In order to be certified to teach, you have to choose to either work with elementary school students or secondary students. Once this path is chosen, it is as if we are in two different worlds that never connect. The strategies that elementary teachers use seem worlds away from the way that secondary teachers are structuring their lessons.
I feel incredibly fortunate that I come from an elementary background and have moved through middle into high school. Due to my K-12 experience, I have come to realize that the same strategies that elementary teachers use for reading and writing should be applied to our work with high school students. We can learn a lot from our elementary counterparts and the schooling our students have come from.
I started thinking about this when I went to a recent workshop with Carl Anderson. He was talking about the spiraling nature of teaching writing, in that as the writing becomes more complex, students are challenged by strategies that were once easy for them. I see this all the time in high school. Therefore, we need to continue to use the literacy strategies that best help our students in elementary school throughout middle and high school. We are just using them with content that is increasing in complexity.
I worked with four tenth grade classes this week on main idea and supporting details. The lesson I did was right out of Jennifer Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies book. Even though it was marked for upper level elementary readers, my students were able to apply it to the New York Post article “Why Teens are Nuts.”
We started with an anchor chart to discuss the strategy of reading backwards in order to piece supporting details together to help understand the main idea of a chunk of text.
My students are reading more complex articles and need help stopping to recognize and record what they are learning along the way. In addition, this strategy will help them monitor their understanding of the text because they are accountable for a one sentence summary of each section of text.
I modeled the strategy through my own thinking for the first section of text:
- Students were separated into groups and given sections of text to read. The groups were created based upon reading level, and the sections of text were differentiated and assigned to meet the needs of each group.
- One person read aloud, then the group decided on a one sentence main idea and wrote it at the top of the chart paper.
- Students read individually and marked the three supporting details they thought were most important to understanding the section.
- The group came back together to choose the three best details from everyone’s ideas and wrote each one on a post-it note to put on the chart paper.
- The group looked back at the main idea sentence and decided if they should revise it based on the pattern of information they found in their three supporting details.
Here are a few results:
The students were engaged throughout the activity, partially because this is a topic that is near and dear to them! But, they also had a clear sense of what they were supposed to do and why.
- They had an anchor chart to refer to with the strategy clearly stated.
- They were working with a manageable chunk of material that was challenging but not frustrating.
- We had established background knowledge based on my shared reading at the beginning of class.
- When they were confused about an idea, they had a group to talk with.
Yes, this lesson took a good amount of time to plan, but my role as a literacy coach allowed me to collaborate with two different teachers and work with four classes of students.
This is one of the most beneficial aspects of my job, being able to help teachers plan meaningful lessons that target strategies to enhance the reading and writing abilities of all students.