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UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF PREDICTING IN LEARNING

As we have noted, teaching well requires a series of complex interactions between teachers and students. Of course, students also learn from interactions with other students, their family members, and the world around them.  However, this ebook focuses on the interactions that teachers plan to have with their students.  We believe that these interactions should result in the internalization of strategies such that they become habits.

For us, the key to student learning centers on habit building.  As teachers, we have to develop, facilitate, foster, coach, or (insert the verb of your choice) students as they become increasingly proficient at thinking about and understanding texts. Doing so requires a great deal of precision.  Teaching with precision, compared with teaching from a script (prescriptive) as Fullan, Hill, and Crévola (2006) point out, requires that teachers understand their content standards, their students’ needs and interests, and can use instructional routines to provide students with feedback such that the become increasingly confident and competent.

Knowing Students

There are several ways to get to know students, the most obvious of which is kid-watching.  In addition to kid-watching, interest inventories and surveys are great ways to get to know students.  Of course, formal assessments of reading comprehension and evaluations of writing samples provide additional ways of getting to know students.

Kid-Watching.

Interest Inventory.  Figure 4.1 contains a sample interest inventory.

[Insert figure 4.1 about here]
Metacomprehension Strategy Index.  The appendix of this chapter contains the Metacomprehension Strategy Index (Schmitt, 1990), a tool useful in determining which strategies students’ use and which they confuse.

Doug, Miholic in 1994, I think, had a metacognition inventory that appeared in Journal of Reading. I’ll see if I can find it—it may be useful (or not).

Assessments.

Profiles in Comprehension

In addition to some of the information you can obtain about students from observations, surveys, and assessments, understanding comprehension profiles can improve precision teaching.  Based on the work of Applegate, Quinn, and Applegate, (2006) we have identified specific cognitive strategies and instructional routines useful in addressing each type of comprehender.  As is evident in Figure 4.2, there are significant differences in types of comprehenders and what works.  Again, this is about precision.  Understanding students and how they think helps teachers plan instruction that works.

[Explain each type of comprehender?]

Feedback

As we have noted, teaching well requires a series of complex interactions between teachers and students. Of course, students also learn from interactions with other students, their family members, and the world around them.  However, this eBook focuses on the interactions that teachers plan to have with their students.  We believe that these interactions should result in the internalization of strategies such that they become habits.

For us, the key to student learning centers on habit building.  As teachers, we have to develop, facilitate, foster, coach, or (insert the verb of your choice) students as they become increasingly proficient at thinking about and understanding texts. Doing so requires a great deal of precision.  Teaching with precision, compared with teaching from a script (prescriptive) as Fullan, Hill, and Crévola (2006) point out, requires that teachers understand their content standards, their students’ needs and interests, and can use instructional routines to provide students with feedback such that they become increasingly confident and competent.

Knowing Students

There are several ways to get to know students, the most obvious of which is kid watching. In addition to kid watching, interest inventories and surveys are great ways to get to know students.  Of course, formal assessments of reading comprehension and evaluations of writing samples provide additional ways of getting to know students.

Kid Watching. As Goodman (1985) pointed out, teachers can learn a great deal about their students from purposeful observations.  Of course, you can’t watch every student every minute.  Instead, we recommend that you focus on specific students each day and ask yourself how the focus student reacts to instruction.  Our colleague, Principal Emily Schell, developed a tool for teachers to help one another kid watch.  In partners, teachers can use the form in Figure 4.1 to engage in conversations about the ways in which students respond to instruction.

[Insert figure 4.1 about here]

The practice of helping a peer kid watch also improves your own practice.  As Jessica Torres noted, “I visit Ms. Allen every week and helped her kid watch.  We wanted to see how specific students were responding to teacher modeling.  I know that Ms. Allen found it helpful, but it really helped me focus on students in my own classroom.  I got so much better at kid watching and doing something about what I saw.”

And this is the key: doing something about what you see.  Lots of us have watched kids but not know what to do about what we saw.  Precision requires both a system of learning about students AND a system for providing students feedback. As you might have predicted, we’ll discuss feedback a bit later in this chapter.  For now, we’ll stay focused on knowing students.

Interest Inventory.  Another way to get to know students is through the use of an interest inventory.  Interest inventories help you get to know students and make connections with the things that are important to them.  These tools become especially important when students are not engaged or are not progressing. As we were reminded by Jeff Blackstone, “I had this student who just couldn’t get it.  She really struggled with predicting. I realized that she just didn’t care about the texts we were reading.  I reviewed her interest inventory and was reminded that she really liked people and that she wanted to read biographies.  I got a couple of short, picture book biographies and started talking with her about prediction strategies using the lives of people in the books.  She got it and she cared about it.  I guess I was reminded that learning happens when students are interested.  She learned to make much more sophisticated predictions, and engage with texts, when they were personally meaningful.” Figure 4.2 contains a sample interest inventory.

