Monthly Archives: November 2018

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks- My Take on What Brain Research Says About Reading as a Meaning Making Process by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks- My Take on What Brain Research Says About Reading as a Meaning Making Process

by

Dr. Sam Bommarito

1280px-Brain_diagram_fr Creative Common

 

 

I started teaching in 1970. Even though I’m “retired” I often joke that I am flunking retirement because I still do a such a wide variety of literacy activities. For instance, I write this weekly blog.  I work in an after-school program. I speak at various conferences. For the past several years I have taken part in BTAP, a program carried out by Harris Stowe University which is designed to train beginning teachers in the St. Louis public schools. I’ve written in this blog about my participation in various book give away programs. In addition, for the past three years I have been Co-Editor of the state’s professional reading journal. Throughout all this I try to keep current on what’s going on the world of literacy and education. Toward that end I am taking a three-part seminar that explores the implications of brain research for informing us about how children learn.  The course is called Teaching That Sticks: How to Teach so Students Actually Learn. It is being conducted by Willy Wood.

Willy Wood has long been an important fixture on our state’s literacy scene. He is the President of Open Mind Technologies and Educational Solutions International (https://www.willywoodteaching.comhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/willy-wood-81523620/)For a long time, his organization has implemented two annual conferences. One is the Missouri Early Learning Conference. That is the very same conference where Bill and I finally met Mary Howard face to face just last week. Mary did an extraordinary job of talking about RTI and guided reading.  The other is the annual Write to Learn conference. This is the very same conference where I first met Eric Litwin as he conducted a full day preconference session on using music in teaching literacy. In the way of full disclosure, the Missouri Literacy Association (an ILA affiliate) is one of the sponsors of each of these events. I am the president elect of that organization. In addition to organizing these conferences Willy also does presentations/keynotes all around the country on the topic of brain research.  From time to time he also does seminars like the one I am attending.  Participants in my session include a University Professor who teaches reading to pre-service teachers, classroom teachers, reading specialists, reading coaches and even a couple of math teachers.   The seminar is proving to be a worthwhile experience.

I’m learning a lot during his sessions.  Willy is going over the basic nuts and bolts of what brain research can teach us about how students learn and how we can use that knowledge to improve our own instruction. I’m learning about how short-term and long-term memory works. This is crucial, since the brain seems to be designed to forget much of what we take in, often within 24 hours of our first encountering it.  The trick for long-term learning is to get things we want students to retain to move from their short-term memory into their long-term memory. Willy was quite adept at doing this. For instance, he showed us a method for remembering a random list of 20 facts. He used a technique called pegboard. It really worked. By the end of the second class I was able to easily remember 10 facts. Please keep in mind I have long had the reputation of being the quintessential absent-minded professor, so for that method to work that quickly on me was truly amazing.  Some of my classmates were able to consistently remember all 20 facts. This was at the end of a single session. Impressive. However, there is much more to this seminar than simple memory tricks.  I relay this example to you simply to show the power of applying the principles of what he is teaching.

The aha moment for me as a reading teacher came when he started talking about what brain research shows about how we learn. We learn by tying the new to the old. This was the very same conclusion reached by advocates of the meta-cognitive theory.  What is different about this iteration is that brain researchers have actually started learning about where things are stored in the brain by directly observing brain activity.  This was the stuff of science fiction when I was growing up. Now it is a routine part of scientific research.  I believe that brain research clearly demonstrates that those of us who have been saying that building background knowledge and experience (please think- the Concepts About Print), were very much on the right track. My conclusion is that the sound symbol knowledge that some of my colleagues are so concerned about lately can’t happen until and unless the early learner first has a solid background in hearing the sounds, print experience and how print work.  Marie Clay was right about what she did in Reading Recovery. Perhaps that is why Reading Recovery remains the most effective early reading intervention currently available. I think of it as the bumble bee of the literary world. According to some theories the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly.  But they do. As a matter of fact, this bumble bee of the literary world flies better than any of the programs its critics recommend.  See my blog post https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/08/10/why-i-like-reading-recovery-and-what-we-can-learn-from-it-by-dr-sam-bommarito/ for the data that demonstrates that this is a research-based statement.

