As educators we sit through endless sessions where presenters tell us what to expect in a high-quality literacy classroom. We hear how as teachers we need to recognize that each student in our room develops on an individual time line and we must structure our day so that it is well-planned and executed to support students’ differences. Of course this goal is to differentiate instruction. We hear how we must move through the literacy block with modeling and thinking aloud to coaching students as they read and write. We hear a lot of “talk” about what we need to do, but what we really want is someone to tell us what this looks like! The best part of my job as an educational consultant is that I see high-quality literacy classrooms all the time. I can’t tell you how many outstanding teachers I run into on a weekly basis!
Just recently, I was coaching in a school and I observed a teacher who was very purposeful in her teaching. Her lessons were focused and explicit. Her students were engaged. I was so excited about the wonderful things going on in her classroom, I wanted to share a glimpse of what it “looked like.” Below is an example of what went on during a particular day’s whole-group mini-lesson during Reading Workshop in a third grade classroom.
Reading Workshop Mini-Lesson
Candice knows that making inferences has been very difficult for some of her students. She has decided to focus her attention with explicit instruction around this comprehension strategy. To begin the lesson, Candice asks the students just to listen and see if they can figure out what has happened. Candice then says, “Robins have built a nest in a tree beside Harrison’s window, and the mother has been sitting on the nest for weeks. This morning, when Harrison left for school, he heard little chirping noises coming from the nest in the tree.” Candice then asks, What could you infer, or figure out, about what happened? She asks students to turn to a partner and share their inferences. After a few students have shared their inferences, Candice explains that when you make an inference, you use one or two clues or pieces of evidence to state a fact.
Next, to guide practice, Candice displays on her smartboard, a picture of a boy standing in front of some spring flowers and blossoming bushes holding a tissue looking like he is about to sneeze. Candice then asks her class to make an inference about the picture. She asks them to tell what kinds of information in the photo helped them make an inference about why the boy is sneezing.
Now, that the students have the concept of what an inference is, Candice moves the strategy to text. She displays a text and a picture. on her smartboard. They read the passage together. Candice encourages them to make inferences about the traits, feelings, and relationships of the characters in the passage, and to identify the clues that support the inferences. As they work through the passage together, they use the highlighter tools and other resources to annotate the text. As the lesson concludes, Candice reminds the students to find places in the texts that they are reading and mark the inferences that they are making with a sticky note.
Reading Workshop Debriefing
As Candice reconvenes the whole-group meeting, the students bring reading logs and share the evidence of independent work. Candice uses this setting to assess the students’ learning.
Even though her mini-lesson did not last very long, the students left with a deeper knowledge of making inferences. Many times we believe the longer the lesson the more students will learn, but in reality it is a balance of modeling (mini-lesson) and time for students to transfer this information during their instructional (small group) and independent reading time. The real power lies in what students are able to take away from the lesson and use on their own!
National Literacy Consultant, Benchmark Education
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