How Superintendents Can Help Reduce Chronic Absence

Hedy Chang is the Executive Director of Attendance Works, whose mission is to advance student success and reduce equity gaps by reducing chronic absence. She joins EDU to encourage district superintendents to sign the Superintendents Call to Action.

This fall, Attendance Works and nine national organizations are reaching out to District Superintendents and inviting them to prioritize an increasingly urgent issue: chronic absenteeism.

While many people understand the critical connection between school attendance and achievement, far too many don’t realize how quickly a child’s absences from school adds up. Surveys suggest that families want their children to succeed and recognize that regular attendance is important. But few realize how missing just a few days each month can interfere with learning and  throw a child off track academically.

Chronic absenteeism occurs when, within the academic year, a child misses 10% or more of school – as little as two days per month. Research shows that starting as early as preschool and kindergarten, students who are chronically absent struggle to read by the end of 3rd grade. By middle school, they are more likely to drop out of high school.

At least 8 million students, or more than 15% of students nationwide, are chronically absent, according to the most recent  data from the U.S. Department of Education for the 2015-16 school year.

Why do so many students miss school? The reasons are varied, and include unaddressed chronic health issues, unreliable transportation, bullying or feeling alienated by an unwelcoming school climate, or problematic school discipline practices.

Working together with community partners, district-level Superintendents can help motivate students and families to avoid unnecessary absences and overcome challenging barriers to getting to school.

This year, with the Superintendents Call to Action we are asking local Superintendents to:

  • Prioritize Attendance, by making it clear that that reducing chronic absence is a top priority, and asking their principals, teachers and school board members to make it one of theirs, as well.
  • Mobilize the Community, by involving key stakeholders in positive problem solving rather than punitive action and blame, which are not proven to be effective. Superintendents can call for engaging families through positive messaging and offering supports as soon as absences start to add up to too much lost instructional time.
  • Drive Action with Data, by using local chronic absence data to monitor and address chronic absence as soon as it becomes a problem. Local Superintendents can analyze data – by grade, school and sub-population— to find out and publicize where resources are needed the most and to set shared targets for improvement.

While everyone can help ensure students show up to class every day, the leadership role that a Superintendent plays is irreplaceable. District Superintendents are uniquely positioned to tap civic and elected leaders, businesses and libraries, health providers, housing authorities, volunteers and other partners to help develop and implement a shared plan of action that reflects local resources  and challenges.

If you’re a Superintendent, sign the Call to Action! Last year, 620 leaders  from districts large and small—located in 41 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands and Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Island—signed the Call.

Sign the Call to Action on the Superintendents page on our website.

To learn more about why reducing chronic absence is so critical, read Attendance: The New Equity Frontier, an interview with Hedy Chang.

Why Not? How to Build Innovative Community Partnerships

Dr. Jacqueline L. Sanderlin (“Dr. J”)—Executive Director of School and Community Relations, Inglewood Unified School District—will be speaking at the Principals of Literacy Institute (Nashville, TN / September 20-22, 2018) brought to you by Scholastic and National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). Register here.

In my work building partnerships for the Inglewood Unified School District in Inglewood, CA, I have worked with members of our community to create beautiful projects and inspiring experiences for the children in our schools.

It is absolutely true that this work takes a lot of hustle and creative thinking. But there is one thing I always remind people: partnerships are relationships. Every conversation I have begins with this idea in mind. I never ask, “What can you do for us?” I ask, “What can we do together?” From there, we’re able to dream big together.

Below are a few ideas to get you started in building and cultivating community relationships for your schools.  

Branding your school identity

School choice is real and the competition is stiff! How is your school standing out as a viable choice? There is a way to make your school speak when you give it voice, personality, and life. There are specific strategies that can help you learn how to make your school a landmark in your community and one that the community knows about. When they know your school, the voices multiply!

Supporting academic pathways with partners

Having a pathway is an excellent way to inspire community partners to bring access and opportunity for students. Partners need a pathway to connect to and reside in. Their ability to make your pathway come alive with job shadowing, internships, scholarships, and certifications is a possibility that will create a pipeline into the world of college and career. With a solid plan, you can bring partners into your vision for years.

Making it rain green

This is the best color rain you can have and you don’t need an umbrella! How do you make it rain green? Become a cause and draw partners who will see your school as a financial investment – not charity. Community partners are always looking for a cause because they not only want to – they have to. Come and hear why and how you can leverage this opportunity the next day.

Learn more about and register for the Principals of Literacy Institute here.

