, IRC's monthly e-newsletter! Here you will learn, share, and enjoy information on timely topics and cutting edge projects. We'd love to hear your thoughts. Please contact us with your comments, suggestions, and ideas at
2016 IRC Conference planned for September 29 - October 1, 2016 in Peoria
By the Illinois Reading Council
At the 2016 IRC Conference, the Illinois Reading Council welcomes you to learn from a number of diverse featured speakers who will help teachers, specialists, and administrators from every grade level and content area. We are pleased to announce this year's speakers:
- Carmen Agra Deedy
- Jeff Anderson
- Sandra Athans
- Joan Bauer
- Kylene Beers
- Jennifer I. Berne
- Joelle Charbonneau
- Andrew Clements
- Sophie C. Degener
- Debbie Diller
- Nell Duke
- Ralph Fletcher
- Debra Franciosi
- Kelly Gallagher
- Tim Green
- Laurie Halse Anderson
- Deb Hays & Gail Huizinga
- Jennifer Holm
- Linda Hoyt
- Carol Jago
- Steven L. Layne
- Teri Lesesne
- Mike Lockett
- Lynda Mullaly Hunt
- Adam Peterson
- Amy Rasmussen
- Jason Reynolds
(aka Mr. Schu)
- Tracy Tarasiuk
- Jeffrey Wilhelm
- Becky Anderson Wilkins
Or, watch your mailbox for the Preliminary Program to arrive by mail very soon. For more information, visit the conference website at
IRC Book Club
By the Illinois Reading Council
Join educators from all over the state in an online book club!
Read, reflect, and respond to
Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. This nine-week course, beginning June 12, will focus on principles and strategies presented in Beers and Probst's text that will help students comprehend nonfiction text. Participants who complete all assignments are eligible to receive 15 PD clock hours at the conclusion of the book club. The expected time commitment for participants is approximately 1.5-2.0 hours/week.
Required for participation:
- Gmail address (free at https://mail.google.com/). The Book Club uses Google Sites.
- Text: Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. Text available through Heinemann (http://www.heinemann.com).
June 1, 2016
to participate in the book club. Registration is
for IRC Members. The cost for non-members is $45, which includes IRC membership for one year. Book club participants also have the opportunity to attend sessions with Kylene Beers and Robert Probst at the 2016 IRC Conference.
PLEASE NOTE: Conference registration and cost of book is not included.
Student Engagement: The Key to Student Achievement
By Roberta Sejnost, ILA State Coordinator
In the last issue, which focused on the first stage of
Robinson's 3 stages of learning, before the eyes meet the page, it was noted that:
- High levels of active engagement during lessons are associated with higher levels of achievement and student motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
- Active learning involves providing opportunities for students to meaningfully talk and listen, write, read, and reflect on the content, ideas, issues and concerns of an academic subject (Meyers & Jones,1993).
- Enticing students to learn requires activating their prior knowledge (Williams & Dunn, 2008) and making sure they are paying attention to what is to be learned (Fisher & Frey, 2008).
- Students must ask themselves: What do I need to know and what do I already know (Vacca & Vacca (2008)?
This issue of iCommunicate will focus on the second stage, while the eyes are on the page. It is within this stage that students are encouraged to become active learners. And, according to Roe, Stoodt-Hill & Burns (2009) students become active learners when they:
- Are given tasks that (a) are presented in multiple, interesting, enjoyable ways; (b) are developmentally appropriate, intellectual, authentic, challenging, novel, relevant; and (c) require strategic thinking skills.
- Actively interact with the text and keep their purpose for learning in mind.
- Validate predictions made.
- Stop and reflect on what is read.
- Share, discuss ideas, work collaboratively on problems, tasks, projects.
- Self-monitor their learning.
- Make connections between what they are learning (new knowledge) and what they already know (old knowledge).
- Use learning guides and graphic organizers to monitor and guide their learning.
As with the first stage,
there are a myriad of strategies that are best used WHILE the students' eyes are on the page, I will focus on three that I have found to be most effective.
With the advent of PARCC testing came the birth of Close Reading with its stress on annotating text. We know that annotation makes the reader an active participant in the reading of text, but
how can we be sure that students are actually interacting with text while they silently annotate. Two strategies, Say Something and Written Conversations, provided by Daniels and Harvey (2009), ask students to annotate while conversing with each other, thus assuring that active interaction with text is going on. The following steps clarify how to implement the Say Something strategy:
- In groups of 2-3 students take turns reading a text aloud occasionally stopping to "say something" about what they have read. Students decide who reads aloud/says something first.
