I recently had the pleasure of attending the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) 2016 Conference in Atlanta, GA, and it was more amazing than amazing. The wealth of literacy knowledge around me was astounding! The highlight (by far) was sitting next to Jennifer Serravallo, author of The Reading Strategies Book. She brilliantly pointed out that different literacy scholars interpret the word “strategy” differently, so she shared with us her definition, which is that a strategy is a series of actionable steps, that are generalizable, authentic, and can be carried out by the student independently, even without active teaching (Serravalo, 2016). The strategies we teach students should be transferrable to different texts, across genres and years of education. She states that we teach students strategies for navigating literacy because we are teaching “the reader, not the book … the writer, not the writing” (Serravallo, 2016). Can’t you see why she’s amazing?
I must admit that I have used the term “strategy” loosely over the years. I’ve mislabeled skills and concepts as strategies, too, have probably confused a few kids, and have definitely taught books and writing as opposed to readers and writers. Fortunately, when you know better, you do better, and now I am happy to say that I know better.
I have collected here some of my favorite strategies that I hope you’ll try with your students. Consider your kids blank slates, ready for you to teach them exactly HOW (by giving them a series of actionable steps that can transfer to any text) to become a lover and learner of literacy.
Skimming and Scanning (from The Best Instructional Strategies and Resources Compiled by: Heather Mullins, Professional Development Consultant North Carolina Department of Public Instruction)
Skimming & Scanning – PTKSE
What is it?: The first step in close reading of a text is skimming and scanning. The reader previews the text, making note of text features titles, illustrations or pictures, captions, headings, and subheadings.
Evidence to Support It: According to author Dr. Douglas Fisher, “Close Reading is a careful and purposeful re-reading of a text.” Personally, I use this strategy because it’s just good reading practice. For students who are just learning to navigate text on higher levels, it is important that it becomes second nature for them to read a text multiple times. By having them skim and scan, they are preparing their brains for processing the content. My students began to see it as an enjoyable experience because we did it so often, and they enjoyed being able to use highlighters, colored pencils, and sticky notes as a part of their skimming and scanning (previewing) step.
Below is the anchor chart my students used to outline the strategy of skimming and scanning. Notice the series of actionable steps.
Feedback Request Tool (from The Best Instructional Strategies and Resources Compiled by: Heather Mullins, Professional Development Consultant North Carolina Department of Public Instruction)
What is it?: This is a system I created for giving my students the opportunity to solicit my feedback on specific aspects of their writing. My students were able to self-evaluate their own work in order to ask for the teacher’s specific feedback regarding a concept, section, or item. The students would complete the series of actionable steps I taught about a writing skill, and then ask for specific feedback on their writing. When they were ready for my feedback, they would move the magnet with their picture next to the words Teacher Conference on the board, and I would know that they needed feedback.
Evidence to Support It?: John Hattie ranks self-assessment and feedback high in terms of the impact on student achievement, both having an effect size that yields more than one year’s growth (Visible Learning for Literacy, Hattie 2016). Personally, this was one of the most effective and impactful moves I made as an educator! My students grew to be meticulous examiners of their work and would request feedback from me that was concise, actionable (imagine that!) and specific to their goals as writers! The ownership they took over their work took their writing to higher heights, and I saw growth in writing and in writers.
Below is the writing status of the class display from my board. (Excuse the science graphs.)
Provide Models: (from Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know by Barak Rosenshine)
Anchor Charts with Actionable Steps
What is it?: The teacher provides students with models and worked examples that can help them learn to solve problems independently, not only using the actionable steps, but also seeing models done accurately. Ladies and Gentlemen, think anchor charts and Interactive Notebooks.
Evidence to Support it: “Students need cognitive support to help them learn to solve problems. The teacher modeling and thinking aloud while demonstrating how to solve a problem are examples of effective cognitive support. Worked examples (such as a math problem for which the teacher has not only provided the solution but has clearly laid out each step) are another form of modeling that has been developed by researchers” (Rosenshine, 2012). Personally, the anchor charts and Interactive Notebooks saved my teaching life last year! I was new to the grade level and having to learn content as I taught it. Creating the anchor charts of examples and actionable steps for my kids helped me learn, too! Plus, I could take pictures of them, print them 4-per-page and the kids could glue them into their Interactive Notebooks, as evidence of learning! They loved it! They were able to take their notebooks home to assist with homework or projects, and the anchor charts served as paper teachers while I was working with other students. Talk about independence!
These are just a few of my (and my students’) favorites! If you can teach transferrable actionable steps for fostering independence, you (and your students) will be all the better! Happy teaching!