Another thing Willy demonstrated that has important implications for reading and reading instruction is the fact that we remember things best when they are learned in a meaning-based context. He divided our class into two groups. Both were given a memory task.  One was structured so the group was given the information in a meaningful context. The other was structured so that the very same information was given but given as isolated fact. The meaning-based group outperformed the isolated fact group by a factor of more than two to one. Willy then explained that there is a large body of research indicating that things learned in a meaningful context are much more likely to be remembered (Teaching That Sticks). That research-based fact makes me think that those of us that maintain that reading first and foremost is a meaning making process are on the right track.  It helps to explain why in my own experience, children who learn sight words via wide reading, or using things like Rasinski’s Fry Phrases (high frequency word presented in a phrase rather than a single word) learn their sight words much better/faster than students using the flash card method.

By now the reader is aware of where I am going with this.  Over-emphasizing breaking the code may produce good word callers. Check the “tests” advocates of such approaches use and you’ll find they are primarily tests of decoding, not of meaning making or reading achievement.  Add the element of meaning making, as Reading Recovery does, and suddenly you have an approach that measures well on both decoding and meaning making. It raises reading achievement. For my money raising reading achievement (INCLUDING COMPREHENSION!!!!) is the gold standard for judging the effectiveness of reading programs. What I’m learning from the brain research folks seems to support what the advocates of the position that reading is fundamentally about meaning making have been saying for several decades now.  In my opinion, there really is a very strong research base for the notion that reading is fundamentally a meaning making process,  In short, that position is very much a research-based position.

So, those are some of the aha moments I had during this seminar on brain research. Until next week, this is Dr. B. signing off

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka firm believer in the position that reading is fundamentally a meaning making process)

 

Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

What I Learned from Reading Recovery and How It Helped to Inform my Classroom Practices (a repost of an important blog) by Dr. Sam Bommarito

 

by Dr. Sam Bommarito

This week I’ll be presenting at the Missouri Early Learning Conference. I’ll also be attending a keynote by Mary Howard who will also be at that conference. Really looking forward to both things. So, for this week I’m reposting a blog entry that set a personal record for me, over 1000 views. It’s about reading recovery. Hope you enjoy it (again!).

I’ll begin by saying what this blog entry is not about.  It’s not about trying to move Reading Recovery practices directly into the classroom or to create some pseudo Reading Recovery program. As I said in an earlier blog if you want Reading Recovery like results, then get your teachers trained by certified RR trainers and implement RR with fidelity. This blog entry is about following the advice I received at my very first RR conference. Before trying to move any Reading Recovery practice into the classroom, first visit the theory behind the practice and then adapt the practice classroom setting.

Like Dr. Mary Howard and many others, I mark my career in two parts, how I taught before my recovery training and how I teach now. What now follows are reflections on some of the most important takeaways I have from RR. They are things have helped me become a better teacher and a better teacher of teachers.

Takeaway one- I learned to be a kid watcher and to make effective use of my knowledge of the three cuing systems. Fit the program to the child, not the other way round.

Yetta Goodman coined the term kid watcher and laid the foundations for the science of miscue analysis. Her initial observation was simple but profound.  You can’t read a child’s mind. So, you can’t directly see how a child is thinking and problem solving as they read. You can however observe the child’s actions as they read.  By seeing what the child is trying (or not trying) as they problem solve their words you can get a sense of what strategies the child is (or is not) using as they read.  Quite a number of years ago at a Mid Missouri TAWL conference, Yetta reported that Marie Clay and her husband Ken Goodman concurrently came up with the idea of using the three cueing systems. Ken used the names given to the three cueing systems by his chosen field of linguistics. They were Semantic, Syntactic and Grapho-phonemic. Concurrently Marie Clay began looking at what I think are the very same three cueing systems naming them Meaning, Structural, and Visual. Both Clay and Goodman used the notion of miscue analysis.  By looking at what cueing system the child was using when making an “error”, one can tell which (if any) of the three cueing systems the child was using. So, for Clay and Goodman, errors were not really errors at all. They were attempts to use the cueing systems that misfired. Hence the name miscue.

