Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

Engaging a Campus in Reading Apprenticeship

August 18, 2011

Since fall 2008, our campus has been “exposed” to a new way of thinking about reading. Through many in-service opportunities, faculty here at Renton Technical College have learned about the Reading Apprenticeship approach to reading. As a result, more than 1,500 of our students have experienced Reading Apprenticeship routines and metacognitive conversations in their classes.

As buzz was building about Reading Apprenticeship, we contemplated options for increasing the reach of the training we could provide to colleagues. The recent result was a collaboration with Reading Apprenticeship to develop a 30-hour online course for community college faculty. It was piloted this spring with 25 instructors on our campus, and is now an in-service option for busy faculty here and nationwide.

At Renton, this course has catalyzed transformations in a range of classroom practices and ways we approach texts with our students:

  • Faculty are now more aware of their own reading processes and more committed to learning about the reading processes of their students.
  • Faculty are thinking about new ways to create reading communities in their classrooms so that student reading and discussion about texts drive engaged learning, in contrast to teacher lecture and passive student note taking.
  • Curriculum approaches are changing in many of the programs. For example, the new cohort of nursing students will encounter a faculty group collaborating across the program to use Reading Apprenticeship routines and approaches.
  • Students are noting that when reading itself is on the table, with faculty and students discussing reading obstacles and confusions as problems to be solved, not only the reading but also the course content comes into sharper focus.
  • Faculty are asking that our librarians use Reading Apprenticeship routines in their information literacy workshops with students.
  • Administrators are commenting about the interest they hear from students and faculty about improving students’ reading.
  • Faculty are preparing for the fall quarter by requesting more Reading Apprenticeship training and purchasing document readers for use in modeling “Think Alouds.”
  • Faculty are “lining up” to enroll in the online course for the next academic year.

As the team leader for Reading Apprenticeship at our college, I am excited by the changes I am hearing about. There is a new and broad-based energy around reading, the sharing of reading routines, and an eagerness to try new ways of modeling for students what we as “expert” readers do. For three years, our team has been engaging our faculty, one step at a time, and now feel that we have overcome the sometimes formidable roadblocks of ingrained practice and resistance to change. So if your campus feels sluggish about Reading Apprenticeship, have patience. Over time, with leadership, support, and focused energy, your campus too can change.

Click here for more information about the
Reading Apprenticeship Online for Community College Instructors.

Blog Contributor, Michele Lesmeister

Michele Lesmeister teaches Adult Education classes at Renton Technical College in Renton, Washington. She has a BA in Linguistics and a Master’s degree in Teaching English. Since 1990, she has focused on teaching adults transferable language skills in writing and reading and sometimes math for health sciences. She has published two texts with Pearson Education: Math Basics for the Health Care Professional, 3rd edition, and Writing Basics for the Health Care Professional. Michele began her work with Reading Apprenticeship by attending the 2008 Leadership Institute in Reading Apprenticeship. She is leading a college-wide initiative of institutionalizing Reading Apprenticeship under the Achieving the Dream grant for her institution. You can learn more about the work in Reading Apprenticeship at Renton Technical College at

Writing Apprenticeship in Reading Apprenticeship Classrooms

May 19, 2011

From time to time, teachers in our professional development institutes will ask, “What about writing? How does Reading Apprenticeship address students’ needs to develop as writers?”

Two very important types of writing come immediately to mind. The first we might call “writing to learn.” In Reading Apprenticeship classrooms, students are routinely asked to annotate texts with their thinking, write metacognitive reflections, develop and use graphic organizers to gather and organize their thoughts while reading, and use journals and logs to promote and document their learning. They assess their own progress in reading and learning in a variety of forms, including reflective letters to their teachers. Frequent opportunities to put mind to text while putting pen to paper build students’ fluency of written expression.

