MAT Blog

Fostering student-initiated learning with literacy work stations

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Feb 5, 2013 10:46:00 AM

Imagine a classroom where the teacher works closely with five students at the guided reading table. Meanwhile, 20 of their peers are on task at a variety of literacy work stations: Two students are manning the overhead projector; they’re reading a poem that is being projected on the whiteboard and compiling a list of words that rhyme with those in the poem. Over in the corner, three more students are in the classroom library; one student is reading and the other two are repairing books at the work bench.literacy work stations

We could paint a more vivid picture, but you get it. How does this happen? If you were to ask author, educator, and national educational consultant Debbie Diller, she’d give much of the credit to literacy work stations. But what are they and how do they differ from literacy centers?

Literacy work stations place an emphasis on work.  They take advantage of existing spaces in the classroom and give students the opportunity to work independently on the things the teacher has already modeled: read-alouds, shared reading, modeled writings, literacy games, shared writing and small-group instruction.

Unlike literacy centers, literacy work stations do not contain “busy” work; they’re not a place where students go to kill time while they wait for the rest of the class to finish an exercise or assignment. Literacy work stations place an emphasis on independence not only to help students take charge of their learning experience, but to keep the teacher from working harder than the students.

Too often, we exhaust ourselves, we burn out by trying to take care of everything when there’s no reason to. Our students are savvy in a variety of ways, so stop printing out materials, cutting them out, laminating, and cleaning up. They are perfectly capable of this. Instead, collaborate with your students; have them help you “decide when the materials at the work station need to change…and negotiate ideas for what they’d like to practice at each station.”

How do I set up a literacy work station?
The idea behind work stations is that often a simple change of location can engage our students. That space can be anywhere in the classroom regardless of how cramped it feels. Pick up a few carpet squares at a remnant warehouse and utilize the floor. Do you have an overhead projector? Good, there’s your screening station. Do you have a CD or Mp3 player? Have your students grab that, a splitter, and two pairs of headphones out of the closet. Voila, there’s their portable listening work station.

What should the work stations look like? And what kind of teaching materials should they have?

  • Miller suggests that they should be filled with materials that have already been used for instruction first. Then they are placed in the station to be used independently.
  • The materials in each station do not change arbitrarily or adhere to a calendar. Instead, they grow with students’ abilities and reflect the strategies and topics being taught.

literacy work stationsThis sounds great, you say, but how do you keep everyone on task?

One way to nurture independence is through modeling what Frey and Fisher have described as the “gradual release of responsibility model.”

First, the teacher models the activity (“I do it”). If, for example, you want to set up an overhead station where students read poems and come up with related rhymes, you’ll want to walk them through the entire process. Find the file folder containing the transparencies, turn on the overhead, read the poem aloud, circle the words that rhyme and begin writing your own rhymes on the board. When you are done, turn off the projector and return the transparency to its proper home.

Second, offer guided instruction by prompting, posing questions, facilitating and collaborating with students (“We do it”).  Third, place your students in groups (“You do it together”). You’ll guide and help them when they get stuck, but mostly you observe from the sidelines. Once your students have mastered the activity, you turn it over to them (“You do it alone”). 

Keep in mind that this is not a linear approach, so as your students master certain activities, expect them to move back and forth between steps.

If you are considering implementing literacy work stations into your classroom, we suggest that you check out Diller’s book, Literacy Work Stations: Making Centers Work. In addition to this, keep in mind that less is more. Introduce materials into each station gradually; having fewer materials will give students focused freedom and help them stay organized. Also, don’t abandon materials that still have a currency with your students. Move on when they are bored with it or when they have mastered it.



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Tags: literacy instruction, literacy work stations, reading strategies, reading motivation, reading instruction, Literacy

K-12 Teachers: Know your Gurus in Language Arts.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on May 30, 2012 4:31:00 PM

When teachers are familiar with the leading researchers in their field, they know where to find credible resources for best practice instruction.If you have ever instructed a child to read, chances are your methods have been influenced in one way or another by researcher, author Tim Rasinski, Ph.D., a literacy education professor at Kent State University and leading expert in reading education.  He has published a variety of valuable materials for elementary and middle grades on reading fluency, word study, and reaching struggling readers. Dr. Rasinski has edited and co-authored a variety of texts and curriculum programs centered on reading education. Throughout his prolific career, he has authored over 150 articles in an array of publications. He is a guru you should get to know!

