Writers are Readers #sol17

IMG_8534Reducing Cognitive Load by Pairing Reading/Writing Work

March 30, 2017

Lucy Calkins says in the The Art of Teaching Reading that reading and writing are like ‘running from one side of the boat to the other’.  Thinking about that movement from one side to the other and I’m searching for balance.  Previously, I thought that students were wonderful readers and then they became writers.  Perhaps it is because that is how I remember it for myself.  Reading, Reading, Reading.  Talking, Talking, talking.   Then struggling to write.   

What I’ve learned from a year of collaborating in writing and reading through the units of study is this.  Reading and writing should not be separated.  They are the peanut butter and jelly of learning.  I have upended my thinking and believe that writing is the easier craft, even if that might not be true for me.  What I’ve noticed is that writing work scaffolds the reading work.  When we teach into informational writing and then begin a unit in informational reading a few weeks later, we can teach into the strategies we are using to write and the style of the mentor texts we have examined as writers to teach into the reading strategies in informational reading.   I can say to a student, remember in writing we were working on text features to teach different aspects of our topic.  We can use what we know about writing text features to examine what the author is trying to tell us in our books.  If you are thinking about poetry these days,  this teaching move makes sense.  Teach into the writing of various types of poetry,  then give the mentor texts double duty  as readers,  read and reread those poems.  The more we write poetry, the more we understand the reading of it.  The more we read poetry, the better our writing is.

Writing provides a lot more room for error.  It’s slower paced.  We can edit and revise to our heart’s content.  In writing,  the pressure is less.  So while I still have student who are doodling on the paper,  they are getting the sentences written as well.  They have wait time and think time.  They are constructing as constructivists.  Writing scaffolds reading in so many ways that we knew.  Practicing phonics skills while spelling during writing strengthens decoding skills in reading.  Deeply studying a genre of writing strengthens predictive skills needed when reading particularly genres which are unfamiliar.

Studying reading and writing in the same genres keeps underlying truths in the same zip code.  As in our biography study where we used our narrative arc writing structure to describe the composition of the subject’s story,  using our writing structures explains new or different reading structures to students.  After we have taught text structures in second grade writing, when these students read informational text, they notice the text structures and anticipate the author’s meaning and purpose.  We apply the narrative writing structure to clarify theme, purpose, and determine importance.

As when I am looking for connections  I see them everywhere,  we have connected not just reading and writing in a grade level, but now see connections across grade.  Creating those connections across grade, content, and genre provides a platform for students to move to deeper thinking, richer work, and increasing confidence.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and the March Slice of Life Challenge Community for inspiration and encouragement.  Read their amazing blogs here.

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Brain Friendly #sol17

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Reducing Cognitive Load in the Workshop

March 28, 2017

One of my students is having difficulty learning to spell high frequency words.  She reads them with ease, but when it comes to spelling, she still struggles.  After thinking and talking and trying lots of things, it was so simple.  I took the word solving strategies that we had applied to reading to our spelling with a few twists: see the word in your head,  give it a go,  does it look right?  It’s not rocket science, but it is brain research.  

Our working memory can only keep 6-7 things at a time.  As David Souza points out in How the Brain Learns,  this might not be a bad thing.  Having a small amount of items in your brain may allow things to be more easily associated with other things. So if I am teaching steps in a process in writing, reading, spelling, or even math,  I had better keep the steps down to 5 or less. Our visual memory is stronger than any other memory and current research show that visual memory is getting stronger.  So those simple strategies  help our young speller use a technique but where else in literacy learning is brain research facilitating.  

Our working memory is also temporary.  Most reports say less than 20 minutes.  If I am trying to maximize brain use,  I am switching activities every 15-20 minutes.  Think of a 15 minute mini-lesson, 15 minute small group,  15 minutes increments of independent practice.   When we write focus phrases, as outlined by Terry Thompson in The Construction Zone,  I am creating short kid-friendly mantras with students that they can repeat to themselves during the scaffolding process.  Check over my spelling.  Circle words that don’t look right.  Then go back and correct the spelling.

If I know students have enhanced visual memory,  I may start a lesson with a short video of the subject or review with BrainPop, Kahoot,  a drawing or picture.  I also am thinking about reducing the visual load in my classroom.  I read once that after a very short time (one week) anchor charts become visual wallpaper to students.  Using them through the I do and We do phases and then moving them to a student size chart or a photo on an iPad for students who still need the scaffold during independent work, is an effective strategy.

Other things to keep in mind.  Routines reduce cognitive clutter.  If the structure of our routines stays relatively constant that frees up cognitive space for critical thinking and deeper learning. Practice matters.  Moving from listen, watch, to perform helps move concepts from working memory to long term storage.  How do we get thinking from working memory to long term storage?  Two questions seem critical.  Does this make sense?  Does this have meaning?  

My final thought is to think about the depth of the stairs.  If those stairs are steep, carrying the groceries is really difficult.  Making the moves from concepts easier by bridging ideas.  Take care in moving through the gradual release, lingering in shared practice.  This is not just for primary students.  Finally,  give wait, think, processing, and practice time.  

To think is to practice brain chemistry– Deepak Chopra

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Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. This is day 28 of 31. Read more slices here.

Reading with Rigor: Teacher Edition #sol17

It’s Monday What Are You Reading?  Cognitive Load Edition

March 27, 2017

Recently,  I have been lingering over lessons and concepts, giving students time to understand more fully, considering the gradual release of responsibility in a more thoughtful way, scaffolding the ideas of something we have worked on into other areas.  Isn’t rigor something more than just difficult?  Note:  My links will send you to Heinemann and Stenhouse sites rather than Amazon.  It’s here that you will get more information, videos, and sample chapters.  sk

Disclaimer: This might seem like a crash course in literacy instruction.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 7.28.52 PMPreventing Misguided Reading, Jan Miller Burkins and Melody Croft

The Next Generation of Reading Instruction

This book is a GPS for the driving purposes behind quality literacy instruction.

