The Role of Literacy in Deeper Learning

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 - 08:00
  • Norene Wiesen

Deeper LearningDeeper Learning is a relatively new term for a set of educational goals that have always been prized by the best educators. Also known as 21st Century Learning, Deeper Learning values content mastery, communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, the ability to self-direct, giving and receiving feedback in a constructive manner, and a healthy academic mindset.

Real-World Connections

For academic learning to matter in the real world, students need to be able to determine what knowledge and strategies they should apply in familiar and novel situations and to recognize why they have made those choices. They need to be able to reflect on the effectiveness of their chosen approach and revise their understanding of problem and solution where warranted.

Deeper Learning typically engages students with real-world situations in ways that traditional learning might not. This real-world engagement raises the stakes where literacy skills are concerned. Students with stronger literacy skills at all grade levels will be better able to self-direct, relying less on their teachers and more on the resources available to them.

Many of the literacy skills needed for Deeper Learning also align with the Common Core, including (but by no means limited to):

Lower Elementary

  • Asking and answering questions about a text (e.g., who, what, where, etc.)
  • Retelling a story and explaining what it means
  • Recognizing the differing points of view held by different characters
  • Discussing connections between different parts of a text (e.g., a series of events)
  • Writing opinion pieces, informational or explanatory texts, and narratives
  • Strengthening writing by revising and editing

Upper Elementary

  • Analyzing various accounts of an event or topic and identifying similarities and differences
  • Using information from a variety of print and/or digital sources to find answers quickly and efficiently
  • Integrating information from multiple texts on the same topic
  • Effectively using facts, sensory details, definitions, dialogue, description, transitional words, phrases, clauses, etc., in writing
  • Conducting research using a number of sources, recalling relevant information, and drawing on evidence to build and present knowledge
  • Writing regularly for extended time periods

Middle School

  • Citing evidence that strongly supports the analysis of a text
  • Analyzing the way a modern work of fiction draws on traditional stories, myths, etc., to create a story that readers perceive as new
  • Determining an author’s viewpoint and explaining how the author treats conflicting evidence or opinions
  • Assessing arguments for soundness and sufficient evidence
  • Building an argument, supporting it with solid reasons and pertinent evidence, and writing a well-reasoned conclusion
  • Writing an entire composition in a formal style

High School

  • Considering the effect of an author’s choices (e.g., the setting, the way that characters are introduced and developed, etc.) on a text
  • Evaluating the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings
  • Analyzing a text that requires the reader to understand that what is really meant is different from what is directly stated (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement)
  • Developing claims and counterclaims evenhandedly, providing relevant evidence, and pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of both in a way that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, and possible preconceptions
  • Gathering information from a variety of authoritative print and digital sources; assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each source; avoiding overreliance on any single source; and presenting citations following a standard format

Real-World Learning

Today’s students face challenges unknown to previous generations. They must be able to filter an onslaught of information to decide what is relevant and what can be ignored. They have to learn how to communicate using an ever-growing variety of formats and media. Along with traditional essays, reports, and letters, today’s students need to learn how to write effective and appropriate emails, PowerPoint presentations, and video scripts. Self-directed learning might mean that even the youngest students are conducting independent research and learning how to judge the quality and authority of information sources and evidence.

New technologies, along with education trends like Deeper Learning, expand opportunities for students and give them new ways to succeed. But learners are also faced with new ways to fail. The reaches of “literacy” extend farther and deeper than ever before, and the consequences of illiteracy are dire. Every student deserves a toolbox of strong literacy skills to help them rise to meet today’s academic and real-world challenges.

For Further Reading:

Evidence of Deeper Learning Outcomes

Related reading:

Creating Reading Intention to Improve Reading Comprehension Skills in Students

Self-Regulation Strategies for Students With Learning Disabilities



Reading to Learn: Do We Expect Too Much of Fourth Graders?

Monday, November 10, 2014 - 08:00
  • Norene Wiesen

Reading to LearnElementary school teachers are about to get re-schooled in one of the tenets of reading development: that fourth grade marks the turning point between learning to read and reading to learn. A new study in Developmental Science by Dartmouth Associate Professor of Education Donna Coch has revealed that the transition to mature reading skills isn’t as clear-cut as many educators have been taught.

