So You Want to Add Literature Discussion Groups to Your Classroom…

So You Want To Add Literature Discussion Groups to Your Classroom...

Developed in the 1980’s, Literature Discussion Groups (LDGs) were inspired by a group of students who wanted to continue talking about their books as a group. As a result, educators across the nation have utilized this type of small group work in their literacy classrooms. But while there are many different frameworks for Guided Reading for educators to implement, Literature Discussion Groups can look different from class to class. With this being acknowledged, there are commonalities that most share. Below is a chart which depicts the common elements of Literature Discussion Groups, as well as a comparison to Guided Reading.

Literature Discussion Groups Guided Reading
Purpose To develop critical thinking, speaking and listening skills while diving deep into the text as a peer group. LDG support collaboration, independence, and reading as a social and lifelong experience.    Small group instruction to help students build their reading power so that they can apply skills independently. Must include direct instruction from an expert teacher.
Who Typically used in grades 7-12. ALL students in the class are part of LDGs. Student Choice is extended to ALL students and teachers support and scaffold access to text so that all may participate. Mostly occurring in elementary classrooms, Guided Reading can also be used to support older students on foundational skills, reading comprehension, or vocabulary needs.
Text Students have a choice in what they read. Students typically make their choice based off of book talks or other intros. of the text. All students have their own copy of the text which they can annotate or add sticky notes to while reading and prepping for the discussion.   The text is determined by the teacher. Relevance and engagement are considered in book selection, as well as appropriate challenge and instruction purpose.
Groups Groups of 5-7 students based on choice. Groups are fluid and temporary, changing with each new book selection. All LDGs occur at the same time. Groups are created based on student needs and are typically made up of 4-6 students. Groups should be fluid and evaluated and changed about every three weeks. Guided Reading groups take place one at a time with the teacher.
Teacher Role The teacher acts as a facilitator, listening in on each group but does not become a member of them. During the small group discussions, the teacher takes notes which are used for reflective feedback, whole class instruction and/or evaluation/participation. The teacher designs direct instruction to focus student comprehension, word study, and fluency during small group instruction. The teacher listens in as each student reads and makes on the spot teaching decision based on reading behaviors exhibited.  
Student Role Students develop questions, participate in substantive conversations, support thinking with textual evidence and critical thinking. Students build collective understanding through dialogic learning. Students learn and apply skills from teacher instruction to guided reading text, and independent text. Students individually read the text to self and out loud when designated by the teacher. Students participate in discussion and extension activities in Guided Reading.

This independence and thoughtful discussion about reading in Literature Discussion Groups is one of the goals for literacy teachers. We want our students to enjoy reading, have a choice in what they read, and be able to thoughtfully discuss what they read with others. While this type of small group work does not happen naturally in most classrooms, there are scaffolds and management procedures that teachers can use to set everyone up for success.

First, it is important for students to understand the purpose of LDGs and have a clear image of what a high-functioning group looks and sounds like. This can be done through a video, discussion, or demonstration. Last week I had the pleasure to tape an example LDG with a group of teachers who plan to share it with their students. This exercise allowed us to talk through the important elements we wanted to highlight in the video, as well as a way for teachers to grow their own understanding of LDG by participating in one.

Second, cocreate norms with the students. Kids are smart, they know what groups need in order to remain focused, fair, and consistent. Voicing and agreeing upon norms will support the success of all LDGs. Some norms I had in my own classroom:

  • Be Prepared
  • Ensure all voices are heard
  • Disagree with the statement, never attack the person
  • Negotiate your own time, there is NO Hand Raising in discussions

Scaffold the learning, as stated earlier, LDGs do not happen naturally in the classroom setting. Be prepared to model, live-group demonstration, and reflect. You may also consider starting slow, have all groups start with the same, short piece. Play a more active role in the beginning and drop off to a facilitator role when they get up and running, or use Role Sheets to support discussions. (Note, LDG Roles were first used to scaffold the learning and were not designed to be used by all students for every LDG). Assign each student an individual role, or have all students be the same role (Connector or Summarizer works well for this). Common Roles in LDGs:

  • Discussion Director
  • Connector
  • Vocabulary Identifier
  • Summarizer
  • Illustrator
  • Researcher
  • Literary Lumininator
  • Map Maker

Along with scaffolding, it is important for each teacher to define the purpose and end goals with the implementation of Literature Discussion Groups. During a thoughtful discussion with a group of high school teachers, the consideration of ALL students participating ensued. Should a student be able to exercise their choice in reading if they cannot access the text alone? My answer was answered with a question – what is your purpose? While students do gain and refine skills during LDG, my main purpose for implementation was independence, collaboration, discussion, and critical thinking. All of my high school students read at various levels based on skill and interest, but I never denied any student the opportunity to participate in a peer discussion. The gains far outweighed the risks for during this collaboration.

