Friday, October 31, 2008

More school

Since I'm on a roll with my assignments, I might as well post chapters 4-6 of that book you readers liked so much, right? Ha! I'm going to post it anyway. Chapters 7-9 are coming tomorrow. I don't work Fridays, so I'm going to spend all day cranking out the last three chapter summaries for this Saturday, my last day of class for LANG 7801 at Hamline University. In two weeks I'm up for LANG 7802: Literacy in Grades K-6 with a different professor. I'm looking forward to the change. I need to keep things fresh to avoid getting myself into another rut. Here you go:

Chapter 4: The Presence of the Past (Using Schema to Understand and Remember)


The authors begin to explain what schema is with a short introduction from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. They take turns discussing how they personally responded to the passage and what it reminded them of in their own lives. They explain that schema is nothing more than capitalizing on the known before diving into two portraits of classroom teaching where the teachers focus on this strategy in their classrooms. One of the teachers they follow for an eight-week schema unit is Debbie Miller. The other is Kathy Powell. Both are primary grade teachers in the Denver area. Both use the “Gradual Release of Responsibility” model for their schema units. The schema strategy studies involve four phases in both classrooms: planning, early, middle, and late. These are explained in a useful table on page 76. Both teachers model thinking aloud as a way to tap into student’s prior knowledge frequently and believe that good literature is vital to teaching the strategy of thinking aloud. The authors include a useful table about how to choose a good think-aloud text on page 81. Finally, in true Keene and Zimmerman form, they list a summary of what proficient readers do in bullet point form as it relates to schema and using background knowledge to remember what is read.

Personal Response

Reading about Debbie Miller’s classroom in this chapter is absolutely inspiring! Hearing about good teaching practices while using excellent literature in the classroom to inspire young minds is what I aim to do as a reading teacher, so it’s always nice to read about someone doing just that. I got many good ideas from Miller as to using the language of schema strategy in the classroom whether it is writing it down on a chart or just addressing it orally to students. I know from previous educational experiences that Miller is a teacher that spends months establishing the culture of her classroom, and I think that is essential to solid reading teaching. She would not have been able to have those discussions without that structure in place. It seems daunting now to think about spending eight weeks on a schema unit in a classroom, but the results that Miller was able to achieve are incredibly rewarding. Also, Miller emphasized author schema as a strategy, bringing together books of similar authors for students to study so that when they read a book with that author, they will know how to go about thinking about their reading. I never realized how much what I know about a particular author influences my reading as well. I will definitely use these author studies in my practice as well.
Chapter 5: The Art of Discovery (Questioning)


This chapter begins with Susan Ludvigson’s poem “Inventing My Parents” and an immediately following reflection from the authors on the questions asked while reading the poem. The authors point out that questioning is really just a quest for more information and that it along with the other strategies in the book is essential to reading comprehension. The authors quote research that states children who struggle to read don’t consistently ask questions as they read. The chapter also follows the middle school classroom of Julie Melnyk as she uses Chris Van Allsburg’s The Wretched Stone to teach questioning while reading. The authors then follow a primary teacher as she leads her first-grade class in the practice of questioning while reading using reading and writing workshops. Both teachers use authentic literature and model thinking aloud to formulate questions before asking them to generate their own questions on their own books. Both teachers use the Gradual Release of Responsibility model for strategy instruction. Both teachers use reading and writing workshop as an essential part of their strategy instruction, and a crafting session plays a huge role in the writing workshop. Finally, the authors discuss the culture of the classroom and how to set expectations during an open reading and writing workshop, including crafting sessions, invitational groups, and reflection sessions.