The Joy of Writing: Living as Writers Within the Workshop

Wendy Sheets is is a contributing author to Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework.

Oh, the joy of writing! Whether you’re an administrator or a teacher focused on student learning, wouldn’t you love to hear that sentiment expressed by learners in classrooms throughout your school? But what is involved in making that happen? In order to grow as writers and improve across achievement measures, students need to live as writers. Within a Writing Workshop, a writerly community may provide just the context for that to happen in classrooms in several ways.

Daily Opportunities to Write

In order to build momentum, writers need daily opportunities to work on meaningful pieces of writing. When writing is done intermittently, focus and passion for a piece is lost. Writers should ponder their stories even when they’re not in school. Within the Writers’ Workshop, they have daily opportunities to write, making the most of their writer’s notebooks as well as the pieces they take through the writing process.  

Mentors

Writers glean creative ideas from many resources: life experiences, conversations, explicit instruction, and from other texts. When writers notice quality writing that others have produced, they are able to stand on the shoulders of those mentors to try out the craft in their own pieces. The classroom library should offer many, many options for a variety of texts so that writers may develop flexibility in coming to know their mentors. This should include multiple quality examples of genres, authors, and text structures and forms. Reading mentors with a noticing eye will benefit writers tremendously!

A Toolbox of Options

Writers need to continuously add to their repertoire of options for improving their writing. A gardener doesn’t expect to reap a harvest without the right tools to do the work of gardening. Likewise, writing doesn’t show much improvement without adding new possibilities to the repertoire to strengthen the process. Daily mini-lessons provide explicit strategies for writers to extend their learning about craft and conventions. When sharing a principle about what writers do, Interactive Read Alouds that have already been enjoyed and discussed are used as mentor texts to demonstrate the author’s craft. The decisions writers make are in service of communicating a message. Therefore, when trying out new strategies, it is intended to better convey a message. Craft mini-lessons related to organization, idea development, language use, word choice, and voice will make writing better and more interesting. Mini-lessons on conventions are also shared so writers may learn to effectively express their ideas in a way others may understand. With every mini-lesson shared, writers try out the learning within their own pieces of writing, and add to their collection of tools to employ with future writing as well.

Conferring to Have Thinking Lifted

Writing conferences are ideal for coming alongside a writer – not to fix the piece, but to lift the thinking of the writer in a generative way. During this writer-to-writer conversation, writer’s development is supported by responding to needs related mostly to craft (but also conventions). A focus on one or two ideas ensures they may be tried out in meaningful ways. A teacher may confer with a writer at any point during the writing process, and this differentiated work supports each individual in a positive way to lift their thinking.

Choice

For writing to be meaningful and for writers to be invested, they must be offered as many opportunities for choice as possible. Writers have many choices to make: topics for writing, the genre that best communicates their message, the purpose and audience for which they write, the research they conduct, the structure of their piece, the details they include, the paper, illustrations, graphics, or text features they include, whether they handwrite or type, whether they publish, and how a published piece may look and be shared. Teachers have the choice to position learners as writers who have agency with the meaningful decisions they make…what a gift that all learners deserve! 

A Writerly Community

Writers flourish within a productive, writerly community. Within a community of writers, students are invested in their work and may be found sharing their pieces with one another often. While coming together in a circle for mini-lessons and share time, everyone is able to see one each other and every voice is honored. Writing is seen as important work, and children are elevated as writers who are making important decisions. Learning doesn’t simply come from the teacher; everyone contributes to the meaning-making as writing is shared and discussed. Within a writerly community, all of the above elements are included and contribute to the purposeful, respectful, constructivist learning environment where writers may grow. Oh, the joy of writing!

Learn More:

Let’s Rethink Second Grade: My Teaching and Coaching Experience with this Transitional Year by Shelly Schaub, contributing author, Responsive Literacy.

The Writer's Journey by Jenny McFerin, contributing author, Responsive Literacy.

For the Love of Guided Reading by Nikki Woodruff, contributing author, Responsive Literacy.

Interactive Read-Aloud: The Bedrock of the Literacy Block by Lisa Pinkerton, contributing author, Responsive Literacy.

Is There a Silver Bullet for Literacy? by Pat Scharer, editor of Responsive Literacy.

When One-Shot PD Isn't Working: Supporting Literacy Teachers Around Guided Reading

With more than 150,000 students, our urban school district is one of the largest in the nation. An issue that we frequently grapple with is the problem around “one-shot” professional development—the kind of PD where teachers attend one session targeted around a certain need. The problems with this type of PD had been myriad: Usually, teachers did not delve any deeper into the topic, nor did they receive ongoing support. And these sessions were also not typically embedded in their daily work. So we began to think differently about how we approached PD.

