Synthetic vs Analytic Phonics? – Pick what fits the child (not the other way round) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Synthetic vs Analytic Phonics? – Pick what fits the child (not the other way round)

In the next few weeks I’m tackling the issue of phonics, and the relationship between phonics use and meaning making.  Last week a reader asked what I meant by synthetic and analytic phonics.  That’s as good a place as any to begin, so let’s talk a little about the “big two” approaches to the teaching of phonics and how to use them.

Synthetic Phonics– The heart of synthetic phonics approach is the direct teaching of letter sounds (phonemes). Children learn that t says “t” (not Tuh!), or long a says its name, “a” or short a says “a”.  This approach lends itself to systematic programs, with clear scope and sequence.  Such approaches have the clear advantage over “as needed” approaches in that they avoid the pitfall of unintentionally skipping instruction in important sounds. One of the conclusions of the classic research piece commonly known as the First Grade Studies was that every beginning reading approach examined in the study benefited from a phonics supplement. The supplement used most often was the Speech to Print Phonics kit. This program used a form of EPR (every pupil response). This was in the pre-computer days, so the EPR was accomplished by students holding up small paper slips provided with the program.  The slips had one letter on them, with slips for each letter of the alphabet available. The teacher first saw to it that each child had a small group of slips with letters to choose from (same choices for each child).  The teacher would then say a letter sound.  The students would hold up the letter. Properly done (there are tricks about what to do when students look at other students slips before raising theirs), the teacher was given instant feedback on which students consistently knew the sounds and which needed additional instruction/practice. This is a classic example of on-going assessment.  I mention this kit because it makes clear that synthetic phonics approaches promote the learning and knowing the letter sounds in isolation. Subsequently students learn to blend the sounds into actual words.

Analytic Phonics– Analytic phonics uses discovery approach to learning sounds (indirect teaching).  For instance, to teach the t sound the teacher might say, it’s the same sound that starts toy, and Tom and team. Everyone start to say toy (t)(toy). Start to say Tom (t)(Tom). Start to say team (t)(team). Can you hear the sound they start with? Can you find that sound in other places in this reading? (please click audio file to hear the previous sentence read aloud).

 

When doing this the teacher should be mindful NOT to accept tuh as the answer. If students add the uh sound to their consonants it will cause endless confusion as they try to figure out words. Proponents of analytic phonics sometimes prefer a “teach as needed approach”. This can lead to potential holes in the students sound symbol knowledge.

Very often teachers using the analytic method will also say things like, “get your mouth ready for the first sound” OR “say the first sound”.  This can lead to word guessing.  This effect of wildly guessing at words can be controlled by instead saying “say the first sound AND think of the clues”, e.g. what word starts with the sound “t” and makes sense in the sentence or goes with picture on this page or makes sense based on how the story is going. Clay called such a teaching move “crosschecking cues”.  Yep, I’m talking like knowing what cueing systems readers use might be useful. In this instance it will result in more accurate guesses, educated guesses, instead of wild guesses. Not everyone will agree with that practice, but my experience in the field has demonstrated to me that it is a very good use of instructional time.  More about that in future blogs.

There are also other approaches to teaching phonics. The ILA has an excellent PDF about this topic that covers more than just analytic and synthetic phonics https://www.literacyworldwide.org/docs/default-source/where-we-stand/ila-explaining-phonics-instruction-an-educators-guide.pdf

.In addition, in a recent blog entry Tim Shanahan does an excellent job of explaining the concepts of analytic and synthetic phones. http://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/synthetic-phonics-or-systematic-phonics-what-does-research-really-say#sthash.YSjKV4H8.dpbs.

Pay special attention to his take aways:

“Make sure young (bold and color added for emphasis) children receive daily, explicit, systematic decoding instruction.”

“But don’t be fanatical about synthetic or analytic approaches.”

I would add- make sure the instruction you use gets the job done but is EFFICIENT and interesting. You want there to be time for meaning making, especially meaning making around complex text. You want to find ways to include a “spoonful of sugar” i.e. teaching the sounds in a way that the students find to be engaging instead of deadly dull.  I’m certain my readers can tell us about commercial programs that do just that.

Here is the key to understanding my beliefs about the teaching of phonics. ALL THE APPROACHES HAVE STRENGTHS.  ALL THE APPROACHES HAVE WEAKNESSES, LIMITS AND LIMITATIONS. Based on both research and my own classroom experiences I’ve found that students can and will benefit from both of the “big two” approaches to teaching phonics. There is a place (and a need) for both synthetic and analytic phonics in every reading program. In several recent blog entries, I’ve advocated adopting a good, systematic, efficient synthetic phonics program as the anchor for phonics instruction.  This then needs to be supplemented with an analytic phonics teaching component for those children for whom a synthetic approach does not work well. And yes, I think the research evidence is overwhelming that such children exist. One of the key criticisms of many of the current programs using synthetic phonics is that they are deadly dull and take up too much time. Here is a link to a video that will help you understand what I mean by that.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD4IRdeR0tE&feature=youtu.be I think there are other ways to accomplish the very same things including poetry and song. Readers who know about such things please chime in. Also, this year, both Fountas and Pinnell and Calkins have added a phonics component to their widely followed programs. Readers with first hand knowledge of using these, what are they like? Do they include both analytic and synthetic phonics instruction? Are they systematic?  Are they engaging? Do they leave enough time for comprehension work e.g. learning to deal with complex text? I would love to hear from you!!!!

Conclusion So, with all that said, I hope you see why I find myself advocating what some will see as a middle approach, or balanced approach to the teaching of phonics. As I said last time, people taking such a position have historically been dismissed.  Next time I will take up the issue of why I think the views of folks from the middle should be considered and my criticism of what happens when educators from the two “far sides” of this issue mandate that their kinds of phonics AND ONLY THEIR KIND OF PHONICS, be used.

Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito who is solely responsible for its content

Phonics- the Endless Debate: Another Case of Please Fit the Program to the Child, Not the Other Way Round by Dr Sam Bommarito

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Phonics- the Endless Debate: Another Case of Please Fit the Program to the Child, Not the Other Way Round by Dr Sam Bommarito

Frank Smith once characterized the Great Debate in reading as the never-ending debate.  Recent posts on blogs and twitter indicate that times haven’t changed that much. Proponents of “synthetic phonics & only synthetic phonics” are once more claiming that a changeover to synthetic phonics will go a long way toward solving the reading problem once and for all.  Since my teaching career in reading began in 1977, I’ve seen the pendulum swing many times.  Currently, the pendulum has definitely swung over to the synthetic phonics will cure all position. Problem is, each time such promises are made they are never kept. I think the reason is that pesky word- “all”.

Don’t get me wrong. Phonics is necessary.  Synthetic phonics provides the best place to start, and a place that will help most children.  But look at what happened when a whole country (like England) mandated the exclusive teaching of synthetic phonics. What happened is that a small but significant number of students didn’t thrive.  It could be that this is because of lack of fidelity to the program. Trouble is I have a very hard time accepting that as the explanation. I spent 18 of my teaching career in Title 1 buildings teaching reading and in-servicing staff on reading. I’ve seen first-hand children for whom synthetic phonics simply didn’t work but analytic phonics did.  My conclusion- use the teaching techniques that fit the child. Don’t force children to use approaches that don’t work for them. Don’t ban teachers from using approaches that could work for a particular child. Some of us seem to conveniently forget that research on synthetic vs analytic phonics has never demonstrated that synthetic phonics is superior in every respect. In his June 9 blog entry Timothy Shanahan said “Analytic phonics is, in my experience—and perhaps in that small effect size difference—harder to learn, but it can avoid some of those blending problems and tends to be more consistent with what kids will need to learn about morphology. Sometimes the right solution is “and” and it is not “either/or. Adopt a good phonics program, and make sure it works for your students—which might require that you add some synthetic or analytic instruction depending on how they are doing.”

Hmmm.  Maybe this never-ending debate is never-ending in part because neither side in the Great Debate (do we even call it that anymore?) can accept the that there is merit in using both approaches DEPENDING ON THE CHILD. Also remember, there is more to reading than decoding. Meaning making is important. One of the most telling criticisms of some of the current synthetic programs is that they use up far more instructional time than is needed.  So, one of the things I I look for in a phonics program is efficiency in teaching. The phonics program needs to leave enough instructional time so that kids have time to spend unpacking the meaning of complex text, talking about, writing about that text. Another thing I wish was present, but often is missing, are alternative instruction paths.  If the synthetic part of the program isn’t working for a child, there needs to be an analytic part of the program waiting in the wings.  Teachers need to know how to do analytic phonics when the synthetic program isn’t working. Both the analytic and synthetic programs need to be taught systematically.  Historically people such as myself who have taken what amounts to the middle position in the Great Debate have tended to be ignored.  Be prepared to use both approaches- what an outrageous idea!  But still I have to wonder, what would happen if we actually fit the program to the child instead of the other way round? Dare to dream!

Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka The Middle Man

 

Copyright 2018, Dr. Sam Bommarito

Curriculum Should be Adapted to Fit the Student Not the Other Way Round: My Advice to a Staff Developer Creating a Professional Development Program by Dr. Sam Bommarito

research creative commons Blue Diamond GalaryLast week I talked about the topic: “Using Research to Jump to Confusions P2: Looking at How We Could Teach Students about Comprehension Strategies.” I promised that this week I would share with my readers some advice I’ve just given to a staff developer on what her staff development could look like for a PD plan she created for this coming fall. Her plan spans several months and is designed to teach her staff how to implement guided reading. My advice to her reflects practical applications of what I’ve had to say in last week’s blog entry. My advice is grounded in a key assumption. That is that curriculum should be adapted to fit the students and their needs, not the other way round. I will now share some of the points I shared with her.

Point one: I think you will find some useful ideas in Burkins and Yaris’s book, Who’s Doing the Work?:
How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More. Be sure to visit their website: https://www.burkinsandyaris.com/ Here is why I suggest looking into these ideas.

I was taught in reading/writing workshop that the most important planning question for a teacher is:

What work am I leaving for the students and why?

When B&Y came to speak at one of our local ILA meetings, I found what they had to say helped me scaffold teachers into answering that question in a way that leads to better lesson plans. B&Y feel we sometimes over-scaffold when doing Guided Reading lessons. Teachers should be mindful of this potential problem. They need to leave enough work for the students so that students can grow both their meaning making and decoding skills.

Point two: Make sure your teachers know where GR fits in the overall reading program. I’ve long thought that how you spend your instructional time, is highly predictive of what instructional results you get. Read what B & Y have to say about the things we tend to underdo and overdo in our overall reading program. Adjust you program accordingly.

Point Three: READING IN LEVELED TEXT IS NOT THE ONLY READING STUDENTS SHOULD BE DOING. If you adjust your overall instruction as advised above, you will find that students will do a great deal more reading more than just leveled texts. Fountas & Pinnell, Lucy Calkins and others say that classroom libraries should be organized by interests not by levels. I especially like Calkins idea about leveling classroom libraries. She maintains that teachers should have a portion of books that are leveled. However, most of the classroom library should be organized by interest. When I taught my teachers how to make use of this way of organizing classroom libraries, I recommended they use the leveled portion of the library with selected students who needed additional work in book shopping. These texts could be used to provide examples for these students that could scaffold them into making better book choices over time. Teaching student to book shop is critical. Consistently picking only books that are well above their ability to decode can lead to students abandoning far too many books. They need to be able to pick text that fit their interests, that they can make sense of and that they won’t abandon. Otherwise they can fall into a cycle of not reading at all or of abandoning so many books that they never start the cycle of wide reading that characterizes students who become lifelong readers.

