Sandy Warner

Teaching with technology


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Reading Comprehension Conference

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Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend a Reading Comprehension Conference presented by the knowledgable Sheena Cameron.


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I have previously used her books  “Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies” and “The Publishing and Display Handbook” in my classroom and was eager for more. I wasn’t disappointed. Sheena has what she refers to as ‘street cred’, she was (up until the last three years), a practising teacher and a lot of what she presented today was hands on practical ideas and tools that I can now take back to the classroom and use. Sheena outlined throughout the day the importance of teaching reading strategies to children explicitly and provided a range of activities and ideas in which teachers can achieve this in the classroom both at the whole class level down to groups of children and individual students.
In some ways what Sheena shared today was not new.
As an Accelerated Literacy Accredited Teacher for the past six years. the explicit teaching of reading and writing has been at the core of my literacy program. My Accelerated Literacy pedagogy enables me to provide a common language for my students to talk about literacy and covers the explicit teaching of the comprehension and production of language. Through Accelerated Literacy my students learn skills within a relevant and meaningful text that will help them understand and apply the different literacy skills they will need. It is also about giving students plenty of time to consolidate and apply their skills and understanding.
What Sheena has given me, is a new lens in which to look at my practice. It is not so much about “throwing the baby out with the bath water” but rather reminding me to revisit some of the tools and activities  that I have used in the past in a new way and how to apply specific activities to teach reading strategies within my classroom. I now have some new tools to add to my teaching toolbox that compliment and strengthen my accelerated teaching pedagogy. After all, there is no one way to teach children to read, rather we need to explicitly teach a range of strategies to children and get them to think about what it is that good readers do, in order to improve their reading comprehension.
One of the ideas I really liked was something Sheena gave us at the beginning of the conference – an action plan sheet for us to use during the conference to start planning some teaching reading comprehension strategies we could use when we go back into the classroom. I used this to jot down any ideas that resonated with me during the conference and this sparked some thoughts around how can I adapt these ideas using technology.

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I have already started implementing these and today I used the post it notes to ask my students “What is reading?”. The sideshow below are their responses and I was quite saddened that not one student wrote about the joy of reading or the ability of books to take you to ‘new worlds’. Something to think about. (I also think I need to work on their spelling of the ‘ea’ chunk for reading, but I digress!)

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Sheena has looked at a broad range of current reading comprehension research and what it is that good readers do. It is important to understand that good readers are able to draw upon their own personal experiences/knowledge to help them understand what they are reading, they ask questions about what they are reading and who wrote it, they are able to identify important parts of the text and self monitor or self check their understanding of the text. Good readers are also able to visualise what they are reading.
From this Sheena has developed 10 key reading strategies to improve reading comprehension in students. These are;
  1. Activating prior knowledge
  2. Self Monitoring
  3. Predicting
  4. Questioning
  5. Making Connections
  6. Visualising
  7. Summarising
  8. Inferring
  9. Synthesising
  10. and Building vocabulary knowledge

If you would like to explore these strategies more or look at the research, I encourage you to have a look at her books or visit Sheena’s website. What I really like is that Sheena backs this up with lots of hands on activities that engage and teach students how to think about these strategies and use them successfully. We were given opportunities to practice these activities too. We used the Dot to Dot Connections sheet to think about Prior Knowledge of a subject. Students work in pairs or groups of three to make connections between key words using what they already know. Later after reading,  they can go back to this and use a different colour to add any new knowledge and revisit to show development.

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One activity that we did around Visualising that made us laugh was simply to draw a pair of shoes. Which was quickly followed by the Nogard activity, where we had to draw an animal according to the oral instructions given.
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Both are quick simple visualising ideas that help students understand that we all interpret things in different ways and develop different meanings – and that is ok.
This conference has helped me to reflect on my current teaching practice and deepen my understanding of the strategies and activities that I have been using from Sheena’s two books. It was reassuring that a lot of what Sheena spoke to us about yesterday was what I was already doing in my classroom but I didn’t have all the same ‘labels’ to glue it all together. It highlighted the importance of being explicit in my teaching, providing lots of opportunities to role model good practice, to also allow and engage students to handover what it is that I did when I am modelling. I need to teach children to “read between the ears” by encouraging them to think about their own reading behaviour and their use of these strategies. I need to make sure they know how these reading strategies help them to be better readers. I need to ask them if they even know what comprehension means. I need to reassure them that even adults draw upon these strategies all the time.
So what to do next on my action plan? I would like to set up some reading strategy big books that my students can  refer back to when they are doing some of these activities. I would love to engage my students by developing some book trailers but I may need to wait until later this year. We have got a lot of learning to do. Meanwhile I think I’ll share this book trailer below with them.
Just click on the picture below and enjoy.
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