[00:00:05] Kate Winn: Hello to all you travelers out there on the road to evidence-based literacy instruction. I'm Kate Winn, classroom teacher and host of IDA Ontario's podcast Reading Road Trip. Welcome to the show. We are so excited to be bringing you episode two of our second season.
Before we get started, we would like to acknowledge that we are recording this podcast from the traditional land of the Mississauga Anishinaabe. We are grateful to live here and thank the generations of First Nations people for their care for and teachings about the earth. We also recognize the contributions of Métis, Inuit, and other Indigenous peoples in shaping our community and country.
Along with this acknowledgement, and in the spirit of truth and reconciliation, we'd like to amplify the work of an indigenous author. And this week we are sharing the picture book Powwow Counting in Cree by Penny M. Thomas, illustrated by Melinda Josie. This unique counting book introduces children to numbers one to ten in Cree. Discover vibrant illustrations on every page that reflect the rich culture and traditions of the Cree people. Through rhyme, rhythm, and powwow imagery, this book makes language learning a joyful experience for young readers. A pronunciation guide is included at the back of the book.
Add this book to your home or classroom library today. And now on with the show.
[00:01:30] Kate Winn: I am absolutely thrilled to introduce our guest for this episode of Reading Road Trip, Nancy Chappel Eberhardt. She is currently an educational consultant and author. She has experience as a special education teacher, administrator, and professional development provider. Nancy contributed, as author and coauthor with Jane Fell Green, to the development of the literacy intervention curriculum, language the comprehensive literacy curriculum, 2nd, third, and fourth editions. More recently, she coauthored the Literacy How Professional Learning series with Margie Gillis. She is the coauthor of Sortigories 3.0, a web based app designed to provide practice for multicomponents of literacy learning, which is awesome, by the way. She serves as a member of the International Dyslexia Association's Perspectives on Language and Literacy editorial board and is a board member of the Reading League Connecticut chapter. Nancy is here today to help us dig into syntax. Thank you so much for being here, Nancy. Welcome.
[00:02:27] Nancy Eberhardt: Well, thank you, Kate.
[00:02:29] Kate Winn: So our topic is syntax. The first thing I want to ask you is how do you define the term syntax? What does that actually mean?
[00:02:37] Nancy Eberhardt: That is a very excellent way to start. And basically, the way that I simply think of it is it's the way that we arrange words to make meaning, be it into a phrase or into a clause or into a sentence.
It is that way that we combine the words that we use to make meaning that's different than the word would have on its own.
[00:03:04] Kate Winn: Excellent. We have so many things we're going to talk about related to syntax today, but before we get into all of that, this is obviously a very academic type of topic. And when you and I were kind of communicating pre-show, you shared something interesting. You mentioned that this sort of thing hasn't always come easily to you. There was a little anecdote about your kitchen table. Could you just share that for listeners?
[00:03:23] Nancy Eberhardt: I will, because I think what I said to you is it's sort of unlikely that I would be doing this topic if you had known me back in junior high school, because whenever I had to write something, it was usually hair pulling, crying at the table. And I think it wasn't a natural process to go from what might have been in my head to what I needed to put on paper. And that was a struggle, and for many years, and it wasn't actually until I was teaching. And it's kind of frightening to think that I got that far until I was learning how to do certain kinds of instruction, that the light bulb went off for me. And I think that hopefully I can share a little bit of that light bulb experience today.
[00:04:14] Kate Winn: I appreciate that. I think now, in this era of the science of reading and research-based and evidence-based and all of that, what is the importance of syntax or the reason supporting why we're even talking about this with our students?
[00:04:28] Nancy Eberhardt: Well, syntax fits squarely in the part of the simple view of reading that has to do with language comprehension. And if we look at the strands of Scarborough's rope, there is this strand that is language structures. And interestingly, with language structures, we have syntax and semantics. And I think that's so fascinating because it is, in fact, the syntax that helps give words their meaning. So I love that those two are together in the reading rope.
Certainly Cheryl Scott shares the importance of sentence-level comprehension for us to even begin to think about reading more complex text.
People like Cain and Oakhill have done a lot of work looking at how we construct meaning, which really has to do with how we're paying attention to the work that different kinds of words are playing to make connections, like that term, cohesive ties or connectives. We can talk more about those, but if we're aware of the role that they're playing, and they have demonstrated this, that separates some of the good readers, if you will, from the less good readers.