Point Four: Remember that a child is not a level. Why use leveled text in our GR groups? I believe that using leveled text for the GR portion of reading instruction makes it more likely that the text will be in the child’s ZPD (zone of proximal development). HOWEVER, TEACHERS NEED TO PICK THE TEXT FOR MORE THAN JUST IT’S LEVEL. Text features are CRITICAL, especially if you want them to read complex text in both fiction and nonfiction. This brings us back to the question of what work are you leaving for the student and why? For instance, if you are doing the heavy lifting for decoding (by providing text they can decode relatively easily), that can leave you more time to scaffold them into learning how to handle other complexities of interacting with that text. There are many such possibilities. If you want students to learn how authors of non-fiction scaffold readers into learning the meaning of specialized language in their content area, then use text that is rich in this feature. Whatever your teaching point might be for the lesson, ask yourself does is this text you picked provide a target rich environment for that particular point? In that way you assure that there will be many potential teachable moments during your lesson. Be sure to give your students chances to talk about the text and how they are making meaning from that text. Also give them opportunities to write similar kinds of text for themselves (as I did in my inference lesson). Doing all this will give them authentic chances to employ the strategies they need to unpack the meaning of the text and to become self-aware of the strategies they employ.

Point Five: Teaching students comprehension strategies is a different animal from teaching them testing strategies. When teaching students testing strategies you goal is have them learn how to handle questions designed to test their reading. On the one hand, I believe it is necessary to help students learn how the various test questions work. This is especially true of the multiple-choice questions that seem to dominate many reading achievement tests. However, teaching students how such questions work is not to be confused with teaching them to use reading strategies. I recommend just enough test practice to get students used to the nuances of handing the test questions. Such test practice usually results in a bump in achievement test scores. Unfortunately, I seen situations where most, if not all the school year is spent in test taking practice. “Comprehension instruction” becomes an endless cycle of answering various questions about short passages in hopes that the scores will continue to rise. My experience has been that after the initial bump in achievement scores that comes from the students learning how to handle particular kinds of testing questions there then comes a long, long plateau of no further growth. In order for students to make growth in reading there needs to be new instruction. Teachers need to provide time for students to think about, talk about and write the text they are making meaning from. Are we trying to create a nation of test takers or a nation of thinkers? The only path to creating the latter is one that includes time for rich and varied conversations about what they read and chances to write about what they read using some of the various crafts good authors use. My remarks about how to teach inferences in my last blog entry should give you some ideas about how that might play out for other reading and writing strategies. It is critical that we stop overdoing the teaching of how to handle test question and start using the instructional time we save to provide students time to carry out meaningful text interactions

In conclusion, I think you created a solid well thought out PD plan to implement guided reading. I hope the points I’ve made will help you carry out your plan in a way that will reflect some of the newest ideas on what a good literacy program can and should look like. Remind your teachers constantly that how they spend their time is highly predictive of what their results will be. Make sure that they learn to be purposeful in the work they leave for their students. Help them learn how make sure that work is meaningful. Make sure they allow students ample time for meaningful conversations around complex text. I think these are the keys to helping your PD plan to be successfully implemented.

Dr. Sam Bommarito

 

Using Research to Jump to Confusions Part 2: Looking at How We Could Teach Students about Comprehension Strategies by Dr. Sam Bommarito

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Using Research to Jump to Confusions Part 2: Looking at How We Could Teach Students about Comprehension Strategies by Dr. Sam Bommarito

I’m back from a memorable vacation at Disney World spent with my son’s family, including my wonderful grandchild who got to celebrate her birthday at Disney. Special thanks to guest bloggers Bill Kerns, David Harrison and Mary Jo Fresch who provided the blog entries I used while I was gone.  In my last blog entry before the vacation, I talked about jumping to confusions as we apply research to teaching practice. I asserted that we sometimes jump to the very end results about research on what good readers do, without giving enough consideration to the path the good readers take to get there.  That first entry talked about word recognition. If you didn’t get to read it go to https://wordpress.com/post/doctorsam7.blog/205.  In the next couple of weeks, I will talk about the teaching of comprehension strategies and how we can use the research around comprehension strategies to help our students become better readers, writers and thinkers, especially when reading complex texts.

My 30 plus years of classroom teaching was spent in a very different era than today.  I can remember that back in 1985 the various editions of Harris and Sipay provided a widely agreed upon, go to resource of research-based thinking for that era. In the mid-80s everyone was looking hard at Durkin’s findings that only 6/10 of one percent of our classroom time was spent teaching comprehension. We practiced comprehension much more than that, but our practice could be likened to a batting coach telling a batter to keep swinging without giving any feedback or scaffolding on how to adjust their swing to handle the myriad of pitches that might come their way.  We studied the key reading strategies carefully. We were guided by Michael Pressley and others on what those key strategies were and how to teach them. We wanted our readers to become proficient readers, able to use all the key strategies found in research. Teachers and university professors alike got very excited and created many a lesson about these various strategies. Fast forward to today and we find reading experts like Timothy Shanahan saying that they work, but we have overgeneralized from studies about teaching reading strategies. If someone finds that 6 weeks of strategy instruction is beneficial, then recommending 12 years of it seems a bit excessive. (see his May 19th 2018 blog entry).  Class time needs to be spent on something more than the direct teaching of strategies.

