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  • You Want Me to Add Fluency?!

    Why fluency routines matter in secondary school & how you can use them (tomorrow) Do your students struggle to read class materials? If you are a middle or high school teacher whose students struggle to read core texts in your class, this post is for you. Maybe you dread asking students to read aloud because they refuse to or they stumble awkwardly through the passage. Possibly, only a few students will read that novel at home. Perhaps when you assign students to read the textbook in class, only a small handful do. Getting students who have been denied reading skills to read something complex on their own is a real problem for many of us in middle and high schools. The challenge is as a secondary teacher you have content to cover - chemistry experiments to do, Before the Ever After to read, U.S. Reconstruction documents to engage with. You don’t have time to teach adolescent students reading skills. If you had the time, you might not even know where to start. Here’s the thing - students can accelerate their reading skills while focusing on course content. Really! Fluency routines are the way. Let’s see why and how you can use them. But first…what is reading fluency and why should I care about it? Oral reading fluency can be described as how students sound when they read grade level text. Specifically, fluent readers can read a text with: Speed: an appropriate rate Accuracy: word recognition with automaticity Prosody: proper expression akin to normal speech Those students of yours who stumble through reading course texts out loud? Those students are not fluent readers. And the important thing to know here is that students who do not read fluently do not comprehend what they are reading; too much of their cognition is caught-up in attempting to decode each word. However, once students know what the words say (decoding text), they can get down to the business of exploring what the words mean (comprehending text). Therefore, improving reading fluency gives students access to those challenging texts and makes possible the hard work central to your discipline. Using fluency routines will support learning how to turn pennies into gold, exploring the disillusionment of dreams in Before the Ever After, and arguing about to what extent the Reconstruction Era was an unfinished revolution. How can I figure out if my students need fluency routines? Most high school students are not proficient readers. This is, of course, no fault of their own. Previous schooling denied them access to grade level reading skills. But here they are, just the same. And students deserve access to reading skills. If you are unsure if your students are meeting grade level fluency expectations, you can find out by using an evidence-based assessment. Using such measures are key to understanding your students’ current fluency needs - they give reliable data so that strategic supports meet actual needs and interrupt biases we all have about which students can or cannot read. One easily implemented assessment is determining a student’s reading rate, known as Words Correct Per Minute (WCPM). To measure WCPM, have a student read aloud for 60 seconds from a grade level passage (note: this means the grade students are currently in). After 60 seconds, count the number of words students read correctly. That’s your WCPM score. Anything below 150 likely means the student could use some fluency support. (Want more information or assessment types? Check out Tim Rasinski’s fluency assessments and resources for the Ohio Literacy Alliance. They are fantastic.) I’m in. How do I use fluency routines in my classroom? In a nutshell, fluency practice will look like: Step Zero: Text Selection Select a single text passage you will use for each routine throughout the week. Fluency is built through repetition. So pick something worth rereading for its complex structure, key information, centrality to the unit, unusual syntax, raw beauty, or other reasons compelling to your discipline. The text must be a grade level one so that grade level skills are developed. Step One: Model Reading Provide a fluent model of the text read aloud. You can read aloud or give students an audio recording of the text. Disfluent students hearing disfluent models are not helpful (or kind). Note: Students must track the text with their eyes as they hear the fluent model. Though middle and high school students will rarely use a finger to track, asking them to use their pencils to follow along word-for-word usually does the trick. Step Two: Fluency Routine Engage in a short routine - choral reading, echo reading, and paired reading are a few favorites. You can find more evidence-based fluency routines here. Step Three: Connect to Comprehension Do a vocabulary or comprehension task after reading. These tasks can be sourced from your course materials. Use 2-3 comprehension questions or do some text-based vocabulary work. These tasks extend fluency work to knowledge building and word recognition. Steps 1 through 3 should take about 10 minutes. This means any time students are reading grade level text in your classroom, you can integrate fluency work. Do this a few times throughout the week and students on on their way to accelerating their reading skills. Better yet, join with a team of teachers and you each implement fluency routines in various content areas 2 to 3 times a week. Now you have reading acceleration across content areas. But will students DO fluency work? In short - they sure will. Students want to be able to access class materials, they just haven’t been given the reading skills to do so. You can make clear that the work of fluency routines will provide them reading skills. When introducing fluency routines into your classroom, consider a combination of transparency, giving students small wins, and providing the space for students to own the work. Some ideas to consider: Start with a mea culpa on behalf of the school system: the fact that students cannot yet read at grade level has nothing whatsoever to do with a student’s intelligence and everything to do with bad instruction. A student’s current gap can be mended with their hard work. Make a deal with students; if they do the work, they will get better at reading. Give a little more 'why' on the importance of fluency work and expand on the concept of reading having no connection to intelligence. The graphic guide, How We Read makes clear what reading skills are and how to develop them. The text can be paired with this close reading lesson. Both resources help students understand how decoding, word recognition, and fluency impact their reading skills. Ground the work in empowering students to be agents of their own literacy. Students could decide how they will engage in the work and track their own progress. Make space for students’ identities and assets within the context of building reading fluency. Finally, a reminder that our own biases about our students can often cloud our judgment of their engagement. Rather than seeing students’ unwillingness to engage in fluency routines as oppositional, lazy, or not valuing literacy, ask how you are framing the work, how you are putting students in the center as experts, and how you are valuing their voice in the process. It is our job as teachers to make sure students can read.  AND, don’t forget to revel in the magic that is being able to read. There is deep joy in this work!

