Teaching Readers (Not Reading): Moving Beyond Skills and Strategies to Reader-Focused Instruction

You can read our chat Wakelet artifact here:

by Mary Howard

On 6/16/22, #G2Great welcomed first time guest host, Dr. Peter Afflerbach as we explored his remarkable new book, Teaching Readers (Not Reading): Moving Beyond Skills and Strategies to Reader-Focused Instruction (2022, The Guilford Press). We knew that his message would inspire critical conversations, so we weren’t surprised when fast-paced twitter style discourse reached a fever pitch with the first question. With the all-too common push and pull in our schools positioning the Reading before the Reader, these conversations are needed more than ever, as reflected in a pre-chat quote:

Dr. Afflerbach repeated this issue in his book introduction and conclusion:

It is time to focus on all of the factors that influence reading development, to examine their power, to understand their relationships, and to realize their promise in nurturing accomplished and enthusiastic readers. It’s time for teaching readers.” (page 4 & 161)

Yes, it is time; in fact that time is long overdue. It’s time for us to widen our perspective and reposition our priorities from the READING to the READER to ensure that our readers do not get lost in the mix of curriculum mandates, standardized testing and a narrowed lens of “The Science of Reading” that suggests the flawed view that there is a single science that has all the answers. Peter Afflerbach shared his thoughts on this subject during our chat.

In his book, Teaching Readers (Not Reading) and generous sharing during our chat, he offers wisdom and research we need in order to understand and reverse the current focus from Reading to Reader. This book is needed more than ever as we are asked embrace the depth and breadth of all of the “sciences of reading” as reflected in this chat tweet.

In each of our #G2great book chats, we ask our guest authors to respond to three questions. We know that understanding the thinking and motivation that went into writing the book we are celebrating can offer insight that will support and extend our thinking at deeper levels. Let’s begin with the first question:

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

I wrote this book to push back on the idea that there is a single “science of reading.” Across my experiences with teaching readers, I’ve understood that reading strategies and skills are essential for our students’ reading success. I’ve also learned that strategies and skills are not all that our developing student readers need. They need motivation and engagement, self-efficacy, metacognition and self-regulation, healthy attributions and epistemic development. Each of these represents “science,” and each should be given full consideration as we teach readers.

I’ve taught and researched readers for over 40 years—my first position was as a K-6 reading specialist in a small rural school in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Since then, I’ve taught middle school remedial reading and high school English. I’ve directed 2 university reading clinics where practicing teachers are working toward Masters’ certification as reading specialists. And, for the past 3 decades, I researched reading comprehension strategies. I can certainly testify to the importance of strategy and skill, but I know that the thousands of children I’ve worked with need more than strategies and skills to become lifelong, successful readers.

From day one of my first year of teaching, I’ve been interested (and fascinated) by the complexity of factors that influence our students’ reading development and achievement. Our most accomplished teachers know these factors well, and make sure that instruction regularly addresses students’ need for metacognition, motivation and engagement, and self-efficacy. The research on the relationship between these factors and reading development is conclusive—they must be operating for children to reach their potential.

It’s in this era of learning more about the essential nature of metacognition, motivation and engagement, and self-efficacy that we must confront the idea that there is a single “science of reading,” and that effective strategy and skill instruction is all that our students need to thrive as readers. Remember that the research cited in the Report of the National Reading Panel is a quarter-century old, and that the NRP was constrained in terms of the research that was included. I’m a teacher, and I’m a scientist who has contributed to the strategy and skill literature. I like to think that most sciences continually evolves and that over the past 25 years we should expect to have new insights into reading, how it develops and how best to teach readers. There’s the rub—we know the power of these “other” factors, including motivation and engagement, metacognition and self-efficacy—but they are not regularly acknowledged by a majority of states and school districts, rarely acknowledged by the popular media, not included in most reading curricula and not evaluated by our high stakes assessments. A result is the vast, missed opportunity to further foster students’ reading development.  

In another tweet during our chat discussion, Peter Afflerbach sets the stage for drawing from all of the sciences that matters in teaching the reader beyond a mere skills and strategies perspective:

In his book, Peter Afflerbach details this relevant research by devoting an entire chapter to each of these “SCIENCES” of reading that have long taken a back seat in schools that preference a narrow view. Each research-proven chapter reflects the heart of those “sciences” and support our next step efforts:

Let’s pause to turn back to our Twitter chat discussion. We opened our chat with a question that focused on the title of the book, so I’d like share some of the amazing twitter responses, including three from Peter Afflerbach:

QUESTION 1: Teaching Readers (not Reading)

Before we begin our chat, Peter Afflerbach’s title is an invitation for a reflective pause. What do the words “Teaching Readers (Not Reading)” mean to you? What can schools do to support a collective shift in thinking?