- Student #1 reads 1-3 paragraphs and says something about the reading. Students #2 and #3 "say something" about the same passage.
- Student #2 then reads and the process continues.
- Students can do one or more of the following:
a. Make a prediction.
Ask a question.
c. Clarify something misunderstood.
Make a comment or connection.
e. Make an argument.
If student can't do one of these, they reread.
Written Conversations is similar but in this strategy students silently read the text and then respond by writing a note to their partners. The partners exchange their notes and the process continues. To implement Written Conversations students:
- Read a small chunk of text and then pair with partner and exchange notes about the selection.
- Swap notes every 2-3 minutes for a total of 2-4 exchanges depending on time constraints.
- Silently write for whole time by writing words, phrases, questions, ideas, connections related to passage or to what their partner wrote.
- Respond to open-ended prompts such as:
- "What do you understand/not understand in this section?"
- "What are the most important ideas here?"
- "Do you agree or disagree with the author, and why?"
- After 2-3 minutes, students exchange notes and write a response.
- Finally, a short whole-class discussion is held.
Save the Last Word for Me
The final strategy, Save the Last Word for Me, is especially effective to foster interaction with the text as well as facilitate discussion. To use this strategy students:
- Choose at least 5 statements from their reading they deem interesting, contradictory, surprising, intriguing, or reveals new knowledge.
- Record the quote and location on the front of an index card.
Record their thoughts/reflections about the statements and why they chose them on the back of the index card.
Gather in small groups and share their statements according to this format.
a. Student #1 chooses 1 statement and gives its location so all
can read it.
b. When all have read the statement, each student comments by
agreeing, refuting, supporting, clarifying, commenting, or
- After listening to all members' thoughts/reflections, student #1 shares his/her thoughts and reflections, thereby "saving the last word for me."
Be sure to watch for the next issue of
iCommunicate to learn strategies students can utilize after their eyes leave the page.
Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2008). Better Learning Through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, p.24.
Harvey, S., & Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension & collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
Meyer, C., & Jones, T. B. (1993). Promoting Active Learning: Strategies for the College Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.
Vacca, R. & Vacca, J. (2008). Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the
New York: New York Pearson
Modeling and Critiquing A Literacy Lesson: Powerful Professional Learning
By Tinaya York
I have been embarking on an instructional journey, which in full disclosure, started for mostly selfish reasons. It had been a while since I taught in a classroom and I missed it. However, the major idea I had been thinking about was the connection between reading and writing. I was wondering how planning to make this relationship more explicit by having students move in and out of texts to prepare for writing would impact writing to learn from an informational text. In addition, I wanted to see how modeling and feedback could impact teacher learning.
I read and reread some of the research on the reading and writing relationship and best practices for writing instruction (Anderson, N. L., & Briggs, C., 2011; Hampton, S., & Resnick, L. B., 2009; Tierney, R. J. & Shanahan, T., 1991; Stead, T. & Hoyt, L, 2012) and decided to use third grade classrooms as the test group.
The lesson had the following objectives and I told students that this is what they were responsible for:
- Working collaboratively with peers to learn about sharks. (SL.3.1)
- Using illustrations and the text to demonstrate understanding of what you read. (RI.3.7)
- Writing an opinionated informational text about sharks by studying at least two texts about sharks. (RI.3.9, W.3.1)
The lesson was not designed to teach students how to write well. It was an exploration into what happens when you set students up to write about what they read by having them engage in reading, speaking, listening and writing throughout a lesson.
This article is not about the lesson itself. That will be in another piece. This is about the magic of modeling a lesson with teachers and critiquing it together to consider maximum impact on children's literacy learning and teacher learning. I conducted the lesson in three classrooms with very different makeups. Teachers actively engaged with their students throughout the lesson as well as just observed and took notes. Thinking about each classroom and then across classrooms has my wheels turning about the learning that can happen for professionals through modeling and critiquing. The ideas that surfaced for me through this experience are the following:
Knew and New: Teachers seeing their students respond to a different teacher and different type of lesson brought out new understandings about their students and solidified what they already knew. Some were surprised about their students' level of engagement or thoughtful sharing with peers. Some confirmations about students' ability to read across several texts and write were had. In all, the lesson afforded teachers the opportunity to observe their students' thinking, reading and writing processes without the additional task of teaching.
Defining Rigor: After one debriefing session, a teacher remarked that the lesson helped her define rigor. She has a lot of students who struggle with literacy and need additional literacy supports. Some of the students are repeating the grade. By watching her students tackle the text and stay engaged with the text with minimal direction, she saw that her students can "do more."