  • Let's Move the Needle

    Improving Literacy Outcomes for Secondary Students The Challenge In recent years there has been a groundswell of attention paid to early literacy instruction.  The work has been a multi-pronged effort by parent groups, educators, journalists, and field organizations to shift instructional practices, curriculum, teacher education, and education policy to better align with the science of reading. This attention is well deserved, as reading scores in the US have been dismal for decades. Where the attention has shifted the learning experiences of students, reading scores are improving (see reports on the Mississippi miracle, using Core Knowledge, and 3rd grade reading in Tennessee). There is, however, a compounding challenge we must also consider; the impact of decades of poor reading instruction. There are cohorts of students who were not successfully taught to read in the early years and were not provided the opportunity to gain those skills in later years. Some students are lucky - their parents have the financial means to provide for private reading tutors, others find themselves in schools that know how to address reading gaps in later grades. But these are the exceptions, not the norm. Currently in middle and high schools all over the country, there are  scores of students unable to independently read grade level material and who are being denied the right to read. When you talk to middle and high school students they can tell you about it. So too can their teachers. You can see the systemic challenge in reading data and in college remediation rates. The lack of grade level literacy in secondary schools is a pervasive and real problem. Bright Spots The good news is, this problem is totally solvable. Students who struggle to read at grade level today do not need to graduate still struggling. They can catch-up. These older students have the same right to read as younger students do. We owe them sustained solutions that support identity and community building, accelerate foundational skills, build disciplinary knowledge and vocabulary, and engage students in critical & relevant grade-level tasks. Some of those solutions have been done in schools for years - bright spots from teachers like Julie Brown and Larissa Phillips. Reading clinics have been using proven methods with clients in clinical, school, and carceral settings for decades. More recently, states like Tennessee have been turning policy and money to the challenge in secondary literacy. And in recent years, education organizations have started attending to the challenge with a focus on field research, model programs, and emerging work with districts. All of this attention is welcome. Moving the Needle Looking forward, this attention needs our collective foot on the gas. Each of us - be it in teacher preparation, classroom instruction, or state education policy - can focus our work on improving secondary literacy. While everything must get done, everyone does not need to do everything. Consider your position in the education system; what work can you do in your corner of the world to support and accelerate adolescent literacy? Collectively we can provide the intense focus and support needed to create lasting and sustainable changes for middle and high school students' literacy. As a classroom teacher: Do you know the strengths and weaknesses of your students’ literacy skills? What support might they need in word recognition, reading fluency, knowledge & vocabulary? As a school leader:  How can your school or district focus on the literacy experiences and outcomes of middle and high school students? In what ways do you provide the time and support for teachers to better know the literacy needs of their students and how to address them? As a professional learning provider: How does your support of teachers address the knowledge, pedagogy, and instructional practices necessary to meet the literacy needs of adolescents? As a curriculum writer (in a district or for a publisher): How can your materials provide just-in-time and strategic supports to build students’ reading skills within content areas, build coherent bodies of relevant knowledge and vocabulary, and regularly engage students in critical grade-level tasks? As a state and district leader: How might your policies around student assessment, course requirements, and teacher learning attend to the literacy needs of middle and high school students?  How do you fund and support school programming models, instructional materials, and professional learning to improve adolescent literacy? With multiple entry points into supporting the literacy of secondary students, there are numerous other questions we might ask. The point is for each of us to step into the work so we can get the needle moving.

  • I Have Diverse & Complex Texts...Now What?!?!

