Question

Gretchen has a question:
I’ve also found my teaching to be totally transformed from this PLC and learning from Ben & Tina. I do have a question, although I’m not sure about the best place to ask it.
I have a some what unusual situation in that I taught the first 6 weeks of the school year in a relatively affluent school in our district and then switched to a high-poverty school. I have found the Invisibles and other NT CI to be really effective in both places and am very pleased with my students’ level of comprehension and the classroom community.
However, I find myself at a loss when it comes to writing. My students at the high-poverty school are writing, after 12 weeks of instruction, at a much lower level than my students at the affluent school did after just 6 weeks. We did some story-retell modeling today and I gave them a couple of key words and sentence starters before the free write and saw a little bit of improvement but, beyond that, I’m not sure how I can help their high level of aural comprehension result in the better writing. I know, also, that my colleagues are going to be looking for the students to be able to speak (at least somewhat) at the end of the year and, although, I have not started asking students for oral output yet, I’m already stressed and unsure about how that will go and if it will be similarly challenging as when I ask for written output.
Does anyone have any ideas, thoughts or advice? I’m very grateful for whatever insight people might have.

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22 thoughts on “Question”

  1. Unfortunately, and I think we see it everywhere, but when students are less literate in their mother tongue(s), and don’t read much on their own, they can’t help but need more and more input to be able to create output through writing (and possibly speaking, I’m not sure on that). More affluent students usually have had a lot more exposure to reading materials throughout their lives. And, the more they have under their belt the more they will be able to pick up in the future. I would say to just make sure that you’re going over the readings of their own stories as much as possible, and when they’re ready get them reading as many simple stories as possible.
    This graphic is pretty interesting. It compares students who read 20 minutes, 5 minutes, and 1 minute a day over a long period of time. Of course, this pales in comparison to the students who read much more than that.
    https://goo.gl/images/gpMpHF

    1. We’re starting in a couple of weeks. I’m really looking forward to introducing that into the classroom and seeing how it helps them grow.

      1. Free Choice Reading destroys the inequity. Once I had a student from Mexico who sat in the back of my classroom and just suffered bc he couldn’t read with the class.
        But when I stopped whole class reading and let him go at his own pace, his suffering went away because he knew that it was fair. Instead of feeling “not smart enough” (he was brilliant!), he was able to work on his own reading by himself and soon was a better reader in French than in Spanish.
        And what about my own mental state when I didn’t have to “make a boring chapter book interesting” anymore? You guessed it. I felt as if a big weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. “Class, did Fama go to California or Oregon?” Please!

  2. Gretchen my advice is to delay speech and writing output as long as possible. The research is on your side. Of course we have to play the game, but we must always bear in mind that asking for output in any form too early is insulting to the kids, to the researchers, to everyone except those teachers we work with who think it can be done because they promote memorization. Think of it this way – many teachers really need – need very badly in fact – to be told how great they are. And for that to happen they need someone in the building to show that they are better than. So when your kids can’t write well through no fault of their own, the teachers can say how much better they are than you. That’s all they really want. Be as a dull stone in those meetings, who, though struck, gives out no complaint. When the kids are happy, you are doing your job. Easy to say, I know, but our colleagues who are so out of touch w the research are just out of touch colleagues. Fine with moi.

    1. I really appreciate this! I see colleagues who, with good intentions, are having their 1st and 2nd year students “write” essays using extensive sentence frames & reference to verb conjugation charts. I think this illusion of accuracy and ability that they see from their students (and think constitutes progress and learning) is what makes me feel so much pressure. When it’s just me and my students in the classroom, I never doubt their learning and their sense of feeling accepted and valued in my classroom. Everything that happens outside that time that doesn’t reflect that reality is not important.

  3. Greg – Tina and I now call it Free Choice Reading. It’s more accurate for what we do in those ten minutes to start each class.
    Gretchen – I think I know why Greg asked that question. Because he knows that (as we proved one year in Denver) more writing practice does not lead to better writing – it leads to worse writing.
    Kids write better because they read more. I think the research on that is in Krashen’s The Power of Reading.

