“Reading and writing are not ends in themselves. They truly are a means to an end, so students can acquire and actively use knowledge to build understanding and gain insight.”
—Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis
We don’t save teaching comprehension just for the literacy block. We teach comprehension strategies across the curriculum so kids can learn, understand, and remember the content. In fact, content literacy is about laying down a foundation of thinking strategies and then merging the content with them in science, social studies, and any other subject areas. The amount of information we are bombarded with every day requires that we have strategies to reason through it to decide what’s worth learning and remembering.
We live in the information age, but we are not sure that kids understand the difference between information and knowledge. If we don’t think about information, it is merely information in, information out—or garbage in, garbage out. However, if we do think about it, we have good shot at turning information into knowledge. And no one can do the thinking for us; we have to construct meaning ourselves.
Art Costa reminds us that we can’t teach kids to think because humans are born thinking (Costa 2008). But to prepare them for living in the twenty-first century, we can and must teach them to
- Be aware of their thinking
- Think strategically
- Recognize the power of their own thinking
We’d like to see this graphic shared with kids in classrooms around the world because it sends the message that the power of learning and understanding resides between their ears. Kids need to do the thinking, but it is our responsibility to share a repertoire of strategies that promote learning, understanding, and remembering.
Almost twenty years ago, researchers identified a collection of strategies that proficient readers use to construct meaning when they read, listen, and view (Pearson et al 1997). Much of our work, including the lessons and practices in The Comprehension Toolkit series as well as our book, Content Literacy: Lessons and Texts for Teaching Comprehension Across the Curriculum, are grounded in and built on this body of research. We believe readers need to
- Monitor comprehension
- Activate and connect to background knowledge
- Ask questions
- Infer and visualize meaning
- Determine importance
- Summarize and synthesize
Once students have had explicit instruction in these thinking strategies and have learned how to use them independently and flexibly, we engage them in lessons that rely on a repertoire of strategies for understanding. For instance, we’ve noticed when asking questions, we immediately attempt to infer an answer. When synthesizing information, we rely on myriad strategies to come up with the big picture. In classrooms that foster a strategic spirit, reading, writing, and thinking occur in an environment rich with text talk, discussion, debate, and purposeful collaboration. Reading and writing are not ends in themselves. They truly are a means to an end, so students can acquire and actively use knowledge to build understanding and gain insight.
Our book, Content Literacy: Lessons and Texts for Comprehension Across the Curriculum, provides content literacy lessons designed to teach students ways to get the most out of their nonfiction reading so they can build content knowledge and actively use it. The lessons engage students in analysis, synthesis, critical reading, and thinking across the curriculum. They are not defined by strategy, but instead integrate several comprehension strategies which build on the original lessons in The Comprehension Toolkit.
Click here to receive updates on Content Literacy: Lessons and Texts for Teaching Comprehension Across the Curriculum as well as the second edition of The Comprehension Toolkit.
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Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey have enjoyed a fifteen-year collaboration in education as authors and staff developers. They are coauthors of Heinemann’s curricular resource series The Comprehension Toolkit.
"When we comprehend, we add to and enhance our store of knowledge"
You can’t help but ask questions and wonder in a room that is filled to bursting with great text, stirring images, engaging artifacts, magnifying glasses, Erector sets, and so forth. Content-rich classrooms make wondering irresistible. Stimulating environments fuel kids’ natural curiosity. Teachers who create classrooms like this instill in their students a disposition to explore, investigate, read on, and learn more about the real world. The real world is rich, fascinating, and compelling, and, because kids are living in it, let’s replicate it in the content literacy classroom.
“Your charts don’t need to be perfect, just thoughtful. You don’t even have to be able to draw. Just put the child before the chart.”
— Marjorie Martinelli and Kristi Mraz
Charts. They are EVERYWHERE! Love ‘em or hate ‘em, charts are an expected norm in most classrooms today. But… what does a great chart look like? What kinds of charts should you use? How many is too many? Where do you display them? How long do you keep them? How do you know if they are working? So many questions.
Well then. Where do you start?