My point of view about the overteaching of strategy lessons is somewhat different.  I think that we jumped right into directly teaching the comprehension strategies good readers use without considering how they got to be proficient at using those strategies. This is another example of jumping to confusions about the research on what good readers do. We jumped right to the end. We tried to teach the strategies without fully considering how good readers got to the end-point of effectively using those strategies.  Doing it that way didn’t work with sight words (my previous entry, https://wordpress.com/post/doctorsam7.blog/205) .  It would work better with comprehension strategies if we carefully consider how readers come to develop those strategies and use our classroom time accordingly.

So…, how do I think good readers get to the point of being able to develop and use all those strategies?  I propose that it happens during meaningful talk (and writing) about what they’ve read.  I’d like to use the teaching of inference as a case study of how teachers might design units to teach any of the comprehension strategies and/or teach readers about how to handle complex text. I will talk about how to deal with both teaching the strategy itself and teaching students how to handle the test questions standardized test makers use to assess their use of those strategies. I have used this teaching sequence successfully in an after-school program I teach in as a part of my current volunteer work with students.

My teaching sequence designed to help students infer begins with a writing component. Good writers often show rather than tell. So, we start with a writing unit built around that topic. I used to use one of my own design. Then Jennifer Serravallo books, Reading Strategies and Writing Strategies came along.  I found that Jennifer’s lessons were superior to the ones I had been using.  So, I started using lessons from her book Writing Strategies as part of my overall sequence of lessons surrounding inference. The lessons I used focused on how good writers often show instead of tell.

During the writing unit, students would talk about their pieces, sharing them with fellow students. They used peer revision and honed their clues so that their fellow readers would be able to determine what the student authors were showing them. During discussions around their passages, the key test of whether the passage was effective was whether or not their peers were able to infer what they were trying to show. Their peers enjoyed giving the student authors additional ideas for clues. Since the writer is always the boss of the story, ideas from their peers were suggestions not mandates. One of the hardest things for students to understand was that they could not just blurt out what they wanted to say. For example, you can’t just say Leon is very tall and he plays basketball.  That’s telling the reader not showing the reader. You could say, “When Leon came into the room he had to duck his head as he walked in the doorway. He was just back from practice. He didn’t seem tired, he seemed excited. He’d just earned his letter for playing sports. He was so proud.”   This passage might let you know Leon was tall and that his letter was one he likely earned in basketball. There are also other “shows” and other “tells” in this passage.

AFTER the students had the background and experience developed by this writing unit, we moved into guided reading lessons. For these lessons I picked books with lots of inferences, lots of examples of the author showing not telling.  Students talked about clues they’d spotted. They talked about what clues they might add based on their experiences in the writing unit. In my after-school work there are students from multiple reading levels. Because of that my guided reading lessons are often done in an ad hoc strategy group. These groups use a text all can read. The leveled text is at the decoding level of the lowest achieving reader in the group. The group was asked to identify various passages in the book in which the writer showed rather than tells.

Some activities for the group included:

  • Sharing the show don’t tell passages they’d found in the reading.
  • Discussing whether including these passages made the book more understandable and enjoyable.
  • Discussing what new clues they might suggest the author try. In this activity they had a peer revision session. I would play the role of the author and they would suggest additions or deletions to the passage.
  • Creating a multiple question modeled on multiple choice questions used in their commercial on-line program to assess inference.

WHOA- what is that last activity all about? I’ll have much more to say about that next week. The first part of my teaching sequence was designed to scaffold readers into understanding how inferencing works.  They wrote using the strategy, talked about their writing, did a Guided Reading lesson built around spotting when the author of the GR passage used the strategy too. They talked about both the content of the passage AND the processes used to make sense of that content. This sequence of lessons set the stage for teaching readers (& writers) how to use inferencing in their literacy endeavors. Unlike the direct teaching lessons for strategies, which too often used contrived applications of the strategy (one of Shanahan’s criticisms of lessons designed to directly teaching strategies), my hope is that this overall sequence teaches students HOW to think, how to use strategies good readers use. In the process, it makes them metacognitive (self-aware) of the strategies they are applying. The last activity in my Guided Reading lesson is designed to help them know what to do when they meet questions in commercial materials and tests that try to assess  their ability to draw inferences.

Before giving my final conclusions for this blog entry, I want to make the point that teaching inferencing and teaching how to handle inferencing questions are two very different things. I’ve seen situations where the “teaching” of inference and other similar reading strategies comes in the form of endless test practice. Students learn how to handle each type of question. Those questions usually come at the end of a short passage. The thinking is if they practice practice practice the test items they will get better at test taking.  Next week I will pick up on the ramifications of this point. For the moment I will say I’ve never seen this method of practice practice practice test questions work in the long run. Learning how the question works does provide a bump in achievement. However, once students understand how to handle that kind of question, there are usually no further achievement gains. In the meantime, tons of instructional time that could be used to help scaffold them in their use of strategies is totally wasted. More about this next week.

Next time I will share with you some advice I’ve just given to a staff developer on what her staff development could look like for a PD plan she created for this fall. Her plan spans several months and is designed to teach her staff how to implement guided reading. My advice to her about her plan reflects practical applications of what I’ve had to say in this week’s blog entry. In future blog entries I also hope to address the question of how to design sequences of lessons that might help readers unpack meaning in complex text.

So, until next Friday…

Happy Reading and Writing

Doctor Sam Bommarito (aka, teacher of teaching how to think)

                                                  Copyright 2018 Sam Bommarito

Using the author as a mentor: Helping students learn strong research skills by David Harrison and Mary Jo Fresch

This week David L. Harrison (children’s poet and author) and Mary Jo Fresch (Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University) are doing a guest post on this blog. THANKS SO MUCH TO BOTH OF THEM. They will both be at the ILA convention in Austin July 20-23. Be sure to catch them at their sessions in Austin (see below). Below is a picture of them at the 2017 NCTE convention in St. Louis, where they introduced their newest book. Glenda Nugent (my Missouri Reader Co-Editor) and I got to meet them face to face.  Hope you enjoy this week’s guest post and find it as informative as I did.

