Years ago I read an article by Alfie Kohn in which he claimed that teachers were ruining students' abilities to think critically. He wrote that the educators tend to prefer students who are compliant (very true) and that by demanding compliance from students, we were squashing their natural inclination to question things. While I didn't fully agree with him, it did get me questioning my own practices. Was there a way that I could encourage students to challenge authority in a respectful, appropriate way?
Out of that reflection grew my Challenge Authority Cards. While I have developed a variety of them, I particularly like these that ask students to challenge or question the text they are reading. This skill is especially important as students read information on unscreened internet sources.
I find this is a great way to engage some of the higher level thinkers in a class - or early finishers. If you keep these handy, you can use them on the spur of the moment. So, just Copy These Questions, cut them up and hand them to students who are ready for a challenge.
Infographics, the newest form of internet wallpaper, are complex representations of information. Because they seem to be popping up everywhere, students will need to be able to read and comprehend them. Yet, the characteristics and layout of infographics are varied - some more readable than others.
To help students approach these complex text forms, we printed out several types for them to explore. Each infographic was placed inside a page protector. Students used dry-erase markers to mark various elements of the info graphics. (You can do something similar with iPads and annotation apps.)
- Place a star next to the very first thing that catches your eye.
- Place a circle around the one word that best describes the topic.
- Place a square around important quantitative information
- Draw an arrow to point out the best graphic that helped you to understand the topic.
- Put a smiley face next to the data source.
- Draw an arrow showing the best pathway to follow to read all of the important information.
Students were able to realize that not all infographics read from left to right, top to bottom; not all infographics have sources listed and therefore may not be reliable; some infographics use much more effective visuals to make a point, and some have too much information! At the end of the lesson, students had to choose which infographic they are thought was the best and If you would like to use some of the infographics we used in the lesson, you can find them at this weebly site.
After more than a year in development, my Reading Comprehension Booster iPad app is now available on the App Store! Many of my regular readers have attended my workshops and seen the app in the early stages. I welcomed your input and changed the design to include your suggested features. Testing with children of various ages also improved our design to the point where I believe it will be an asset to any literacy program.
What makes my app different? I have reviewed many apps tagged as reading comprehension apps. What I found was that most of these provide students with text to read and then answer questions. It seems to me that this assesses reading comprehension but doesn’t work on the skills needed to improve reading comprehension! Reading Comprehension Booster targets the foundational elements of understanding fiction and non-fiction and engages students in interactive responses to these. The app is also fully accessible - children can respond with audio recordings, drawings, text and drag and drop.
Click here for a video overview of the app, or read below for the specific details. If you feel that it is worthwhile, I would appreciate you spreading the word for me through your contacts, blogs and other networks. I will also welcome your feedback as we work on updates. I already have ideas for adding more non-fiction features in a future release.
Boost reading comprehension with this set of interactive tools! Based on the idea of paper bookmarks, each booster encourages the child to record responses, while they are reading, based on a specific reading focus. No more wondering if your child or student was actually paying attention while s/he was reading!
Booster bookmarks were designed by an expert in the field of differentiated instruction, and are based on essential instructional elements identified in literacy, brain and learning research. Each booster has a variety of interactive options to tap into different ability levels and interests. Users can read or listen to directions, draw, type, drag or record responses, and much more. Children can choose from Characters, Connections, Story Seeds and other bookmarks, or use several simultaneously. Children can easily email their work to a parent or teacher for review and discussion.
• Interactive tools to increase reading engagement and comprehension
• Each bookmark provides cues to prompt thinking
• For beginning readers through early teens
• Allows for multiple users for classrooms sharing iPads
• A range of response options increases accessibility
• Data can be emailed to parents, teachers, RtI specialists, IEP team members
T-Charts are a common graphic organizer to assist students in thinking about the differences between two things that are related in some way. At times they are used to show examples and non-examples of one thing. Visually, they typically look like an capital or lowercase t.
For students who struggle with language, whether because they are learning English or a student with a disability, T-charts can be enhanced by using pictures in addition to the traditional words. Here is a photo of a student-generated T-chart to show the differences between narrative writing and expository essay writing. Students worked with a partner. Each pair was given a paper with either a word or a picture. Pairs came up and placed the paper in the correct column and justified their decision.
Research is clear that non-linguistic representations are very powerful. The next time you are using a graphic organizer, whether on chart paper or the computer, consider adding simple drawings, printed pictures, or photos.
‘Tis the season…to rip paper off of gifts! If that happens in your home, be sure to save as many scraps of paper as you can. Cut them into small pieces (about 4x4). Hand them out to students in the New Year and provide them with a writing prompt meant to elicit a brief response. After students have written their response, direct them to fold the paper up as if it was a gift, and exchange it with a peer.
