Accountable Talk

I have just finished reading through a paper entitled Accountable Talk Sourcebook: for classroom conversation that works (Michaels, O’Connor & Williams Hall, 2013).  Again, I was introduced to accountable talk in the Metropolitan sessions led by Lyn Sharratt in February this year.

accountable talk 2

Anchor chart from

Talking with others about ideas and work is fundamental to learning. We need to be able to organise our thoughts coherently, hear how our thinking sounds out loud, listen to how other respond and hear others expand or add to our thinking.

Michaels, O’Connor and Williams Hall write that to promote learning, classroom talk must be accountable – to the learning community, to accurate and appropriate knowledge, and to rigorous thinking.

accountable talk

Shared as a part of Lyn Sharratt’s presentations to Metro schools

Accountable talk takes time and effort to implement. The teacher has to create norms and skills in the classroom by modelling discussion, questioning and probing and leading conversations. Then academically productive talk has to be co-constructed by the teacher and students. It is working towards a thinking curriculum.  Setting up predictable, recurring routines that are well-practiced will assist students from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds as everybody will learn and share what is expected in the process of using accountable talk.

Conversations can be at a number of levels – whole class, small group, partner and peer or teacher conferences. All students have the right to engage in accountable talk and these discussions should occur across all year levels and in all learning areas.

accountable talk for littlies

from Susan Jones (thank God it’s First Grade blog)

Anchor chart

Accountability to the learning community

Students need to listen to one another and pay attention so they can use and build on another person’s ideas. The idea is to be able to paraphrase and expand on ideas, clarify when meaning is lost and to disagree respectfully. Both students and teachers will need patience, restraint and focused effort. In a classroom, there will be students actively talking together, participation in a variety of talk activities, attentive listening, respect, trust and risk-taking, challenges, and criticism and disagreement will be aimed at the idea, not the person.

Accountability to accurate knowledge

When students make a claim or observation, it needs to be as specific and as accurate as possible.  In a classroom, students would make specific reference to previous findings to support arguments and assertions and unsupported claims would be questioned for further information, facts or knowledge.  Students would be concerned with ensuring what they are saying is true and supportable.

Accountability to rigorous thinking

Claims and evidence would be linked together in a logical, coherent and rigorous manner. Evidence is examined critically. Different disciplines vary in the types of evidence. To support how a poem conveys emotions, the speaker may cite multiple pieces of textual evidence to support the interpretation.  In history, the speaker may use historical facts to support a position that began as an opinion. In maths, the speaker will use a mathematically relevant basis to support their intuition. Attention will be paid to the quality of the claims – how well support? Is the evidence good? Is it sufficient? Authorative?  Relevant? Unbiased?

How to set up accountable talk in the classroom

  1. Begin with a focus on academic purposes –  this is critical. As a teacher,  what are the academic goals for the lesson? What are the key concepts students need to learn?  What are the big ideas they need to grapple with? How do the ideas linked to work already done?

    accountable talk poster

    Anchor chart from

  2. Ask what kind of instructional talk will support the accomplishment of those purposes – it needs to provided points of entry and opportunities for engagement for all student
  3. Plan – there needs to be a clear introduction of the task, time for student activity and a clear recap of the point, the big ideas that have been discussed and the new understandings that have been arrived at
  4.  Consider the best class format to facilitate these academic goals – whole group, small group or partner work? Should the topic be set up and then stopped at a certain point for a partner discussion?

NB Recurring, familiar events and activities that take place at a certain time, in consistent ways and for consistent purposes will ensure that all students know how to participate in the conversation.

My thoughts

There is a lot of information around accountable talk on the internet. The link below has a video that captures the essence of students using accountable talk. It also has the anchor chart and featured image that I have used for this blog page.

Accountable talk will require lots of modelling and a slow, co-construction of sentence starters and guidelines. It links beautifully with many pedagogies and frameworks already being used in schools, such as Philosophy or yarning circles.

I also love how accountable talk can be used for any year level and in any learning area. Imagine the power of conversation that students can participate in if accountable talk has been fostered from the early years of schooling.

I love the phrase – a thinking curriculum. Accountable talk uses a gradual release model and builds to students doing the thinking and the talking…..about the curriculum with which they are learning.

Poster from Cheryl

Thanks to Cheryl for sharing this with me.


Grand Conversations

Grand Conversation in Primary Classrooms

So much for my 30 posts in 30 days. Unfortunately, work commitments beat me this week and I am now about five posts behind my goal. My oral language workshop still prevails so tonight’s blog will look at Grand Conversations in Primary Classrooms, an article published as a part of the Capacity Building Series. This series was produced by the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat to support leadership and instructional effectiveness in Ontario schools and the article I am referring to is 18th in the list.grand conversation

I was introduced to the article when Lyn Sharratt (co-author of Putting Face on the Data) visited Metropolitan schools in February this year. Lyn chose an activity whereby each table group member was assigned a section to skim and scan in the article and then jigsawed to share the information gleaned.

