Welcome to the Mount Annan Christian College Junior School Teacher Blog.

This blog has been developed by our staff to deliver an alternative approach to Professional Learning. We will be exploring a variety of new and innovative approaches to education. Our major focus will be on examining the changing paradigms in education. We hope to share our ideas with each other whilst challenging our current beliefs and practices. We welcome comments from Educators around the globe and look forward to sharing new thoughts and ideas.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Chapter 7 - Strategy Groups

Chapter 7 begins with a story about a hairstyle. This certainly had my attention!  It was using the image of an old hairdo to discuss how many years of making do with a ‘spray and pray’ method of doing hair had resulted in years of damage.
The sisters mention the ‘spray and pray’ method of teaching reading groups that they had done over the years. Grouping kids in levels and not getting the chance to work on the strategies that each individual child needed assistance with.
The strategy groups is the part of the CAFÉ program that most teachers find challenging. (It’s not just me!)
Even if students are on the same level and grouped accordingly, they still have different needs. Grouping them in strategy groups ensure the students can work on the specific strategy they need assistance with.
Strategy groups are fluid. Students are moved in and out of groups regularly; with students on similar or different levels.

How do I structure and manage a Strategy Group?
·       Assess and confer with each student.
·       Have Daily 5 up and running smoothly.
·       Don’t feel the need to rush strategy groups as it is more important to have daily whole class instruction to ensure students understand the CAFÉ strategies before the Strategy Groups start.

How do I use the Strategy Groups Form?
·       At the end of 4-6 weeks and all students have been assessed; Strategy Groups are ready to start.
·       To launch a strategy group, students are asked to come to the meeting area with their book boxes (or bags).
·       Students take out a text they are using and begin quietly reading aloud.
·       The teacher listens in, similar to individual conferences to see whether they are using the strategy.
·       After 30-60 seconds, the teacher stops the group and reinforces the group’s goal.
·       On the first day of the small group, the teacher models the correct way to use the strategy.
·       The goal is then reinforced.
·       After this the students can leave to practice on their own or work with a partner.
·       The teacher then plans when the group is going to meet next.
·       Students can be in more than one Strategy Group.

Strategy Groups in Action:

What does a Typical Morning Looks Like?
·       Literacy block starts with a whole class read-aloud and strategy lesson from the CAFÉ menu.
·       Names of the students in the first strategy group called.
·       Check-in for Daily Five so that the other students are set for independent work.
·       Age of the students is the approximate number of minutes they can sustain higher-level thinking with group instruction. (7 year olds=7 minutes, 12 year olds=10-15 minutes)
·       Students released after lesson is completed and practice with a partner or individually.
·       Teacher gets Pensieve and for the rest of the Daily 5 time they have 3-4 one –on-one conferences.
·       The next round of Daily Five starts in 20-30 minutes and it follows the same structure of the first.
·       Infants usually have 2 rotations, Primary have 3.

My thoughts
I have yet to start Strategy Groups and I have been very nervous about the whole idea. Studying this chapter has given me the confidence to start them this term. The chapter was very easy to read and the step by step instructions on how to implement the Strategy Groups is foolproof in my opinion.
It was interesting to see what the sisters had mentioned about the number of minutes children can sustain higher-level thinking with group instruction directly correlating with their age. It makes sense and is great to think about in the classroom on a daily basis.


1.     Who is using Strategy Groups in the classroom? Are your students progressing and changing groups regularly?

2.     How are your Strategy Groups different to Reading Groups you may have used in the past?

3.     Is anyone else completing two Daily Five rotations daily, similar to the ‘Typical Morning’ suggested by The Sisters in Chapter 7? If so do you have any comments or suggestions?


CHAPTER 6 - Whole-class instruction

This chapter gives an insight into how the sisters implement whole class strategy lessons which typically in a primary classroom occur three times each day. These include one strategy from Comprehension, one from Accuracy and one from either Fluency or Expanded Vocabulary.

Gail and Joan realised through their vast teaching experience that they needed to move towards mini- lessons in literacy workshops because they fit so well  with what brain researchers say about the limited attention spans of students in whole class settings. Short bursts of instruction with practice in different texts produces a more effective and successful program for students. In the process of teaching a new strategy, reference is given to reteaching, reinforcing and helping students see new possibilities for how the strategies might help them as readers.

“The structure of the Daily Five allows us to purposefully and effectively focus on the needs of our readers. The CAFE Menu helps us intentionally teach strategies that will help students achieve their goals.” (pg 88)

The first four strategies the sisters consistently introduce to the whole class during the first day of school (as mentioned in Chapter 3 and in my opinion seems a lot to tackle on day 1 of the school year) are
  1. Check for Understanding
  2. Back Up and Reread
  3. Tune In to Interesting Words
  4. Cross Checking
Following these lessons, new strategies are introduced based on assessment, age, revisiting and reteaching.