Such a simple way to add some novelty, emphasize that sharing ideas is similar to gift giving, and reuse wrapping paper!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Recently I was asked about ideas for engaging students in cooperative reading. One that has stood the test of time is called Reading Trios. I originally learned this strategy as part of a reading comprehension workshop by Dr. Ed Gickling. It is both simple and effective, two criteria that are important to most teachers. It can also be used at any grade level or in any content area.
Begin by assigning students to trios. Generally, it is best to make these mixed-ability trios if everyone will be reading the same content.
One student takes on the role of READER. Her task is to read aloud the text (usually 1 – 3 paragraphs.)
One student takes on the role of RETELLER. His task is to retell what was read aloud to their trio.
One student takes on the role of CHECKER. Her task is to listen closely and try to catch the reteller missing something.
Engagement levels are very high during Reading Trios. Why? The READER is reading aloud, the RETELLER is paying very close attention because they don’t want to get caught missing something, and the CHECKER is engaged because they hope to catch the reteller missing something.
An additional benefit of this strategy is that it provides valuable roles for students who may not be strong at reading aloud. Often, students with reading disabilities have learned to be very good listeners.
I facilitated this strategy in three different classrooms last month and all three teachers agreed that it is an approach they will add to their reading tool kit.
Interested in seeing the strategy in action? View this excerpt from a BER video entitled Making Inclusion More Successful and see fourth graders using reading trios to explore social studies text.
On a whirlwind tour of classrooms in Smyrna, Delaware this week, I saw a teacher use a simple strategy for engaging students. The teacher had 10 paper lunch bags, one for each small group to share. Inside the bags she had placed 26 cards, each with one letter of the alphabet. The lesson objective was to identify and discuss the impact of the narrative elements in a story. Students were listening to the teacher read, and reading along in their own books. Every so often, the teacher stopped, directed the students to pull a letter out of their “letter bag,” and then make a connection between the letter and a narrative element. For example, one group pulled an “O” and discussed how the setting of the story was “outdoors.” Another group pulled an “E” and wondered what the “exciting” climax would be.
This is the type of strategy I love for 3 reasons:
1. Highly engaging – it was multi-modality and had an element of unpredictability that students immediately loved
2. Highly applicable – the same strategy could be used to encourage connections to any content discussion, as an activator, or even as a summarizing moment, K-12!
3. Low prep – such a quick thing to put together
Yesterday I had the opportunity to work with students on building skills for writing a cause/effect essay. As a thought activator, I asked students to quickly line up some Legos I provided so that I could demonstrate the domino effect. Students worked in pairs to observe what occurred, talk about it and record the types of transition words they used to describe the cause/effect experience.
Next, I provided them with graphic organizer puzzle pieces. I modeled how one might plan for a cause/effect paper, including key transition words on the bridge shapes. Because we used puzzle pieces, instead of a static piece of paper, students were able to brainstorm first and then move pieces around to cluster their ideas. As a final step, they will put them into a sequence before they write their paper.
If you would like the graphic organizer puzzle shapes, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will happily send them to you!
Recently I had the opportunity to co-teach in a class where students were learning about reading diagrams. Working in teams, they were supposed to assemble a complicated Lego toy by following one of the diagrams that had been provided. (The teacher had distributed diagrams at 3 differing reading levels.) Watching them, I realized that one group was struggling because the students did not have a strategy for effectively scanning the diagram for key information. They had ignored one very important section of the page.
Afterwards, the teacher and I had an opportunity for professional dialogue about the lesson. We discussed the fact that reading tasks are not always linear, or logical, in their directionality. We realized that it isn’t always enough to provide materials at different ability levels. We also need to teach strategic skills. We then developed the solution shown in the photo below. Using plastic report covers, we divided the page into four quadrants and numbered them (similar to a graph.) Students can scan strategically, teachers can talk about items in each quadrant, and students can even annotate. We also realized that these clear report covers could be used to teach students about how to scan web pages (see photo.)
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This week my colleagues asked me to help students with their understanding of parts of speech. What an abstract concept this is! To kick off the lesson, I decided to use boxes of different sizes as a metaphor. I went to my local department store and begged several boxes of varying sizes that would fit within each other. On the top of each box I taped a piece of plastic that I had cut from a page protector. This allowed me to write on the box, and be able to reuse them for another part-whole concept.
- On the biggest box I wrote STORY
- On two boxes inside this I wrote PARAGRAPH
- On three boxes inside each of these I wrote SENTENCE
- Inside these I placed colored unifix cubes to represent words. Unifix cubes, usually used as a math manipulative, are wonderful for building sentences because you can color code the words by part of speech.
- Inside the Unifix cubes I placed tiny alphabet beads that spelled words.
All eyes were on the boxes as we slowly unpacked the concept! The students really grasped the idea that each 'thing' was a part of a bigger thing, and that each whole had smaller parts.
My boxes will be easy to wipe off and use again for another concept in the future.