    So you've done the hard work of ensuring your high school classroom centers diverse and complex what do you do?! You cannot just give students the texts and say, "Read! Tell me what you learned!" You have to support that engagement, and cross content learning moves can help. These moves are designed by high school teachers for their own use to center the reading, writing, and discussion tasks students must do to learn the content and skills in various disciplines. By using these moves, your students can understand the evidence under consideration, adjust their conceptions, and share their own compelling ideas and analysis. High school classrooms can be places where students build both literacy skills and content knowledge. What are Cross Content Learning Moves? Cross content learning moves support using class time to engage with relevant grade level work. They provide just-in-time text-specific support for students across literacy tasks: Reading moves focus on the content and construct of the text. Students get access to diverse, complex text through rereading, chunking, and other efficient scaffolds. Discussion moves give students the opportunity to clarify and adjust their own thinking on important subjects, using evidence from reading to engage in oral collaboration with their peers. Writing moves support students to capture and organize essential evidence, help them write compelling and complex sentences, and unlock the structure of longer writing tasks. What Does it Look Like in Other Schools? When I was a high school history teacher, I worked with a team of grade level teachers who used common learning moves. Our team consisted of a science teacher, a health teacher, an English teacher, and myself. We selected just three common learning moves:Text Annotations, Save the Last Word, and Sentence Summarization. We committed to regularly pairing these moves with course texts and tasks. Our goal was to see increased engagement with grade level course materials. While a little clunky at the start, in just a few weeks we saw enormous benefit. We saw an increase in engagement with grade level work - students were reading core texts, grappling with what they meant, and using evidence from texts in their peer discussions and individual writings. We saw other unexpected benefits too. Students recognized the learning moves from class to class and were able to make them their own. They employed the learning moves in clever and helpful ways beyond what we had originally assigned. Additionally, we as teachers could compare student work from class to class. This allowed us to learn from our students and one another about how to best support rigorous work. Other high schools and districts have engaged in similar shared writing practice, literacy moves, and phonics instruction to great results. The work to engage with shared learning moves may not be easy to start, but it is so worthwhile. Wondering How to Get Started? Start small. To start using such learning moves in your own school or district, consider starting small. You can work with a group of teachers, maybe with your own content area or across a grade level. As a collaborative, discuss the needs of your students and content areas. Use these findings to select a short list of moves you all commit to using. Implement the moves and compare notes. After a few times implementing, ask students how the learning moves are helpful or not. Get together with your teacher team to compare student work and discuss what is going well and what needs to be adjusted. Iterate. Based on these experiences, make the necessary adjustments and try again. To help get you started, some of Education 4500’s favorite moves are listed and described below. Interested in learning more? Perhaps you want to design such learning moves for your own school, department, or classroom? Reach out to - we love partnering with educators.

  • What Should Secondary Educators Do About the Science of Reading?

    I recently had the privilege of attending a roundtable discussion hosted by Lexia, focused on the question: What does the science of reading mean in secondary settings? Researchers and practitioners were at the table - we represented both academia and the real world of middle and high schools. The conversation was illuminating and compelling. The take-aways are worth sharing and then pulling on. Fifty-Plus Years of Research First, the science of reading is a huge body of research - spanning over 50 years and representing many aspects of reading (the Reading League has a great definitional guide). This research has implications for teaching and learning in middle and high schools, though research in these spaces is harder to source than in elementary schools. Among these implications: the importance of morphology, fluency, and knowledge building. Critically important here was the fact that: content area teachers need some access to and practice with science-of-reading aligned instructional moves; reading specialists can and should help students who have so far been denied the opportunity to read at grade level; school building and system leaders need to support this work with professional learning, redesigned school structures, and quality instructional materials. Every teacher is a language teacher. Also discussed at length was the importance of language in how we learn - language is how we engage in literacy in the disciplines (reading, writing, speaking & listening). Rather than every teacher being a reading teacher, every teacher is a language teacher. Therefore, secondary teachers have an obligation to make the language of their discipline accessible to students. This might mean engaging in morphology in a social studies classroom, or fluency in practice in a science classroom. All of it should be done in the pursuit of accessing challenging content and engaging with that content in a disciplinary way. In other words, literacy accelerators in the name of accessing content. Student experience and outcomes matter. Finally, we all agreed that changing programs, instructional materials, and system structures can be great, but only when measured by the impact on students. In other words, student experience and outcomes matter. Deeply. How does literacy work in various content areas affirm or challenge students’ identity as Gholdy Muhammad reminds us? How does students’ coursework provide Rudine Sims Bishop’s windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors? How do the stories students studied and tasks they engaged in reflect the socio-political consciousness Gloria Ladson-Billings insists upon? As summer rolls into fall and my work with secondary educators continues, I want to pull further on these threads: How does the body of evidence we call "the science of reading" influence literacy teaching and learning in secondary schools? How do language and literacy act as access points to (or gatekeepers from!) content? How might aligned instruction empower and liberate students to engage in critical work?

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