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Oldies But Goodies: Understanding Key Instructional Moves to Improved Literacy Instruction and Student Literacy Practices
By Tinaya York
Close Reading. You have heard the phrase a thousand times. And I know...you get it. However, it is worth it to unpack the phrase and tease out what is so awesome about it and why when done with planned instructional routines, close reading can have an impact on student engagement, meaning making, and increased understanding of texts. To be clear, I am not discussing close reading as an independent approach to reading text. Rather, as an instructional strategy where the teacher's actions help students unpack layers of text, negotiate meaning, collaborate with peers and arrive at their own meaning of text worth reading/viewing/listening to. If you want to read more about close reading please check out
How to Read A Book
by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, the first chapter of
Falling in Love with Close Reading
by Christopher Lehman and Kathleen Rogers, the first chapter of
by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher, or my personal favorite, an expertly written blog post on close reading by Dr. Timothy Shanahan on his blog, "
Shanahan on Literacy
" located here:
What is Close Reading?
During the course of a close reading lesson, there are three key instructional moves a teacher makes:
- Wait Time
- Promoting Student Discussion
All three moves (the oldies but goodies I call them) are well researched and have a positive impact on student learning. Questioning, wait time, and student discussion are really behind the overkill and heavily commercialized use of the phrase "close reading." Let's look at these three instructional strategies to remind us of how powerful they are. For each move, I will provide my colloquial version of how it should be enacted in classrooms followed by the research and a concluding statement.
Layman's Advice: Ask questions worth asking. After asking, be quiet and let the babies do the thinking and the talking.
Here's what we know about questioning:
- Both high and low level questions can have a positive impact on student learning.
- Questions are a gateway to communication.
- Questioning before, during and after reading is effective.
- Teachers must plan for questions and determine what the purpose is behind the questions.
- Questions are the most used instructional strategy in the classroom.
- Questions can be ineffective (trick questions, vague questions, inappropriate questions).
- Students should learn how to create and ask questions.
In short, questions are critical to support student understanding, to communicate and to ensure students have learned. Whether in the classroom or providing professional development, take time to think about questions you want to ask, how they align to your objective and its alignment to the text.
Layman's Advice: Be Patient. Come on, you can do it. Hold it. Hold it...Okay, release.
It will be quiet and maybe even awkward, but wait time can work wonders.
Here's what we know about wait time:
- The faster the questions, the shorter the answer.
- Teachers typically wait 1-2 seconds before responding to a question they have asked. It is advised that teachers wait 3-5 seconds.
- Rowe's oft cited research with science teachers shows us that wait time 1) can engage more students, 2) produce better answers, 3) increase teacher's expectation of students.
Wait time is one of the hardest things for teachers to adjust. Teachers often state that the silence bothers them. Administrators share that when they observe teachers, teachers immediately start firing off questions to show they are engaging students. Coupled with what we know about questions, rapid firing of questions can indeed be ineffective. The key piece (along with good questions) is to give pause and allow students to reflect, reason and respond.
Layman's Advice (more of a cheer):
"Who should be talking?"
ONE MORE TIME!
Here's what we know about student discussion:
- Students respond to each other differently than with the teacher. Responses are longer and student questioning of each other is focused on clarifying what is not understood
- Student discussion of text can promote higher levels of comprehension and reasoning but not all discussion formats are equal
- Discussion increases student engagement and ownership
- Discussion-based approaches coupled with demanding text and task lead to better performance and student ability to complete challenging literary tasks on their own
Student discussion helps students make sense of text. For those who believe that language and meaning making are socially constructed this is a no brainer. But for those who are a bit skeptical, I implore you to think about how reading someone else's thoughts (whether fiction or informational text) influenced your thinking. It is no different with students talking with and amongst each other. It is important to note that talk for the sake of talking does not necessarily lead to learning (Murphy, Wilkinson, Sotera, Hennessey & Alexander, 2003). Planning for and using appropriate discussion formats will yield better student results.
I hope these oldies but goodies remind you of what is important about effective teaching or sparked new thoughts about powerful instructional practices. It's not "close reading" that does the trick, it is the intentional use of questioning, wait time, and discussions that will give our children more access to a variety of texts, increase their ownership in learning, increase comprehension and support student success.
Applebee, A. N., Langer, J. A, Nystrand, M. & Gamoran, A. (2003). Discussion-based approaches to developing understanding: Classroom instruction and student performance in middle and high school English.
American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 685-730.
Braualdi, A. (n.d.)
