest using this as a lesson plan – actually walking the students through the process – before letting them try it on their own.

Reading Difficult Material (link)
This article provides tips for students who are tackling some difficult reading material. The article is written as though a student will be reading it, but I think that the tips mentioned are strategies that teachers should introduce, model, and practice with students.

Blending Fiction and Nonfiction to Improve Comprehension and Writing Skills

Sunday, December 12, 2010

This lesson plan (from the ReadWriteThink website) uses a text set that pairs fiction and nonfiction texts covering a similar topic. The combination leads to increased interest and understanding because the student is able to find some familiarity with the format of fiction, and but also explore more detail with the nonfiction texts. The lesson also provides a look at using a stapleless book, a comic creator, and a letter generator, all of which are interactive computer tools that increase students interest level by adding a technology component.

To try the technology components with a different lesson, I’ve linked them below:
Stapleless Books (link)– this tool provides an opportunity for students to select a format for each page of the book, type in the text they want to include, and print the final copy. Pictures can be added by drawing after they are printed. There are even directions to show how to fold and cut the paper after it is printed to create the final book.
Comic Creator (link): This tool allows students to create 1, 2, 3, or 6 paneled comic strips. The characters, settings, and props that are available to add are limited, but this could still be a fun tool to try.
Letter Generator (link): This tool may be my personal favorite. It starts with a personalized letter to the student explaining reasons that you might want to write a letter and introducing how the tool will work. There is also an audio button available if the students need the letter read to them. The tool then highlights the parts of a letter and the purpose of each before advancing to the next screen where students have to pick either a friendly letter or business letter format. As students move through the tool, very specific directions lead them through the steps of setting up the letter while highlighting that part in a drawing of the letter at the side. After the entire letter has been written, the student can choose a border decoration (or none) to be added, preview the letter, and then print it. An option to print envelope instructions is also available. This tool could have MANY practical uses within the classroom!

Three Comprehension Strategies for Reading Nonfiction

Scholastic has published an article called "Three Comprehension Strategies for Reading Nonfiction" on their website, highlighting strategies for constructing meaning in nonfiction that Laura Robb included in her book Teaching Reading in Social Studies, Science, and Math. There are three lesson plans linked from the article: (1) asking open-ended questions, (2) skimming text, and (3) making connections. Each lesson plan is easy to read and could be easily adapted for use at any grade level.

Book Leads

How can this help the reluctant readers? Book Leads is a wiki set up with a glog bulletin board with several options related to reading. Links to young adult authors’ blogs, book review blogs, book trailers, online book clubs, and book related podcasts should provide even the most reluctant reader with an option that looks appealing. There is even a link to a website that helps arrange Skype chats with authors. This site could be used by students or teachers to help reluctant readers find interesting topics or resources.

Directed Reading Thinking Activity (DRTA)

This summer I designed and ran a workshop focusing on nonfiction comprehension. The Directed Reading Thinking Activity (DRTA) is one of the strategies I taught within the workshop. Below, you’ll find the explanation I shared. In researching this method, I used the following resources:
Reading Rockets (an article about DRTA)
Instructional Reading Strategy: DR-TA (Directed Reading-Thinking Activity)
Directed Reading Thinking Activity

What is it?
DRTA is a comprehension strategy that guides students in asking questions about a text, making predictions, and then reading to confirm or refute their predictions. The DRTA process encourages students to be active and thoughtful readers, which enhances their comprehension. The DRTA model actually consists of three parts: D – Direct, R – Read, and T – Think. The process of those three combine to make the A – Activity. This strategy could actually work with either fiction or nonfiction texts, but for today’s purposes, we’ll be focusing on the nonfiction. The process is the same for either type of text, but the questions you ask will be different.

How do I use it?
There are six simple steps to follow when you’re planning the DRTA process.
1. Choose a text. First, read the text you’ve chosen and mark specific places for your students to pause during the reading process.
2. Activate prior knowledge. Begin this step by introducing the text or the topic to the students. Then, have them brainstorm a list of ideas that come to mind in relation to the title or topic. While they throw out ideas, you should record them on chart paper, the chalk board, or the overhead. This step is important because students will be making predictions about what they will read about in the text. Activating their prior knowledge on the topic will allow them to make predictions about what might be included in the text.
3. Have students make predictions about what they will read. Guide them to use all of the clues they have available to them including: the index, the table of contents, pictures, charts, tables, the cover, etc. When students make their predictions, ask them to explain how they came up with their predictions. Don’t accept “I don’t know” as a response.
4. Have students read a section of the text. Before the students start reading, point out the predetermined stopping points, which should lend themselves to making predictions. In expository texts, good stopping points are often right after a new heading or subheading in the text.
Reading the text can be done in a variety of ways. You can have volunteers read aloud, you can have students read silently to themselves, partner read, or even read aloud for you in a small guided reading situation. If the students are reading silently, it is especially important that you indicate where they should stop reading.
5. At each stopping point, have students confirm or revise their prior predictions, and make new predictions. During this process, encourage them to explain what in the text is causing them to confirm and/or revise prior predictions, and what is causing them to make the new predictions they are making. You can also discuss different possible predictions, since it is very likely that your students will have different ideas.
6. Continue steps 4 and 5 until the selection is finished.

Why should I use it?
DRTA encourages students to be active and thoughtful readers. It activates students' prior knowledge and encourages them to connect new learning to that prior knowledge. DRTA teaches students to make predictions and to monitor their understanding of the text as they're reading - all of which helps strengthen the students’ reading and critical thinking skills.

How Can Instruction Help Adolescent Students with Motivation?

An article by the National Institute for Literacy entitled "How Can Instruction Help Adolescent Students with Motivation" was posted on, a website devoted to adolescent literacy. It suggests that there are four main strategies teachers can use that may help increase student motivation in the classroom. The four strategies are:
1. Set clear goals and expectations for performance
2. Guide students to focus on their own improvement
3. Provide variety and choice in reading materials
4. Provide opportunities for students to interact through reading
While this isn't the "perfect" answer and complete solution, the article does provide some helpful tips!

