Text Selections that Promote Deeper Understanding

By Amy Brennan

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This past week as I attempted to find some balance in my professional and personal life, I spent time on vacation with my family and for the most part disconnected the part of me who is a connected educator and an admitted workaholic.  I am proud to say I was present with my family, which was long overdue and I even missed our #G2Great chat this week.  This was a challenge for me especially since it was my turn to write for the blog following our chat.  Thanks to my partners in literacy, @DrMaryHoward and @hayhurst3 I was able to spend this much needed time with my family, then return home to read the Storify and dive right into the chat and write the blog.  

This week we asked questions about Text Selections that Promote Deeper Understandings as part of our 4-Part series Teaching with Intention: Maximizing Our Instructional Power Potential.  As happens each week, educators joined in at #G2Great to answer the questions and think collectively as we shared and learned about ways to choose texts that promote deeper understanding for our students.  It is always the community of educators that comes together to share ideas that grows my thinking and pushes me towards continued growth and deeper understanding.  As I read through the Storify archive there were certain words that came to my mind as I considered the responses to each of our questions.  

Final Word Cloud

Intentional

When choosing texts thoughtful educators are intentional.  Texts are chosen with a purpose and audience in mind, similar to when we write. The purpose of the text may be for a read-aloud, a shared reading experience, a close reading, a mentor text for writing, or a touchstone text for reading.  The purpose for text selection could be to teach a particular strategy to the class or a small group strategy lesson. We are even intentional in the way we expect our students to choose their independent reading books, as our intention comes through as a model for their own practice in text selection.  There is real beauty in that.  

The audience (students) I would argue is even more important than the purpose, because without the audience we would not be able to choose a particular purpose.  “It’s about them, not us!” was the clear message that came through the Twittersphere as Christina Nosek (@ChristinaNosek) said it so clearly.  This charge should be shouted from the mountaintop.  We need to consider our students strengths and weaknesses, their interests and experiences in order to select the books. The relevance of a text to the student greatly impacts the learning that follows.  The relevance comes through a text and speaks to our students, it shows them how we know them and that we have established a relationship with them.  Selecting texts must be based on the students in you are choosing it for, those students right there in front of you.  If we want results in reading instruction we must be intentional in our text selection.  

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Balance

    In selecting texts we always aim for a healthy balance, much like in life. As dedicated connected educators, we are always trying to balance our professional and family life. This is the same balance we need for choosing texts for enjoyment and texts for instructional purposes.  The balance can come in different ways.  For example, I know every text I read teaches me, changes me and makes me grow.  This includes books that I read for pleasure or books I read professionally.  In that sense there is balance.  Keith Garvert (@KeithEGarvert) pointed this out so well in his tweet captured below as he clarifies that reading is thinking.  Hattie Maguire (@TeacherHattie) brought a great metaphor to the #G2Great table and shared that she reminds her students that they need potato chips and steaks as both serve an important role in a readerly life.  

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Alternatives

We are well aware that the research shows that thoughtless questions, worksheets and agendas can derail our efforts to deepen understanding.  Following this statement we asked the question, “How do we spread that message and offer alternatives?”  We received so many great responses related to opening doors and sharing alternatives with colleagues.  We know that all learners need to see a model, to watch that demonstration in action.  Our colleagues need to see this possibility too in order to try out some of the alternatives to old ways that we know now are not enough.  This is especially important for our colleagues who may not be connected yet and do not have immediate access to the great progressive minds who push our thinking every day.  For those educators, we must open our classroom doors and invite them in so they can see the engagement, the thinking and what our students can do through dialogue, meaningful responses and self-questioning.  

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Jenn A4 in response to Justin
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Flexible

In order to deepen understanding we need to use text selection as a flexible instructional tool.  Flexibility is intertwined into the other words I have highlighted in this post. Without flexibility we cannot reach all students.  Offering students multiple texts from different genres and layering these texts in order to build knowledge and increase the depth of comprehension can have a powerful impact.  Robin Diedrichs (@blueegg3r) calls on educators to “attack the Matthew Effect!”  The Matthew Effect essentially says, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” and in the sense of reading, students who come to school better prepared with richer literacy experiences then find themselves with what sociologists refer to as “accumulative advantage.”  This idea has been discussed by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book, Outliers and also coined in education by Walberg and Tsai in 1983 to describe how some students quickly develop literacy skills and others who enter school already behind do not catch up and the gap widens. Being flexible in text selections can help to close the gap for students, especially when it supports building knowledge and vocabulary and increasing deeper comprehension.

