Okay, so I’m obsessed. (Not an unusual thing, but we’ll get to that later…much much later…)
I heard Michael Kamil speak at a conference last year and what he said was “We get kids to do difficult things by getting them to do difficult things”.
I can’t stop thinking about this and the impact that it has on what we do in the classrooms everyday – especially with those kids who struggle to read.
It’s been about 9 months since I wrote “We get kids to do difficult things by getting them to do difficult things” in my notes. I keep referring back to what this means for us – and for our kids.
Here’s what I’ve got rolling around in my brain about this:
- As teachers, we cannot shy away from giving kids tasks that they struggle with – – – I mean after all, if they knew everything from the get-go, wouldn’t that eliminate the need for school?
- As teachers, we need to teach persistence and stick-to-it-ive-ness (which is a HUGE life skill!). How do we do it? By giving kids the tools and support and encouragement that they need when they encounter tough skills. When they fail or struggle with a task, we stand alongside them and SHOW them how to take another step.
- As teachers of reading, we need to not immediately solve a decoding or comprehension struggle by giving kids lower-leveled text. When we quickly default to the below-level text, that’s what we get kids used to: below-level text. It’s actually a set-up for future struggle, I believe!
- As teachers of reading, we need not always pair kids with an “able” counter-part – – – this is enabling for a lot of kids and we KNOW that many on-level kids have little to no patience for supporting a struggling partner and they end up doing most of the work anyway.
- As teachers of reading, we need to focus on pre-teaching and rehearsing tough spots with kids who struggle or who give up easily. I have found that rehearsing answers or responses is a great intervention actually! It’s worth checking into.
But the bottom line of it all? As teachers, we need to switch our perspective from “Oh no! They’re not getting it! I must be a bad teacher! I better simplify this task…STAT!”
“Yes! They’re struggling a bit with this – what a great opportunity for me to provide on-the-ground guided support for my kids AND build their stick-to-it-ive-ness at the same time!”
The confidence-building of learners is in the doing of difficult things…and living to tell the tale!
Walking to read is the process of grouping kids in skill-alike groups for a small portion of the day.
Typically teachers in a grade level will "specialize" in a particular skill level grouping during Walk to Read and the students will "walk" to that group for targeted instruction.
In its best form, walking to read allows for more targeted, more efficient, more streamlined planning, instruction and assessment monitoring. It’s a GREAT option for a highly functional staff.
Notice that I said "Highly functional"…more to come on this…
For those who know me and hear me speak, you know that I am neither a supporter of the Walk to Read (WTR) model nor am I a naysayer.
And here’s why:
Walking to read IN THEORY is a great way to streamline the planning AND the delivery of targeted small group instruction students at all levels. If there are problems with WTR, it’s usually in the execution of the model, not in the theory of the model.
So it’s important to be HONEST, be FORTHRIGHT, and DEMAND COLLABORATION when you’re launching into or re-establishing a walk to read model in any grade level and school.
Here are a few examples of why walking to read can fail:
- There are trust issues within the grade level and teachers don’t want to "give up" their kids to "that teacher" – these are essentially trust issues amongst professionals
- There is an illusion of high differentiated instruction during small groups just because we have kids of like skill level grouped together
- There is an in-the-dark feeling about kids because there are not functions for collaboration and close monitoring between homeroom and WTR teachers
- There is lost time for instruction because traveling from one spot to another is poorly executed
- There are increased behavior problems because teachers have varied behavioral expectations
BUT DO NOT FEAR!!!
YOU CAN USE THE WALK TO READ MODEL SUCCESSFULLY!!!! I’VE SEEN IT WORK FOR THOSE WILLING TO PUT THE WORK IN!
Here’s how it CAN work:
SOLUTION 1: Discuss trust issues head-on – get real about concerns! If there is a worry that your teaching partner might not put in enough time for prepping killer lessons, then set up a time to plan together. If your teaching partners are too "lax" on their management of the kids, then suggest that you come up with common expectations across groups that you jointly teach the kids!
SOLUTION 2: Share weekly plans for kids – in other words: POST YOUR PLANS, PERUSE YOUR PLANS AND DISCUSS YOUR PLANS! If they look too much alike (and are not, therefore, differentiating instruction), then work together to suggest ways that you can change-up lessons and challenge kids more than they are currently challenged. Create a check-list together for each lesson so that you ensure that true differentiated instruction is really happening.
SOLUTION 3: Set bi-monthly data meetings where you get together FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF TALKING THROUGH THE WALK TO READ DATA and nothing else! Go student-by-student and discuss what’s going well, what’s a struggle, what growth the data is showing and then set targets for each group. This builds in camaraderie AND trust!