What’s Your Genre?

How can we increase motivation in the students who “don’t like to read”? That is the million dollar question for teachers everywhere! My suggestion is to introduce them to as many genres as possible, so that one will eventually peak their interest. Reading in Action has recently posted a few articles about some genres that may interest the reluctant readers.

Steampunk (link): Steampunk is the hot new thing in many areanas! As this article explains, steampunk is a style of books, clothes, movies, etc. that are inspired by the original science fiction genre and the era in which steam power was the primary form of technology. This article provides an explanation of the new genre and has several suggestions about how to integrate it into a classroom (or at least introduce it to kids!). One of the best resources is a link to a book list for this genre. The book list is divided by grade level, but has books for students ranging in age from kindergarten through high school.

Horror (link): This article suggests that the horror genre appeals to students because of the fright factor. The article links to J.L. Benet’s page, which provides several options for teaching the horror genre, including genre related lesson and unit plans, lesson plans for specific texts, web quest links, articles about the genre, and reading lists of horror books. There is also a link to The Moonlit Road, a website filled with audio files of ghost stories. Even the most reluctant reader can listen to scary stories! And of course, you can’t mention the horror genre without mentioning Edgar Allen Poe (one of my personal favorites)! This article links to the Edgar Allen Poe Museum which could provide more information to students who are interested.


What is a bookcast? Exploring the Reading in Action website may help you find out!

Reading in Action is an interesting site with a lot of possibilities. One of the most appealing aspects of the site is that there are separate sections to provide activities for children, “tweens,” and teens. While many of the types of activities are similar, the specification for age and ability really help when trying to find appropriate activities for your specific students.

I was initially drawn to the site by the Bookcasts, which are essentially podcasts of book reviews. These Bookcasts are again divided into separate sections for children, tweens, and teens, but there is also a section here for award winning books. Many of the Children’s Bookcasts have videos to accompany the description of the story, and these videos range from music with pictures, to a narration from the main character, to an explanation from the author about how he or she wrote the book. If there isn’t a video, there is still an audio clip with similar information.
The Tween Bookcasts are primarily audio clips, but there are some video clips in this section as well. The video clips range, again, from book trailer videos to author commentaries.
The Teen Bookcasts contain a combination of audio and video clips, but one thing that stood out to me here was the presence of book talks in the video clips. This could be used to demonstrate good book talks before having students actually do their own!

Looking for Text Features

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Last week, I received the “Big Ideas” newsletter for December from the Smekens Education website. Kristina Smekens is a 6 + 1 Traits trainer who provides professional development for teachers. Her website biography describes her as “a speaker and author who works with K-12 teachers sharing practical strategies for teaching writing, reading comprehension, and vocabulary development.” I’ve been to a few of Smekens’s workshops, and take useful, practical ideas away from each one.

The suggestion from this month's newsletter that I want to share is about looking for text features in untraditional places. The piece said:
More on Text Features
Students often perceive text features as decoration or filler. They don't read text outside of the gray body paragraphs. However, text features serve a purpose. They are there to provide the reader additional information. It's imperative that students see text features as more than eye candy!
Consider modeling the power of text features with high-interest texts like a page or two from the Guinness Book of World Records or even the front and back sides of sports trading cards. Click here for a sample card with questions that target QAR.
If you want students to actually read the text features, consider only asking questions about the content within them. Have them pull details from text features, or draw conclusions based on facts within the text features. These could make for a great literacy station or a fabulous activity for morning or bell work. We've got to get our students to read text features and glean the information offered within them. These are NOT decorations.
You can subscribe to the Big Ideas newsletter or read old editions of it here.
Or, if you like this idea, Smekens provides an idea library on her website with TONS of ideas that you can easily use.

Comics in the Classroom

This site suggests using comics in the classroom for a variety of purposes. A great graphic (on slide 4) shows that comics can be used to develop several literacy skills including: character development, problem solving, organization, creativity, storytelling, setting, sequencing, decision making, and creativity. If the comic building is done with one of the many online programs or websites available, computer skills are also being developed. After this graphic, links to several comic creators are provided before the best part of the presentation: “21 Ways to Use Comics in the Classroom.”
Several of these suggestions sound like things that kids would love to do. A few of my favorites include:
#1. Instruction Manual: the kids could create their own instruction manuals (which is nonfiction writing with a focus on sequencing!) or the teacher could use the comic as an instruction manual for the student’s task.
#3. Research Assignment: This could definitely tie into nonfiction with both reading and writing. If students need to do research (nonfiction reading) to create a comic, the end product may be worth the less exciting task at hand. (Note: this is not to say that reading nonfiction is not exciting, but many students think that it is, so this could help!)
#5. Convert a Story: There is a large movement in the world of graphic novels right now, and this could be a great opportunity to help students make the connection between novels and comics.
#6. Write a Story: Whether used as the final product or in the planning stages, using comics to write a story could be a fun option for more creative students. It would also be an opportunity to talk about ways that the image can actually tell more of a story than the words.
#14. Using Terminology: The slide show suggests providing students with five words that have to be used in their comics as a way to encourage the students to understand new terminology. &