And one of the areas that I thought was fascinating was the work of McNamara and colleagues in the development of the text, analyzing tool metrics. And while that seems like a distant connection to the topic of syntax, in fact they broke down two kinds of cohesion, which is how the text hangs together. That really is very teachable if we're aware of it. And one of them is referential cohesion and the other is deep cohesion, and they draw upon different awareness of syntactical things. So I think there are people working in very different realms that have as a common ground syntax.
And mostly I think the importance is that this is the area that plays significantly in language comprehension. And in a time where a lot of people equate the science of reading with phonics and the code breaking, I think it's really important to realize that there's a whole lot of information that in this language comprehension area as well.
[00:07:11] Kate Winn: There is a great line in your book. So in the intro I mentioned that you co authored the Literacy How Professional Learning series - Syntax: Knowledge to Practice. I have it. It's an excellent book. So I recommend that for educators wanting to learn more about syntax. But there's a great line that I liked: Syntax is positioned at the crossroads between word-level and text-level literacy development. Can you break that down a little bit for us?
[00:07:34] Nancy Eberhardt: I'd love to. Well, it kind of goes back to this idea of the relationship between semantics and syntax in sentences, and that is, words on their own can certainly convey meaning, but it isn't until we put them together, namely that we're putting them together to text, that we really sometimes know which meaning we are intending. And there is a great deal that has to do with understanding the multiple meanings of words, the relationships between words that we can't understand until we get to text. Let me give you an example. It's kind of fascinating, by a simple analysis that we were doing, actually as part of the work on Sortegories, where we were looking at the first hundred high-frequency words, and we came to the discovery that about 60% of those words, that means we're using them a lot, right?
About 60% of those words are function words, or the connecting words, like in or and that by themselves they don't mean a lot.
And so one of the implications of that is, I think, is that teaching those words on flashcards to just practice them, to say them correctly, if we're thinking about the reading circuit, that it's possible that they're going to have more trouble and more confusion learning those words in isolation than if we were to put those into a phrase where we would say on the mat or in the box and maybe that on and in are highlighted, but that they have a context to help make some distinctions, because that, to me, is what syntax brings to the conversation. It's that place between words and text.
[00:09:44] Kate Winn: We're going to talk about teacher education a little bit later, but I do have to admit that this is my 24th year in teaching, and my first thought of the word syntax is going back to running records and the idea of MSV and the s being syntax right, in that three cueing system, and kind of the understanding almost, that you could note if a child makes an error, that preserves syntax, and maybe that's an okay thing. So I just want to make it clear, when we're talking about the importance of syntax and delving into all of these things, that's not what we're talking about. We're not talking about it's okay to guess words as long as the syntax works.
If people are just thinking, I know of syntax because I've heard of that in three cueing. That's not what we're talking about here, right?
[00:10:24] Nancy Eberhardt: That's right. Actually, it's quite the opposite.
Syntax really demonstrates to me that we don't get the word without accurate decoding.
And it's kind of related to the point I was just making about the high-frequency words, is that we're likely. And why do kids make a lot of errors on those little words when they're reading in context? Is because they are guessing. They're not reading that word accurately as a decoded word. So I really think that syntax is about the meaning, not about decoding the word. And I think we have to keep those two very clearly separated. So, no, we're not suggesting that syntax is going to help you decode.
[00:11:14] Kate Winn: Thank you. So, in terms of the development of syntax, I'm thinking about really young children before they even come into school, before we get them. How does that sort of start with students before their readers in print comes into play?
[00:11:26] Nancy Eberhardt: Well, we start out talking and listening first and then talking.
And this is an area that I think is beautiful in that kids are really using syntax before they know that there is such a thing as syntax, or that there are explicit rules that we're teaching them about the way that words work.
And kids demonstrate that in the most delightful way.
One of my grandsons, when he was learning to put words together instead of single word labeling of things, stood out on his deck, which overlooks Long Island Sound. And he said big water.
And he didn't say water big, he said big water. So at some level, he had developed a sense that there was an order to words that made sense. And kids come to school with a lot of that already in place. When Margie and I were writing the syntax book, what we found ourselves doing was trying to help kids learn, and teachers as well, that what we're doing when we're teaching the awareness about the ordering of words and grouping of words is we're trying to help make explicit something that they've learned in what is a natural way. And that's why a lot of people get confused about, you learn to read the way you learn to speak, because it just seems like that should just follow. Indeed, we know it doesn't. But I think that that's part of what makes us not think we have to teach syntax, because they come in doing this so nicely. Many come into school doing this so well already.