The Right Question: The use of questions to target learning objectives helped teachers think about the different ways they approach their instructional targets. Teachers discussed how listening to students' responses to questions and listening to the different types of questions posed would be useful for future planning. They also were able to see if concepts they had taught students over the course of the year were mastered.
Teacher Talk: All three teachers commented on how little I talked. It surfaced their own wonderings about their talk time and if their teaching is dominated by their voice versus students. Our discussions around talk were tied to asking the right question and teacher preparation (knowing the text). The questions in the lesson prompted students to ask questions and supported student-led discussions and helped students unpack their own wonderings about the text. The teacher talk and questioning led to conversations tied to final thoughts I will share around classroom structures.
Structure: Teachers enjoyed how the lesson was organized but did question the length (One hour and a half, mainly because of my availability. The lesson could easily take a week) and the openness of the lesson. They wondered about the freedom students had to choose how they wrote in response to texts, lack of parameters on the what and the how of writing and that I didn't respond to all of the students' thinking. "How do you do that?" one mused. Another talked about how at different points she would have gone into explicit instruction (e.g., when it was time to write, when students had difficulty responding to a question). This led to conversations about teacher control and high structure versus low structure -- two teachers remarked, "they need to let go" (but only a little bit).
Another piece around structure was that each teacher's classroom represented a culture of learning. The work that the teachers put in from the beginning of the year allowed me to model. Similar characteristics across all classrooms were 1) students' respect for each other as learners, 2) students sharing ideas with each other or the teacher, 3) enthusiasm for learning, 4) student roles and responsibilities, and 5) fairness in how students are treated. The biggest differences across classrooms were 1) student to student talk and 2) how students approached writing. It was clear which were the classrooms where students had more opportunities to talk with each other and to write about their reading.
My thinking is not tied neatly in a bow just yet. I apologize to readers who thrive off closure. The professional learning that occurred amongst teachers from different classrooms and schools was a huge take away for me and I just had to write about it. It was a reminder of the power of modeling, the importance of grounding instructional practice in research, taking risks and being open to critique. This allowed teachers to have rich discussions about student learning and how different lessons can provide more opportunities for students to do the real work: "the person who does the work is the only one who learns" (Wong & Wong, 1998). It also opened my eyes to the importance of building relationships with colleagues. For readers, whether you are a teacher, coach or administrator I urge you to consider or reconsider the opportunities afforded for peer observations, feedback and safe practice.
A heartfelt thank you to the teachers who opened the doors of their classrooms.
Webinars: Culturally Responsive Instruction
By the Illinois Reading Council
The Illinois Reading Council and the Wisconsin State Reading Association are pleased to offer the
FREE Webinar series
for IRC and WSRA members again. This year's topic is
Culturally Responsive Instruction.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 11, 2016
Identity, Equity, and Literacy: Focusing on Struggling Readers
with Doris Walker-Dalhouse and Victoria Risko
Register today for the upcoming webinar!
- Description: This webinar is based upon the premise that teachers need to better understand the lives, language, culture, and educational practices of the diversity of struggling readers in their classroom if they are to scaffold their literacy learning in an age of increasing educational demands for academic accountability. Our intent in this webinar is to promote educational equity for struggling readers by supporting their acquisition of foundational English arts skills and higher order thinking abilities that are required for making sense of literacy and informational texts that are present in both online and offline literacy environments. The strategies presented can be integrated into the classroom in ways that support all students' ability to: attain high levels of comprehension and the ability to critique, analyze, and reconstruct meanings when reading and producing disparate text types and organizations, and engage in reading, writing, and speaking to generate texts that address multiple purposes.
Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading
By Roberta Sejnost, ILA State Coordinator
In the last iCommunicate, I summarized Recommendation #1: from the 2010 Carnegie report, Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading, a meta-analysis report spear-headed by Steve Graham and Michael Hebert from Vanderbilt University. This report was conducted to investigate the effectiveness of: (a) writing about text, (b) the teaching of writing, and (c) having students write more. The meta-analysis was performed to answer three basic questions about the impacts of writing on reading:
- Does writing about material read enhance students' comprehension of the text?
- Does teaching writing strengthen students' reading skills?
- Does increasing how much students write improve how well they read?
This issue will focus on Recommendation #2:
Teach students the writing skills and
processes that go into creating text.
