GUEST COLUMN | by Maddie Witter
Want to increase rigorous literacy skills without putting kids to sleep? Below are ideas to sprinkle into your instruction that will leave kids smiling and have lasting impact on achievement. For you edtech junkies out there, these kid-friendly ideas are a great way to expose your students to technology in order to prepare them for the 21st century.
Teach readers how to think as they read
In Reading Without Limits I share strategies that will get 100 percent of your students reading a lot of books. But if kids don’t understand what they read, they will not become better readers. Students need to know how to deepen the thinking that they make about books.
Teach readers to pay attention to the thinking going on in their heads as they read. Great readers are strategic: they question meaning, paraphrase what the author is really saying, and connect with what they read. Independent readers figure out what’s confusing, use many strategies, and have a dialogue with the text. Dependent readers on the other hand stop when they get confused, appeal to the teacher, and read through confusions. As teachers we must teach our dependent readers how to become independent readers. At KIPP Infinity Middle School, the school where I was a founding teacher, most of our readers started as dependent. This picture isn’t unique to most schools. By giving our readers strategies that independent readers do as they read, we lifted our readers to being able to read above grade level.
The problems with tracking a reader’s thinking
But how does a teacher track what a reader is thinking? Many literacy gurus suggest teaching kids to write down their thinking on sticky notes. I like sticky notes, but they are expensive and can make a mess. Another solution is teaching students to write down their thinking in a reading journal, which can be cumbersome to grade. There’s got to be a better way!
Using social media to track strategic thinking
I recommend that you set up a class blog and use it for nightly homework to track your students’ thinking. Give students a question to analyze, or ask students to generate thinking based on a skill. I share dozens of strategic thinking strategies great for building rigorous thinking in chapter two of Reading Without Limits.
Any of the following are examples of good prompts:
__(For choice books) What themes did you find emerging in your book tonight?
__(For assigned books) Would Holden be a good friend? Why?
__(For textbooks) What would the author say is the most important part of tonight’s reading?
Students respond to the prompt on the blog. Blogs are great for a couple reasons. First, they are really sustainable. Rather than take home 100 reading journals each week, you can pop open your laptop and give immediate feedback in the comment section. Reach out to other teachers or your principal to chime in every once and awhile, too. Also, since students read the other responses before typing up their thinking, they want to show their peers that they are sophisticated thinkers. Knowing that the whole class is reading their response is an incentive to do their best. Isn’t peer pressure great? If you don’t want student answers to influence each other, simply keep the blog comments private.
Sayuri Stabrowski, 8th grade reading teacher and Dean of Literacy at KIPP Infinity middle school, recommends using a class blog as vacation homework. Kids can log in at their leisure and post several comments about the books they are reading as a fun way to stay in touch. Check out her class blog at http://stabookski.wordpress.com.
You can also track strategic thinking using Twitter. Together create tags for different themes, symbols, or motifs from choice and shared books. When students have new thinking about themes, they can tweet about it… don’t forget the theme’s hashtag! Using Twitter is also a fun way to integrate more close reading into your instruction as the new Common Core State Standards push. For instance, after teaching how important lines can influence the entire text, students can tweet what they think are the most important 140 characters from the shared text.
On Facebook, students can do the same types of strategic thinking that I shared with blogging and Tweeter. You can also infuse creative thinking with Facebook’s platform. Ask students to make a Facebook page for a character, motif, or symbol from a shared text. For instance, how would Lenny from Of Mice and Men update his status?
You got to read baby, read!
Whatever technology tools you use to track strategic thinking, remember that one of the most powerful way to build lifelong readers is to give them lots of time to read, read, read. Harriet Ball, mentor to the two KIPP co-founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, celebrated reading in this chant that KIPP students cheer nationally:
“You got to read, baby, read. The more you read, the more you know. Knowledge is power and power is freedom and I want it!”
Maddie Witter (Melbourne, Australia) is a founding teacher of KIPP Infinity Charter School, one of the top performing middle schools in New York City. At KIPP Infinity, Maddie taught literacy, and was the school’s founding Director of Instruction for six years where she supervised teacher development and curriculum for the reading, writing, content and nonfiction studies programs. Visit Maddie at www.reading-without-limits.com
KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, began in 1994. As of fall 2012, there are 125 KIPP schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia serving nearly 40,000 students climbing the mountain to and through college.