Saturday, January 31, 2009


David Pearson and other researchers studied proficient readers to identify how they process text. They identified seven core strategies that help readers comprehend.

A strategy is a plan of action a reader can use to increase their understanding of a text. With continued practice, the strategies become skills that the reader will apply automatically and flexibly when reading.

Activating background knowledge to make connections between new and known information. Proficient readers make many connections: text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world.

Questioning the text. Proficient readers are always asking questions while they read.

Drawing inferences. Proficient readers use prior knowledge about a topic and information in the text to make predictions.

Determining importance. Proficient readers prioritize information as they read.

Creating mental images. Proficient readers create mind pictures and visualize as they read.

Monitoring and repairing understanding when meaning breaks down. Proficient readers stop and use "fix-up" strategies when they don't understand.

Synthesizing information. Proficient readers make connections, ask questions, and infer to integrate new understandings.

To learn more about teaching comprehension strategies:

Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller

Into the Book: Strategies for Learning

Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Tools

Merging Comprehension with Content Learning
PODCAST with Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis

Sunday, January 25, 2009

WRITING WORKSHOP: Planning a Unit of Study

What do you want to teach your students how to do next in writing? Persuade? Describe? Explain? As teachers of writing guided by curriculum and Grade Level Expectations, we know what to teach. The challenge comes in deciding the best way to do it.

Katie Wood Ray
has written a wonderful book called Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop that outlines a framework for designing units of study based on inquiry. The framework involves these steps:

• Gathering Texts
• Setting the Stage
• Immersion
• Close Study
• Writing Under the Influence

Katie's framework reminds us about the importance of immersing students in the genre by providing lots of opportunity for students to read mentor texts. Close study of the genre allows students to notice and identify the characteristics of the genre before they begin to write. This 'joint construction of knowledge' engages students and empowers them to tackle new writing challenges. An inquiry based unit looks very different than one that begins with a teacher explanation of the genre's characteristics and a rubric.

Try it and you will discover that students who participate in inquiry based genre studies are successful and motivated writers.

Preview Chapter 3 of Katie's book.
Read Write Think inquiry based lesson plan: Investigating Animals: Using Nonfiction for Inquiry-based Research
Thinking Through Genre: Units of Study in Reading and Writing Workshop 4-12 by Heather Lattimer

Friday, January 23, 2009

VOCABULARY: What does it mean to know a word?

By the end of 4th grade students are expected to have a variety of strategies for identifying the meaning of unfamiliar words. They should have acquired a breath of vocabulary knowledge about word meanings and understand how words are related. They should be able to identify synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms. Finally, they should be able to use context to select appropriate words when writing.

There are degrees or stages of knowing a word and these stages can be represented as points along a continuum of knowing.

Stage 1: Never saw it before.
Stage 2: Heard it, but don’t know what it means.
Stage 3: Recognize it in context as having something to do with _____.
Stage 4: Know it well.

Readers have a 5-20% chance of learning a new word from just reading it in text (Krashen). This is one reason why independent reading is such an important component of our literacy framework. But all students benefit from explicit instruction to learn new words and increase the number of partially known words on the continuum that ultimately become well known.

Begin by teaching students how to monitor on vocabulary when they read (Harmon). Metacognitive students are independent learners. They ask themselves questions:

• Do I know this word?
• Do I need to know this word to understand what I am reading?
• If I think this word is important, what do I already know about it?
• What does the word have to do with what I am reading? What is it referring to?
• How is it used in the sentence? Does it describe or show action?
• Do I see any word parts that make sense?

To find out more about effective vocabulary instruction, check out these websites:

ReadingQuest: strategies for reading, writing, organizing, discussion, and vocabulary in Social Studies (and all subjects!)

IDEA: Institute for the Development of Educational Achievement
Vocabulary in Beginning Reading

Read Write Think Lesson Plan
Using Word Storms to Explore Vocabulary and Encourage Critical Thinking

For students:

Merriman-Webster's Word Central: Build Your Own Dictionary, Daily Buzzword, Games