David and Mary JO with us

LINK TO THE BOOK: https://www.amazon.com/7-Keys-Research-Writing-Success/dp/1338153676/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1529596165&sr=8-12&keywords=david+harrison+books

Austin 2018 Dave and Mary Jo

is this weekend, and you can join us from anywhere! Check out our live chat w/ authors & educator :

SESSIONS FOR DAVE AND MARY JO

Sessions

 

GUEST ENTRY:

Using the author as a mentor: Helping students learn strong research skills

In this Blog, David L. Harrison (children’s poet and author) and Mary Jo Fresch (Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University), share classroom ready ideas for helping students be successful researchers.

Hello readers! This summer are you dreaming about students who not only love to write, but do so with a good foundation of information about their topics? Wouldn’t it be fulfilling to read well researched and thoughtfully composed writings? We share with you some ideas to help prepare students to be better researchers. Beginning to write without carefully researching a topic often ends up with writing pieces that not only lack accuracy, but also passion.  Regardless of the genre, students need to be ready to write – whether it is a nonfiction piece connected to content studies, poetry that uncovers a particular feeling, a fiction piece in an accurate setting – all forms of writing need thought before pen and paper ever meet.

Through David’s own work as a writer, students can observe and replicate the work of getting ready to write. As a “mentor” of research, David shares with students what he does to prepare to write. And across the genres he writes! By learning authentic research skills, students “connect their academic work directly to the real world in a powerful and meaningful way.”

(Werner-Burke, 2004, p. 44). Research is what we do to get ready to write.

We know current day media presents challenges to teachers. In Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project Online Survey, 99% of middle and high school teachers responding believed that their students are conditioned to find information quickly and easily, but 83% agreed the amount of online information is overwhelming for most students. As Doug Lemov reminds us, “want to become a doctor? An economist? An engineer? You’d better be prepared to read articles, primary documents, research studies, and complex essays . . .In other words, success in scholastic and professional endeavors requires the ability to learn from the literature of a discipline (2017, p. 10).” We must show our students how to be researchers.

The remainder of this blog is an interview with David about his work and how that translates into classroom instruction.  How can he “mentor” your students to be thoughtful and thorough researchers? Keep reading! Mary Jo promises to give you lots of ideas to move from David’s experiences to providing similar student activities.

Mary Jo:

David, you’ve often said we cannot do our best writing when we begin before we’re ready to write.  How does that work for you when you have a new book idea?

David:

Mary Jo, for me almost every new project begins with a question and a list. The question is: What is this book going to be about? What is its purpose? If I can’t answer that question, I won’t know what I’m looking for when I set out to do my research.  The list has four parts. One: What do I already know about my subject? Two: Are there things I think I know but want to double-check to be sure? Three: What do I not know about my subject that I might want to include?  Four: What do I not know I don’t know? Okay, that fourth list sounds impossible. In the beginning it is, but as I get deeper into my subject, unexpected fascinating facts always pop up. That’s why I need that fourth list! Collectively – the questioning, starting the lists – this is presearch. It’s what I do to get ready to help me get ready to write.

Mary Jo:

That sounds like a good place for teachers to start their students on the road to research. First, selecting a topic that they are interested in is key to staying engaged throughout the research and writing process. So, students should select from ideas they have to write about, then make those four columns – What they already know; What they think they know but better double-check; What they want to learn in their research that they can include in their writing; and finally, What they don’t know they don’t know (or what surprises along the way they discovered thanks to the research process).  So, teachers easily have four quick and compelling lessons just in the question posing phase of the research. Once students learn how to ask these questions they can use them forever!

David:

Next comes the most important part of writing, Mary Jo. Tracking down all the information we need before we can write anything worth reading. There is no single way to do this. Of course the Internet is the easy-peasy way to get facts in a hurry. Unfortunately, you can also get wrong information just as fast. As a writer, I fear making mistakes. If I write something that is wrong, I have failed my reader. Fiction springs from nonfiction so a writer must get his information straight before setting out to write that story or poem or essay. We don’t have room here to get into every form of research that writers use, but the point is that the more students “get” the need to get it right, the better their writing will be. You simply can’t write your best if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Mary Jo:

So, what’s next?  Let’s peek into your study.  You have researched information to fill out all four questions (you might even have added information you know but forgot to include!).  Now what?  How do we use those answers in the best way?

David:

By now I’ve chosen my topic. I’ve decided on the purpose of the project. I’ve made lists of what I know, need to double check, need to learn, and one for surprises. I’ve read books about my subject, checked the Internet, interviewed, observed, and kept good notes about everything I learned. So I’m ready to write at last! Not. I am now the proud owner of a set of notes about many aspects of my subject. Can I tell my reader about all of them? Afraid not. My writing would wander all over the place if it tried.

So now I sit down with all I’ve learned and start arranging notes, looking for an ideal place to begin, things I want to say in the main text, and a strong way to finish. I’ll set aside bits of information that aren’t likely to make the cut. And NOW I’m ready to pick up my pen or sit at the keyboard and write my first word.

Mary Jo:

So, organizing the notes is another key step. As we think about your role as a mentor to students’ research, they need to see that real authors must be organized in keeping and using their notes. Teachers could ask students to take their notes and use highlighters to mark the information they want to include in their writing. They could use one color for the introductory paragraph(s) and another color for the body of the writing. They could also take the notes, cut them apart, and arrange the ones they want to use in the “order of appearance.” They might even discover they could write more than one text from the notes if they have more information than they can use for the first writing. Has that happened to you?  Did you ever say, “Wow, I have a lot of good information here…more than I can put in one book!”?