In considering this recommendation, we must remember that writing and reading are not identical skills, but both rely on common processes and knowledge so that writing instruction strengthens a variety of reading skills (Fitzgerald and Shanahan, 2000). Thus, the instructional practices that best teach students the writing skills and processes that go into creating text are:
- Teach the (a) process of writing, (b) text structures for writing, (c) paragraph or sentence construction skills to improve reading comprehension
- Teach Spelling and Sentence Construction Skills (to improve reading fluency)
- Teach Spelling Skills (to improve word reading skills)
Teach the Process of Writing
As detailed in the website
developed by Jill Brown and Kathi Rhodus, ISBE's ELA content area specialists, the writing process consists of a set of steps when producing written language that coveys meaning. In essence, students should have opportunities to:
- write frequently for real audiences;
- engage in cycles of planning (prewriting), drafting, and revising text;
- take personal responsibility and ownership of writing projects;
- interact and help each other with their writing;
- participate in a supportive writing environment; and
- receive assistance and instruction as needed (Graham and Perin, 2007b)
Teach Text Structures for Writing
According to Crowhurst, 1991, text structure is an aid in creating good writing.
For example, by identifying text structures and their specific signal words, such as comparison/contrast, problem solution, cause and effect in model essays, students may emulate such structures in their own writing.
Teach Paragraph or Sentence Construction Skills
It is important to teach students to write sophisticated sentences by learning how to combine less complex sentences into more complex ones. Hunt and O'Donnell, 1970 note that this is best done when teachers model how to combine simpler sentences into more complex ones, and students practice combining similar sentences. Neville and Searls, 1991 claim that if one teaches the patterns for constructing sentences or larger units of text students' reading skills should improve.
Teach Spelling and Sentence Construction Skills
(to improve reading fluency)
The research of Ehri, 1987; Moats 2005/2006 illustrate that if we teach students how words are spelled, they will have a schemata that reveals the specific connections between letters and sounds. This makes it easier for them to identify and remember words they see in texts containing these connections. In addition, according to Ehri, 2000; Neville and Searls 1991, when students practice sentence construction, putting smaller units of writing together (from letters or words or words to sentences, in order to create more complex ones), they gain a greater skill in understanding such units as they read.
Teach Spelling Skills
(to improve word reading skills)
Finally, Ehri, 1987; Moats, 2005/2006 reveal that if students are taught how to spell, it becomes easier for them to identify and remember words in text. And, since spelling and word reading rely on the same underlying knowledge, when students are given instruction and practice in one, the development of the other is enhanced. (Ehri, 2000; Snow, Griffin, and Burns, 2005)
While this gives an overview of the second recommendation from the Carnegie Corporation report Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading, the entire report can be accessed at
. And, be sure to watch for future issues of iCommunicate to learn more about recommendation #3.
Crowhurst, M. (1991). Interrelationships between reading and writing persuasive discourse. Research in the Teaching of English, 25, 314-338. Ehri, L. (1987). Learning to read and spell words. Journal of Reading Behavior, 19, 5-31.
Ehri, L. (2000). Learning to read and learning to spell: Two sides of a coin. Topics in Language Disorders, 20, 19-49.
Fitzgerald, J., and Shanahan, T. (2000). Reading and writing relations and their development. Educational Psychologist, 35, 39-50.
Graham, S., and Perin, D. (2007b). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for adolescent students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 445-476.
Hunt, K. W., and O'Donnell, R. (1970). An elementary school curriculum to develop better writing skills. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED050108.
Moats, L. (2005/2006). How spelling supports reading-and why it is more regular and predictable than you may think. American Educator, 12-22, 42-43. S
Neville, D., and Searls, E. (1991). A meta-analytic review of the effects of sentence-combining on reading comprehension. Reading Research and Instruction, 31, 63-76. Graham and
Snow, C., Griffin, P., and Burns, M. (Eds.). (2005). Knowledge to support the teaching of reading: Preparing teachers for a changing world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
By the IRC Educational Media Committee
Take a moment to review some of the Literacy Links provided by the IRC Educational Media Committee to help Illinois educators in today's classrooms. These links and past links will be available on the IRC Website under "Literacy Links" on the homepage.
This interactive website allows students to create interactive stories using any web browser. The reader is given the text of a story in small chunks, and after each, they get to make a decision about what happens next. There are also interactive stories available for students to read.
This website provides a daily video update to current events as well as archived stories organized according to different categories. Each video clip includes a transcript which can be used to build comprehension and vocabulary.
BiblioNasium is an online tool that allows students to share with other people what they are reading. This safe social network for students allows for making recommendations and communicating in a safe environment about books. There is also a parent component to monitor their child's reading as well.