Personal Response

The authors make a point that resonates with me deeply when they talk about people who never ask us questions about ourselves and how we take this personally. They say that these people are people that we don’t make friendships with because we feel like they don’t care. They turn to mere acquaintances. I’ve never thought of before. Questions are just so vital to human existence, when we don’t ask them, we feel that we are being neglected. Questions are things that I thought were natural, just not to children. Because questions are so natural in teaching, I think it has become too habitual and teachers (like myself) often forget to ask real and thought-provoking questions. I’m learning through my work with the AVID program that children have to be taught to create higher level thinking questions and they need explicit instruction on how to do this. I use cue words, words such as “hypothesize”, “compare and contrast”, and “analyze” just to name a few. I’m sure there are other ways to do this though. I also use a lot of the thinking aloud strategies with questioning that the middle school teacher in this chapter does with her students. I think questioning is one of my strengths when it comes to teaching strategies, just because it’s something I do so naturally. Where I fall short, however, is the talking about the strategy itself. The middle school teacher in the chapter says specifically, “I realize that when I ask these questions, they play a very specific role. They help me get grounded in the story. The questions pull me right into the story and make me want to find out more.” This is something I think to myself, but not something I have been saying out loud. I will change that from now forward in my personal and professional practice because I have learned from the reading that this is important for students to know so they don’t protest by saying things like, “why do we always have to ask so many questions?” (I’ve had students say this to me too.)

Chapter 6: Creating Meaning (Inference)


The authors begin with their usual piece of text and reflection based on the strategy focus, this time inferring. The authors state that “when we’re considering the most effective ways to teach inference, we must begin by scrutinizing how we infer. We need to be aware of our thinking, so we can be as explicit as possible when describing to children how we infer in lessons.” The authors also state how important it is to listen to an inner voice and trust that voice when making meaning from reading and how readers need to know that they aren’t “wrong” in their inferences if they are different from those of their classmates. The authors stress the importance of conferring in strategy instruction once again. A useful table that I know I will refer back to is that on page 160, telling me how to instruct careful book selections for students. The authors do their usual following of a two teachers during conferences with students, and are painfully careful to listen to both student and teacher during the conference.

Personal Response

I like the way the one of the authors describes inferring in this chapter. She states that “I trusted that listening to my inferences would help me understand. I didn’t always read this way. I have had to work hard to make myself a more aware reader, one who thinks about her thinking as she reads. I have moved from a passive to an active stance.” I like this series of statements because I think many students are similar, from what I’ve observed. Again, I think it is important to implicitly tell students that they are thinking about their thinking as they are reading, and this is not something that I thought about before reading this book. I do a lot of questioning when reading myself, I don’t trust myself or my inferences a lot of the time, so this strategy is one I’m going to have to work a little harder on if I’m going to teach it effectively.

Major Learnings

A major part of what I learned this week would be the fact that it is preferred for teachers to use the big words such as schema in front of their students, even as low as second grade. It seems to be that when students know what you are teaching and have a firm grasp on why they need to know what they need to know, they are more active in their learning. I don’t think I would have thought to use the word “schema” when addressing a group of seven-year-olds, but after reading this I just might. One of the teachers in the case studies uses the phrase “your very important job when I’m reading” and I will use this in my practice because I know believe it is important for students to know what the goal is before reading.

Classroom Connections

A lot of what I read about this week with teaching reading strategies also holds true with just plain good teaching strategies. Know your students and what they know so that you can activate the right schema for the book or lesson you are teaching. Listen to your students and their responses when you are reading so that you know how to correct thinking and redirect conversation as needed. Come prepared to the classroom goes without saying. The most powerful classroom connection however comes with the thought that reading is synonymous with thinking and doing. There needs to be a system in place in a classroom so that students know that the culture of that classroom is a thinking culture. Students and teachers alike need to be held accountable for their thoughts and this takes time to build this classroom culture. This is what I will strive for in my future classroom and all other educational experiences that I come to before my own classroom. There is no one way that does this. There are strategies that the authors suggest and I will use thinking aloud and model taking notes with the best of them.

Monday, October 27, 2008

This is funny

Just a bit of student humor. Click here. Harmless, and work-friendly, of course!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

One of my assignments

In case any of my readers was interested in what I am devoting my life to so diligently over the next year and a half. I thought I would post a sample of the work I am turning in to my graduate program for an additional license in K-12 Reading.