 

 

 

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Student Talk

    Last but certainly not least, student talk at the center of our classrooms shows us the evidence of transfer as their understanding deepens.  We ensure this by creating structures to foster student talk and then by leaning back and just listening.  Listening to our students as they share their ideas and thinking around books. Teacher talk should decrease and student talk should increase.  Tara Smith (@tara_smith5) says it well in her tweet “From the first day of school, we need to make space for student led talk & questions.  Simply, we need to talk less.

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Our collective thinking each week at #G2Great always leave me with a mind that is full of ideas and I have that feeling of excitement that comes just after learning something new.  This four-part series offers an opportunity to grow with us as we explore teaching with intention in order to maximize our instructional power potential.  Join us in the coming weeks to help us grow ideas and learn together.

4 part series

Thoughtful Decision Making

by Amy Brennan3

Charlotte Danielson has observed that teachers make over 3,000 decisions a day. These decisions have been categorized by Danielson as “nontrivial” meaning that they are more complex and more significant than one might at first imagine.  These decisions impact the small humans we teach each and every day.  The educational journey of each student is impacted by those 3,000 plus decisions we make each day and, therefore the call to be thoughtful weighs even greater in our minds as educators.

This practice of decision making and thinking resonates even more with me as I continue to reread and reflect on the book Quiet Leadership by David Rock.  He suggests that when we work in a field that compensates us for thinking, the way to improve performance is to improve thinking.  This is different from previous management models left over from a time when most workers were focused on processes.  Therefore in considering thoughtful decision making it seems that if we improve thinking we improve decision making and overall we improve the learning experiences for our students.  Simply stated, when we improve our thinking we improve our students’ thinking.

On March 31, 2016 #G2Great we came together to deepen our understandings around thoughtful decision making.  During our weekly chat, we often begin by sharing quotes from leading thinkers who make us think deeper.  As an extension to our Thursday night #G2Great chat, I will return to some tweets and highlight thinking around these quotes that generated collective discourse.

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The potential of our instructional power is at its greatest when we balance instinct with deliberate thinking around our decisions.  Instinct comes from the experiences that are already hard-wired into our brain as maps.  We know or can predict the outcome of certain situations and this needs to be in balance with intentional thinking when making these 3,000 decisions each day.  Thoughtful decision-making is at the heart of all great teaching and learning; great teachers put students at the center of those decisions.  Take a look at the tweets shared out and it will be easy to see how we as educators put our students at the center of our thinking and decision making.

Covery Quote-3

If we let this quote from Stephen Covey inspire our thinking it won’t take long to realize that our classrooms are the residual outcome of our decisions.  In maintaining our belief that students are at the center of our classroom then we could argue that student decision making then also results in the learning process that can be seen in our classrooms.

John Hattie has said about our students, “Give them the skills so they can be their own teacher.  We truly make a difference when we teach students to see their impact, they become more engaged in this thing we call school.”  When we join together as collective learners in our classrooms we can make a difference, involving students in classroom decisions is a powerful way to advance learning.  In fact if you look at rubrics used for teacher observations (Charlotte Danielson’s Framework or the NYSUT Teacher Practice Rubric) in the distinguished or highly effective column and multiple times across different domains or standards you will see descriptors that include actions on the part of the students.  Releasing responsibility to students is valued across these areas and has a correlation to their learning processes.  When students are involved in the teaching and learning not only are they invested in their learning, they learn that they have something to do with their own success and this will not only engage them as Hattie pointed out, but build intrinsic motivation.

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The process of reflection was the focus of our #G2Great chat while our blog is really a tribute to the words that are tweeted out into the Twitterverse each Thursday night at 8:30pm EST.  As we think about thoughtful decision making we have to consider all that we learn from the reflection piece of that process.  Especially powerful is the opportunity we have to reflect with others, while we can do this in person or with our PLN in a virtual sense, the process is the same.  David Rock has said, “Making decisions can be a difficult process, and having a sounding board can make a big difference.”  The additional benefit of this collaborative reflection as Rock points out is that “having others stretch us is a way to grow faster than we would on our own.” Each and every week at #G2Great I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with others who reflect and stretch my thinking and decision making in a way I cannot on my own.  Grateful for reflection.  Grateful to share thinking.  Grateful to grow and learn.  Grateful for all the tweets that inspire great work.

