Our critical reading and thinking skills initiative was making progress. We had ironed out what strategies to use, how to assess them formatively and summatively, and how to record our results. What was left was probably the most important piece: how to teach it in our classrooms. It was easy for the Language Arts classes. The LA teachers had been doing this all along. But, it was a different matter for the other core subjects. We hadn’t really done any explicit teaching of reading strategies in math, science, or social studies.
At first, we each had a copy of the STARS & CARS booklet that introduced each of the strategies. We were individually responsible for reviewing the strategy that we were focusing on for the next 2 weeks. Then, using the same strategy-specific vocabulary, we would look for opportunities to use the current reading material or section of the text the students were working on to reinforce the strategy. The idea was to try and use the strategy with the current, relevant text and not have to find something that fit the strategy. For example, when we focused on finding the main idea, we didn’t want to have to find an article or story to practice the strategy with, we wanted to use what the students were already reading.
For the next several weeks, we sort of limped along, collaboratively marking every two weeks or so. The quality of our assessments varied with our confidence with the strategy. We did a temperature check and felt that the strategy was having an impact in student learning, although it was (and still is) difficult to assess if our efforts were having a direct impact on student learning. How would we know for sure if this was affecting student learning in math or science? For that matter, would we ever be able to directly link the strategies work to improved student learning? These questions still plague me.
Our team did take a big step forward during one of our school-wide professional development sessions on giving students effective feedback. We collaboratively developed our next formative assessments instead of creating them on our own. The French/LA teacher helped the Science teacher refine his assessment and the Social Studies teacher helped with the LA one. The quality of our assessments went up. When we gathered to mark the assessments, the quality of our feedback also went up. In addition, we began to review each strategy as a team before we took it into our classrooms. I think we took it for granted that we all understood how to teach the strategy. Some of us didn’t know. By taking the time to review how to teach it, our approach in the classroom became more unified.
We still have a ways to go, but we are becoming more confident in discussing, sharing, and collaborating in this joint endeavor. This year was a bit rocky. We were floundering around in the dark for awhile, but we seem to have found some solid footing. I can hardly wait until next year when we can start earlier and with some data and experience behind us.
What do you think? Is this type of initiative worthwhile for students? Should math (or science or social studies) teachers teach reading skills?
Be sure to join me next week! Is collaboration helping or harming the introvert?