Helping Students Read By Choosing The Right Literacy Strategy
contributed by Sargy Letuchy
Early on in my career when I first took on the challenge of incorporating more literacy into my instruction, I was unsure of how things were going to go and concerned for my students’ success.
All of my education and experience up until then told me that if I differentiate teaching strategies and personalize texts and topics, I would be successful. However, when I did those things, I didn’t have the broad success I would have liked to. Then, I discovered the missing link to literacy success.
I had a class that was struggling with analyzing a text for explicit and inferential meaning and providing corresponding text evidence. When I reflected on why many of my students weren’t successful, I thought I am doing what I set out to do-differentiate and personalize. Then, a little light went on in my head. I realized that I had only provided my students a text, a task, and a blank space to express the connection between explicit and inferential meaning on the one hand and corresponding evidence for each on the other hand.
This is a calculation of ideas that most couldn’t do abstractly in their heads, then write a coherent answer in paragraph form. The blank space, not the text or the strategy, was the issue. I quickly created a table to fill the blank space that reflected this reading standard (see below). Upon using it in class, I observed a substantial improvement in my students’ work with this standard.
So there was the link to literacy success–a standards-based instructional tool to fill the blank space-one that could actually guide students clearly and precisely to the right answer, to mastery, time after time.
A standards-based instructional tool can take on many forms, depending on the particular literacy standard it is made for. As long as the instructional tool is custom made for the standard, then, due to its inherent design, it will guide students to success with that standard. An instructional tool can be a multi-column/row table, an example guide, a flow chart, or a Venn diagram.
For example, for a reading analysis standard, such as ‘compare and contrast two texts,’ a Venn diagram would be the best tool to use because it naturally points the mind to similarities and differences. For a writing standard, such as ‘persuade using claim, reasons, and evidence,’ a flow chart would make sense because students could brainstorm these three persuasive writing elements and make sure their ideas were coherent before going ahead and writing essays.
Using standards-based instructional tools, teachers are able to ensure and/or maintain:
An Outcomes-Focused Classroom A literacy standard, especially one that involves higher-level thinking, is better understood and mastered when students can clearly see the dissection or connection of ideas. Standards-based instructional tools effectively center classroom engagement on outcomes.
A Flexible Classroom Students are able to choose a topic of interest to read, write about, speak about, or listen to and use a standards-based instructional tool to make sure they connect the dots on the literacy part of a task. Teachers are able to use them for modeling, cooperative or individual activities, and even assessments, where they can save time grading.
An Accessible Classroom More students are able to access the curriculum, when they are provided solid means to desired results. Standards-based instructional tools, due to their design, naturally bring more students into the learning process.
My early experiences with literacy instruction taught me that it is critical to provide effective standards-based instructional tools, whether digitally or on paper, that put students on the path toward achievement. The strategy that has worked best for me is to develop one for each skill or standard my students are working on.
Personalizing texts and writing assignments as well as differentiating teaching strategies are definitely important, but then also going beyond written answers on a blank piece of paper and providing students a clear way to express literacy is the link to literacy success.