Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Not Re-Inventing the Wheel - Just Re-Thinking About It

This year, the science and math departments have been included in the Keys To Literacy- Keys to Comprehension program.  We are fortunate to be the second cohort because many of our students have already been introduced to top-down webs, two-column notes, and question generation by their sixth grade social studies and language arts teachers.  And, since these strategies are effective in any subject area and offer a good combination of comprehension, writing and study strategies we (Stephanie Pratt and Tammy Scelsi) are happy to continue the progress.  

Knowing where and how to start implementing the Keys to Literacy strategies can seem a bit daunting, especially if you’ve been doing the same things in the same ways for a long time.   We’ve heard people say that “it’s nothing new” and “we’re not reinventing the wheel” - which is true.  Top-down webs, two-column notes, categorizing, and summarizing are all things that we are familiar with and may use in some form or fashion.  However, after many years of teaching 7th grade, we have found that by being coaches for the Keys to Literacy program at the middle school, we have been tasked to really think about the way we teach and whether or not we are being as effective with our students and with ourselves as possible.  

We started the year by assessing which of the Keys to Literacy elements we wanted to introduce first.  Keeping in mind that we want to gradually release responsibility to our students, we decided to roll things out slowly by monitoring comprehension through warm-up activities and active reading strategies.  We were able to quickly fold in top-down webs to show our students how their topics were going to be related to one another and how we would progress from one topic to the next - a sort of roadmap for learning.  We started by doing the first three top-down webs as a whole group activity (see top-down web example below).  Next, we were scaffolding the process by providing them with the web and asking them to fill it in.  Now we are at the point where we can assign a text section and they can create the web on their own.  The top down webs have led us to the logical point of being able to translate the main ideas and supporting details to the two-column note format (see note example below).  At this point our students are beginning to look for main ideas and supporting details on their own while they are reading.  

Implementing the KTL strategies has its advantages.  For example, we have found this year that our homework assignments are more often generated by the students as opposed to the teachers.  We are spending less time making copies of study guides and note-taking worksheets because the students are using their two-column notes to generate vocabulary (see vocabulary example below) and as study guides.  However, KTL also presents new challenges.  For example, students are taking notes but they are still struggling with how to use the notes.  This may not happen until they are completely responsible for the note-taking process themselves.  We, as teachers, have also struggled with the time that it is taking to restructure our teaching styles.  

We do believe that Keys to Literacy offers strategies that students will be able to use well into their college years.  We will continue, this year, to convert our notes and vocabulary and to restructure our teaching.  Next year should be a breeze!

Student Generated Examples:
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