Assessing. How should I grade students during LDGs? Most educators use both a self and teacher evaluation for grading Literature Discussion Group participation. Students self-assess through a checklist or written response in which they evaluate their own role and contributions to the discussion, as well as their groupmates. This reflection can be powerful for goal-setting and student ownership of learning. Teachers also add their own notes that were gathered during the facilitation of the small groups to the evaluation process. Still, other educators assign flat points for participation or no grade at all.

Finally, don’t be afraid to add your own flair and teaching style to Literature Discussion Groups. Add a new role, The Nosy Neighbor, Aesthetician, Freudian or Existentialist Lenses. Promote digital collaboration through the use of technology or connect your students with others reading the same text outside of the four walls of your classroom. Add a visual element through annotations, sketchnoting, or drawing to be completed by all students prior to the discussion.

Check out my Wakelet for resources used during this post on LDGs

 

A Collection of Social Studies Resources

My Post (3)

  • What happens when cultures collide?
  • How can I be part of the solution?
  • Are rights the same as responsibilities?
  • What influences my space and place?
  • How can data be used to tell a story?

We need more inquiry, more beautiful questions, more Problem Seekers, not just Problem Solvers.

Lately, I have been making connections between literacy and social studies. Along with refining inquiry instructional frameworks and strategies, I have begun collecting useful resources for educators. Find the list HERE

Let me know if I have forgotten any of your favorites?

Research Isn’t Sexy… But You Need It Anyway!

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For some time now Steven Anderson and I have been reflecting on our own learning and professional development practices, looking for gaps in instruction and aiming to improve our craft. One of our longest conversations has been around research. In the work we do, we are constantly reading and attempting to understand the research behind the popular instructional movements of today. What we find is that much of the educational research available today isn’t used, isn’t cited, and really isn’t sexy.

Take, for instance, literacy instruction.

While trying to capture the success in student achievement scores in literacy from the research and studies done in the 1980s to the early 2000s the RTI (Response To Intervention) process and framework were created (Vellutino et al.). RTI was developed to help schools replicate the gains witnessed in this research. Today, RTI has morphed into MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) but very few districts have seen the increase in student-achievement that was initially experienced.

What happened?

While the RTI framework was adopted and utilized throughout the nation, the actual reading strategies and interventions used to achieve this growth were left behind. Implementing only half of the research (RTI Framework) while substituting different interventions and reading strategies have produced only limited results, leaving many administrators, teachers, and students frustrated. We know what works in literacy, and there is research behind it (most reading research is in the Psychology field) but still fail to dig into it, much less use it. (Kilpatrick)

Education research is vast. It spans disciplines, instruction, leadership, and many other components that contribute to a school. The problem has become that research has been co-opted by publishers, organizations, and individuals to sell one-size-fits-all quick fixes, programs and books. Many will ignore the fundamental findings of the research and insert their own ideas and practices that help these packages fly off the shelf.

With the abundance of research available, why do very few practitioners use it? What barriers exist that slow the transfer into the classroom? And what can be done to support administrators and practitioners in their quest of research-based methods?

We believe that there are 5 Main Barriers that exist which impacts how or if educators use research. While there could certainly be more added to this list, we feel these were the top 5 Problem Areas.

  1. Access and Abundance – Digging deep into research is typically done during college. Free access to databases, extensive libraries, experts for days. But upon graduation access is limited and met with the dreaded paywalls when locating many peer-reviewed articles, journals, and research. On top of limited access, the abundance of research out there is overwhelming. A simple search on Google Scholar with the keywords “Struggling Readers” lists 500,000 results. It is no wonder educators do not know where to begin when sifting through the research.

  2. Lack of Research in PD – There is no doubt the access to professional development is more abundant now than ever before. But that comes at a risk for individual educators and district leadership. We want to provide and participate in high-quality learning, however, much isn’t grounded in any realistic or research-based practices but instead, they are the ideas that someone read about or heard about or tweeted about. Anyone today can learn about innovation, makerspaces, augmented reality, really any instructional practice, create a slide deck and share it with the world. Instructional practices that impact student learning are based in more than tweets and blog posts. As learners and leaders, we have to model and understand where these ideas are coming from and are they based in sound research.