An opportunity to do so arose when the Executive Director of one of our feeder patterns asked our department how we could support the primary literacy teachers at nine elementary schools in their study of guided reading. We decided to embark upon a semester-long professional learning community (PLC) focused on guided reading. We chose Jan Richardson’s The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading as the text that would be the center of our work. I worked closely with the Academic Facilitator from that feeder pattern throughout the entire process.

Our Guided Reading PLC

First, we had each school complete an inventory of their leveled libraries and reading assessment kits. Next, campus administrators chose one teacher from each grade (K-2) to attend our monthly sessions and become trained as guided reading teacher-leaders. Some teacher-leaders were in their first year of teaching, while others were veterans, but each was chosen because he/she exemplified a growth mindset. Literacy coaches from each campus also attended the monthly sessions. It was imperative for the literacy coaches to learn alongside the teachers to increase their own capacity, to carry a consistent message to the teachers not directly involved in the PLC, and to provide additional support to all teachers implementing guided reading. Approximately 50 teachers, coaches, librarians, and administrators attended each session.

I planned each session using the outline of Jan Richardson’s book and accompanying study guide. Teachers read chapters in the book before coming to the sessions, and we began each meeting with a read aloud. These read alouds, although not a part of a guided reading lesson, served as a time to build community, a model of an effective literacy practice, and time to talk about books and literacy.

We implemented Richardson’s “Assess, Decide, Guide” framework in each session as we focused on a specific developmental level of a reader. Each time, participants listened to a recording of a student reading a leveled text, and completed a running record as they listened. The teachers then worked together to notice patterns in the student’s reading behaviors and determine next steps for reading instruction. After digging into the information in the chapters and videos from the book, teachers met in groups to discuss how guided reading was progressing in their classrooms, to share artifacts from their classrooms, or to discuss student assessment data. At the conclusion of each session, teachers set their own individual, specific implementation goals based upon the learning they had that day.

In the Classroom

Between sessions, the teachers implemented new guided reading practices in their classrooms. The teacher-leaders shared their learning with grade-level teams so that even the teachers who were not part of the PLC still benefitted. Literacy coaches frequently visited the teacher-leaders’ classrooms during guided reading to offer on-the-spot coaching support. Every few weeks, a small group of leaders (administrators, literacy coaches, the Academic Facilitator, and I) visited the classrooms of the teacher-leaders during their guided reading instruction. During these instructional rounds, we used the rubrics that accompany Jan Richardson’s book to guide our observations.  It was important that these observations were not seen as an evaluation of the teacher but as an important step in providing specific feedback that would lead to continued growth for both teachers and students. After each visit, the group shared with the building administrator any trends that we observed. Information gathered from the observations also helped determine topics for discussion at future PLC sessions. This cycle of professional development session, implementation, classroom visits, and feedback reoccurred monthly.

Quantifiable Progress

The thirty-one participating teachers were surveyed on their beliefs about guided reading during the first PLC session. All of the teachers indicated that guided reading was an important vehicle in moving students toward grade-level proficiency in reading. However, 30% of the teachers felt they were not adequately prepared to conduct guided reading. Although they felt it was important and necessary to conduct guided reading every day, only 28% of teachers reported that they did so. When teachers were given the same survey during the final session, over 90% reported that because of the PLC, they were now adequately prepared to conduct guided reading on a daily basis.

Teachers were asked what specific knowledge they had gained as result of the PLC. One teacher explained that she now knew “how to better organize my class and structure guided reading using specific activities to guide students’ understanding; meeting them at their level and challenging them.”

Another teacher mentioned that he learned how to incorporate writing into guided reading. When asked how their level of understanding of guided reading had changed since before the PLC, one teacher wrote, “This PLC addressed questions regarding guided reading, and equipped me to be successful in implementing and doing guided reading well.”

Teachers were also asked to describe how their thoughts and beliefs regarding guided reading changed throughout the PLC. One teacher stated, “I feel more confident, organized, and prepared.” Another teacher wrote, “I am confident to implement it in my classroom and enjoy it! It’s amazing to see how much they are learning and how much we can get done in 20 minutes!”

We attributed the success of this PLC to the fact that teachers were engaged in work that directly connected to their classrooms and that they were provided time during the sessions to reflect and engage in meaningful conversations about that work. This semester-long PLC approach with multiple campuses was so successful that the teacher-leaders designed an entire day of professional development on guided reading for their colleagues before school started the next school year. Additionally, this new professional learning model was so impactful that ten other feeder patterns in our district adapted it into a year-long model for more than 50 additional campuses.