Oral language is the foundation for the complex literacy skills that are critical to a child’s success in today’s knowledge society (Grand Conversations in Primary Classrooms, p.1) . The article begins by exploring the difference between gentle inquisitions (one talk pattern where the teacher is in charge and builds on a series of questions and answers) compared to Grand conversations (authentic, lively talk about text that has the potential to foster higher-level comprehension and student’s attitudes to reading). The talk pattern of a grand conversation is conversational where students and teachers exchange ideas, information and perspectives. The teacher is a member of the group, stepping in only when needed to facilitate and scaffold conversation.

This methodology works beautifully when you consider: who is doing the thinking? who is doing the talking?

The critical first step is the choice of text – it needs to be stimulating and to support a grand conversation. It needs to be sufficiently challenging and multi-layered. For non-fiction, choose a text that presents content clearly and at times provides strong visual support. For a fiction text, choose books with interesting plots and characters, detailed descriptions and dialogue. Poetry and wordless picture books are also great choices. The arrivalThe limited text of wordless picture books requires students to infer, make predictions and to express personal thoughts, feelings and opinions.  The images must be visible to all participants.

Modelling conversational skills

Students need to taught how to consider the ideas presented in the text, how to share and defend their ideas and opinions and how to build on and question ideas of others. Initially, teachers may initiate conversations, ask big questions and model appropriate discussion skills. They will also need to be ready to step in and offer new questions or prompts when redirection is necessary. A teacher’s role will include assisting students to: accept different ideas and opinions;  practise turn-taking and discussion techniques; and encourage the quieter students to have-a-go.

Teachers can model and students can practise these skills both in a whole class and small group situation. Anchor charts can be developed with students to record rules and norms for productive conversations.

Grand conversationThe teachers’ role in a grand conversation shifts form discussion director to discussion facilitator to participant as students gain greater independence and proficiency (again this fits with the gradual release of responsibility).

Examples of Authentic Questions

• What do you think the author wants us to think?

• How would the story be different if another character was telling it?

• How does the author show his point of view? Do you agree?

• What do you think was the most important thing that happened?

• What was something that confused you or that you wondered about?

• How did you feel about what happened in the story? What made you feel that way?

• Are you like any of the characters?

In what ways?

• Did you agree with what (character’s name) did? Why?

• What do you think will happen next?

What do you think (character’s name) will do? What would you do in the same situation?

• Is there someone in the book you’d like to talk to? What would you say? What makes you want to say that?

Preparing Students for Discussion

The paper lists and describes a number of engaging and innovative strategies to support student thinking about the text prior to classroom discussion. These include:

  • Literature logs and journals  – students can record personal ideas, reactions, questions, connections and learning from their reading – provides sudents with the opportunity to reflect on and ‘ink their thinking’ (Donnelly, 2007) prior to discussion.
  • Consensus board – after reading a rich text, each student draws a picture of what they think should be the focus of the discussion. Young students can label and older students can write a sentence or two. The pictures are grouped and labelled so that students can see what is considered most important and worthy of discussion (McGee and Para, 2009).
  • Sketch-to-stretch – students use sketches to respond to a text being read to, with or by them (either at key points or at the end). Rather than a drawing, they use images, words, shapes and other symbols and then share their sketches in small groups as conversation starters (Whitin, 1996).
  • Close reading of a text passage – students are invited to assist in selecting an important part of the story and then read, reread and discuss the passage in a small group to work out author’s stated and implied messages.
  • Traffic lights – a good strategy for independent readers. Students are provided with three colours of post-it notes: green for parts of the text they agree with, think are important or make a connection with; red for parts they disagree with, did not like, make them upset etc; and yellow for parts they found confusing, left them wondering or raised questions.

Structuring Grand Conversations

Grand conversations have many names: literature circles, books clubs, reading response groups and literature discussion groups. Students come together to talk about text they have read or had read to them in order to answer to questions the text as they look at it from different points of view.

My apologies to the authors: the following lists are basically word for word of what is in their article:

Teacher read alouds

  •  Provides a context for rich conversations at all grade levels, especially when students are unable to read challenging and conceptually complex texts.Reading aloud
  •  Most commonly used as a whole-class activity.
  •  Frequently use picture books, both fiction and non-fiction,
  •  Bring students physically close to the text and hold it so that students can observe the pictures
  •  Students are encouraged to listen to the words and simultaneously examine the pictures in order to make sense of the text.
  •  Often the teacher interjects questions to assist students in clarifying understandings and constructing an overall understanding of the message conveyed by the text.
  •  After reading, teachers can use the read-aloud text to kick off a grand conversation.
  •  Students form a circle so that all speakers can see and hear one another.
  •  Teacher and students review collaboratively-established norms for group discussions.
  •  Teacher introduces a big question or prompt to initiate discussion and scaffolds the conversation as necessary.