According to the “reading-shift” theory that has dominated teacher education in recent years, students experience a significant transition toward reading automaticity in fourth grade. This shift supposedly gives fourth graders the adult-like ability to read to learn. But Coch’s study, which uses brainwaves to measure the automaticity of different types of processing, doesn’t support the timing behind the theory. Instead, it shows that some aspects of reading automaticity are established before fourth grade while others are still developing past fifth grade.

Specifically, Cook found that phonological processing (“the ability to discriminate and detect differences in phonemes and speech sounds”) and semantic processing (encoding a word’s meaning and making connections between the word and other words with similar meanings) are well established by third grade. However, the brainwave measure of fifth graders’ orthographic processing (using the visual look of a string of letters to quickly understand whether or not those letters make up a word) still resembled that of younger readers more than college students.

If reading automaticity takes years to fully develop, and if we don’t know when the process is complete for most learners (the study did not look at students between 5th grade and college age), what do these results mean for educators and learners?

The takeaway, according to Coch, is that teachers should have realistic expectations of their students’ abilities and not expect them to be reading with full word automaticity in fourth and fifth grade. What makes more sense, says Coch, is for fourth and fifth grade teachers to begin thinking of themselves as reading teachers. That may be a shift for many, but it fits well with the Common Core trend of incorporating reading tasks in subjects beyond ELA. Is your school taking this research into account and changing its approach to teaching upper grade learners?

Related reading:

Teaching Inference as a Reading Strategy: The What, the How, and the Why

Why Prosody Matters: The Importance of Reading Aloud with Expression



Instilling a Love of Reading: What Every Teacher and Parent Should Know

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 (All day)
  • Jacqueline Egli

As an educator I spend a considerable amount of time providing advice to parents whose children are finding it difficult to be inspired with reading! Parents will describe their child as  “struggling,” “disinterested,” or ”anxious” about reading and are searching for ways to instill the love of reading, when it is such a tedious task for their child.

It’s really quite simple: Children who do not read well will not be inspired to read, or to practice reading more. So, how do we get our reluctant readers to find reading fun?

As the director of a school that specializes in working with students with reading disorders—and a parent of a youngster who was diagnosed with dyslexia in 3rdgrade—I see this issue from both sides.  Some suggestions that I share with our parents (and that I used with my own son) can create a safe haven for reading for the emerging reader, gifted reader, or a student who needs more direct instruction to improve reading skills.

The Practice of Reading Skills

Keep the work of developing reading skills separate from pleasure reading. Students who require reinforcement in their decoding or vocabulary should practice those tasks for a short time (15-20 minutes) several times per week. Use some of these ideas to make the reading fun!

  • Play Scrabble using real or nonsense words!Get the real game board! Let students use a dictionary to look up words that they can create with their tiles. Or, play a game with nonsense words, but everyone should be able to read their words! Non-word reading is a good way to practice decoding.
  • Word of the day: Have the whole family select a “word of the day” and keep a tally on how many times that word is read, or spoken throughout the day. At dinnertime, share the results of the family “survey” and select a new word for the next day.
  • Matching game: Have your child use index cards to write their words for practice on one card and the definition on the other. Play this game like the Memory card game (also known as Concentration), encouraging the student to read the word and the definition for every card turned over. (My son and I both did this when we were studying—he used his 5thgrade spelling words and vocabulary, and I had my “deck of cards” on education law terms and definitions for my Master’s degree coursework).
  • Use Unique Materials!Change it up! Have your child practice by writing spelling words on the sidewalk with colored chalk. Put shaving cream on the kitchen counter and let your child write their spelling words in foam! Put a piece of screen material in an open picture frame. Have your child place a piece of paper over it and write their words on the paper with crayon. This approach provides practice and highlights the individual letters with a unique, textured surface. See some examples here:  
  • Create your own storybook: Children, by nature, will be more involved and interested in practicing oral reading if they are excited about a topic. Using some of the newest technologies, such as the camera feature on your phone, have the child take photos of a favorite activity that the child or the whole family enjoys doing, or take pictures that match the vocabulary list!  Put those photos into a PowerPoint and have the child tell or type the words, match vocabulary or create a story to go with the photos. With PowerPoint you can add motion, sound, or music—so be creative! You can even print the pages and bind them into a book, and you have some great stories for practicing oral reading. The book can also make a great gift for a relative for a birthday or holiday.

