Tuesday, July 31, 2012

MCCSC Literacy Summit - Day 2

Today was an interesting day for me.  I have been using Evernote as a way to 'capture' websites, articles, voice recordings, notes, and Tweets for about a year.  So today I decided to take all of my notes using Evernote.  I even incorporated a few Tweets from other people.  Evernote is a great platform for bringing all of the notes, ideas, and Tweets together into one place.  Instead of writing in paragraphs I copied and pasted my notes, followed by a few tweets from the #litsummit hashtag.  I appreciate any feedback you want to share.

Presenter: Ellin Keene
Author of New Horizons in Literacy Teaching and Learning

Three Questions to Guide our Inquiry Today
- What is characteristic of the most effective comprehension teachers?
- What does it mean to understand deeply? How can we raise expectations for children's literacy learning by rethinking comprehension?
- What does the new generation of comprehension strategy instruction look like?

As teachers, we wonder what went wrong, after students miss something on a test. "I know that student knew that." So how do we truly know our students have deep understanding of a concept?

The most effective teachers…
- understand that people learn (retain and reapply) best when they:
   - focus on a few concepts
   - of great importance
   - taught in depth
   - over a long period of time
   - applying them in a variety of texts
If any of those concepts are not present, comprehension is diminished to some degree

People who deeply comprehend retain and reapply across a variety of texts.

The most effective teachers…
- raise expectations for children's literacy learning by
   - having a clear idea what high expectations "look like" in a literacy classroom
   - understanding that children need to read increasingly complex texts with substantive ideas
   - probing children's thinking rather than accepting the first thing they say

Has your district, school, staff, grade-level team discussed what exactly the 'high expectations' look like?
- I believe MCCSC is on the right path, jumping out ahead of many districts in this area.

When a teacher asks questions to students and there is a doubt about comprehension, ask "What else?"  Even after the student's first answer.  Asking 'What else?' gets beyond the basic recall and digs into deeper understanding.

What does it mean to understand deeply? How do we raise expectations?
- If a student asked this question, "What does 'make sense' mean?" how would you answer?
- Too often, we think of comprehension as:
   - answering questions
   - retelling
   - teaching comprehension strategies

Asking students about text (recall and retell) are not comprehension strategies…that's called testing.

- What does it mean for you to understand deeply?
- What do you need in order to understand deeply?
- What are the indicators that you do understand deeply?
As educators, if we don't know the answer to these questions, our students will not gain deep understanding to their fullest potential.

Comprehension strategies are tools we use in all genres in order to understand more deeply
Proficient readers:
- monitor for meaning
- ask questions
- use schema
- infer
- create sensory and emotional images
- determine importance
- synthesize while reading

Take time to explicitly teach comprehension strategies to students.  Treat them as if they are 'Power Standards' and every student needs to learn them before moving on to the next level.  Pace them out over the course of the year and really go in depth with each one.

Here is a quote from a 3rd grader about empathy:
- Empathy - a belief that the reader is actually a part of the setting, knows the characters, stands alongside them in their trials, brings something of himself to the events and resolution---emotions are aroused

When I taught 3rd grade I'm not sure I would've had a student be able to offer that kind of insight.  Well, maybe they could but I certainly never got to that point in my professional career where I was seeking that kind of insight.  I feel like I should find every student I had and apologize for holding them back.

We choose to challenge ourselves on topics about which we are passionate.
- What are your students passionate about?  I doubt it's worksheets and standardized tests.
- Do you seek out texts and topics that your students are passionate about or do you pick one book and everyone reads it?

As adult readers we struggle for insight, we savor and learn from the struggle itself, we take ventures into new learning territory and fight the debilitating influence of judgment.

The evolution of comprehension "instruction"…
- from answering questions and retelling to…
- explicit instruction in comprehension strategies
The goal for our students is deeper, more lasting comprehension by responding to a passage to becoming an active strategic reader

You can't get better at synthesizing text until you know how to synthesize as you read.

Students who are struggling readers hang on for dear life to the first thing they understand in a text, right or wrong.

Modeling and thinking aloud is crucial for developing students into readers who comprehend in a meaningful way.

The afternoon session was kicked off with actual students coming in to help the presenter demonstrate the strategies which were discussed in the morning session. I thought that was the best part of the PD session.  Most of the time teachers sit and listen to a presenter talk about all of the methods and strategies that can be implemented in the classroom.  If we're lucky, the presenter allows us to practice on each other, but really, how meaningful is it to practice some of those strategies with adults who already know how to read and just listened to the presenter instruct us how to use the strategy?  That's like an audience learning a magic trick together and then the magician turns and says, "Ok, now you try it on each other."

I was amazed as Mrs. Keene used high level vocabulary words with the students: strategies, synthesize, metacognition, just to name a few.  The students picked up on it quickly with a few mini-lessons about the word and then they were using the words...and using them correctly!  Go ahead.  Correctly use metacognition in a sentence.  I'll wait.......