The second type is the writing of formal essays, explanations, and arguments that are more often considered the target of writing instruction. In the Reading Apprenticeship Academic Literacy curriculum for ninth grade, extended thematic units of study involving multiple genres lead to a formal essay that draws on that extensive reading. These units demonstrate an “apprenticeship approach” to writing instruction that will be familiar to anyone practicing Reading Apprenticeship. In brief:

  • Writing is a purposeful activity in which teachers apprentice and guide their students to greater mastery.
  • The class identifies, examines, and discusses features of texts that demonstrate valued communication strategies using model or mentor texts.
  • Teachers model writing processes such as brainstorming ideas, drawing information from previous readings on key themes, planning the presentation/flow/structure of ideas through the essay, revising, and editing — all while thinking aloud during the composing process [a closer parallel to thinking aloud during the comprehension process would be hard to find].
  • Student talk — discussion of reading materials, ideas about how they connect to unit themes, and plans for writing about texts — pervades the learning environment.
  • Students work collaboratively to compose together, with teacher support, before going at an essay-writing task independently.
  • With the whole writing process and product in view, students are given frequent and multiple opportunities to try their hand at parts of the process and parts of the product, with teacher and peer support.
  • Teachers scaffold the writing itself with structural supports, or writing frames, as well as transition words and sentence frames, particularly for English learners needing additional support for expressing their ideas in English.
  • Students are given real audiences for their written work and publication venues for sharing their writing with a broader world of thinkers, readers, writers, and decision makers.
  • The mentoring, guidance, collaboration, and scaffolds fade over time as students move toward independence as writers.

Early in our history we were deeply influenced by the work of the National Writing Project and its promotion of teachers experiencing their own writing processes to build expertise as teachers of writing. Apprenticeship begins with teachers’ analysis of their own processes of composing meaning, whether while reading or while writing. Metacognitive routines (think aloud, talking to the text, ongoing metacognitive conversation) can serve important roles throughout the writing process as teachers model valued reasoning and decision-making processes while composing, promote student discussion of their varied writing problems and problem-solving approaches, and engage students in responding to one another’s ideas and drafts.

The beautiful thing about routine strategic apprenticeships in writing (and reading) is that once established, this instruction can focus on discipline-specific communicative purposes and forms of text, including description, explanation, and argumentation. As Susan De La Paz and Mark Felton wrote recently,

Support for writing [in history] may help students learn to read multiple source documents with the purpose of identifying and reconciling conflicting points of view. Conversely, support for reading historical documents may help students to develop more sophisticated claims, evidence, and counterarguments in their writing […. R]esearch in writing, at least in disciplines other than language arts, has largely overlooked this intimate relationship between reading and writing processes (175).”*

There is ample support in the research literature for this kind of apprenticeship approach to writing. Look no further than the recent monograph Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading by Steve Graham and Michael Hebert, published in 2010 as a Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report available for download.

And in the recently completed Writing Intensive Reading Comprehension (WIRC) Study, Jim Collins and his colleagues demonstrated that assisted writing about reading improved fourth and fifth grade students’ reading comprehension. At the recent International Reading Association conference in Orlando, Collins observed that although writing was often seen as an instrument of testing in our schools and classrooms, it was not often used as an instrument of learning. He asked,

If we test kids by having them write about their reading, why don’t we teach kids by having them write about their reading?” [italics added]

*S. De La Paz, and M. K. Felton, “Reading and Writing from Multiple Source Documents in History: Effects of Strategy Instruction with Low to Average High School Writers.” Contemporary Educational Psychology 2010, 35:174–192.

Cynthia Greenleaf

Cynthia Greenleaf

Blog Contributor, Cynthia Greenleaf

Cynthia Greenleaf co-directs WestEd’s Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) and SLI’s research program and has contributed to several books on literacy and education. She received a PhD and MA in language and literacy education from the University of California, Berkeley, and a BA in linguistics from the University of California, San Diego, where she graduated magna cum laude.

Reading Apprenticeship Professional Development Online?!!!

April 29, 2011

If you had told me a year ago that I would think of online Reading Apprenticeship professional development as a good step, I would have thought you were crazy. A hybrid of face-to-face and online? Maybe. But online only? Never!

Last year, standing at a WestEd booth at the Title I Conference in Virginia where I’d just made a presentation, my colleague Mark Kerr said to me, “In 10 years there will be NO face-to-face professional development.” When I gasped (this being the core of what we do at the Strategic Literacy Initiative), he amended it a bit and said, “Well, there will be no professional development programs that don’t INCLUDE a web-based component.”