Sunday, November 7, 2010

These sites are probably the most comprehensive websites I’ve found in terms of book related topics. While there are several similarities between the two, there are also noted differences because of their focus on different ages. Either site could be used by teachers, parents, or students to involve students in reading. The sites are easy to navigate, and could be interesting even for disinterested readers. focuses on books written for teen audiences. There are sections for reviews, author interviews and information, special features, book series, books that are coming soon, book clubs, books that have been/will be turned into movies, and even an Ultimate Reading List of over 300 books that go beyond the typical school and summer reading lists.
The About Us page is helpful in explaining the purpose of this website. It says, “We at bring teens info and features about their favorite authors, books, series and characters. We are a part of The Book Report Network, a group of websites founded in 1996 that share thoughtful book reviews, compelling features, in-depth author profiles and interviews, excerpts of the hottest new releases, literary games and contests, and more with readers every week. is THE place online for teens to talk about their fave books --- and find the hippest new titles!”
Perhaps my favorite feature of this site is the Ultimate Reading List. The site explains that one of their goals is to inspire teens to read. They have compiles this list of more than 300 titles that they, “think are perfect choices for reading and discussing.” The best part about the list is that the entries were compiled from the suggestions of teen readers – not just teachers or librarians. The titles on the list range in genre, difficulty, and topic, so there should be something for everyone. Each entry shows a picture of the book’s cover and gives the title, author, genre, ISBN number (International Standard Book Number - for easier book identification), a link to, a link to a review, and a short description of the book.
This website is very similar to the site described above, but with a focus on books for younger (middle grade) readers. The site has many of the same features as (reviews, author information/interviews, “books into movies,” features, and a “cool and new” section), and is run by the same company. However, since this site is geared toward younger children, there are a few other activities and links that are more kid (than teen) appropriate. These features include trivia games and word scrambles all related to quality children’s literature.

A Change in Purpose

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hello blog readers and followers!

Previously, this blog was designed as a place that I could posts reactions and responses to my reading and learning in my EDRDG 620 class. However, I am going to be completely transforming it over the coming weeks.

By the end of this semester, this blog will be a literacy resource for teachers, parents, students, and anyone else who reads it. The newly designed blog will focus on adolescent literature and literacy, motivation for struggling or disinterested readers, and nonfiction reading/comprehension strategies. I'll also be including posts with resources I find that could help in terms of literacy in general.

Because I'm creating a resource, I believe a little background information about me is necessary. (Especially since one of the first things I teach my students is that it is important to find reliable internet resources, not just the first thing that pops up.) I am a fifth grade teacher in a suburban district. I am nearly finished with a Masters in Reading, which will also qualify me for a reading specialist license. I also coach middle school swimming, and thus, interact with students at that level as well. I am very involved with the We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution program which is sponsored by the Center for Civic Education. While working with this program, I've worked with students in grades 5 - 12, and with teachers and scholars from across the country. As a part of this program, students read and study the founding documents and several nonfiction texts - which is hard for many of them, even the good readers! For this reason, the teaching of nonfiction reading strategies has become an interest of mine. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, I can be contacted at adazzlingdistraction(at)gmail(dot)com (which is also the email address for my Young Adult book review blog).


A Final Reflection

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A reflection of Chapter 7: “Reading and Inquiry in the Content Areas: Using Questioning Schemes to Promote Deep Disciplinary Learning”

In this chapter, Wilhelm really ties the previous chapters together, explaining that inquiry and questioning strategies aren’t extra, but different. Not only are these strategies different, but they promote student engagement and understanding – so it would seem silly NOT to use them. Wilhelm writes, “Several national commissions have identified students’ motivation as a foremost challenge teachers face today.” (p. 153) If motivation is an issue, and inquiry and good questioning strategies increase motivation, the connection seems quite logical.

I loved his explanation of how to hook children and teach them to become readers. He writes: “As one colleague of mine maintains, ‘Kids don’t become readers because they are hooked on the cr blend.’ Kids get hooked by developing real competence that can accomplish real goals. They get hooked by being apprenticed into a real community of practice. They want to be insiders, members of a club.” (p. 153)

By introducing inquiry and strategies like QAR, Questioning Circles, and Hillocks’’ Questioning Hierarchy into our classrooms (in ALL subject areas), we will increase student motivation, engagement, and thus, learning and understanding.

Read with the Author in Mind

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A reflection of Chapter 6: “Considering the Intelligence Behind the Text: Helping Students Inquire by Reading with the Author in Mind”

In this chapter, Wilhelm introduces us to authorial reading, a concept directly connected to the social nature of reading that encourages the reader to interact with the author while reading a text. Through the process of authorial reading, readers use the understandings that the author has put into the text to create a better understating of his/her own. “Vygotskians call this kind of interplay the achievement of ‘intersubjectivity’ in which we take on the understandings of another and make this understanding our own” (p. 134).

When I read this, I immediately made a connection to history, which is one of my personal favorite subjects. Understanding the author’s perspectives and background is important in any reading, but could be especially important when reading historical documents and primary documents like letters and journals. When reading historical documents, it is important to acknowledge and understand the historical context and the author’s specific context within the history. Often authors in the past had a different audience in mind and wrote about things that were viewed very differently than they are now. Recognizing the kind of text is also important because the author’s perspective in a letter or journal may be significantly less guarded than in “official” writing, since the text had a very specific recipient in mind.

Wilhelm presented two different strategies to use when reading with the author in mind: Questioning the Author and Hillocks’ Questioning Hierarchy.
Questioning the Author (p. 135): Questioning the author suggests using “queries” to encourage student interaction with the author through the text. Wilhelm says, “The queries prompt students to engage with one another about the text and consider what the author is attempting to communicate” (p. 136). These queries are different than traditional questions because they encourage discussion rather than asking for a restatement of an idea from the text. In fact, the two types of inquiries are categorized as initiating queries, which open up discussion, and follow-up queries, which guide students to connect ideas (p. 136).

This strategy has five, easy to follow steps that guide a teacher to use it.
(1) Select the text - This text can be fiction or nonfiction, but should be read by the teacher before any other planning takes place.
(2) Segment the text – this requires the teacher to look for places with key information or for tricky spots in the text that may cause issues for the students.’
(3) Develop queries for each segment – this step is the most important planning step. It requires the teacher to develop queries for the students to address that directly apply to the segment. Wilhelm provides an excellent list of suggested queries on page 140. The list is especially helpful because it provides examples. I appreciate this because creating something new is often the most difficult part of using a new strategy.
(4) Read the text aloud to students.
(5) Stop after each segment and pose queries or have students select queries to address from a list of provided options.

