Read about teaching students about reading complex texts in last month's Educational Leadership. Mary Ehrenworth, the Deputy Director of Middle Schools, published an article in last month's Educational Leadership about complex texts. Read this article to see how you can support and teach students to read Non-Fiction texts in close and critical ways.
Unlocking the Secrets of Complex Text
If you ever find yourself at a live baseball game with a dominant pitcher, you might experience one of those evenings in which you see no runs or even hits. Such games cause baseball enthusiasts to exult, and they drive the rest of the population into a torpid boredom. To the experienced "reader" of baseball, who is alert to what is happening on the field as well in the batter's box, a shutout game is full of intricacy and drama, crucial decisions, and debatable moments. To the novice baseball reader, it's a game in which nothing happens.
We want students to be positioned to read complex nonfiction the way the expert reader of baseball reads the game—staying alert to the nuances and challenges of complex texts, to the reading work such texts demand, and to how they reward close reading (or whatever you want to call such alert, attentive reading). "Like any other art, craft, or sport, reading becomes more rewarding as we master its intricacies to higher degrees," writes Robert Scholes (1989, p. 18). Scholes suggests that texts release their secrets to those who come ready to see more.
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“If you can imagine things aren’t quite what they seem, and dream of possibilities that only you can dream of, then anything can happen.”
From Imagine by Bart Vivian
Twice a year educators from across the United States and around the world come to Teachers College eager to learn more about coaching in writing workshop classrooms. On October 17, teachers came from across the United States and from Bahrain, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Dubai, Denmark, India, Italy, Russia, Singapore, Uganda, and Vietnam to learn and hone the craft of coaching at the Reading and Writing Project’s Coaching Institute on Literacy and Whole School Writing Reform. From the opening keynote “Catching the Winds that Are Blowing” by Lucy Calkins, to school placements, to the 85th Saturday Reunion, to the closing keynote from Colleen Cruz, “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose,” participants were asked to imagine possibilities in their classrooms, schools, and districts. Over the course of the week, participants engaged in a range of learning experiences including attendance at workshops and lectures, professional discussions with coaches and administrators, and coaching one another in writing workshop classrooms.
The chance to try out teaching and coaching moves in classrooms across NYC is the element that makes the annual Coaching Institute a favorite of participants. Shawn, a coach from Colorado, wrote, “Doing the work, throwing us into the coaching practice was perfect because we didn’t have time to think too much and that made it safer to fail and then to learn.” The unique opportunity to practice coaching with direct feedback in a safe space allows participants to live the dreams of possibilities before setting out to bring these visions to reality in their schools. Ericka, a coach from Ohio, wrote, “No one sits back and takes knowledge in, everyone learns by doing, and I loved that!”
Following the coaching institute, many participants return home to share their learning and new vision. Some even hold mini-institutes of their own, recreating and practicing coaching in workshop classrooms. Far and wide, participants leave excited to implement the strategies learned in the institute and hopefully able to realize newly imagined possibilities. Of course, the TCRWP is looking forward to the January 2014 Coaching Institute devoted to Whole School Reading Instruction!
The TCRWP was delighted to welcome Peter Johnston, Vincent O’Leary Professor of Reading at the University of Albany-SUNY, to speak at the November 6, 2013 Principals’ Conference and to a group of third through eighth grade classroom teachers. As Lucy reminded us in her introduction, “Peter has a big vision of instruction and what matters in teaching.” Throughout his talk this was evident. Peter began with a reminder that there are fundamental human needs that should be present in classrooms: the need for a sense of autonomy, a sense of belonging, a sense of competence, and a sense of meaningfulness. He argued that in classrooms that sustain these needs there is a great deal of learning that takes place and that these elements exist in both the big decisions teachers make as well as in the smallest moments of classroom life.
As he does so well in Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning and Opening Minds; How Classroom Talk Shapes Children’s Minds and Their Lives, Peter shared examples of students’ conversation and writing from a variety of classrooms and helped us to recognize the significance of these moments. He went on to argue that while the CCSS call for more nonfiction reading, the reading of literature is essential. When students read and discuss literature they are building their social imaginations. This is significant because students with stronger social imaginations understand more complex narratives and literary devices, have more positive social skills and relationships, have better self-regulation, and have stronger moral development. In short, when reading literature, students are learning about and living their lives in school.
Further, Peter called for a distribution of the teaching load in the classroom by ensuring that students are engaged in teaching and supporting one another. Classroom teachers are able to create the conditions in which students are co-teachers in the classroom. “We must teach students how to think together and live together.” Peter concluded his talk by reminding us that we need to think about teaching and learning in whole and human ways and with the reminder of Vygotsky’s groundbreaking assertion that “Children grow into the intellectual life around them.”
“And that’s how it all began. With a vacuum cleaner. Really.”
And with this line, from Kate DiCamillo’s new book, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, the 85th Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion began. Kate’s moving keynote about her mother, a squirrel, and a vacuum cleaner brought many in the pews of Riverside Church to tears. At the end of her speech about the inspiration for Flora and Ulysses, the audience was left contemplating the passing of a loved one and the ways in which a person who has died continues to affect us in powerful ways. On this day dedicated to helping educators influence students in powerful ways, Kate set the tone for leaving your mark.
After the keynote, the impressively large wooden doors opened and thousands of eager participants—teachers, principals, coaches, and parents—spilled out onto the sidewalks and into the halls of Teachers College to spend the day thinking, talking, and writing about K-8 literacy. Participants came from near and far for the day—from the tri-state area, from further flung states, and even from other countries. Members of the Writing Coaching Institute who took part in the Saturday Reunion, had traveled from Bahrain, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Dubai, Denmark, India, Italy, Russia, Singapore, Uganda, and Vietnam.
Throughout the day, participants were able to choose from among 140 workshops on a wide range of topics related to comprehensive content and methods in literacy instruction. The wide variety of workshops supported content on the professional frameworks of Danielson and Marzano as they apply to literacy, building and growing learning communities throughout a school, bringing reading and writing work into content areas, building toolkits and using mentor texts to support instruction, strengthening work in components of balanced literacy like shared reading, read alouds, interactive writing, shared writing, and word work. Other workshops focused on engaging students, supporting students who struggle, constructing goal driven work, using and reflecting on work with the use of rubrics, and raising the level of partnership work in classrooms across both reading and writing.
At the end of the day, streams of people flowed back into the naïve of Riverside church to hear Tim Rasinski speak about the power of fluency on reading comprehension. Tim reminded us that although fluency is sometimes overlooked, it remains an integral component of understanding texts. While the complexities of learning to read might seem daunting, the instruction around reading can be turned into a collaborative and fun experience to help engage students in the learning process. In the beautiful church that has heard so many songs over the years, Tim Rasinski linked fluency work with the benefits and delight of music and song. As the ending keynote came to a close participants were again left reflecting on their own practice with the lingering words, “What could be better than children having fun singing while learning to read!”
This 85th Reunion reminded us of the power of teaching and the overwhelming dedication of teachers all over the world. Thank you.
The TC Oral History Project highlighted Lucy Calkins, Founding Director of the Reading and Writing Project, in their Mini Moments with Big Thinkers series this week. The project is a weekly series of excerpts highlighting a half-century of groundbreaking ideas, research and initiatives from TC. Watch and read more about Lucy's spotlight here!