Fast forward to spring 2010. One of the most energetic faculty leaders of our far-flung network of community college teachers — Michele Lesmeister — calls me and says, essentially, “We MUST develop a course on Reading Apprenticeship for our faculty!” In response, I recite all the reasons why it can’t work: “People won’t have the personal and social connections that are crucial to the professional development we do.” “People won’t really be able to practice with and learn from each other.” “People won’t experience all the varied ways different readers make sense of varied disciplinary texts.” “People won’t….”

Michele patiently explains to me that on her campus, instructors are eager to learn more about supporting students with Reading Apprenticeship routines, but they don’t have time to come to workshops for more than an hour, maximum. And, as someone who has taught many online courses, she assures me the medium is more flexible than I imagine for learning. I remain skeptical but am persuaded that we should give it a try.

This Monday, April 25, 2011, almost a year after Michele’s insistent phone call, we launched a pilot version of the first Reading Apprenticeship online professional development course, and I have to say my mind is changing in a big way.

We’ll know more as the course goes on, but in just the first week, I’ve seen 25 community college faculty at Renton Technical College dive in and try Reading Apprenticeship practices in a way that doesn’t usually happen after people come to one workshop. I have been very impressed with the focused and rigorous text-based discussions people are having on the discussion board, and I am eager to see how they will interact with the streaming videos and models of metacognitive conversation routines that will be introduced during the 30 hours of this 3-unit course.

For now, Reading Apprenticeship online PD is available only at the Renton campus as a pilot for a community college course. In the summer of 2011, we will offer the course to other community college faculties on a first-come basis. Beyond that, plans for other courses are in development. Stay tuned.

Blog contributor, Ruth Schoenbach

Ruth Schoenbach is Co-Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd. She taught and led reform initiatives in the San Francisco public schools in the 1980s and early 90s as an ESL teacher, curriculum developer, and professional development support provider in literacy. Since the mid-90s she and Cynthia Greenleaf have led the Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) at WestEd in developing the Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework and its parallel professional development model.

What Makes a School “Distinguished”?

April 15, 2011

Dixon High School, in California’s rural Central Valley, was just named a “California Distinguished School” in recognition of its sustained delivery of “rigorous education for all students and progress in narrowing the achievement gap.” For those of us who have worked with the Dixon faculty and administrators to implement Reading Apprenticeship, the award hardly comes as a surprise.

Since 2001, Dixon High has made Reading Apprenticeship its signature professional development initiative. Every teacher learns how the Reading Apprenticeship framework applies in disciplinary instruction. Literacy instruction is a shared responsibility across the school.

The difference this schoolwide commitment makes was immediately palpable to Dixon faculty. After the first year of Reading Apprenticeship implementation, English teacher Lisa Krebs observed the changes in this way:

It’s interesting, all the benefits of reading. You never really connect reading with the litter on campus, or reading with attendance. Even my desks were cleaner, like there wasn’t time to doodle. There’s physical evidence that they were more mentally engaged. It starts with reading, but it’s really about how kids feel about themselves, and their own abilities and their own power.”

In 2000, Dixon High School had been labeled “underperforming” by the state. In 2011, Dixon cited the ongoing importance of Reading Apprenticeship in the school’s application for “distinguished” status:

Reading Apprenticeship permeates our academic curriculum, from humanities courses to the electives. Most teachers, regardless of field, see themselves as reading teachers and work diligently to help their students access complex and pertinent texts.

For nearly the past decade, Reading Apprenticeship has enabled Dixon High School students to become more proficient and confident readers throughout their studies.”

Gayle Cribb, a Dixon history teacher who helped draft the school’s application, describes the steady growth in student achievement for all students at Dixon, and especially for Latino and low-income students, as a concerted effort by teachers to respond to students’ potential and to make good use of the support they were able to draw from Reading Apprenticeship:

As a school, we were highly motivated to turn things around. We cared about our students and we had pride in our own professionalism. Together, the faculty and administration decided to make literacy a schoolwide focus, so then it was a question of finding a literacy approach that felt right. We were drawn to the Reading Apprenticeship framework because it really honors who students are and can become. The professional development worked for us because it has parallel respect for teachers, it takes us seriously.”

