We are excited to have Matt Renwick back on our blog today with a guest post. He has written before about his school’s efforts to develop lifelong readers. This time he is back with some pointers on getting started with action research for both teachers and administrators.
Getting Started with Action Research
We recently facilitated action research for twenty of our district teachers. They came from all areas in grades K–12. The course was led by Dr. Beth Giles and Dr. Mark Dziedzic from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Teachers met one evening a month to explore their driving questions, set up action plans, collect and organize data, and prepare their work for an inquiry showcase this spring. Here are some of the questions that were specific to literacy, and what we learned.
What happens when we provide choice in reading and learning?
Three teachers investigated this tenet of engagement. A second-grade teacher conducted Genius Hour at the end of the day, a time in which students could tinker and make things of their choosing. A third-grade teacher allowed her students to decide how their classroom should look and feel regarding furniture and resources. A reading interventionist embedded choice within her instruction, including letting the students select one book a month to keep.
What they found out was that choice affected each student in different ways. For example, the reading interventionist discovered that if a student’s basic needs were not being met, he or she had a hard time progressing. She countered this reality by bringing families into school to engage in literacy activities, such as building bookshelves. The third-grade teacher realized that some students liked working with peers regularly, whereas others needed quiet time to read and write. The second-grade teacher found that, for one student in particular, a half hour of tinkering every day led to a reduction in office referrals by 70 percent from fall to spring. Providing choice in school helped teachers better understand their students and adjust their instruction.
What happens when students are taught to ask questions and reflect about their reading?
A fourth- and fifth-grade teacher working with multiple curriculums in a split classroom realized that addressing the needs of a wide variety of learners was a tall order. Therefore, she wanted to find out if teaching her students to ask their own questions of the books they read and to reflect on their thinking in authentic ways through reading journals would lead to more independence.
She modeled these skills and strategies with her own reading. Gradually, she released the responsibility of questioning and reflecting to the students. Data she gathered were anecdotal and powerful. Students not only kept reflections of their own reading, they also noted what their peers were reading. Recommendations for what to read next led to students creating “Want to Read” lists in their journals. Also, students emulated how their teacher talked in their book discussions. This teacher later noted that she was looking forward to working with next year’s fifth graders in the fall.
What happens when teachers reveal themselves as learners?
A secondary reading interventionist was frustrated with her past students’ inability to exit her program in a timely manner. She decided to focus on how her language might promote a growth mind-set in her most reluctant readers and writers. First, she wrote in front of her students about the struggles she was having as a teacher and as a parent. These were day-to-day ordeals—ordinary issues she was sharing publicly. Students were also asked to write about their struggles. Few initially took her up on it. But as the teacher continued to model a growth mind-set, more students followed her lead.
Because the teacher was so open about her own learning, students felt safe in her classroom to take risks. They started to shed their rough exteriors, revealing frustrations about classes and their home lives. This led to exploring literature that students could personally relate to, populated with characters and settings in which they could reside. Pretty soon, her students were coming to her with improved progress reports to share and celebrate. A few kids exited her reading intervention earlier than anticipated but didn’t want to leave. This teacher eventually published her action research in the Wisconsin State Reading Association journal.
What happens when we let kids read?
A fifth-grade teacher and I teamed up to provide her students with a lot of texts to read, and we decreased the reading requirements placed upon them. I would come in once a month with a box full of high-interest books and do a quick blurb about each one. The teacher also used her allocated funds to enhance the classroom library. She taught the students how to have a conversation with peers and frequently conferred with students about their reading and goals. Her work derived from the research by Gay Ivey and Peter Johnston, highlighted in a Stenhouse blog post four years ago.
My role as coresearcher was to survey the students once a month using a tool developed by Ivey and Johnston. What we learned was that every student was different. Their reading lives varied from month to month. One student who proclaimed “I hate reading!” in February was excited about a new series he discovered in March. Other students also became more honest about reading in school. “I am SO glad to be done with my reading contract, so I can read whatever I want.” This type of data was more powerful than any screener or test score. Reading lives look more like a heartbeat than a straight line. Readers—kids and adults—have their ups and downs.
In observing these teachers’ journeys, I have discovered new truths about principalship. Just as students need to be engaged in their learning, teachers have to be engaged in their work. Not merely busy or working collegially with staff, but really engaged. We need to trust in their professionalism. We need to provide teachers the room to ask questions and grow. We need to honor the process as much as the outcomes. We need to celebrate both their mistakes and their successes, always striving to become better every day as professionals. Letting go of some control as a school leader is hard. Yet when we do, teachers are able to be the leaders of their own learning.
Tips for Getting Started in Action Research
If you are a teacher…
Ask yourself, “Why do I want to engage in action research?” If you can identify the purpose for this work in your professional life, it will motivate you to get started.
Do your homework on action research to build a knowledge base about the topic. Excellent resources include Living the Questions by Ruth Shagoury and Brenda Power (Stenhouse, 2012) and The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research by Nancy Fichtman Dana and Diane Yendol-Hoppey (Corwin, 2014).