  3. Time – Time is a commonly mentioned barrier for educators. From new initiatives, faculty meetings, lesson planning, and connecting with students; time to do everything well is a deterrent for many educators when it comes to research.

  4. Research is Written For Researchers – Most research is written for other researchers, not necessarily the practitioners in the field. With this in mind, it is no wonder that many educators find it inaccessible because of the jargon used by a specific group of professionals. This jargon is filled with technical terminology that is understood as both a literal and figurative level by the group but leaves the rest of us guessing. (Education Jargon Generator)

  5. Distrust and Disconnect Between Theory and Practice – First, disconnect. There often times is a gap between theory and reality when reading research done by professionals in the same discipline but with little to no educational background. Ideas, studies, and strategies are examined with a skeptical lens and doubt is raised when research seems isolated or without consideration of the whole child or educator demands. What many educators do not realize is the disconnect within education research itself. With no agreed upon definition of research-based, no common training methods for preservice educators, and both qualitative and quantitative inquiries producing complementary but still fragmented results, the disconnect, cognitive bias, and skepticism of authority is not only confusing but creates a sense of distrust among the education community. Educators are more apt to believe other teachers implementing a program or using a specific framework over the years of research with statistics and data.  (D.W. Miller)

Items To Consider

  • Comparing Sources: One source isn’t gospel. Do your homework. Be open to opposing ideas. Don’t be married to an idea because you agree. If the research isn’t there, it’s not there. Be a critical discerner of information and ask lots of questions when you participate in professional development or are in a presentation. Ask where the research is and investigate yourself. Can you draw the same conclusions? Compile a list, according to your discipline, of leading theorists in the field to cross-check what you hear and read.

  • Research-Based Is A Convoluted Term: When designing activities that include techniques or strategies that have been research-proven, you can then call it “researched-based”. Since there are varying degrees of improvement (statistically significant yes, but how much) and are there approaches that work better and have a higher effect size, it is important to have a basic understanding of the research. If there isn’t any then that doesn’t mean you can’t use it. It just means you have to be more skeptical of the results, long-term.

  • Be A Researcher: No, this doesn’t mean you need to know about standard deviations or methodologies. What it means is be a student of your students. Gather data and examine what’s happening with student learning. What does the data show? Are the practices you are using improving student understanding? Are the results what you expected? What went wrong (or right!)? Be a reflective educator.

  • Always Remember To Keep Students First: Even research can get it wrong. You know your students. Always do what is best for them, even when that means going against what others say.

Resource/Reading List:

Assistive Technology to Support Struggling Readers Including Dyslexia: Microsoft Learning Tools for the Win!

fiction

As one whose passion is blended between literacy and technology, I seek out the best EdTech resources to share with educators to support literacy in their classrooms. Most of my teaching and learning experience involves both Google and Apple options, but recent investigation and application allow me to say, without a doubt, in the area of Assistive Technology to support struggling readers in the classroom, Microsoft Learning Tools wins, hands down, and offers students a comprehensive option.

Adolescents who struggle with reading face multiple challenges throughout the school day. They are constantly confronted with a text they cannot read in almost every discipline, motivation and peer acceptance play a major role in identity and self-esteem, diagnostic tools to pinpoint exact deficits are difficult to locate, and many of their teachers have had little to no training in foundational skills of reading. While many adolescent readers may have difficulty in comprehension and vocabulary, a rising number of older students are diagnosed with Dyslexia and experience decoding issues.

Dyslexia is not a visual issue; kids don’t see letters and words backward or in reverse. Dyslexia is a specific learning disability in reading; which impacts learning, not intelligence. It’s mainly a problem in reading accurately and fluently.  Decoding issues are a sign of dyslexia and direct instruction beginning with letter-sound correlation is often needed, but there are immediate things all teachers can do to help students, even if they have no understanding of how to teach phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency. This support can come in the form of Assistive Technology. “In a broad sense, assistive technology (AT) is any device, piece of equipment or system that helps a person with a disability work around his challenges so he can learn, communicate or simply function better.” (Understood.org)

As previously stated, I believe that Microsoft Learning Tools provides students who struggle with reading, including those with dyslexia, a comprehensive set of free tools to support their daily literacy needs. If the goal of AT is to provide students tools for independence, I recommend all teachers become familiar with the top 5 ways I see these tools helping students:

