If you are a K-2 teacher, have you ever asked: “During reading workshop, what kinds of meaningful work can students be doing independently, while I confer one-on-one or with small groups?” Lindsey Moses hears this common frustration among those who work with our youngest readers in her work with teachers around the country. That’s why Lindsey, along with First grade teacher Meridith Ogden, wrote: What are the Rest of My Kids Doing? Their goal is to help you move beyond assigning busy work to providing purposeful learning experiences that build independence over the year and ideally take the anxiety out of reading workshop.
See below for the full transcript of our conversation:
Lindsey: One of the things that we found, as I've been working with teachers kind of all over the country, and thinking about questions that teachers are asking for professional development as I'm moving into a workshop model. The question I kept hearing was "What are the rest of my kids doing?"
So I understand the mini lesson and I'm feeling solid with my small groups, are guided reading in conferring but I'm concerned about how purposeful and meaningful that time is when the students are without me. And this question was particularly pressing in kindergarten through second grade and so Meredith is a master teacher that I've been working with who is actually a student of mine.
We really wanted to deepen what her students were doing when they weren't with her. So she'd taken up a workshop model, she had tried daily five, she tried different reading response, sort of activities. She just said when we were setting goals for a first year working together, she's like "I really want my students to love reading to become deeper readers, and to be having thoughtful conversations about reading. But I feel like I need some support, in how to get there how to assess it and how to continually make it better."
I think you read chapters in all these books and it's like a quart of a chapter that says "Students will be independently reading and responding and they can use that to talk about, or maybe there's a chapter in a book …" We just found it wasn't that easy to just ask six year olds to read and respond to reading and be prepared for conversations about it, for extended periods of time without handful of scaffolds and supports.
So that sort of I don't know put us into this couple of years of research where we try different things, we monitored it, we videotaped it each week we assessed it. Some things work some things didn't, but that helped us refine what we were thinking as we sort of worked through the process of researching it, but also preparing for the books.
So by the time we did our second year sort of building these purposeful learning experiences, we felt like we had really kind of refined the process assessment and procedures for supporting young learners and being independent with their reading time.
Brett: You open the book by addressing the concerns primary teachers have about independent learning. Talk about what you found in your research and your practice.
Lindsey: So one of the things that we know in a lot of the research says, is that students become better readers the more that they read. So opportunities for independent reading is particularly important, but we've also seen some research that shows that unsupported independent reading isn't always the most effective use of time.
So students don't know what they're supposed to be doing how to problem solve, if they're not on task obviously it's not the best use of their time. So some of the things that we found, both in the research literature as well the research we were conducting was that students need a lot of support for what the expectations are, how they choose books, how they might access texts that are too difficult or too easy for them, how they might prepare for conversations.
So these were all concerns that we had seen with Meredith, and with other teachers that I worked with. So some of the things that we found was, you really have to build in continual scaffolds and support in order for young learners to be able to build stamina with their reading, in order for them to be able to document their processing what they're learning during that that time, and in order for them to debrief about how that time is going, and to make it even deeper as the course of the semester or the year progresses.
Brett: So you mentioned that you work with Meredith for two years in her first grade classroom. Can you describe the students independent capabilities of the year, versus at the end of the year?
Lindsey: Yes. So., the beginning of first grade, any grade, but first grade in particular is always interesting. So when they come in initially sometimes they're not accustomed to doing a lot independently, that isn't specifically teacher directed with an outcome.
So in the beginning of the year we heard a lot of "I can't read," or "It's really hard," or just struggling with even the idea of sitting in one spot for six minutes. I think when we first started talking about building reading stamina, we got to about ninety seconds before someone was not meeting expectations we had to check back in about what it means to sit with a book. Which sounds hilarious but for anyone who's taught kindergarten or first grade, it just is the reality of what happens.