David:

Absolutely, Mary Jo! When my wife and I went up the Amazon River in Peru, I made eighty pages of notes and took hundreds of pictures. I used my research to write a book of poetry about the Amazon called SOUNDS OF RAIN. Years later I returned to my notes and wrote a middle grade novel called DOWNRIVER.  My extensive notes about a cave discovered in southwest Missouri resulted in a nonfiction book called CAVE DETECTIVES. The same notes produced more than one poem. Lately I’ve thought of returning to those notes to write a collection of poems for a new book. Notes from a book about mountains inspired a book about glaciers. Notes from the book about glaciers inspired a book about the first people to migrate to the North American continent. The more we learn about our subject, the more ways we discover to write about it in different genres and even start new projects!

Mary Jo:

Sharing with students what David does demonstrates the real-life purposes of research, notetaking and organization, and then choosing a way to write (and maybe more than one way!). Our dreams of students who write with accuracy and passion can be a reality when we help them build the skills they need to presearch a topic (Is my topic too big? Should I narrow it? Should I expand it?), pose good questions to research the topic (by using such resources as internet, books, video, interviews), organize the notes to help decide on the focus of the writing, and then, maybe “shelve” some notes for another writing piece or two down the road. There is a wonderful saying (Anonymous!) that sums up how David and I feel about teaching good research skills to students:

The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it and turn it inside out.

 David and Mary Jo have published a number of articles in the Missouri Reader.

Links in order of appearance: https://joom.ag/HA9W ; https://joom.ag/8cML ; https://joom.ag/SMZQ

ALL THREE

Let’s Collaborate to Address Dilemmas in Literacy By Dr William Kerns

I am on vacation. Dr. Kerns volunteered to do this weeks post. THANKS BILL! It should provide you with some good food for thought.

Let’s Collaborate to Address Dilemmas in Literacy

 This is a difficult time to be a teacher. Pressures of high stakes testing have the impact of narrowing curriculum. Meanwhile, the use of commercially produced assessments contributes to pressure to label students according to reading levels that shape reading goals. This blog entry explores the way that teachers in the literacy field can work together to enhance instruction through the systematic examination of questions about practice.

Reflective teachers engage in ongoing, self-initiated inquiry (Calderhead, 1992; Elder & Paul, 2008). Dialogue and collaboration helps teachers take responsibility for improving instruction (Day, 1999). Far too frequently, teaching practices that are grounded in a deep tradition within the research literature become misunderstood and misapplied in classrooms. One example is the facilitation of student goal setting. There are debates in the literacy field over whether these goals should include the explicit enunciation by the child of improvement according to specific reading levels. This blog will address how understanding and conducting research can help teachers to better address this issue in the classroom. I argue for an approach to teaching that continuously draws upon research and inquiry in order to inform the academic and social consequences of instructional choices.

Student Goal Setting and Reading Levels

Reading is a goal-directed activity in which a person makes meaning of a text. Setting goals helps students to become increasingly motivated readers (Kintsch, 1998). This is because goals enable students to become focused on a task that they view as relevant (McCrudden, Schraw, & Kambe, 2005) and purposeful (Locke & Gary, 2006). Goals that are specific and appropriately challenging (Kleingeld et al., 2011) are linked to improved confidence among students to be successful readers (Schunk, 2003; Smith & Wilhelm, 2002). Students self-regulate as they read a text by setting goals and monitoring progress toward accomplishing these goals (Bray & McClaskey, 2015). Importantly for social-constructivist teachers to bear in mind, goal-setting appears to be increasingly effective when teachers and students systematically work together to name the goals and monitor progress (Pincham, 2006). Also of importance for teachers of students who are identified with specific learning exceptionalities in reading, goal setting has long been linked to long-term gains among students with learning disabilities (Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins, & Herman, 1999).

Debate arises when the goals are related to Lexile style reading levels lacking in personal and social meaningfulness to the student. Lexile measures are used to track either the difficulty of a text or a student’s reading level. While Lexile levels are commonly used in schools, other commercial companies such as American Reading Company provide alternate means of identifying reading levels. In the American Reading Company’s system, levels are identified via color schemes that correspond with a reading level. One key concern is that communication of goals based on Lexile-type levels may also communicate to students a set of beliefs and assumptions about who they are as readers, and “what” they are as readers,  thus positioning students as character types in a particular storyline about those who are reading at identified levels (Harré, 2012). A Lexile level is not one that a student would naturally identify if reading a text on his or her own. So, tying goal setting to Lexile levels raises the issue of power (Lukes, 2005) if consideration is given to who is legitimate to speak (the student?) regarding goal-setting and whether the student’s voice may be getting silenced.

This debate raises an important question. What is a teacher to do in the face of administrative and curricular pressures for students to make gains as typically determined by Lexile levels? Communication of goals based on Lexile levels may be unavoidable for teachers in many school districts depending on administrative pressure. My suggestion is that it’s important to help students also set goals that are personally meaningful, rather than rely on Lexile levels as the key to goal setting. This is easier said than done. It requires an ongoing analysis of research literature related to literacy and pedagogy. Further, I recommend that teachers also engage within inquiry communities and conduct forms of classroom inquiry.

Joining Inquiry Communities and Conducting Inquiry

Inquiry communities help teachers to develop knowledge of practice through ongoing, supportive dialogue and reflection (Lytle, 2008). Dialogue in the group is based on a search for understanding and improvement of practice (Swales, 1990). Collaborating on classroom-based research opens new opportunities for communication among teachers and university faculty, while it increases awareness and reflection of issues related to learning and participation in the teaching profession (Rock & Levin, 2002).