Sequence of the strategies:

The sisters have listed the strategies on the CAFÉ menu in roughly the order they are introduced. Strategies near the bottom of the Comprehension column are usually not used with primary students. (not sure of what the UK class as primary students) It is perfectly appropriate to follow the sequence, alternating between columns to provide a good balance. As teachers gain experience, they generally will gain a sense of what needs to be retaught, how the strategies work together and what techniques work best with their own students.

“We are always trying to find that balance between following the leads of our students and making sure we move through the prescribed curriculum so that we’ve tackled every skill.” (pg 90)

Lesson Elements for Whole-Class Lessons:

An explicit example is given in this chapter for the teaching of the Accuracy strategy Flip the Sound. This models how the following steps/ elements are systematically used when teaching any strategy.
  1. We identify what is to be taught, and share the “secret to success” with the strategy.
  2. We teach the strategy.
  3. Students practice with partners.
  4. We select a student to write and illustrate the CAFÉ Menu strategy card (the first time it is taught).
  5. We review the strategy.
  6. We encourage practice during independent reading times.
  7. We post the strategy after independent practice (the first time it is taught).
  8. We continually connect new strategies to strategies already on the CAFÉ Menu board.

Some other sample lessons are given in this chapter as examples of whole-class instruction which teach the strategies of
  1. Comprehension- Infer and support with evidence using a very fun inferring game
  2. Comprehension- Summarise text including the sequence of main events
  3. Expand Vocabulary- Tune in to Interesting Words
  4. Fluency- Read appropriate-level texts that are a good fit.
This last lesson is an absolutely brilliant lesson where children are taught about good-fit books using the analogy of shoes. Just as our shoes must fit a purpose to be successful so must the books we read fit our purpose and interest.

What did you make of this chapter?

Do you have examples of your own lessons you could share with us?



During Chapter 5 the two sisters present a series of examples of conferencing sessions they have performed with children who are all working on a range of strategies.

The first goal they introduce is Comprehension with the strategy of ‘check for understanding’. They conference with students who are both beginning readers and advanced readers. Sevila is a beginning reader who knows her letters and sounds and can decode words easily, however struggles with understanding.  To help Sevila with this strategy Gail demonstrates how she can stop and think about what she has just read. After reading about 5 pages Gail stops and retells what she has read.  Gail mentions to Sevila that once she can retell the story she can move on. If she cannot retell the story she needs to reread that part. The secret is to think about the story, as we read not just read the words.

Inna, is an advanced reader who is working on the strategy ‘check for understanding’ too. Because she is an advanced reader Gail choose some picture books that would support her vocabulary and story line. These were the kinds of texts she needed, with more support for understanding the text and vocabulary in it. Gail used the same approach to model the strategy for Inna as she did with Sevila. She asked Inna to stop at the end of each page to see of she could retell what had happened. She told Inna to ask herself ‘who and what’. Who did we just read about and what were they doing? She mentioned that they would meet with Inna daily to move her forward into more sophisticated strategies to improve her meaning.

The next goal the sisters looked at was Accuracy with the strategy of ‘flip the sound’.  Again they met with an advances reader and a beginning reader. Jaeger was a begging reader who knew all the letter sounds in isolation. When he made an error reading or something didn’t make sense he new to go back and reread, however he could not correct himself.  He was reading the word stop as stope. To help him with this mistake Gail taught him how to flip the sound.  I really liked this strategy as this is a common mistake kids make in Kindergarten and this is a great way to help correct themselves. Gail gave him some sticky pages to put in his book every time he used the strategy to help reinforce this.

The flip the sound strategy was also used to help the advanced reader with the same problem. When teaching this strategy, whether it is for a beginning reader or an advanced reader, we follow the same sequence.
·      Model with the word the child has read within his or her text.
·      Continue modelling a few times from the child’s text.
·      Have the child practice flip the sound a few times
·      Give the students the task of practicing the strategy during Read to Self and record the words they practiced.
·      Set another appointment to review the strategy.

The next strategy Gail introduced was Cross Checking.  When using this strategy with a beginning reader, Gail encouraged the student to look at the pictures in the book for a clue. Look at the picture and look at the first letter of the word, does it make sense? I have found myself using this strategy a lot in Kindergarten

For an advanced reader the strategy changes, as they tend to read books with out pictures. Students still cross check but they are looking for understanding as well. Students need to re read the sentence and cross check which word in the sentence doesn’t make sense and why. When student reread the text Gail encouraged him to read each work slowly and cross-check it by asking himself ‘Does the word I am reading match to letters on the page, does it sound right, and does it make sense? Sound familiar J

The third goal was Fluency focusing on rereading the text.  During this meeting Gail meets with a students who was taking along time to read. This was from years of reading texts that were too hard for her. To improve her reading Gail asks her to read some books that are a little easier for her. Reading these books over and over again will help her read it fluently and with expression. I love how this example is exactly what we are doing with our Home Reading system and encouraging kinds to improve their fluency.