Dixon High School is what we like to call a Reading Apprenticeship “classic.” It is a gratifying example of how a powerful vision of students and teachers can result in powerful learning.

To read more about Dixon High School or to view a video excerpt from one of Gayle Cribb’s history classes, see Dixon’s story on the Success Stories page of the Reading Apprenticeship website.

Blog contributor, Ruth Schoenbach

Ruth Schoenbach is Co-Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd. She taught and led reform initiatives in the San Francisco public schools in the 1980s and early 90s as an ESL teacher, curriculum developer, and professional development support provider in literacy. Since the mid-90s she and Cyndy Greenleaf have led the Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) at WestEd in developing the Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework and its parallel professional development model.

Bicycle Riding and Scaffolding Schema

April 2, 2011

I clearly remember learning how to ride a two-wheeler. I was in first grade and Mr. Haberstroh, my friend Terry’s father, took it upon himself to teach me.

Bike, by Jana Bouc

by Jana Bouc

The first thing he did was remove the training wheels. As I climbed back up on my transformed bike, my heart banged against my chest, both in fear of falling and the promise of freedom. Mr. Haberstroh assured me he would keep one hand on the handlebars and another behind me on the seat. Up and down the street I pedaled with Mr. Haberstroh running alongside, both hands on board. When I was balanced and confident, he announced the next step: to ride with his support but only from behind the seat.

Again I pedaled up and down the street, a little wobbly at first, but gradually becoming more and more balanced. I looked to my right and saw that Mr. Haberstroh was simply running beside me.

I kept practicing, and Mr. Haberstroh stayed by my side. Then I suddenly noticed that he was gone. I stopped, turned around, and saw him about six row houses back. He stood watching me with crossed arms resting on his chest. I greeted his proud smile with a smile of my own. For the remainder of the day, Terry and I rode our bikes all around the neighborhood in celebration of my newly earned independence.

Many of you probably have similar stories of learning to ride a two-wheeler. You can probably recall the gradual release of support until you were finally pedaling on your own. This same process can be applied to our instruction. When introducing a new concept or new skill, we can scaffold the learning so that eventually students become increasingly more independent.

During this past school year, the secondary social studies teachers in our district came together for a follow-up day of Reading Apprenticeship professional development. Our focus was on scaffolding and schema-building strategies, and our goal was to learn how these strategies prepare students to navigate and make sense of challenging text on any given topic.

Using the topic of New York City tenement life at the turn of the twentieth century, we explored a range of primary and secondary sources, being metacognitive about how we were building schema and how such schema-building could scaffold our students’ understanding of content topics.

We learned how to utilize digital images, photographs, and digital media to build background knowledge. For example, we viewed a five-minute scene from the movie Gangs of New York and recorded what we noticed about housing. From there partners viewed digital photographs of tenement living taken by Jacob Riis during the late 1800’s, and we recorded more observations.

All the while, we discussed what we noticed, what it made us think about, and what predictions we might have about life during that time. These observations served to engage our brains, jump-start our thinking about tenement living, and help build schema for reading about the living conditions in New York City during that time period.

Research tells us that we all learn best when new knowledge can be applied to that which we already know. By tapping into what our students already know, we increase the opportunity for a greater number of them to actively participate. Taking the time to build students’ schema sets them up to be successful. Success, we know, is extremely motivating — especially for those who may need a hand on the handle bars as well as the seat!

Blog Contributor, Sue Kinney

Sue Kinney

Sue Kinney

Sue Kinney is the Assistant to the Superintendent for Staff Development and Student Intervention in the Boyertown (PA) Area School District.

She works with teacher leaders and literacy coaches to provide ongoing professional learning for teachers K-12. She also leads Response to Intervention implementation for her district.

Common Core State Standards: Aligned with Reading Apprenticeship

March 25, 2011

I was recently asked “Does Reading Apprenticeship address the new Common Core State Standards?

The answer is “Yes!” In fact, they cite our work multiple times in the Standards, especially in relation to the importance of providing students with supported instructional experiences with sufficiently complex texts to build their academic reading skills.

