Tag Archives: literacy

Try “Say Something” for Comprehension in Any Subject

One of the problems I’ve noticed when working with adolescent readers is that many of them do not monitor comprehension. I often ask them if they have had the experience of BMS (Blank Mind Syndrome) after they have read a paragraph, page, or chapter of a text. Almost universally, they all say they have. I have too. Oftentimes, this can stem from a lack of monitoring.

Monitoring comprehension is simply “checking in with yourself” as you read. Readers who monitor well generally stop periodically to ask themselves questions about what they have read, make connections to their experiences, or realize when they experience Blank Mind Syndrome and try re-reading. Those that check in often can realize they are confused after a few paragraphs rather than a few chapters. What a time-saver!

Many students learned about these monitoring comprehension strategies as elementary students. However, I’ve noticed that, as secondary students, several do not actively use them when reading becomes difficult. This phenomenon is as true for striving readers as it is for Advanced Placement students. If the text is simple for the individual student, he or she cruises along happily because he or she is seemingly involuntarily monitoring. It’s just what we all do when texts are easier. But, once students encounter more complex texts, it is essential that they monitor comprehension intentionally. Many don’t. This leads to reading without comprehending or simply stopping the reading process.

One of my favorite strategies for having students practice monitoring comprehension is Say Something. I first learned about Say Something in Kylene Beers’ awesome book When Kids Can’t Read — What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6-12. If you have never read the book, it is a resource I turn to frequently — even several years after reading it the first time. You must check it out some time.

Here is the gist of Say Something.

Essentially, students read text with a partner, stopping periodically to make predictions, clarify unclear information, ask questions, make comments, and make connections. Students enjoy the social aspect of the strategy, and most report that they “actually understood it” when they use it. When they cannot do one of the five things I mentioned when they stop, they must re-read, focusing on trying to use one of the strategies intentionally. Once they begin using the strategy, I have noticed students utilize their background knowledge in these conversations with one another to better understand the text, explicitly making connections and points that I would never think to suggest. It is truly powerful. It is imperative, though, to explicitly link the conversation students have during Say Something, to the internal conversations they should be having when they read independently. This can best be done through giving students opportunities to use the question stems from Say Something while they read independently. They can share their thinking in this way through short annotations.

One of the latest ways I’ve been experimenting with Say Something is adapting it based upon disciplinary literacies. Different from general content-area reading strategies, disciplinary literacies are ways of thinking that must be utilized to become proficient in different fields. So, as I am reading a social studies text, I may need to monitor differently (perhaps thinking about the context of time period when reading a primary document) from when I read a science text (reading to understand complex multi-step procedures).  If you would like to learn more about disciplinary literacies, check out

Through a collaboration with a math teacher, I have developed a Mathematics-Focused Say Something for students to use as they are reading the investigations in their math textbooks. It is still in the development phase, so please feel free to offer input.

In addition, I would like to develop subject-specific Say Somethings for as many areas as possible, so I welcome your explanations of the type of thinking students need for reading in your discipline in the comments area.

Sad News for World Book Night

Some of you may have read my recent blog post about participating in World Book Night for the first time. I was able to obtain copies of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential for some young adults in a special culinary program near my home.  World Book Night gave people the opportunity to receive free copies of books to distribute to light readers and non-readers on April 23rd of each year, William Shakespeare’s birthday.

News came in on July 2nd that as of right now World Book Night for the U.S. has ended. According to the executive director, Carl Lennertz, in this Los Angeles Times story:

“The expenses of running World Book Night U.S., even given the significant financial and time commitment from publishers, writers, booksellers, librarians, printers, distributors, and shippers, are too high to sustain without additional outside funding.”

It looks at though the originating World Book Day and World Book Night UK will go on.

I sure hope that some companies or other funding sources will contact World Book Night US to get the program moving again. It is such an amazing way to spread the love of literacy and build community.

My Experience with World Book Night 2014


If you’ve never heard of it before, World Book Night is an opportunity to spread the love of reading.  It always occurs on April 23rd, Shakespeare’s birthday. Participants sign up online to become book givers, and, if accepted, they receive a box of twenty free books to give to light readers or non-readers.

This year, the media specialists at one of the schools I serve as an instructional coach encouraged the faculty to sign up to be book givers. Eighteen educators were selected as World Book Night givers. Many of the teachers gave books to students in the school.

Participants can enter their top three choices of which books they would like to give when they apply. One of the books was Kitchen Confidential written by celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, long before he was celebrity when he was working daily as a line cook in New York City.  The book is a gritty, edgy, and sarcastic read, but it clearly illustrates to love and passion chefs dedicate to their craft.


I chose to give my books to students in a local program in my area. Students who end their teen years in foster care often struggle in the transition to adulthood.  Eliada’s ESTA program provides these students, who are 18 to 21 years old, with housing, education, and training. They currently have these young adults participate in a culinary program, so that students both learn essential skills for adulthood while also learning a trade that they can use to find work in our city’s tourism-based industry.  Although some of the students are regular readers, some have struggled with literacy and school achievement in the past because of inconsistent home lives.

Instead of giving the books t students on the night of April 23rd, I was invited to participate in a luncheon on April 24th. Eliada hosts a monthly luncheon for people who give to their programs, and the culinary students prepare the meal!  It was awesome!  All of the students were incredibly excited about the books.  One student shared that he had planned on borrowing the audiobook from one of his friends, but now they hopes to read and discuss the book together!  In addition, students were proud to share their successes from the program.  One student recently got his GED and made a perfect score on the math section.  Another student will be entering one our state universities next fall.  This program is really working for these young adults, and I am so happy that I could make my own small contribution the community by sharing the love of literacy.





