What I’m learning about – Jennifer Serravallo’s Teaching Reading in Small Groups

Teaching Reading in Small Groups

This book offers teachers an interesting format.  It opens up with a table labeled Recommendations for Reading & Returning to This Book – then it directs the reader’s attention to two columns labeled If you Identify with the Following Statements… & You Might Find Help in… (listing the corresponding chapters).   So you can read a scenario and look for advice from the master teacher Jennifer Serravallo.  The following is a recollection of my notes and the big ideas I am taking from this text upon my first reading.  This is a book I’m sure to return to and is destined to become dogeared, and well loved.

Chapter 1

Serravallo offers up five tenets of reading –

  1. match the  individual reader
  2. teach towards independence
  3. teach strategies explicitly so that readers become proficient & skilled
  4. value time spent, volume & variety of reading
  5. follow predicable structures & routines

These tenets are the major underpinnings for the rest of the book.  I believe good instruction is tied to the release, I am working with a classroom teacher who is an incredible educator – truly a teacher to admire.  However, as our district adopted the workshop model I see that she is struggling.  Her major concern is w with the independent practice where students use their independent reading to try out whatever was taught during the minilesson.  She worries that the “quality” of the work is  not as good as when she can guide them – one book one way.  Amazingly, chapter 1 addresses this concern right off the bat.     Serravallo writes about the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), and sure this something everyone learned in college – but it’s one of those amazing ideas that when it’s discussed everyone can understand but it gets muddy in daily practice.  The ZPD guides the teaching point but how?  Start from the reader’s point of strength (Mel Levine would call it the student’s affinities, Marie Clay would make this visible through an analysis of the MSV) then teach to enhance skills – utilizing scaffolding to bridge the known to the unknown.  In short linking the active working memory to long term memory (LTM).  It may seem counter intuitive to teach towards strengths rather than deficits – but think about it – success breeds success.

So how do we teach towards the “inner control” (Clay) that we want all readers to develop?  The “inner control” is how readers come to ways of knowing how to read strategically – what would be very elusive to the proficient reader.  As readers skill level rises strategy use falls. This is why if you ever have an opportunity to go to Teachers College their first exercise will be to have you deconstruct your own reading process.  If you can’t go to TC do it anyway I have developed a thinking tracks bookmark – http://pinterest.com/pin/105764291220170845/ that you are welcome to use.  Read a book with a friend and find out about how you read.  How can you teach reading, if you don’t know what kind of reader you are yourself?

One way of getting in touch with readers inner control is to develop step-wise strategy teaching.  So the example in chapter 1 is say you want to teach children how to envision:

While reading today find a part where you can:

  1. Identify the characters feeling – put a post-it on the page
  2. Apply that feeling to how the character looks – Can you draw the characters expression on the post-it

This simple two step (sounds like a dance doesn’t it?) – enables the child to work at the analysis / application level of Bloom while developing that inner control so that readers can read critically.  It’s a beautiful thing.

So what about differentiation?  Another practice that is easily understood much harder to create.  I love the way Serravallo talks about it – she views differentiation as levels of teacher support in relation to independent practice.   Choice tends to boost volume – for all readers so start there.  If the student can actively read for long periods of time – let them it’s the best way to enhance their skill level.   She recommends (and I agree) using a  common structure: to – with – by, it  is a predictable mode of instruction that allows us to to teach according to needs (and levels of support e.g. differentiation).  I do it (you watch); we do it (together), you do it (on your own).  There is the release again.

So this is my take away from chapter one.  So if you’re reading this book or I’ve written anything here tonight that you are interested in – let’s talk.  Chapter 2 coming soon..


2 thoughts on “What I’m learning about – Jennifer Serravallo’s Teaching Reading in Small Groups

  1. Hi! You have really piqued my interest in this book … I’m returning to teaching first grade after many years at home w my own children. This (small groups that feel productive and not just going yhrough the motions) is a concern for me too … Love TC/Lucy etc. but trying Daily 5 -ish schedule this year to simplify routine. Have you published more reflections on additional chapters? Would love to continue to follow your thoughts on this book. I may order it too! 🙂 Thanks! Ana

    1. Ana,
      Welcome back to the classroom, and thank you for commenting on my post. I love first grade teachers! I am working with the book this year and plan to post reflections very soon. Jennifer Serravallo’s work with this book in particular is spot on. I think it would be a worthy addition to your resource library. Mine is filled with post-it’s and bent ragged pages – a sure sign of a well loved book.

      I too looked into the Daily Five. I bought Gail Boushey, Joan Moser”s book. I understand they are teaching an on-line graduate course through Upper Iowa University (UIU). I am a big fan of their work, you can find a lot of free resources on their website as well – http://www.thedailycafe.com/public/department151.cfm . The only snag I hit with my first grade teachers when trying to implement a Daily Five approach was the time. In order to set up a schedule up you have to be pretty creative. So I understand you when you call it a Daily 5-ish schedule. How is that going for you? I would love to know more and thank you again.


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