Shared and guided reading groups

  • Opportunity for students to practise student-led conversation about a text.
  • After using a shared or guided approach to read a common text, the teacher presents a big question or prompt related to the text.
  • Following review of the class anchor chart for grand conversations, the teacher withdraws, providing an opportunity for reading group members to engage in student-led conversation stemming from the question or prompt.
  • Teacher checks in with other students and observes the functioning of the discussion group from a distance.
  • After a few minutes, the teacher returns to the group and joins the conversation in progress.
  • Students are encouraged to share, explain and elaborate their thinking about the question or prompt.
  • Teacher may assist in resolving conflicts that may have arisen as a result of conflicting opinions or procedural issues such as turn-taking and conversation domination.
  • Before ending the session, teacher and students reflect on and assess the functioning of the group in relation to the class guidelines for grand conversations.

Literature circles

  • Small groups of students (about three) can come together around a common theme or big idea using one or more texts.

  • Teacher selects books for these small-group discussions based on student needs and interests.

  • After listening to “book talks” given by the teacher, students may choose the text for their group discussion by holding a vote.

  • Before beginning the discussion teacher may want to introduce students to various conversational roles – such as discussion director, illustrator, word wizard and connector – as a way of scaffolding student-led conversations.

    NB Goal is for students to participate in grand conversation without taking on a specific role.

Instructional conversations

  • Whole-class or small-group discussions about a common text that combine instruction and conversation.
  •  Intended primarily to help students extract information from a text.
  • Teacher begins with a specific curriculum goal in mind – a theme, topic or concept – and facilitates classroom conversation in order to meet that goal.
  • Teacher and students share their prior knowledge and integrate it with new information gathered from the text to extend understanding of the topic or concept.
  •  Teacher facilitates sustained discussion encouraging students to share and clarify understandings, link new knowledge to prior knowledge and consider issues presented in the text from various points of view
  • Teacher brings closure to the conversation by summarizing, drawing conclusions or establishing goals for the next conversation.

Idea circles

  • Heterogeneous small groups that support discussion focused on learning about a concept.

  •  Purpose is to have students build an understanding of a concept through the dialogic exchange of facts and information (Guthrie & McCann, 1996).

  • Goal is to ensure that each student leaves the group with a clearer, more thorough and more accurate understanding of the target concept.

  • Multiple concept-related texts, at varying levels of reading difficulty, are provided by the teacher.

  • Each student reads their selected text, either independently or with a partner, for the purpose of gathering information about the topic under discussion.

  • Students then bring their information to the circle where the information is shared, clarified, extended and debated in order to co-construct a deeper and more elaborate understanding of the concept.

In conclusion

Being able to think deeply, articulate reasoning and listen purposefully increases student engagement. Grand conversations allow students to be leaders in a collaborative process that promotes the discussion of text in a meaningful way. This supports higher-order thinking skills and increases student learning and achievement.  Who is doing the thinking and who is doing the talking in your classroom?

As we move through the gradual release of responsibility, it should move from teacher to student!


More Words of Comprehension Wisdom

Sheena Cameron

I am so impressed with Sheena Cameron’s book, Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies a practical classroom guide, that I will continue to share some of her wisdom.

Introducing and teaching comprehension strategies

Cameron has adapted a model from Duke and Pearson (2002) for introducing and teaching comprehension strategies in the classroom. She includes five components:

  1. An explicit description of the strategy, which includes when and how it should be used – in the gradual release of responsibility this is part of the I do it stage.
  2. Teacher modelling of  the strategy in action – again this is part of the I do it stage.
  3. Collaborative use of the strategy in action – we do it stage.
  4. Guided practice using the strategy with gradual release of responsibility  –  this could fit both in the we do it and the you do it together stage depending on where the students are at.
  5.  Independent use of the strategy – you do it alone.

This is a newspaper text I have kept and laminated as it is perfect for teaching vocabulary and figurative language.


Cameron mentions how important is to be modelling strategies to students of all ages. She stresses the importance of preparation prior to modelling and that sticky notes can be helpful prompts. Once the preparation is done the first time, it is easy to use multiple times. Her advice is to begin collecting texts that are suitable to model particular strategies.


