Literacy with Dan Feigelson

I am not a literacy teacher. So I have really enjoyed the opportunities I have had to learn from various consultants (Barb Golub, Ralph Fletcher, Dan Feigelson,…) who have visited AES over the years in order to deepen my knowledge and understanding in an area where I don’t have a strong background. Last week, we have had the good fortune to learn from Dan Feigelson, a visiting literacy consultant who has been focusing largely on reading conferences to deepen student comprehension.

In meeting with Dan, his session was called Reading Projects Reimagined: Teaching kids to come up with their own ideas about books. Dan talked about the importance of freedom of thought, how to help students recognize, name and extend their own lines of thinking and ideas, and how to teach independent thinking which is free of teacher prompts. As teachers, we often spend so much time in school telling and guiding students about what to think, and this approach is nurturing student thinking and metacognition.

Dan supports that reading time in the classroom should be spent READING or talking to a classmate about reading, and that we should save our literary analysis and other writing about literature for our writing instruction. So we spent our time with Dan digging into reading conferences, and the concept of listening well to what students are noticing and thinking. The idea is to teach the reader, not the book.

The reading conference focuses on the power of naming. First, name the thinking that the student is demonstrating. Then, express how that thinking and reading strategy can be generalized for other types of reading. The goal is to build a repertoire of reading strategies that are transferrable. These will generally fall under the 7 comprehension strategies (which are research-based) for what children need to know and be able to do in order to understand and think deeply about a text:

Some of the things that we might do as readers:

  • connect personal experiences to text
  • think about characters
  • recognize bigger issues in the text
  • argue with the text
  • think about what they already know
  • make predictions
  • thinks about the role of the minor characters
  • thinks about the theme or lesson in the text
  • empathizes with character feelings

The flow of the reading conference went like this;

  1. Start open – “What are you thinking about what you are reading?”
  2. Start making connections to possible strategies – generalizable strategy that is transferrable
  3. Make a decision on a strategy and zoom in….”tell me more” (say this at least 3 times)
  4. Create a plan – consider the ZPD – What is the student most ready for? Listen to the most sophisticated thinking and push it forward. (We don’t always want to teach to the deficit….)
  5. Broaden the strategy back out (to what good readers do with all books)
  6. Negotiate an assignment with the students – make sure there is student ownership of the work
  7. Explain to the student why this work is important to the student and transferrable to other reading

“Noticing and naming is….crucial to becoming capable in particular activities…Once we start noticing certain things, it is difficult not to notice them again.” -Peter Johnston, 2004

So, as Dan said – perhaps the most critical role a teacher can play when discussing a book with student readers is to help name what they are thinking about.

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When we joined Dan for a lab site to watch him confer with students, he started by explaining the jobs in a conference.

Much of Dan’s work was stressing the importance of meta-cognition; helping students to think about their thinking. He noted the importance of how teachers can model this, especially in the phase when students are first getting used to this new way of thinking about our thinking and how readers make sense of a text.

Overall, I felt like I learned a lot (both about reading conferences, as well as listening and question-asking strategies that would be transferrable to conferences I have with teachers as well!). I know our teachers were super engaged and energized. I can’t wait to see the continued learning that happens over the next several weeks to make sense of what we learned.

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