Hillocks’ Questioning Hierarchy (p. 141): I found this strategy to be the most interesting and appealing because it seems to combine the QAR and Questioning Circle strategies, but also goes into more detail. This system actually works as a true hierarchy, meaning the lower levels must be completed/comprehended in order to move to the higher levels. Because this IS a true hierarchy, it is easier for teachers to assess exactly where students struggle. The Hillocks’ Questioning Hierarchy is directly related to the inquiry process. Wilhelm even says, “the hierarchy mirrors the inquiry process: inquirers must first understand established meanings and must then perceive patterns and interpret the meanings of various connections. Finally, they must understand the point expressed by the structure of the data, and how to use this meaning to think and do things in the world.” (p. 148)

The question types in this hierarchy are broken down with explanations and examples on pages 143-147, but basically are as follows:
(1) Basic Stated Information: students need to identify and comprehend literal information that is repeated throughout the test
(2) Key Details: students need to comprehend details crucial to understand the text that are only stated in one place (This is harder because the information is only found in one place.)
(3) Stated Relationships: students should be able to identify explicitly stated relationships between two characters, groups, events, etc.
(4) Simple Implied Relationships: students need to recognize the relationships within the text that are implied but unstated
(5) Complex Implied Relationships: students should infer relationships between a large number of details that are spread across the text
(6) Authorial Generalization: students should build on level five relationships by determining their beliefs about what the text implies (This should be done at the end of the reading.)
(7) Structural Generalization: At this level, the students should reflect on the total structure of the reading as well as how the structure guided their involvement with the text. (This should also be done at the end of the reading.)

While these explanations (and the corresponding examples) were helpful, I found the example on page 149 to be especially helpful to me because it is specifically written to be used with elementary students.

While both of these strategies have valuable pieces, Hillocks’ Questioning Hierarchy especially appeals to me because of the progression of complexity and thought throughout the hierarchy. The concept that students have to understand one piece before moving on to the next seems quite logical to me, and I think that adds to its appeal. I also like the ability to assess the levels of understanding and the opportunity to jump in with interventions right away when an issue arises.

Looking at Questions

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

a reflection of Wilhelm's Chapter 5

While reading Chapter 5 of the Wilhelm text, I realized that there is a big difference between questions and questioning schemes – which is something I’d never thought about before. Questions can be simple or complex, but they are singular – one question has one answer (for the most part). Questioning schemes have more of a sequence in place. There are several types of questioning schemes, but the main concept of a scheme is to create a questioning sequence with questions that move students from a very simple “fact based” understanding toward a more complex “applied” understanding. Wilhelm describes three techniques in the chapter:

ReQuest: This is an interesting way of organizing a question series. There are three types of questions, “on the lines,” “between the lines,” and “beyond the lines” – that work together to move students from concrete thinking to more abstract thinking, which helps with the synthesis process (which is a difficult skill). I especially like that this strategy works well when the questions are used before and after reading the text, because I see a direct connection to strategies students can use on the mandated standardized tests. The “read the questions before AND after” approach shows the benefits of knowing the questions before you read (so that you can begin to think about them while you experience the text), but it is also a strategy that students can apply to the standardized tests later in the year.

QAR (Question-answer relationship): This strategy seemed very similar to the ReQuest strategy, but with different names for the questions. The organization of questions in this scheme made sense to me,
but interestingly enough, I think that most classrooms focus on the “right there” questions, which are not only the simplest of the four types, but the kind of questions that require the least thought. The “think and search” questions really appealed to me because they require the reader to look for details and think about the connection between the details. This has been difficult for my students in the past because they aren’t used to moving beyond the “right there” type of questions. They hate thinking until it starts to dawn on them that thinking actually helps the learning process!

Questioning Circle: I like the idea of moving from pure to shaded to dense questions and really pushing students to extend their thinking and make connections. I think that this would need to be practiced a lot in a classroom for it to work successfully, but since Wilhelm’s example (on pages 124-129) is fifth grade students, I believe that my 5th graders should be capable of doing this, too. I think the three circle Venn diagram really helps to organize the levels of questions, but also to show how the three pure components (text, me, and world) really do interact with each other to create the shaded (text and me, world and me, and text and world) and dense questions (text and world and me). It reminds me of the color wheels that they study in art class, so I think showing them a color wheel may help them to see the interrelated nature of the questions.

As I read the conclusion of this chapter, Wilhelm stated what I had realized, but not actually stated in my notes.
“Each of these schemes is powerful precisely because it mirrors the trajectory of the inquiry process: Moving students’ responses from the factual, through interpretative connection-making, to critical evaluations and applications that are valuable in the world. Furthermore, these schemes illuminate how the process of inquiry and design are akin to the processes of expert reading.” (p. 129)

I think using a combination of these questioning schemes in my classroom would help to increase the students’ learning in a very natural way. They may not even realize that they are developing deeper thinking skills, but the ways that the students begin to interact with their learning will improve with these strategies in place.

Inquiry Unit Progress

Friday, July 2, 2010

Inquiry Project Progress as of July 2, 2010

A few days ago, I posted my guiding question, my standards, and an explanation of my final project. Then, in doing more research, I found that I had been referencing the old Indiana standards, not the new ones. In this post, you will find:
* My revised Social Studies standards
* My essential understandings
* A few BDA strategies/activities I’d like to try

Revised Social Studies standards:
5.1.1 Identify and describe early cultures and settlements that existed in North America prior to contact with Europeans. (Core Standard)
Example: The Anasazi and Mississippian culture at Cahokia
5.1.2 Examine accounts of early European explorations of North America including major land and water routes, reasons for exploration and the impact the exploration had. (Core Standard)
Example: The Viking explorations and settlements in Greenland and North America; Spanish expeditions by Christopher Columbus, Hernando Cortes, Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado; expeditions by French explorers Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain; and expeditions for England and Holland by explorers Henry Cabot, Henry Hudson and John White
5.1.3 Identify and compare historic Indian groups of the West, Southwest, Northwest, Arctic and sub-Arctic, Great Plains, and Eastern Woodlands regions at the beginning of European exploration in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. (Core Standard)
Example: Compare styles of housing, settlement patterns, sources of food and clothing, customs and oral traditions, political and economic organization, and types and uses of technology.
5.1.4 Locate and compare the origins, physical structure and social structure of early Spanish, French and British settlements. (Core Standard)
Example: St. Augustine, Roanoke Island, Santa Fe and Jamestown

Guiding Question: Who really found America?
Enduring Understandings: At the end of this inquiry unit, I would like for my students to understand that there were a number of cultures involved in the formation of our country. They will understand that a number of Native American groups were here long before European explorers began to “claim” land. They will also understand that a number of European countries had explorers in the “New World.” Because we will be looking at these cultures during our study, I would also like for students to begin thinking about how these different cultures contributed to an American culture (but that will be more of a year long exploration, since they will need to study later history to see the connections).