Steps that can be taken by teachers to ensure that they benefit from participation in an inquiry community include the following:  engage in a group that fosters a supportive environment for reflective thinking and for inquiry; seek to continuously learn about the role of reflection in teaching; seek to engage in ongoing dialogue that fosters systematic reflection and inquiry. I recommend that teachers strive to join (or build) a learning community (Schwab, 1976) with dialogue that involves seeking new educational ideas and the improvement of teaching practices (Swales, 1990). Crucially, teachers need to feel safe to take risks in a supportive environment that is open to new ideas and new concepts.

Teachers conducting classroom inquiry engage in systematic, intentional study of professional practice through a planning process of gathering and recording information, documenting experiences inside and possibly outside of classrooms, and creating a written record. Typically, the methods include journal entries that are coded to identify the themes and patterns (Guwaldi, 2009). The goal is generally to address questions and make sense of experiences through a reflective stance toward classroom instruction and classroom learning. Prior to embarking on classroom inquiry, I strongly recommend seeking dialogue in an inquiry community and studying material related to reflective teaching (Hatch & Shulman, 2005; McCann et al., 2005; Zeichner & Liston, 2014) and methods of conducting teacher research (Chiseri-Strater & Sunstein, 2006; Falk & Blumenreich, 2005; Freidrich et al., 2005; Hopkins, 2008; Hubbard & Power, 2003; Lytle, 2008; McBee, 2004).

Taking a Pragmatic Approach

This blog is grounded in a pragmatic approach to the reading of research to inform the act of being a reflective practitioner.  Dewey identified attitudes that are involved in the development of a habit of inquiry. I believe that these attitudes are important when it comes to how teachers approach research. Open-mindedness involves willingness to rethink fundamental ideas through ongoing reflection and inquiry. Reflective thinking in a moment of doubt is then “occasioned by an unsettlement and it aims at overcoming a disturbance” (Dewey, 1916/1980, p. 336). To solve the problem, according to Dewey (1933/1986a), a teacher should exhibit wholeheartedness, or an in-depth commitment with full devotion to personal and emotional resources. Dewey viewed the development of a habit of pursuing inquiry in the face of doubt as an essential aspect of reflective thinking. However, commitment should also involve responsibility. A sense of responsibility entails taking seriously the moral choices faced in life and in the classroom setting by habitually evaluating, through inquiry, how actions may bring about desired or undesired consequences. The reading of research then  fosters an ethical sense of responsibility among teachers. Finally, Dewey (1916/1980) urged an attitude of directness, or faith that actions grounded in in the attitudes of open-mindedness, wholeheartedness, and responsibility in the conduct of inquiry are worth taking for the benefit of a democratic and just society.

Schön (1991) differentiated between reflective thinking performed while a professional is engaged in an activity, reflection-in-action, and reflection-on-action involving the review and examination of past action. Schön stressed the value of reflection in the context of practice. Ongoing reflection is informed by what the teacher learns from the inquiry by weighing the merits of redirecting activity against time constraints and need for curriculum coverage. A reflective practitioner gains self-knowledge while engaged in theorizing by taking control and responsibility for knowledge.

 

 

REFERENCES

Bray, B., & McClaskey, K. (2015). Make learning personal: The what, who, WOW, where, and why. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Calderhead, J. (1992). The role of reflection in learning to teach. In L. Vallie (Ed.), Reflective Teacher Education – Cases and Critiques (pp. 139–146). New York:

State University of New York.

Chiseri-Strater, E., & Sunstein, B. S. (2006). What works? A practical guide for teacher research. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. (2009). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Day, C. (1999). Developing teachers: The challenges of lifelong learning. Bristol, PA:

Taylor & Francis.

Dewey, J. (1980). Democracy and education. In J. A. Boydston (Ed.), John Dewey: The middle works (Vol. 9, pp. 1–3). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

(Original work published 1916)

Dewey, J. (1986). How we think (2nd. ed.) In J. A. Boydston (Ed.), John Dewey: The later works (Vol. 8, pp. 107–352). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

(Original work published 1933)

Elder, L., & Paul, R. W. (2008). Critical thinking in a world of accelerated change and complexity. Social Education, 72, 388–391.

Falk, B., & Blumenreich, M. (2005).  The power of questions: A guide to teacher and student research. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Friedrich, L., Tateishi, C., Malarkey, T., Simons, E. R., & Williams, M. (Eds.). (2005). Working toward equity: Writing and resources from the Teacher Research

Collaborative. Berkeley, CA: National Writing Project.

Furlong, J., & Salisbury, J. (2005). Best practice research scholarships: An evaluation.

Research Papers in Education, 20, 45–83.

Gulwadi, B. B. (2009). Using reflective journals in a sustainable design studio.

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 10, 43–54.

Locke, E.A., & Gary, P. L. (2006). New directions in goal-setting theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(5), 265-268.

Harré, R. (2012) Positioning theory: moral dimensions of social-cultural psychology. In J. Valsiner (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology (191-206). Oxford University.

Hatch, T., & Shulman, L. S. (2005). Into the classroom: Developing the scholarship of teaching and learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hopkins, D. (2008). A teacher’s guide to classroom research (4th ed.). Berkshire,

England: Open University Press.

Hubbard, R. S., & Power, B. M. (2003). The art of classroom inquiry: A handbook for teacher-researchers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Kleingeld, A., Van Mierlo, H., & Lidia Arends, L. (2011). The effect of goal setting on group performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(6), 1289- 1304.

Kreisburg, S. (1992). Transforming power: Domination, empowerment, and education.

Albany: State University of New York Press.

Kintsch, W. (1998). Comprehension: A paradigm for cognition. Cambridge, UK:

Cambridge University Press

Lukes, S.L. (2005). Power: A radical view (2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Lytle, S. L. (2008). At last: Practitioner inquiry and the practice of teaching: Some thoughts on better research. Journal for Research in the Teaching of English, 42, 373–379.