 

Let’s Rethink Second Grade: My Teaching and Coaching Experience with this Transitional Year

Shelly Schaub is a contributing author to Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework.

“Students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not.” (Krashen 1993; Cunningham and Stanovich 1991; Stanovich and Cunningham 1993).

When I share this quote with educators and ask them what independent reading means in this context, they typically respond that it means that students choose the text they read and that they spend at least 20 minutes reading at a time. What is interesting to me is that teachers assume that independent reading means the time when students read outside of school. And yet we know that independent reading increases achievement in all subject areas, so I believe that we need to dedicate time to sustained, independent reading every day at school. After all, we have control of how school time is spent. We have no control of how students spend time at home. 

Early in my teaching and coaching career, I worked in schools that were organized in a traditional fashion; Kindergarten through second grades were considered primary grades and third through fifth grades were intermediate grades. In this model, primary students (K-2) rotate through a series of centers while the teacher met with small groups of students during guided reading. Often, second grade teachers reported that their students needed more time reading and writing and less time moving through centers. Many second grade students begin reading small chapter books, which require more reading time, and teachers felt that they needed more time to help their second graders process more complex texts.

Recently, I began teaching and coaching in a building that housed second through fifth grade. This model is important because the second grade teachers aligned their work more with third grade teachers rather than with K-1 teachers. The second grade teachers and I began learning more about teaching within a Reader’s Workshop model (see below) that was used in grades 3-5. We began to wonder how student achievement would be impacted if we transitioned to more sustained reading and writing about reading during Independent Literacy in second grade. We felt the pressure of Ohio’s Third Grade Guarantee, where third graders are retained if they don’t pass the state test. We also believed in the research that proves the best way to improve test scores is to engage students in large volumes of reading and writing about reading. While our ultimate goal was to teach children and provide rich, literate education, ‘the test’ was also a consideration.

Second Grade Teachers Make the Transition

The second grade teachers and I began to work together to improve students’ reading stamina and the quality of their writing about reading. Teachers moved away from busy work (such as worksheets and workbooks) and from play or work centers. Teachers worked with their class to build stamina for reading a text of their own choosing for a minimum of 20 minutes per day. Most classrooms were able to build stamina to read more than 30 minutes each day. Students engaged with a wide variety of genres and were able to read a high volume of books throughout the school year.

Students increased the amount of writing about reading drastically during this transition because they were given dedicated time during school to read independently and write about that reading. They engaged in writing letters to their teachers about their reading on a regular basis, responded to reading mini-lessons in their reader’s notebooks, applied whole-group mini-lessons to their independent reading books, and engaged in sharing of their thinking. While the students read and wrote about their reading, the teacher met with small groups of like-readers for guided reading. 


After transitioning to this model in second grade, teachers reported a high degree of satisfaction with how their students were responding to texts in both oral and written situations. When these second graders became third graders, student achievement in reading and writing that was measured by third grade achievement tests soared. Third grade teachers reported a higher degree of satisfaction with student abilities and continued to work on stamina and writing about reading using more complex texts and objectives.

I began to wonder if this sort of success was specific to the district in which I taught, or if another district with different demographics, teachers, and students would find similar results. I shared my findings with a colleague who is a District Literacy Collaborative Trainer, an expert in the field of literacy. She agreed to implement this kind of Independent Literacy transition in second grade classrooms in her district. The impact on student achievement and positive literacy experiences was astonishing and very similar to the increases noted in the school in which I taught.

Second Graders Are Ready for More

Throughout this process, I learned valuable lessons that are transferable to other second grade classrooms. Second graders:

  1. Are capable of sustaining their reading for longer and longer stretches of time if the expectation is clear and connected to real learning. 
  2. Are able to write about their own reading if they are given clear guidance about what to write about related to their thinking while reading.
  3. Enjoy choosing texts to read based on their interests because this is often the first full year where they have reading abilities allowing for a wider variety of choice if a variety of texts are provided.
  4. Begin to develop a level of literary maturity which allows them to transfer understandings from a mentor text to an independent text with clear expectations and instruction.
  5. Are becoming more capable writers and are able to write constructively about their thinking related to a text they are reading independently when strong routines and expectations are established and maintained.

Rethinking Second Grade

As teachers plan for the upcoming year, they should consider ways that they can engage second graders in reading more texts and increase the volume of writing about reading in the classroom. Here are a few ideas to help teachers get started:

  • Start with a great classroom library! Organize books by genre or topic in baskets that are easy to browse.