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Breathing New Life into the Power Potential of Small Group Instruction

by Mary Howard

1On 2/25/16 #G2Great continued our five part series, Holding Tight to the Practices That Matter as we turned the spotlight on small group instruction. The potential for small group instruction is high as it creates a structure that will form a habit of reading within an intimate setting where teachers can address the specific learning needs of students that would not be possible in larger settings. Of course, achieving ‘power potential’ assumes that teachers have deep knowledge of both literacy best practices and the children sitting at that table.

This power potential of small group instruction was illustrated in the descriptive words of tweet after tweet such as: engaged, focused, responsive, individualized, targeted, strategic, flexible, fluid, purposeful, intentional, productive and joyful (my personal favorite). These descriptors reflect small group instruction at its best with practices grounded in meaningful experiences that engage students in reading writing and talking in ways that put them squarely at the center of our efforts.

But as we consider the power potential of small group instruction, we must also acknowledge a flip side of small groups that continues to plague these experiences. One #G2Great question addressed a potential danger zone:

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Passion rose high for the issue of one-size-fits-all small groups as it defies the descriptors above that represent the opportunities our students deserve. As I travel across the country I have become increasingly concerned that small group instruction in far too many classrooms can feel akin to an obligatory cattle call where a death grip on levels label learners and tether them to those one-size fits all small group experiences we are trying to avoid.

High school freshman and #NCTE15 Panel Speaker Sam Fremin captured my concern with an insider’s view @TheSamer88:

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What makes Sam’s tweet so compelling is that the potential for the very practice that elevates the learning lives of children can also have the opposite effect. We can only create the small group instructional experiences that are worthy of our students by maintaining a spirit of differentiation with a flexible lens of small group variations that may or may not include leveled books and may or may not rise from a single title. The type of small group we choose depends on our instructional purpose and the best way to meet the individual needs of each member of the group based on ongoing formative assessment leading to informed teacher decision-making. Why would we opt for anything less?

The power potential of small group instruction is not about our decision to do small groups but our choice to create powerful, meaningful, and engaging small group instructional experiences. These rich opportunities allow us to intensify our instructional efforts as we maximize each child’s role as enthusiastic, capable, and confident learners who continuously move along a success trajectory toward their personal potential. This lofty goal is only achievable when we CHOOSE to flexibly and intentionally create more student centered small group experiences designed in a spirit of instructional excellence.

     I think achieving the power potential of small group instruction is a choice worth fighting for!

Here are a few #G2Great tweets of educators who believe in the power potential

Independence Develops From Shared Experiences

By Amy Brennan

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Our long term goal as educators is to teach thinking and independence.  When I think about independence the words of Peter Johnston echo in my mind, “Teach them to be independent, you are not going to college with them!”  That day as I listened to Peter Johnston talk about the urgency in teaching independence, I knew that the gradual release model of instruction led students to independence. On February 11, 2016 #G2Great Chat series, “Holding Tight to Practices That Matter” put a spotlight on shared reading.  As I reflect on our chat, I still hold that idea very tight. Shared reading in itself is about a teacher and students reading a text together.  It is inherently a shared experience, certainly not independent.  The independence comes later and as a result of all this great work that happens in a shared reading experience.

During the chat, Joanne Duncan (@joanneduncanjo) tweeted “Collectively our voices grow stronger.”  That is where the magic happens.  We give our students opportunities to grow stronger through shared experiences and once they have grown strong enough they are independent. That is the goal.

Don Holdaway, the founder of shared reading showed us the Natural Learning Model. In this a learner observes a demonstration, then participates in guided practice, later moving to unsupervised role playing and practice, and ultimately performance sharing and celebration of accomplishments.  All of these aspects are built into a shared reading experience where collectively our students are given the opportunity to grow stronger together.

I am reminded then that just as our students become stronger due to the collaborative nature of shared learning, as educators we too become stronger when we engage in shared or collaborative experiences.  This is the beauty of a shared learning experience, whether we are referring to adult learners or our youngest early readers.  Making time for these experiences should be a priority in our schools for all learners. This week as we gathered our minds around shared reading we created a list of books that you can access here. If you are looking for a great shared experience join in on the #G2Great chat, you can see how the shared experience enhances our learning as adults.