She also mentions the use of think-alouds (Davey,1983) as being a simple but extremely effective technique. This helps those who struggle with reading. They can hear and see what a good reader does when making meaning from text. It is also important that students practise think-alouds – as teachers we can quickly find out what students are thinking and how they are using the various strategies.think alouds

Handy hints

To conclude this post, here are some of the handy hints that Cameron suggests  to assist implementation of the comprehension strategies:

  1. Use a wide variety of materials to model: stories, textbooks, articles and visual texts such as photographs, graphs, maps and tables. I really agree with this – there are so many good, short and interesting texts out there. Find texts that fit within the learning areas of the curriculum – they provide context and teaching comprehension strategies doesn’t become an add-on.
  2. Plan think-alouds.
  3. Read the text aloud, pausing to make comments about what you are thinking (don’t this so much that the flow of the text is interrupted).
  4. Focus on the strategy you are teaching. If appropriate, refer to already taught strategies where applicable.
  5. Keep the modelling session short and sharp – hook in the students.
  6. Take a few opportunities to show word attack and fix-up strategies.
  7. Remind students that all readers get stuck sometimes, but good readers stop, clarify the problem and do something about it.

Cameron, S. (2009) Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies a practical classroom guide

Question Answer Relationships

Question Answer Relationships

Another questioning framework that assists comprehension is Question Answer Relationships (QAR). It also provides a lovely segue from using Blank’s level of questions in the early years (subject of previous blog).

QAR was developed by Taffy Raphael whom I had the pleasure of listening to a few years ago. QAR demystifies the questioning process, provides a common language within and across year levels and across learning areas and logically organises comprehension strategies  It inspires students to think about the text they are reading and beyond it. They can work cooperatively and are challenged to use literal and higher-order thinking skills.

It is important to model the use of QAR. Once again, I would recommend using the gradual release of responsibility – I do it, we do it, you do it together and you do it alone. It is also an opportunity to promote discussion and debate around responses to questions and how they worked them out.

There are four levels of questioning:Itsy bitsy spider

  1. Right there (literal) – readers focus on and retrieve explicitly stated information. Often the answer will be a single sentence or place in the text, and the words used to create the question are often also in the same place.  Who climbed up the water spout?
  2. Think and search (simple inference) – readers make inferences. The answer is in the text, but the reader may have to look in several different sentences to find it. It is broken up or scattered or requires a grasp of multiple ideas across paragraphs or pages. How many times did the spider climb the spout?
  3. Author and me (higher order inference) – readers interpret and integrate ideas and information. The answer is not in the text, but the reader still needs that information combined with what they know to respond to this type of question. Why do you think the spider decided to climb back up the spout?
  4. On my own (analysis/evaluation) – readers examine and evaluate and respond to the content, language and textual elements. The answer is not in the text. Have you ever tried and failed at something the first time, and yet had the courage to come back and try again?

Using QAR to Develop Self Questioning

from Kay Rankin The teaching of reading 2009

QAR is perfect for developing self questioning.

Red Dog FTI cvr.inddTeacher think aloud: “As I read the text, I picture what is happening here. I think about the text more deeply, generate (make up) questions, and formulate (work out) answers to my questions.”

At the junction with the main road, Red Dog tugged at the sleeve of the driver, and kicked up a fuss until he stopped. He alighted there and went to wait for a car that he recognised.

Shortly he detected the noise from Patsy’s engine. It had loose tappets and a small hole in the exhaust. As soon as it appeared, he ran out in front of it, and Patsy skidded to a halt.

‘You nearly gave me a heart attack,’ she said as she reached over to the passenger door to let him in. Red Dog leaped in and make strange motions with his head, which Patsy

interpreted as a request to open the window on his side. They drove off together, he with his head out of the window to catch the breeze, and she recovering her equanimity after such a sudden halt. ‘One day,’ she said to Red Dog, ‘You’re going to get munched by a car.’

from Red Dog written by Loui de Bernieres

  • What did Red Dog do to make the bus driver stop? Right there
  • How did Red Dog recognise Patsy’s car? Think and search
  • How could Patsy accuse Red Dog of causing her to have a heart attack? Author and me
  • Should drivers be stopping for Red Dog when he runs out in front of cars or is this just encouraging his dangerous behaviour? On my own
Q Chart

Kay developed a Q Chart that models some of the questions that good readers ask

Before, During and After Reading

QAR can be used at three stages of reading.

Before reading:

On my own: From the title and front cover, what do you already know that can connect you to the story/text? Tough Boris

Author and me: From the book cover, what do you think the story might be about?

During reading:

Author and me: What do you think will happen next?

Think and search: What is the problem and how is it resolved?

Right there: Who is the main character?

After reading:

Author and me: What is the author’s message?

Think and search: Find evidence in the text to support the argument that Boris is a caring pirate.


QAR and Comprehension Strategies

QAR can also be linked to specific comprehension strategies. Taffy Raphael makes a number of connections in her powerpoint Question Answer Relationships (QAR): A Framework for Improving Literacy Teaching and Learning.