BDA (Before, During, & After) Activities:
While exploring this week’s readings, I found a number of activities that appealed to me. I found myself thinking of lessons and activities that would fit different BDA strategies, and have started a list to keep on my desk throughout the year. While I found a number of strategies that I liked, I don’t think that using all of them in my inquiry unit is even close to practical. Figuring out the strategies that match my topics and materials is part of designing a good lesson! This will focus primarily on the BDA strategies that I think will work in my inquiry unit (but they aren’t necessarily final).
* Note: I’ll be using a number of books in this project. I found 32 books at the library and I’d like to use selections from the text book, too. Since there are multiple texts, some of the BDA strategies will be text specific. However, some of the “before” strategies will be used before ANY reading occurs, some of the “during” strategies will be used throughout the experience of the unit (I think Wilhelm calls this “gateway activities”), and some of the “after” strategies will occur at the end of all readings. I’ll try to note these things in my explanations.

“Before” strategies:
Anticipation Guide (website): This strategy will be used as part of the introduction to the unit as a whole. In the anticipation guide, I plan to have questions that will introduce students to the topics and establish a base of knowledge that we can return to throughout the unit.
List-Group-Label (page 2): I will be using this strategy as part of the frontloading for the entire unit. List-Group-Label appeals to me over brainstorming because it organizes the information within the brainstorming. I may actually combine this strategy with PreP (Pre-reading Planning – page 3) so that the students can not only organize, but elaborate on their brainstorming as well.
Checking out the Framework (website): I’ll actually be doing a mini-lesson on this strategy before we begin the unit. This strategy really emphasizes previewing a book to figure out how to best use it. I plan on using this strategy with my students, and also encouraging them to use it on their own to make the most of their reading experiences.

“During” strategies:
Key Concept Synthesis (website): This strategy will also take some teaching before students are prepared to do it on their own, but I believe that it will greatly help them in their exploration of texts. Because figuring out the important parts of a text is a difficult skill, this strategy will help students to identify and keep track of key concepts while they are reading, and then their notes will help them to make conclusions after the reading.
Directed Reading Thinking Activity (DRTA) (page 4): This strategy is all about making predictions, then checking your predictions and revising them. I think it is a great strategy to use with students because it makes reading an active process and it makes the kids more conscious of their understanding (because you can’t predict or check a prediction if you don’t understand).
Knew, New, Q (page 10) OR KWL: I say K,N,Q OR KWL because they are very similar strategies. I like the Knew, New, Q strategy because it encourages students to record their new findings and to record further questions that haven’t been answered. Since this whole unit is about inquiry and asking questions, I thought this strategy would be helpful in directing the students throughout their readings. It will help them to see what area needs more research as the “Q” helps them figure out where the inquiry will go next.

“After” strategies:
Entrance Tickets & Exit Tickets
(Wilhelm, p. 95-96): I think that entrance and exit tickets can be used interchangeably depending on the amount of time available in class during that session. I like the idea of using entrance tickets because they allow the students to think things over and write down questions that may guide the next lesson. Similarly, I like exit tickets because it gives the teacher a good idea of what went well, what needs re-taught, and what questions the students need answered the next day. I will be using this strategy after individual readings throughout the unit.
Heuristic Questions (Wilhelm, p. 98): This strategy will also be used throughout the unit. The “point” of this strategy is to encourage students to make connections between what they knew and between what they’ve learned. The reflection involved in this strategy could be done in learning/inquiry journals throughout the inquiry unit.
RAFT (website): I believe that this inquiry process has a design that aligns itself well with the RAFT strategy. While this is an “after” strategy, students will need to be introduced to it and reminded of it throughout their study. When the students are finishing their research and beginning to think about the final project, this strategy will really come into play.

While all of these strategies will be used throughout the unit, I believe that good discussion will be the tool that ties everything together. Wilhelm and Tovani both mention a number of “ingredients” that encourage good discussion, and I will be using a number of their suggestions throughout the unit. I’ve also been considering how to organize students throughout the unit to best encourage group discussion.

What now / What next:
I feel like I have gathered a lot of resources and looked into good strategies to use in this inquiry unit. Now, I need to be more specific in designing my activities and putting them into the timeline of the unit.

Inquiry Unit: A Start

Monday, June 28, 2010

Guiding Question: Who really found America?

Content Standards:
Social Studies: 5.1.1 – 5.1 5
English/Language Arts (tentative): 5.2.1, 5.2.4, 5.4.5, 5.4.8, 5.4.9, 5.4.10, 5.5.3, 5.5.6, 5.6.6, 5.7.1, 5.7.10

In this inquiry unit, my fifth graders would look at the different groups that explored America and established settlements, towns, and colonies here. We would start the inquiry unit together looking at the major question, “Who really found America?” Then, as students became interested in the different groups (Native Americans, Vikings, French, English, Spanish, etc.), they would break into smaller inquiry groups to explore their “specialties.”
The culminating project for each specialty group will be a museum exhibit demonstrating how their interest group contributed to establishing a claim to what is now the United States. Those projects will combine to create a comprehensive answer to the guiding question.

