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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Struggling Readers and Informational Text

We were lucky beyond measure to host a workshop with reading specialist and SKC professor Tammy Elser in June. It had an unwieldy title, "Struggling Readers and Content Area Textbooks: Making Montana: Stories of the Land Accessible to All," but many of the strategies Tammy featured were quick and easy to implement. In fact, several of our resources now incorporate them.

Tammy introduced us to "Takeaway" bookmarks--a tool for teaching students how to summarize (she said that the idea was inspired by SKC graduate Taylor Crawford). Modeled on the one Tammy created for Chapter 8 of Montana: Stories of the Land, we created “Takeaway” bookmarks for every chapter--and posted them on the Educator Resources pages of the Montana: Stories of the Land Companion Website. Before starting a chapter, print and cut out these bookmarks and distribute them to your students. Ask them to use the available space on the Takeaway to summarize the GIST of what they learn from reading each subsection of the chapter. Remind them that they don’t have much room, so they’ll need to think before they write down the most important idea they want to take away from the section. 

Write Your Way In/Write Your Way Out
While Tammy featured this strategy at the workshop, her friend Julie Saylor actually introduced me to it a few years ago. Julie worked with us to design the Original Governor's Mansion footlocker and used the strategy with great success in several lessons. The strategy is extremely simple to implement. Start with a question central to the lesson (if you are using Montana: Stories of the Land, you can modify one of the "Read to Find Out" statements.)

In the first lesson of the Original Governor's Mansion footlocker, Julie provided the following prompt: What was life like for Montana children in the years 1900–1920? Describe what you might know from stories and reading and what you imagine. What did their homes look like? What did their schools look like? Where (and what) did children play? What type of clothing did they wear? Don’t stop writing for five minutes! (Tammy suggests only writing for three minutes. Do what works for your class.)

After providing the prompt, let them know that they will be thinking hard and writing for five minutes nonstop, as soon as you say, “Go!” You will be using a timer and they must keep on going, not lifting their pencils until the five minutes are up. If they are stuck for what to write next, encourage them to write, “I am thinking!” until they think of more to say. Remind them they can use their imaginations! Create a sense of urgency! For this exercise, they should not be concerned with their spelling, etc. They should just think and pour out their thoughts on paper. When the timer goes off at the end of five minutes, tell students to draw a line where they stopped.

After completing the chapter, lesson or unit, have your students "Write their way out" on the same question, using the same method of non-stop writing (only three minutes this time around.) When we classroom tested this technique in Jodi Delaney's fourth-fifth grade class, she said that students who had struggled to write a sentence proudly filled a page. 

Tea Party
Perhaps some of you already use this powerful pre-reading strategy, which "allows students to predict what they think will happen in the text as they make inferences, see casual relationships, compare and contrast, practice sequencing, and draw on their prior experiences." If not, I recommend trying it.

At the Struggling Readers workshop, Tammy gave us each an index card with a short section of text (in this case from the 1855 Hellgate Treaty, using part of a lesson created by Arlee teacher Shawn Orr). She didn't tell us anything about the text. Instead, she had us read our snippet to ourselves and write a very short summary of it (no more than 20 words--in a classroom, you might want to do this with partners). After we copied our  summary on the back of the card, we "tea partied." We walked around and shared our cards with other members of the class. We read our snippet and summary aloud to our partner (while they followed along silently). Then we listened while our partner did the same. By the end of the tea party, I'd read my part of the treaty 4 times, had mastered some difficult technical language, and had begun to put the pieces together by listening/reading other sections. We don't have any lessons that use this strategy yet, but you can bet we will soon.

I'm pleased to say that Tammy is planning on working with OPI to create an online HUB course based on the workshop she gave for us. I'll let you know when it goes live--likely sometime next spring.

Do you have a great reading strategy? Please email me: I'd love to learn about it.

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