What are the Common Core State Standards?

The Common Core State Standards clearly define the knowledge and skills students should obtain during their K-12 education so that they graduate from high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. For the first time, emphasis is placed on meeting literacy standards in each of the core academic disciplines.

The Common Core State Standard (CCSS)

  • are aligned with college and work expectations;
  • ensure consistent expectations regardless of a student’s zip code;
  • provide educators, parents, and students with clear, focused guideposts;
  • include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills;
  • emphasize literacy across all core academic disciplines;
  • build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards;
  • are internationally benchmarked, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and
  • are based on evidence and research.

The development of the standards was coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and other experts. The federal government was not involved in the development of these standards and individual states choose whether or not to adopt them. To date 48 states, the District of Columbia, and two territories have signed on to the CCSS Initiative.

How do the Common Core State Standards Align with Reading Apprenticeship?

Compare this excerpt from the Common Core State Standards with the description of Reading Apprenticeship that follows. People who know Reading Apprenticeship will not be surprised by the close alignment.  (more…)

Report from Winter Conference: Reading Apprenticeship for Students with a Range of Needs

March 17, 2011

The Reading Apprenticeship Winter Conference was held earlier this month near Philadelphia with 70 participants attending from 9 states.  I was honored to facilitate a problem-solving roundtable at the conference.  We tackled the issue of how to meet the needs of students with special learning needs within the Reading Apprenticeship framework. Our insights fell into two categories: classroom implementation and professional development connections.

Classroom Implementation

Our roundtable discussion was especially focused on the importance for students with special learning needs of classroom relationships, brain-considerate teaching, and pumped-up background knowledge:

  • Know Your Students: This goes beyond reading levels and past performance. What are their interests and hobbies? What makes them tick?
  • Build Relationships: Knowing students goes a long way toward building relationships. The consensus in our group was that teachers who have not developed relationships with their students will struggle with Reading Apprenticeship implementation; students have to feel safety and trust.
  • Don’t Double Dip: Brain research tells us our brain focuses on one thing at a time. Therefore, do not teach new content and new learning processes at the same time. Teach new content with familiar structures and new learning processes with familiar content.
  • Teach Expectations: My colleagues connected back to the “Rita Classroom Case” from their initial Reading Apprenticeship training and how Rita explicitly teaches key learning routines for six weeks before digging deeply into content.
  • Scaffold Background Knowledge: Build on and build up student strengths. Learning goals stay constant, but purposefully build in a variety of opportunities to build student background knowledge.
  • Go Visual: Visual images can be processed almost instantly. They contribute background knowledge in a safe, risk-free manner and build student confidence. Many schools have visual resources such as streaming video that can support subject area reading.

Professional Development Connections

In our roundtable discussion, the focus on classroom implementation gave rise to a discussion on implications for professional development. How can we facilitate teacher confidence and efficacy to meet student needs? One striking suggestion resulted:

  • Plan Your Own Problem-Solving Roundtables: Our opportunity to exchange ideas and collaborate led to new insights and seeds of solutions. We benefited from hearing the stories, experiences, and stumbling blocks of others. Overall, the conversations were both reflective and encouraging. Why not take the roundtable experience home, we thought?

Holding your own roundtable need not be a huge undertaking. In a short period of time, perhaps as little as 20 minutes, participants can feel the power of the Reading Apprenticeship framework: build on the social and personal dimensions to develop your knowledge and skills. Give yourselves the gift of time to dialogue and problem-solve with colleagues.

Make time to dialogue and problem-solve with your colleagues.

Kelly Pauling

Kelly Pauling

Blog Contributor Kelly Pauling

Kelly Pauling is Director of Curriculum Services at Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 (CIU20), and coordinates Reading Apprenticeship’s i3 grant in Pennsylvania. Previously she worked as a staff developer, curriculum specialist, and teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing. She first attended Reading Apprenticeship training in 2003 and was immediately captivated by the RA framework. She has worked diligently to build RA capacity throughout her area. Current passions, in addition to Reading Apprenticeship, include integrating technology in education, school improvement, and chocolate.

Herding Elephants?