Develop a community of professionals who also want to engage in action research. You can leverage the power of the group to persuade your principal to support this initiative as part of the professional development plan. If you cannot collaborate in person, check out online communities related to classroom research, such as The Teachers Guild.
Find a question that you want to explore and that is embedded within your current practice. This wondering should relate to your professional learning goals and offer artifacts that can serve as evidence for your evaluation system.
Include your students in your action research as much as possible. They will become a great source of information as you study the impact of your work on their learning. They will also come to see you as a learner, which enhances the entire classroom community.
If you are an administrator…
Be deliberate when considering action research as a possible professional learning experience. The phrase action research can scare off some teachers who might otherwise be interested in this approach. Start small, maybe offering it as a voluntary course beyond the school day for graduate credit or pay.
Connect with outside organizations that can facilitate a course instead of trying to host it yourself. There is vulnerability involved in action research. The more we can have others lead the initiative, the more likely teachers will be willing to open up and take risks in their pursuits of becoming better practitioners.
Conduct action research yourself. I did this, using the resource The Action Research Guidebook by Richard Sagor (Corwin, 2012). The author offers several examples of a principal engaging in professional inquiry at a schoolwide level. I would share my findings and reflections in staff newsletters and at meetings. The message you send is the same one teacher-researchers convey to their students: We are all learners here.
Prepare a multiyear plan for facilitating action research in your school or district. Teacher questions seemed to lead to more questions during the school year. At the inquiry showcase, teachers were already asking if they could conduct action research again. “I feel like I just discovered my question,” noted one teacher.
In the decade since the first edition of Still Learning to Read was published, the prevalence of testing and various standards have changed what is expected of both teachers and students.
The new edition takes into account this sense of urgency that changing times impose on classrooms and focuses on the needs of students in grades 3-6 in all aspects of reading workshop: read-aloud, classroom design, digital tools, fiction, nonfiction, and close reading.
The book provides expanded examples of mini-lessons and routines that promote deeper thinking about learning. A new chapter includes information on scaffolding for nonfiction and showcases the authors’ latest thinking on close reading and text complexity. Online videos provide glimpses into classrooms as students make book choices, work in small groups, and discuss their reading notebooks.
Jacob, a seventh grader, sits staring at a challenging text he has tried to read. He knows the other words in the paragraph but is stuck on a multisyllabic word he has never seen before. Jacob sounds out the word, but because he has also never heard it, it still doesn’t make sense.
Finally, he just gives up and moves on. Yet the one word Jacob doesn’t know holds the key to comprehending the entire passage. Sound familiar? Kids like Jacob occupy many middle level classrooms, and they are not necessarily struggling readers.
We covered a lot of ground during our hour-long chat with Kelly Gallagher. We talked about his new book, In the Best Interest of Students, as well as the effects of the Common Core State Standards on the teaching of reading and writing. Here are a few memorable Tweets from the chat, as well as the fuller archived version.
A1: Students are not reading enough. Not writing enough. CCSS virtually ignores volume targets. #bestinterest
We had an amazing time with all of you Wednesday night, chatting on Twitter with Steven Layne about read-aloud. It was clear that there was so much passion and appreciation for the art of read-aloud and for preserving this practice in all classrooms and in all grades. Here are some Tweet highlights, and you can see the — almost — full chat on Storify. It’s definitely worth a browse for all of the great book recommendations and for the warm memories everyone shared about what read-aloud meant for them.
A4: #readaloud is the perfect time to talk about authors craft. Use the opportunity to expose students to future skills, and reteach.
Tune in Wednesday, March 11, at 8 p.m. EST to talk about read aloud with Steven Layne! He will be on Twitter to answer your questions. The chat, hosted by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp), will build on the following questions:
Share some of what you remember about being read aloud to as a kid.
What makes a great read aloud?
How do you know a read aloud is effective?
What makes a read aloud flop?
What are some things you think about as you plan for a read aloud?
Please share some of your favorite books to read aloud.
Follow #readaloud to keep track of the conversation and join in with your own questions! We will raffle off 5 copies of Steve’s new book In Defense of Read-Aloud during the chat. Follow @stenhousepub to win! You can still order the book with code TWEET and receive 20% off plus free shipping!
Steven convinces us that reading aloud must be a cornerstone of every teaching day regardless of the age level, subject matter, or discipline we teach.
Should be on every teacher’s must-read list.
What do you say to someone who questions the value of reading aloud to your students? How can you use read-aloud to teach reading and writing skills? And how can you enhance your performance to leave your students engaged, transfixed, and begging for more?
Drawing on the latest research, Steven Layne provides a convincing argument for reading aloud every day across the grades, and gives teachers practical advice and specific strategies in his new book, In Defense of Read‑Aloud. You’ll learn how to:
arrange the best seating plan;
select the best read-aloud;
prepare for and launch a new read-aloud;
plan for teachable moments; and
read with expression to maximize engagement.
Correspondence between teachers and noted authors Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry, Nancy Werlin, Andrew Clements, and Ben Mikaelsen open each chapter, and the book is filled with reflections and book suggestions from teachers and prominent educators such as Brian Cambourne, Richard Allington, Debbie Diller, Doug Fisher, Kelly Gallagher, Linda Hoyt, and Donalyn Miller.
