I love thin slicing skills so that students can focus their energies on the part of the skill that I really want them to learn. Our tech consultant, Mike Gorman, gave me a beautiful idea for thin slicing the skill of summarizing.
What seems to get in the way of most students when they’re trying to approximate summaries, is the skill of determining importance. Determining importance is inherent in creating a good summary. But its hard to separate out the skills of determining importance and creating the summary itself.
Mike’s suggestion was to copy and paste the text of an informational article into Wordle and let Wordle do it’s thing. Wordle uses the low-level strategy of repetition of words to determine which words are important. It’s not a bad strategy. It’s not a great one, but it works a lot of the time. Wordle then makes the most frequent words HUGE and the lesser words very small. (You can set the parameters, so that Wordle will ignore small words such as “the” and “and”.) This quick tech trick gave students a strong sense of what words or concepts are most important. Those are the ideas to include in the summary. The words that Wordle made smaller can be omitted from the summary (in all likelihood).
Using the Wordle, students could begin drafting a pretty good attempt at a summary right away. The task of determining importance had been stripped away, leaving just the task of constructing the summary itself. Students could focus on how the summary hangs together, how the transitions from one idea to the next are managed, and how the word choice impacts the length of the summary. All of this is the work that I wanted them to grapple with. Now, with Wordle handling the determining importance, they could.
Would I want them using the Wordle strategy forever? No! Of course not. But it sure did the job of thin slicing for them.
I was working with one of our Special Ed teachers this week to support some of our students who need extra help in keeping track of what’s happening in a story. We came up with a mini-unit of study for them and a tool that they could carry forward into other books.
First, we decided to teach some strategies for recognizing when a scene changes.
One way readers know a scene change is happening is by noticing a change in the setting.
One way readers know a scene change is happening is by noticing when a new character enters.
One way readers know a scene change is happening is by noticing when a character leaves.
Then we created a tracker for the students.
Our teaching was that each time the scene changes, use one of the post it notes to record what happened in that scene. Then keep reading until the next scene change and do it again.
When the tracker is full, pull the post its out and store them in your Reader’s Notebook so that you have them to use for tasks your teacher might ask of you.
Just some notes from a working session that we did together:
borders (in the form of post its or stick ons)
collection of strategies together on one chart
bold type with more information lighter below
selective use of icons
Some of our kindergartens have been in the midst of a non-fiction study. We started thinking about ways that our young kinders could support their own comprehension in the non-fiction work. We came up with three solid strategies for them. Then we make a quick chart to support the work.
Finally, our teachers began using the three strategies during Read Aloud and Shared Reading as a way of introducing the work to the students.
One way readers better understand non-fiction is by sketching it. (icon = crayon) We asked our students to make quick sketches on whiteboards or on paper. This was especially good for mapping or diagramming types of comprehension.
One way readers better understand non-fiction is by acting it out — act out the sharks movement of “latching on and swallowing” (icon = stick figure with floppy arms) In this instance, we had students physically get up and act out what we had just read in the text. This brought deeper comprehension of verbs and of sequences of actions.
One way readers better understand non-fiction is by teaching it to a friend (icon = teacher). In this strategy, we asked our young readers to turn on their teacher voice and explain to a friend what they had just read.
Who knew that by asking our students to write DAILY, we were actually supporting their health?! I stumbled across an article on the web in which scientists explored the health benefits of daily writing. Expressive writing allows us the opportunity pause and reflect on our lives. Isn’t that precisely what we ask our students to do on a daily basis in Writing Workshop? You can read the article for yourself HERE.
I have a decidedly unhealthy Starbucks addiction. I also have a barista who MAKES my mornings. She is happy and perky in a good for the morning kind of way. She remembers everyone’s order and always makes them the way each person wants them made. She remembers your name and little things about you. Her name is Jacki.
Jacki remembers that I am a teacher and that the kids last year got into the habit of checking my Starbucks cup each day to see if I had gotten a “happy face”. (yes, Jacki draws happy faces on the cups) The children had decided that this was a bit like when they earn happy face stickers for good behavior in their classrooms. So they wanted to know if I had “been a good girl”.
Well, this morning Jacki out-did herself. And the children who check my cups were delighted. It was a wonderful, happy kind of a literacy moment.
One of the ways that we support our youngest readers in getting started with the workshop is by using a device called Personal Readers. We got this idea from Donald Bear about 10 years ago.
Personal Readers are simply small, curated collections of familiar materials packaged in folders for students to read. Our children are able access these materials easily and confidently. They’re able to practice the early literacy cornerstones of concepts of print skills, sight word practice, fluent reading, and phonics practice. Our kinders are also able to build stamina for the Reading Workshop!
The Personal Readers contain a carefully selected core of materials including:
- class “list” of photos of their classmates with names beneath each photo
- our school song (we begin teaching this nearly the first day, so that kinders can become participants in our school-wide assemblies where this song is ALWAYS sung)
- class stories about activities — essentially what we used to call Language Experience Stories
- familiar poems or chants from the class repertoire
The Personal Reader itself consists of a two pocket folder with brads in the middle. The pockets hold tools such as sight word cards, decodable sentence cards and whatever else might exist in that particular classroom. Also, items from the Special Services teacher, ESL teacher or other specialist can live in here, customizing it for the student. The brads in the center hold 5-6 clear sheet protectors. Each of the charts, poems, or stories in the Personal Reader is housed inside of plastic sheet protector sleeves. This allows students to mark the sleeve using dry-erase markers, erase, and start again. It also allows the teacher to quickly and efficiently trade out old materials for new ones, keeping the Personal Readers appropriate for the kinders as they grow.