March 4, 2011

Whenever I facilitate Reading Apprenticeship professional development or talk to somebody about bringing Reading Apprenticeship to their campus, I am asked the same question: “How do we convince our colleagues to come to our workshop and to try this in their classes? How do we create buy-in across the disciplines?”

How, indeed!  How do you engage any overwhelmed instructor in the enormous project of examining and modifying his or her pedagogical approaches? A psychology professor described his move from a lecture style of instruction to a Reading Apprenticeship style of instruction as “burning down a beautiful house that I had built by hand and that I enjoyed living in, and moving into a walk-up apartment.” Ouch! So how exactly do we sell this process to colleagues?

Elephant and rider drawing

by Jana Bouc

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath describe a framework for supporting change that begins with psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s insight that human beings are analogous to an elephant with a rider.

The “Rider” is our rational, analytical side — the person holding the reins who knows you absolutely should not eat that chocolate cheesecake. The “Elephant” is our emotional side, the part that says, “I deserve cheesecake!  I’ve had a really rough week. Besides, studies show that chocolate is good for you.” If the Rider and the Elephant disagree, the six-ton Elephant wins — no contest.

Heath and Heath propose, then, that to support change, you’ve got to work with both the Rider and the Elephant. Direct the Rider by explaining what you are doing, why you are doing it, and where it will take you. Motivate the Elephant by creating emotional engagement, making change feel manageable, and creating a sense of community around it. Finally, Heath and Heath suggest shaping the path the Rider and Elephant will travel by tweaking any institutional/environmental structures that could better support the change.

All of us in the community colleges have to cope with massive change right now, and most people who are starting to introduce Reading Apprenticeship professional development to their campuses want to know how colleagues in other contexts have managed to shape those changes without being trampled by a herd of angry elephants.

For example, I wonder how the faculty at Renton Technical College made so much progress so fast?  Could it be because their RATS [Reading Apprenticeship Teachers and Supporters] Review publication “rallies the herd?” In truth, we need to know not just what has worked, but why it did in order to adapt different strategies to our unique situations.

Stay tuned for posts showcasing successful Reading Apprenticeship implementation models from around the country — but in the meantime, think about it. What could you do on your campus to direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the path for Reading Apprenticeship-oriented change?

Blog Contributor, Nika Hogan

Nika Hogan

Nika Hogan

Nika Hogan is Associate Professor of English at Pasadena City College (PCC) and the Reading Apprenticeship Community College Coordinator for the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd (SLI).  She has a B.A. in English and Women’s Studies from the University of Michigan, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Multiethnic U.S. Literatures from the University of Massachusetts.

Her work at PCC and with Reading Apprenticeship is focused on developing pedagogical, curricular, and institutional approaches and structures that will maximize the retention and success of all students, especially those entering college at the “basic skills” level.  She has been involved in many learning communities through PCC’s Teaching and Learning Center and is currently the Activities Director of a Title V grant designed to scale up those programs to a broad first-year experience pathway that will, if she gets her way, integrate both reading across the curriculum and reading across the community.  She lives in Altadena, CA,  with her partner, their three-year-old son, and two extremely under-disciplined terriers.

Readability, Text Leveling, and English Language Learners (Part II)

February 24, 2011

Last week we took a look at what the “90% rule” means for text selection, especially for English language learners. Don’t “protect” students, we suggested, from the challenge of the academic vocabulary they need to learn and the academic texts they need to learn it from. But do support them.

First of all, students need support to see themselves as “code breakers” wading into conceptual territory and vocabulary and sentences that they find challenging. Like the immigrant women reading The Babysitter’s Club books, “code breakers” expect to be challenged and can find it satisfying and enjoyable (see Part I).

by Jana Bouc

Support also includes chunking texts for repeated readings, so that students have multiple passes through manageable sections of text. Teacher modeling of the problem solving involved in making meaning of text is a necessary support. And so is the ongoing social collaboration of partners and small groups who can help each other problem solve text challenges. Word-learning strategies are an important subset of the kind of problem solving English learners need support to master: How does context help? How do word parts work?