In Defense of Read‑Aloud will entertain, challenge, and inspire you to make the most of this essential literacy teaching practice. You can preview the entire book online now!
We recently sat down with Kim Yaris and Jan Miller Burkins, authors of the new book Reading Wellness: Lessons in Independence and Proficiency. During the conversation they talked about how teaching kids the importance of the heavy lifting their brains do while figuring things out during reading helps them become more independent readers and learners. Watch the video below and then preview the book online!
How can you intentionally help your students find balance and purposeful direction in their reading lives–weaving together reading for relaxation, informational reading, reading for meaning, fluency, and selecting texts–to become their best reading selves?
In their new book, Reading Wellness, Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris take you beyond reading strategies to give you specific ways to support your students’ enjoyment, perseverance, risk-taking, and connection-making as readers.
Anchored by four key intentions–alignment, balance, sustainability, and joy–Jan and Kim offer field-tested lessons, organizers, book lists, and other practical ways to teach reading skills while instilling the long-term attitudes and habits that your students need to become lifelong readers.
Reading Wellness will inspire you to stay connected to your broader vision of students as readers as you address the external requirements of educational standards. Preview the entire book online now!
We last checked in with Matt Renwick, an elementary school principal in Wisconsin, just as school was wrapping up in June. Now that school is about to start again, Matt talks about how his school sustains the reading program he and his staff launched in an effort to create lifelong readers.
As I was getting myself a cup of coffee in the staff lounge this spring, I noticed these posted on the wall:
Staff members had taken their favorite recommendations from a book-a-day calendar and taped them to the wall. Inscribed on many of the sheets were short comments about the title, which briefly explained why they liked it and why you should read it.
While I waited for the Keurig machine to finish brewing, several questions popped in my head. Who started this? Why is it sustaining itself? Where will this lead? These inquiries led to more questions about how it relates to our school in general. How do we get all of our K-5 students to this place, where they see responding to reading as something enjoyable? Is this an idea our learners would naturally come up with as a way to connect with others? In other words, how do we transition our students from formalized literacy instruction to lifelong reading?
This year, we attempted to answer these questions with the advent of an after school book club. We hired two advisers to facilitate an intervention that would no longer be referred to as an intervention. Although our lowest readers received special invitations, we encouraged all of our intermediate students to join us in developing this new community of readers.
Before we got the club started, the advisers and I sat down and went over some ground rules:
No reading requirements or logs
Let them read just about anything they want
Let them talk to each other about reading
Give them opportunities to share their reading lives
Provide just enough structure for these activities to be successful
These ideas, deriving from literacy experts such as Gay Ivey, Peter Johnston, and Donalyn Miller, seemed counter to everything we thought we knew about school. But for at least a few of our students, more of the same would not have served them well. If any one of us were asked to extend our own school day, how would we like to spend it?
The advisers, both avid readers themselves but not classroom teachers, could hardly contain their excitement. After some heavy recruiting, they got almost 20 students to initially enroll in the club. One of their first activities was for each student to bring in a favorite title, throw it in the middle of the table, pick a new one, and try to guess who originally submitted it.
This was actually a pre-assessment. Not of their reading levels, but of the level of enjoyment they experience as readers. Questions that were answered for the advisors included: Who knows who as a reader? Which genres, authors, and titles are the kids into right now? How comfortable was each student in being seen as a reader? This activity led to many more activities, such as hosting personal interviews with each other, facilitating book talks, reading aloud, and lots of independent reading.
Due to budget constraints, the book club could only meet two nights a week after school. This meant that they had to extend the day in ways that were meaningful for the students. One tool they used was Kidblog. Each student was given access to a blog in order to reflect on their reading as well as comment on others’ thinking. In addition, students were given access to eReaders that contained many titles of their choosing, all within one device. Through these activities that helped them connect with others, students could see that reading did not have to be sequestered to the literacy block.
We did not expect our students to make substantial gains from two and a half hours of extra reading practice. Our goal was to develop lifelong readers. With anything, people will engage in something over and over if they find joy, success, and recognition for their work. That is why the advisers and students culminated their time together with a readers theater performance. The play itself came from our school’s anthology series. This was okay, because the kids selected it.
After many re-readings and rehearsals, they were read to present in front of the entire school.
Someone could say that the activities these students engaged in – peer discussions, blogging, readers theater – are not interventions that have evidence for improving reading in students. But I think these people are looking at reading only through the lens of the act itself. We can quickly forget that reading is just as much an emotional endeavor as it is a cognitive one.
My own reading life didn’t begin until 3rd grade. That was the year my teacher read aloud Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. The rest, as they say, is history. It is not to suggest that I received poor instruction in my K-2 years. I just hadn’t developed an affinity for reading yet. I had the skills, but lacked the engagement.
Gay Ivey noted at the 2014 Wisconsin State Reading Association convention that readers don’t read to accumulate a required number of minutes or to fill out a reading log. They read because they love reading. The minutes and logs that we demand are a result of this engagement. In an educational world that highly values the scientific side of literacy, we need to continuously cultivate a community of connected readers and engage them in a lifelong and joyful journey of learning.