So a lot of the work was about getting excited about reading and also not just focusing on decoding. So one of the challenges I think sometimes for kindergarten and first grade students, is they feel frustrated that they can't decode all the words. or if their focus is junk on letters and sounds in words, and they don't know how to use images or re-tell or make sense of pictures or doing that story narrative.
They become frustrated and they shut down, so they have to begin to understand not only what it means to be independent and to be with the book even if you're not conventionally decoding. But also why we're with books and it's to make sense to understand the story, to begin to talk about it with other students, or in the groups.
So in the beginning of the year we saw a very short stamina for that maybe ninety seconds but as they begin to understand what it was like to be with books … We've invited a lot of people in Meredith's classroom she's been great. But by the end of the year we have students who are running their own student-led discussion groups. So they self select text, they run their own conversations they prepare for them, so they also monitor if someone shows up to a discussion group and they don't have influential thinking on sticky notes they're not allowed to participate. The students monitor that.
And so the key is that all of the work that we're doing, in building their strategies and their thinking, and their reading and responding, filters into something bigger, which is a reading community. I think that builds a lot of independence because they're working towards reading partnerships, or reading performances or discussion groups. So from the beginning of the year with things like "I can't read that," or "I don't know what to do," to running and monitoring their own student led discussion groups it felt like a huge success.
Brett: Well you you write about in the beginning of the book, five principles and one seemingly really important one to me is choice, why is choice so important?
Lindsey: Yes. Choice is probably the single most important thing that we found that supported with independence. I think the first component is just we're all more interested and committed to doing things, or reading about things that we're interested in. Whether you're ninety or five, and so we found when students begin to have buy in in the text at they're reading, how they're responding how they're engaging with it with other students, that the engagement went up, which also meant the time on task went out which then also meant that their academic performance went up.
Our focus was on independence and developing a love for reading and meaning making but we also saw … Meredith's students made significant gains on some of the more formal measures as well, and we really do attribute that to the choice the independence the amount of reading the kids are doing. If they're motivated and engaged in the reading world, because we asked them to do things that real readers to even though they're only six years old.
Brett: You and Meredith developed the term "Purposeful learning experiences" or PLE's, as you write in the book, describe what you mean by PLE.
Lindsey: Yeah, so this was kind of tricky. I think part of the way we defined it was by what we were excluding from that category, and so when we think about purposeful learning experiences, we want them to be things that students are doing without us. Not to keep them busy or to keep them quiet but something that's going to deepen their reading opportunity so this is real world reading activities.
Like reading, responding to reading, partner reading discussions. This is inquiry projects, or reading and researching responding. These might be having discussion groups or book clubs. But what it's not is it is not worksheets it's not busy work it's not nonsense words, purposeful learning experiences need to be real world meeting experiences.
I think sometimes unfortunately kindergarten and first and second grade students, in order to keep them quiet so that teachers can run their small groups, This time involves a busy work, sometimes in center settings not that center settings are always that way but sometimes it's like you go to a center and you're doing work sheets on the 'Th' sound, but what we want students to be doing is building their reading habits, not completing activities that we designed to keep them busy.
Brett: Throughout the book you describe six ways teachers can adapt their workshop model for emerging readers, can you walk us through those?
Lindsey: Yeah I can, So this was something that came almost when we were in the process or after the process. We were trying to document exactly what we did or how long it took to do everything, from building stamina for independent reading, book shopping, partner reading strategy used. So in all of the chapters throughout the book, what we found was it was never just as easy as teaching them to do something and checking in on it.
So for us it kind of or morphed in to this six stage process. So we found that it was better to start with pre assessing it, so instead of having a predetermined new strategy or activity that we were going to teach, we wanted to check in. What itdid kids do when we asked them to shop for six books for example, or to read with partners.
So we always start with pre assessment before we do any teaching. Then based on what we see them doing we decide if they need support in that area or not, then we move into the teaching. So typically any type of independence that we found, needed some type of formal modeling instruction with guided practice with the students we might model what it looks like to use a comprehension strategy in document our thinking, and so we we teach that explicitly.