Dr. Tim Rasinski's work is focused on several key areas:

  1. Reading Fluency There is a plethora of research explaining the connection between reading fluency and proficiency in reading comprehension.  Rasinski's work aims to inform teachers about the effects of fluency instruction on students at all grade levels, not just in the early elementary years.  He encourages teachers to model fluent reading for students, expect students to practice the repeated reading of specific passages, and provide embedded fluency support in students' independent reading. His work also supports teachers in determining and acquiring appropriate instructional materials for fluency practice such as scripts, poems, passages, and leveled texts. 
  2. Vocabulary and Word Study Vocabulary development is one of the five core principles of quality reading instruction, yet teachers often struggle with finding engaging and effective ways to teach vocabulary.  Rasinski's work helps teachers ensure that students acquire a vocabulary that will support their reading development and overall comprehension. He encourages teachers to employ both direct and indirect instruction to teach new vocabulary. Engaging direct instruction techniques include categorizing and classifying, concept maps, word derivations and histories, and cloze (fill-in-the-blank) activities.  
  3. Reaching Struggling Readers  Rasinski's work into understanding the struggling reader can help teachers analyze a student's reading behaviors and identify appropriate instructional methods for areas of need. He helps teachers focus on the “big picture of reading instruction” while understanding specific instructional strategies for improved word recognition, vocabulary, reading fluency, and comprehension.  

There are a variety of resources available for teachers to learn more about Tim Rasinski's work in reading education including, but certainly not limited to:  


Scholarly Articles:

Online Resources:

Dr. Rasinski began his career as an elementary and middle school classroom and Title I teacher. He has served as president of the College Reading Association as well as on the Board of Directors of the International Reading Association. He was elected to the International Reading Hall of Fame in 2010.

Boost your students’ reading comprehension with the resources mentioned above and download our Best Practices Guide to Reading Comprehension. Put a refreshing spin on a traditional strategy!

 Download our K-6 Reading Comprehension B

Tags: literacy instruction, K-12 reading, reading comprehension, download, reading strategies

Sign language helps the hearing child learn to read, too.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Apr 12, 2012 5:35:00 AM

sign language benefits the hearing child learn to read, too.Although sign language and fingerspelling were developed primarily for the hearing impaired, teachers have embraced their benefit for use with early readers. The use of sign language and fingerspelling provides a kinesthetic and visual approach to early literacy that may be helpful to a wide variety of students. Young learners find that signing is fun and teachers notice the benefit of integrating multiple learning modalities into their reading lessons.  

The use of sign language and fingerspelling with early readers has many advantages in the classroom:

  • Aids instruction in multiple intelligences. Howard Gardner's work in multiple intelligences suggests that presenting information in a variety of ways, based on a wide range of intelligences, provides more pathways to learning for students.  Using sign language and fingerspelling is adaptable for several of Gardner's defined styles of learning.  A child who is an interpersonal learner will enjoy the group dynamic of fingerspelling and sign language while a kinesthetic learner will benefit from the physical movement they require.  The use of sign language and fingerspelling in early reading acquisition provides an additional avenue to learning for students.
  • Boosts development of oral language. Teachers may choose to use sign language in an attempt to present new information to students via multiple modalities.  This is especially powerful when developing oral language and content specific vocabulary.  When a teacher signs a word, the child has the opportunity to both see and hear the word.  The connection of the visual to the auditory can be a powerful connection for students.  In turn, when a child signs and says a word he is further engraining the meaning through both a kinesthetic and auditory channel. This will boost a child's oral language development and the recall of new vocabulary.  
  • Supports knowledge of print and phonemic awareness. Knowledge of print relates to the student's ability to recognize letters and relate them to the corresponding sound and phonemic awareness. Sign language and fingerspelling reinforce the ability to auditorially identify and manipulate sounds in spoken words.  Students combine these two skills to sound out words as part of their emerging reading skills.  A teacher may use fingerspelling to represent letters, their sounds, and other letter/sound combinations.  Using the hand shapes, teachers provide students an alternate method for learning and understanding the letters and sounds.  Fingerspelling utilizes discrete hand shapes that may also help to eliminate confusion between similar letter sounds such as /j/ and /dr/ or /c/ and /z/.  
  • Integrates easily into almost any reading program. Using sign language and fingerspelling to boost early reading development is another way to acquire important skills.  Since their use is an ancillary support method you can easily integrate it into any existing reading program.  Sign language and fingerspelling fit nicely into the sequence of skill development required for early reading acquisition. 