Reading for Pleasure

Children who are behind in their reading abilities, such as decoding, vocabulary, or comprehension, may not always select independent reading material that “matches” their age and grade. In fact, many children who struggle with the mechanics of reading may be interested in topics that are way above their independent reading level. To meet their intellectual interests and instill the “habit” of reading for pleasure, consider these ideas:

  • Read aloud for evening wind-down: What child doesn’t want to delay bedtime? This is a perfect time to read a chapter or two and discuss the elements of a read-aloud story. Ask questions about the characters and setting and inquire if they can predict what will happen next. Let your child select a book that they have an interest in, regardless of the reading level, and read it to thembefore bedtime. For those youngsters who are gifted, be sure that the topic is not above their maturity level. You may want to read the selection before you read it together, as some authors do include more mature themes than some of our learners are ready to handle.
  • Books on tape in the car:Face it—we are a mobile society! I have parents who report spending many hours in the car for errands, driving kids to practice for sports, and waiting on our busy roads to make it home in the late afternoon hours. Audio books can be a great way for everyone to enjoy a good mystery or listen to a story that will soon be featured in film at the local movie theatres. Use of an audiobook is also a great way to keep a youngster connected to current trends in literary work. Students who are behind in their reading abilities may still have an interest in the latest chapter book that will be featured in an upcoming movie, such as Hunger Games. Although your child may not be able to wade through the actual printed version, listening to the audio series will permit them to understand the content and will encourage their discussions with their peers about the latest chapter of a popular series.
  • Model reading activities!In our busy lives we sometimes forget that our children and students need to see us reading! Some schools still include a specific reading time where everyone in the school reads a book or magazine for 15 minutes.  As parents, we should practice what we want our children to do, so they can see our enjoyment of literature! Every summer, I would take a stack of paperback books with me to the beach, and my children would know that I was enjoying my “junk novels”. Now, when we get together for our annual beach week, my young adult children break out their Kindles and read too!
  • Don’t get concerned if your child has selected something to read independently that is not at their grade level.Nothing concerns me more than when I hear a parent or teacher indicate that the “child” is selecting a storybook, chapter book or series to read that is “not at their grade level”. Reading for pleasure should be just that, for pleasure. Allow and encourage reading for entertainment value. I often remind my students’ parents that “eyes on print” is a good thing, and not to get concerned over the level of the material that a child reads for pleasure. I don’t look at the back of the book I am purchasing for my annual beach trip to see what grade level it is before I purchase it. I select books that I am interested in reading for fun!I enjoy books that have a mystery and involve law, written by authors such as John Grisham. What I don’t do is determine the Lexile Score, or Independent Reading Level of the text or content. So, allow your child a choice in what they wish to read independently and encourage them to develop the habit of reading!

Above all, BE PATIENTandENCOURAGINGwith your child as they develop independent reading habits. The “art” of reading is quite complex. Some children will require more support, individualized instruction, and continued practice, and may benefit from the services of a reading specialist. Your positive influence, patience, and support can make your child feel safe to take the “risk” of reading new words or selecting more challenging material. Celebrate the small steps, and keep positive so your child will become more confident!

Related reading:

18 Ways to Encourage Students to Read This Summer

5 Reasons Why Your Students Should Write Every Day


Learning How to Learn

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 (All day)
  • Martha Burns, Ph.D

learning to learn

In early elementary school, Louise was described as a sweet but somewhat passive child. She was an average student who never made trouble so her teachers did not worry about her, but at the same time she was rarely chosen for special duties or called on in class. When Louise's parents asked about her somewhat mediocre progress in school (given that her siblings were all excellent students), the school principal, Mr. Henry tried to reassure them that she was a bright little girl but would never get an ulcer worrying about school achievement; she just was not an "active learner".  Often children like Louise are described as underachievers.