Content Area Reading Strategies

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Reflection: Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? By Cris Tovani (Chapters 1 and 4)

Reading is an individual experience, and it is a different experience for every individual. Reading nonfiction and content-area text is especially different for every person. However, there are some strategies that all successful readers use, even if they use the strategies differently. Cris Tovani points out that you have to ask questions as you read, but that they have to be questions that you really care about and are curious about. She goes on to quote Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis from their book, Strategies That Work, saying, “A reader with no questions might just as well abandon the book.” (p. 82)

“. . . learning to read doesn’t end in the elementary grades. Reading becomes more complex as students move into middle and high schools, and teachers need to help students understand difficult text.” (p. 5)
This may mean that teachers in content areas need to directly teach methods and strategies for reading the texts in their classes. We know that reading nonfiction textbooks is not the same as reading a fictional story, but reading high school level text books is not the same as reading middle school level text books, which isn’t the same as reading elementary text books. Teachers need to provide students with level-appropriate instruction, and at each level, the teachers may need to present students with more appropriate tools to aid in the comprehension of the reading materials.

Instead of thinking about it as “content-area reading” think about it as “teaching students how to remember and reuse the information we ask them to read.” (p. 7)
Content-are reading isn’t about teaching students how to decode words; it is about connecting the skills they already know to the material the need to learn. However, sometimes, new strategies or techniques need to be taught in correlation with the new kinds of materials being presented. For example, when a history teacher first presents a student with a primary document, it will be necessary to explain that the author of the text wrote it at a different time period, so his/her mind set wasn’t that of a modern author.

“Teachers end up lecturing so they can deliver the maximum amount of content.The problem with this is that the teachers end up doing most of the work.”( p. 38)
On page 8 of “Engaging Readers and Writers With Inquiry,” Wilhelm writes, “Without purpose, significant learning is difficult if not impossible to achieve.” He goes on to explain that students need to interact with material in order to construct meaning. Tovani is writing about how, in an effort to give students more information, teachers are actually taking away the students’ opportunities to construct meaning. The negative effects of the teacher-centric classroom happen because students don’t have a purpose for learning, other than passing the test. With transformative teaching, the teacher has to step away from the role of lector and step into the role of mentor and model.

“My intention is to give students something to read that is worthy of their time, something that they actually have the potential to understand – and maybe even finding a piece of text that will turn kids on to the content.” (p. 40)
I really like that Tovani points out here that rigor is different for everyone. She compares a rigorous workout for one person as being impossible for another. In terms of education, this comparison is so appropriate. Giving students texts and materials that are too complicated doesn’t encourage students, but rather, defeats them and may encourage cheating or just plain giving up. She writes, “When students are always given text that is to hard for them to read on their own, they begin to associate school reading with reading that is pointless.” (p. 41) However, if we can present students with content materials that are more appropriate to their reading abilities, it may spark an interest in the content that could lead (with reading support) to a more in-depth understanding.

The suggestion of using alternative texts and text sets in the classroom (p. 42-50) is an idea that I absolutely want to incorporate because it makes so much sense. Alternative texts literally provide an alternative to the original text. The example used in the book is to use Finn by Matthew Olshan as an alternative text for Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain because the stories have similar themes and some parallel plot points, but Finn is written at a level more appropriate for less able readers. Text sets provide wonderful opportunities for students to explore a variety of materials related to a specific topic. The topics could be as broad as “World War II” or as narrow as “The Life Cycle of a Frog” as long as there are multiple, high quality resources that provide information to children. I really liked Tovani’s ideas about text sets, and I think that they could be very practical at any grade level because the variety of materials included should increase the students' interest. This website has information about why and how to create a text set. The example they give is very detailed and covers the topic of immigration at the middle school level.

Inquiry Based Instruction in a Test-driven World

After contemplating the information about inquiry-based instruction, I have had a lot of questions circling in my head about how the standardized tests fit into this model of teaching. This afternoon I sat down with the principal of one of the elementary schools in my district to talk about just that. We talked about the obvious benefits of inquiry based learning and of hands-on active learning in general. I explained that I am really interested in inquiry based learning because of the real world similarities - it isn’t about learning for the test, but rather, learning to solve a problem. He pointed out that successful scientists are using inquiry everyday, so why not expose kids to the way that “real” science is conducted.

Then I asked how he sees inquiry based learning working in terms of the state mandated standardized tests. I explained my fears that my students wouldn’t do well because they aren’t used to the format of the test. He adamantly disagreed saying that if students truly understand the information – which they should after a well designed inquiry unit – then the test should not be an issue. Basically, if students really and completely understand the material, the format of the test shouldn’t matter. I understand the argument, but I’m not 100% sure that I agree. I still believe that there are strategies for taking standardized tests that need to be taught so that knowledge can be applied in the most effective manner. The time constraints of standardized tests could be especially hindering if students are used to a more open-ended time frame.

Teaching with Inquiry

Friday, June 4, 2010

Reflection: Engaging Readers and Writers With Inquiry by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm (Chapters 1-2)
“Without purpose, significant learning is difficult if not impossible to achieve.” (p. 8)

What I Learned:
Teaching with inquiry is all about teaching kids how to learn, not how to memorize (and then probably forget). The inquiry process is centered around “guiding questions” that lead students to connect their learning to the real world and to their own lives. Everything that is taught within the inquiry unit should be connected to the guiding question. Then, instead of memorizing the information, the students use information and materials presented to them to investigate and answer the guiding question. This leads them to develop a much deeper understanding than the “memorize for the test” method of teaching that is often used.
Wilhelm defines inquiry “as the process of addressing problems expressed by guiding questions” (p. 10) and points out that the guiding question could encompass an entire unit, or a simple lesson or activity. Inquiry is not the same as a student-centered projects or a student-generated curriculum, but rather, it is about teaching students to talk about, think about, and question topics in a very active way. Students in the inquiry-based classroom will collaborate with each other to deepen their understandings even further. Wilhelm even says: “The research base is clear: inquiry-oriented classrooms cultivate motivation and engagement, deeper conceptual and strategic understanding, higher-level thinking, productive habits of mind, and positive attitudes toward future learning, no matter the subject area.” (p. 16)
Teachers can use this inquiry based method to present class material in a way that connects to the kids, so that more meaningful learning occurs. Rather than a list of facts, students need to process information in a way that makes it a tool for further learning. The “First Actions to Take” (p. 25) and “Next Practical Steps: Three Key Moves” (p. 38) provide an easy to follow explanation of how to easily transform teaching from a teacher-led model to an inquiry-based model.