  • Spend some time at the beginning of the year doing short book talks about books in your library to get the kids excited about what to read. If teachers are excited about it, students will be excited as well!
  • Set a timer and challenge students to read a little longer each day! Let students pick a cozy spot in the room to read and celebrate their accomplishments. 
  • Give students a notebook and ask them to write about the book they are reading. Give them a scheduled due date to turn in their letters. Teachers respond back to them about their thinking! They will love to get a personal letter from the teacher.

  • Implement short minilessons to guide their thinking while they read. Use Interactive Read Alouds as mentor texts to teach them what their favorite authors do. Ask them to apply these ways of thinking to their own reading.

Learn More:

The Writer's Journey by Jenny McFerin, contributing author, Responsive Literacy.

For the Love of Guided Reading by Nikki Woodruff, contributing author, Responsive Literacy.

Interactive Read-Aloud: The Bedrock of the Literacy Block by Lisa Pinkerton, contributing author, Responsive Literacy.

Is There a Silver Bullet for Literacy? by Pat Scharer, editor of Responsive Literacy.

The Writer's Journey

Jenny McFerin is a contributing author to Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework.

I was cleaning out my office recently and discovered a tattered message from my daughter. It was her practice to leave notes around the house when she was younger. Today she just sends me texts, Snapchats, or Instagrams. Over time, the notes changed as her writing became more sophisticated. Early on, the notes were squiggly lines, then strings of letters. Eventually the notes evolved from her name into longer messages like I love you. To this day, I keep these messages hidden throughout my office, just as my daughter left them for me. When I find them, I am reminded of this sweet time of her childhood and also of the journey that writers take.

One message I saved was a card with hearts around the edges and two figures in the middle that resemble people with some letters. When I asked her the message she said, “Happy Birthday, Mommy, I love you!” She considered the audience, purpose, message (craft). She had to decide where to place the writing (conventions). Finally, she knew how the writing would be published…at the party (writing process).

When teachers think about supporting writers, they should consider craft (elements of the writing piece), conventions (punctuation, grammar, and spelling), and writing process (how the writer composes and constructs the text, including drafting, revising, and editing).

As I think about my daughter’s messages, even her earliest writing included craft, conventions and writing process. Of course, considering all of these elements at once can seem overwhelming because teachers must adapt each one to the needs of each individual learner. Just as one cannot expect an early walker to balance in high-heeled shoes, teachers must carefully support the writer with the level of craft, conventions, or writing process that meets her needs. 

A good place for teachers to start is by gaining an understanding the author's audience, message, and purpose. I achieve this by listening to the writer and refraining from projecting my own agenda onto the piece. This helps me further develop the other facets of writing for the young author. For example, one time I was working with a writer and as she told me about her sleepover story, I drilled her with questions that I thought would motivate her to add more to her story: Did you play games? Did you have pizza? Did you watch a movie? Was it fun? Who was there? She replied with one-word responses, and when I checked back on her writing, she had made little progress. I realized I hadn’t taken the time to know this piece of writing nor her as a writer.

So, how is this possible? In order to get to know the writing and the writer, teachers can take three actions:

  1. Understand the writer's stage of development 
  2. Learn about the piece of writing
  3. Decide what the writer needs next

Understand the writer's stage of development

Knowing where the writer falls along the developmental continuum provides insight for what the writer controls regarding craft, conventions, and writing process. Writers move along a developmental continuum: Emergent, Early, Transitional, Self-Extending. Within each stage of development, teachers need to offer different levels of instructional support. Emergent and Early writers, for example need lots of interactive writing so they are actively involved in the writing process. All writers benefit from writer’s workshop where they can exercise their writing lives with the support of a whole group mini-lesson, writing time with teacher conferencing, and whole-group sharing.

Learn about the piece of writing

Read the story and ask the writer about it; don't assume anything. As the reader, the teacher should be open to learning and engaging the writer in open dialogue about the piece. Remember my example with the one-word answers from the writer? A more effective approach would have been an open-ended conversation like: Tell me about your writing. What are you working on today? What are you trying? How can I help you with your writing today? The teacher shouldn't assume anything about the piece because she is not the author, the child is the author. The teacher is there to support and guide the writer. 

Decide what the writer needs next

Now that the teacher knows where the writer is along the developmental continuum and what the writer needs, the teacher can determine how to support the writer with craft, conventions or writing process. The value in considering all facets that the teacher will develop the writer, not just improve writing skills.