Additional chapters to come later

Part I: Written Analysis of Professional Book Chapters 1-3
October 21, 2008

Keene, Ellin Oliver and Susan Zimmerman. (2007). Mosaic of Thought: The Power of Comprehension Strategy Instruction, Second Edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


After reading Hutchins and Zimmerman’s 7 Keys to Comprehension: How to Help Your Kids Read It and Get It! and working with fifth graders on reading comprehension in the past year, I realize I need to become more skilled at teaching comprehension strategies. I want this book to become the first of many in helping me build a “comprehension curriculum” for teaching reading. This book seemed like the perfect anecdote to help do exactly that.

Chapter 1 Summary

In “Creating A New Mosaic,” the authors challenge teachers to think differently at how reading comprehension is taught, creating the image of reading comprehension as a mosaic. Each piece of information gathered from reading is a tile that adds to the mosaic of information in a student’s mind. With each discussion, a student will piece together a different meaning from the text. The authors introduce themselves as authors of the first edition and tell us how they became interested in the area of comprehension strategy instruction, explaining how too many teachers become reliant on book lists and word memorization, creating a culture of fluent readers but readers that can’t understand what they’ve just read. The authors list the teachers they worked with in their research, and inspire practicing teachers to go beyond traditional methods of teaching reading to inspire future generations of students to read, re-read, invent, explore, question, and imagine while they are reading. A think-aloud while reading-aloud strategy in a fifth-grade classroom is modeled. Because this is the introductory chapter, the most informative content comes from Figure 1.1 on page 14 detailing the seven meta-cognitive strategies that will later be explained throughout the book: Monitoring, schema, questioning, determining importance, inferring, using sensory and emotional images, and synthesizing.

Personal Response

I very much agreed with the idea that reading is an action sport because all the action takes place in your mind. I think it is important that students be taught to think about thinking that takes place while reading. I also liked the connection that looking is synonymous with reading, as the authors introduced with the poems at the beginning of the chapter. I have books that I read and re-read and gain something from each reading. The authors make a valid point with the idea of a “gradual release of responsibility from teacher to student.” I know this is what I struggle most with when teaching reading to older elementary students. The idea that you give them a book and expect something to catch on doesn’t work all the time. I agree with the statement: “It’s not enough to put books in the hands of children and check in once in a while.” Although time spent reading is crucial to learning to comprehend, it doesn’t mean that the strategies involved in comprehension are always second nature to those students. I have also taught students who do nothing but imitate my thinking when they were not confident with their own thoughts about the book we were discussing.

Chapter 2 Summary

“Changing Times” begins by differentiating comprehension instruction from comprehension assessment. The authors define comprehension instruction as instruction that actively engages students in asking questions, summarizing and synthesizing text, and identifying important ideas. The authors then go a step further to define proficient reading as reading that involves using more than one strategy at a time. They state that children should move effortlessly from one strategy to the next without prompting if they are a proficient reader. The second half of the chapter engages readers in a question and answer session about comprehension strategy instruction. Key questions include: “Why do we need to teach comprehension strategies,” “is there an order to how they are taught,” and “what is the best reader’s workshop structure?” The authors make a distinction between strategy instruction at the primary and intermediate levels. They say that primary students should be taught monitoring, using background knowledge, questioning, creating mental images, inferring, determining importance, and synthesizing while intermediate students should be taught that but in a different order. Intermediate students should learn monitoring, using background knowledge, inferring, determining importance, synthesizing, questioning, and creating mental images. Finally, the authors state the reader’s workshop that best supports comprehension instruction has three components: large group meeting time with a think aloud, a long period of time for independent reading where the teacher moves around to conference individually, the formation of needs-based groups to address specific learning needs, and a time for reflection with other students.