But for Louise, that description of her began to change in the third grade under Mr. Stevens.  He was a teacher that some parents hoped their children could avoid because he was a stickler for neatness, organization, planning, paying attention and punctuality. He referred to himself as "Hurricane Stevens" for his proclivity, without warning, to check students' desks randomly for disarray or to confiscate items that might distract a student from getting work done. One day Louise succumbed to his watchful eye during class when she was admiring a yo-yo she had won during lunch recess. With one fell swoop the yo-yo became part of Mr.  Stevens'  "cyclone stash" of toys and comic books - all to be returned each Friday with a wry smile and gentle warning that sometimes objects get lost in cyclones. “Class time is your job," Mr. Stevens extolled her, "you can think about recess during recess, during class you need to focus on learning."

Mr. Stevens also had a memory game he called "fun facts", starting each day with a list of new history or science facts, vocabulary words, or current events details. They were always relevant to one of the class lessons, and during the day more information about the facts would be part of the daily lessons.  Students were told to pay close attention to the list and knew they would need to apply the facts in a later lesson, but were not permitted to write anything down.  Sometime during each day, never predictably, Mr. Stevens would quiz the class on a few of the morning's facts and how they applied to that day's lesson. At random and without warning (in case a student surreptitiously jotted a few notes somewhere) students were asked a question about one or more of the facts. The first student called on who answered correctly got to wear a prized star pin the entire day.

In September, Mr. Stevens began with five facts each morning. By October, none of the students missed any of the questions when called on so Mr. Stevens increased the list by one each month and the application of the facts became less predictable. When the list became longer and the application more subtle, Mr. Stevens would ask students how they were able to remember. Students told of using different strategies. One student said that since she was not allowed to write the facts down, she just pictured what they looked like if she did write them! Then she could recognize them if she saw them later or could read them back to herself in her mind. Another boy said when there were names, he tried to imagine how they looked. When he learned later about  what they did in history he could see them doing it. Like most of the children, Louise figured out her own strategies to help remember the facts and tried to predict how they might apply to class or what kind of questions he might ask. She found herself listening carefully throughout the day for more information. And like most of the students in the class, she couldn't wait to be called on -- later in the year, she too won the star pin every time she was selected to answer one of Mr. Stevens' questions.

Mr. Stevens understood that children need to take an active role in the learning process. Some children are natural students; they focus easily on content, can stick to one task, and retain information without effort. Those students achieve easily so they are a joy to teach. But to other children like Louise the "how" of learning does not come naturally. Their mind wanders or they are easily distracted in class. They don't realize that they may need to "try to remember" information. They might seem lazy because they have trouble sticking with a task when it is repetitive or boring. Mr. Stevens understood that in addition  to teaching information, he could also teach students howto learn. Louise and the other students learned to focus on relevant details in class, plan for how they were going to hold on to information during the day, and predict how they might apply to the lessons. After a year with Mr. Stevens, his students were not just better at reading, math, and writing, they were active learners.

Teaching approaches like those of Mr. Stevens may be thought of as emphasizing the process of learning as much as the content. His goal was not just that students acquire information but also apply it. In that regard he was years ahead of his time. The Common Core State Standards, that a majority of states have now adopted, emphasize application of knowledge.   Key points of the Common Core State Standards for reading, for example,  mandate that through reading students not only "build knowledge" but also "gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspective*." To that end, Roger Schank at Northwestern University, author of "Teaching Minds" argues persuasively that there are twelve cognitive processes which underlie learning, including prediction and analytic processes like planning or judgment. 

The problem of course is that today's teachers have been increasingly evaluated on their students' mastery of the curriculum, which might be considered the "what of teaching". With Common Core State Standards and educational research now emphasizing the learning process as well as mastery of content, teachers find gaps in the curriculum. Many state standards do include critical thinking skills like application of knowledge and drawing inferences.  But, most state curriculum standards do not include underlying learning processes like teaching students how to attend better to relevant information, stick with a task to completion, or develop retention strategies.

Fortunately, neuroscience has been grappling with the learning process issues like focused attention, perseverance and memory enhancement for over a decade.  As a result of neuroscience research, breakthrough technologies like the Fast ForWordbrain fitness and reading products are now available to supplement classroom instruction through curriculum-based attentional and memory training. By supplementing classroom tasks with these types of technologies, teachers don't have to devote as much planning and instructional time to the kinds of activities "Hurricane Stevens" employed. 