Learning how to break down text through deliberate problem solving helps students become more independent readers of the challenging and complex texts they will meet in their academic careers. They learn when to rely on their stamina and problem-solving abilities and when to seek help from others. Of course it is still important for the teacher to choose texts that won’t be so difficult that, even with instructional support, students will only be frustrated instead of successful.

The use of “vertical text sets” is one way to keep reading challenge steady and appropriate. For a given unit of study, students encounter easier texts early on to introduce topics and build vocabulary and background knowledge. Increasingly difficult texts follow, introducing and reintroducing concepts and additional vocabulary, like stepping up a ladder. (You can see why ancillary texts, as well as visual texts, are so important in Reading Apprenticeship.)

Equally important is investing students with knowledge about how to make personal choices of books and texts. For recreational reading and when students can choose from a set of texts, students learn things like the Goldilocks rule and the Ten Page Chance to help them decide on books to read. When their interest and motivation to read a book is high, they will be able to tolerate more struggle with unfamiliar vocabulary.

Small chunks, repeated readings, tapping into students’ stores of knowledge and experience, intentional focus on learning words from context and with word-analysis strategies, building up from easier to more challenging texts, and empowering students to select books that are meaningful to them — these will all build students’ reading independence, comprehension, and academic language. It’s hard to put a percentage on that!

Cynthia Greenleaf

Cynthia Greenleaf

Blog Contributor, Cynthia Greenleaf

For over two decades, Cynthia Greenleaf has helped students become more successful readers and writers as Co-Director of WestEd’s Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI). She also directs SLI’s research program and has contributed to several books on literacy and education, including Education Policy and Practice: Bridging the Divide, The Handbook of Adolescent Literacy Research, Best Practices in Adolescent Literacy Instruction, Improving Reading Achievement through Professional Development, and Bridging the Literacy Achievement Gap Grades 4 – 12, and has co-authored numerous articles appearing in such publications as the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Harvard Educational Review and Phi Delta Kappan. She received a PhD and MA in language and literacy education from the University of California, Berkeley, and a BA in linguistics from the University of California, San Diego, where she graduated magna cum laude.

Capturing Your Reading Process: Feed Two Birds With One “Scone”

February 10, 2011

Literacy Coach Rita Ramstad wrote to tell us of a doubly-successful approach she used recently with the “Capturing Your Reading Process” exercise in a training session with teachers at Centennial High School in Portland, Oregon.

Sketch, Jana Bouc

Birds by Jana Bouc

One of the core Reading Apprenticeship tools, “Capturing Your Reading Process” helps readers become aware of the strategies they use to make meaning. Participants are given a piece of challenging text and asked to pay attention to the strategies they use to make sense of it. When they finish reading they are asked to answer some questions regarding their reading process.

By sharing their reading processes in a group, readers learn from each other and take up new strategies. They also begin to see reading as a complex activity that requires flexible application of many strategies, an important new awareness for many readers.

The challenging text that Rita used for this exercise was two excerpts from the final report of the Strategic Literacy Initiative’s research on the effectiveness of Reading Apprenticeship in high school biology classes!

Sketch by Jana Bouc

Scone by Jana Bouc

Not only did the exercise bring forth a wide range of reading strategies and reading processes, but the content helped build the case for Reading Apprenticeship among the teachers. It also helped to highlight the differences in disciplinary ways of reading. “We had science teachers in the group,” Rita said, “and their process was markedly different than those from other content areas. It helped me meet multiple goals with one activity.”

Rita used pages 5-8 and 31-34 from the report linked below, so that she would have different types of text, including several complex tables.

If you’d like to download the full report that Rita excerpted, click here to download a pdf file of “Integrating Literacy and Science Instruction in High School Biology: Impact on Teacher Practice, Student Engagement, and Student Achievement.” You may also read a summary of the study, “Integrating Reading Apprenticeship and Science Instruction in High School Biology” on our website here.

Blog contributor, Jana Bouc

Jana Bouc

Jana Bouc is the Program Coordinator of the Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) at WestEd. She works with school principals and district administrators to plan on-site professional development and since 2000 has been working behind the scenes to support and coordinate many facets of SLI’s work. She is also an artist who enjoys sketching and painting and maintains her own art blog at


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