[00:13:14] Kate Winn: I think it's so interesting. I have the Acadiance PELI screener now, and for pre k, and this is my first year using it. And with the Acadience piece, you're getting into more of those. Obviously, there's still the oral piece of the phonemic awareness, but with the pre k things like vocabulary, oral language, like those pieces that I can actually assess now. And it's so interesting to see, and even kind of the point scale for when they're describing something. And is it a complete sentence and how many parts to the sentence and all of that. It's just interesting to me, as an educator, to analyze at that level, but also to see risk that we know for kids just based on how they're doing in that, in their pre k year, which is really interesting. Kids who you'll say, tell me everything you can about a glass, and they'll say, drink stuff. Right? As opposed to the kids who will give you some really long, complex sentence about all the different things you can do with a glass. So it's fascinating to me. Can you tell me a bit about how the differences between how syntax does develop orally and in writing with children?
[00:14:17] Nancy Eberhardt: Well, the difference is what I was just describing, I think to one extent, in terms of speaking, we have this natural pattern that we're modeling. We're beginning to develop a sense of how words work when we're communicating in writing. The task is to make that explicit, to be able to show children how to develop their thought in a written form. I'm not sure that's exactly what you're trying to make the distinction about here. So maybe pose another aspect of the question.
[00:15:04] Kate Winn: Yeah, sure. So my understanding would be that it comes more easily orally, like you were saying, right? That piece kind of is more natural, and the written piece needs to be explicit in terms of the teaching of that. And then also, I think my understanding is that I'm thinking about our new Ontario language curriculum, for example, and the fact that we have it broken down. Like, there is a specific expectation for syntax and sentence structure, and there's kind of a continuum for the different skills it should develop at each grade. But it's interesting because it says right on there that the continuum refers to when the students will use these conventions in their own writing, and then it says they will be adeptly using and understanding these conventions in oral language much earlier. So does that all kind of sound on par with what you know?
[00:15:53] Nancy Eberhardt: It does, and, in fact, I was thinking with regards to this question that we know that the oral language aspect, be it speaking or listening, come in first. And also in the case strict and James did a study that showed for a much longer time, listening comprehension is stronger than reading comprehension. So it seems to be that oral language part has a tendency to be out ahead of how we're dealing with words in print, be it learning to read or learning to write. So I think for sure they're on a somewhat different trajectory.
That is, our oral, as in speaking listening areas versus those that deal with reading and writing.
[00:16:56] Kate Winn: And you just mentioned reading and writing. And the next thing I wanted to ask you about is, what role does syntax play? Is it kind of a different role with reading than it is with writing?
What's kind of the role that syntax plays with both of those different pieces?
[00:17:09] Nancy Eberhardt: Well, I see these two as being very reciprocal and sort of bootstrapping the other.
And so I think we're increasingly hearing that if we write about what we read, it helps us with our comprehension.
And if we read what we've written, then we're also demonstrating and strengthening our comprehension. So, interestingly, teaching kids about syntax is teaching them to understand something that they may already know. And it's sort of, I think, similar to phonemic awareness in that when we help the children phonemic awareness as it relates to decoding, but as they become aware of the way words work to convey meaning, it gives them the tools to write sentences, that is, to construct or the ability to deconstruct a sentence in order to understand it. And a lot of emphasis in the work I've been doing on Sortegories is to help students appreciate meaning, to identify and to understand what word and phrase groupings mean as a way of helping them parse the language into phrase units, which then helps them to read with greater prosody, which will suggest and convey that they're understanding the words better. So I see these two things as being very reciprocal and also very teachable. I think that's the other part of this that I hope comes across is this is not a dark black hole, that we can't help students become better at doing well.
[00:19:10] Kate Winn: And you've read my mind because that's where I want to go next. We have so many classroom educators in our listening world, and the biggest question always is, okay, but what do we do? How do we do it? And so, I mean, no matter where you are in the world teaching literacy, we know syntax is going to be important here. In Ontario, we've got it in our new curriculum. And so that's where a lot of educators are like -
[00:19:28] Nancy Eberhardt: Kudos to you, too, on that, right?