Just imagine the benefits that could rise by posing this very question as we provide opportunities for them to engage in a discussion of the distinctions between these two viewpoints followed by a book study using Peter Afflerbach’s Teach Readers (Not Reading). Now imagine extending that discussion to what this looks like from each side with pictorial evidence shared by teachers on a visible display that represents an instructional shift to the Reader (Not Reading).

Now let’s look at Peter Afflerbach’s response to our second question:

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

A first, BIG hoped-for takeaway is for teachers to be affirmed in their views of students as complex people, with diverse combinations of characteristics—including but not limited to strategy and skill. A second takeaway is that our instruction should be broad-based, of course informed by research, and certainly not limited to the current and quite narrow conceptualization of the “science of reading.” There are “sciences of reading” (emphasis on the plural!) and we should consult these sciences when creating instruction and building classroom environments conducive to student growth. A third takeaway is that the details of how we promote motivation and engagement, how we teach and foster metacognition, and how we help build self-efficacy—a belief is self as a reader—are included in dedicated chapters within the book. A final takeaway is that there is the overriding demand for research-based reading instruction, so let’s make sure we consult all relevant research!

With the ”more complete portrait of the student as reader” in mind, I’d like to share some new thinking that we would need to consider before change is even possible. Since there’s no way to do justice to extensive detail Dr. Afflerbach has given us in his book, my goal here is simply to spotlight responsibility to this process as professionals. They key ideas are meant only as a starting point to a long-term process that includes a deep study of Teaching Readers (Not Reading):

• Begin by acknowledging the collective impact of these shifts in thinking

• Critically examine the existing resources that may be derailing our efforts

• Ensure that we preference teacher efficacy above programs that dictate

• Re-envision professional learning in place of professional development

• Support professional learning along the way through expert coaching

• Trust knowledgeable teachers who know the child as key decision-maker

• Take a good look at what our actions reflect that we value as informants

• See and know children through an individual vs one-size-fits all lens

• Support collegial discourse that will celebrate our children from all angles

• Push back a focus on THE science and widen our discussions to SCIENCES

Before I share my final thoughts, let’s look at Peter Afflerbach’s response to our third question:

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

Learning to read is hard for some students and easy for others. Regardless of the path a student takes to becoming a successful and independent reader, it’s so important to understand each of the factors that influence progress. Our understanding of these factors improves our instruction and supports our students. Reading strategies and skills are always essential for reading development and reading achievement. So too are metacognition, motivation and engagement and self-efficacy. 

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

Every person reading this post, our tweet artifact, and Peter Afflerbach’s book has long experienced the issues that are creating an environment where we are moved further from the READER and ever closer to the READING. Those who know the research and have made an investment in their ongoing professional learning know that our attention on Teaching the Reader (Not the Reading) is too often pushed into other directions. This is exacerbated by the pandemic fueled “Learning Loss Narrative” that has caused a narrowing of the literacy playing field and further motivated a preoccupation with raising test rather than raising readers. Couple this tragic perception gaining traction with our ongoing love affair with programs that promise speedy miracle cures and we find ourselves pushed further into a narrow field. With all of these forces at play, our Readers are taking a backseat in as the Reading remains front and center. As a result, a checklist of skills and strategies that can be dutifully checked off with pride are moving us closer to curriculum driven rather than reader-centered teaching.

We know what to do and Peter Afflerbach provides us with both the research and a pathway for reprioritizing our attention on all of the factors that will help us to focus on Teaching the Reader (Not Reading). This is not just about plugging these factors into a lockstep schedule. Rather it is about understanding how each of the “sciences” work in concert and in support of each others. This means that we must avoid viewing them in terms of a single “lesson” but what we do across the entire learning day in every aspect of the curriculum. But first we must loosen the ties that bind. As long as we continue to hold a death grip on programs and narrow prescribed curriculum that preferences a single science and ignore others that are critical to the success of our readers, we will continue to do a great disservice to the READERS who are depending on us.

We are so grateful to Dr. Peter Afflerbach for sharing his vast wisdom on our #G2Great chat. We know that his thinking will inspire much needed change.