How QR Codes Support Teaching and Learning

A QR (Quick Response) code is a special type of barcode than can hold more information than traditional UPC barcodes. With a QR code reader app, information can be retrieved and displayed quickly using the camera on a smartphone or a tablet device. Most QR readers can also create QR codes. These barcodes can connect to web URL’s, text documents, e-mail addresses, and other information.

Information Stations

Are there certain areas of your space where it would be convenient for students to regularly access information? Consider creating QR codes that allow students to easily retrieve important information. For example, in a weight training class, a teacher could post QR codes at each piece of exercise equipment. The featured poster links to videos that show proper form for chest exercises.


Differentiated Skills Groups Oftentimes, we need to differentiate instruction for varying student needs, but we are unsure of how to accomplish the task. QR codes can be linked to different online tasks that develop students’ skills. Teachers can assign students to scan a particular QR code, or students can self-assess and choose for themselves. The codes pictured were created after students had completed writing drafts. The teacher identified three areas for different groups of students to develop: parallel structure, subject-verb agreement, and correct use of apostrophes.  The QR codes link to related activities at chompchomp.com.


Promoting Self-Selected Reading Connecting students with books that meet their interests is a vital for creating motivated independent readers. Online book trailers are an engaging way to convey information about books in the 21st century. Create a display of books with QR codes to initiate a visual “booktalk” that students can access on demand. The photo below is a book display created by Samantha Gallman (@hav2laugh), the media coordinator in one of the schools I serve.


Group “Scavenger Hunts” QR codes are a great tool for classroom scavenger hunts. First, teachers can determine the types of information they want students to explore. Then, they can search for websites, videos, maps, and documents that support students learning the information. The pictured scavenger hunt had earth and environmental science students explore the effects of pollution in regards to ocean acidification, the greenhouse effect, and other aspects of climate change.


Reading Scaffolds Teachers can create reading scaffolds for students with QR codes.  For example, QR codes can be attached to a text’s margins. When 9th grade students read “The Sniper,” I created QR codes that linked to background information, pictures, and YouTube videos that would support and enrich their reading experience.


Create Your Own QR Reader and Qrafter are free QR Code apps that can create QR codes. You can also create your own QR codes on your desktop or laptop using The QR Code Generator. Please use the comments section below to share ideas about how you are using QR codes to support learning in your schools.

Boys and Literacy: The Role of Fathers

Boys and Literacy: The Role of Father

My response is both personal and professional.  I am the literacy role model in my son’s life.
If you even take a cursory interest in education, you probably know that boys are falling behind girls at an increasing rate — especially in reading.  Reading is essential in every content area as well as crucial for a productive, enriching, and successful life.  Dads, listen up!  We have an important job to do.
We have to show our sons the importance of reading.
What is causing this issue?
During my research for a graduate class, I learned that many believe that a “Boy Code” is a contributing reason to why many boys become reluctant readers. “Boy Code” refers to “culturally embedded expectations about masculinity” (Cleveland, 2011, p. 38) that stem from an absence of positive male role models, the massive influence of the media’s distorted images of masculinity, and the fear of being labeled different or feminine (Cleveland, 2011). Because girls generally develop literacy skills at an earlier age (Sadowski, 2010), many boys perceive reading as a feminine activity. This perception leads to some boys shunning reading.
Boys lacking male reading role models often rely on media constructions of men to learn about “being a man.”  We do not see athletes read on television — although most of them probably do.  Movie images portray heroic men as those who go out “on their own”, who behave rashly, or who intuitively know how to do things  — without reading/research.  James Bond doesn’t read much; neither does Batman (at least on screen).  Even Harry Potter, considered by many the “nerdier” male hero rarely reads or studies.  Like his friend Ron, Harry relies on Hermione, their studious female friend, to handle all the “book learning”.
Male reading role models are so important to shattering this constructed image.  Although male teachers can help with this, I feel like dads are the most powerful influence in the lives of their sons in regards to their feelings about reading.   Unfortunately, the lack of reading role models probably leads to Matthew effects.  Boys living in poverty (who often do not have steady “dads” in their lives) suffer from misconceptions of literacy the most. For example, boys in wealthier districts generally report reading more often and have higher reading assessment scores.  Their fathers are also more likely to have jobs where literacy is valued. These boys view literacy as a masculine trait (Sadowski, 2010).
I read to my son nearly every day (I wish I could say every day, but the realities of time and energy do interfere).  His phonemic awareness is already developing as he connects language to those weird scribblings in his Elmo and Clifford books.  He understands how to turn pages in books, which, I have learned from some of my elementary colleagues, not every child entering kindergarten knows how to do.  I can’t wait to take turns reading books together and to ask him questions about what he is reading.  And I can’t wait to analyze movies and video games with him as well, showing him how what we read also helps us understand what we see.  And, my wife bought three Geek Dad books that I can’t wait for us to read, so we can make some really cool stuff like an iPhone Steadi Cam, superhero capes, and an outdoor movie theater.  We are going to have a lot of fun.  We are having a lot of fun.
Take the time.  Make it a priority, dads.  Read with your son.


Cleveland, K. P. (2011). Teaching boys who struggle in school. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Sadowski, M. (2010). Putting the ‘boy crisis’ in context: Finding solutions to boys’ reading problems may require looking beyond gender. Education Digest, 76(3), 10-13.