By systematically recording which cueing system (if any) the child was using when their attempt misfired (miscue), teachers can glean a lot of information on what the child is attempting to do as they problem solve their words. Teachers can also tell whether the child is crosschecking, i.e. using more than one of the cueing systems at the same time.  Suddenly teachers could know what the child was thinking as they problem solved their words. By careful observation and record keeping (especially the use of running records) teachers can get ideas on what the child needs to learn to make a balanced use of all three cueing systems. Our field abounds with excellent sources on how to make use of this incredibly valuable information.  It seems to me that by using this information teachers can become mind readers after all!!

Takeaway two- I learned how to prompt and most importantly learn how to prompt near point of error.

F & P and Calkins have written extensively about prompting. F & P even have charts and apps to help the teacher to know what to say.  Key prompts for problem solving words would include- Does that look right? (does it look like the word you just said), Does it sound right? (is that syntactically correct, is that the way we usually talk), Does it make sense? (does what you just said make sense, fit how the story is going?). Prompting to crosscheck includes calling attention to the cues not used. For instance, if a child says a word that fit the picture but did not fit the letters in the word you might say “What you said makes sense, but does it start with the right letter? What word would also make sense but start with this letter <point to the letter, maybe even say the letter sound>.  There are a host of other ways to prompt, including prompts to help comprehension, but right now I’m focusing on prompts for problem solving words.

It is crucial that prompts be done NEAR point of error, not AT point of error. That means waiting. Wait to see if the child self corrects on their own.  That means, when possible, you must allow the child to read past the error. Praise the child if they spontaneously correct the error (I like the way you fixed that!!!) Early in my training I learned that encouraging self-correction is GOLD.  For many children, when they start self-correcting, that is the turning point in their ability to read and to learn new words from when the read.  That is why determining self-correction rate is one of the things we include on the running record form.

There is a major problem in using prompting routinely in the classroom.  It is best used one on one. It is best used in that teachable moment when a child makes a miscue. How can one have a significant number of such moments in a regular classroom setting?  One answer I learned that increases the number of those teachable moments is to use staggered starts when doing small group reading. Here is how that works. Do your usual introduction/teaching point in your small group. Then announce that today we are using staggered starts in this group. The first time you use staggered starts you will have to take extra time to explain it. After using it a couple of time, most groups learn what is involved. DON’T OVER USE IT. Use it when you need more teachable moments in selected small groups. These are the groups whose members included children that need more work on problem solving their words. Here are the steps:

  1. Each child learns they are not to start reading until you say. When they read, they are to read aloud in a whisper voice. I have them use whisper readers (see picture). I sometimes face them in different directions. Both these teaching moves are designed to lessen the effect of having everyone read at once.
  2. Let the children know that once everyone is reading you will come around to work with some students individually. Let them know that EVENTUALLY everyone will get a turn, but it might take more than one session to do that. Also let them know that if the finish the story they are to IMMEDIATELY start from the start and read it again (and again, and again). They don’t stop reading until you say.
  3. Once all the children in the group are reading (I recommend using a group of 3-5), you are then free to circulate and sit in with selected children. I usually don’t do every child every time. BTY, besides getting in my chance to prompt with selected student, I sometimes use this same technique to get in a teaching conference with selected students. DON’T OVERUSE THIS, but it can be handy in a pinch!
  4. BOOK SELECTION IS CRITICAL FOR THIS TO WORK. Pick an instructional level text where the students are likely to make several miscues.  If there is a sound you are especially concerned with, pick a text that uses that sound a lot.  I use both predictable and decodable books during such lessons.
  5. You can stop circulating any time after you are sure that every student has been through the story at least once.
  6. Once you say stop, continue with the lesson as usual.Whisper Read Phones Free to Use Image

I’ll say this one more time. DON’T OVERUSE THIS. Use it when you genuinely need to do some one-on- one-word work with selected students who are having exceptional difficulty with problem solving their words.

Take away three- I learned to help kids write their way into reading. Doing the Elkonin boxes and writing short phrases was a powerful part of my recovery lessons. The general principal here is to sometimes let the kids write using the high frequency words they need to know. I currently use Rasinski’s Fry List phrases http://www.timrasinski.com/presentations/fry_600_instant_phrases.pdf. I ask them to copy a phrase and then write more about it.  I also do whole group story writing where I have selected Fry list words (or Dolch list words) posted on a chart and then and ask them to join me writing something using as many of those words as possible. This can be followed by them writing stories on their own, again trying to use some of the high frequency words in the story. This is not the only writing the kids do, but it is writing that helps build their sight word knowledge.