Mrs. Keene was really placing emphasis on modeling and thinking aloud.  Every time she turned the page during the read aloud, she would talk the students through her thinking process.  When it was the students' turn, they were able to speak intelligently about a text they had just heard.  The process was powerful.

The teacher, Mrs. Keene, was congratulating students for their thinking.  That was GREAT!  How often do you thank your students for taking time to think?  Most of the time a teacher asks a question, waits for a response, and then moves on to another student if the first student doesn't come up with a quick answer.  What is that teaching the reluctant student?  If you can out-wait the teacher he/she will move on to someone else.  What does that do for the average to above average student?  They know that they better spit out an answer before their window of opportunity is closed.  They say the first thing that comes to mind without really thinking about their answer.  Deep understanding? Probably not.

She kept referring back to times when the other students stopped to think before answering.  "Take your time, sweetie." Then, to the other students she would say, "Remember when Katie stopped to think?  That was really smart. Good readers usually stop to think about their answer before they say it."
The following scenario came up several times during the demonstration.  How often do you call on a student and he/she says, "I don't know."  What do you do?  Move on to the next student? This is her strategy:
Student: "I don't know."
Teacher: "I know you don't know, but what would you think if you did know?"
Student: "I don't know."
Teacher: "Yes, but you said you didn't know last time but you did know.  So, what else do you think?"
The teacher is not allowing the student to get out of answering the question yet being sure to not embarrass the student.
Don't let your students get by with saying nothing.

Students shouldn't be worrying about comprehension strategies. Teachers need to guide them through the strategies without having students know they are being guided.

Here's what others tweeted today. Hopefully, Jake and I won't wear the same outfit tomorrow!

Jake Steinmetz @JakeJSteinmetz
- Great literacy teachers have a very clear sense of how to raise expectations in the classroom. #litsummit
- We have to say "what else?" to our students. They have much more to offer in their thinking. Don't accept their first answer. #litsummit

Patrick Haney @phaney10
- Ellin Keene- Deep learning = ability to retain and reapply concepts. Must narrow focus & teach concepts in depth across a variety of texts.
Comprehension strategies are not "an end", but a means to an end- empathy, compassion, a deep, personal reading experience. #litsummit
Grt strategy during lit instruction: "Take your time, Emily" to the other students
-"Don't you admire people who take their time?" #waittime #litsummit
Silent picture walk at the end of guided reading: "Think about how your thinking changed during the story." Really smart!! #litsummit

Kathryn Phillips @MissPhillips3
- Comprehend: focus on fewer concepts of great import taught in depth over a long period of time applying them in variety of text #litsummit
Show kids four challenging books for them and let them choose.  Keep choice but push students to grow. #litsummit
We need literature that challenges students at the idea level. -Ellin Keene #litsummit
When students don't respond quickly to questions: That is so smart that you are taking your time to think. I really admire that. #litsummit

Instead of asking "anybody else?" when students answer a question, try to use "what else?" "If you did know, what would you say?" #litsummit
Oxymoron of the day: a teacher's guide for a guided reading group... #litsummit #neverthoughtaboutitlikethat
Asking questions about text has never helped a student to get better at comprehension.  It's testing #litsummit
A question to get students synthesizing: what were you thinking before, and what are you thinking now? #litsummit

Lily Albright @lilyalbright
@eok824 We have to tackle the hidden bits of us that still believe children in poverty can't do it. They can! #litsummit
@eok824 Asking questions about texts is not good comprehension instruction-questions assess-they do not teach kids to get better #litsummit
@eok824 - empathy is the pinnacle of understanding. #litsummit

Karen Papadopoulos @wakarusa1
Empathy is an indicator of understanding deeply. #litsummit
- Modeling and "thinking aloud" are critical in order for students to apply reading comprehension strategies. #litsummit
Teacher,"Why do you think you thought so differently while reading this book?" Student, "Because you really have to BOND with the book" #litsummit

Melissa Brisco @mgbrisco
Let's tell kids what it is that characterizes deep understanding.... Why do we keep it a secret. #litsummit

Beth Buchholz @bethabuchholz
Wish we could find a way to make this twitter convo about #litsummit (& others) more “generative” rather than individual bits of insight.
@JohnHudson42 @JakeJSteinmetz It HAS been great! Just wondering aloud about how we can push ourselves to think deeply together #litsummit

This post is somewhat unique because it is simply my notes along with some tweets from the day. I'm looking forward to the teachers taking these strategies and implementing them into their teaching.

MCCSC Literacy Summit - Day 2 was another day of growing professionally.  I'm thrilled to be working in a district that's out front and leading the way!  The first two days have been amazing and we cap it off tomorrow with Dr. Mike Schmoker and Dr. Richard Allington.  The line up for the first annual MCCSC Literacy Summit has not disappointed!


  1. I like what you did here. Much of the literacy stuff could easily apply to understand math, too.

    Teach me how to use evernote sometime, ok? OK.

  2. Mike,

    I agree. Almost everything we discussed today could be used for any subject. I'd like to see how you take this and run with it. And Evernote is an easy-to-use platform. Let me know when you want to stop by.