The remaining Q2 to Q6 questions with Dr. Afflerback responses are below. His thinking here and in his book offer a guide that will support our change process.

QUESTION 2: Teaching Readers (not Reading)

Do you believe that current reading instruction reflects the breadth and depth of our knowledge of how students’ reading develops? What explains the phenomenon of understanding reading development broadly, but teaching reading narrowly?

QUESTION 3: Teaching Readers (not Reading)

From a developmental perspective, what else matters for student reading success besides strategies and skills?

QUESTION 4: Teaching Readers (not Reading)

Should the research influencing reading instruction be labeled the “science of reading” or the “sciences of reading?” Explain your response.

QUESTION 5: Teaching Readers (not Reading)

Describe the importance of motivation and engagement for student reader success. How do you ensure that motivation and engagement is a central feature of your instructional efforts?

QUESTION 6: Teaching Readers (not Reading)

Peter Afflerbach writes, “… our vision of students’ reading development and of the important outcomes of our reading instruction is constrained by what we look for. (p. 34) What varied student-centered understandings help you to broaden your vision?

LINKS

Teaching Readers (Not Reading): Moving Beyond Skills and Strategies to Reader-Focused Instruction by Peter Afflerbach (2022 Guildford Press)

Understanding and Using Reading Assessment by Peter Afflerbach (ASCD 2017)

SESSION by Peter Afflerback The Sciences of Reading: Metacognition, Motivation & Engagement, and Self-Efficacy

Mary Howard Session Notes on the above webinar:

Mary Howard session notes; Fueling Curiosity with Peter Afflerbach, Linda Hoyt

Meaningful Reading Assessment: by Peter Afflerbach and Adria Klein (Benchmark

12/29/21 message from Peter Afflerbach about Teaching Readers (Not Reading)

Creating a Schoolwide Culture of Responsive Kidwatching

You can revisit our #G2great Wakelet Chat Artifact HERE

By Mary Howard

On 6/9/22 our #G2great chat focused on an ever-essential topic of discussion: Creating a Schoolwide Culture of Responsive Kidwatching. Our chat has often emphasized dialogue around formative assessment where kidwatching finds its home such as Re-Examining and Revising Our Thinking To Transform Our Practices: Formative Assessment on 5/6/21 and Formative Assessment and Maximizing Our Potential: Assessment that Informs on 10/11/18. We have discussed kidwatching in many chats, but this week it was the conversational chat star that was worthy of our central focus.

Since we intentionally merged the words RESPONSIVE and KIDWATCHING, let’s take closer look at the word “responsive.” To do this I’ll draw from Larry Ferlazzo’s wonderful interview with Regie Routman shortly after her incredible book was published: Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners (2018, Stenhouse)

Formative assessment is integral to responsive teaching-in-action, which depends on carefully observing, listening, and supporting students so that students remain engaged, inquisitive, and learn more. That is, in the act of teaching, based on our observations and students’ responses and actions–and in our reflections before and after–we modify, adjust, and revise our teaching to better meet students’ strengths, interests, and needs. Successfully integrating formative assessments into meaningful instruction is often what separates a teacher who struggles from one who can aptly handle any situation. Regie Routman

Responsive Kidwatching illustrates and celebrates the influential impact of professional decision-making and invites us to gather varied in-the-moment observations so that we may engage in “responsive teaching-in-action.” What we learn from students immersed in the learning process offers the informants that will support the choices we make on their behalf as we “modify, adjust, and revise our teaching to better meet students’ strengths, interests, and needs.”  In this way, we teach with a lens on students who are squarely at the center of our efforts and acknowledge our responsibility to address their unique needs in meaningful, purposeful and intentional ways. Without our commitment to remain “responsive” to students within the kidwatching process, it will be just one more empty educational term on the battlegrounds of failed efforts.

So, now let’s shift our focus on kidwatching with meaning, purpose and intent.

In each #G2Great chat, we craft six questions around our weekly topic that will guide our discussion. The focus of our six questions this week is shown above. Certainly, each discussion focus is important, but the three highlighted questions are critical entry points. Until we reach agreement about what we mean by kidwatching, have a strong sense of perspective about our role, and can verbalize our central purpose, we are doomed to dishonor the very heart of kidwatching from the onset and reduce it to yet another barely recognizable research-supported practice devoid of value.