What I Think:
I have always been a proponent of connecting learning to real world situations and of teaching kids how to learn rather than how to memorize, so this inquiry-based learning seems to directly connect to my thoughts and provide another way of presenting material. The “First Actions to Take” (p. 25) and “Next Practical Steps: Three Key Moves” (p. 38) are the things that I need to work through to begin using this method in my own classroom.
The biggest things to keep in mind are:
* Keep in mind what is important to me (the teacher) and the students, and then connect it to the curriculum (p. 25)
* Teach the students how to inquire and how to be an inquirer (p. 26). For most students, this will be a completely new experience, so I will need to model how to talk, think, and learn in this new style. There will also need to be situations for students to practice collaborating with each other, and my level of interaction may need to be higher at the beginning, so that I can model good collaboration.
(Practice, practice, practice!)
* “Learning occurs in a context and cannot be separated from or achieved apart from meaningful context in which it is developed and applied” (p. 27) --> If the students don’t have a meaningful context, there is no sense in presenting information because they won’t retain it or be able to apply it.
* “Knowledge is constructed socially…The goal of learning is not information but 'knowledge,’ which requires deep understanding and application” (p. 27). --> students need to question the material, interact with it, talk about it, evaluate it, and
manipulate it in order to form the deep understandings.
* As the teacher, I should participate as a collaborator, mentor, and guide. (p. 29) I think establishing this authoritative role will be exciting. I like to think that I am more authoritative than authoritarian already, but I know that there is always room to improve! I look forward to collaborating more with my students as we look toward the guiding questions.
* MAKE SURE the discussions are effective! (There are suggestions/guidelines on pages 36-37) --> Students should dominate the discussions while I’m acting as a guide.
Note: I really like the idea of having kids brainstorm things to do when they get frustrated (p. 23). It not only gives them suggestions of outlets, but reassures them that being frustrated will happen and is ok as long as we move through the frustration instead of letting it take over.

How do textbooks work in an inquiry unit? There has to be information presented, but teachers aren’t supposed to use a lecture method. What are some other, less lecture-based, ways to get the information to the kids?

21st Century Literacies

Monday, May 31, 2010

Reflection: “21st Century Literacies” by the National Council of Teachers of English (2007)

I completely agree that teachers need to modify their teaching to prepare students for a world with an increasing about of technology. However, this article points out that while technology is important, basic written and spoken communication skills, work ethic, critical thinking, and the ability to collaborate with others are also skills that students will need as they enter the workforce. Because I teach at the elementary level, I am less concerned with the workforce connection, and more concerned with the fact that my students will experience the rest of their school careers in a way that is different than their parents, and possibly their siblings.

I am immediately drawn to the fact that this article supports incorporating technology into the classroom, because I believe that students need to be taught how to appropriately and effectively use available technology. I would love to use new kinds of technology in my classroom. I am especially drawn to the idea of e-portfolios – although, I don’t know much about how to organize/establish/create them for my students. I think that e-portfolios could be very interesting for students to use throughout their school careers because the portfolio would truly show student growth, while also encouraging the use of technology and reflection. I also like the idea of having a class website that could be used for a variety of purposes.

I think one of the most important pieces of integrating technology into the classroom is in teaching students how to use different technology effectively. For example, students need to realize that just because something is on the internet, it isn’t necessarily true. The article even recommends giving students strategies for evaluating the quality of internet information. I think this is especially true at the elementary level. Equally important is teaching students how to use digital information without plagiarizing! My 5th graders are expert plagiarizers, so this hit home with me right away! While “copy” and “paste” are great tools, we need to teach students how to avoid using them to “write” papers. In addition to that, we need to show students how to cite their sources appropriately, since even paraphrasing the source can be considered plagiarism.

One key piece to making this work is professional development opportunities for teachers. Even technology-inclined teachers sometimes struggle to incorporate technology into the classroom, so it is important for corporations to provide help at all levels of technology knowledge.

Switching Gears

Reflection: “Switching Gears: Helping Students move Successfully from Reading Literature to Reading in the Content Areas” by Steve Peha

“Put simply: content area reading is more difficult than reading literature”

I could not agree more with the statement that reading content area material (nonfiction) is more difficult than reading literature (fiction)! In fact, I’ve been explaining that to parents since I started teaching. I believe that nonfiction reading is more difficult because you can’t always “get the jist” of the reading, but with fiction, that is usually possible. As a second grade teacher, I literally explained this to at least one set of parents a quarter (probably more).

I have always known that reading nonfiction meant using a different skill set, and I have tried to teach that to my students, but this article pointed out a few things that I think will help me to ensure that I’m encouraging student learning even more effectively.

Peha points out that we need to look at eight broad areas, so I’ll be commenting on each:
1. Differences – Because there are differences in fiction and nonfiction, we need to teach students that there are different approaches to reading the two types of text.

2. Balance
– Students need to be presented with both fiction and nonfiction texts starting at a young age, and they need to be taught the skills needed to be successful when reading both texts. By beginning at a younger age, students will become more comfortable with both sets of skills (those for fiction and those for nonfiction, and they should be more likely to experience success later, when content reading becomes more prevalent.

3. Process
– “…kids need to know not only what they are reading, but how they are reading as well.” As teachers, we need to point out that reading is a process and that there are steps to making sure the process runs as effectively as possible.

4. Strategy
– Students need to be taught strategies to use with all types of text, so that when the reading becomes difficult, they have tools to continue on instead of stopping. Teachers also need to point out that there are different strategies for different types of text --- even though we take this knowledge for granted, the kids may not realize that fact.

