Visual Text and Close Reading

Many days ago, I had the opportunity to give close reading a try in Maria Mallon's kindergarten classroom.  I used what I learned from Mary Ehrenworth about visual text to try to lead kindergarten students to look closely at visual text to notice close details that would lead to theories about what was happening in the visual story we examined.

After my lesson, I conferenced with Maria about what she thought about the student outcomes and how she felt about the differences she noticed in my vocabulary and questioning with the students.  She was very positive and excited about trying this new strategy!  We began talking about what a "day 2" lesson would look like and Maria was excited to try to give it a try herself.  What a teacher learner!  We made a plan for me to come back and observe her teaching this lesson. Murphy's law would have it, Maria woke up with a cold and scratchy throat.  (It is the plight of all teachers of young children.)  I offered to teach the lesson for her or pass it on to another day but she refused because she was so excited to have the kids finish up their "thinking" about the story.  She even asked me to film it so we would have the two lessons together to use to show others.  Wow - willing to teach something she never taught before, feeling not 100% and did I mention this are kindergarteners?  I mean, anything can happen... :)

But of course, she was the master teacher as always, and I think it was as much fun for me to watch the kids from the observing side.  I don't know if this relays on tape so I want to point out one of our favorite noticings was that this strategy met the needs of all levels of her learners.  Students that are still trying to recognize letters were able to identify happenings in the story and the students that are fluent primary readers already were challenged to consider multiple possibilities for why things could be happening! 

Without further is day 2 of our kindergarten students closely reading with visual text.  Would love to know your thoughts and noticings!

Thanks again, Maria, for sharing your classroom and learning with the world!


Reading Fluency isn't Sexy Anymore - But it Should Be!

Tim Rasinski
During my week at the Teachers College Reading Institute, I heard one presenter say: "Tim Rasinski says fluency isn't sexy any more.  Complexity is sexy."  I laughed, not knowing really what that meant but found out later in the week when I attended a session led by Tim.  His session was entitled:  Why Reading Fluency Should be Hot!  (It's all about what the "catch" words are in education...and it shouldn't be.)  Tim Rasinski is a professor of Literacy Education at Kent State University, has written over 200 articles and authored or co-authored over 50 books and is a leader in the field of reading research and fluency.  Here's what I learned from Tim:

What makes reading fluency hot??

It is related to comprehension and if you want students to read they need to be fluent, comprehending readers that enjoy reading. You also need joyous readers to have successful readers.

One of the most successful, joyous strategies I use in clinics we run with students is singing.  There has been much research on the benefits of singing but for our purposes we will call it using rythmical words. When working with students I start each day with singing "fluency exercises".  When looking at the words afterwords you work in the comprehension.  You teach them to be thinking about songs they sing and what they mean. Singing is reading!  And it's reading with fluency!

A few years ago, he did a speech about this and he received this letter from a teacher:

So after he received her letter he called her and asked if they could do a study the following year.  She said sure!

She taught her kids three songs a week, always with the words in front of the kids and prompting them to make sure and look at the words.  Becky had lots of ELL kids in her class and they were being assessed by the DRA.  First graders were expected to achieve the level of 16 or 18 and none of her 25 kids were below that expectation.  Eight or so of her students ended up level 24, 26!  Of course this wasn't only because of the singing but you have to ask yourself why students are achieving so well compared to previous classes that different.  The singing was what she was doing different.

This appeared as an article in the Reader Teacher, where she is the first author and he is the second on "Bringing Back the Joy of Singing in the Classroom".  Fluency is important but we need to work on it in a joyful way.  Singing makes us happy! 

I got into reading fluency myself as a teacher.  I worked with Title 1 and Special Ed kids.  I had an interest in teaching kids that struggle.  I was doing the best I could with those first kids but no matter how well they comprehended what I read to them their fluency was not improving.  I began reading new articles coming out on fluency while working on my Masters Degree and I discovered that the materials I was being given at school addressed comprehension, phonics and everything except fluency.  I began trying my own things with my students to improve their fluency and they took off!