Personal Response

This chapter explained strategy instruction so that it was better for me to understand than the first chapter. I’m looking forward to reading further because I still feel like this is rather introductory material. The distinction between primary and intermediate elementary grades is informative because that distinction is based around what students are exposed to during high-stakes standardized testing. The question about whether or not students should be exposed to strategies one at a time or in an integrated fashion is also interesting. I work as a member of an AVID program being piloted at four different sites in grades 6-8. (AVID is a program for grades 6-12 that teaches reading strategies, study skills, and organizational habits needed for success in college.) I work along side teachers with different philosophies in this matter. At one site, I am seeing teaching of just one strategy at a time. This week it was questioning. At another site, the teacher believes that all of these should come together at some point and hands his students a passage to read with little instruction of what to do while reading. From my observations as a tutor, I noticed that the students given the one-at-time strategy instruction grasped it faster and were able to understand the reading better that the students that were not given reminders of strategies. Of course there are other factors involved and I am in no way saying one method is superior to another. I’m simply connecting what I read this week to a classroom experience, and it will certainly be interesting to follow these classes over the course of the year with the knowledge gleamed from this chapter (and in this course and program).

Chapter 3 Summary

“Mindful Reading” was about monitoring and revising comprehension. It began with an essay full of pitfalls for comprehension and one of the authors reflects on her reading process of the essay with a particular emphasis on her monitoring for meaning. She models how she does this by writing what she’s thinking as she reads. It is explained in this chapter that monitoring is the umbrella under which the other comprehension strategies fall and that each of the strategies can be considered a type of monitoring. The chapter then allows the reader to visit the classrooms of two teachers, a high school teacher and a second grade teacher. The chapter details what kinds of instruction these two teachers give to their students about monitoring for meaning while reading, everything from what they say to what they don’t say and let their students figure out on their own while reading. The second grade teacher gives an example of a conference she has with one of her students. Finally, the chapter ended with a summary of what proficient readers do, in bullet point format.

Personal Response

The key statement for me in this chapter was one that came after the example high-school lesson: “If we can understand the more subtle features of the reading obstacles themselves, the solutions we teach will be more effective and tailored.” This is something that is incredibly difficult to do. The chapter pointed out for me, that teaching reading is more about listening to students than it is about teaching vocabulary or phonics. The teachers that were observed were careful with their approach, and did not correct their students when reading aloud unless it conflicted with that individual student’s meaning of the word. I can only hope that this will be me in the coming months or years. I can only hope that my teaching brings me to situations where I’m able to conference one-on-one with students and really hone in on their level, skills, and interests. The teacher in this chapter “gave her students a glimpse into the vast array of ways they can repair and revise their comprehension once it has broken down” and “gave them tactics to revise and repair comprehension to more useful situations.” This is precisely the way I already approach tutoring reading, so I hope that I continue to grow as a reading teacher with every student I tutor and every piece that I give my students to read.

Major Learnings

I think that the connection made most frequently while reading was that to teach reading I have to be a careful reader myself. I have to be aware that I am employing those skills while reading so that I can model them in a think aloud for my students. This is something that takes practice! I don’t always dive into a newspaper article and say “Ok, what is my purpose for reading this today?” I don’t always pick up the book I read before bed and say, “Let me think about why the author wrote this or what this word means.” Maybe I will from now on. Maybe I should.

Classroom Connections:

Seeing as how I work with a program that teaches reading strategies, I will definitely use the monitoring strategies I learned about this week while reading in my everyday practice. Lately when I sit down with a student my first question is “What are you having difficulty understanding about the article?” I have found this is often too broad of a question and leads to much more frustration than it is worth. The third chapter has given me more examples of things I can say to a student during a conference than just that. I will definitely use more modeling in my teaching practice, such as the modeling that the high school teacher did in the third chapter. I liked “I’ll give it one more sentence,. Often when I’m really overwhelmed, I find that if I just read one or two more sentences, things start to become clearer.” I liked that this is said out loud because I would ordinarily think that but not say it.

