A few years ago, if you had asked the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers at Mason Elementary School in Boston about their students’ written responses to literature, they would have told you proudly that their students wrote about books all the time. In fact, it was common practice to have students write readingresponse letters to the teachers reflecting on books they were reading independently.
Imagine the teachers’ surprise, then, when the annual state test revealed that their students’ core weakness lay in writing about what they read. “Our kids should do really well on this part of the test,” mused data coordinator Hilary Shea.
When Hilary and her colleagues brought their students’ reading-response letters to a staff meeting and looked at the letters as a team, they began to uncover the roots of the problem. Sure, students were writing about books, but many of the letters offered brief summaries instead of reflection. And teachers noticed that many of the 5th graders’ letters were no more sophisticated than those of the 3rd and 4th graders.
As the teachers discussed the letters, they came to another troubling realization: They didn’t agree among themselves about the traits of a strong reading-response letter. Some teachers prioritized accurate writing mechanics; others believed that mechanics were unimportant as long as a student demonstrated comprehension. Still others insisted that comprehension was not enough; students needed to draw inferences or make explicit connections to texts or their own lives.
It dawned on Mason’s teachers that the reason students struggled to write about texts was that they were receiving mixed, vague signals about how to do so. In subsequent meetings, the teachers developed a rubric for teaching and evaluating reading-response letters at each grade level and set concrete goals for improved student performance.
Continue reading The Collaborative Advantage from Educational Leadership | ASCD| December 2008/January 2009 | Volume 66 | Number 4.