The teacher can check in on progress by asking:

  • Are there elements of writing craft where I can support the writer?
  • Where does the writer need support related to conventions?
  • How can I support the writer in the writing process?

Take joy in the journey with your writers. You will learn about their life experiences and passions. As you look beyond the symbols on the page, the real message will move you to guide the writer in the right direction.

References

Pinnell, G.S. & Fountas, I. (2017). The Continuum of Literacy Learning: Expanded Edition.

Learn More:

For the Love of Guided Reading by Nikki Woodruff, contributing author, Responsive Literacy.

Interactive Read-Aloud: The Bedrock of the Literacy Block by Lisa Pinkerton, contributing author, Responsive Literacy.

Is There a Silver Bullet for Literacy? by Pat Scharer, editor of Responsive Literacy.

The Voices We Carry

When I began teaching at one of the oldest standing schools in Springfield, MA, I inherited two seven-foot-long wooden tables whose age rivaled that of the hundred-year-old school in which they were found.

These beautiful, solid oak tables were once pristine and untouched by the years. However, time, use (and misuse) marred them — leaving a nonetheless rich testimony of the thousands of students that sat at them over the course of a century. These engraved tables tell the stories of hopeful relationships that were to last “4 ever,” folks that proclaimed existentially that they were “here,” and the occasional disheartening racial epithet decrying one group or another.

Like those tables, students may carry a lasting imprint from their experiences—both positive and negative. A couple of years ago, at the end of a typical school day, a smattering of students spilled into my room to get extra help, work on a portfolio or have a quick conversation. Aakifa,* a student whose family had left Africa in search of freedom and opportunity, wore a brightly bedazzled magenta hijab. She came in quietly and began to work on an assignment, waiting until everyone had left to approach me.

Her eyes welled with tears. Earlier in the day, a student targeted her because of her religion. He hurled painful and hateful words at her. Aakifa was called many things, but the word “terrorist” stung the most. She was angry and wounded. She expressed her love for this country and pride in her education. And she was devastated that someone could be so ignorant and cruel to say such things about her. These words were carved deeply into her mind and were carried with her as a reminder that, to some, she was not welcome.

In the absence of information, I have seen people, sometimes students, create narratives and apply them to people who seem strange to them. And yet our schools, communities and cities are so diverse.

I believe that the only way to create community and understanding is to share stories. It is through dialogue that we can experience empathy and find our shared humanity. Aakifa’s story has been carved into my mind. She is why all educators need to provide platforms for their students’ experiences, commentaries, and identities to be shared. Students spend so much of their lives in our buildings, and creating an inclusive space where all are received and acknowledged is essential. Our students need to know that their voices are welcome, worthy, and powerful.

In Southbridge, MA, we have a diverse population; this diversity is our strength. Therefore, we are building into our curriculum ways for the entire student body to express this strength. It is essential to allow each student the opportunity to find and use their voice. To begin this curricular initiative, we designed a senior capstone project, The Voices We Carry. The goal is to expose our young scholars to the work of student journalists that are writing and recording personal commentaries (first-person narratives intended to connect personal stories or experiences to bigger social, political or cultural themes going on in the world today). This provides space for our students to share their own perspectives on larger issues by telling their own stories.  The work is similar to what students are doing at New England Public Radio’s Media Lab

Through this project, students learn the tools of author’s craft and apply these tools to their own personal commentary. Once these personal commentaries are written, they will be recorded using the technology that exists in the majority of our students’ pockets: the ubiquitous smartphone. These digital files allow us to share our students’ amazing voices—not just within the school community, but the larger community of Southbridge (and beyond)—by hosting them online.

Agency is a key design element in all our literacy initiatives within Southbridge Public Schools. Empowering students to choose meaningful books or share their personal narratives fit into the vision of We Read Big. Reading about others’ experiences or sharing our own helps us to demystify the world around us and binds us through community. This platform sends the message that we value the diversity of our students and that their stories matter.

Read more from Adam: 

*Name has been changed. 

For the Love of Guided Reading

Nikki Woodruff is a contributing author to Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework.

When do I get to read with you? Is it my turn yet?

These are comments I often hear in my classroom before I start guided reading. Children love guided reading — a time when they gather in small groups (4-6 readers) to talk about books together with the teacher, who selects books carefully in order to engage children in reading a text at their instructional level.

Guided reading is also my favorite time of day! It is a time for our small group to be engaged in conversation about a text that they have all read. They have ownership over this text and are excited about talking about the book.

As a teacher, I love the challenge of choosing that just right book for my students based on engagement and readers’ strengths and needs.