[Insert figure 4.2 about here]

Metacomprehension Strategy Index.  The Metacomprehension Strategy Index (Schmitt, 1990) is a tool useful in determining which strategies students’ use and which they confuse.  We use this instrument to determine which strategies students have mastered and which require additional instruction and practice.  The goal is to ensure that these instructional strategies become automatic cognitive processes.  Without an assessment to determine which strategies are being incorporated into students’ habits and which are not, precision teaching is not possible.

Assessments.  We won’t take much time here to focus on assessments, other than to remind you that formal reading and writing assessments provide information that is critical for teaching.  Assessments allow teachers to plan and differentiate instruction.  Without assessments, we are forced to teach to the middle and not at all with precision.

For example, Aida Allen assessed her students’ writing to determine the type of instruction they needed (Fisher & Frey, 2007).  She looked for specific components of writing development, such as sentence fluency, word choice, and average number of errors per sentence, to plan her instruction.

You might be wondering how an example about writing instruction fits in a book about predicting.  It’s simple really.  Writing is thinking.  We all think as we write. That is not to say that if young writers can think they can also write. Still, what we’re trying to do in our focus on predicting is to facilitate thinking.  We see evidence of this thinking in student’s writing.  As they become more sophisticated thinkers, students become more sophisticated writers.  The reverse is also true.  If we help students become better writers, we’re also helping them become better thinkers.

Of course, there are all kinds of assessments that are helpful for teachers as they plan instruction.  Some useful assessment books include:

  • Barone, D. M., & Taylor, J. M. (2006). . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  • Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2007). Checking for understanding: Formative assessments for your classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Paratore, J. R., & McCormack, R. L. (Eds.). (2007). New York, NY: Guilford.

Profiles in Comprehension

In addition to the information you can obtain about students from observations, surveys, and assessments, understanding comprehension profiles can improve precision teaching. Applegate, Quinn, and Applegate (2006), based on their analysis of thousands of student responses, identified eight types of comprehenders: literalists, fuzzy thinkers, left fielders, quiz contestants, politicians, dodgers, authors, and minimalists. There are significant differences in these types of comprehenders.  As we read their work, we realized that we have had each and every one of these types of comprehenders in our classrooms.

[Insert figure 4.3 about here]

Based on the work of Applegate, Quinn, and Applegate (2006), we have identified specific cognitive strategies and instructional routines useful in addressing each type of comprehender. Again, this is about precision.  Understanding students and how they think helps teachers plan instruction that works.  What might work for a literalist might not work for a politician.

As you know from reading this book, we believe that matching students with specific instruction is critical for improving achievement.  Understanding these differences allows you an opportunity to plan instruction and feedback, all with the goal of causing thinking.  In the next section, we’ll link the comprehension profiles with feedback systems, thereby closing the instructional circle.

Feedback

Feedback is easy to define: It is interaction between two individuals designed to increase learning.  Often, feedback provides just the right information at just the right time to transform a competent performance into an exemplary one.  Or it may be the critical explanation through use of analogy that a teacher makes for a student struggling with a challenge that turns a difficult task into a new conceptualization. Effective predictions are a means of thinking about a topic, and the precision with which students make predictions can be scaffolded through effective feedback.  The instructional routines you have explored in this book also provide an excellent venue for increasing the type and quality of feedback you provide to your students.  Hattie and Timperley (2007) proposed a model of feedback that includes the idea that effective feedback helps students to know where they are going in terms of goals (called feed up), how they are doing on the current learning task (called feed back), and where they might go next (feed forward).  Notice how the teachers use these three qualities of feedback in the examples below.

Using Feed Up to Establish Goals

John scanned the science textbook over and over, his eyes moving back and forth, his index finger tracing lines through the columns looking for the key words he felt he needed.  He kept looking over the text until his hand slowly went up as he realized that the information he needed isn’t in the text and he doesn’t know what to do.  “Mr. Carver, the question asks what would happen after a fire in an old growth forest, but I can’t find the answer anywhere in this stupid chapter.” Mr. Carver knows that John expects the answer to be stated directly in the text, the profile of the literalist comprehender.  It would sure be easy just to tell John what he needs to know, but Mr. Carver wants John to learn to make inferences and he has recently taught his class to use Question-Answer Relationships (QAR)(Rafael, 1986).