With your students, of course! It is important to use what you know about your students to make powerful, accessible charts that are differentiated based on individual and group needs. With that said, the best place to start is with what your students need, combined with the curriculum, to develop big ideas and explicit teaching points. And no matter what, children need to be active participants in the making of a chart. Enter the Chartchums.
Charts are something most teachers make. Most teachers have made hundreds of charts. Yet the Chartchums (aka Marjorie Martinelli and Kristi Mraz) found that when they did a reading or writing workshop, THEIR CHARTS were the real stars. Over and over they heard teachers say, “You should write a book on charts,” while they snapped photos of the sample charts.
So they did.
Their first book, Smarter Charts, provides the basics of effective charting, including the language of charts (both words and visuals), when to make them, where to put them, how to get kids to use them, and ways to assess their effectiveness. Using tips, checklists, and best practices, Marjorie and Kristi share how to bring charts to life using music, chants, rhymes, and more to truly make charts memorable and fun for all of your students.
They talked to more teachers. What does effective charting look like in math? Social studies? Science? Can you apply what you know about literacy charts to all subject areas? They wrote their second book, Smarter Charts for Math, Science & Social Studies. Continuing the dialogue on chart making that they started in Smarter Charts, Kristi and Marjorie show teachers how to turn complex ideas into kid-friendly visuals, help children internalize content processes, and even increase instructional time. You don’t have to be a subject-matter expert to make learning visible for the students in front of you.
Marjorie and Kristi have developed names and descriptions for different kinds of charts to make it easier to talk about the various pathways of learning and thinking they present to students. In both Smarter Charts books, they describe how each type of chart is made and used, complete with examples, visuals, and reproducibles. Different types of charts serve different purposes in classrooms. You don’t need to have one of each type in your classroom. You might find that you make one type of chart much more frequently than another… and some you don’t make at all.
A chart is never just a chart. Charts are like billboards for your teaching. No matter what the area of the curriculum, clear visuals, simple language, and constant reflection on charts are the key to helping children be more independent, efficient, and flexible in their learning. Packed with full-color sample charts from real classrooms, the Smarter Charts books will help you with tips on design and language, instructional use, and self-assessment. Even better, you will discover strategies that deepen engagement, strengthen retention, and heighten independence—all by involving students in chart making.
A chart is never just a chart.
What’s stopping you from creating jump-off-the-wall charts that stick with kids? You can’t draw? You don’t have to be an artist to make great charts. Really. But it never hurts to see if you can improve on some of the basics, like people and icons. Remember, you don’t need to be perfect, just thoughtful. What matters most is that children are engaged in the process of making the chart.
Not sure what to put on your charts or how to get your students to use charts more independently? Want to learn more? Need some inspiration? Make sure to join us on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest as we break down the different types of charts with handy and helpful visuals from Marjorie (@Marjorie_Writes) and Kristi (@MrazKristine) that will help you turn your classroom charts into teaching powerhouses. You can also visit this post to see a visual recap of the different types of charts.
A Field Guide to Content Charts.
A Field Guide to Literacy Charts.
To support cross-curricular strategy instruction and close reading for information, authors Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey have expanded their Toolkit Texts series to include a library of short nonfiction for American history. These two resources—Colonial Times and The American Revolution and Constitution—are out now.
In the final "History Matters" blog post, Anne and Stephanie describe how one class investigated lesser-known people of the past.
Beyond the “Usual Suspects”: Investigating Unrecognized Revolutionaries
by Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey
“Think as researchers, act as historians.” That’s what fifth graders experienced in Mariana McCormick’s history class at the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland. Not content to study the “usual suspects” of Revolutionary times, they created portraits, both visual and written, of individuals who played important but unrecognized roles in historical events.
Realizing that there are many people left out of typical history books, students delved into a scant and hard-to-find collection of primary and secondary sources on lesser well-known men, women, and children. Experiencing the same excitement and obstacles that practicing historians face, students researched and pieced together information from these unusual sources. Students then painted portraits and wrote lively biographies of their discoveries. Compiled into a class website, these serve as an original and engaging resource for a broader audience. (To view, go to http://unrecognizedrevolutionaries.blogspot.com.)