Download these cool sign language posters for your classroom! You can get a good alphabet chart from any of several websites on the Internet.

If you find that you need a few new ideas to help students engage in word play, grab our FREE Explicit Word Instruction Guide and energize your reading lessons, today! Have fun signing with your class. Try it; your students will love it!

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Tags: literacy instruction, K-12 reading, sign language, signing, reading comprehension, download, reading strategies, Literacy

Keeping the dialogue going; Reciprocal Teaching (RT) as a reading strategy makes good sense.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Mar 10, 2012 5:43:00 AM

Reciprocal Teaching is explored as a reading strategy for National Reading Month!Reciprocal Teaching (RT) is an instructional method pioneered by Annemarie Palinscar and Ann Brown (1984) which has proven useful as a highly effective reading strategy. They describe the method as "a dialogue between teachers and students for the purpose of jointly constructing the meaning of text." In other words, teachers, rap with your students about reading and you’ll get good results!

RT is designed to aid students' overall reading comprehension by focusing on four key strategies:

  • Summarizing for self review- Students are required to identify the most important information contained in the text.  Summaries can be based on selected passages, a group of sentences, across paragraphs, or over an entire reading.
  • Generating questions- Asking questions helps the reader reach a deeper level of comprehension because generating questions requires students to identify the most significant information in the text. This is closely related to summarizing, and supports comprehension by seeking answers. 
  • Clarifying confusing information- This strategy requires metacognition, or understanding, to evaluate when a text is confusing.  At times, students may continue reading without realizing that their lack of understanding is affecting their comprehension.  By stopping to recognize and clarify their confusion, comprehension is reinforced.  Since there are multiple reasons for confusion (e.g. lack of schema, or frame of reference for their understanding; difficult vocabulary; unfamiliar writing style or voice), dialogue with the teacher can help a student identify the cause of a misunderstanding.
  • Predicting upcoming events- Students use what has already been read along with background knowledge, to generate a hypothesis about what the author will discuss next. This provides a purpose for further reading, in order to confirm or disprove the hypothesis.  

The steps to reciprocal teaching below may seem simple, but using them with a piece of well structured text will provide deep understanding for students. A Houghton-Mifflin Intervention Program that used reciprocal teaching throughout included some of the following titles: Fourth Grade: "The Wonder of Wolves;" or "Martin Luther King, Jr.," by Wil Mara, Children's Press 2002. Fifth Grade: "How do Birds Find Their Way;" "Jackie Robinson," by Herb Dunn and Meryl Henderson, Simon & Schuster 1999; or "Whales." Teachers should gradually encourage independence by spending time modeling, explaining, and introducing the process of reciprocal teaching. This ensures that students completely understand the process before being responsible for their part of the reciprocal teaching session.

Facilitate an RT Reading Session in Six Steps!

  1. Choose a piece of informative non-fiction writing.  The piece should have strong organization and be engaging to students.  Each student will receive a copy of the entire piece.
  2. Revisit the four core strategies: summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting. Use the first paragraph of the text to model the comprehension strategies.
  3. Divide the class into small groups and within each group assign each student one of the remaining paragraphs.  
  4. Give students time to read and analyze their assigned paragraphs independently, taking notes as necessary.
  5. Monitor as students "teach" the rest of the small group the four reading strategies relating to their assigned paragraph.  
  6. Encourage discussion within the groups before, during, and after each student's presentation.  Students should see connections between each other's presentations that will support their overall comprehension.

