Saturday, September 30, 2017

More About "Avoiding the Biggest Mistakes We Make When Teaching Reading"

This week on the way to school I listened to Larry Ferlazzo's BAM! Radio Show discussion with educators about "Avoiding the Biggest Mistakes We Make When Teaching Reading."  It's a short podcast worth listening to as you have time.  The five educators have an interesting discussion around avoiding the common mistakes we make in teaching reading.

Here are a few highlights:

Pernille Ripp:  "Teachers don't give time to read.  We fill our reading time and lessons with lots of tasks and lots of things to do."

Jeffrey Wilhelm:  "We actually don't teach reading.  Most teachers and schools equate teaching reading with teaching decoding or these lower level constrained skills instead of the unconstrained skills of inferring and making meaning and constructing understanding."

Valentina Gonzalez:  "Kids are not given a lot of time to actually do the reading so they're doing a lot of worksheets, a lot of fill in the blanks, a lot of activities, but they're not given the time to practice reading independently and in small groups."

Diane Laufenberg:  "The reluctance to give up the control of choice reading to the kids."

The podcast had me nodding along as I too know the challenge of giving students choice in reading.  I too have wrestled with finding the time for readers to have opportunities to practice the skills and strategies they are learning --- especially in situations where readers might be receiving additional reading support.

These literacy experts talk a lot about the importance of learner agency and authentic opportunities to read.  While I tend to find myself thinking in a "do this instead of this" frame, listening to the podcast did make me think of a few other reading instruction mistakes I try to avoid in my teaching.

Mistakes in Reading Instruction 

  1. Not using assessment to be intentional in reading instruction:  It is easy to get caught in the trap of doing something we always do because it is the time of year to do it or because it is a book we always read instead of looking at what readers need as we design lessons for students.  It is often easy to find ourselves teaching a book instead of teaching our readers.  Knowing the strengths and needs of our readers can help us to plan language, learning opportunities, and design lessons that help readers to grow forward.
  2. Forgetting how important writing is to reading development:  It is easy to forget that reading and writing are reciprocal processes.  Often what students are learning in writing can help them to grow as readers.  The opportunity to read and write for extended periods each day can help students begin to see these connections.  
  3. Getting out of balance in reading instruction:  Readers need to develop their ability to sustain reading using strategies to solve on the run, and also to extend their thinking as they determine the author's message.  There is a balance required of instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.  At times, in an effort to help a student make quick progress, we can find ourselves out of balance.  Instead of maintaining a balance of meaning, structure, and visual cues, we can focus too much on one cueing system creating readers who over-rely on one kind of information.  Maintaining balance in instruction can help readers learn to flexibly read for understanding.  
As you have time, stop over and listen to the podcast.  What are some of the mistakes you work to avoid in reading instruction?  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Are We Over-Scaffolding? What's Important in this Conversation

We've all had that lesson.  You know, the one where readers are gathered, everyone has their book in hand, and soon it becomes obvious the book isn't going to work for a reader.  For a myriad of reasons, the reader begins to struggle with the text and before we know it, we're off to the rescue.  You know the lesson:  the one where we find ourselves repeatedly giving prompts that are all over the strategy map.

  • "What would make sense?"
  • "Look at the first part."
  • "Try something that would sound right." 

Yep, in these situations, we find ourselves suddenly doing anything in our power to help the reader to get through the text without having to abandon it in the middle of the lesson.  


We've all had that reader.  You know, the one that looks at us every time they run into a challenge in the text. Yep, the reader we all work not to make eye contact with during the lesson.  The one who seems to be having difficulty using what is known to read an unfamiliar text.  The one that before we know it we are off and running with reading prompts galore.  


We've all made that move.  You know, the one where our finger moves across the table and into the reader's book.  Yep, that's always the moment where I know I need to rethink what I'm doing with a reader.  

I'm going to guess we can all confess to times we've "over-scaffolded."  

On the other hand, we all know the readers that have grown in confidence.  We all know the books that have matched the next steps for readers, the ones that have given the right amount of challenge to grow forward.  We all know these successes have come from carefully assessing our readers, reflecting on what they can do and what they need next, and then thoughtfully helping them build that next skill, strategy, or understanding.  

What About Rescuing Readers?
More and more I read about the dangers of over-scaffolding.  More and more I note the tweets and posts from teachers who are wondering if they should be scaffolding.  I'm going to be bold enough to say that I worry a bit about this conversation.  I, too, have read the concerns of Terry Thompson, Burkins and Yaris, and Vicki Vinton, among others.  I get it.  As someone who has spent much time beside emergent and early readers, worked alongside learners in Reading Recovery and reading intervention, I know I have, at times, been guilty of over-scaffolding.

At the same time, I also know that it took me many years (much training and many professional books) to learn to scaffold readers in a way that helped them work toward independence.  I think we should use caution in this conversation.  In education, we easily slip into an all or none discussion.  This isn't really about scaffolding or not scaffolding, it's about being cautious of doing too much for our readers.  As I've read Terry Thompson, Burkins and Yaris, and Vicky Vinton, what I take away is that I can be more intentional in the support I give the readers that sit beside me each day.  Through thoughtful reflection and planning, I can precisely focus on a next step, while adjusting my expectations for readers to use what they've learned to read and understand a new text.

Thinking About Scaffolding
I've found all of this conversation fascinating.  It has made me pause, rethink my practice, and clarify my thinking.  It has made me step back to consider the support I give readers, as well as the ways I might be over-supporting them.  It has made me wonder when to scaffold and when to step back, how to scaffold effectively, and what I should consider in tailoring support.  Where is the line?

I, in no way, have this figured out.  However, I'm wondering if we over-scaffold when we:
  • scaffold the text instead of the reader
  • give too supportive of book introductions
  • monitor for readers 
  • teach to give prior knowledge to help readers read complex texts
  • prompt every difficulty instead of maintaining focus on the next step for a reader
  • prompt too quickly instead of letting a reader attempt to solve the problem

Scaffolding requires that we know our readers and consider their stage of development.  Scaffolding should be:
  • based upon a reader's needs
  • specific 
  • on the reader's edge or next step
  • thoughtful in the level of support of the prompts utilized

When sitting beside readers I know I have to be intentional with my every move.  For me, that means having the self-discipline to keep a reader's focus first and leaving time for the reader to do the work they need to do to problem solve as they read for understanding.  For me, that means thinking about the prompts I will use ahead of time and staying clear in my language.  I hope we'll continue this conversation about scaffolding our readers and helping them to grow in independence.  I think we're all going to learn a lot!

I hope you'll share your thoughts in the comments below.  When should we scaffold?  When should we step back?  How can we more effectively scaffold our readers to help them take next steps?  What is essential?