Takeaway four– I learned the value of observation as a part of ongoing assessment.  I think that today we over test and underteach. Constant summative assessments take away from teaching time. They can become counterproductive. Think about it. If you spend most of your time doing summative assessments eventually what you will find is that since you have not taken the time to teach something new, your students are not growing as readers (or writers). Now that I’ve had my chance to vent a little, lets be clear that assessment is necessary.  As a recovery teacher I learned that authentic ongoing assessment can be a very powerful tool. There are “assessments” that are not paper and pencil tests. They are instead rooted in careful and systematic observations.

I was brought into the world of workshop teaching, kicking and screaming. At first, I thought it would turn out to be a waste of time. Found out instead it was a way to become the ultimate kid watcher. It led to my learning to do systematic observations that became defacto ongoing assessments. It has become second nature to my teaching. F & P, Calkins, and Serravallo all have written extensively about how to systematically gather information about your students and to use that information to inform your teaching in a workshop setting. RR was my first experience in doing this. It made me more open and understanding about doing this when I did my workshop training.

There are many other takeaways from RR, takeaways I had as a teacher that I adapted into classroom use. I just gave my top four. I would love to hear from other RR teachers about their takeaways from RR, and how what they learned help to improve their classroom teaching. Please do chime in and make some comments!

So, until next week this is Dr. B. signing off,

 

Happy Reading and Writing

 

 

Dr. Sam Bommarito, (a.k.a., the Kidwatcher)

Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito who is solely responsible for it’s content

Please also visit my post about what my readers had to say about the profound impact reading recovery has had on their teaching:

https://doctorsam7.blog/2018/08/16/a-message-to-reading-recovery-teachers-everywhere-well-done-by-dr-sam-bommarito/

Newest Edition of Missouri Reader includes interviews with Eric Litwin and Jennifer Serravallo: IT’S FREE

Link to this issue: https://joom.ag/7fWY

zMO READER

 

The Missouri Reader is a peer reviewed journal. It has been in existence for 42 years. Glenda Nugent and I are the current co-editors.  The journal is published twice a year. Each publication is timed to come out just before the state-wide conferences the Missouri Literacy Association cosponsors. The Missouri Early Learning conference starts a week from today, Friday Nov. 9th. Accordingly, our newest journal is being published today.

Some highlights from this issue include:

  • An interview with Eric Litwin, author of Pete the Cat- I Love My White Shoes, The Nut Family series and the Groovey Joe books
  • An Interview with Jennifer Serravallo about her new book
  • An article entitled Thinking Aloud to Build Students’ Comprehension by Dr. Molly Ness
  • An article entitled A Picture REALLY IS Worth a Thousand Words by Julie Bryant and Tamara Samek;
  • The 2018 MO-STAR List reported by Jennifer Fox- includes multiple links to the best new trade books in science
  • We also provide Information on Early Learning Conference in Mo
  • There are also many other articles, including ones written by teachers from our state (and beyond!)

We are grateful to all the contributors for the efforts and also for the diligent work of our editorial board. Our reviewers are well credentialed. Our journal allows beginning writers, often practicing teachers who are also university students in teaching programs, to publish right along side well known experts in literacy. We especially encourage action research articles published by teachers working with a university professor.  Our readers benefit from this eclectic group of authors. Our new authors get their first experience in publishing in a peer reviewed journal. All and all it is a win-win situation.  Readers of this blog interested in writing for the journal can find information on submissions on the last page of the current journal.

Let me invite you to go to the journal using the following link: https://joom.ag/7fWY.  I think you will find valuable ideas and information. I thank you in advance for having a look.

Missouri Reader is a publication of the Missouri Literacy Association (an ILA affiliate).  We certainly would like any of you living in the Midwest region to come to the Mo Early Learning Conference. As I said it is next Frida/Saturday and is held in St. Louis Mo.  Mary Howard will be one of the keynotes. So, we hope you will meet us in St. Louis!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the co-editor)

CONFERENCE LINK:  http://www.missouriearlylearning.com

THE ADD FROM JOMAG FOR WILLY