[00:19:31] Kate Winn: It is wonderful. I noted one thing in your book. You said teaching syntax in the context of writing is more effective than with worksheets or follow the rule activities that approach the topic by teaching isolated skills. And also, you said, students ability to write complex sentences improves their reading comprehension, which is all really interesting. So I think, I'm just wondering, how do we teach syntax? What is the best way? What ways aren't so great? What do you recommend?
[00:19:58] Nancy Eberhardt: It's a great question, and there are lots of things to say about that.
First of all, I think that helping, first of all, teaching them reciprocally, Judith Hochman's book the Writing Revolution, I think is a wonderful resource that explains why we should do these two tasks, the reading comprehension and writing in tandem, and about the same material, namely, what I'm reading, I'm writing about. What I'm writing about is things that I've been reading about, and that those two really do reinforce each other. So conceptually, I would start there.
One of the things I found really helpful, personally, was kind of going back to that turning point light bulb for me was learning how to do sentence expansion, which was, I learned it through a program called Framing Your Thoughts from Project Read.
And there are other programs, I'm sure, that do similar things, but the, the essence of it is taking a basic sentence, ideally based on something the students are reading, and then expanding the sentence by adding more information, either to answer where something happened, when something happened, how something happened. Because when we add on that information, particularly taking it from something that we've listened to or read, then we are reinforcing, practicing, and applying that content that we've heard or read to what we're trying to write, and that gives us a source of information. When we ask kids to write about something and they say, I like this, I like this, every day they don't have a source of information, and they go back to what is familiar, perhaps to them. So what writing about what you're reading and doing, sentence expansion work based on that helps give the child a source of information to draw upon. And also by using that information, which is the point that Judith Hochman makes in her book, it also is demonstrating a level of comprehension because you are writing about what you've listened to or read.
So also implied in what I'm saying is the ability to start doing this with young children. I think we often think about syntax when kids get older, and I would advocate that starting with very the littles in kindergarten and first grade and doing a lot of this work orally with picture prompts is an excellent way to develop that awareness upon which you can then map the written language for them as they go along.
Another activity or another approach that has some evidence for improving writing and comprehension is sentence combining.
Bruce Saddler and Steve Graham have done some work in this area.
This becomes useful, especially when kids have an understanding of some of the basic elements of a phrase. If we're going to have them combine Jane ran, Tom ran, and we want them to combine the who or the subjects, then they would do Jane and Tom ran. But until they have a sense of those parts, and I like referring to them in their functional terms as opposed to grammatical or what I would call the conventional terminology.
But whichever you are using, they have to have a knowledge of what the part is that they're trying to combine to get to a more complex sentence.
But they can be fun, they can be effective, they can be playful, and I think all of those things make doing sentence combining a wonderful and very important activity for helping kids get better at what they're doing. Another important contributor to how to do this field is Charlie Haynes and a colleague, Leslie Laud. I can't really identify their connection, but I've heard them speak together. But Charlie and Leslie talk a lot about something that is important, which is a writing fluency, and that if we have kids practice a certain structure over and over again, they will, in fact, apply it more to their writing. So that whole notion of taking a structure and changing out a part of it is wonderful. For example, I'm using really simple sentences because they're easy to hear and hold on to. But if we said the dog sat and we want them to add where and write a whole three sentences with where the dog sat on the mat, sat in the grass, sat on the car, whatever.
That process of adding that information helps to build a certain fluency that we want, and then that the writing becomes more fluid.
And I like to think of that kind of activity similar to what we're doing with word chaining. When we're taking a word and we change one sound, if we can just keep changing one component, that flexibility in processing the language and that fluency in processing the language begins to kick in.
Another activity that we, being Margie Gillis and I, included in actually our comprehension book, which shows the relationship here between syntax and comprehension, is the cohesion circle that Charlie has in his book, speaking from talking to writing. And what I love about that is he's using the various ways that we refer to the who or the who or the what that something is about the noun. And then he talks about using a synonym, which would be another way to say the same thing, and then using the pronoun, which now reinforces the role of a pronoun, which is to name the same thing that had to have something before it to refer to. And then we come back to another synonym, and that process then transfers into reading text, because we don't keep saying, and when we're talking the dog, the dog, the dog, we would say the dog, and then we might say the furry animal or that barking beast. And then it, and the point of it is that language variation, they're really all playing the same role, but we're using a different word to represent that. And that is actually at the core of the referential cohesion that I was talking about earlier, that McNamara and others are put into the word. I would put into the cometrics tool that the referential connections is that way of tracing from the naming word, the noun to the other ways that we say the same thing. And if you can track that or trace that through the text, then you're really understanding it better than if you're not understanding those relationships.
