Are you looking for engaging lessons for whole-class teaching, need to supplement your core curriculum with small-group instruction, or need ideas for intervention?
We're revisiting a podcast conversation from early 2023 between Jen and our former colleague, Jaclyn Karabinas. Jen talks about why she wanted to write this new edition, its timeliness, the detailed research process, and what new features readers will find. She shares her insights and hopes about how educators can incorporate this versatile resource into their classrooms. Since this episode aired, Jen also published the Reading Strategies 2.0 Companion Charts, and later this spring, Jen is publishing the Writing Strategies Companion Charts.
Below is a transcript of this episode.
Jaclyn: Jen, the first edition of The Reading Strategies book was a New York Times bestseller, and many teachers favorite companion for teaching reading, so why change it?
Jen: So I only would've gone to the trouble of revising this huge book if I knew that I could really make it much better. And I over the years it had been out was just listening to teachers, getting feedback, seeing how people were using it, the things they understood, the things that they misunderstood about the book. And I just continued to have ideas about ways to make the book much better.
Jaclyn: So can you tell us more about your process? How did you decide what to revise?
Jen: So part of the process involved working with a fantastic research assistant, his name's Gabe DellaVecchia. And Gabe is a postdoctoral researcher who had university access, which is critical if you're going to look at the amount of research that we looked at, who is able to find research that aligned to each of the different goal areas and then helped me to evaluate whether the research was a good quality study or not, and summarize the research. And part of that process, he'd pass these chapters back and forth and he'd make recommendations of which strategies really there wasn't a lot of research basis for. We got ideas from looking at the research, what kinds of strategies could be added? So that was one part of it.
At the same time, I had this idea to reorganize the book along skill progressions. So I released these skill progressions with A Teacher's Guide to Reading Conferences in 2018, and my editor for that book is the same editor for this book, Katie Ray, she's phenomenal, I call her my editing soulmate. She helped me to think about how to reorganize the strategies within each chapter according to these skill progressions, which teachers had told me were really game changing for them in terms of helping them figure out exactly where to go next? What to do next? Kind of giving them a roadmap to understanding reading development. And so we looked at these strategies I already had, I reorganized and thought about how I could realign them according to the skill progression, made revisions to the skill progressions along the way. And I identified particular areas where there weren't existing strategies, which also gave me an idea for what strategies to add.
So that work alone, just deciding what strategies stay? What strategies go? What order are the strategies in? Accounted for a ton of change. So that was out of the 300 plus strategies, a hundred of them are completely new. Another 150 are so changed, you might not recognize them. So there's a lot of content change from the first edition to the second edition.
The next big job I gave myself was that I wanted to update the children's literature used throughout the book. So for those familiar with the first edition, you might be familiar with this repeating feature called The Lesson Language. The Lesson Language is a quick little paragraph that gives an example of how you might explain a strategy to a child.
In this second edition, what I wanted to do was to curate a small text set of books that could be used again and again and again across contexts. Almost in every case, these books were published within the last five years, they're super current. I gave particular attention to representation and diversity in this text set, and I love these books that I used, and they show up again and again.
So I did this for a couple of reasons, one is I wanted to make sure teachers felt like they didn't need a million books to be able to teach these strategies, they needed a core set of books that they can lean on again and again and again. So this sort of models that for them, "Oh, there's that book again. There's that book again. Oh wow, she's getting a lot of mileage out of this book. There's another strategy you can teach with this book." But I also just really wanted to make the children's literature citations more updated and current.
And then after all that, tons of line editing, streamlining, making sure the language is just as clear as it possibly can be. This is another one of Katie's gifts, is just making sure that there's this real economy of language, there's no extra words, it's as streamlined as possible, so busy teachers can just find what they need and use it right away.
Then I went about revising or really rewriting the Getting Started chapter, which is the first 30 pages of the book, and then the opening of every chapter. So there's 13 chapters focused on different goals and five pages that open up the chapter to talk about what skills, what assessments to use, the research base for that particular goal. So all of those were completely rewritten as well. So it was a long process, really full-time work for more than a year, but really fun.
