Sunday, March 17, 2013

IRC Conference, March 14-16, 2013, Ellin Keene

Ellin Keene
Talk About Understanding

When our group of reading specialists got together to plan the sessions we wanted to attend, Ellin Keene came up as a must-see, so we made sure to include her on our list.  Her talk on Friday touched upon the idea of looking for signs of understanding.  She started out by telling her listeners that real understanding happens when "we teach a few concepts of great importance in real depth over a long period of time and give [students] a chance to apply those concepts in a wide variety of text and contexts."  This wasn't anything earth-shattering, but it was definitely something I needed to hear again.

What was earth-shattering to me, however, was the idea of teaching understanding and how we (teachers) have packaged this idea into eight million neat little strategy lessons with an acronym for everything, including walking down the hallway!  But what we haven't done effectively is require our students to really reflect on how anything helps them learn, how they are a better learner because of the strategy, and how they will use this strategy independently in the future.  They've become more and more dependent on us handing them "the organizer" that they can no longer make a move without a teacher telling them what comes next. 

Not surprisingly, my thoughts immediately went to my Project CRISS trainings.  I always said that CRISS was a really interesting acronym for an amazing set of educational practices.  The acronym itself means CReating Independence though Student-owned Strategies. The word independence is one that jumps out at me because our students are anything but independent in this age of education.  They can't even get an A on a paper without asking for a sticker, a piece of candy, or a party!  So how do we create more intrinsic motivation within our students?

Keene says that it is our responsibility to point out moments of independence for our students so that they can strive for those moments of success.  The remainder of her talk spoke of indicators that show when students are understanding.  Keene's advice is that if an educator witnesses any of these signals, the teacher should bring the reader's attention to the signal and let the reader know that she has experienced what a good reader would experience.  The reader may need validation that she being successful.

In the mind (evidenced only if it is expressed by the learner):
  • Empathy - "a belief that the reader is actually a part of the setting, knows the characters, stands alongside them in their trials, brings something of himself to the events and resolution - emotions are eroused."  This is my biggest indicator that I am fully involved in what I am reading.  I often tell my husband that I will have physical responses to books because I've become so involved that I will often put myself in the place of the characters and live in the book.  You know a reader has understood if he can express this type of experience.
  • Advocacy - Keene talked briefly about readers feeling a sense of advocacy for characters in the story.  If a reader expresses that she would take a character's side or feels sorry for a character, this is Keene's reference.   
  • Understanding leadership - When a student expresses how she might immitate the leadership of a leader in the selection she is reading, she has begun to understand leadership through the reading.  Mulling over ways that she can contribute to the same cause or a similar cause illustrates her comprehension of the character in action.
  • Sense of aesthetic - Rereading a selection to enjoy it or relive it is another way a reader shows that she has understood it.  There may be an emotion attached to the selection, and when she rereads it, she can relive that emotion.
In our lives (evidenced by the behavior of the learner):
  • When a reader is so moved or touched by a selection that she wants to act upon it, she demonstrates understanding.  Selections about child labor, recent natural disasters, national tragedies, etc. might evolk this type of response.
Ellin Keene's insights on student reflection and indicators for understanding hit home with me during this session, and my plan is to consider these ideas as I go about my job from now on.  The one thing about Keene's presentation that differs from others is that she didn't really give me a "strategy" or lesson idea or an idea to take back to my staff.  What I took from this talk was more information to help me to continue to develop my philosophy as a reading specialist. 

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