Wednesday, July 29, 2015

ILA Recap: Mary Ellen Vogt, Stephanie Harvey, and Jennifer Serravallo

My first day at ILA was really the pre-conference institute.  While I learned some new terms and came away with some ideas, I was excited for the conference to REALLY get started.  I got to hear some real famous (to teachers) speakers!

We started Saturday with Shiza Shahid and Shaq at the fantastic opening ceremony.  I also got to hear Mary Ellen Vogt (from SIOP), Stephanie Harvey (of Strategies that Work and Comprehension Toolkit among other books), and Jennifer Serravello (who I didn't really know before except she worked with Lucy Calkins).  What an amazing day!

Mary Ellen Vogt started her session with the title "What's New for ELLs" and then announced that after combing through all the latest academic journals that there is really not much new.  What once was reserved for the ESL world has now become mainstream.  It is important to note that while good language practices benefit all students, ELLs are the ones that make the most progress (and have the biggest gaps if these practices are not adopted).  Here is the actual quote I wrote down,

"While there are instructional practices that are effective for all students, there are additional teaching procedures that when implemented consistently and to a high degree, lead to significantly higher academic gains for English learners."

The common core standards require us to focus on academic language and academic vocabulary for all students.  Some ideas:


1) Students need explicit vocabulary instruction.  Try it make it an engaging game through the use of 4 Corners. (Show just 1 corner at a time and ask students what the word might be).


2)Focus on the text structure signal words.  Teach these as academic vocabulary.

 3) Provide explicit morphology instruction.  Words Their Way is a great resource as are lists of the most common roots.

4) The first time you introduce academic language (whether it is a learning structure or a vocabulary word), take a picture of what the students are doing.  This will let them refer back to this time as a way of remembering the academic language.  For example, when you are teaching compound words, maybe you are doing a cute activity where they are putting two words together.  Take a picture of this so they can remember the activity in reference to compound words.

5) Model academic discussions and structure your time so they have time to speak.  Give sentence frames.

After a long sponsored lunch from Lightbox and a spin around the exhibition hall, I went to Stephanie Harvey's session.  I am such a Stephanie Harvey fan-- I even stayed late to get my picture taken with her!  

 Stephanie (because we are on a first name basis) started of the strategy work by David Pearson that she has written about for years.  All of today's close reading is really just doubling up on this strategic reading and thinking.  

Then she just kept saying such insightful quotes that I could barely get them down:  

We learned that because of this background knowledge, reading level is so tricky.  Most leveling systems just look at the length of words, length of sentences, and unknown words.  This means that a book like Harry Potter is rated super high because it has words like "Dumbledore" while Hemingway is counted down because so much of the book is not said.  

Don't just think about levels but instead pick texts where kids have to think about complex ideas.  Maybe ideas related to cultural, religious, political, or historical values.  

Students should be taught the difference between simple problems with one answer and complex problems with no real answer.  Introduce this with your real examples and ask kids to contribute their own.  Have kids make a t-chart with characteristics of these two types of problems.  

Pair "unrelated" articles to build background knowledge to get to the deeper issue.  Harvey shared her own ideas but I thought about my town having a conflict between people wanting to build a highway/bypass to get through town quickly and people wanting to preserve wetland/ Native American land.  There are lots of issues related to this conflict-- not just a simple "build it" or "don't build it".  


We may want to shy away from these complex issues, thinking that our students are just kids.  We need them to look at these problems with multiple perspectives.  We can give kids kaleidoscopes to see this idea-- that if we look at a complex problem from a different point of view, we see something different.  

Even kindergartners can do "close viewing" and "close listening".  Have students look at pictures from old calendars.  Ask them, "What do you THINK?"  (not what do you see, but what do you think.   
Have them collaborate and share their ideas.  It's not cheating-- it's collaborating.   

1) Always use close readings related to a unit of study.  For ELLs, build the background even more.  Don't be afraid to use primary sources as a close reading.  

2) The first reading should ONLY focus on what the kids know and having them ask questions about what they don't know.  

3)Skip words you don't understand during the 1st read.  You can try to understand them during the 2nd and 3rd reads.  

4) Read for understanding.  

Okay, let me break in the recap here to tell you where I was mentally at this point.  I was so excited because Stephanie Harvey has an energy and passion that my recap did not even attempt to catch.  I was exhausted because while you just read a lot of information, it's only a portion of my notes.  I was wore out.  Some co-workers told me they were going to a session called Accountability, Agency, and Increased Achievement.  I thought, "Yawn!"  It sounded like some kind of Common Core Data Review session.  I went along because it wasn't that far away and I figured that I could sit in the back and sneak out if it bored me.  

It was this girl, Jennifer Serravallo.  She had a very different presentation style than Stephanie Harvey but was no less passionate about good teaching.  I've since learned that she has a bunch of respected books out.  I'm debating The Reading Strategies book.  (And that's an Amazon affiliate link.  If you click on it and buy it, I will have pennies to put towards my purchase of the book!)  

So anyways, I was in the back row, half asleep, and not really taking notes but am now considering buying an almost $50 book.  Here is what convinced me.  

She talked about the hinge point of research.  The effect a project has to have in order to say that it really positively affects kids.  

One of the highest ranking item is feedback based on goals.  It has a whooping .8 effect size.  This is in that blue zone up there.  

So when we think about supporting students, we need to look at their data.  Don't just think about testing data but look at the "stuff in their desk".  Also, kid watch.  Just every 10 minutes or so mark down what each kid is doing.  Are they staring out the window?  Are they staring at the page of the book?  Do they look confused?  Are they taking notes?  Mine any running records for the kinds of errors they are making and delve into small group discussions.  


Then have goal setting conferences.  Jennifer (yes, we are also first name buddies) really talked against having "cutesy" names for strategies like snake stretch.   She emphasized breaking down what you want the kids to do step by step and modeling it.  She talked a lot more about strategies and these conferences.  Here is a video showing some conferences: 


  1. You will love Jennifer's Reading Strategies book especially after attending her session. All of her books are like having a conversation with her! Amazing Speaker and Author! (More Teachers College influence Here!)

    1. That's how I felt being in the back row of that huge room!

  2. I really Love Jennifer Seravallo! I've already read The Literacy Playlist and am in the process of reading Teaching Reading in Small Groups. I bought the Reading Strategy books and absolutely love it. Even took it to Staples to get it spiral bound so I can easily flip the pages back when using it.

    Glad you enjoyed the conference!
    Damien The Reading Buddies

    1. Took it to get it spiral bound? Tell me more! Do they cut it apart? Do you? Sounds like a great idea!