Jaclyn: So you explained that the strategies are now organized into progressions for the particular skill they support. How does this enable more intentional responsive teaching
Jen: So in the first edition, the organizing principle within each chapter was that it went from strategies you can use with more simplistic texts, to strategies you can use with more complex texts. And I found that there were many cases where teachers were presented with maybe 15 options from a chapter, right? All of these could work with a child who's reading typical third grade level text, for example. And it didn't really help people to find exactly what they needed based on a child's skills. So the skill progressions are really an attempt to organize the strategies by giving teachers a clear if/then situation. So I'm setting them up to say, if the student fits this particular profile, then these are the 3, 4, 5 strategies that might be helpful for them right now. So let me give you an example. If I'm looking at the fluency chapter and I have on the if side of the skill progression, if a child is reading word by word and needs to try to read in longer phrases, then here are three strategies you might teach.
Or if a child is reading in phrases and is ready to start thinking about attending to the ending punctuation and changing their voice to match the punctuation, then these are some of the strategies that you might teach. So what I hope it does is it helps teachers to look at assessments or just observe their students or talk to their students and have a really easy way to find out what strategies are going to be the most helpful. I think a lot of people use this book to help them with small group instruction or targeted responsive instruction in lots of ways. And there's another reason that I think these skill progressions are helpful, which is when you're trying to align strategies to standards. So standards are essentially one big progression. If you look at, let's just say the common core standards, and you look at standard two, and you look at standard two from kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade. If you look across all the grade levels for the same standard, what you're seeing is one big progression of a skill, of one particular skill over time.
And so by organizing the strategies according to skill progressions, it allows you to align standards really easily to pick up the language exactly from the standard and say, "Oh, this is the thing I'm trying to teach all my fourth graders to be able to do." So I think that for teachers that are using the book to help them with whole class instruction, whether that's weaving strategies and to read aloud or teaching whole class lessons or borrowing strategies to help with literacy skills during content area like science and social studies, these skill progressions will help them find standard alignment. Although I am also working on correlations to standards that'll be out soon. But it also will help them to respond immediately to whatever they see on their students' need, whether it's in small group or one-on-one instruction.
Jaclyn: So would you say this book can be used as curriculum?
Jen: Well, no. The book itself is not a curriculum, and that's really important, it's a complement to really any curriculum. It works in any kind of classroom, regardless of what curriculum you use, regardless of what approach you use to literacy instruction, but as it stands, it's not a curriculum. What you could do is you could supplement your curriculum. So you could say, "I'm working with whatever curriculum I'm working with, and the curriculum is asking kids to identify the main idea or write a good summary of this article, but as I look at the curriculum, that's not really teaching them how to do it." Well, you can dip into The Reading Strategies book and get strategies for how to figure out main idea? How to figure out key details? And those two pieces together help you write a good summary.
Or maybe you've got students who are exceeding expectations or above grade level and your curriculum is teaching to grade level expectations. Maybe you're going to dip into the strategies book to say, "Mm. I wonder what comes next, and maybe I can start teaching my child about satire or allegory or one of the higher level strategies, that's new in the book."
So it is not curriculum, you could use it to supplement curriculum, you could probably create a curriculum from it, but a curriculum needs to have a really clearly defined set of objectives, knowledge building, scope and sequence, which is more than what this book is. I also want to say that this book is not a replacement for phonics curriculum, right? So there is this chapter in here about word level reading strategies. This cannot be all you teach kids to help them to read the words on the page.
You need a phonics curriculum. These strategies are meant to be used alongside to help kids transfer phonics knowledge to connected text reading.
Jaclyn: I imagine that teachers will be really excited when they get this new book and look through, and want to try all of the strategies right away.
Jen: So it's really important that you don't skip the Getting Started chapter. It's called Getting Started because I really do want you to get started there. And it's also really important that you don't skip those little beginnings to every chapter. Those, yes, 300 and I don't remember, 2, 3, 4, so 300 plus strategies in here and it can be enticing to just jump right in and flip through and find, but really the power in the book, I think, is in the way that you're matching the strategies you select to your students. So the Getting Started chapter gives you really important research foundations. What is strategy instruction? Why is it important? What's the research base for strategies? It gives you an overview of the book, how to navigate it, how to find the strategies quickly that you most need.