The benefits of reciprocal teaching are numerous. The focus on comprehension strategies requires students to practice how to learn, not just the content being learned.  Also, since the comprehension practice occurs within an authentic task, and not in isolation, the strategies are deeply embedded within the reader. Because the practice occurs cooperatively with other students, the individual reader is supported by interactions with others in the group.

The biggest complaint from teachers about RT is keeping students talking about the matter at hand, and not drifting off into socializing. Do not be intimidated by this method, since it takes a couple of tries to really master it. Be patient, and keep it light—the rewards will begin to reveal themselves, even among the most challenged readers in your classroom.

For more proven ways to boost comprehension in your classroom, download our FREE K-6 Comprehension Best Practices Guide today!

Download our K-6 Reading Comprehension B

Palinscar, A. & Brown, A. (1984). "Reciprocal teaching of comprehension-fostering and comprehension monitoring activities." Cognition and Instruction, I (2), p. 117-175.


Tags: literacy instruction, K-12 reading, reading comprehension, reciprocal teaching, download, reading strategies, Literacy, RT

Five New Year's Resolutions you can Keep...for Literacy.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Jan 5, 2012 5:32:00 AM

Marygrove MAT offers teachers New Year's Resolutions for literacy.Winter vacation is a great time for teachers to rest, refresh, and renew in preparation for the start of school in the New Year. The beginning of a new year, or new term, is the perfect time to make resolutions for literacy instruction in your classroom.  Just a few small “tweaks” to your literacy strategiescan help you feel instructionally renewed and refreshed!  Here are a few resolutions you should consider keeping…for the benefit of your students:

  1. Carve out time. Find time in your day for children to spend more time reading at their own level.  It could simply be a small chunk of time (10 minutes is fine) before or after a transition that students could spend reading text at their independent level.  This time will encourage their independent use of literacy strategies and help to build confidence as readers.
  1. Make the connection. Take a look at your content topics (social studies, science, health) for the remainder of the year and find ways to integrate your literacy strategies.  There are so many high quality non-fiction texts available— on a variety of topics— that you are sure to find the perfect match for topic/reading ability of your students.  You may also find ways to further integrate the students' writing into your content instruction.  A science unit could be a great platform for a writing genre study on research reports.
  1. Take a second look at your data.  All of your assessments provide you with powerful data about your teaching and the students' learning.  It can be beneficial to return to the assessment data to discover areas of learning opportunity for students. Disaggregating the data based on different criteria can provide you with a completely different glimpse into student learning.  For example, your DIBELS™ data may show that few of your students advanced out of the "At Risk" category for words read per minute.  However, a further examination may show that even though few advanced to "Low Risk," a group of students showed significant improvement.  An even closer look could lead you to identify that the students that did make progress were each part of a targeted intervention.  Having a second look at the data can lead you to different instructional priorities in the New Year.
  1. Reflect real life.  The world just beyond your classroom door is teeming with opportunities to connect to your literacy instruction.  What ways can you make the students' learning more authentic?  Perhaps having students compose poems or pieces of prose for a writing competition will show them a larger audience outside of the classroom.  Check out a couple of good resources:  The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for teens, and The Young Voices Foundation for all ages of students.
  1. Infuse the classroom with experts.  Are there others in the school or the local community that could add something different to your classroom; an area of expertise, a unique travel experience, or a different perspective on your community? Bringing in others to act as "experts" in an area of study is powerful to learners. You can connect these experiences to the students' literacy through integrated reading and writing activities that ask students to infuse their new learning with literacy strategies. 

For even more ways to capitalize on the reading and writing connection, download our K-6 Best Practices Guide for Reading Comprehension. Happy New Year!

Download our K-6 Reading Comprehension B  


Tags: literacy instruction, K-12 reading, reading comprehension, reading strategies, Literacy

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