Shifting The Balance: How Comprehension Begins

Ya’ll! I am so excited to join my friend Abby from Kindergarten Chaos for our annual summer book study. This summer we’re reading the book, Shifting The Balance.

We have all been hearing about the “science of reading” or “SOR” lately. We’ve all heard about balanced literacy. And probably, we’ve heard about “the reading wars.” Guess what? I don’t believe any of these are the singular magic bullet for teaching reading. I believe in using the best approaches and combining the tools to make teaching the best it can be. Can I learn from all approaches? Absolutely. And that is the purpose of this summer book study! We’re going to learn and grow and add more tools to our toolbox! Also, what you won’t find is Mr. Greg saying you did it wrong or you should never do this or that. I know we see that on social media but I know we’re all doing what is best and we’re all learning and improving and we’re all on this journey together!

We chose this book because “SOR” is the buzzword in education right now and we wanted to dive in and learn how to improve our reading instruction. As we complete our book study this summer, we will be sharing our takeaways, our questions, and changes we’re making in our own instruction!

Shift 1: Where Comprehension Begins

Overall, for me, this shift is about getting kids to talk and have conversations. The more we can get them having authentic, meaningful conversations, they more we’re building their comprehension foundation. We need to give our students ample opportunities to hear and share personal stories, to interact with rich texts, and to interact with language so they can build their capacity to understand language. Basically, LET THEM TALK! This is so validating for me because my class is always talking. I want them talking. For me, this comes from the fact that 95% of my students are ELL and most speak no English when they enter my classroom. The more they talk, the more they learn the language. Now I understand that we’re also building comprehension skills as we talk!

Here are my takeaways from Shift 1!

Increase Wait Time

This is definitely an area of struggle for me. And I think for most of us. The silence can be uncomfortable and I always worry it’s causing me to lose my students attention. I will say, doing virtual instruction has definitely helped with this, but I definitely know this is something I need to work on. My takeaway from this section was the approach found on page 25 in the instructional routines chart.

You ask a question and wait.

Then you say something like: I’ll give you some time to think about what you want to say.” I am definitely adding this to our routines. I think having explicit direction on taking time to think will ease their anxiety and mine. And having the explicit instruction will help them understand what I want them to do.

In our classroom, we do something like this before sharing out. I say to my class: “Close your eyes and in your brain, think about….” I will continue to do this but with the explicit instructions.

Stop Watering Down Vocabulary

GUILTY. GUILTY. GUILTY. And the thing is, I know better. As a teacher and a parent, I know better. As an ELL teacher, my fear is that using the big, bold vocabulary will further impact my students and leave them more confused. I love the mention of phonological lexicons and the part about the brain collecting every word it hears. This reminds me of using Secret Stories and TKS BOOTCAMP to teach phonics. We can give them explicit instruction AND we can give them some secret tools for their toolbox to use later. When we use those big, bold, audacious words, they get stored in our students’ brains and we’re helping them start to develop an understanding of the word. And if they come to that word, later on, they’ll have an idea of the meaning already.

My biggest takeaway for using audacious words is to get comfortable giving the parenthetical explanation of the word as you’re reading. So when we come to a big word, we simply explain it in a kid-friendly way and keep reading. After reading, we can come back to the word and add it to our vocabulary chart using explicit instruction.

For our explicit vocabulary instruction, we create vocabulary charts for each book or research project. Our approach lines up closely to the suggested approach in Shift 1. However, we are adding a little more to our process.

We say the word and and repeat the word, then the students provide a kid friendly definition and they suggest the illustration to use. We will continue this but we will add in using the word in a sentence, and looking at the phonics features of the word to help us read the word.

Give Students Abundant Opportunities And Space To Have Conversations

This is something that we do well in our classroom. You see, a quiet classroom makes me nervous. I feel like when the kids get quiet, they’re plotting a mutiny against me and I’m about to be tied up in the bathroom while they take over! But seriously, I want them talking. If I am talking/reading, they know to listen. But when it’s work time, center time, etc, we talk. This is how they build language capacity and we’re building their listening comprehension which is reading comprehension. In fact, we don’t even do much hand-raising when we’re discussing books or stories. We just talk. I started this a few years ago because it feels more natural. It takes some work to get them to wait and listen and it can get a little crazy if they’re really into a book, but to me, that’s a good conversation. If things get too wild, we will raise hands, but we try to give them the space to have more of a conversation.

Probably the most powerful part of our day for conversations and learning how to have conversations is our morning meeting. Every single day we have sharing time in our morning. Students (and Mr. Greg!) share what is happening in our lives AND then the class asks questions. This sharing time is a dedicated time each day and it’s an explicit lesson every day on listening and questions. My students are great at listening and answering questions to learn more and even asking follow-up questions for details or clarification. I will also share this: every year, my class is complemented by adults in our building on their ability to carry on conversations with adults outside of our classroom. This all comes from our daily morning meeting sharing time. If you’re not doing morning meetings, this is just another reason to start. That sharing time isn’t just building relationships, but we’re building our comprehension skills as well.

Now I want to hear your thoughts! Leave your thoughts in the comments and make sure to join us on Facebook for our discussions about the book and what we’ve learned!

For more information and ideas, check out these blog posts:

Also, be sure to visit Abby at Kindergarten Chaos for her thoughts on Shift 1!

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