I love writing a book introduction that will be supportive of my readers.

I love the joy of hearing the readers read and respond to the book through conversations together.

I love it when the kids want to shove all the books they have read in a book bag to go home and share them with their loved ones.

I love it all!

A 15–20-minute guided reading lesson provides time for the teacher to gather homogeneously grouped children and provide laser-focused instruction. But thorough preparation is key. Teachers must first gain an understanding of how children process text, which is possible by making keen observations of reading behaviors. These observations will inform the teacher’s strategy when forming groups based on their reading development, serve as the basis of an effective instruction plan, and help the teacher to teach for effective processing based on the data collected during the lesson.

Here are some important things to note related to the process of planning for and implementing a guided reading lesson:

It is important for teachers of guided reading to collect data on their readers. Teachers must know:

  • What books the children enjoy reading
  • What their interests are
  • What they do at difficulty
  • The experiences and knowledge they have
  • How they respond to text
  • How the reading sounds

Teachers then carefully choose a book based on engagement as well as the strengths and needs of the readers.

Next it is time to plan a supportive and powerful book introduction that incorporates the meaning of the text, the structure of the book or language structures and visual information (new vocabulary, high-frequency words, etc.). Teachers must set readers up to be successful on the first reading of this text by giving them a purpose for reading.

After the book introduction, teachers listen in as students read and support them with any problem-solving strategies.

After the reading of the new text, it is imperative that the teacher follow up with a conversation about the meaning of the story. In her 1991 book Becoming Literate Marie Clay defines reading as “a message-getting, problem-solving activity which increases in power and flexibility the more it is practiced” (Clay, 1991, p. 6). This is a time for readers to extend their understanding of the text through conversations with peers. Readers honor the meaning of the text through a conversation about the story, and create a culture of conversations books and reading.

After the discussion of the text, teachers teach for processing based on the needs of the readers. This is a time for teachers to use the evidence gathered during the reading and comprehension conversation to teach based on the individual needs of each reader in the group. Ideally, readers will be able to then apply this knowledge to the reading of a new text.

At the end of the lesson, teachers should engage students in word work. This is a time to provide instruction around visually processing the text, not teaching at the word level.

Finally, teachers should consider asking students to write about reading. This extension of the lesson provides opportunities for children to think deeply about the meaning of the text through writing.

It is through this powerful context of guided reading that children grow as readers. Guided reading is a time when teachers carefully plan and teach intentionally, based on readers’ needs, so that students can apply these newly learn strategies in their independent reading. It is a time for children to develop a love of reading!

References:

Clay, M. (1991). Becoming literate: The construction of inner control. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Learn More:

Interactive Read-Aloud: The Bedrock of the Literacy Block by Lisa Pinkerton, contributing author, Responsive Literacy.

Is There a Silver Bullet for Literacy? by Pat Scharer, editor of Responsive Literacy.

Empower Tomorrow’s Leaders Today

Fourth grader Mia Gomez greeted me with a warm, proud smile before Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s State of the City address in January. The Mayor was recognizing Mia and her brother Maximo as shining examples of the impact of a summer program they had completed, which blended academics with enrichment and social-emotional learning (SEL).

It was an evening her parents could not have imagined a year earlier.

Mia’s parents told me she used to struggle with math and found reading to be painfully difficult. As a young student, her lack of confidence and ability to articulate challenges were becoming more evident, and the effort she put forth each day in school lessened. They say this changed, however, after Mia enrolled in BELL Summer. 

“My Mia now stands up in front of the class and speaks with control and more confidence,” Mia’s mom, Katiria Gomez Morales told me that special night. “Reading is one of her priorities now. She learned how to make it interesting and has fun picking the right books that fit her interest.”

Teachers like Julie Latessa have witnessed Mia’s transformation from a struggling student to a thriving scholar. “Mia blossomed during the summer. She went from a shy, quiet student to a scholar who is strong, confident, and determined,” Latessa said. “I give great credit to Mia’s incredible theatre arts teacher, Magnolia Perez. She helped develop Mia’s self-confidence by creating a safe place for students where every member of the learning community is valued and respected.”

What’s even better is that Mia’s newfound love for math is translating into higher test scores, and improved homework and class work during the school year. Mia’s story is one of countless that shows the power of SEL and how it’s inextricably connected with academic achievement.  

SEL –The Key to Building Educated Leaders for Life

SEL fosters the attitudes and skills needed to be a successful learner. CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, defines SEL as the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

The BELL SEL Approach 

At BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), a national nonprofit, we have seen countless participating students, known as scholars, blossom like Mia did last summer. To create the leaders of tomorrow, we must equip students with a holistic blend of skills much earlier in the education continuum, as early as pre-K.