  1. Text to Speech – Text to Speech provides both the visual and audio needed to support fluent readers. By seeing the words and hearing it read aloud, students are not only able to access text that may have been too difficult to read independently but are reinforcing vocabulary and fluency.
  2. Display Controls – Display Controls allow students to customize their reading experience by font, size, color, and language. But, Microsoft Learning Tools takes it a step further, allowing students options with spacing, syllables, and parts of speech.  There is also an option to mask part of the screen minimizing distractions and focusing on the line read. (Slideshow below highlights options available)

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  3. Annotation Tools – Many struggling readers often use all of their cognitive energy decoding text and can’t remember what they had just read. Annotation tools allow students to take notes as they read. simply by switching browsers, students can use Microsoft Edge to annotate and save images directly from web pages into their OneNote Notebook. While there are many annotation tools out there, this one was so simple, streamlined and provided many annotation options! Plus…
  4. Optical Character Recognition – Microsoft also allows students to the option to capture text from pictures and pdf when shared to OneNote. So not only can students annotate digital text, they can save their notes, share them, and then extract the text in the image to customize with text to speech or display controls.
  5. Dictionary – Finally, Microsoft Learning Tools allows students to learn unfamiliar words with the built-in dictionary. Not only does the dictionary define the word, but it also provides a picture and an audio clip to hear the word.

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All students should have the tools and resources needed to access content in the classroom. Microsoft Learning Tools allows students to not only access information but provides customization, annotation tools, OCR, and a visual and audio dictionary for FREE. The beauty of these Learning Tools is the ease and compatibility they have to work together. Supporting struggling readers in multiple areas not only supports their literacy development but provide options for future learning that they do in and out of school.

Strategies to Help Students Unlock Poetry

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Kids hate poetry. Well, not all kids, but by the time students entered my 9th Grade English class their feelings for poetry were typically between the levels of nonexistent to complete disdain. Students think poetry is difficult to understand, not relevant to their lives, or in a form that is not what they normally read or write.

Poetry depends on the effort of the reader.

Unlike a lengthy novel or even this blog post which allows me to write, explain, and use as much space as needed, poetry is intentional, compact, and demands an enhanced awareness from the reader. Educators can help students unlock the meaning of poems, which I believe, helps to change the negative perception of poetry into a positive one.  

Before Reading:

  • Notice the poet and title – what clues do they provide to help the reader understand the poem?
  • Identify form or visual clues – how many lines does the poem contain? (14 lines and looks like a square it is probably a sonnet) Is the structure familiar? Punctuation, font differences, stanzas, line placement (does the poem have a shape?) How could the form relate to the content?

After collecting initial thoughts based on the “Before Reading” preview of the poem, students should:

  • Read the poem multiple times
  • Read the poem out loud – your ears will pick up more than just reading it in your mind, does sound play an active role in the poem’s meaning?
  • Marginalia – annotate and make notes in the margins

During Reading:

  • Look up words that are unknown – every word that is in a poem is meant to be there. If a student does not know what a specific word means to have them look it up. Why did the author choose that specific word? How does knowing the definition of the word change what I am thinking?
  • Identify the speaker and situation – The speaker of the poem is not always the poet. What do I know about the speaker of this poem? Situation deals with time, location, and event. While a reader may not be able to identify all parts of the situation, the more one can identify aids into the understanding of the poem as a whole.
  • Identify tone
  • Notice rhythm and rhyme scheme – how is understanding enhanced?
  • Identify figurative language – imagery, metaphors, enjambment, slant rhyme, alliteration; how does the poet play with language and how does it enhance a reader’s understanding?
  • Notice the structure – Does the poem tell a story? Ask and answer a question? Structured like a speech or letter?

After Reading:

  • Reread margin notes
  • Reflect on notes, sound, information about the poem
  • Shared inquiry discussion with classmates

Providing students guidance and modeling on how readers unlock a poem’s meaning is a daunting task. Students should not be required to analyze and interpret every poem they read. Sometimes it is best to just read poems aloud to students, allowing them to appreciate the sound and interpret the poem holistically. In my own classroom, I would model these strategies of interpreting poetry for students before expecting them to do them on their own. We would read, write, and listen to all types of poems, some to unlock the meaning, others because I wanted them to hear some of my personal favorites. We would discuss poetry’s relationship to their lives, parallels to music, or current books they were reading all in verse. I wanted to reawaken their love of poetry, or at least open to giving it another chance.

When students become aware of intentional writing in poetry it enhances their awareness in the world. They begin to notice small nuances in what they see, read, watch, and hear and how these noticings amplify understanding of the world around them.