Last week, my Early Learning colleague and I hosted RAD (Reading Assessment District) Data Days for our grades four and five teachers. The days went by too quickly it seemed. I often feel like we just get to the good stuff and we are done. Nevertheless, every teacher had a chance to look at the data from their own schools and classrooms and we, collectively, were able to discuss and share strategies for addressing some of the areas needing attention and celebrating the areas of strength. Over the course of the two days, some really good gems emerged from the group around strategy instruction in ELA and I am going to jot some of these ideas down because they are too good not to share. In no particular order:
- We concluded that there are two layers (if you will) to ELA instruction: The “Learning from Language” or “Context” layer and the “Learning about Language” or “Strategy” layer. Both layers are inextricably linked and both are essential components of a strong ELA program. We discussed at length the amount of air time each gets in our classrooms and how we can enhance our instruction so it moves beyond reading to talk about the content of the story and moves into metacognition or thinking about how we approach reading to increase comprehension.
- We concluded that we might need to adjust our expectations for students because they will reach exactly as high as we ask them to reach.
- We concluded that grades four and five are unique because there is a pervasive assumption that students “should be able to read well” by this point, and clearly this is not the case for all children. We have to let go of the idea that teaching students how to read more effectively is not our job in these grades. We also have to let go of the idea that if a student struggles to read effectively in these grades, it does not mean this will always be the case. Every student can grow; we just have to shift our approaches to meet their needs.
- We concluded that often the language around reading is very “all or nothing;” either students can read or they can’t. We discussed the continuum of reading and decided that it is in our best interests to explore this continuum so ALL students can grow.
- We concluded that a student’s experiences can strongly impact their ability to make predictions, make connections, make inferences and form opinions. We spent a good deal of time discussing this impact and brainstorming ways to tap into experiences our students have had AND build new experiences for them to incorporate into their “experience scaffolding.”
- We concluded that we may need to slow down in our classrooms and teach students to linger on texts for a while. We discussed the implications of the “need for speed” that many students seem to equate with intelligence. We decided that we want to show students that the longer we spend with a text, the more we see and learn. We thought this might transfer to their own expressions and our desire to have them revisit texts they are creating.
- We concluded that students need to read a lot and write a lot. We talked about the balance between reading for enjoyment and reading to learn how to be more effective comprehenders and responders. We acknowledged the need for balance. We also acknowledged that we are not spending enough time on the latter.
- We concluded that ELA is, in fact, part of every single thing students do in school. We clarified the importance of all teachers working together to improve student’s ability to be expressive and receptive communicators. We also determined multiple ways we can “do ELA instruction” in other subject areas. We see the importance of cross-curricular work.
The day with each group was filled with looking at assessment results and thinking about effective instruction. Mostly though, the day was filled with discussions about learning – how it happens, what it looks like and what happens as a result. Anytime we spend the day talking about learning, it is a good day.