"All kids have prior knowledge. The question is, does it match what they are learning in school?"
This was just one of many memorable quotes participants jotted down as Nell K. Duke spoke to principals during their January conference at Teachers College. Duke is a professor of literacy, language, and culture at the University of Michigan. She is also the author of numerous articles and books on early literacy development, reading comprehension instruction, and informational reading and writing in the primary grades. Her research often focuses on children living in poverty and issues of equity in literacy instruction. Passionate about children and about research, Duke shared many insights about what is truly important when it comes to developing children's reading and comprehension skills.
Duke began by sharing her experiences and discoveries while being a part of the panel of researchers for the What Works Clearinghouse practice guide on "Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade" (http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/PracticeGuide.aspx?sid=14) The panel outlined five recommendations for what is most important to teach young children. While these suggestions were not surprising, the list reinforced what we all strive to do across our schools, including:
Duke identified motivation and discussion as areas that compel further research, however anecdotal evidence strongly supports the importance of these key factors in strengthening reading ability in young children. What motivates kids to read? Purpose and choice. Kids need to have real reasons to read and choices of texts to read, but above all, they need to feel successful. There is also a positive relationship between a cooperative collaborative approach and literacy development.
Nell Duke gave some tips for bringing these suggestions into the classroom. For example, teach text structure early on by getting kids to think, "How does this author organize this text or this part?" With narrative structure, it is better to teach story elements: characters (and their thoughts, feelings, actions), setting, problem, and solution, than it is to teach "beginning, middle, end" sequence. After all, personality traits are what we want readers to attend to more than physical characteristics. Interactive read-aloud is another essential component of the primary classroom that increases comprehension, especially when higher-order questions and explanations are utilized. The quality of the questions and the active participation of the students affects positively on how kids comprehend and process texts. In addition, elaborating on children's comments helps develop vocabulary and oral language. In fact, according to Nell Duke, deliberate and systematic vocabulary instruction is the single greatest tool you can use to build comprehension, especially when words are talked about, acted out, used in book discussions, and used throughout the day and week (Scanlon, Anderson, & Sweeney, 2010, drawing on Beck, et al, 2002).
Finally, "a kid is not a level" summarized Nell Duke's thinking about the human side of teaching reading. If a child is interested in a topic he or she will read at a higher level and understand even better than a more proficient reader with little interest in the same topic. In one study, a group of readers were sorted by reading ability and then, interest in baseball (Jiménez and Duke 2011). They were then given books to read about baseball. The "poor readers" were better readers of these texts than the "good readers" even when the texts were considered too hard for the lower readers. She cautioned that if we want to push kids as far as they can go, we need to help them find texts of interest and to integrate literacy into the sciences and other areas that can spark curiosity and passion in our young readers, while also building conceptual and content knowledge. Research also shows that teachers make more difference than programs; so take heart, you can make all the difference when it comes to developing lifelong readers.
To read further articles and chapters by Nell Duke on the topic of reading comprehension and instruction you can access this link: http://sitemaker.umich.edu/nkduke/articles_and_book_chapters
This five-day institute is designed for American history teachers who have experience leading reading and writing workshops and want to do pioneer work in developing literacy-rich history curriculum. Participants will study early American history “on location” in Williamsburg, the restored capital city of 18th-century Virginia, while also thinking together about the intersection of best literacy practices and state of the art history instruction.
On March 22, 2014 teachers from near and far gathered at Teachers College for the 86th TCRWP Saturday Reunion. The day began with three different keynote speakers. Shanna Schwartz, lead staff developer for the TCRWP, showed primary teachers the power of picture books and the ways that the same books could be used and reused to teach a variety of minilessons. Colleen Cruz, lead staff developer for the TCRWP, taught about the power of popular culture and provided teachers with ideas for how popular culture could be used to teach the most challenging work we tackle with students. Diane Ravitch, esteemed historian of education, gave the keynote address in Riverside Church. Frequently referring to her latest book, Reign of Error, Ravitch spoke about the need to fight for public education, against the misuse of standardized testing, and for appropriate interpretation and use of the Common Core State Standards. Throughout these keynotes, many listeners Tweeted highlights, allowing followers to track key points made by other speakers.
Following these keynote speeches, teachers moved across the college for the next four hours, choosing workshops given by Lucy Calkins, Carl Anderson, Kathy Collins, Stephanie Harvey, Mary Ehrenworth, Amanda Hartman, Laurie Pessah, Kathleen Tolan, all TCRWP staff developers, and many classroom teachers. The topics of these workshops ranged from word study for primary children to teaching students about interpretation and craft while reading and writing poetry, from shared reading to RTI, from supporting ELLs to nonfiction reading and research. In all, more than 145 workshops were offered and attended. The day ended with an uplifting and humorous closing by Kathy Collins.
Throughout the day, Twitter provided attendees with ways to share important notes from the speeches and workshops. For those following #TCRWP, it was an exciting way to connect and reinforce key points. These Tweets served as a way to connect the community during the day, but also to connect to TCRWP followers around the country who could not attend the reunion. Many of the attendees have also gone home and posted blog entries based on their experiences at the reunion, leading the way in continuing connections until the summer institutes begin in June. Thank you to all attendees, guest speakers, and TCRWP staff in making the day a huge success!