Through structures in place, we can provide students with the environment to think critically and read closely.  The authors strategically use preassessment to reduce cognitive load.  

From the author:

“As you read this book, you will feel like you are having a stimulating professional conversation. You will agree, disagree, question, but most importantly, you will reflect. And after that, you will want to talk. For teachers…looking to think hard about the quality of their guided reading instruction, Preventing Misguided Reading promises to be the perfect study group companion.” — Kim Yaris, Educational Consultant, Plainview, NY.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 7.30.10 PMThe Construction Zone, Thompson

The subtitle says it all:  Building Scaffolds for Readers and Writers.  While I love this whole book, today I’m recommending Chapters 4 and 5 which focus on flexible design and flexible delivery.  We can get caught up on delivery curriculum and lose sight of the learners.  

In Thompson’s words,

If something isn’t working or if learners need more (or less) assistance, we counter by shifting our levels of support up or down as our scaffold moves closer and closer to its intended target.  In this way, scaffolding is alive and organic.  

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 7.29.31 PMTeaching Reading in Small Groups, Serravallo

In Serravallo’s own words:

We believe reading instruction should: ❏ match the individual reader ❏ teach toward independence ❏ teach strategies explicitly so that readers become proficient and skilled ❏ value time spent, volume, and variety of reading ❏ follow predictable structures and routines

We wrote that in a reader’s workshop classroom, we are reading mentors, and conferences are an opportunity for us to model the kinds of reading habits and skills we use to support student readers to do the same in their own reading.

This book is for anyone that is reconsidering their small group and perhaps whole class instruction, for teachers who wonder why their students aren’t making the progress they hope.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 7.29.14 PMWho is Doing the Work?

In their follow up book to Reading Wellness,  Burkins and Yaris hit us right between the eyes.  In their words,

When we are mindful about allowing students to actively engage their reading processes, each of these instructional context contribute to children rich reading growth.

This book covers building agency in read aloud, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading.  Caution:  They are tough on teachers, so be prepared to look closely at your practices and not take offense.  

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 7.29.46 PMNotice and Note- Strategies for Close Reading

Grade 3-8

I just can’t say it better than the authors themselves.  Here is a book that gives concrete systematic ways to reveal text to students.  Sidenote: follow Beers on Twitter @KyleneBeers and Facebook. She does not hold back.

Check out their Rigor and Talk Checklist.  

Just as rigor does not reside in the barbell but in the act of lifting it, rigor in reading is not an attribute of a text but rather of a reader’s behavior—engaged, observant, responsive, questioning, analytical. The close reading strategies in Notice and Note will help you cultivate those critical reading habits that will make your students more attentive, thoughtful, independent readers.”

—Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst
Also,  Readers Front and Center,  reviewed here.

 

For Students:

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 7.28.40 PMStuck Oliver Jeffers

 

An amazing book for anyone who has been, well, stuck.  Problem solving abounds.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 7.28.20 PMThe Most Magnificent Thing  Ashley Spires
Sometimes we can’t quite see where we are going until we look again with fresh eyes.

 

 

 

new-slicer-badgeThank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.

Load Limit Exceeded #sol17

work-load-limit-warning-sign-s2-0031Work Load Limit Exceeded

March 26, 2017  #sol26

Yesterday, I joined my husband at the tax accountant.  The accountant is a nice man who is obviously a whiz at taxes.  He pulled up the forms on his big monitor and was finished with both ours and our twenty something sons’ in short work.  He has completed our returns for the past six or so years. My husband commented that he could do this too, however it would take him so much longer.  I thought of how years earlier,  I had decided to have my husband’s shirt done at the dry cleaners rather than ironing them myself.  Again,  I could iron them, but it would be labor intensive and not as professional.

All of this consideration of reducing my personal work load and tax on my working memory allowed me to  consider reducing cognitive load for our students.    Friday,  I had a think session with a kindergarten teacher who is working on her instructional design.  We looked over photos of a classroom in New York that I had observed and discussed a playful stance in teaching. These ideas led us to consider reducing cognitive (over)load.  Considering brain theory and teaching:

In cognitive psychology, cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in the working memory. Cognitive load theory was developed out of the study of problem solving by John Sweller in the late 1980s. Sweller argued that instructional design can be used to reduce cognitive load in learners.

Reducing cognitive load in teaching?  Basically,  humans only have so much room in working memory, room for the essential components of a task and then as teachers, we hope room for the generative load,  the integration of their prior knowledge and all the new learning.  So by design,  the less room they need for the essential components, the more room they will have for new learning.  Much like a grocery bag, brains can only hold so much at once. In practical terms,  if I keep the structure of lessons the same almost always, the students don’t have to think about navigating that.  For example, we always do… (routines).  If I keep the environment minimal with certain elements always in the same place,  I again free up cognitive space. For example, bulletin boards, things hanging, etc.   If I begin my lesson with a quick review of previous work and the connection of that work to our new work,  students are aided in making those prior knowledge connections and may move more quickly into our new thinking.

This also brings us back to lingering in lessons.  If I reduce the stair step from one idea to another, going from informational reading to informational poetry,  using story arcs from narrative writing/reading to explain narrative nonfiction/biography, comparing arcs in a simple picture book to arcs in a more complex novel,  I have given the students the opportunity to connect their ‘file drawers’.  Our mental file drawers can be messy,  by making connections and watching for understanding, reducing clutter, eliminating irrelevant materials/presentations,  we can enhance student learning.

For more background in reducing cognitive load,  see these resources.

Reducing Cognitive Load

Cognitive Load Theory

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Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.