The last goal was Expand Vocabulary using the strategy of ‘tuning into interesting words’. Ikman could read anything but struggled with comprehension because he didn’t know what the words he was reading meant. Gail encourages Ikman to write down any words he doesn’t know into his personal word collector and during Read to Self Ikman can write down words he doesn’t know onto post-it notes in his story. Gail makes a note to meet with him to show him how to find the meaning of the words the next day. Gail also talks about Table-Talk books. I thought this was a great idea. Students can take their table-Talk book home and share the new words they have learnt with their family.

I found this chapter really interesting as it gave me an idea on how to ‘meet’ with the students. I haven’t introduced meetings with my class yet as a lot of them are reading under level 10 and we are just getting into picking our own activities during daily 5. However, I have found myself modelling some of the strategies during Listening to Reading when I read to the kids. 

What strategy did you introduce first?

How often are you conferencing with students?

What's the best time to begin this? Should it be dependent on a reading level?

Look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Monday, September 3, 2012


This Chapter focuses on how to conference with Students. The sisters realized the need for students to set their own goals for reading and the need for more explicit teaching of how to reach their goals. The biggest shift for a teacher in doing conferences is that they move around to meet with the student, the student doesn’t come to them.

Emphasised in this chapter was the benefit for shorter, more focused time with student on a more regular and consistent basis. 

The sisters found that teachers differed in their conferencing observation, instruction and goal setting techniques across the board and were taking much longer than them to conference with each child. For this reason they created a conferencing sheet as a guide with icons to show what to be looking for and what to do at each stage of the conference. 

By using the CAFÉ board it gave the students the language to talk about reading and how to improve it. Instead of students trying to get to a level 22 reader as a goal, they now have reading strategies as a goal. Once mastered, they can clearly move to the next strategy with a sense of achievement about their reading.

From Conferencing to Coaching
This part of the chapter the Sisters address the issue of timing and presented the point that we need to change our focus from longer conferences to a more focused, quick coaching style technique whereby the teacher comes alongside a student for shorter more regular times.  On p56 it gives a clear overview of what an average coaching session will look like. The rough guide is

Prepare  - 30 sec
Observe – 1min
Reinforce & teach 1min
Practice – 1 min
Plan 30c
Encourage 15sec

These time frames are only rough guidelines and it was clearly noted that the most important part of a coaching session is to be fully present with the child for the short focused time you have them and not be so rigid in following a schedule that you forget the needs of the individual child.

The key is having clear goals and having them recorded so time is not wasted each session trying to figure out where a child is at.

Seven Steps

1.  Check calendar for appointments for the day

Note: Not all children will have appointments regularly. They are made on a needs basis with each child.  A key point is that we often neglect able readers when trying to meet the needs of less able readers.  The way the sisters monitor this is by having two recording systems. One is the Calendar where students book appointments and the other is a ‘Keeping Track’ sheet where teachers have a class list and date next to each child’s name each time they meet with them. This way teachers can easily see at one glance any students that have been neglected and plan to meet with them.

2. Prepare for Conference

The teacher quickly glances at the teach points from last session and the ‘take away’ focus point. This time is very short and is usually done whilst walking to the area the child is reading in. It is important to note that the children don’t come to the teacher as this disrupts the children by calling out for kids whilst they are trying to focus. The teacher goes to the student. The sisters observed that this was also an excellent way to monitor social behavior and check on students on the way to the next student they were meeting with.

3.  Observe Child and Listen to Reading

The teacher makes note of what the child is reading and asks them how they are going. They check if the child is using the strategies that they were taught last time.

4. Reinforce and Teach

This is always started by the teacher telling the student what they noticed about their reading. The aim is to move the child forward from where they’re at without overloading them with too much information. Keep this to about one minute.

5. Practice Strategy

This gives a chance for the child to practice the strategy taught with the teacher present. This time is important for checking to see if the child understands what their goal is and what it is they need to do to improve their reading.

6. Plan

If a child has mastered a skill they can move to a new strategy. This is worked out by looking at the 4 -5 touch points and seeing if the student can do them.  They move their name to the strategy part of the CAFÉ menu board whilst the teacher records their progress. Together they decide on a plan of action and book in a meeting time on the calendar.

7. Encourage

This is the most important part. Leave the child with a positive and clear direction of where they are going next and how they are going to achieve it by the goals you have set together.
By having these shorter session, teachers will be able to meet more regularly with students, meet their needs more effectively and use their own time more productively.

My Thoughts!

I found the time guideline really helpful. This has really helped me pick up the game in terms of getting to more kids and having a quality focused time with them. 

I have found the setting of small achievable goals ideal and helpful for the kids so that they know what they need to be working on. I've used milo as a way of tracking my kids for the day. I make a certain number of milos for my kids and my aim is to, by the end of the day, have conferenced with each child. It works really well because I can just say, " Who had a milo today?" and I instantly know who I havent seen. I can also at a glance look around the room to the drinkers and know whom I'm conferencing with without disturbing them.  

I've really loved moving away from the kids coming to my desk for assessment and enjoyed lying on the floor with them or on the couch. 

How about you guys? 

What's been working for you in terms of getting to as many kids as possible?

How do you manage to do the teach and two rotations before SRA? 

What strategies have worked well for you in terms of time management??