Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Using Concept Based Teaching in Guided Reading

I few weeks ago I sat through a professional development on using Concept-Based Teaching. It was intended for classroom teachers who can apply one concept to their entire school day- social studies, reading, writing, and math- as a way to reach students receiving Advanced Academic support (who was formally known as the gifted and talented students). As a classroom teacher I loved using one concept to teach, and I would use the over-arching theme of problem solving for a whole school year. Everything we did looked at what a problem solver was and how to be a problem solver. Now that I work in lots of different classrooms and mainly teach guided reading groups for struggling students I was momentarily frustrated that I couldn't apply the professional development to my own work. But only momentarily.

Why not?

What happens if you use Concept Based Teaching within the constrains of a guided reading group? What happens if you do this for fourth and fifth grade students in the intellectual disabilities program? Will repeating one concept over and over again help them understand other areas of reading where they are having difficulties? Will the frequent repetition help them understand a concept that is typically difficult for them to grasp?

Why not try?

I decided on the concept of Cause and Effect to drive our next set of guided reading lessons because cause and effect is such a difficult concept for my students, and it can be applied to many areas within a guided reading lesson. There is the cause and effect of the events in the story, a cause and effect in how the characters feel, and a cause and effect of taking a 'c' and adding it to the word family 'at'. What would happen if we used this concept to retell stories, understand word study, analyze characters, and plan our writing? A colleague and I came up with a great cause and effect graphic organizer to visually help organize the concept and I started planning my guided reading lessons to center around this one single idea.

We started by spending time defining cause and effect. This took time because it isn't something my students readily understood. We used a lot of simple real world examples, and then tried to apply it to familiar books. In walking them to and from class we'd talk about the cause and effect of events in their daily lives. We used the simple chart for all of this, which made it easier to transition to talking about the concept when we started to apply it to books. It served as a visual reminder for the students of what we were talking about.

I've noticed a huge increase in their ability to answer why questions and talk about the stories. Previously, their ability to demonstrate comprehension centered around the idea of retelling the events of the story in sequential order. The chart gave them a structure to be able to talk about the events in a more meaningful way- what happened and why. This has given them a structure to answer inferential questions, which is something that has been very difficult for them. I'm hoping this will also translate into an improvement in writing composition. They tend to write lists of sentences on a single topic, but these sentences do not always connect or tell a story.

What I love the most about this is that it gives a further sense of purpose to our guided reading lessons as it connects them together. It is no longer just us sitting down with a book because that is what we do everyday, it links every book into a broader discussion.

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