DIY Literacy, Chapters 3 & 4

In their recently published book, DIY LiteracyKate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts
guide teachers in the development and practice of four literacy tools that they claim will help students recall and apply the lessons we’ve taught in the classroom – repertoire and process charts, demonstration notebooks, micro-progressions and bookmarks. In particular, they pose the following questions: “How can I help students remember and use what I have already taught?” (chapter 3), and “How can I support rigor [read: “vigor”] in my classroom?” (chapter 4). Maggie and Kate offer the four previously mentioned tools as potential responses to this question. 
We’ve all had teaching moments when we felt confident that we’d done a good job, yet students were not able to demonstrate what they’d learned, at least not without extensive support and coaching from us. Sometimes students don’t even remember the lesson! Although we hope these instances are not a regular occurrence, they may happen often enough to make us pause and consider why this may be happening. More often than we’d care to admit, and because as teachers we are super busy juggling a ton of issues while we’re teaching, we’ve continued on with the next lesson, painfully aware of leaving some of our students to muddle alone in their confusion. However, in my case, this momentary pause didn’t always lead to solid teaching strategies that I could successfully use multiple times to solve this dilemma. In fact, much to my chagrin, I’ve expressed mild annoyance at my students because they just didn’t seem to get it. But I taught it, right? And, I probably taught it more than once. Yet, for some reason, my students didn’t learn it. This is where the tools that Kate and Maggie have developed and perfected can facilitate student learning at higher levels so that our teaching truly “sticks”. In their words, “this process – of learning things so that they become automatic – is a more complex one than simply memorizing some information. Instead, we find that students need support, time, and repetition to make learning stick,” (p. 39). Moreover, students need to understand that what we teach isn’t just for that day, but needs to carry over to their reading and writing lives, eventually leading to a personalized repertoire of skills and strategies. To me, this is a powerful lesson to impart to our students over and over again.
Charts assist students to remember our teaching. They are visible and created with students. Charts list a series of steps in a skill or a list of strategies to try when reading or writing. Bookmarks allow students to create an individualized list of skills or strategies that they have chosen to remember and practice. Micro-progressions highlight essential skills and strategies with increasingly sophisticated levels of what that skill or strategy looks like with real examples that students can then emulate. Demonstration notebooks are just right teaching for students who need extra support through one-on-one or small group coaching to reinforce what we may have already taught in a whole class lesson.
Kate and Maggie describe a predictable and easy to follow procedure for developing each of these tools. First, teachers need to research what is happening in the classroom through observation of student talk, writing and other artifacts that we deem relevant for demonstrating that our teaching has in fact influenced our students to a high degree. Then, we need to decidewhat skill or strategy we want to emphasize because it’s important or essential to long term learning. Next, we need to choose the tool that we think will best do that work for our students and teach a lesson using the selected tool. Finally, we formatively assess our students to determine if they are indeed applying our teaching. Ultimately, Kate and Maggie recognize that we need to wean students from these tools; they offer several signposts to help us decide when a particular tool is no longer needed.
The authors emphasize the importance of getting our students to work hard and move beyond “good enough” in order for them to break through to higher levels of thinking. And, I agree. We always want our students to push themselves, to raise the bar, to take on new challenges. We don’t want them to stop too quickly or too early because usually this means they’ve barely scratched the surface. In this sense, micro-progressions, the focus of chapter four, offer students a visual support to do this “harder” work. Micro-progressions start with what most of the class can already do on their own (level one) and gradually shift to more sophisticated levels that would require intentional teacher support in order for students to achieve them. We develop the micro-progressions because we intuit that our students are capable of moving to the higher levels with support. The idea here is to hold students accountable for this vigorous work. The authors assert, “As we move up the levels of the micro-progression, we want the kids to become increasingly active, while not completely removing their support,” (p. 57). The word “active” is key for me here; we are asking students to engage in more challenging work, most of the time, that will eventually result in little or no scaffolding from us. Micro-progressions, like the other tools previously mentioned, offer students necessary support for a limited amount of time. After all, we don’t want our students to become overly dependent on these tools. We want them to transfer the teaching offered by these tools in more automatic and deliberate ways. How we accomplish this is in the art of teaching and learning.
There is a delicate balance here: the tools we offer students have the potential to become crutches that work against the development of independent, self-reliant learners. This is something I am personally struggling with as I engage in professional reading this summer. When does scaffolding stop being just enough support for our students to move forward in their learning, and instead becomes a prop that stops them from trusting themselves to solve problems of learning? I think this is a real issue and not just a rhetorical one for teachers. I will be thinking about this further as I continue reading professional books this summer. 
My recent participation in two other book studies – Who’s Doing the Work, How to SayLess so Readers Can Do More by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris and The TeacherYou Want to Be, Essays About Children, Learning and Teaching, edited by Matt Glover and Ellin Oliver Keene (this last one is just getting off the ground) –  have prompted me to question some of my classroom practices. I continue to wonder which teaching moves have the potential to push students towards becoming independent learners who problem solve and apply what we’ve taught in the classroom. How do we offer sufficient support that tells our students we believe they are capable of becoming ever more independent and sophisticated learners without being co-dependent with them? When is the support we offer our students sending the message that without us they can’t do the work? The tools that Maggie and Kate have lovingly and carefully constructed support students in learning with independence, retention and vigor. However, we must continue to be vigilant that these and other tools we use in the classroom contribute to the advancement of student thinking, particularly for those students who don’t seem to know what to do unless we tell them point blank.
Furthermore, how and why students retain some, but not most of what we teach may also have to do with our beliefs about teaching and learning, and whether or not our practice aligns with those beliefs (see The TeacherYou Want to Be, Essays About Children, Learning and Teaching). For example, do we believe that our classroom is a place where only our teaching counts? Or, do we subscribe to the belief that in the classroom we are all teachers and learners? Are students doing work for usor are they doing work for themselves? Although you may think that the answers to these questions are obvious, I’m not sure that is the case. Therefore, we must engage in continuous reflection about our teaching for the benefit of our students.  