5. Modeling
– “…all teachers can model their own reading processes and strategies in front of their students.” However, some teachers may need some professional development to learn how to do this effectively. Again, many of the things that we do automatically, don’t even occur to students because those skills haven’t been taught.

6. Retention
– Reading information and remembering the information are not the same thing. “In addition to showing kids how to understand nonfiction information, we have to show them how to remember it as well.” This means giving students another set of tools!

7. Applications
– People are more likely to remember information that is meaningful to them, so teachers need to show students how to make things meaningful. (Worksheets and answering questions are not the most effective tool for this – and actually tend to be detrimental because they create bad habits and attitudes.)

8. Value
– Students need to understand that nonfiction reading is an essential skill, not only to be successful in school, but to be successful in the real world. Teachers need to present students with nonfiction texts that have real world value so that students can begin to see that nonfiction has a purpose beyond school assignments.

“…all teachers can help their students read more effectively by making small
changes to their regular teaching…”

Going with the Flow

Reflection: “Going with the Flow: How to Engage Boys (and Girls) in their Literacy Learning” (Chapter 3) by Michael W. Smith and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm

As I read through this chapter, I was especially impressed by the idea of the inquiry unit, because it seems to be an engaging way to get students involved in their own learning. An inquiry unit focuses around a big, central question, but can then tie in a variety of learning experiences across the curriculum to ensure that students fully understand the content. The process of designing an inquiry unit has three steps: (1) Start with a big, essential question, (2) Identify real-world tasks that involves responding to the question in a “real” way, and (3) Plan backwards from by finding/planning activities that will address the big question and enhance students’ understanding. (p. 56)
The Big Question: Students “need to understand how knowledge has been created to solve past problems so they will know the story behind the facts and the uses and justifications behind the methods and concepts that the discipline has created.” (p. 57) This should really be the goal of good teaching. Teachers need to make sure that students understand not only what they are learning, but how it fits into the big picture. The article describes students as wanting to “be readied to do real work in the world, not just ‘do school.’” (p. 57) a statement that ties directly into one of the core principles of content literacy (read and write as if you are in the field). The inquiry units seem to be giving students exactly what they want, while also teaching content and encouraging the students to use their new content with real world application.
As I read about the “big question,” it was clear that the most important question for teachers to ask themselves while planning is “Why do I teach this beyond the obvious, because it’s required?” I truly believe that I do a good job of helping kids make connections. I am constantly prompting my students with, "Ok, now that we know the facts, why do we care? Why is this important to you?" At the beginning of the year, I get a lot of blank stares, and we work through the connections together. But as we move through the year, students start to make the connections and offer them before I even ask the question. I think that using inquiry units in my classroom will only enhance that aspect of learning.
Options: While “inquiry units” is a great topic, I was glad to read about the more detailed suggestions for use in the classroom. It sounds like the big question can actually cover a small chunk of material. The article said that some questions focused on major themes, but others focused on only a single text or experience. The “Tips for Composing Guiding Questions” (p. 62) were very helpful in pointing out that the first step of planning is to consider what is worth understanding. Four criteria were offered for making sure that an inquiry unit topic is actually appropriate. The criteria say that things worth understanding are: engaging, enduring, at the heart of the discipline, and in need of ‘uncoverage’. I also appreciated the examples of how to take what you have (Reframing a required text/topic, reframing a standard, and looking around the community – p. 63-64) and turn it into an inquiry unit.
I was comforted to hear that even the exemplary example found that he started small the first year. I think that starting small is a great way to actually implement the inquiry unit, rather than becoming overwhelmed and just giving up. Then, each following year, I can add another piece to the unit to make it better. My initial reaction was to create an inquiry unit that incorporates our economics standards. I already use the Junior Achievement BizTown materials and read Kid Power, but I think that an inquiry unit could help to tie those pieces together in a more effective way.
Questions: Can a simulation like JA BizTown be a part of an inquiry unit? The JA BizTown experience is the culminating event to the curriculum, and the kids definitely get their real world connection by being there. But I still think that there are bigger ideas that could be connected to the experience.

Content Literacy

Reflection: Content Literacy Articles

Reading expository text is really what students do for the majority of their school experience. All textbooks (except maybe a literature book) are expository text. Teaching students how to use the resources that are present in expository text – headings, subheadings, photo captions, diagrams, charts, etc. – is part of my role as a teacher. Students need to learn these skills so that they an become lifelong learners with the ability to read, write, and think independently. Literacy skills – and especially nonfiction and content literacy skills - are necessary to become successful in the “real world”.

“Content literacy” means the skills needed to manipulate content area text. However, the skills needed may change based on the content, so being “content literate” requires a variety of skill sets. First, the reader needs to know what to do with the text (which would depend on the type of text and the purpose for reading). Then, it is helpful to use writing along with the reading to help make meaning and strengthen connections.

There are four core principles of content literacy:
1. Active engagement – “Learning is not a passive experience.” ( Students need to be actively engaged in their learning. Students need to connect to their prior knowledge, and then connect their new learning to that old knowledge as they synthesize information and develop key understandings. The synthesizing is hard for kids, but if teachers begin to teach those synthesizing skills at early ages, it will be easier later on.
2. Varied resources – Teachers need to go beyond the textbooks and introduce kids to a wide variety of reading materials. As we move toward 21st century literacies, these resources will need to include online resources, not just the traditional paper resources
3. Social experiences – Reading and writing both need to be social experiences. Students should engage in conversations and discussions about the materials because that collaboration can help them form deeper understandings. In terms of writing, working together on pre-writing activities, using peer editing, and giving the authors feedback are all beneficial ways to increase interaction.
4. Reading and writing like you are “in the field” – We need to teach students how to read materials as if they are professionals. The article brought up the suggestion of talking about historical context and the author’s bias. I think I do this when we talk about “presentism” (looking at history through our present point-of-view). By warning my kids against that and encouraging them to look at the history as if they were there, I am encouraging their understanding. I think this will be especially helpful in teaching about primary and secondary sources in Social Studies.

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