KIDWATCHING QUESTION #1: DEFINITION

Our first chat question will determine the very success or failure of kidwatching. How we understand and define kidwatching directly impacts how we approach and ultimately implement Responsive Kidwatching in a way that will reflect intent. What better way to do that than to draw from two experts on the topic, Gretchen Owocki and Yetta Goodman who eloquently define Kidwatching in their influential book, Kidwatching: Documenting Children’s Literacy by (2002, Heinemann)

 The primary goal of kidwatching is to support and gain insight into children’s learning by

(1) intensely observing and documenting what they know and can do;

(2) documenting their ways of construction and expressing knowledge; and

(3) planning curriculum and instruction that are tailored to individual strengths and needs. (page x)

Responsive kidwatching is dependent upon all three of these features since they work in support of the kidwatching process. One cannot work in a vacuum as they are complementary. It’s worth emphasizing that we do not engage in kidwatching because it’s the hot topic of the day or required based on a district or program mandate but because we understand what it is and what it looks like in practice so deeply that we are compelled to make it an integral part of every learning day.

#G2Great Chat Twitter Responses to Question #1

KIDWATCHING QUESTION #2: PERSPECTIVE

To honor a strong commitment to kidwatching means putting it into action in the context of teaching and learning and for the purpose of enhancing the choices we make for the sake of student learning. Kidwatching isn’t what is merely scheduled into an obligatory blip on the radar screen of the week if we have time, but a process that we willingly find a place of honor for in each learning day.

When we are dedicated kidwatchers, we observe students while they engage as active participants in the learning process with a curious spirit that drives us to understand who those children are, how they learn and how their identity as a learner and human impacts that learning. This curiosity drives us to know and understand more through close observation, a process Carol Ann Tomlinson aptly refers to as “sleuthing” in So They May Soar: The Principles and Practices of Learner-Centered Classrooms (2021, ASCD)

Consistent, persistent moment-by-moment teacher watchfulness of students as they learn. (p. 150)

What kind of mindset brings this to bear? One of my favorite pages in Kidwatching by Gretchen Owocki and Yetta Goodman is wisely positioned on the first page with a beautiful list of statement about what drives their kidwatching beliefs. Each statement begins with the words: I am the teacher who… Just imagine how we would merge our beliefs about the teaching/learning process and our beliefs about Kidwatching in this way. What would that look like? Why are we doing it? What beliefs drive those efforts? We wondered about that too and so we turned this wondering into the basis of our second question that our chat friends responded to eloquently :

#G2Great Chat Twitter Responses to Question #2

Just imagine what thinking we might not only uncover but discover from a collective perspective if we posed this question based on what each individual brings to the instructional process since kidwatching is an essential part of what we all can and should do:

I am the principal who…

I am the teacher who…

I am the coach who…

I am the support staff who…

I am the interventionist who…

WHAT IF?

KIDWATCHING QUESTION #3: PERSPECTIVE

One of my favorite descriptors about kidwatching is from Kenneth Goodman so we used his words in question 3:

“To REVALUE is to notice and build on what learners can do, and to help them value and reflect on the knowledge they have.” Kenneth Goodman

What I particularly love about Kenneth Goodman’s words is the emphasis on focusing on the strengths children bring to the learning process and making them privy to those strengths as a pathway to new learning. The process of REVALUE directly contrasts to the ever present “learning loss” narrative that asks us to focus our attention on what we purport that children are unable to do. In contrast, Goodman asks us to gaze through an appreciative lens to uncover what they are already doing to use that as a stepping stone to next step efforts.

When we capture those noticings, we elevate in the moment observations over time as a reference to support and extend new thinking. Putting kidwatching onto a concrete written tool of our choice allows us to hold on to what we heard, saw and think. This also allows us to look across days at collective noticings where patterns to emerge that impact our professional choices in actionable ways no just on a particular day but across days. This visible reference could also highlight whether what we are focusing our attention on REvaluing or DEvaluing what children bring to the learning experience. We knew that this question was an important part of our chat discussion and our chat friends did not disappoint.