I believe that QAR is powerful because it creates a common language to discuss text. It also unlocks some of the mystery around answering comprehension questions and navigating text. I have used it from years 2 to year 7 and for any text (including song lyrics and non-fiction text). When introducing it to younger students, I have begun with the two simple categories of In the book and In my head. QAR is brilliant for building self questioning and encouraging discussion and respectful debate around responses.

Featured Image from Rankin, K.  The teaching of reading 2009

More on vocabulary

Marzano’s Six Step Process to Teaching Academic Vocabulary

Six is the magic number. My last blog looked at Konza’s take on vocabulary as a part of her big 6 in understanding the reading process. Today’s blog will look at Marzano’s six step process to teaching academic vocabulary. I love this process for the explicit and deep teaching of vocabulary as it can be used in any year level and for any learning area.

This is an example of selecting an essential word from a year 8/9 biology unit. I deliberately chose a year level and learning area that were unfamiliar to me.

Teaching the word: mutualism

1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term. (Include a non-linguistic representation of the term for ESL kids.)

The idea is to make this interesting and something that students will remember.

Telling a joke: What’s worse than a giraffe with a sore throat? Why, a crocodile with a toothache, of course.

crocodile and plover

Nile crocodile and Egyptian plover

Showing a photograph and telling  an interesting story. Introduce the Nile crocodile, an animal that is a messy eater and cannot move food from side to side as its jaws only open and close. It also can’t move food around with its tongue and this results in food becoming caught in its teeth which attracts parasites, bacteria and leeches. Thankfully the Egyptian plover works mutually with the crocodile. The crocodile beeches itself, remains very still and leaves its mouth open. The plover enters the crocodile’s mouth and eats the scraps and parasites – a win win situation. The plover gets to eat and the crocodile gets it teeth cleaned.  (This would also be a great teaching moment to show where Egypt and the Nile river are located).

The crocodile and plover have a mutualistic relationship – one where both of them benefit. In science, we call this mutualism. This is one of the three types of symbiotic relationships, the other two being commensalism and parasitism.

Using a video clip: I found a short video clip that added to the description.

2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words. (Allow students whose primary existing knowledge base is still in their native language to write in it.)


Recording sheet example

Oral rehearsal: give students time to discuss what mutualism is (pairs or small groups) and then have them rewrite the definition in their own words. If this is a second language, let students write the word and its meaning in their first language.

3. Ask students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphic representing the word.

Model first: Some students will be reluctant to draw but the idea is to have some kind of graphic representation  that will help them remember the word.

Share: Sharing the different representations helps students see others ways the word can be represented.

4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their notebooks.


Instagrok word map

There are lots of ways students can practise using the word and broadening their understanding of it. Writing synonyms or antonyms. Finding similarities or differences. Completing an analogy – Mutualism is to symbiosis as ____________ is to  ___________.  (As mutualism is one of the types of symbiosis, I wrote …as an edge is to a triangle).

5. Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another. (Allow in native language when appropriate).

Oral rehearsal is vital and giving students time to talk about the word and all its accompanying vocabulary enhances student knowledge. This can be done as Think-Pair-Shares. As you have seen this step has been done when students rewrote their definitions and drew their graphic representations. They could explain any new learning or clarify confusions or disagreements. Allow time for students to make any revisions.

6. Involve students periodically in games that allow them to play with terms.

There are so many games that can be played: Pictionary, memory, jeopardy, charades, talk a mile a minute, bingo, create a skit…

students helping

Students studying together

sea anenome

Sea anemone and clown fish

For the word mutualism I made a simple game that matched images of animals in symbiotic relationships to a human representation  – mutualism  – sea anemone and clown fish – students helping one another with an assignment, commensalism –  barnacles on a whale and student copying neighbour’s homework, parasitism – flea on a dog and someone taking another child’s tuckshop money.

Look at all the words the students would have learned by examining this one word in detail. Mutualism – mutual, mutualistic, commensalism, parasitism, plover, Nile, Egyptian, relationship and the list goes on.

It would also be an opportunity to explore the meaning and use of the suffix –ism.

All of these steps should be modelled first (I would use the gradual release of responsibility – I do, we do, you do together, you do alone).  The steps can also be done in any order and can be completed over a period of days as students explore the word deeper. Some steps can overlap. 

Selecting a word for study

To select a word for study, I like Fisher and Frey’s guidelines:

  1. Is the word representative of an essential idea or concept?
  2. Will the word be used repeatedly within and across units of instruction?
  3. Is the word transportable across other disciplines?
  4. Does the use of the word invite contextual analysis?
  5. Does the word offer an opportunity for structural analysis?
  6. Do the selected word honour the learner’s cognitive load?

