Medium 9781936764372

From Tired to Inspired: Fresh Strategies to Engage Students in Literacy

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Discover research-based tips and strategies to improve literacy from upper elementary to secondary school classrooms. Teachers, preteachers, and teacher preparation institutions will find this an invaluable resource for helping students master assignments in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, as encouraged by the Common Core State Standards. Topics include teaching close reading and writing, engaging students, making literacy instruction meaningful, and more.

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10 Chapters

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Chapter One Close Reading and Close Writing

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Close reading entails a critical analysis and examination of any content, whether it is print, film, music, painting, math, design, nonfiction or fiction, speeches, plays, and so on. Close reading is slow reading. It is reading that ratchets up attention to detail. In this chapter, we look at how teachers can foster a sensitivity to detail and word choice in order to promote more attentive thinking habits. We also look at using visualization as an effective comprehension tool when attempting to decode complex material.

Close reading is essentially a more text-centered method of moving students to deeper comprehension. Often, it entails multiple passes over the text with a different purpose guiding each reading. Students might read the material the first time for the main idea and overall meaning. The teacher’s questions and consequent activities will reflect this purpose. The next reading might revolve around what choices the author has made regarding, for example, point of view or tone, and require students to analyze the implications of those choices. The third reading might then move to how this text relates to other texts or to the reader’s life, values, and experiences. The product of this reading would be close writing—a critical analysis using a compare and contrast structure. This close writing moves in tandem with the purposes set by the teacher for each consequent reading. Here the connection between reading, writing, and thinking is most authentic. Both close reading and close writing are the doorways to building students’ capacity for sustained rigorous practice and robust comprehension.

 

Chapter Two The Core of Literacy

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All communication is basically storytelling—we tell our story; we listen to yours; we compare ours to yours; we shape our thinking according to our internal story frames; we write from the baseline of our story and read what you write from that baseline. Our stories are our personal interpretations of reality. By sharing them with others, we begin to blend our perspective with that of others and more easily arrive at a richer understanding. It is this storytelling function, propelled by our various perspectives that forms the core of literacy.

A synonym for story is narrative, derived from the Latin verb narrare (to recount). As a constructive format—a work of speech, writing, song, film, television, video game, photography, or theater—a story recounts a sequence of nonfictional or fictional events. It is also considered the foundation of our thought-patterning mechanism and is woven throughout all our efforts at developing and mastering literacy. Story provides a framework for linking action and consequence, which gives us the ability to infer the intentions of others (Bruner, 1986).

 

Chapter Three Reteaching Strategies

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Basically, reteaching is simply teaching again—this seems self-evident. It’s not the definition that needs clarifying, though; it’s the reasons, the ways, and the timing of reteaching that need to be addressed. This chapter is grounded in the notion that it is necessary to shift away from the traditional view that reteaching is needed primarily for those students who don’t fully understand or have failed to learn. Reteaching of major concepts and skills is needed for all students—even those who seem to have mastered the material on the first round of introduction. As Daniel Willingham (2006) writes, “Our brains retain information better when we spread learning over a longer period of time, say months or even a year, versus cramming it into a few days or weeks” (p. 50).

“But I taught you that!” “You knew how to do that problem two weeks ago—what happened?” “How can you say you don’t remember this? You got a hundred percent on this just recently!” “I know your teacher taught you that last year; do I have to teach it all over again?” Statements like these are often heard from frustrated teachers who don’t know what went wrong. Students who seemingly understood material as it was presented and practiced suddenly have no idea how to transfer the skill or recollect the content. This frustration is now more painful, since teachers are being rated and judged over how well their charges can perform on standardized tests. If their students do poorly, it becomes an accusation that the teacher hasn’t been doing his or her job. Yet, the teacher is certain the material was taught, the curriculum was followed, and the students seemed to grasp it at the time.

 

Chapter Four Cognitive Conversations

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To improve student literacy, we need a better quality of “talk” in the classroom—a change in who is doing the talking and how it is structured. We need to move away from simple interrogations, examine our questions, and urge thoughtful student questions and answers. An examination of what is said in the classroom by all participants moves us away from simply focusing on assignments and activities to grappling with the true complexity of the act of teaching.

Questions, as we shall see in this chapter, belong to the student as well as the teacher. By shifting the opportunity and responsibility to pose questions to the student, we change the dynamics of the entire learning experience. Asking a question not only exposes a student’s thinking processes but allows that student to open up to the ideas and opinions of others (Rosenshine, Meister, & Chapman, 1996). Talking in class, a punishable offense for as long as there have been classrooms full of students, is now being examined in an entirely new light. As conversation, elaboration, summary, repetition of content, and response to others’ ideas and thoughts, talking is now considered a high-quality opportunity for deeper learning and understanding. Talking is also intimately integrated with questioning (Fisher, Frey, & Rothenberg, 2008).

 

Chapter Five Using Novelty for Reluctant Learners

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To be successful in our efforts at bringing all students to a state of literacy competency that will serve them in our complex world, we teachers need to have more than “book knowledge”; we need to have a full palette of pedagogical methods geared toward attracting and sustaining student interest. The research substantiates the relationship between a teacher’s intuitive judgment in delivering material and the acquisition and mastery of literacy—especially in the case of reluctant learners.