The cool thing is, the more you talk, the more you collaborate.
And the more you collaborate, the more you trust.
And the more you trust your teaching comrades, the more you focus on the kids.
And the more you focus on the kids, the more they learn.
And the more they learn…
Need I go on?
What is scaffolding instruction? These are the kind of questions people ask me…and they say educators aren’t interesting!!!! Well, I got to thinking about it and here’s what went through my head…
I remember when I first started teaching, when I would go to staff meetings or professional development trainings, there would be so many terms and acronyms that folks would throw around as if EVERYONE knew what they meant.
Kind of like “DUH! You don’t know what YPJENSOF stands for? Everyone’s doing it!” (By the way, it doesn’t stand for anything, but didn’t you just wonder what it was…just for a second?)
I had a seasoned teacher friend that would translate for me during breaks and after the meetings so that I had some semblance of understanding of what we were supposed to do next! Thank goodness for friends who have a clue!
But what I’ve really come to figure out is that sometimes we KNOW what some teaching or education terms MEAN and we often nod our heads like, “Oh yeah, I do that every day…” but when it comes down to it, we use the term without really knowing what it means. The problem with that is, if we don’t know how to DO or USE it, then the teaching skill isn’t translating into the classroom for the kids’ benefit. I know I’ve been guilty of it!
The term “scaffolding” is one of those terms.
I mean really – I bet you can explain it, but if I were to come into your classroom and ask you where, when and why you’re going to scaffold today, would you be able to be super specific with me? The key is super specific…
So, let’s clean this up ONCE AND FOR ALL – and get started using scaffolding instruction to benefit your kids right NOW!
Scaffolding is the process of GRADUALLY RELEASING RESPONSIBILITY and GRADUALLY DECREASING SUPPORT during a lesson or series of lessons so that kids are fully supported throughout the explicit teaching model.
It is built on the idea that as the teacher releases responsibility, the students take more control. So when you see scaffolded instruction work beautifully, there is a PLANNED and SEAMLESS transition from the teacher doing most of the work (through direct explanation and modeling) to guided practice (the teacher and the students are doing the work with the teacher giving a TON OF FEEDBACK) to eventually the students working to apply, apply, apply correctly their skill with the least amount of teacher support.
Here’s the cool thing: even if you’re using a scripted reading program or intervention program, you can still have fidelity to the program AND scaffold at the same time. In fact, that’s what good teachers do!
They organize the instruction around what their students know how to do and what they’re still learning how to do and what they’re brand new at doing. They don’t skip parts of the lessons that students have mastered or spend forever and a day working to mastery and avoiding other content.
Excellent teachers that get great results have this kind of script going through their minds:
“Hmm…when I think of teaching this skill, even though the program tells me to assign this book to my students for a second read, I know they’re not quite ready for that because they made lots of errors in yesterday’s reading.
So, what I need to do is a bit of hand holding and scaffolding here – I’ll start off reading the text WITH them and then, depending on how well they’re taking over the reading of the text and the number of errors they’re reading while they discuss the response questions, I’ll give them bigger and bigger chunks of the text to read on their own.”
It’s really that simple – BUT YOU MUST PLAN AHEAD. Successful scaffolding is planned, not incidental!
So, where do you start?
- Look at the lesson ahead of time
- Ask yourself if the students are mastered, getting mastered or totally un-mastered at the skills
- Based upon your thoughts about the above questions, you’ll know where to start with scaffolding
- If the students are mastered at the skill, you know that you can assign longer, more difficult tasks with fewer interruptions
- If the students are getting mastered, you know that you need to structure the lesson with lots of student engagement and tons of opportunities for you to give big, academic based feedback before you have students work in small groups or independently for application of the skill
- If the students are un-mastered or the skill is brand new, you know that you will be doing lots of super tight hand-holding and not throwing the kids to guided or independent practice because you know they don’t have a clue what that would look like! In fact, this stage of scaffolding is a lot about YOU!
Here’s what I do: I look at my lesson and highlight in green where I am doing lots of observing as they’re doing the work – student control, less teacher control. Then I’m highlighting in my lesson plan in yellow where I’m going to need to do some hand-holding but gradually move them to serious guided practice. Finally in pink I’m doing the model, model, model kind of work – lots of teacher control and super major hand-holding.
Question for you: Would you come over to my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting) and post WHERE your students will benefit most from your scaffolding? I’ll see ya there!
So my mission this week? DEFINE INTERVENTION.
Really? Couldn’t we ease into a topic that’s a bit more manageable…like DEFINE THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Ha! Well, really, we’re going to make this super simple. Because it needs to be. We’ve made reading interventions for students so darn complicated that we tend to shy away from getting started – – -it just seems like too big of an undertaking sometimes!