From: The Value of Intentional Vocabulary Instruction in the Middle Grades




Reading and writing go hand-in-hand

Writing the previous blog on Preparations to read has inspired me to quickly blog about how I have used David Rose’s Reading to Learn (R2L) pedagogy in my own teaching. I like this pedagogy as it takes my eclectic approaches to the teaching of reading and writing and sequences and integrates them into one process. It also allows for the gradual release of responsibility from teacher to the student.

Simplistically, I think of the process as a cone that spirals from the big picture of a chosen text supporting the curriculum.R2L 001 Through reading, the text  is explored at a text and paragraph level, a sentence and word group level and a word and syllable level. Through writing, the cone then spirals back out from the syllable and word syllable level, to the word group and sentence level to the paragraph and  text level connecting again to the big picture of the curriculum. I love the reciprocity between reading and writing as the two go hand-in-hand.

I have had success applying aspects of the R2L pedagogy with multi-age classes (Prep – 2 and years 3-7), with small learning support groups and with individual students. I have used the pedagogy in learning areas other than English. I have also incorporated aspects of the pedagogy when planning with teachers.

The following is a brief outline of how I applied this pedagogy to an English unit for year 7 students.

Aspect of Australian Curriculum Y7 English Achievement Standard: Creates a structured and coherent recount combining language features for effect. Creates and edits recount using appropriate grammar, accurate spelling and punctuation.

Text: Black Snake The Daring of Ned Kelly by Carole Wilkinson.IMG_1140

Day 1

Preparation to read:  I made a powerpoint presentation that had a photo of the author Carole Wilkinson, built up field knowledge of Ned Kelly, the time in Australian history and a map of where the events took place in Australia. I mentioned that the text is a hybrid text – one that combines factual information with imaginative first-person eye witness accounts and that we would be focusing on writing an imaginative recount. I then gave a brief overview of the structure of an imaginative recount.Ned Kelly

Modelled reading: I read the first few chapters aloud to the students.

Day 2

Detailed Read: I took one of Wilkinson’s imaginative recounts and did a detailed read.  Students were supplied with their own copies and highlighted word groups and words as I progressed through a scaffolded analysis of the text.  I pointed out how Wilkinson used things such as embedded clauses for effect.Capture

Paragraph level: I had the students work in pairs, cut the text into its paragraphs, mix them up and reassemble.

Day 3

Sentence level: I then directed them to a particular paragraph. In pairs, students would cut this paragraph into sentences and reassemble the paragraph.


I  directed students to a particular sentence (I chose a focus teaching point eg a sentence with an embedded clause). They chopped these sentences into word groups and reassembled, then into individual words and reassembled. In pairs, person A would close their eyes and person B would turn some of the words over in the sentence. Person A would then read the sentence, working out the missing words.

Word level: The students selected words from the sentence that they wanted to take to fluency or had difficulty with and analysed their structure. They wrote these words.

Sentence level:  Students then rewrote the sentence.

Day 4

Joint rewriting: I selected one of the paragraphs ie introduction and with the class rewrote the passage from another character’s point of view but using the sophisticated patterns and language like Wilkinson (I practised this prior to the joint rewriting so as I could use scaffolding questions if necessary)

Individual rewriting: Students then had a go at rewriting the paragraph on their own.

I repeated this process for other paragraphs in that particular text and then other imaginative recounts in The Black Snake, over the following weeks. It gave the students daily repeated reading and writing experiences with the genre of imaginative recount, so by the time it came to their assessment, students were well and truly ready to compose their own. This approach also fits beautifully with the gradual release of responsibility, with independent practice being the ultimate goal.

NB This is my personalised and brief interpretation of using the R2L pedagogy and it is not the only pedagogy I adopt when teaching reading and writing (as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I have a very eclectic approach). If R2L is a pedagogy you are interested in, I would recommend you are trained in its use.


Fostering independent reading

The last two stages of the Gradual release of responsibility are You do it together and You do it alone. Coincidentally, these stages align nicely with the last two reading procedures recommended by the authors of First Steps in Reading Resource Book : Book discussion groups and Independent reading. With each stage, more responsibility for learning and reading is being given to the student.

content area conversationsFostering student talk is vital for learning, particularly when they employ the use of academic language. From their book, Content-Area Conversations, Fisher, Frey and Rothenberg state that students need more time to talk and that the key to learning is for students to talk with one another in purposeful ways, using academic language (2008).

Book discussion groups (You do it together) promote student talk. Small groups of students meet to discuss, respond to and reflect on a common text that they have chosen. Key features include students selecting their texts from a range of available texts and each student having their own copy. A pre-determined amount of time is allocated for each text and groups meet on a regular basis. Different groups can be reading different texts and several groups can be meeting simultaneously.