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The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom

by Mary Howard

Dan Tricarico, author of The Zen Teacher, was our #G2Great guest host on January 28, 2016 and his message spread across the Twittersphere in an hour long calm. Zen Teacher is a literary buffet meant to be savored word by delectable word. Dan serves a double helping of professional and personal Zen at the perfect time in education as he explains in an email interview:

Teachers are overwhelmed, overstressed, and overburdened. The Testing Machine is out of control. Class sizes have grown astronomically. Funds and materials are in short supply. I’ve noticed that the more skilled and gifted the teacher, the higher their stress, tension, frustration, and disappointment. Because they KNOW it should be different and could be BETTER.

Dan’s opening quote sparked a buzz of excitement that could lead us to “better”Quote OPEN

I was immediately drawn to the potential for Beginner’s Mind to impact the quality of our practices at a time when mandates, scripts, packages and programs seem to be the norm. Dan’s words remind us that not holding the answers in our hands can launch professional explorations of not knowing far removed from the guarantees, quick fixes, and silver bullets waved in front of us like a badge of honor. A Beginner’s Mind embraces the idea that there is great wisdom in taking the time to envision opportunities that are not yet in view.

Dan’s Beginner’s Mind exemplifies the extraordinary teachers in this country who still insist on keeping students at the center of their efforts. These teachers refuse to turn a blind eye to the thoughtful decision-making that can elevate teaching, knowing that professional excellence occurs only when a knowledgeable teacher is at the helm even when forging a path that is not always clear.  

The truth is, a Beginner’s Mind resides within every teacher willing to invest time and effort in the unknown. Good teaching is messy because students are rarely predictable. But if we can awaken our Beginner’s Mind and all of the uncertainty that involves, we can recapture the joy of surprise that comes when children, not publishers, are the heart & soul of our work. Now more than ever, we need to acknowledge that students always have been and always will be our first responsibility. And in the end, they are the reason excellent teachers across the country delight in entering the zone of ‘not knowing’ where endless possibilities abound.

As Dan said, “I’ve always really gravitated toward the idea that we were meant to dance with life, not control and overpower it.”

Oh yes Dan, dance indeed!

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DAN CLOSE

Standing Tall on the Mountain, Together

By Amy Brennan

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“The Courage Rules” was the topic of our twitter chat  on January 14, 2016 with guest host Kari Yates, author of Simple Starts.  Kari is among the many others who stand tall on the mountain with me and give me the courage to push ahead and persevere.  They give me the courage to shout from the mountaintop about what is right for students — what means the most to teaching and learning.  

Reflecting on the chat archive I realize just how fortunate I am to join together on our #G2Great mountaintop each week.  If that mountaintop was not enough, I also have support from the #G2Great Voxer group that goes on practically 24/7 across multiple time zones where we share and grow ideas together.  It helps to practice The Courage Rules with the strength of my friends who stand beside me each week in my professional learning network.  All educators deserve a professional learning network like this one.  All educators benefit from thinking in the company of others where they can lean in for learning and grow ideas through thoughtful discussions.  In reflecting on this particular chat it feels like two of these rules for courage especially spoke to me this week. 

Rule #4 Reflect, learn and adjust
Question 4 (How do you consistently build this cycle into your professional life?) focused on Rule #4, reflecting, learning and adjusting.  As I read through the answers and discussion that followed the common thread seemed to involve the reflection becoming more than just a thought in one’s own mind in order to effectively learn and adj
ust. The common thread was in creating something else with that thought. It could be either a written account or a spoken account of that reflection.  Both of these approaches enable us to commit to the reflection either in the actual written word that can be reread or in a discussion with someone else, usually a PLN or colleagues in person.  It is after that next step that our reflection allows us to grow and then adjust.  It takes courage to reflect in the company of others or even in the written word but this is what make the learning and adjusting possible.
fran q4jennifer jones q4Kari Q4daniburtsfieldA4

Rule # 6 Don’t give up when things get tough

Question #6 (Why is this rule so essential to our change efforts?) in the chat focused on rule #6, don’t give up when things get tough.  Perseverance was a common word in many of the responses to this question, it feels like this is when we are just on the edge of glory.  It is difficult, we want to turn back but if we just push ahead we push past that edge.  It takes courage to push beyond that edge.  I for one am grateful for finding my people, my tribe, my gang at #G2Great.  When I am at the edge and it seems too much to bear, it is the collective learning of my PLN that helps me break through.  

jennifer s q6julieanne A6kari q6trevor q6 As we stand tall on the mountain together, we can find the courage to push ahead and persevere, to shout from the mountaintop about what is right for students — what means the most to teaching and learning.