So here we go….define intervention. Hmmm…
Intervention, in its purest and simplest form, is a series of actions designed to stop the flow of failure. Or stop the flow of something! In this case, the failure of the students in the area of reading.
Here’s the deal: reading intervention is only intervention if it changes the trajectory of success or failure for the students.
Simply put? Intervention is only intervention if the students learn and know more and the scores show it.
Here are a few questions that you need to ask yourself and your team as you evaluate the effectiveness of your intervention programs.
- What intervention programs are getting the best results? (Results: students who are exiting interventions and getting up to benchmark or near benchmark)
- For students who are exiting interventions (because of success!), what was the model that worked for them? (Time, number of days/week, program, teacher)
- Are there “stuck” kids whose interventions have proven unsuccessful? What is/was the model that those kids received? (Time, number of days/week, program, teacher)
- Who are your ON FIRE teachers who can move mountains with the hardest to move kids? Are they teaching interventions? (If not, then they SHOULD be!)
- What percentage of kids exited from interventions and then end up back in an intervention groups?
(By the way, I talk about reading mostly – because you would WEEP at the sight of my math skills – but these questions are certainly useful for any content area!)
So, here’s your job now (I know, I’m SO BOSSY!) – – – why don’t you print this or take your smart phone to just ONE of your teammates and ask them these questions and just start a convo….
It is very common in my work that teachers know exactly which kids might need extra support through differentiated instruction, but what frustrates them most is this: how do I know exactly what they need and then what the heck do I do about it?
One of the things I LOVE most about helping educators is taking something that’s really difficult or complicated and simplifying it – it’s very satisfying to see excellent teachers carry out important instructional work with the kids in a way that they haven’t before.
For starters, let’s define ‘differentiated instruction’ – for our purposes let’s say this: differentiating instruction provides more and different instructional time and materials for specific students in order to close the skill gap between these students and their grade level performing peers.
Simply put? Kids have skill gaps and we need to fill them so that they can perform at grade level.
Here are the 4 Ds for Differentiating Instruction successfully:
Use a simple but to-the-point reading skill diagnostic assessment that is given one-on-one. I recommend CORE’s Phonic Survey or Houghton Mifflin’s Phonics Decoding Screening Test.
When you give this diagnostic you’ll easily find out the kids’ weak spots/skill gaps because they will ‘fail’ this portion of the test. You’ll find the spots on the assessment that the students master (because they ‘pass’ it), then you know where they start.
Figure out which kids have the same skill needs (they typically group together naturally, which makes grouping simpler!) and they become your targeted small group.
Lots of questions arise about ideal group size – I say no more than 7-8, but more importantly I’m concerned with getting kids in a group with like skill needs. If we have the wrong kids in the groups, then we’re wasting everyone’s time.
Start with 1-2 target skills at their lowest point of performance. I call this “sweeping under the rug” – making sure that we get to the lowest skill need so that we don’t have to go back and re-sweep in the future.
Map out the missing skills over 2 week chunks. So, if I found out that my kids in a small group needed 3 concepts taught to them, I’d map out 6 weeks of small group instruction.
Each lesson should have DIRECT INSTRUCTION as part of the teaching. The lesson should be explicit (teach, model, practice, feedback, feedback, feedback, apply, feedback, feedback, feedback…you get the point!) in nature and should not leave ANY room for interpretation or lack of clarity.
Remember, these are kids who are frustrated, confused and struggling already – we want to clear the water, not overwhelm with implicit language or lessons!
The delivery of the lesson is critical to the students’ mastery of the missing skills!
Lessons should be highly structured (for behaviors and instruction), there should be lots of academically oriented feedback (“Wow Justin! Awesome answer…I can tell that you worked hard to decode that word using the long /o/ sound!”), multiple repetitions on the same concepts until students are mastered on that skill (this ensures long-term storage), much review built into each lesson (some say 80% review/20% new) and lavish amounts of encouragement from the teacher.
Each week, at least, should end with a check-out – an informal quick test for each student designed by the small group teacher. This quick-test will show the teacher whether the concept for that week’s small group instruction has been mastered or if the kids need more time.
Here’s the really good news…you don’t have to be perfect to deliver a slam dunk lesson! Whew! If you work to be consistent and well-planned than you have a better shot at closing the skill gaps while differentiating instruction.
So, where do you start? Start by getting your hands on a really good diagnostic and assess at least 1 child and see what you find.
I LOVE talking about how to differentiate instruction! (Yes, I’m a true reading geek)…so….leave your questions below or come on over to my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting) and let’s talk about this!