#G2Great Chat Twitter Responses to Question #5

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The practice of responsive kidwatching is more important than ever in an age where we find our schools and questionable publishers that cater to them hyper fixated on that “learning loss” narrative that is far removed from the spirit of kidwatching. Couple this with a never-ending obsession with standardized tests that label children in ways that lead to impersonal directives, and we find ourselves caught in the perfect ‘data storm’. Rigid curriculum and numerical-fueled assessments connected to them have slowly confiscated common sense and de-emphasized up close and personal professional observation as a key informant. Several principals have illustrated a common misconception to me that reflects how kidwatching has been reduced to an irrelevant sacrificial lamb by referring to any form of teacher observation as “opinion.” This ill-informed perspective is a blatant misconception rooted in other-focused directives that ignore the spirit of kidwatching and shamefully disregards the impact of our educators who are committed to research informed understandings.

Our children rely on teachers who bring knowledge to the teaching/learning table over blind faith in numbers without a face. And they rely on us to use RESPONSIVE KIDWATCHING to model our belief in all the wonderful thinking our childrem bring to the learning process. Dedicated kidwatchers believe that the on-the-spot actions of children in the course of each learning day tell us far more than any number on a spreadsheet ever could.

It’s time to make a collective re-commitment to kidwatching and ensure that it’s a visible feature in every classroom in every school. And so I want to close with a wonderful question that Janelle Henderson posed in her incredible post, Will the Real Data Please Stand UP:

Just imagine the collective commitment to kidwatching this would invite!

LINKS

Kidwatching: Documenting Children’s Literacy by Gretchen Owocki and Yetta Goodman (2002, Heinemann)

Kidwatching 2.0: Top 3 Moves for Real-time Assessment to Meet Every Student’s Needs by Julie Wright (Corwin)

Will the Real Data Please Stand UP by Janelle Henderson (Heinemann)


Maximizing Our Potential (part 5): Assessment that Informs by Mary Howard

Re-Examining and Revising Our Thinking To Transform Our Practices: Formative Assessment by Brent Gilson

Lifting Literacy

By Brent Gilson

For an archive of the chat check out the wakelet here

Last fall I was drawing in a school year filled with new challenges on top of working on grad school. It was interesting how I was learning about Successful Literacy Initiatives at the same time as we were embarking as a division on some new initiatives. The disconnect between what I was learning and what was been done caused an additional level of stress. So I spent more time researching and the consistent piece that always came up when looking for successful Literacy Initiatives was that they are student-focused, data-informed but not singular in focus and focused on teacher development and capacity. As we set out on the chat this week we looked at the topic of Literacy Initiatives and our experience with them, the successes and the failures, and where our focus needs to be.

Teachers discussed the positive and negative experiences that they have encountered with Literacy Initiatives. How they can go sideways when they do not follow student needs and when teachers, who are doing the work are left out of the process. Even more difficult when those making the decisions are not examining the full picture which we are seeing a resurgence of in the current SOR movements in some states leaving huge portions of reader development out of the picture. 

When we consider the most important people in the room, our students, we get a better focus on what needs to be done. The knee-jerk reactions from those outside the classroom who are imagining wide-scale problems that do not exist for the majority of students tend to do more harm to all readers by limiting teachers’ choices and thus the choice of our students. So what do we need?

So we discuss flexibility and that we need to start with our students, we need things in place to help ALL students achieve. What does that look like? How can we demonstrate that we are respecting all students while also addressing any shortfalls or areas of concern?

It seems so simple. To support our students we need to work with them in mind. To support our teachers we need to provide them with the knowledge to do the work. As Kasey states below

Building up the knowledge our teachers need to meet the challenges of today is an important piece of any successful literacy initiative. One size fits all intervention or PD will miss the mark in a high percentage of students and teachers. We (all of us in the education system) are unique so we have unique needs that need to be addressed with unique ideas whenever possible. Unfortunately, we too often fall for the snake-oil salesmen who sell the quick fixes to “save us time” when really it is smoke and mirrors dressed up as support.

As classroom teachers, we are often the last consulted and the first blamed when Literacy Initiatives fail. As we reflected on Thursday the answers seem pretty simple. Invest in kids, Invest in teachers. This does not mean there are no programs or assessments out there that will not support this work. It does mean however that we should not build our work around a program that ignores the expertise of teachers or the lived experience of our students.

Successful Literacy Initiatives should have a goal to support our students in all areas of literacy. This knowledge comes from working with our kids and building off the work of experts. This is not quick work. There are so many possibilities for what causes students to struggle in literacy work. We need time, knowledge, choice, flexibility, and most of all respect to find these answers.

Like Dr. Miah Daughtery states, “we teach reading for liberty.” The consequences of an illiterate population are catastrophic. Our students need to receive the support to find success. Successful Literacy Initiatives can be that support.