Rambling random thoughts. WARNING: Incoherent post ahead

As I type this, I should be reading and typing responses to two more chapters of Mosaic of Thought. It's Saturday night. I have no motivation to do so, but I have to get going because I have no time tomorrow. Somehow I think I bit off a little more than I can chew when it comes to the whole community event planning, school, two jobs, getting along with roommates, trying to be a decent human being thing. It's just not working. I'm going insane. Why can I never find a decent balance between work and play? Why did I just use the word decent three times in one paragraph? Why do I think of a hundred other things to do when I'm supposed to be doing homework? Why do I ask so many questions? The next chapter I have to read is a chapter about questioning as a comprehension strategy. Maybe that will help me. Anyway, I'm off to make some tea and sit down to study again. Blah. I love my life. Really, I do. If I can only tweak it a little to play more and work less. Good thing we are going to the cabin next week. I will need a real weekend after this mess of a pretend weekend. Ha! Later.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Need new post

I realize I haven't posted in a week. I realize it's Sunday and I need to post an update. For some reason I don't feel like it and for some reason I need inspiration. This is my cry for help. I have writer's block. I need an idea for a post. What do my readers want to hear from or about me? Take some time and think it over. I will be reading MOSAIC OF THOUGHT for class and writing reflections proving I read it all day. Until I see something on here suggesting what I write for a next post, I'm outta here. Enjoy your day.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

One day, when I have a lot of time on my hands...I would like to try my hand at this:

Delicious Oatmeal Bread

From the NY Times Natural Foods Cookbook

1 ½ cups boiling water

1 cup rolled oats

¾ cup molasses (or honey or ½ cup sugar)

3 tablespoons soft butter

2 teaspoons salt

1 packet yeast

2 cups lukewarm water

8 cups unbleached white flour, approx

(or 4 cups whole wheat, 4 cups white)


Pour the boiling water over the oats and let stand 30 min

Add the molasses (or honey), soft butter and salt

dissolve the yeast in the warm water and add to the oat mixture

Beat, and work in enough of the lour to make a medium-soft dough. Turn onto a floured counter and knead until smooth, adding more flout as needed, about 10 min.

Place the dough in a clean buttered bowl, turn to butter the top, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about one hour

Turn out onto the counter again, divide and shape into two loaves and place in well-oiled loaf pans (9” x5”x 3”).

Cover and let rise until double in bulk, about 45 min.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bake the loaves five minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees

Bake 40 minutes longer, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Brush the tops with butter for a soft crust.

Friday, October 10, 2008


In a conversation with my favorite classmate teacher in class it was suggested that I go to Argentina when I mentioned the desire to teach English abroad. I don't think this notion is going to go away anytime soon. I don't want to leave a place that is so comfortable, but until I do something that truly pushes me outside of my comfort zone once again. I would also like to be bilingual, and this is a notion that I'm not going to get over either. I need to make this one of my goals on my to do list in the next five years. Just noting that. On with regularly scheduled blogging now.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Why am I not a normal 20-something?

The roommates are socializing downstairs on what seems to be a "normal" Saturday night and I want no part of it. It's not that I want to sleep; I just want to listen to music and look over my week plan and do generally introverted and bookish and computer-ish anti-social activities and have some "me time."

Is that so bad?

Why should I worry that the roommates will look down on me later for not hanging out with them on this prime weekend morning? Why should I care?

Why won't I let my anxiety SHUT UP already?

That's just the beginning.

Also, Jason Mraz and rocks my world just about now.

Life After AmeriCorps, Part 2,000

No more infant/toddler rooms for this recycled art guru!

I'm moving up in the world. I have gained steady employment in FOUR Minneapolis Public Schools with the AVID Program.

One of these schools happens to be a said school where I was an AmeriCorps member last year and I'm excited to be returning to the community.

Life just has a way of throwing you curve balls (good ones, might I add) when you least expect it.