Breakthrough technologies are also available to free up classroom time so that teachers can focus instruction on Common Core State Standardslike those for speaking and listening which "expect students [to] grow their vocabularies through a mix of conversations, direct instruction, and reading*."  With technologies like Reading Assistant, for example, students independently read aloud to a computer which corrects their errors through speech recognition software, provides vocabulary definitions on request, and quizzes for application of information at the same time as measuring reading fluency. These kinds of technologies in the classroom enable teachers to do what they love, impart content as well as encourage their students to think about how the content applies to other information they have learned and their daily lives. The Common Core State Standards can be a welcome contribution to classroom education with breakthrough technologies that enhance students' capacity to learn.

And by the way, with Mr. Stevens' help you might have expected that Louise eventually became a prodigious student and teacher herself. Perhaps you can guess who she was. (HINT: My full name is Martha Louise Stoner Burns - the teacher and principal's names were changed though.)

For further reading:

*Key Points In English Language Arts

Related reading: 

Endorsing the Common Core State Standards Initiative

Common Core Reading Recommendations and the Role of the Teacher


Reading to Learn: Meeting the Challenge of Third Grade Reading Proficiency

Thursday, July 19, 2012 (All day)
  • Sherrelle Walker, M.A.

Third grade reading proficiency

Third grade marks a critical turning point in the life of student readers.  It’s the time when students move from learning to readto reading to learn—or, more accurately, it’s the time when students are expectedto make this transition.  The reality is quite different. 

With data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showing that two thirds of students nationwide are reading below the “proficient” level at “basic” or “below basic,” many states have begun to implement legislation or programs to ensure that all students can read proficiently by third grade.  Consequently, educators are looking for ways to help their students accelerate the acquisition of the reading skills needed to meet academic expectations.

A recent report by the Annie E. Casey foundationreveals that students who are not reading proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leaveschool without graduating.  Breaking down research data for the first time along a variety of demographic lines, the report presents more grim statistics:

  • About one third of students fail to achieve mastery of even basic reading skills by third grade
  • Children from low-income families are disproportionately represented, with more than 83% reading below proficiency
  • About a quarter of Black and Hispanic students who are not reading proficiently in third grade don’t graduate—nearly twice the rate of similar White students

The report’s discussion of policy and program strategies doesn’t provide easy answers, though it does identify integrating PreK-3rdgrade education as a research-validated approach to achieving and sustaining gains. According to a Grantmakers for Educationbriefing on this approach, when fully implemented it includes small class sizes; classroom teachers who are certified to work with PreK-3rdgrade learners; collaboration between school and family; consistency of learning environments and instructional approaches; alignment of curriculum, standards, and assessments across grades; and availability of PreK for all 3 and 4 year old children, followed by full-day kindergarten. While schools may begin to move in that direction, such change takes time.

Fortunately, there are proven tools available now that are highly effective in helping students achieve grade-level proficiency in reading: the Reading Assistant program, a personal reading coach that is proven to accelerate reading achievement, and the Fast ForWord program, an online intervention that is highly effective in helping struggling learners rapidly improve their reading skills.  Join Dr. Martha S. Burns on July 25thfor a webinar about the newest science behind learning to read and find out how technology-based reading solutions can get students back on track.



Related Reading:

Fourth Graders Achieve 100 Percent Reading Proficiency

Overall District Performance Score Improves at Almost Double the Rate of LA State Baseline Score

How Language Immersion Helps English Language Learners Succeed in School

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

English language learners

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of school-age English Language Learners (ELLs) more than doubled between the years 1980 and 2009, rising from 4.7 million to 11.2 million. ELLs currently represent one in nine students ages 5 - 17 in US classrooms, with the majority found in the primary grades.

In a recent webinar, Dr. Virginia Mann, Professor of Cognitive Science at UC Irvine in Southern California, confronted the barriers that ELLs face, and outlined the pathway to success for these students. In order to develop into fluent readers, she explained, ELLs rely on a couple of basics:

  • Vocabulary and early language skills
  • Phonemic awareness

The good news is that building these skills in a learner’s first language can help build skills in English, as phonemic awareness generalizes across languages and it’s a short hop to understand new English words that sound similar in both languages.  The bad news is that many ELLs also grow up in poverty and research shows that young children living in poverty often do not get enough early language experience and exposure to develop strong early language skills.

Because early language skills are so critical for ELLs, if parents take the time to "become teachers" for their children and immerse their children in language by having conversations with them and working with them on listening and speaking activities, learners can make significant gains.