Over the course of the project, students reflected on their research process in an Inquiry Journal, keeping track of their learning and insights about “doing history”. This record illustrates that when kids are actively engaged in inquiry with a genuine purpose, their interest, motivation, and research skills soar!
Here are two of the biographies and portraits. Click the images to see full PDFs:
We included several of these student projects in our latest resource, American Revolution and Constitution: Short Nonfiction for American History. These biographies serve as excellent examples of a student inquiry project in history, as well as valuable short historical texts of unrecognized revolutionaries for other students.
Read last week's History Matters, Part 2.
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Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey have enjoyed a fifteen-year collaboration in education as authors and staff developers. They are coauthors of the Heinemann titles Comprehension Going Forward and Strategies That Work. They have also created a family of bestselling classroom materials under Heinemann’s firsthand imprint: The Comprehension Toolkit, The Primary Comprehension Toolkit, Toolkit Texts, Comprehension Intervention, Scaffolding for ELLs, and Connecting Comprehension and Technology. Their newest resource, Short Nonfiction for American History, is discussed in this blog post
To support cross-curricular strategy instruction and close reading for information, authors Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey have expanded their Toolkit Texts series to include a library of short nonfiction for American history. The two resources—Colonial Times and The American Revolution and Constitution—are out now.
In several blog posts over the next few weeks, Anne and Stephanie share their perspectives and insights into historical literacy. Today's post focuses on annotation to encourage engagement.
by Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey
This week we continue sharing essential practices that encourage kids’ engagement and learning in history by using comprehension strategies to read closely and annotate the text.
Annotating: Thinking-Intensive Reading for Understanding
Close Reading is Strategic Reading
To comprehend texts in history, filled with complex ideas and unfamiliar information, readers need a quiver full of strategies to glean meaning. To us, close reading is thinking-intensive reading. Readers consider their background knowledge to make sense of new information and ask questions about what eludes them. They read closely to think inferentially about and analyze new content. They read for the gist, synthesizing the information in the text margins, either on paper or digitally. Readers annotate the text using these strategies as well as jotting down their reactions and responses. Comprehension and thinking strategies such as these are well-grounded in research conducted by P. David Pearson and many others. But one thing is clear: the more challenging the text and ideas, the more readers need to be strategic. That’s how they build their knowledge and understanding.
Annotating and analyzing across texts: Exploring different perspectives
History matters to all of us, but too often textbooks leave out many voices and perspectives. We encourage kids to consider the “untold stories”: the experiences, voices, and perspectives of people who are unrecognized as playing an important role in historical events. Learning about lesser-known individuals provides new insights into historical events and issues.
How can we help kids grasp what happened long ago and far away? Kids relish the opportunity to build historical understanding by reading a variety of texts from multiple sources and analyzing information from different perspectives.
In a fifth grade class studying colonial times, kids gathered around posters of historical fiction accounts and “journals” of children who lived in and around Jamestown. They read about young English colonists and servants, children who were enslaved, and Native American kids, including Pocahontas. Using the articles from Colonial Times: Short Nonfiction for American History, kids read closely, annotating and discussing their questions, inferences, responses, connections, and reactions.
Kids annotate with a specific focus, comparing different children’s perspectives by grappling with the varied experiences and the many challenges colonial and native children faced. Here are one child’s annotations about Thomas Savage, a young boy sent to live with the Powhatan. (Click image to magnify.)
Bring historical characters to life
To wrap up their conversations about different perspectives, kids can collaborate in small groups to create tableaux from a distinct and historically accurate point of view, speaking out as an English orphan sent to colonies or an enslaved child separated from his family or the Native American child Pocahontas. Kids love to be “in character” as they work together to dramatize these short snippets of historical experience.
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Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey have enjoyed a fifteen-year collaboration in education as authors and staff developers. They are coauthors of the Heinemann title Comprehension Going Forward and of Strategies That Work. They have also created a family of bestselling classroom materials under Heinemann’s firsthand imprint: The Comprehension Toolkit, The Primary Comprehension Toolkit, Toolkit Texts, Comprehension Intervention, Scaffolding for ELLs, and Connecting Comprehension and Technology. Their newest resource, Short Nonfiction for American History, is discussed in this blog post.