Monday, December 15, 2014

Disciplinary Literacy: What about music and other subjects?

I’m a music education professor and music literacy is an area of research for me. I am intrigued by your work on disciplinary literacy and my colleague and I are interested in determining how disciplinary literacy could be applied to music. I’ve searched, but have found no research in this regard. Do you know of any? Also, I would love to hear your opinions regarding directions we could take as we look into this subject further. As of now, we see a need to look at music notation literacy as well as the literacy associated with writing about music. Further, we see four types of musical thinking that may use music and language differently – creating, responding, performing, and connecting. Needless to say, things are getting complicated. We would love any input you could give!
I hope it doesn't bother you to much that you are asking this of someone who can't carry a tune in a bucket. Like you, I know of no research on music literacy. Certainly, there is musical notation and that may or may not have a place in your program depending on your focus. However, for the purpose of this discussion, let’s just focus on English prose (teaching musical thinking makes great sense to me, but I wouldn't be the guy to go to for that unless off-key humming is prominent in the scheme).

Although there is not research on music, or on many sub-disciplines and specializations, that doesn't mean we have nothing to proceed on. With music, I think there are at least three possible directions that could be taken--and I'd recommend all three.

First, some music programs focus heavily on the science of tonality and other aural phenomena. That means scientific or technical texts make sense and those kinds of material need to be read very much like science. We do know something about science reading and that would be relevant here.

Second, some music programs emphasize musical history—exploring the relationship between music and various historical eras, and considering how music was created or which instruments were used and how and why that changed over time. This kind of material definitely should be read in the same fashion as other historical materials. Look at what we know about the reading of history.

Third, some music programs pay at least some attention to musical appreciation and critique. How does one analyze and evaluate a piece of music. What are the criteria for evaluation and the language of such musical criticism? This requires reading akin to what students might be expected to take on in a literature program (though, in fairness, I know of no studies of the reading or writing of criticism, per se).

I guess what I’m saying is that some fields draw from one ore more disciplines and that means their reading and writing experience will be similar to the reading and writing routines, language, and insights of those related to those fields. I think that is something to be candid about with students: musical scholarship requires the ability to handle technical materials like a scientist, historical materials like a historian, and criticism in the fashion of a music critic; and students would necessarily have to recognize the diversity of those demands and adjust accordingly.

I would say the same thing for social studies (history, geography, economics, culture) and science (biology, chemistry, physics, but also subspecialties like botany). The readers in those fields need to be able to shift their routines depending on the nature of the problems and the texts. 

Reading and writing demands can also vary within a field of study across various kinds of goals or purposes. That's the situation in music, I think. Not all reading purposes require the same processes or combination of processes, so you need to pay attention to the routines and approaches you and your colleagues use in their work (and how to reveal those to students).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Second Language Powerpoints

Today I had a marvelous time presenting to Arizona teachers at the OELAS conference. I made a presentation on scaffolding complex texts for English language learners and one on teaching close reading with informational text. I think I have posted the latter before, but since I always change these a bit here is the most recent version. The text complexity presentation overlaps with past presentations on teaching with challenging text, but this version includes lots of examples of scaffolding for Spanish language students. Hope these are useful to you: Powerpoints

Monday, December 8, 2014

'Tis the Season: Please Include Reading in Your Annual Giving

This is the time of year when we are most likely to open our hearts – and out pocketbooks – to the needs of others. And, as Charles Dickens suggested in A Christmas Carol, it would be wise to use our charitable giving to combat ignorance above all. How will we reduce poverty, pain, suffering, or illness without education?

Annually, I scrutinize Charity Navigator to identify national and international charitable agencies that put books into the hands of children and that aim to improve children’s literacy and language. There are terrific local organizations that engage in such work too, but I’m focused only on organizations with a bigger footprint than that. If you want to include children’s reading in your given this holiday season, these are all 3- and 4-start charities according to Charity Navigator, and they all spend at least 80% of their contributions on the programs that they support. 