Then we found that there were a couple of other stages that we wanted to take kids deeper, to really make them purposeful learning experiences. That typically included some type of scaffolding, so rarely do students get it the first time, so they're going to need to try it out. We'll provide a little additional scaffolding to help them make sure that they're able to take up this learning experience that we're asking them to do.
Whether it is having partner conversations about comprehension and retelling or inferences, or whether it's something as simple as book shopping for appropriate texts. Then you we wanted to take it a couple of steps further so then we move into what we call monitoring and refining so, you can't just introduce something and hope or assume that it's going to work well over the course of the rest of the year.
So we had to find ways to monitor and refine what they were doing independently. We also did this because administrators want to see types of documentation, and we want types of the documentation to see how students are doing. So as we begin to take up, "Okay, you know what are they doing well where they need more support?"
Then we provide an additional sort of extension or kind of modeling or teaching. To take their independence a step further or a step deeper, and then as we continue to do that we kind of have one final stage which is extending so we needed to move beyond the, sort of, either traditional documentation or independence. We want it to be collaborative in nature and we want it to go deeper so for example, for reading responses that might be moving from beyond the initial reading responses and analyzing them for depth, but also then taking up characteristics of what the author's doing. So they might use some inspired writing has a way to response to reading.
Then the final component is assessment, so basically we moved through pre assessing teaching, scaffolding, monitoring, refining, extending, and assessing, and so it's kind of a never ending process of always trying to find a way to nudge our young readers, to move a little bit deeper into independence and meaningful reading.
Brett: Something else that really jumped out to me is how much time you write about space, not only the students reading space, but teachers space.
Lindsey: We really found that with the choice and the buying and purpose for reading as a community of readers, that the space defines a lot of that. If we want students to be independent, they have to be part of that community and they have to have ownership of that space. So we don't actually have a large teachers desk, we don't have a teacher's desk actually because we want the space to be a space of readers.
We have some shelves where we store our things, but in general we really try to work hard to define our spaces. So there's comfy reading spaces is at a library space, we have a wonder wall where kids can ask questions and identify new projects of inquiry. Everything that students need they can easily access and monitor everything from sticky notes to books, to notebooks, to pencils and scissors. Anything they might need they can always access without us, and that's really important.
Along with accessing the physical means without us, they also have access to the anchor chart so these ideas that we're introducing in lessons, maybe their fix up strategies, maybe their comprehension strategies, or ways of talking with partners. They are displayed with visuals around the room, so even our student who may not yet be decoding, can access and remember a ways of talking with other students.
So in order to facilitate independence we have to provide additional visual supports, reminders and spaces where students can interact freely, and they know what the purpose is. So if I go to read a novel, most of us wouldn't sit down in one of the hard plastic chairs and a desk sitting up right. We might sit on a couch or a comfy chair so we've got couches we have a loft, we have comfy spaces, we have bean-bag chairs.
We have quiet spaces, spaces were other students might be reading. The key is that students have to begin to on take responsibility for where, and when, and how they're reading. But we also have to create accessibility to that by the way we create our physical spaces. So in the book we do use … there are tons of pictures throughout the book, to sort of make transparent options, or opportunities for spaces that we found to be conducive to independence with young kids.
Brett: Well, I absolutely love the title of this book, it just jumps right out at you. It's just … it's such an obvious title but it's an important question that we ask all the time too, "What are the rest of my kids doing?" So as we wrap up is there anything else you think people should know about the book, or anything you want to add?
Lindsey: No, I think the best thing I can tell you is that is probably the most honest, and real recap of life in the primary grades and helping six year old be independent. So throughout the book, we share, you know sometimes we had ideas that we thought would go really well and we tried them and they didn't, and we showed those things too.
So we talk about all of our learning over the course of a couple of years, that we were lucky enough to document, through video and photograph and reflection in this book. As a way to really make transparent what it can look like with the successes and some of the challenges, because you have a both as you're trying to help young readers grow and be independent.
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