By Beth Richards, Literacy Interventionist, Reading Recovery Teacher, Guest Blogger
When I first started working with Davis, she was a passive reader, hesitant to make any attempts at unknown words, and was not confident in her abilities. If she did make an attempt with an unknown word, it often did not make sense. One day, I tallied the number of times she looked at me, asked for help, or did not stop when her reading didn't make sense or look right during a thirty-minute lesson. All of those tallies indicated that Davis had not yet developed an internal feedback system to help her read and that she was content to wait for teacher feedback for support. This blog post will describe some ways to support students using feedback strategies as they read and write.
The goal of any literacy instruction is to develop independent readers. To do this, we need to teach students how to provide themselves with feedback as they read through monitoring. In addition, teachers can offer specific in-the-moment feedback, being "tentative, flexible, and immediately responsive to the best opportunity for a particular learner" (Clay 2016). Finally, teachers can guide students to provide peer feedback to encourage literacy growth.
One of the most important ways to support readers and writers is to help them develop their own feedback system, often referred to as self-monitoring (Clay 2016). Self-monitoring occurs when a student notices that something in their reading or writing is not right; perhaps it doesn't make sense, or look right, or sound quite right. We can teach students to listen and check on themselves as they read and write using some of the following strategies.
- Allow students time to notice. If we stop them every time they've read a word incorrectly, they rely on us to provide them with feedback instead of developing it independently. Let students read to the end of a sentence or page after making an error; if they still have not noticed, then prompt them to try it again because something wasn't right.
- Teach students that there are multiple ways to check. Readers need to listen to themselves as they read. Can they hear what they said? Did it make sense? If someone said that to them, would they understand or be confused? Another way they can check is with their eyes. Do they see the words their mouth is saying? The ears, eyes, and mouth work together to become the ultimate internal feedback system.
Understand that students may be showing some indications of monitoring even when they are unable to self-correct. For example, when reading Goats on the Go, Davis read kinds as kids. She stopped at the end of the sentence and reread but stopped at the word kinds. She monitored that her first attempt was incorrect, but then she was unable to fix it. This instance let me know that she was developing an internal feedback system, and my teaching needed to move to what she could do to help herself after noticing.
- Model monitoring through a think-aloud. Intentionally make some errors and explain your thought process, stopping to note how you're confused, how what you said didn't make sense or look right, and how you think you should make another try.
Before we can provide students with useful feedback, we need to take the time to listen and observe the students as they engage in literacy activities. "There must be times when the teacher stops teaching a child, and she listens very carefully and records very precisely what that particular child can in fact do" (Clay 2016). This will allow us to be more thoughtful about the feedback we choose to provide.
- Connect the new to what is already known. Dr. Larry Squire's research on the foundations of memory reminds us that "you relate what you hear or see to things you already understand" (1996). The feedback you provide students should relate to and remind students about what they can already do and already understand in order to be successful with the new tasks.
- Keep it short and sweet. Your words should provide the most information using the fewest words possible. "Too much teacher talk interferes with problem-solving." (Clay 2016). Rambling will only confuse students as they try to discern which part of what you're saying is most important or applicable.
- Demonstrate or model with specificity what it is you want the child to do. This type of feedback provides students with a tool that they may be able to use next time they find themselves in a similar situation.
- Prompt the child to do something you have previously taught. You can begin by acknowledging the partially correct response and asking them to do something different that will help. For example, you could note that they made a meaningful attempt and then encourage them to try again and notice how the word looks by saying, "That makes sense; now try again and think what would make sense and look right." You can only prompt a child to do something that you have previously taught them to do; otherwise, the prompt is futile.
- Choose carefully. Providing students with laundry lists of necessary improvements will not be successful. Clay reminds us that "the teacher at all times must decide what would help this particular child to improve his processing of information in text" (2016). Focus on what is needed to transition the child to more sophisticated reading and writing.
Teaching students how to provide peer feedback can be difficult. However, it gives a real-life audience and authenticity for reading and writing tasks. Some students may be inclined to be more thoughtful, knowing that they will be sharing with their peers. Please consider the following when setting up peer collaboration in the classroom.
- Be thoughtful when choosing partnerships, and switch them up often to meet all your students' needs. Allow opportunities for partnerships that provide built-in scaffolding and support for those who need it, as well as chances for students of similar abilities to provide feedback.
- Make sure there is a specific purpose. Narrow down the focus so that each peer can provide detailed feedback around that purpose. If you have been teaching the students how to incorporate dialogue into their writing, then specify that focus. Comments and feedback should be limited to that topic only.
- Model and demonstrate to set up expectations. This allows students to see and hear a model for receiving peer feedback. Make sure to address responsibilities, purpose, and guidelines for successful opportunities. Most importantly, students should understand that the purpose of peer feedback is to lift and improve the reading or writing of each student.
Providing students with opportunities for feedback is crucial for their literacy development. Peer feedback and teacher feedback can help students develop an internal feedback system, which is the most crucial feedback system. For additional ideas and strategies for teaching literacy, be sure to peruse other blog posts.
Beth has been teaching for seventeen years. She has taught kindergarten, third, and fourth grades in Wisconsin. For the last six years, she has been a literacy interventionist and Reading Recovery teacher and loves spending her days helping her students develop and share her love of reading.