Friday, April 25, 2014

Learning about key concepts during guided reading

In the Primary Years Program (PYP), like in all elementary schools, much importance is placed on learning how to read and write. Learning these essential skills, along with other literacy skills of speaking, listening, viewing, presenting, and non-verbally communicating, is absolutely necessary. However, sometimes we forget why students must learn about, with, from, and through literacy.

Preparing our students for high-stakes, mandatory, standardized testing sometimes distracts us from providing students with literacy learning that is engaging, relevant, challenging, and significant. In reality though, the best literacy "test-prep" we can provide our students is meaningful literacy instruction that is learned in the context of life's biggest ideas; in the PYP, we call these big ideas key and related concepts.

Recently, in fifth grade, students were reading the guided reading book "Clean Up City Park!" (a leveled text from Benchmark Literacy).

The text is written as a persuasive letter, written from the perspective of a child to the mayor, urging the mayor to get the city park cleaned up.

The fifth graders read through the text under the guidance of their teacher during guided reading, focusing on the development of particular comprehension and metacognitive reading strategies. Afterward, the teacher encouraged the students to enter into the PYP Action Cycle: reflect-choose-act.

As students reflected on their learning, they were able to make a connection to their own lives: they too had been around green spaces that needed to be cleaned up; in particular, the school grounds. Once they had chosen their action, the students identified key concepts that would help them organize their action plan. The teacher recorded the students' thinking about the key concepts as the students came up with them.

Using their collectively-identified key concepts as a guide, students began to independently plan their action. They used the key concepts of causation, connection, function and change as a framework to think about and plan their action.


The students enlisted the help of second graders, telling them about their plan which allowed the fifth graders to develop their literacy skills of presenting. Together the second graders and this small, guided-reading group of fifth graders plan on cleaning up the green space around their school. Most importantly though, working with the key concepts in a meaningful context allowed students to develop a better understanding of these big ideas.

Giving time and space for students to engage in relevant, challenging, and significant learning, is the best way to develop deep thinkers and thus raise reading test scores. Many reading researchers, including Knapp (1995), Taylor, Pearson, Peterson, & Rodriguez (2003; 2005), and Taylor & Peterson (2008) have found that when teachers encourage students to think about texts at a higher level more than other teachers, they see more growth in their students' reading scores (as cited in Peterson & Taylor, 2012, p. 297).

After reading about how 5th graders developed a better conceptual understanding about life's big ideas - the PYP key concepts - during meaningful literacy instruction, how could you or have you incorporated learning about key and related concepts into your literacy instruction?

Works cited: Peterson, D.S. & Taylor, B.M. (2012). Using higher order questioning to accelerate students' growth in reading. The Reading Teacher, 65(5), p. 295-304.

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