There are five key literacy teaching strategies that can now be applied in the classroom, according to literacy teaching expert Sharon Callen.
In Episode 9 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy, Sharon revealed five ‘levers of change’ – new, simple teaching methods with high impact.
They explained the importance of teachers questioning how they think about teaching and adjusting where necessary, to ensure both readers and writers in the classroom are successful and being provided the best entry points possible.
“There can be a real immediacy to the effect that we can have and the impact that can be brought about by what we think are some pretty simple changes,” Sharon said.
She added: “We both changed in these new ways and we discovered that our kids were getting more engaged and it was making a real difference in our own classrooms. So that was the first thing that showed us we were on the right track”.
The first lever of change is to utilise and build a needs-based classroom library, which is crucial in providing students access to a variety of texts.
“Easy access to books that children want to read is one of the biggest things that you can change in your classroom. So that’s why we say quality, needs-based classroom libraries, because just that is such a big change,” Sharon said.
“The classroom library really needs to represent those children in our room,” Sharon said.
“So, we’re not just bringing a random collection of anything we can grab. We are mindfully thinking about what am I wanting to give those students that are here with me access to? What are their interests? What kinds of books will I bring in? What have they not read? What kinds of books have they never been exposed to?
“If we want the children to be more successful at reading, then we need to bring them the tools that they need to be able to do that.”
The second strategy is independent reading, which is a time for students to read accurately and with understanding. Independent reading also provides an opportunity for students to practise the skills they have learned in Mini Lessons – also a lever of change.
“In independent reading, even though they’re having a free choice of their text, it’s much more instructional. It’s much more purposeful … And we’re being very focused on what we’re doing based on what we see are the needs of our students. And that independent reading is allowing them the time to practise those skills that you’re teaching in the Mini Lesson,” Sharon explained.
“That to me was the big light bulb moment for me in changing from that old way of teaching to this new way. It really made me think, ‘wow, this is what it’s about’, and that there was that authentic immediacy to what I had demonstrated in a Mini Lesson could then be practised immediately.”
Sharon also talked about two powerful literacy tools used in Mini Lessons – reading aloud and shared book (enlarged text) experiences – which demonstrate what good readers and writers do.
“There’s two ways for me to really learn more about where students are at in their reading and writing, and that is watching, during the Mini Lesson, how students are engaging with me during that time,” she said.
“Am I seeing that they’re ready for that independent practice, or you know what, this child here, this one over here, that one over there, I’m going to hold them whilst everyone goes back for their independent practice.”
The next lever of change is ‘conferring’, where teachers make sure students understand everything that makes a good reader, rather than just the ‘level’ of a book they’re reading.
“It’s really about monitoring those children very closely on what they are reading and what they’re doing as readers, especially during independent reading time … it could be just going with one individual child at a time, or it could be getting a group together,” she said.
Sharon added: “The conferring should really enable us to find out how they are going with those things (from Mini Lessons) and being able to direct them into new strategies and new goals that they have as readers. We’re helping build that picture of what it is to be an independent reader, not just a ‘quiet for 20 minutes after lunch’ kind of reader. That’s not what we’re working towards.”
Finally, the fifth lever of change is to make powerful connections between reading and writing in the classroom.
“That connection we need to remember all the time is that reading is in service to writing, writing is in service to reading and spelling word work is in service to both of those,” she said.
So, if we think about the strategies that we need for reading, we think of those same strategies when we are writing and when we are creating text … when we are reading, we can read like writers do, and the thing that glues them together is meaning.”