What happens when you empower teachers and scaffold them into improving their teaching craft?: MAGIC!!!! By Dr. Sam Bommarito

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What happens when you empower teachers and scaffold them into improving their teaching craft?: MAGIC!!!! By Dr. Sam Bommarito


I decided to take a break from talking about the reading wars this week. Instead, I’ll talk a little bit about some success stories in the school where I spend one day a week doing some push-ins. I also help to implement an afterschool program. The school’s mainstream program is a basal, one that includes the use of decodable texts, predictable texts and trade books. For a variety of reasons, I find that a sensible approach since each kind of text lends itself to lessons around different strategies that can help scaffold students into reading. I’m going to first talk about a fourth-grade classroom where I have been helping the classroom teacher to implement some workshop teaching as a supplement to what she is already doing with the basal program.

This week that teacher taught me a lesson. Kind of made me think she was learning more than I was teaching. I had carried on some discussions with her around one of my favorite quotes. It’s a paraphrase of something Mark Twain said. “Those who can read but don’t are no better off than those that can’t read at all.”  So, it is important for teachers to encourage students to want to read. Take a look at a couple recent ILA position papers on that.  Special thanks to Fran McVeigh, principle author of  https://www.literacyworldwide.org/docs/default-source/where-we-stand/ila-creating-passionate-readers-through-independent-reading.pdf and Molly Ness principle author of  https://www.literacyworldwide.org/docs/default-source/where-we-stand/ila-power-promise-read-alouds-independent-reading.pdf for bringing those kinds of ideas to the forefront of current literacy instruction.  This classroom teacher had a rather innovative way of getting students to talk about their books with each other and share ideas. Some of it involved the dreaded cyber books. Her overall goal was to try to reignite her kids’ interests in reading. Let me tell you about what she did.

There is a widely used software platform that has extensive collections of leveled books. Includes a balance of fiction and nonfiction books. It even includes quizzes for the books. It also gives a great deal of diagnostic information about the quizzes. What sets it apart from many of the programs like this is that it allows a great deal of teacher control. This particular classroom teacher has used the program for a number of years and treats it as a tool rather than a prescribed lockstep program.

She noticed that one of the reports that are given each week talks about what books each child read. She got the idea of having the students talk about their favorites among those books. We modeled to the class how to do a simple summary. For fiction books talk about the character, the problem/goal, and the solution. As you talk about how the goal/solution is reached you end up giving the events of the story.  In the case of nonfiction books, we used the phrase “if it’s true, find out what’s new.” Translation of this is that readers should report on what new information was in the story about the topic that they didn’t know before. The students are given the fallback that if all the information was all about things they already knew, they could instead talk about the information they found most interesting.

A few student volunteers broke the ice by talking about their books using these simple retell devices. They did this in front of the whole group. The teacher had pictures of the books they had most recently read up on the whiteboard as they talked. After that, we shifted from whole group to small group. Students who had not had a chance to talk to the large group were given that chance in small group. We opened the scope of what books to talk about to include books other than the cyber books. Everyone got a chance to talk about at least one book and depending on the group some even got to talk about more than one. Each included some “what I liked most about this book” statements.

What I especially liked about this overall class activity was that something that is often held in disdain, cyber books with quizzes, was used in a way that got students interested in reading. That’s the kind of thing that can happen when one empowers teachers. Another thing is that in the process of learning some very basic retell techniques, students got the chance to get other students excited about the books they were reading. The goal of reigniting interest was more than reached.

Next time I’m going to talk about some of the first-graders in my after-school program and how they can and do talk big around little books. I’m certain that some of my direct instruction only colleagues will be all over what I said here this week. What a total waste of time they might say. Really? That is why next week I’ll also be telling you the story of a first-grade teacher who was at first accused of doing things that were a total waste of time. She was so successful with some of her constructivist activities that she became the teacher of the year for her state. Her students outperformed students doing things in a more traditional fashion. All this is based on what my good friend Tim Rasinski had to say last year around the whole issue of prosody and reading like a storyteller. More about that next week. In the meantime, Happy Reading and Writing.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the reading coach)


Copyright 2019 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.

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