Students whose first language uses an alphabet system have some advantages over those whose first language use an orthographic system, but the bottom line is that when students engage frequently in language-oriented activities and build oral skills, vocabulary, and phonemic understanding in any language, they are on the pathway to successful English language learning.

Mann is quick to note that while parent involvement is crucial, one-shot programs are not sufficient.  Parents of ELLs need coaching and support, not just instruction.  Dr. Mann references numerous studies and gives examples of the enduring programs that she has created and implemented to support parents in helping their children succeed.

To learn more about why early immersion in any language is so crucial to future academic success, view Dr. Mann's webinar here.

Related Reading:

Why You Should Read With Your Child

Toddler Vocabulary Development: Shopping With Your Child

Helping Low-SES Students Thrive

Thursday, January 26, 2012 (All day)
  • Bill Jenkins, Ph.D.

Helping low-SES students thrive

Studies and statistics have clearly demonstrated the link between low achievement and low socioeconomic status or SES. Still, studies have also shown that given the right conditions, every student – including those from less fortunate circumstances – have the opportunity to succeed. Not only that, but the kinds of changes that can increase achievement are available to every household, regardless of SES.

Factors linked to low-SES have been shown to have an effect upon readiness for school and achievement once a child has entered school. Circumstances include a household’s lack of financial wherewithal to devote to learning resources such as books, supplies and computers. Other contributing factors include lack of parental involvement; only 36% of low SES parents read to their kindergartners, compared to 62% in the highest SES students (Coley, 2002). In addition, parents of low SES households tend to be dual-income or single parent families who have limited time and energy at home to devote to meaningful engagement with their children.

That said, many successful students do come from low-SES homes. While some of this success can be attributed to the simple innate resiliency and drive arising from within the student, research has been able to tease out a number of common factors in such homes, where certain practices are clearly contributing to student success. 

Factors for Success

In 2006, Allison Milne and Lee Plourde studied this population, selecting six second-grade students from a Central Washington elementary school who came from low-SES homes but were also high achievers. While the number of students in the study was limited, Milne and Plourde outline a number of common factors in their homes that likely contributed to their success:

  • Educational content in the home:In all households, these students as early learners all had access to learning materials, such as books, writing material and structured time. All students attended preschool or Head Start.
  • Placing value on education:All parents held having an education as an important value, and made efforts to ensure that their children understood this value. Of the participant families, all parents had completed at least through the 10th grade.
  • Positive, supportive relationships:Regardless of family structure (single mother, guardian, two-parent, etc.), successful children’s families demonstrated patterns of support and open communication. Such parents expressed wanting open, respectful relationships with their children, and spent time with them having more adult-like conversations. They also indicated that they spent time together and had fun with one another. Finally, these families all had support systems of friends and family nearby to lean on in times of need.
  • Understanding of the parental role:When it came to questions about their job as parents, all expressed “eerily similar” answers, such as providing support and guidance at home, and making sure their children understood the essential nature of a good education. They also made sure that they set examples through their own behaviors that communicated such values to their children.

Even though this study was limited in its sample size, the implications and the opportunities are far reaching. If low-SES children have the support and understanding that we see in these households, financial status does not have to be the ultimate determinant of academic achievement.

For further reading:

Factors of a low-SES household: what aids academic achievement?

Education and Socioeconomic Status, American Psychological Association

Related Reading:

Changing the Culture of Poverty by Doing Whatever it Takes

What Educators Can Do About Poverty in American Schools

Poverty in American Schools: What Educators Can Do

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen


Poverty in American schools


Many children from poverty arrive in schools with a host disadvantages, including low self-esteem, unstable relationships, and brain differences.  But with support, encouragement and the right interventions, every child can maximize their ability to learn and succeed.

Learn more about "teaching with poverty in mind" in our on-demand webinar by Eric Jensen, full of actionable ideas for getting the most from learning time with students, building learning capacity, accelerating the learning process, and getting better buy-in from educators and students.

Related Reading:

Changing the Culture of Poverty by Doing Whatever It Takes

Building a Foundation for School Readiness for Low Income Children

6 Steps to Help Students Ask Better Questions

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 (All day)
  • Sherrelle Walker, M.A.

