You CAN Meet Rigorous Expectations with These Strategies
I love to hear lots of positive feedback about my resources, but I also like to hear the occasional critique. One of the most frequent challenges I hear is about meeting rigor. Although my passage-based resources are professionally Lexile® leveled, some teachers comment that they are too hard for a particular group of students. These teachers say something like, “these passages are just too difficult for my students to read.” Although it’s not uncommon for students to struggle with on-grade-level texts – I’m here to tell you, that it is up to YOU, the teacher, to change this. Your students CAN be successful with grade-level text, as long as you provide plenty of modeling, support, and scaffolding. I wanted to share these strategies with you because they were successful in my own classroom.
In case you don’t know my teaching background, I taught 2nd-5th grade in an elementary school in Jacksonville, Florida. About 90% of my students came to me well below grade-level. Each year, about one-third to one-half were labeled ESE, and about one-fourth of my students were ESOL. When I used these strategies, the majority of my students were able to meet the rigorous expectations of Common Core. With these strategies, you CAN meet rigor expectations too!
Of course, there are exceptions. Some students with learning disabilities may not meet grade-level expectations without modifications, but if you are consistent and thoughtful in your instruction, I believe most students can be successful.
What is Scaffolding?
Scaffolding is implementing a variety of instructional techniques to move students toward stronger understanding and greater independence in the learning process. Scaffolding helps students increase rigor because they build skills and practice techniques that are vital to meeting grade-level expectations.
I like to think about it this way: We can’t expect kids to just be successful when they are handed a task. We must guide them towards success.
How to Scaffold to Meet Rigor
Step 1: Model
The first step to scaffolding instruction is plenty of modeling. If you are teaching a reading skill, model thorough think-alouds during a read-aloud. Then make sure you model how to complete the
exact task you expect your students to complete. For example, if you are going to access students’ mastery of a skill or standard via a passage and question set, you need to model how to read, think, synthesize, and answer questions with a passage. I like to do this by creating a poster-size version of a passage and question set from my reading comprehension series. That way, the text is large enough for all students to see what I am doing with the text, and they can refer back to my work when it is time for them to tackle a passage later.
Start with a less rigorous text toward the lower end of the text complexity band for your grade level. This will help ensure all students have a chance to understand the text while practicing the skill.
The first time you model with a passage, don’t be surprised if you are met with blank stares. Students need to be exposed to things over-and-over to really understand. If your students need it, model the skill again, this time, inviting them to participate and help you. The more you model with passages, the more routine the process will become for your students.
Step 2: Guided Practice & Partner Work
The whole Reader’s Workshop and Gradual Release teaching models are based on scaffolding. During guided practice or partner work, you are releasing more independence to your students, but there is still peer support in place. Students should have time to work together to practice any new skill. This is a key time for peer discussions and clearing up any misconceptions that may have formed. During this time, if you see there are students who seem totally lost, make note. They will need more support before you release them to the next stage, or they will likely fail.
Step 3: Independent Work and Small Groups
Now, most students should be ready to try the skill or strategy independently. Give them a passage on the low end of the grade text complexity band, and let them practice. Starting with with easier passages allows you to increase rigor as students meet and exceed expectations.
Any students who were in “left field” during the lesson or partner work should be pulled into a small group for more support. These students may need the entire skill retaught, more modeling, or more targeting guided practice. Keep working with them in very small groups, working to increase their independence. As individuals gain independence, release them from your group to work independently. This will allow you to continue to focus on the students who need more support.
Be sure to monitor students working independently. It is important to constantly check progress. I typically assign one independent passage per day, then grade students work that same day so students can get immediate feedback the following day. Students who have a few simple corrections are given the sheet the following day to fix, but any students who need more support are pulled for a conference or small group with me during morning work the following day.
Two key things here:
- It is critical to have students fix their mistakes. You want it to be harder for your students to get the answer wrong, than right.
- Feedback and continued support are critical. If students are not experiencing success, go backward and provide more support.
Continue to Scaffold by Increasing Rigor
Once students experience success with passages on the lower end of the range, keep assigning more difficult passages. You can do this during your regular reading block, if time allows, or assign more passages for spiral review during morning work, centers, or another time.
Differentiating to Meet Rigor
What do you do if you have a few students who are not experiencing success with the lowest grade level passages?
If you have students who are significantly below grade level or have a learning disability that makes the grade-level passages and questions too difficult, it is important to give these students passages they can be successful with, even if they are a few grades below level. Once they experience success, these students will be much more confident and willing to work up to more difficult texts. However, I do want to stress that although these students should continue to work up towards grade-level text, it is also important they encounter grade-level text at other times such as during modeling or group work.
Now You’re Rigor Ready!
I’d love to hear how this strategy works out for you in your classroom. Are your students increasing or meeting rigor? Did my reading comprehension passages help your students meet rigorous grade-level expectations? Leave a comment or drop me a note on Facebook!