Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Mixed-Ability Reading - More Thoughts and Developments

I'm a few weeks into my changed reading program and it feels like a good time to share how it's gone. In talking with some colleagues it has become apparent what the particular challenges of mixed-ability groupings will be in this case.

One of the challenges suggested to me is that my more keen readers (or the ones who have been lucky enough to have had positive experiences with reading and have read a lot more) will want to read ahead and the less keen readers (or the ones who have not fully been supported yet) will take more time to read the pages. I'm addressing this problem by 1) reading with the readers who require a bit more support, helping them with decoding the more difficult words and my asking more questions to help them make sense of what they've read, 2) having the quicker readers come up with more questions to discuss - and to extend their thinking by improving the questions they have given - particularly with creating more open questions vs yes/no questions.

Last week I asked my students to give some feedback via a google form anonymously. For whatever reason, not all of my students filled it in, but I did get some helpful responses:
  • All of my students said they liked or really liked the book they were reading
  • When asked whether they want to keep doing reading this way, 46% said they prefer the novels, while 39% said they were happy either way. None said they wanted to change back.
  • Though most students found the books were either easy or just right, there were a couple that thought the book was difficult (particularly those who chose The Witches, which is twice as long as the other books).
As the whole idea pertains to me, I'm finding ways to make the books more enjoyable for the students and to help them understand. We are coming up with good routines when it comes to working as a group (one of the groups has 9 students, which is somewhat of a challenge). Sharing of the chromebooks during discussions and getting all students involved is a problem that we are well on our way to solving. Students are working well in their groups when I'm not around for the most part - all groups are coming up with lots of questions independently and this is allowing us to discuss them AND to work on our questioning skills.

For a while, the SOLO maps became a bit too much, so we missed them for a week or two. Now that we've settled down with our questions, we are able to spend some time in our group discussions on them and this week has shown that we are understanding them a bit better - ideas are flowing, which is the whole point.

The students are really engaged during the time I give them to respond creatively, though most of the ideas tend to be draw a character or a place. Over time, and as I give them more chances to create and more experiences to draw from, I expect that they will have a variety of ways to respond to their reading.  It just takes time.

For a while, I was a bit worried that perhaps what I was doing was not the right way (I was certainly told that, implicitly and explicitly, by a few), but I'm seeing the students and there are way less issues with reading now than there were.

I've found some articles online that discuss some of the issues that we're facing:
This has given me some insight into different ways to effectively group my students. Though I don't want to have fixed ability groups, I think there is some value in grouping students according to needs. This is something I will be exploring (and certainly am exploring with my math and writing instruction). It gives some strategies (some of which I am very familiar with) to help involve and engage all students in whole class settings.
This one seems a bit like a rant, but I promise there is good information in here. It discusses what differentiation is NOT (and many of these practices I see on a regular basis) but also gives suggestions for what it is. One of the key focuses of the differentiation I'm trying to provide has to do with learning pathways and choice. Students can access the same material (in my case, the same books), but they look at them in different ways and have different understandings of them. Certainly, I am trying to give my students as much choice as possible (even on those days they just frustrate me by making horrible choices) so that their learning can be organic. One thing I need to sort out a bit better is having different modes of learning. Though I do think I do this, I probably need to mix things up a bit more (or maybe I'm doing this without explicitly trying to do it - who knows?).

Certainly the results have not been affected terribly. I'm in the middle of another round of running records and more than half of my students will need to be retested so far. That's certainly good news - at least I'm not negatively affecting their reading!

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