It is the students’ responsibility to be prepared for each meeting and to contribute to the discussion of the text.  Keeping a journal or response journal is great way for students to respond and reflect personally on the text. Another idea is to use an online forum such as an edStudio to respond to the text. There are many online discussion groups set up by authors and public libraries but it would be important to ensure these are legitimate sites.

An example of a book discussion group is a Literature circle, which I have found to be very effective and also appealing to students. I gradually introduced and modelled the roles by using one text with the whole class, before encouraging the students to run their own literature circles. My role as a teacher was then visiting each group and just listening, providing support when needed.  It is important to offer a variety of texts for students to choose from. I have offered photocopied articles or the introduction to a chapter book. It is really exciting to hear students discussing a text in a deep and meaningful way. There is a lot of information on the internet, but here is a link to Sheena Cameron’s resources on literature circles – a great start if this is something that interests you.

IMG_1138The last procedure is independent reading and of course it fits the last stage of the gradual release process (You do it alone). This is our goal – students independently reading and applying the reading strategies that they have been exposed to during the other procedures. Students choose their own texts but are encouraged to select from a wide variety of literary and informational texts (I have collected hundreds of books and refuse to part with any of them as they form a vital part of my classroom). Texts could include those previously read in the other reading procedures, other texts written by the same author and texts that match the students’ interests.  It is all about reading for enjoyment.

silent reading

When I began teaching, I knew independent reading  as Uninterrupted Silent Sustained Reading (USSR). When I first used USSR in the classroom, I also read silently but as I became more experienced I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to listen to and question students individually about what they were reading.

pgcummings via Compfight cc

Each day during independent reading, I would sit beside students and ask what the text was about, what they were enjoying, how they were applying the focused reading strategy for the week and take a short, informal running record. By the end of the week, I would have sat with each student at least once and collected absolutely invaluable data about his/her reading.

Allington (2002) wrote that dedicated reading and writing should be planned for as much as half of each day with at least 90 minutes of ‘eyes-on and minds-on’ texts. This could certainly be achieved using the variety of reading procedures recommended by the authors of First steps in reading across all the curriculum learning areas.

I will leave this blog with a couple of things to ponder. In your classroom:

  • Is your reading approach over the course of a week balanced?
  • As the week (or unit) progresses, do you use a gradual release of responsibility?
  • How much time each day is dedicated to planned reading (and writing)?
  • Are you using texts from all the different curriculum learning areas as a part of that balanced reading approach?
  • What is the ratio of teacher talk to student talk?


Reading together

The goal for any teacher is to gradually give responsibility more and more to students and this needs to be a scaffolded approach.  The next stage in the Gradual release of responsibility is where teachers and students work together (We do it). Three reading procedures promoted in the First Steps in Reading (FSiR) Resource book can be used to assist in the teaching of reading: Language experience, Shared reading and Guided reading.

Connecting reading and writing is essential and the reading procedure of Language experience is perfect for combining the two. Field knowledge is built when students are involved in a shared experience such as an excursion or cooking. shared_writingThis is an opportunity to take photos and have students orally rehearse what they have been doing.  This experience then forms the  basis for a jointly constructed text.

The text is created by the whole class using their oral language and scribed by the teacher. Once revised and edited, the published text can then be used for future reading sessions and as a springboard for other reading activities, such a sequencing, sentence matching and cloze exercises.

Shared reading is exciting and interactive. All students can see the enlarged text, are able to observe a good reader in action (usually the teacher modelling strong reading behaviours) and have the opportunity to read along. Texts can be re-used several times but need to maintain the students’ interest and attention.

shared readingShared reading image

This whole class sharing can then lead to smaller groups which are differentiated according to extension, consolidation or knowledge. To add interest, I love using choral reading and readers theatre. There are so many texts that are already prepared and ready for these variations.

IMG_1134 The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs

The final reading procedure for the We do It stage is Guided reading. Guided reading enables teachers to support small groups of students who are using similar reading strategies and are reading texts of a similar level. Students should have individual copies of the text which is pitched at their instructional level. The text should provide a challenge but without being so difficult that students become disheartened, allowing practice of reading behaviours that have already been introduced. guided reading

The teacher’s role is to guide or direct students to a section of a text whereby a focus question is set. Students make a prediction and then read the section silently. They are then encouraged to share and discuss their responses, ensuring they can substantiate their viewpoints using the text.  This is also an opportunity to discuss reading strategies they may have employed to find the required information.This process is continued until the text or session is completed.

At the end of the guided reading session, time should be allocated for reflection. The text can then be made available for independent or home reading and practice activities can be developed that relate to the selected focus.

Image from



The power of reading aloud

You're never toos old

reblogged from Comfortspringsstation

My two youngest teenage children won’t like me telling you this, but at times, I still read aloud to them – albeit texts like Shakespeare’s The Tempest (difficult for most literate adults to read, let alone a 17 year old completely uninterested in navigating Shakespeare’s difficult language).