  4. I would continue to focus on input – tons of time for reading and listening. Like the others have mentioned, it’s likely these students are less literate in English so they need more time for input. I might also do some modelled reading, like we do with younger students. You could show them strategies for improving their comprehension without having to look words up in the dictionary, asking questions (to themselves) during their reading, making connections and visualizing. It will take time for them to become better readers and that means even more time to become better writers.

    1. When I taught Grade 3 French Immersion, I did mini lessons on these different strategies. In language arts, we’d focus on a certain strategy for a couple weeks. I’d do anchor charts for that strategy and then do read-alouds modeling my thinking. I worked on that with them in my guided reading sessions and had them do it in their partner reading and independent reading too. I’m wondering if it might be a useful model to do in your situation.

      1. DANA! I was just talking to Cameron Taylor last night, who just finished a monster project in collaboration with Ben and me, a supplement to the new book (which is now christened with a new title! A NATURAL APPROACH TO THE YEAR!) and which we are hustling to finish the very last bits of, in fact I am sneaking over here from working on the Assessment chapter, the LAST CHAPTER!) anyways Cameron has just finished a fantastic resource, a standards document that lists all kinds of standards for all 30-something of the instructional strategies presented in the book! Anyways, I floated the idea to him that he could write learning progressions like Teachers College Reading and Writing Project puts out
        Like this one:
        http://www.ps33chelseaprep.org/uploads/3/3/2/0/3320309/narrative_reading_learning_progression.pdf
        Or this one:
        http://www.ps33chelseaprep.org/uploads/3/3/2/0/3320309/learning_progressions_writing_narrative.pdf
        But he is, I think, naturally, not all that into jumping into a new project after this one which had such a tight timeline and turned out to be so huge. I bet you would be a good person to help me write this kind of resource for WL. I should be ready to work on these in a month or so. What do you think?

    2. “It will take time for them to become better readers and that means even more time to become better writers.”
      I love this! It gives me something positive to invest in and focus on with my students rather than perpetuating the “single story” that Jen talks about below. Why burden them with my unreasonable expectations now rather than celebrating their listening comprehension and reading ability?

  5. There are so many layers to this issue. I observe them daily. I’m also in a high poverty school, but I believe there is a similar dynamic in any school when it comes to students’ perception of themselves as learners and as people. There is definitely the L1 literacy (or structural lack…). Then shame, avoidance, “single story” perception of writing (ie, that it’s another thing that they could do “wrong.”). And all the stress and anxiety of (yet again) not measuring up.
    I’m a big fan of approaching writing as “spewing onto the paper” and then, way later, crafting it. Of course in a novice situation we are not really even going into the “crafting.” This frees us up to spew, knowing that whatever comes out is just fine. I usually reassure kids that I am not hanging the papers up in the hallway, not marking them up, not making them trade with their neighbor, etc. I feel like the process of getting ideas and stories onto the page needs to flow from a place of complete acceptance. This is contrary to most kids’ experience with writing, so of course they block their own process, clinging to the mistaken notion that they are lacking somehow.
    This is tangential, but related to writing. Many years ago I had the opportunity to lead a writing exercise to university students in the Dominican Republic. These were students training to be teachers of English. So, basically equivalent to what we do. My exercise was rather off the cuff, as we were guests in my friend’s class and he asked if anyone would like to lead an activity. I facilitated a prompt that involved first drawing and then writing. Because the prompt was “place of refuge” (I can share this if you are interested) and highly personal, since it involved memory details. This gave students confidence to share their writing. One young woman said that was the first time she knew nobody could tell her that she was wrong, because it was *her* story. Many students do not get experiences like these. In school or ever. Sometimes I do writing prompts in L1, just to give them this gift of their own experience and perception. I know it does not lead to acquisition, but I believe it leads to confidence. All students need confidence. Confidence is a huge factor in acquisition and life.

