We are teaming up with the Vermont Agency of Education to update the Vermont Multi-tiered System of Supports and Response to Intervention and Instruction Field Guide. Originally published in 2014, the Field Guide provides evidenced based guidelines to administrators, teachers, and other educators as they strive to support the needs of all Vermont students. In the intervening years since its publication, the field of education has undergone some significant evolutions and educators are anxious to respond to recent initiatives, mandates, and reports, such as ESSA and Act 77. The revised edition of the Guide will address these educational shifts and others in the goal of providing Vermont educators with the support and resources necessary to help all students achieve. PLL is drawing on many sources to refine and enhance the Field Guide. It will be including multiple perspectives, carefully analyzing statewide MTSS data and seeking feedback from expert stakeholder panels. Watch for the new revision in late 2018!
As our education system turns its head toward student-centered, problem-based learning, I have been considering what this means for our youngest learners in the primary and elementary grades. The expectation for middle and high school students to identify their interests, dig deeply into topics, and show their knowledge in a way reflective of their own choosing are all high goals to achieve. I have no doubt there will be many students capable of meeting these goals, and engagement in learning will increase beyond our wildest dreams. As a teacher of the elementary grades, I’m wondering, just what will it take to prepare ALL children to meet these expectations? What can we do to engage children before they reach middle school so they become responsible for their own education?
Moving from teacher directed to student directed learning will take students who are familiar with what independent learning looks like and have the skills to think and work independently. This means teachers will need to emphasize independence and build practices into their day that foster independence.
Student independence needs to be taught, modeled, and practiced. A number of practices that encourage student independence are well worth considering:
- implement a workshop (gradual release of responsibility) model
- know your students well in order to provide resources they are interested in
- provide honest feedback and set goals with high expectations and challenges
- differentiate learning and instruction so students can be successful, gradually moving to higher level skills
- provide sufficient practice over time
- go slow to go fast-take the time for students to learn what is taught rather than cover a lot that is never learned
- offer students choice in reading and writing
- encourage self-management-offer deadlines for completion of tasks, not required to work on at a specific time
- provide opportunities for students to participate in student-led discussion of meaningful topics
- teach research skills
- provide opportunities for students to collaborate
- teach and allow for multiple ways to express learning
Some professional books and links related to practices that encourage independence in young learners:
Bennett, Samantha, 2007. The Workshop Book. Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann Publishers.
Blaumann, Leslie, 2011. Reading-Writing Classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishers
Buck Institute for Education, 2011. Project-Based Learning in the Elementary Grades. Novato, CA.:BIE .
Lehman, Christopher, 2012. Energize Research Reading and Writing. Portsmuth, NH: Heinemann Publishers
https://loc.gov/teachers/tps/quarterly/inquiry_learning/article.html Inquiry-Based Learning
https://www.davenport.edu/system/files/Fostering%20Independent%20Learning%20handout.pdf Power Point Presentation on Fostering Independent Learning
https://www.choiceliteracy.com/articles-detail-view.php?id=1203 “Helping Young Readers Become Independent
https://www.choiceliteracy.com/articles-detail-view.php?id=2122 Strategies for Fostering Independence in “Slow Thinkers”
https://austega.com/gifted/16-gifted/articles/38-independent-learning-strategies.html Independent Learning Strategies and Annotated Links
Philadelphia humanities teacher Joshua Block, reflects on a common struggle that many educators may experience at the end of a literacy performance task. “Much of what students produced felt on the verge but hadn’t yet come to fruition…Sadly, my grading and realizations about what would help students usually occurred at an endpoint when they had no more attention or patience for work they had completed. The written comments that I offered them were skimmed, if read at all.”
In his most recent blog post Conversing, Consulting and Creating, Block speaks to the power of using small conversations with students. This seemingly simple strategy is an example of one that can have a profound impact on personalizing student learning. Another version of this strategy from Facing History and Ourselves is Cafe Conversations , a strategy to help students develop an awareness of different perspectives by requiring students to represent a particular point of view.
Block writes that teaching is an “enormous interpersonal challenge” where students may not view learning as collaborative, and may not feel “valued as individuals, as thinkers, and as creators.” Small conversations with peers and teacher as mentor, shifts the role of teacher from director to consultant. “By leaving the front of the room, checking in, conversing, and consulting with students, teachers shift the paradigm of what it means to learn.”
As Vermont students move to Proficiency-Based Learning, and the flexible and personalized pathway set forth in Act 77, it will be critical that students be given many opportunities to learn to reflect in speaking and writing on their own learning. Small Conversations is one strategy toward that end.
As Block reflects, “I’m there, waiting in many different places along the way, offering support, critique, and guidance. The learning is designed as a way of challenging students to examine new ideas, and ideally it results in students producing work.
We know that research has shown that vocabulary is an important factor in reading and listening comprehension and ultimately academic success. We know that the CCSS emphasizes vocabulary development. We know that using a variety of techniques and approaches facilitates vocabulary acquisition (pre-teaching difficult vocabulary words, direct and explicit teaching, building on students prior knowledge, and using computer technology to teach vocab words). We know all of this is important but realize the challenge of engaging our adolescents to learn new vocabulary. Creating a classroom where new and interesting vocabulary is prepensed, lionized and savored may help!
In Beck, McKeown and Kucan’s book, Bringing Words to LIfe , they write about creating a lively verbal environment in the classroom. “Teachers who revel in language are those who use words well and are eager to discover new words and word meanings. They play with words, rejoice in word lore, and model a genuine fascination for the feelings and images that words can evoke and create” (2013).
Our adolescents live in a very dynamic and ever-changing world. Consider focusing on what is relevant in their world as a natural motivator to increase exploring, retaining and applying new words. Spend just five minutes of class time exploring and encountering words based on what is going on in their lives. Make it interesting and relevant to them by connecting it to an event, holiday or popular movie. Get them hooked on expanding their vocabulary inside and outside of the classroom. By exploring new words teachers can model and build a natural curiosity of vocabulary. And as a result students could be more apt to tackle new vocabulary words in their academic work.
A great resource to find current relevant connections and ideas is vocabulary.com. These are some from the past month offering suggestions for a quick vocabulary spotlight and links to texts.
Exploring vocabulary as a natural part of the school day and something that is relevant to adolescents fosters a natural curiosity about words and the world we live in!
Happy Valentines Day! That’s Amore!
In ReLeah Cossett Lent’s introduction of her new book, This is Disciplinary Literacy, she writes about a student in one of her courses sharing about how “American schools have been functioning with a “rattomorophic” view of a learner as a being that can be taught mechanically and interchangeably” (2015). In today’s 21st century world with a focus on communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration across the many disciplines, this view can no longer be true.
In the graduate course I teach, where we are using Lent’s text as a focus for our work, two teachers of varying backgrounds have pulled me aside to say things like “she takes what I have been feeling the last couple years and puts it in words” and “I don’t normally like education books because they are so filled with theory, but this one is so practical that I can use it in my teaching.”
Literacy, at the secondary level, looks different. Lent does an amazing job pulling in how to focus when considering a variety of learners at different engagement levels, and the elements necessary for engagement that Guthrie (2008) points out, such as mastery, relevance, social interaction, choice and control, and self-efficacy.
With the increased focus on student-centered [see Kris Breen’s recent post] and personalized learning, as well as the drive to focus on interdisciplinary learning, having a solid framework to build disciplinary literacy instruction and assessment is the key to creating learners who will be our citizens of the future.
With that being said, if you want to be inspired and walk away with practical applications you can infuse into your classroom the next day, you are not too late. Sign up to come spend the day with ReLeah on Wednesday, February 10th!