How we think about giving feedback to kids, which aligns to the prompts, how we think about providing kids with visual scaffolds, which aligns to the charts that are in the book. Oh, I didn't mention that, there's 200 new charts in the book too, that's another big one.
So yeah, so the Getting Started chapter really is a very, very streamlined tight 30 pages that you will not want to skip because it gives you a really important overview. And as I said, it's a completely rewritten 30 pages from the first edition.
And then those beginnings of every chapter help you know, how do I figure out what my student needs? How do I use these skill progressions? What assessments am I collecting? What am I looking for? So they really are, I promise you I wrote them as tightly as I could because I know people want to jump into the strategies, but they are really important.
Jaclyn: So Jen, can you talk about the charts that are included in this book?
Jen: Every strategy, just like the first edition has a chart, but because the changes to the strategies were so significant, looking critically at the charts from the first edition, they just no longer matched. So yeah, so 200 of the 300 plus are brand new. I was very fortunate to work with two illustrators, Tiffany and Merridy, they're first and fifth grade teachers.
Jaclyn: And teachers are soon going to be able to use these. There's a student facing set coming out, correct?
Jen: Yes. So this was an idea from folks on social media, teachers that were asking for making the charts available. And so this was a solution we came up with was a flip book, a tabletop flip book of all of the charts. So we're working on that now, I think I have the page proofs to review in a few days, and then hopefully it'll be out later this spring. So imagine a 9 by 12 trifold chart set up on your table with a binding so you can flip through and there's a tab for each section. And the charts are very enlarged, so you can use them really easily in a small group setting at a small group table, or you can slide them under a document camera and project them for the class if you're teaching these strategies as a whole class lesson.
So hopefully this saves teachers a lot of time remaking things. And I wrote a new introduction for the flip chart that gives teachers ideas about how to make the charts more interactive and use them, make them more your own since they are coming from a flip book if they want to.
Jaclyn: We know that assessment is a critical part of teaching, whether you are determining where to begin with a student or looking for evidence that they have progressed. Now, schools use a wide variety of assessments. So can you share any ideas or strategies for assessing where students are currently at with skill progressions?
Jen: So one thing you might do is to look at the assessments you already give and try to identify what skills those assessments are giving you information about. And then every strategy in the book, on each strategy page, in the corner, it says which skills that particular strategy helps you with. So I should back up and say, when I talk about a strategy, I'm talking about a step-by-step how-to, and when I'm talking about a skill, I'm talking about a proficiency.
So for example, if I talk about inferring as being a skill, a strategy needs to be a step-by-step way that helps you to get to inferring. So really the how-to, a little recipe. So it might be, for example, if I'm trying to help a child infer about a character, I could say, "Notice a place where the character talks or acts. Think about people in your life who talk or act like that and then say, "What ideas does that give me about the character?" And now they're able to come up with their own words to describe the character, it's an inference. But if a child is not yet able to do the inferring, the strategy offers them the support. So oftentimes what happens is no matter what test you're giving your kids, whatever standardized assessment you're giving them, you might get a printout that says, they need help with inferring, they need help with retelling, they need help with visualizing, they need help understanding the vocabulary words. And so you can go to the book and find strategies that align to those different skills because the skill is named on every single page.
Another way that you could think about it is that you might also be looking at, I don't know how often people are giving some of these standardized assessments, maybe quarterly, right? But everyday kids are changing in some way, everyday they're showing you new things they're able to do, new misunderstandings that you want to correct and support. And so one of the things I do in the book is I offer support with kind of really low stakes, formative classroom-based assessments, observational assessments, like watching your students while they're reading and noticing who looks distracted or who's asking to get up and move out of the room, or little samples of student writing about their reading that they might have jotted on a Post-it note or in a notebook, or little bits of student dialogue from a conversation they're having in a literature circle or a conversation they're having with you about their book.