With just a few questions, Mr. Carver reminds John that he read about old growth forests. John flips to the page and reviews.  Then Mr. Carver asks John if he had read about the effects of the fire in Yellowstone in 1988, by which time John has figured it out.  But Mr. Carver isn’t done yet; John has something else to learn. John is used to looking for answers and assumes that they are all literally in the words on the pages. Referring to the QAR chart on the wall beside them, Mr. Carver asks John which question type from the chart the question about old growth fires had been. It was a “think and search” question, of course, and because Mr. Carver paid attention to the cognitive strategies John was relying upon, he could provide feedback that would help John with the present problem about forest fires and perform better next time he was stuck looking for something that was literally not there.

In this example, Mr. Carver provides feed up to John to help him know how he is doing in terms of the goal of making inferences.  He also provides feed back that lets John know where he can adjust his understanding of the text and the cognitive strategies he should employ.

Feed Back in the Classroom

In small group discussion, the students had just read about the Irish potato famine.  Their task, outlined by the teacher, was to determine what might have happened if the blight had been contained.  Just as Dinah asked for ideas, Mike blurted out, “There must be a lot of Irish people in Idaho because they grow so many potatoes there.” Dinah was a little flustered, but quickly recovered; students can provide good feedback for one another, too.  She knew that Mike had jumped for the buzzer, like a contestant on a quiz show eager to say something—anything–first.  Remembering the reciprocal teaching strategies they often use in class, she said, “Hmmm, Mike, I don’t think there was anything about Idaho in the book, but who can summarize the reading to help us remember for sure?” Precision teaching earlier helped Dinah’s group learn from the reading, employ sophisticated cognitive strategies, and provide useful feedback to each other in order to make their group work more productive.

Dinah, modeling her responses on those of her teacher, helps Mike by providing feed back on how he is doing by employing the summarize strategy.  In doing so, she focuses the discussion by sending the students in her group back to the text for the information they need to make successful predictions.

Integrating Feed Forward in Instruction

We selected for our victim the only child of a prominent citizen named Ebenezer Dorset.  The father was respectable and tight, a mortgage fancier and a stern, upright collection-plate passer and forecloser.  The kid was a boy of ten, with bas-relief freckles, and hair the color of the cover of the magazine you buy at the news-stand when you want to catch a train.  Bill and me figured that Ebenezer would melt down for a ransom of two thousand dollars to a cent.  But wait till I tell you. (Henry, 1910/1994, p. 425).

After the students finished reading the page in the short story, “The Ransom of Red Chief,” the teacher asked for predictions.  In this story, the narrator and his accomplice plan to kidnap the son of a prominent citizen in small town in Alabama, but nothing goes according to their plan. Sam tells the small group of students that kidnapping is “just wrong” but Mrs. Lewis wants more than a politician’s slogan.  So, after students summarize what they know of the story, so far, she asks them for predictions again.  In the cliffhanger, students refer to important elements of the introduction to this story.  The narrator of the story has just dropped a clue that something did not go according to the kidnapping plan he’s laid out.  John learned from his science teacher to make inferences by looking for information in different places in the text and putting it together; he applies the information now.  “Mrs. Lewis, I read that the town is on a flat place but called Summit.  Also, the first sentence of the story starts out with, “It looked like a good thing; but wait till I tell you.” So, I’m thinking that nothing in this story will follow the bad guys’ plans. And, isn’t an “apparition” a ghost? Bill called their idea a “temporary mental apparition.” That doesn’t make any sense. Mrs. Lewis notes that John has, indeed, learned to make his own predictions based on his reading of the story.  Her feedback this time, is just to note that he has used an inference to make a prediction, asked a question about vocabulary use, and used that information to make another prediction.

As the story unfolds and the students’ discussion unfolds with it, Mrs. Lewis often names the cognitive strategies the students are using while she employs an instructional routine to promote their good thinking about the story, overcoming the obstacles that still pop up from the comprehender profiles from time to time.  Mrs. Lewis feeds forward the strategies the students have learned so that they are increasingly able to use them again in the future.  By naming the type of thinking displayed, the students know what they have done well (feed back) and that they can successfully do so again (feed forward).

Conclusion

Successfully choosing instructional routines to encourage cognitive strategies amongst your students is something teachers do almost automatically.  By thinking about the cognitive demands of specific texts, knowing which are needed by using models like the comprehender profiles, and applying instructional routines, teachers can increase the precision with which they approach predicting and consequently comprehension.  This eBook provides an approach for putting these elements together, and you may find yourself using these ideas as a basis for discussion with your colleagues, as well.  Through such professional discussions, we can scaffold our own understanding of our students and making increasingly accurate predictions about what students need in order to be thoughtful and precise when they read.

 

     

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