SEL skills increase students’ capacity to learn academic subjects. Scholars need to learn more than facts in order to do well in school. SEL helps students communicate more effectively with their teachers, and to collaborate with their peers to help them acquire and retain the information. Scholars experience success, gain self-confidence, and become more prepared to succeed in school, and in life. 

When scholars develop their SEL competencies, we also see higher attendance rates as they are more motivated to learn and are committed to school. SEL helps students develop the will to keep trying when they do not understand a concept right away, instead of assuming they just are not good at that subject. SEL makes school something they look forward to each day instead of something to endure or avoid. 

Schools that incorporate social-emotional learning also tend to have fewer disciplinary incidents. Students become less likely to act out in class or get suspended when they have a strong grounding in SEL strategies. They develop self-awareness that helps them understand their emotions and use strategies to control themselves when facing stress or frustration. 

This approach yields positive results year after year. In 2017:

  • BELL Summer scholars gained 2 months of reading skills and 3 months of math skills.
  • Ninety-four percent of educators and 91% of parents reported that scholars have more confidence in themselves.
  • Ninety-one percent of teachers reported that scholars exhibited a growth mindset.
  • Eighty-eight percent of parents reported that their child had a more positive attitude about school.

As you design and develop afterschool and summer learning programs, consider infusing a strong SEL component. You, too, may find that it will build your students’ self-confidence, determination, and social skills. They will be well on their way to becoming better students and peers, and will be empowered with knowing that their brains and talent are just the starting point. 

SEL can transform lives, just like I saw it change the lives of Mia Gomez and her family.

Interactive Read-Aloud: The Bedrock of the Literacy Block

Lisa Pinkerton is a contributing author to Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework.

My favorite literacy practice is Interactive Read-Aloud (IRA), which I view as the foundation of any literacy block. IRA is a daily instructional practice that takes only 15-20 minutes and complements any literacy curriculum or program. Teachers who wish to foster book joy and promote strategic thinking need look no further than this highly engaging and responsive artform. 

General Setting and Structure

Sitting together on the floor near the teacher, students listen to the teacher read aloud, most often from a picture book. She uses her voice, gestures, and expressions to bring the story alive through her genuine love of the book. Stopping at two or three places, the teacher invites students to engage in deep thinking and conversation. These stopping points are planned and purposeful; they provide students with the opportunity to build conversation and share their thinking about the text. Questions such as What are you thinking? What are you wondering? and What are you noticing? invite students to think broadly and deeply. It is most beneficial if students can sit in a circle. When students can see each other’s faces, they are able to respond to each other in a more authentic manner.

Benefits of Interactive Read Aloud

Because the teacher reads the book aloud, students are freed to think inferentially and analytically about the text, which fosters deep meaning-making. IRA creates a collaborative literacy environment, one in which students are actively engaged in constructing meaning together with their peers. IRA also helps to promote a shared language for talking about texts as well as responding to the thinking of others. Thus, the literacy community supports each individual in creating a deeper understanding of the text than they could create on their own. Whole-group IRA experiences build students’ ability to think and talk critically about texts during other reading contexts, such as guided reading and independent reading.

The aim of Interactive Read-Aloud is to engage readers in the creation of a shared reading experience, one that fosters relationships between students, books, and teachers. Walking in the shoes of characters with experiences unlike their own can help to expand students’ understandings of what it means to be human, building empathy for others. Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at The Ohio State University, created a powerful metaphor that helps guide how teachers might think about the selection of texts to read aloud. Bishop conceives of books as windows and mirrors: window books give readers access to lives and experiences different from their own; mirror books allow readers to see themselves reflected in the books they read. Teachers have a responsibility to ensure that all students have access to both window and mirror books in their classroom reading experiences. IRA has the power and potential to give students access to books that both validate their own lived experiences and expose them to experiences outside their own.

Book Joy

When a teacher shares a book that she loves with her students, she nurtures book joy, providing opportunities for students to grow a love of books and reading. My students, from preschool to college age, have felt that same read-aloud joy. Interactive Read-Aloud brings the magic of stories alive in vibrant classroom communities. The benefits from this highly supportive classroom practice, one that takes just 15–20 minutes a day, are exponential. 

Learn More: Read Is There a Silver Bullet for Literacy? by Pat Scharer, editor of Responsive Literacy.

Pages

Subscribe to edu@scholastic RSS