This chapter consists of a wide variety of common classroom activities, content, and interchanges that can be transformed by the manifestation of creative and novel methods practiced in order to promote and facilitate literacy acquisition. Novelty implies something is new, unusual, original, something with a sense of freshness and curiosity about it. For students who feel chronically bored in a school routine that offers no surprise or interest, inserting a wide and consistent dose of novelty to the delivery of curriculum is a necessary element of good teaching.

 

Chapter Six Creative and Critical Thinking Approaches to Literacy

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There is an urgent necessity to develop problem-solving skills in our students using both creative, or divergent, and critical, or convergent, techniques when responding to or manipulating written or spoken materials. The pressure to develop such skills is changing the way we teach and the way we move toward understanding how students learn. Here we will take a closer look at these higher-order thinking skills and see how they relate to our customary assignments and expectations for student products. Many teachers are surprised when confronted with examples of what rigorous, higher-order thinking assignments actually look like in the classroom and are eager for methods to systematically strengthen both creative and critical thinking abilities in our students.

Creative thinking can be defined as a process of exploring multiple avenues of actions or thoughts. It is often described as “divergent” or “lateral” thinking. Edward de Bono (1967) is considered a renowned expert in the field of creativity and a staunch proponent of the deliberate teaching of thinking as a subject in school. He coined the phrase “lateral thinking” in his book The Use of Lateral Thinking, which urges thinkers to give more attention to many possibilities and approaches to an issue instead of following a single one. From Rudolf Flesch (1955), writing consultant and author of Why Johnny Can’t Read—And What You Can Do About It, we get the sage viewpoint that the essence of creative thinking resides in the understanding that just doing things one way because that’s the way they’ve always been done isn’t such a great idea. This viewpoint touches on the role of creative thought in the act of questioning—a main focus of this chapter. Creative thinking is, most importantly, a special form of problem solving in which the solution is independently created rather than learned with assistance.

 

Chapter Seven Outrageous Teaching

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This chapter’s title has its roots in the work of Stanley Pogrow (2009), professor of educational leadership at San Francisco State University and author of the book Teaching Content Outrageously. Pogrow states, “The Outrageous Teaching approach is designed to teach conventional content objectives more effectively and quickly than traditional approaches. It is the fusion of art, creativity, imagination, and emotion—and pragmatics” (p. viii). He has systematized what many good teachers have intuitively done to engage students and cement material and skills into instruction during their careers. This book validates and confirms the efficacy of strategies I have employed for years.

Pogrow (2009) explains that, in an outrageous lesson, the teacher uses the following elements:

• Surprise

• Characters

• Disguises, both costume and voice

• A setting that incorporates as many media and senses as appropriate

• A storyline or scenario with a dilemma, fantasy, and humor

 

Chapter Eight Mixing Complexity and Integration Into Planning

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In this chapter, we discuss the complex weaving together of standards, application, and engaging strategies as a teacher plans a block of lessons. We address the need for spacious quantities of reading and writing experiences to flow through everything we do as instructors and show how it can be done. Here we present the dance of the classroom, where the teacher is the choreographer, not the prima ballerina—where pacing, momentum, and the layering of themes combine to produce teaching as both science and art, beautifully intertwined. One of the most often-voiced complaints from students is that the content and curriculum are not interesting or meaningful. This chapter takes on that complaint and offers suggestions on how to counteract it by looking at teaching as the mix of both science and art.

When we talk about material to teach, we are referring to the content—the concepts, ideas, written selections, and information. This content can be found in textbooks, supplementary materials, and all other forms of media, including the Internet, art, music, and so on. Skills, on the other hand, are the proficiencies we target, the technical actions and strategies students need to own and access to address tasks. When we talk about strategies and activities, we are referring to the way the content is packaged, delivered, and moved from the pages of curriculum guides to the interaction between students and teacher. The teacher chooses much of what determines this interaction. In this chapter, we discuss how important these choices are for piquing student interest and ensuring achievement.

 

Chapter Nine Standards and Assessments Fostering Literacy Growth

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Everyone interested in literacy development recognizes the need to develop a balanced attitude between the assessments under the teacher’s control and those that aren’t. Spending the entire year trying to prepare students for that once-a-year test at the end in the spring with “test prep” regimes is not productive pedagogy. Teachers need to assume a more courageous stance against the paralyzing effects of fear, which can monopolize their thinking and conversations when dealing with the topic of high-stakes testing. We have seen testing become overemphasized and obsessed over by students, teachers, and administrators alike to the detriment of providing for our students a rich, deep program filled with a variety of experiences. This chapter is an attempt to provide a little more balance to the discussion of the role assessment plays in dictating our use of time, energy, and instruction, as well as to examine a more than superficial relationship between standards and their authentic assessments.

 

Reproducibles

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How Authors Pick Their Words

After reading this passage aloud, ask students to highlight the words that mean hit and move and write them in the boxed areas.

My beast had an advantage in his first hold, having sunk his mighty fangs far into the breast of his adversary; but the great arms and paws of the ape . . . had locked the throat of my guardian and slowly were choking out his life, and bending back his head and neck upon his body. . . . In accomplishing this the ape was tearing away the entire front of its breast, which was held in the vise-like grip of the powerful jaws. . . . Presently I saw the great eyes of my beast bulging completely from their sockets and blood flowing from its nostrils . . . Suddenly I came to myself and, with that strange instinct which seems ever to prompt me to my duty, I seized the cudgel, which had fallen to the floor at the commencement of the battle, and swinging it with all the power of my earthly arms I crashed it full upon the head of the ape, crushing his skull as though it had been an eggshell.

 

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