Books for Africa. Founded in 1988, Books for Africa (BFA) collects, sorts, ships, and distributes books to children in Africa. Our goal is to end the book famine in Africa. Books donated by publishers, schools, libraries, individuals, and organizations are sorted and packed by volunteers who carefully choose books that are age and subject appropriate. We send good books, enough books for a whole class to use. Since 1988, Books For Africa has shipped more than 27 million books to 48 African countries. They are on once-empty library shelves, in classrooms in rural schools, and in the hands of children who have never before held a book. Each book will be read over and over again. When the books arrive, they go to those who need them most: children who are hungry to read, hungry to learn, hungry to explore the world in ways that only books make possible. Books for Africa

Children's Literacy Initiative (CLI), founded in 1988, works with teachers to transform instruction so that all children can become powerful readers and writers. Our goal is to close the gap in literacy achievement between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers. CLI offers professional development for pre-kindergarten through third grade teachers across the country. We provide coaching and seminars, lesson plans, a prekindergarten curriculum, and collections of high-quality children's literature. Our programs promote research-based methods for teaching reading and writing. CLI is involved in large projects in the public school systems of Philadelphia, Newark (NJ), Camden, Baltimore, and Boston. Children's Literacy Initiative

First Book. First Book has distributed more than 100 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. By making new, high-quality books available on an ongoing basis, First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and the elevating the quality of education. First Book

Jumpstart. Jumpstart is a national early education organization working toward the day every child in America enters school prepared to succeed. Jumpstart delivers a research-based and cost-effective program by training college students and community volunteers to serve preschool-age children in low-income neighborhoods. Through a proven curriculum, these children develop the language and literacy skills they need to be ready for school, setting them on a path for lifelong success. Jumpstart is a proud member of the AmeriCorps national service network. Jumpstart

Reach Out and Read. Founded in 1989, Reach Out and Read prepares America's youngest children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together. Doctors, nurse practitioners, and other medical professionals incorporate Reach Out and Read's evidence-based model into regular pediatric checkups, by advising parents about the importance of reading aloud and giving developmentally-appropriate books to children. The program begins at the 6-month checkup and continues through age 5, with a special emphasis on children growing up in low-income communities. Families served by Reach Out and Read read together more often, and their children enter kindergarten with larger vocabularies and stronger language skills, better prepared to achieve their potential. Currently, more than 27,000 doctors and nurse practitioners at 4,600 hospitals, health centers, and clinics participate in Reach Out and Read, serving nearly 4 million children and families nationwide. Reach Out and Read

Room to Read believes that World Change Starts with Educated Children. We envision a world in which all children can pursue a quality education that enables them to reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world. Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, we develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond. Room to Read

United Through Reading (UBR). The mission of UBR is to unite military families facing physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together. In 200 locations worldwide on land and at sea, UTR offers military service members the opportunity to be video-recorded reading books to their children at home. When faraway parents read stories to their children and send the video recordings home: children’s anxieties are eased; spouses at home are supported; parenting is shared; service members' morale is boosted; service members' are a part of daily life at home; homecomings are easier and more joyful; and children become readers. United Through Reading

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Does a Listening Deficit Predict a Reading Deficit?

In a recent workshop I attended, the following comment was made:
"A child cannot read and comprehend at a level higher than they can listen and comprehend.  A deficit in listening comprehension predicts a deficit in reading comprehension." Could you explain this correlation further or refer me to professional reading material that would expound on this topic?

          This long-standing claim is true, or sort of true. Or, to be perfectly correct, it’s true whenever it isn’t false. (And you thought those kinds of “perfectly clear” claims were gone just because the election season is over.)

          When I was becoming a teacher we learned that listening comprehension was a terrific diagnostic tool because listening would reveal a student’s cognitive capacity to understand. Thus, if you questioned a student about a 4th grade passage that you had read to him and he could answer the questions successfully, then it was clear that his intellect was sufficient to make sense of texts of that level of difficulty. If his reading level was lower than this, then further reading growth should allow him to eventually read 4th grade texts with understanding.

           This idea makes sense…as far as it goes. The problem is that the relationship between listening comprehension and reading comprehension is complex and developmental (that is, it changes with growth).

           Young children definitely understand more by ear than by eye. Decoding skills create a bottleneck that limits the level of text they can understand. Such incomprehension or miscomprehension is due to their limited ability to decode. If they can understand a text when it is read to them, but not when left to their own devices, then decoding is the likely culprit.

          Of course, decoding isn’t the only possible difference between reading and listening. For example, oral language carries lots of meaning clues in the prosody (in the rises and falls of the voice, the pausing patterns, and so on). Some of that is marked in the text, with punctuation points or bolded words, but much of it has to be provided by the reader. Listening can be easier than reading is because the listener doesn’t have to figure out where the sounding emphasis lies.

          But what is true for young readers is not necessarily so for older ones. At some point, silent reading outdistances oral reading and reading becomes easier than listening. The point this happens varies across studies, and there is a lot of variation even within studies, but usually it takes place by the time a student can read about an eighth grade level.