Although growing up,  I had always been an avid reader, I credit Professor Kerry Mallan from Queensland University of Technology for expanding my limited repertoire of reading genres. As a part of a Children’s Literature subject in my post graduate degree, Professor Mallan read aloud in most lectures. One example was when she read expressively from a book about some rogue cats and then she stopped, leaving me wanting more. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the author of that particular text but I do remember going straight to a library the next day and borrowing it so I could finish the story.

There began my love for all genres, with fantasy and science-fiction now being two of my favourites. I also saw the power of reading aloud to students and stopping at points that left them gasping for more.

Never underestimate the power of reading to students.

As stated in my previous blog, the authors of First Steps in Reading (FSiR) recommend seven reading procedures. Two of these procedures fit quite nicely within the ‘I do’ step of the Gradual Release of Responsibility.

The first is Reading to students – this is reading for sheer, unadulterated pleasure. A wide variety of texts should be chosen, it should be uninterrupted and daily for about 10-15 minutes. Choose texts you enjoy and encourage students to bring in texts they enjoy. Activate their prior knowledge and demonstrate enjoyment, surprise, suspense and other reactions as you read. Disrupt the flow only if meaning has been lost, allow time for students to reflect on and respond to what has been read, and make texts available for students to explore later.

I remember my long-time teaching partner, Judy and I scheduling the reading aloud to students as a daily routine. It became a routine that students looked forward to and had them clamouring for more at the end of the 15 minutes.IMG_1126

Modelled reading, the second procedure, is where the focus is on ‘explicit planning and demonstration of selected reading behaviours’ (Reading Resource Book, p11). Teachers  choose a text that allows multiple demonstrations and use clear ‘think aloud’ statements that have a single or limited focus. This behaviour is most effective when students are asked to ‘have-a-go’ at the behaviour as soon as possible after the demonstration. Sessions are most effective when they are kept to five to ten minutes.

Again the text is introduced to the students to activate prior knowledge. The teacher pauses at a pre-determined place to demonstrate the reading behaviour and this is continued throughout the reading of the text. Students can ask clarifying questions but the focus is on the teacher ‘think-alouds’. It is important to allow students to review the behaviour – a cumulative chart can be established to record the modelled behaviours.

Thinks of all those great texts that you genuinely love or are interested in and share those. Choose texts and reading behaviours that link to the curriculum you are teaching. In a world governed by technology, teachers have an opportunity to share a genuine love of reading and to ignite that passion in students.


Dr Seuss poster from edutopia

Reading – a sense of urgency!

One is seven 15 year olds doesn’t have basic reading skills. I was watching television the other night and this frightening statistic appeared on the following advertisement.

four in five indigenous4 out of 5 indigenous kids in remote communities cannot read! Recently, Lyn Sharratt, the well-renowned co-author of Putting Faces on the Data, was working with a number of Metropolitan schools in Queensland and she used a photo she had taken of a bus shelter that displayed data similar to this statistic. Regardless of age or background, Lyn repeatedly expressed the sense of urgency needed around the teaching of reading.

This is a continuing major focus for many schools in Metropolitan Queensland, so hence my quest to research as much as I can on the teaching of reading during this Easter break.

There are many schools of thought around the teaching of reading but I think all would agree that it requires a balanced approach.first-steps-reading-resource-book-1-638I have begun my personal reading on this topic with the First Steps in Reading (FSiR) Resource Book, because  of its contemporary research and developments in the field of literacy (pp 5-6). The authors of FSiR state that the ultimate aim of any reading program is to produce confident, competent and independent readers (p5).

They state that a strong foundation for a comprehensive reading program can be established when a range of reading procedures are strategically employed and where the following seven procedures have been identified:

  • Reading to students
  • Modelled reading
  • Language experience
  • Shared reading
  • Guided reading
  • Book discussion groups
  • Independent reading

These seven procedures fit nicely within the Gradual release of responsibility model  (if you haven’t heard of this model, Doug Fisher has written an easy-to-read article on its application).

The first three procedures: Reading to students, Modelled reading and Language experience allow the teacher to demonstrate strategies which will assist students to make sense of text (I do it). NB: I will argue that the third, Language experience fits more within the We do it step.

Language experience, Shared and Guided reading give opportunities for students to practice these strategies with guidance and support (We do it).

Book discussion groups allow students to apply what they have learnt about reading with their peers (You do it together) and Independent reading sessions allow students to apply this knowledge on their own (You do it alone).

My next few blog posts will focus on the teaching of reading using the seven procedures in each of the stages of the Gradual release model.  Looking forward to exploring these over the coming days.