Keeping Your Eye on the Target

Last week’s post was about why all teachers need to teach critical reading skills, regardless of subject taught.  With this in mind, our junior high teachers set out to test the hypothesis.

We had a general plan in mind: all core subjects would focus on one common reading strategy for about two weeks.  We would all use the same graphic organizer to teach and practice the strategy.  And we wanted the strategy to flow out of the reading material students were studying for two reasons.  One, we didn’t want to have to add to the work load searching for material to practice the strategy with.  Two, students would learn the strategy and the material better if it came directly from what they were studying.

Three things were missing from this plan, though.  First, we weren’t sure which strategies we should target.  So, we sat down as a team and came up with six reading strategies that we felt were important to developing critical thinking skills.  We put together a set of graphic organizers of the strategies and made copies for all students and teachers.  The strategy part was covered, but we were still missing a coordinated teaching approach and an assessment piece.  How would we know if this was working?

For the assessment, we decided that all teachers would give a short, one-question formative assessment on the strategy, and then we would collaboratively mark the assessments.  Again, we didn’t want something that would be time intensive.  We planned for about one hour to mark them.  Using the Stoplight Highlight Protocol, we achieved this.  Our initial marking sessions, however, were a little messy.  The LA teachers weren’t sure what a good Science response should look like, and the Math teacher wasn’t sure what a good Social Studies response should look like and vice versa.  This was a new experience for all of us, and we had no examples or data to draw from.

After a couple of weeks, we decided to re-arrange our strategies to correspond to the STARS and CARS reading program that our school had purchased.  The CARS allowed the LA teachers to get an initial sense of students’ capacity in the 12 strategies.  The STARS allowed us to summatively assess each strategy after all teachers had used it in their classes.  Best of all, the assessments were already created.  Our Math and Science teachers, though, did create a question for each of the strategies to give the summative assessment a broader scope.

We had our marking procedure in place and, once we realigned the strategies to the STARS and CARS, it was easy to figure out a way to record the results from our formative assessments.  We set up a spreadsheet with all 12 strategies in Google Docs and recorded the percentages of pink, yellow, and green responses by the grade and the subject.

Join me next week when I’ll be writing about our third missing piece: coming up with a coordinated plan to teach it in our classrooms.

What have been some of your successes with teaching critical reading and thinking skills in your classroom? What are some ideas about how to infuse strategies across the core?

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About Sherry Langland

I have been teaching English for 15 years and am passionate about teaching students to read critically, think critically, and live purposefully. I am also the lead teacher for our junior high department and am thankful to be part of such a dedicated group of teachers who are committed to collaborating around the most important part of our job: student learning. My biggest blessing is being the mother of 2 young men who are in their 20s and discovering their purpose.
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