Sep 10

If there are students in your school struggling to read and write, and if you have teachers struggling to find their place supporting literacy, consider this leverage point as a starting place.

Learning to read or write is overwhelming, and teaching students to read and write can be equally overwhelming. Because of this, either teacher or student can shut down and avoid the anxiety altogether. In fact, both can develop strategies to avoid a confrontation with a literacy problem.

Five years ago, when it was time for us to walk the walk of literacy integration, when it was time for us to show evidence of this walk, I knew I had to find a way to meet teachers wherever they were on their literacy journey, and I had to show them easy ways to teach reading and writing while doing a better job of teaching their content. And time...we had to show teachers how to support literacy without adding more time.

Planning for my next summer institutes, I put out on the table strategies from Direct Instruction, Classroom Instruction That Works, reading, and writing. I was looking for common ground. I had to find overlapping strategies or concepts that could be used as a leverage point.

To make a long story short, the overlapping concept that emerged from my exercise was Main Ideas, Supporting details, and Organizational patterns (informational text). Ideas, and how those ideas are organized, can be used as a synergistic focal point to support teaching content, reading, and writing.

While designing materials to help teachers clarify and teach content that is better aligned to objectives, it is easy for us at the same time to help them create materials that support reading and writing. Teachers become more confident teaching their subject while helping students identify main ideas from the text, and then discussing with them how those ideas are organized to make or enhance meaning. Expository text becomes less of a mystery as they seperate important from unimportant, and learn tools to understand similarities and differences.

Building on learning how to find ideas and patterns in text, students get better at articulating ideas and providing supporting details. They begin to see how to organize those ideas to express a sequence of events, a cause and effect relationship, or a problem and solution. They learn how to describe an item with clarity and focus.

Rather than being overwhelmed and avoiding Six Traits, we celebrate a welding or history teacher’s commitment to teaching students two traits: Ideas and Organization. When they are ready for more traits they go there; meanwhile, we have a starting place.

Focusing on ideas and organization, teachers discover better ways to teach throughout the lesson, beginning with better ways to activate prior knowledge and build background. By the way, activating prior knowledge and building background is another big leverage point in design. Richer ideas and better understanding injected at the beginning of a lesson creates higher-order opportunities throughout.