DIY Literacy #CyberPD Book Study – Chapters One, Two and the Bonus Chapter

I have a confession to make: I almost didn’t buy this book.

I kept thinking that it’s just about making charts, so what is the big deal? However, since many people I know and respect were talking about it, I caved in (after making several other book purchases) and decided to buy it. I’m glad I did because DIY Literacy is not just about making charts, although that is part of it. DIY Literacy is about teachers and kids co-creating tools that demystify and facilitate learning.

Maggie Beattie Roberts and Kate Roberts carefully crafted book provides teachers with a variety of practical tools to take control of their teaching. And, in theory, these tools will allow students to be more self-directed in their learning.

As I was reading, I felt a tinge of recognition, and

Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman came to mind immediately! Although they were written years apart both books discuss the importance of knowing ourselves as readers in order to become better teachers of reading.

Of the three chapters I’ve read so far, I thought the bonus chapter would be my least favorite, but I was wrong! I love the way the authors help us break down some very “in your head” processes into a few simple, but powerful steps. I like that it’s not about following a recipe, but about revealing our thinking process as we read. Slowing down our reading long enough to think about what we’re doing, allows us to do a better job teaching our students.

How do I think about characters, theme, and setting? How do I make up my mind about what is happening and why in a story? What words trigger particular feelings or thoughts as I read? I don’t need a scripted lesson or guide book to tell me what to do. I simply need to think about what I do when I’m reading and share this with my students. Then, I can help them go through this same process so they can uncover their own thinking.

I look forward to blogging more as I continue to read this book.

Have you read DIY Literacy, yet? What are your thoughts about this book? Share in the comments section below.



I subscribe to a word of the day prompt for writing. Although I haven’t done any writing responding to one of these daily prompts yet, I decided to try one for today’s SOL. I’m not necessarily a big fan of prompts for writing. However, sometimes they help to get me writing when I’m stuck, or they give me a new way to look at things and get me writing in a different way. Today’s prompt was “footsteps”. My first response was, “Woah! What am I going to write about that?” Then, I remembered the recommendation not to see a prompt as limiting, but full of possibilities. Prompts simply require a response. What that response turns out to be may be of little consequence. What’s important is that it gets you writing. So, yes, this response has me thinking and writing. 

Footsteps…in the night?
Footsteps…behind me as I’m walking down a dark street?
Footsteps…of people in my past?
What kind of footsteps can I write about?

The word “footsteps” makes me think of something scary. Something to fear. Something that’s bad and out to harm me, but footsteps can also be symbolic. Representative of something bigger, more important. The footsteps that I’ve taken to get to where I am today. The life I have right now.

Footsteps through my Cuban town. More like skipping, rather than walking, to the houses of neighbor kids. Skipping to my elementary school. And, finally, footsteps that led me to the airport to get on the big bird that took me, my brother and my paternal grandparents to the Big Apple, the place I was to call home for the next dozen years or so. Footsteps through the streets of New York, mostly Brooklyn, sometimes Manhattan.

Footsteps to college in Massachusetts…far away from those other footsteps that led me there. So much so that I lost my way. I forgot my mother tongue. There were no footsteps to help me find my way back. Footsteps through the Berkshires, as distant from Cuba and NY as I could possibly get and still be on the same planet. Footsteps in the snow. Where are those footsteps now?

After college, there were many footsteps in the south, thinking that I could save the world. Footsteps west, when I realized I couldn’t or at least, not yet. Footsteps to Northern California. For another dozen years or so. Footsteps with my husband and my two daughters. Big footsteps and smaller ones, too.

Footsteps to Louisiana. Footsteps full of gumbo, jambalaya, gospel music, Zeydeco, jazz, blues, and more. Footsteps carefully traipsing through the French Quarter and Uptown. Footsteps…

Footsteps south to Ecuador the first time, and footsteps way north to Canada years later. But in between, my son left tiny footsteps in the concrete of this place and that one, too.

Footsteps back to Ecuador the second time. And, here I am. Footsteps to retrace my footsteps closer to where it all began.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teacher Slice of Life March Challenge, Day #26