Each February, educators across the globe come to the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project's Institute on Content Area Literacy. Harvey Daniels opened the week with a keynote address that reminded listeners of the power and importance of writing. "Kids need to write. They need to write more than we could ever read," he advised while sharing examples of meaning-driven student writing. He also reminded participants about the importance of self-discovery in every classroom. "Inquiry is the process of turning the curriculum into questions that kids cannot resist." It was a perfect way to begin the institute.
Across the institute, participants spent time in large groups, led by Kathleen Tolan and Amanda Hartman, and in smaller groups led by TCRWP staff developers. Each day ended with a variety of choice workshops. Participants in the primary sections began to explore a variety of science topics including properties of matter and living things. Upper grade participants focused on social studies and concentrated on the civil rights movement. As participants explored these topics, they learned about methods for teaching literacy in the content areas – taking on both the teacher and learner role at different points across the week.
Subsequent keynote speakers included Kylene Beers, Ellin Keene, and Kate Roberts. During her keynote on Tuesday, Kylene Beers emphasized the importance of improving students' comprehension and communication abilities. She emphasized the importance of student conversation and rereading. On Wednesday, Ellin Keene spoke about the importance of engagement, arguing, "We can teach engagement. It's a teachable concept. It's not just inherent where some kids have it and some kids don't." Further, she reminded participants that engagement is not the same as motivation or compliance, important considerations for all teachers. At the closing keynote on Thursday, Kate Roberts reminded us of the power of childhood and also of the importance of failure. She gave us 3 important tips: 1. Believe in Magic 2. Be Careful 3. Embrace failure (and keep trying until you make it). She said, "If we want our students to stay curious we need to create explorers and not test-takers, and adventurers and not memorizers."
To learn more about teaching literacy in the Content Areas in upper grades and middles school, click here: http://readingandwritingproject.com/news/2013/10/07/content-area-studies-at-the-tcrwp.html
To learn more about teaching into science centers in the lower grades, click here: http://readingandwritingproject.com/news/2013/10/23/science-literacy-centers.html
For information about other institutes happening this summer, click here: http://readingandwritingproject.com/institutes/tc-summer-institutes
The TCRWP offers the Content Area Institute every February. To learn more about this institute and other offerings, please be sure to create an account with the TCRWP and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Braving the harsh January winds, teachers, coaches and administrators ascended upon the warm comforts of Teachers College for the 11th Annual Coaching Institute, Lifting the Level of Reading Instruction: Literacy Coaching and School Leadership. The institute opened with a keynote by Annie Taranto on high leverage coaching in reading and ended with closing remarks by Mary Ehrenworth about planning next steps as school leaders.
At the coaching institute, participants and staff developers have the great benefit of working in New York City Project schools so that staff developers can demonstrate and participants can study and practice various coaching methods and structures in classrooms with students. Participants shifted between the roles of teacher, coach, and observer. They taught whole class lessons, coached table groups, and conferred individually and in small groups. As Matthew Linder, a K-5 Literacy TOSA from Palo Alto, CA, captured what many participants have expressed in recent years, "I really appreciated being in real schools with real kids and real teachers... At the coaching institute, we learned, planned, implemented and reflected in the moment and with support from colleagues and expert staff developers."
Returning to Teachers College throughout the week, participants attended a variety of workshops to hear TCRWP's most current thinking about a wide range of literacy and coaching topics. Marjorie Martinelli spotlighted how to build useful and engaging charts to make teaching accessible, visible, and lasting. Janet Steinberg's workshop on reading data to create school-wide goals suggested ways for coaches to look across data and ways for teachers to utilize data in their own instruction. Elizabeth Franco demonstrated how individuals can come together to build conferring toolkits to foster improved small group and individual reading instruction. Emily Smith helped participants to consider the ways they may establish literacy cabinets in order to advance reading workshop practices in their home schools and districts. Participants left with notebooks and iPads chockfull of useful information and thought-provoking ideas to bring back to colleagues in their schools.
The American poet, Lucille Clifton, once stated that "It's important to nurture your image of what's possible. We can only create what we can imagine." Building a vivid, vibrant, and extensive image of what is possible for students, classrooms, teachers, coaches, and schools is a key to growing success. At the TCRWP Coaching Institute, participants see images of what is possible, practice strategies and methods designed to move schools and staff towards these images, and conjure images beyond those provided. At the end of each Coaching Institute, there are countless stories of coaches meeting at the end of the day, or on flights home, spending hours debriefing the week and creating plans to implement upon their arrival home. Just as many participants leave contemplating their week-long experience, Matthew left musing, "My experience is best summed up in an adaptation of the lyrics in For Good (from Wicked)—'I do believe I've been changed for the better. And because I went there, I have been changed for good...'"
Please note, we do offer summer institute sections aimed at the particular needs of school leaders and literacy coaches.