Teachers can use classroom roving, reading conferences and shared feedback sessions to learn from students and improve their teaching of literacy.
For literacy expert Sharon Callen, teaching is not a one-way relationship between teachers and students. In Episode 74 of The Teacher’s Toolkit for Literacy, she revealed how educators can optimise their teaching by learning from their students.
Roving and observing students in action
Roving provides a key opportunity to learn from students while they’re reading or writing.
“The only time we can really find out about our students is as they’re reading. So yes, we can rove during independent reading and find out some things. And I don’t even have to listen to a child reading. I can find out just by looking in at what they are reading,” Sharon said.
“When they’re working independently, I’m observing and I’m watching how they are doing it. I’m using that to inform my teaching and to do ‘on the spot’ teaching, and I can be giving feedback at that time.”
Providing students with a reading journal
Depending on your classroom size, properly observing and talking with every student can be a huge feat. Therefore, a reading journal will allow students to capture their own thoughts in an insightful way.
“How can I observe what kinds of texts they’re reading, and what authors, genres, forms, topics they’re interested in? Well the best way to do that is for them to keep a record of what they’re reading. And if that’s in their reading journal, all they have to do is have that page open any day whilst I’m on a rove around the room and I can see what they’re reading,” Sharon said.
“So I really like to have students, at least once a week, reflecting in their reading journals about the thinking that they’re doing in their reading. And that will inform me on things that I haven’t had time to find out in a conference. How many times am I going to be able to confer with every reader in my class? Not every week.
“And it’s also important because we are giving them their voice around that. So I’m not just saying, don’t tell me, wait till I catch up with you. So once a week, why can’t they reflect in some writing on that?”
Using shared reflections at the end of lesson
Sharon recommended holding a shared discussion at the end of class, which will provide a guide for future lessons.
“You can do a quick zoom around a circle at the end of a lesson and ask a question. ‘So how did you use your strategy today? Where did you use it?’ Or you could ask ‘what was an interesting phrase that you discovered in your writing today?’ And from there you go around. So then we know that they used it,” she explained.
“Good readers notice interesting words and phrases. And so when they’re noticing these phrases and sharing them, it lets me know that everybody knows how to look for an interesting phrase. Then I can ask, ‘what are we using those for? What does that mean? How do we interpret those phrases that we’ve discovered?’ Because my Mini Lesson isn’t just a one off on that day.
“So informing our teaching comes in lots of really incidental ways that can be part of routine. And our Mini Lessons should also be able to enable our students to give themselves feedback to go, ‘yeah I really worked out what that author was trying to tell us today’.”
Capturing feedback in a writer’s notebook
One way for teachers to record these thoughts and insights is through a writer’s notebook.
“Whatever the Mini Lesson is here, if students share back and tell me how they used that strategy today, what I do is write down what they did in my notebook and I put their initial next to it. And then I’m going to have other students, as I’m writing that down, going ‘I did that too, yeah I did that. That’s exactly what I did’. And so I might have some tallies next to it. And then if someone else says, ‘oh do you know what I did? I did this’ I’m also going to write it down and put an initial next to it. And then someone can go ‘yes I tried that, or no I don’t get that bit’,” Sharon said.
“So that’s just a way of really quickly informing me about who got what and who didn’t. Do I have to do that every day? No. But it’s another way of informing me to just go, ‘we need to do more of that’. And how tremendous, if children have been away, the next day we can look here and go, ‘this might be our Mini Lesson today’.
“So for me, the Mini Lesson and this big book where I can catch things is another excellent way of me gathering information and recording the things I’m doing.”
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