  6. “spewing on paper” is good. Let it be messy. Stream of consciousness.
    Tina, I’ve been agonizing over the practice of conferring with students during Free Choice Reading time, especially, for about a year. Granted, I teach mostly juniors and seniors, and I have small classes, but after much anguish, I’ve settled on letting my intuition guide me when deciding to confer with students during FCR time. I’ve let go of trying to press upon them some reading strategy. I’ve also let go of keeping a reading log and all that. What I simply try to do is show them that I’m interested in what they are reading. That’s all. I might ask whether they think they’ll finish the book. I might share what I know about the topic. I might ask them, “What do you want to know or find out about?” Or, “What are you thinking about at the moment regarding the book?” I might suggest a different book.
    If I had more students in my classes I’d consider keeping a conferring log, but it would probably be a log that has an open space next to their name just to jot down an idea, a comment, or a question the student shared with me about the book. A kind of conference log that documents whatever response the student had to highlight for them that what they say is meaningful and valid as I’ll bring it up the next time we meet. Or a couple months later.
    Hmmm. Maybe I’ll start such a reading log again and try to be more diligent with it. That’s the problem, I’ve found logging things as restricting and breaks the flow of the conferencing.
    Oh, and this experience of conferring is mostly with my heritage classes.

      1. YES! Me likey too!!! And also this: “I’ve found logging things as restricting and breaks the flow of the conferencing.”
        I’m so sensitive now to the whole schooliness of everything. Which, duh, I know. It IS school. I am IN a school. I am employed by a school. And still I try to turn it all into un-school. Silly me.
        I have been waffling back and forth with my FCR time. Do I model? Do I confer? Do I sit and observe and type grades into MMS? Typically I model (aka read). Because it’s relaxing! And because I got a bunch of new books and have not had time to pre-read them, which I want to do so I can have legit recommendations for individual kids.
        Lately what I’ve been doing is sort of a quick “matchmaker” schtick at the beginning of the time: “Oooh, ooh try this one! I feel like you would get into it. It’s like a chick flick.” Ooh, ooh, this one is hilarious! So goofy. I thought of you when I was reading it!” “This one has lots of crazy twists!” “This one is more like documentary.” Etc. Still tryna pitch the “paper Netflix” mindset. After I flit around checking in, then I settle in with my own reading in German. I do no accountability other than noticing whether they are attempting to read or just staring and/or flipping pages. I note these kids and address it one on one during my “flit around” at the start of FCR. It’s the best I can do for now.

        1. Two things I would do during the ten minutes of Free Choice Reading:
          (1) Watch them and grade them on their observable reading behaviors using the suggested Habits of Strong Readers Rubric discussed in A Natural Approach to Stories and included in the Appendices there.
          (2) Surf the net to see if the Nuggets won. Or check emails. When they send less emails I might model reading, but modeling reading has always seemed fake to me.

    1. Sean, how are their reading and overall literacy skills? I think that should be guiding you. My students are highly literate so my conferences consist of, “What are you reading now? How are you finding it? Why did you choose that text? Is it at your level? What are you liking/not liking? What were you reading before?” It’s really a check-in with them and a chance for me to get to know how they’re doing. Sometimes I’ll get them to read something for me and get them to do a quick retell – if I don’t think it’s a good pick for them.
      For weaker HS readers, I still think you could do reading strategy work but it would have to look different. I’d maybe have 2 students read the same book and get them to check in with each other after so many pages. They talk about what they read and then talk about the strategy you want them to focus on. Personally, I find visualizing and making connections very helpful for weaker readers to develop. And it doesn’t have to be babyish. You could frame it from a good description angle – 5 senses that it appeals to. Or if it’s funny, what image popped in their heads. Something like that. I’d sit with a different group of students each day and get them to include me in their talk.
      I’m going to try doing synthesizing and making inferences with my students this semester. If I get any resourcesdeveloped around these, I can share them.
      This all said, I still take days where I get caught up on checking email or go get myself a tea from the workroom that is beside my room. I don’t think it should be all the time but sometimes would help you gauge where the kids are at.

  7. Jen is right about confidence. I have many heritage speakers who are embarrassed of using their Spanish at school. Guiding them in their reading habits helps. I ask students to do reviews and we applaud their efforts when they finish their book.
    Yet, there should be no pressure to commit to a book. Simply enough, if they find a book boring or with more new words “than the fingers on your right hand” then choose another book.

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