Question formulation technique

The Question Formulation Technique

The ability to ask questions is the genesis – the “big bang” – where learning really starts. It is that moment where information that has entered the brain mixes with other ideas and begins to synthesize new ideas. Questions demonstrate curiosity. Questions represent the beginning of discovery and innovation. The first step of the scientific method itself is the careful formulation of a question.

But how often do we focus on teaching our students how to formulate good, well-considered questions? Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana have focused their work on exactly this skill, developing an approach they call the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). The two are co-directors of The Right Question Institute (RQI), a non-profit organization that focuses on helping people learn to better advocate for themselves and participate more in decision-making processes by teaching them how to ask questions. While the RQI applies their techniques across health care, community service, public agencies and community-based organizations, their ideas represent an excellent tool that we can use in our classrooms every day.

Recently published in the Harvard Education Letter, their article “ Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions,” describes the Question Formulation Technique, a way for educators to present material in ways that encourage students to take a more active ownership role in their learning. There are six steps to the technique, as follows:

1.      Find a focus -The “QFocus,” as it is called by Rothstein and Santana, is a prompt that serves to focus student questions so they can explore more expansive ideas. The authors offer an example presented by a teacher after covering the causes of the 1804 Haitian revolution: “Once we were slaves. Now we are free,” With a clear, direct thought like this to focus their thinking, the students begin formulating and posing questions around this idea.

2.      Brainstorm -Constrained by a few simple rules to help people stay focused, students formulate as many questions as possible. At this point, they are asked not to judge the quality of the questions, nor pursue any answers. This is much like the classic “brainstorming” process, where ideas are generated in a free, uninterrupted flow.

3.      Refine -The students work with the questions they have created, reformulating them as open- and closed-ended questions. They categorize them and make them clearer, more focused and more apt to yield the desired answers.

4.      Prioritize- Using lesson plans and teaching goals, the teacher helps students select their top three questions and use them to zero in on the most important aspects of the material.

5.      Determine next steps- Students and teachers together review the priority questions and make decisions about how best to use them for learning. The questions can be used to drive experimentation, further reading, research and/or discussion.

6.      Reflect- The teacher and students review their questions in the context of the six steps they have worked through to produce them. According to Rothstein and Santana, “Making the QFT completely transparent helps students see what they have done and how it contributed to their thinking and learning. They can internalize the process and then apply it in many other settings.”

Note the key word in that last sentence – internalize. Through this process, students add question formulation to their cognitive toolbox, making it a part of how they address information and problem-solving going forward. The authors note a number of benefits to the QFT, including increased group participation and better classroom management. But more importantly, they found that students were more apt to delve deeply into topics on their own, posing well-considered, critical questions that not only help direct their learning, but allow them to take more effective ownership of that learning as well.

As a “habit of mind,” the Question Formulation Technique demonstrates beautifully how the brain is built for pattern recognition. It also represents research that holds great promise for helping students form thinking patterns early on that will yield lifelong benefits.

Related Reading:

Teaching Creativity in the Classroom

Inspiring Students to Dream, Learn and Grow

2011 Virtual Circle of Learning Wrap-Up

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 (All day)
  • Pam Combs

This year’s annual customer conference, Virtual Circle of Learning 2011, took place online last Friday with over 800 registrants.   The keynote speakers—Eric Jensen, Dr. Martha Burns, and Andrew Ostarello—addressed opportunities for customers to maximize the impact of their implementations of Scientific Learning products.

Much of the content from these keynotes can be seen in our Twitter streamwith the hashtag #VCOL11, as we live-tweeted the keynote sessions and linked to articles relevant to each speaker’s presentation.

Virtual Circle of Learning wrap up

The articles provide further reading on increasing student motivation and engagement, maximizing the results of using Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant products, and more:

Customers who missed a keynote or breakout session can watch it on Customer Connect(customer login required).  Feel free to share the link with others at your school who were not able to attend. 

Also, be sure to complete your survey to let us know what you enjoyed and what we can improve for next year.  And, if you have an iPad, be sure to include your iTunes email address so we can give you our new iPad app, Eddy’s Number Party!

And now, off to start planning for Virtual Circle of Learning 2012!

Related Reading:

Building Fluent Readers: How Oral Reading Practice Helps Reading Comprehension

How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function


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