Ask Laura

Assessment

Question: What kind of assessment do you feel is important?

Answer: Daily assessments tell us teachers the most about our students. Studying students’ writing can help you plan mini-lessons for small groups or the entire class–you can also learn who needs that one-on-one support from you to improve content and/or writing conventions. Listening to students’ discussions, watching their behaviors and reactions, and conferring with them also give you insights that support instructional planning.

High Level Thinking:

Question: Is there a specific age to start high level thinking?

Answer: High level thinking–inferring, making connections, finding big ideas, should start as soon as children enter school. Along with learning to decode, students should lear to think about text and illustrations.

Professional Development:

Question: How do you feel about one-day workshops?

Answer: I believe that these can be inspirational and jump start a school’s faculty into collaborating to learn more about a topic. The most effective professional develop occurs at the building level and is ongoing. Teachers meet weekly or bi-monthly in small groups to read about and discuss topics that they choose–topics that relate to their teaching needs.

Strategic Reading: Question: Should I teach a strategy a week?

Answer: Doing that will place a great deal of stress on you and your students. Best to think of helping students understand and apply a strategy throughout a unit of study–five to eight weeks. Not all students will “get it,” but that’s okay as each year high level thinking strategies will be revisited.

Writing to Improve Reading:

Question: Why don’t you believe in grading journals?

Answer: I view journals as places for students to take risks regarding their thoughts about texts, to clarify hunches, to develop and supportnopinions, and to build new understandings. Red-marking and grading journal entries will discourage students from writing and from expressing their ideas without censoring them.

DIFFERENTIATED READING INSTRUCTION Q & A WITH LAURA ROBB

Where do I start with DI Reading Instruction? Which structures and concepts are fundamental?

LAURA: Start by building your background knowledge of DI, which includes understanding tiering, assessment, the role of conferring and self-evaluation, writing to improve reading, creating plans for units, and the research that supports DI. Consider forming a study group with colleagues to read and discuss my book as well as the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson, Judith Dodge, and Rick Wormeli. Fortified with theory and examples of practice, you’ll be ready to plan and implement one unit of study. You can plan a unit of study for two to three weeks using picture books. This way you start small and experience the instructional read-aloud, instructional reading at school, teacher-student conferences, to name only a few. The more you self-evaluate and invite student feedback during and after a unit, the smoother the units will run.

Do very bright students-such as those who’ve been designated as gifted-suffer from low expectations in a class where DI is the norm?

LAURA: Actually, bright students bloom because you are offering them challenging materials that relate to the genre, issue, and theme you’re studying. With one-size-fits-all, these students receive little to no instruction because the work is easy for them and they can complete it independently. They are usually reading materials at their independent reading levels and not moving forward with analyzing, connecting, and synthesizing.

Because a student struggles with reading does not necessarily mean that student is not bright or gifted. The key to differentiation is to match students to instructional texts so they can improve their reading skill. But all students, no matter what their instructional reading levels are, need to think and apply reading and analytical strategies appropriate for their grade level. So, a sixth grader reading at a third grade instructional level uses that material to think and write about texts at the sixth grade level.

How does writing support DI and improve comprehension?

LAURA: Writing about reading improves students’ comprehension by helping them to compare and contrast within a text or between texts; to clarify hunches and thinking; to make connections, analyze, form hypotheses and prove them; and synthesize ideas across texts. I see writing about reading as an extension of reading and thinking. In my classes, journals are always on students’ desks, poised to receive a reaction, thought, questions, and other feedback.

Does DI have a role in classes other than reading or language arts?

LAURA: Absolutely! Let me start with a true story. A group of ninth graders reading three to five years below grade level were placed in a special reading class that met five mornings a week. Students read books at their instructional levels and used their texts to do the high level thinking expected of ninth graders. They experienced much success and made one to two years’ progress. However, back in science, English, and social studies, these students had to read grade level or above texts. Animal Farm was one of the English texts. Students became angry and frustrated because they failed or received D’s in other subjects. Though administrators developed this kind of remediation with the best intentions, these students needed to read at their instructional level in all subjects in order to improve. This is one reason why we continue to leave so many students behind.

Multiple texts-texts related to a topic in any subject at diverse reading levels-need to be a part of all instruction. Publishing needs to change to meet the realities of teaching. No more huge textbooks that students can’t read. In their place we need small texts that relate to different aspects of a topic, written at diverse instructional levels. All subjects-not just language arts-need reading resource rooms with books on a wide range of reading levels.

NEW SCHOLASTIC RESOURCES FOR DIFFERENTIATING INSTRUCTION

By LAURA ROBB:

Teaching Reading: A Differentiated Approach

This 3-ring binder is the comprehensive resource for research-based reading instruction. In it, Laura Robb has compiled classroom-tested lessons and strategies that help students activate prior knowledge, monitor comprehension, make inferences, write in response to fiction and nonfiction texts, and so much more. The binder contains rubrics, assessments, graphic organizers, step-by-step strategy lessons, transparencies of selected lessons, reproducible practice pages leveled for differentiated instruction, and special sections for language arts and content-area teachers. Grades 4 and up.

Reading Strategies Toolkit, Nonfiction, Grades 4-5 provides everything you need-including differentiated practice pages-to teach key nonfiction strategies. Key components are 9 full-color picture books, 9 teaching guides, 9 teaching transparencies, a professional book, as well as folders and a box for easy storage and ready access.