And I give teachers really quick and easy ways to evaluate that sample of student work and align it to the skill progression, and that's right there in the book too. So I think it's a combination of both using standardized assessment data or whatever kind of assessments you're mandated to give, identifying those skills and matching them up along with your own observations and your own informal formative assessments that you might do in the classroom.
Jaclyn: In the book you talk about the importance of leaning on research while also noting its limitations. Can you share how combining the power of research with collective knowledge gained from years of experience and expertise will enable teachers to be strong instructional decision makers?
Jen: So obviously I believe in research and care about research, otherwise I wouldn't have gone to the extensive lengths of including over 700 citations in this book from fields such as neuroscience, linguistics, education, it was a big job, but I felt like it was worth it because there are some ways that research can tell us what will have the biggest chance of making a positive impact on the most students. When we look for things like meta-analysis or research that's been replicated again and again, findings that have been replicated again and again, there's a good chance that those particular practices will have a positive impact on kids. And it's important that educators know about them. I think it's important to be science informed in so many areas. We're still in the how many years into the pandemic? And trying to follow public health advice and scientists know things that would be good if the vast majority of us followed or looking at climate change. It's 70 degrees in New Jersey on February 16th. Scientists know some things about how to reverse this problem and we need to listen to it.
So it's really important to lean on science, absolutely. But for when it comes to educational research or research that we're using in an educational setting that may come from psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, it's important that the things work in classrooms, in real classrooms with diverse sets of kids. And I taught New York City, I had 32 kids in my third grade class. And if you read some of these studies, sometimes they're talking about a very small set of children or a condition where the research was conducted one-on-one in a laboratory setting where there really wasn't the test of, okay, how does this particular idea work in a big classroom with a lot of different needs and only one adult who can teach all these kids at the same time?
And so there's a lot of wisdom from teachers, there's a lot of knowledge that teachers have because what we're doing in classrooms every day is we're essentially trying things out, we're noticing the results that those tries have and trying to manage and incorporate this research into our classroom with taking into account the diverse needs in the classroom. So, it's also important that ideas are tried out in classrooms and that we learn from and value the collective wisdom that teachers have.
I just interviewed Henry May for my podcast that I'm starting called To the Classroom. And one of the things I loved about the interview with him is he talked about how much research teachers do on the daily and how we have to value and honor that particular research. And he encourages partnerships between universities, which are sometimes quite siloed or he said, use classrooms as their quote-unquote research site, where it's a very external coming in trying to test your particular hypothesis. And he really advocates for a collaboration between teachers in local schools and universities and making sure that people are working together. It's bidirectional that researchers are learning from teachers and teachers are learning from researchers, and he's got this sort of aspirational idea that hopefully continues to evolve, that we involve teachers more in the research.
Jaclyn: Jen, teachers love this book and they are really excited. I think many teachers are very excited to know it is available spiral bound. Tell us about this decision.
Jen: Well, I watched teachers cut the binding off of their first edition and take it to Staples or wherever they get their books bound and spend extra money on it. And so when we were in production conversations about this book, people asked me, "Please will you offer a spiral bound option?" And thankfully Heinemann said yes. So I think a lot of people are happy about that.
Jaclyn: Well, thank you so much, Jen, it's really exciting to hear about all of the work and all of the thinking that went into this book, and congratulations.
Jennifer Serravallo is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Reading Strategies Book and The Writing Strategies Book, which have been translated into Spanish, French, and Chinese. These and her other popular books and resources help teachers make goal-directed responsive strategy instruction, conferring, and small group work doable in every classroom. Her newest titles are The Reading Strategies Book 2.0, Teaching Writing in Small Groups, A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences, Understanding Texts and Readers, and the assessment and teaching resource Complete Comprehension for Fiction and Nonfiction.
Jen is a frequently invited speaker at national and regional conferences and travels throughout the US and Canada to provide full-day workshops and to work with teachers and students in classrooms. She is also an experienced online educator who regularly offers live webinar series and full-day online workshops.