Classroom Questions. Retrieved from
Murphy, P.K, Wilkinson, I. A. G, Sotera, A. O, Hennessey, M. N. & Alexander , J. F. (2009). Examining the effects of classroom discussion on student comprehension of text:
A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology
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, JANUARY 13, 2016
Reading and Writing with a Critical Social Justice Literacy Framework
with Dana Stachowiak
Register today for the upcoming webinar!
- Description: Obtain an understanding of teaching through a critical social justice literacy framework. Examples of teacher dispositions, how to close with an anti-oppression lens, and how to write for social action will be shared.
- Bio: Dana Stachowiak, Ph.D., is an expert in social justice and diversity education and well versed in using literacy best practices to build teacher and student empowerment. Besides being a consultant for The Educator Collaborative, Dana is currently an assistant professor of Diversity/Multicultural Education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She has been a classroom teacher and literacy coach at both the elementary and middle school levels and has been a consultant for both urban and rural school districts. She has authored and co-authored book chapters on social justice issues in education; gender and sexuality; and arts and visual literacies for social justice. She is also a frequent speaker on these issues at numerous national and international conferences, colleges, universities and non-profit organizations. Dana's current projects include working on her book manuscript; co-editing a special issue for the International Journal for Critical Pedagogy on teaching social justice in teacher education programs; and writing a peer-reviewed journal article that focuses on literacy education to support cultural competency. Dana supports schools with developing school-wide literacy leadership and growth, inclusive practices to reach all members of the community, effective coaching methods and literacy to support cultural competency. Dana lives, writes, and teaches in the swamps of Louisiana with her partner and their small family.
Happy Holidays from Crossland Literacy: With the Gift of Reading for K-8 Students
By Deb Bible, Crossland Literacy
Crossland Literacy is sharing access to unlimited e-book reading for students in grades K-8 at StarWalk Kids Media, an e-book subscription collection created by children's author, Seymour Simon. This amazing e-book subscription contains over 500 titles (including about 100 paired Spanish-English titles) which can be read on any device which is connected to the internet. Students may read the books or have the books read to them. Students can search for and read books at their own independent and instructional levels. No log-on needed during holiday break for you or your students.
You can preview the site by going to: logintoread.com
User Name is: 124student
If you want to see what the teacher dashboard is like for subscribers you can login in this way.
User name: 124teacher
The website address is: StarWalkKids.com/PopUp
The free Pop-Up Library will close on
January 3, 2016
. Please feel free to contact Deb Bible at
for more information.
Illinois Reads News: Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty selected to be part of the Story Time From Space Program
By the Illinois Reads Committee
Congratulations to Illinois Reads Author, Andrea Beaty! Andrea's book,
Rosie Revere, Engineer
, blasted into space on December 3, 2015 as part of the Story Time from Space (STFS) Program. STFS is a project that fosters literacy and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) learning by having astronauts on the International Space Station record a reading of selected children's books. A video of the astronaut reading the book from space will be available in 2016. To find out more information about the STFS Program, visit
You can also find out more about the Illinois Reads Program, authors, and books by visiting
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.
Flip Quiz is a great assessment tool that can be used to create game boards for all subjects. This tool can be used for formative assessment, or as a tool for review for a summative assessment. Flip Quiz makes learning fun!
Reading Rockets is a national multimedia project that offers a wealth of research-based reading strategies, lessons, and activities designed to help young children learn how to read and read better. The Reading Rockets resources assist parents, teachers, and other educators in helping struggling readers build fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills.
Quill is a web-based tool that provides personalized, interactive writing lessons for middle school and high school students. The proofreading passages are intentionally filled with grammatical mistakes, and it is the student's job to identify and fix each of the errors. Quill then provides immediate feedback and highlights the student's correct and incorrect edits and provides a followup lesson on those particular subject areas.
Let the IRC Professional Development Team be Your PD Partner!
By the IRC Professional Development Committee
Take advantage of the Illinois Reading Council's expertise. Targeted professional development provides teachers the critical road map to high student achievement and highly-effective instruction.
The Illinois Reading Council now offers a cadre of educators available for on-site training and technical assistance, tools, and resources. IRCPD utilizes the latest educational research and is informed by years of experience and subject matter expertise.
IRCPD offers custom programs, exceptional speakers, timely topics, and engaging programs to assist you and your facility in reaching all your educational goals. Session topics may include, but are not limited to:
- Common Core State Standards Strands
- Multi-Tiered System of Support
- Instructional best practice supporting teacher evaluation
- Writing Instruction
- Reading, Writing, & Learning Workshop Model
- Project CRISS©
- Disciplinary Literacy