The Personal Reader live in the browsing boxes or bags for Reading Workshop. When workshop time begins, the students have text that is appropriate and accessible to them.
Here’s a peek at a few of the readers:
The workshop time can be long for our young kindergarten students. They are still learning and building the foundational habits of readers. WorkMats allow them to self-monitor and plan their work. They create an independence for the young reader by answering the question: “What do I do next?”
Each WorkMat contains icons to remind students of the variety of tasks that are OK during the workshop and count as legitimate “work” during this time. The icons have been carefully thought out and discussed among the teachers to replicate the work that “real” readers actually do.
- Sort your books into the order that you want to read them today. Even adult readers do this in real life. We have “To Read” lists and we make decisions about what we want to read next.
- Read the books and tell yourself the story. Essentially, this is reading for comprehension.
- Retell the story to yourself. This is a demonstration of comprehension and a part of being in a literate community. As a bonus, it begins to prepare students for the task of re-telling as a comprehension assessment.
- Read the story and insert “thinking bubbles”. In this practice, we ask students to read the story, and to stop and articulate what the character is thinking at various points. We provide the students with thought bubbles as visual supports for this task. This is inferring at its best.
- Read the story and insert “talking”. This time around, we ask the students to read the story and to stop and act out the conversation that might be happening on this page. Again, the students have “speech bubbles” to physically hold while doing this work.
- Read the story and make the characters move. Students stop after every page set and talk about the actions that are on the page. This sounds simple, but the images on the page are static. In order for children to begin the process of visualizing, they need to begin to “see” the action in the story.
- Read and Look For: this can be a hunt for a sight word or words, a hunt for a particular bit of punctuation or a letter from the word study time.
- Talk Back to the Book: In this little strategy, our kindergarten readers stop after each double spread of pages and talk back to the characters in the story. They tell them what to do, warn them of upcoming trouble, or praise their bravery, cunning or daring.
This week our kindergartens begin a district directed 9 week “crash course” on the alphabet. In 2010, Pearson and Hiebert unleashed their research that two-thirds of incoming kindergarteners already knew the names of the letters of the alphabet and over one-third of them knew the corresponding sounds for the majority of the consonants. The children who didn’t know the letter names and sounds at this early stage were also the children destined for reading struggles. In many of the schools in our district, the children are coming from strong pre-school programs and even more children already know letters and sounds. But, there are some who don’t. And most often, it is because no one has taught them the letters and sounds, not because they have difficulty learning them. So, our kindergartens start off with a crash course on letters and sounds. For the huge percentage of children incoming with this information securely under their belts, this is a review and familiar ground on which to start kindergarten. For those who are shaky with letter names and sounds, it is an opportunity to level the playing field. And at the end of the crash course, the few children who truly have difficulty learning letter names and sounds are clearly evident to the teachers and to the support staff. It is a beautiful way to start off the RTI process in many ways.
But what about those children who DO know the letters and the sounds? How can we make this a “plus-1″ for them? And how can we connect this to the workshop and the powerful reading lives that we want our students to be building?
As my kindergarten colleagues and I have been talking and thinking about this, we’ve been making lists of the other core skills that we have on our radar screens: left to right, return sweep, one-to-one match, beginning sight words, early cross-checking and the ever-popular — looking at print not just pictures. Then we began creating books to go with the letters from our crash course in the alphabet. Books that could support us in the workshop as our students practiced those important letter sounds along with those other core skills. We chose the simple sight word “a” to begin. We’ll move to “the” shortly. And we made books using clip-art to support the letters. A quick trip to the photocopier, some snazzy stapling and we had books.
I’ve attached our first three (all using just the sight word “a”) here for you. If you go back to this post, you’ll find some earlier iterations of this this idea that you can print as well.
Beginning Reader’s Workshop in Kindergarten can be daunting — especially when our young students are really not yet readers. In many cases, they have already been told by parents, older siblings and neighbor children that they are clearly NOT readers. So, when we plop them down with a bin of books and ask them to engage in reader-like behaviors, they balk. They do NOT see themselves as readers yet. They are awaiting the magical day when we will have taught them the secret and they become READERS. On the flip side, we, the teachers, already see them as readers. We already see that they recognize environmental print and possibly a sight word or two. We have already noticed that they control the major concepts of print. They may even have some letters and sound to begin anchoring some reading. In our eyes, they are EMERGING readers.
One way to alleviate the conflict between our vision and theirs is to use Wordless Books to help launch the workshop. By having a collection of wordless books available for the first few weeks of school, we provide a way for our young readers to practice the reading skills they have, while not triggering the “I can’t read” reflex.
With Wordless Books, our readers can
- habituate the book handling skills from Concepts About Print
- “read” a story and create meaning using the pictures
- accumulate a story line and track a plot
- practice retelling a story
- practice reading with a partner and sharing the story-telling load
- sustaining attention as a reader over time (building stamina)
I wandered around more than a dozen of the kindergartens that I work with and collected this set of wordless books. (photos all from Amazon)