            What changes? Many readers reach peak levels of decoding and fluency performance about that time. Once decoding becomes truly automatic it is no longer a differentiator between reading and listening.

            If I can decode well and without using many cognitive resources to do it, then I should be able to understand a read text as well as one that I listened to. The same thing must occur with prosody interpretation; if I can insert the meaning sounds myself then listening carries little advantage.

            Reading comprehension and listening comprehension don’t actually become equals, however. From the point where they become equals, reading comprehension begins to elbow its way ahead. Most literate adults can understand complex texts better by eye than by ear.

           This is because as texts become increasingly complicated, they place greater demands on memory and analytic skills. Rate of presentation during listening isn’t up to you. Readers can reread knotty sentences, skim through repetitive parts, pause and ponder what seems most important, and even sort out homonyms with more information than is available to the ear.

           This means that what you were told about the superiority of listening to reading is true, but it is only true until students become adept enough with reading that it matches and even surpasses listening. Using listening as a way of determining how well younger students or lower readers might be expected to read is reasonable, but not so with older students.

          There are lots of studies on the relationship of listening comprehension and reading comprehension. One classic that is available to you free online is Tom Sticht’s important book, Auding and Listening

Upcoming Webinar on Close Reading

I am doing an upcoming webinar on Close Reading that might be of interest to some school districts. This will take place on Tuesday, December 2, at 1:00PM-3:00PM EST.

Details about this event are available at Shanahan Webinar on Close Reading

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What is the Proper Sequence to Teach Reading Skills?

Years ago, when the National Reading Panel (NRP) report came out, Congress tried to impose a national literacy sequence on American schools. Their plan only allowed phonemic awareness instruction until kids could fully segment words. Then the law would let us teach phonics… but no fluency until the word sounding was completed. Eventually we’d even get to comprehension—at least for the most stalwart boys and girls who hung in there long enough.

A very ambitious plan; one that suggests a clear developmental sequence in how reading abilities unfold.

But much as Emperor Canute couldn’t order the tides to do his bidding, the U.S. Congress was powerless to determine the correct sequence of development for reading (these days it seems even more impotent than then).

Learning to read is a multidimensional pursuit. Lots of things have to happen simultaneously. That’s why in my scheme teachers are always teaching words (decoding and meaning), fluency, comprehension, and writing—not one after the other but simultaneously. Kids who are learning to decode should also be learning the cadences of text and how to think about what they read. All at the same time.

There have been claims about order of learning in reading, but they haven’t tended to pan out when studied. When I was became a teacher, one of the basals was setting its phonics sequence based on when the sounds appear in oral language.

Babies tend to “duh-duh-duh” before they “muh-muh-muh,” so it had us teaching the “d” sound before the “m.” (Irrelevant side note: I suspect “dad" is the invention of generous mom’s who told their mates that the baby's first word was referring to him - the Cro-Magnon Tim would have bought the story, too).

It might sound scientific to teach the “dees” before the “ems,” but it isn’t. No one has ever found that one order of phonics skills is more beneficial than another.
The NRP found that sequence mattered when it came to phonics teaching—and that may have tripped up our House and Senate (they confuse easily)—but NRP didn’t find that one sequence was any better than another.

Yes, teachers need a curriculum, and a curriculum will have to prescribe an orderly succession of letters and sounds. But that succession is an arbitrary one. Kids do better when teachers follow a systematic program of instruction for these foundational skills. They just don’t do any better with Program A’s sequence than they do with Program B’s.

That doesn’t mean anything goes in phonics. Studies do find that it helps not to pair up highly similar letters for instruction. Keep those b’s and d’s far apart; confusability matters in learning.

Usability matters, too. John Guthrie and Mary Seifert showed that whatever the order of phonics instruction, kids tend to learn the patterns that appear in the texts they read. You can teach long vowels before short vowels, but the young’uns will learn the short ones first, because the texts they read will usually be stuffed with CVCs—not CVVCs or CVCes.

And what is true for foundational skills is true for comprehension, too. Cyndie Shanahan and I have speculated that general reading comprehension strategies (e.g., summarization, questioning, monitoring, visualizing) will usually precede disciplinary strategies (e.g., sourcing in history, connecting the prose and graphics in science).

Some researchers (Fagella, et al., 2011) have even claimed that this order is necessary for struggling learners.

But we are beginning to see that even if low readers have not mastered the general strategies, they can still benefit from disciplinary ones. The order that these are currently learned is imposed by the curriculum—not by any natural learning sequence. Don’t be afraid to teach disciplinary literacy strategies to students who haven’t yet shown that they can apply the common ones.