There was really nothing on the market you could buy for fluency until The National Reading Panel came out and said fluency was HOT!  But it was hot on and off because misunderstandings with oral reading, speed reading and fluency only being important in primary grades kept teachers confused.  If students don't get fluency by second grade they need help with that.  It's essential. 

What’s Hot in “Reading Today” comes out every year.  Reading Fluency:  2009 - 2012  came out as not hot!  That's what made me mad enough to write this article:  “Why Reading Fluency Should be Hot!  Common Core Standards labels fluency as one of the foundational skills.  Finally.

Tim Rasinski is the author of Word Ladders, a word game for skills practice with word work and building for K - 6.  He likes the idea of having fun and playing with words as you learn. 

Here are his Building Blocks of Fluency
Model Fluent Reading - read aloud, point out things you do with your voice and character
Assisted Reading - shared reading, paired reading, audio reading (listening center, close caption hearing)
Practice - practice, practice, practice, wide reading (read a story or chapter and talk about it and do extension activities....mediocre reading) deep reading (repeated reading of same thing)

What would motivate a reader to read something more than deeply or repreatedly?


Fourth Graders Learn to Build Theories!

In a recent training day with my fourth grade teachers, I shared my learning from Teachers College Reading Institute about developing theories from stop and jots in Readers' Workshop.  I have been

excited to see all the students walking around the building with books they are reading filled with sticky notes sticking out around all the corners of the pages.  I even saw a student from our school sitting at her brother's soccer practice diligently reading, then stopping and jotting on extra sticky notes she was carrying around!  (You better believe I sent a photo text to her teacher to brag!)

My fourth grade son was working on his reading at home and we had a conversation that went like this:
Me:  Hey buddy, what are all those notes sticking out of the book you're reading?   Him:  I write notes on these stickies about what I'm thinking when I'm reading.  Me:  Cool, let me read a few.  Him: No, mom, you wouldn't understand.

Lesson #326 in parenting...
Your child's teacher > Mom (even if she is the reading coach)

Anyway, I was circulating through fourth grade classrooms last week capturing some photos and video for our Writers' Workshop night and just happened upon a brilliant closing share of Readers' Workshop in Jenny Nash's classroom.  One of her readers had developed a theory she had been working on.  Please forgive the AWFUL camera work.  I am a hot mess without a tripod, but I knew if I didn't catch the moment I would miss out and so would you.  So take some dramamine and enjoy..


Kindergarten Scares Me

So... you know this famous quote?

Today, mission accomplished.  I taught Kindergarten. 

Over the last week I have been having a conversation with some of my kindergarten teachers about Close Reading.  They are hungry for more information about what that looks like in the primary grades with students that are not reading or are reading at a very low level.  I shared my kindergarten inspiration blog, Kinderconfidential, written by Kristine Mraz where she shared her thoughts about Close Reading with her kindergarteners.  And I pondered the learning I have experienced following the Close Reading Blogathon by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts, as I anxiously await their book coming out next week:  Falling in Love with Close Reading .

During all this conversation and pondering I thought to myself, "I am the reading coach, I should be modeling and willing to step into their shoes and learn what will work for our youngest readers.  Even if it is epic fail.  Even if I pass out."  (This was a real possibility.)

So I channeled my inner Mary Ehrenworth and what I learned from her Secret and Songs of Text session I attended at the summer Reading Institute at Teachers' College.  She used the visual texts of a Picasso painting and a music video.  I looked through the big books in Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard's kindergarten classroom and decided to try to teach them to closely read visual text from one big book.  My goal was to get the kids to notice nuances of what is happening in the "text" and what the story "seemed" to be they would continue to grow and change their ideas along the way.  I would have liked to do this with just one visual but this is where they are right now, so I tried to meet them with what they are used to seeing and teach them this new "Close Reading".

So, while I'm throwing myself out there in front of my colleagues... I might as well share with the rest of the world.  Because honestly, whether I am impressed with other lessons I see or photos in classrooms...I ALWAYS learn something from others who share.  So since I managed to not pass out I'm sharing the video I had running.

I have plenty I could critique and would like to do over a little differently, but I was mostly happy with the outcomes and look forward to watching Mrs. Mallon teach lesson 2!   Would LOVE to hear your thoughts!