McBee, M. T. (2004). The classroom as laboratory: An exploration of teacher research.

Roeper Review, 27, 52–58.

McCann, T. M., Johannessen, L. R., Kahn, E., Smagorinsky, P., & Smith, M. W. (2005).

Reflective teaching, reflective learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

McCrudden, M. T., Schraw, G., & Kambe, G. (2005). The effect of relevance instructions on reading time and learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97, 88–102.

Pincham, L. (2006). Individualized goal setting for at risk students. National Middle School Association, 10 (1), 39–40.

 

Rock, C., & Levin, B. (2002). Collaborative action research projects: Enhancing preservice teacher development in professional development schools. Teacher

Education Quarterly, 29(1), 7–21.

Schön, D. A. (1991). The reflective practitioner. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Schunk, D. H. (2003). Self-efficacy for reading and writing: Influence of modeling, goal setting, and self-evaluation. Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 19, 159–172.

Schwab, J. J. (1976). Education and the state: Learning community. In R. M. Hutchins & M. J. Adler (Eds.), Great ideas today (pp. 234–271). Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica Press.

Smith, M. W., & Wilhelm, J. D. (2002). “Reading don’t fix no Chevys”: Literacy in the

lives of young men. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Swales, J. (1990). Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings.

Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Zeichner, K. M., & Liston, D. P. (Eds.). (2014). Reflective teaching: An introduction (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Using Research to Jump to Confusions: (Nope, it is not another typo- Sometimes We Unintentionally Jump to Confusions) By Dr. Sam Bommarito

 

research creative commons Blue Diamond Galary

I’ll start by stating my position about using research. We absolutely should use research to inform our decisions about teaching. That would include both qualitative and quantitative research.  However, especially when looking at the research around what good readers do, we need to be careful. Sometimes in our haste to get our readers to the desired end results, we fail to pay careful attention to the path that the good readers took to get there. Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring what I mean by this, beginning with one a classic misreading of the research.  This has to do with the research around high frequency words. Early in the 20th century pioneering work was done around high frequency words.  Dolch and Fry both discovered that relatively few words (Dolch 220, Fry 300) make up most of the words we read (up to 70%).  That means as you read this piece approximately seven out of every ten words are likely to be words found on the Dolch or Fry list. This fact led educators to think that it would pay off handsomely to include as many of these words as possible when instructing beginning readers. It spawned what came to be known as the sight say method.  Folks thought they had found an approach that would solve the problems of teaching beginning reading. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the 1st Grade Studies concluded that sight say was not the best beginning reading approach. Where did things go wrong?

Let’s start by looking at why educators thought teaching the high frequency words early, and by rote, would pay off big.  The typical reader needs to know 50,000 words by the time they reach high school.  By teaching the high frequency words early we would assure our young readers would know 7 out of 10 of every word they would ever need to know. They would know them very early in the reading process. Wow! That’s a great payoff. It greatly reduces the work beginning readers have to do when reading text. Once they know the high frequency words, only 3 out of every 10 words are unknown when reading running text.  I want to be clear that I think that this is a payoff we want to have.  Where the sight-say folks went wrong in implementing this was that they tried to skip right to the end without paying attention to the middle. What do I mean by that?

What the sight-say folks did was create stories designed to teach high frequency words by rote.  The “by rote” part is that took their train off the tracks.  Look at the exemplar of such stories- the stories from the Dick and Jane series. The text might look something like this. “Look, look, look. See, see, see. See Spot. See Spot run. Run, Spot run!” The writers of these stories knew that multiple exposure to a word results in that word moving into the child’s sight word.  No sounding out or problem solving here. Read the word over and over and over and you will come to know the word. By the end of the first year the child would know most of the high frequency words by heart.

Now would be a good time to remind the reader that sight words and high frequency words are not synonymous terms. Sight words are those words readers know by heart.  Adult readers know most of their words by heart. By contrast, high frequency words are those 220 to 300 words that appear the most often in the English language.  Yes, it is important that children learn those words early.  However, counting on the strategy of learning them by rote resulted in children who learned the strategy of “memorize the words you need to know” as their main word strategy. They learned no other ways of figuring out their words.  Given controlled text with lots of high frequency word in them they read just fine.  When they made the move to normal text many of them fell apart. They knew the 220-330 but hadn’t a clue of what to do with the other 49,700 or so words left to learn.  Do the math. If readers try to memorize those words they would have to memorize over 700 words per week every week between first grade and the start of high school. It is self-evident readers need additional word strategies beyond memorization.

There is a lesson to be learned from the failed attempt of the sight say movement.  Their goals were reasonable. Teach the high frequency words early. Make sure beginning readers become like adult readers, i.e. they know most of their words by sight. Their mistake came in how they tried to teach those high frequency words. They taught them directly and efficiently by repetition and rote. They skipped the middle stage good readers go through. Good readers learn to problem solve their own words. In the course of doing their wide reading, after problem solving the same unknown word several times that previously unknown word becomes part of their sight vocabulary. This is how they built their sight vocabulary to the levels usually associated with older readers. Failing to include that problem-solving step left sight say advocates in an untenable position. Once the beginning readers got out of the tightly controlled beginning texts, they didn’t have the necessary strategies needed to build the rest of their sight vocabulary.

Next week I am taking a break and going on a summer vacation. Week after next I’ll talk about how to teach the high frequency words in a way that helps students to develop strategies that lead them to become fluent, lifelong readers. In the weeks that follow I will explore how the same phenomena of “trying to skip to the end without paying attention to the middle” has derailed some of our work in teaching comprehension strategies as well.

 

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (Natural born problem solver!)