[00:28:39] Kate Winn: That was just a wealth of ideas for how we can teach that in our class.
That is amazing. I jotted down some things I wanted to just follow up on quickly from that. So I love how you were talking a lot about this can start orally, because I am in a kindergarten classroom myself. But of course, our curriculum goes up to the one I'm looking at right now. It's up to grade eight. So syntax is going to be important all the way through. And once they get writing, then obviously, we know where we're kind of headed from there. But even in kindergarten, like you mentioned, the writing revolution. And so orally, I have done some of those because, but so sentences, animals are like plants, because animals are like plants, but that sort of thing. Right. Just to get them doing that orally, they can't read those words yet. They can't write those words yet, but they're starting to do that. Another great resource I like is called the Syntax Project, and it's out of Australia. That's great slideshows that start right at, they don't call it kindergarten, but right at the kindergarten level where it's oral to start. And you were talking about picture prompts and that sort of thing and talking about sentence fragments and making them complete sentences and all of that, which is great. It's actually neat. On our onlit.org site that supports the rollout of the new curriculum, there's an Ontario SLP, Melinda Hinch, and so she took all of those and has actually ordered them to go with the Ontario curriculum now and put in some Canadian content or whatever you want to call it. And so that's there for people who want to access that, which is really great, too.
So two other things I wanted to just follow up. One is how you mentioned the idea of not necessarily referring to words by the official name of the part of speech, like we might be used to talking more about sort of the function. Can you actually just explicitly tell us exactly what you mean by that?
[00:30:21] Nancy Eberhardt: I can, and one of the things I like to use as a little frame for this is function first, label later.
And the reason for that is the labels are abstract for most kids.
And what tends to help understand what the label is about is to understand the function. So, for example, if I say, today, I walked the dog. So the word today is telling me when.
But I could say after lunch. I walked the dog after lunch is telling me when.
And then I could say after the rain stopped.
I walked the dog after the rain stopped is telling me when. And the difference between those three, when is one is a word, one is a phrase, and one is a dependent clause.
They're all telling me when, which I would label. Then it's adverbial, because time is an adverbial idea, and it's an adverb when after.
Now, you should remember my example better. And then each of those are telling me when. Therefore, they are adverbial, whether it's a word, a phrase, or a clause. And so if we can have children or adults identify what that part is telling us, then it makes more sense to label it. And you'll probably be more successful labeling it than to say, let's find the adverb, when we have no idea what an adverb is telling us.
And I have found that it doesn't really help me when I'm writing on my own or reading something that someone's written and I'm trying to edit it to necessarily know whether it's an adverb or not. But it sure helps if I know what they're trying to tell me and whether it makes sense or is correct in the position that it's in within a sentence or a paragraph or whatever. So that is what I mean by function first and label later does that.
[00:32:55] Kate Winn: Great. That's great.
[00:32:56] Nancy Eberhardt: Yeah.
[00:32:56] Kate Winn: So I'm going to ask your advice on something. So every week we have a star of the week in class, and so we do a shared writing, and we write a paragraph about the child. So kids get to ask, what's your favorite this? What's your favorite that? And they can't read all of the words. And that's okay. It's just something that we do together. But I'll start out by saying Grace is the star of the week. And then for the second sentence, I usually say she. And I'll say to the kids, I don't want to say Grace, Grace, Grace, Grace, Grace. That's going to be boring. So I'm going to use a pronoun on, but how would you recommend I word that? Instead of saying, I'm going to use a different word for the who? Or what would be a better way to say that?
[00:33:27] Nancy Eberhardt: Well, I think you can say we use other words for the who, and those words are like the word she. Ultimately, we do want to use the word pronoun, but if we start with pronoun before they understand that it's a replacing word, it's referring to the same person. It's just another way. That's what I love about that cohesive circle that Charlie has, is that he's really saying, we're just talking about the same thing and we're using different words. But that's how we talk to each other. That's how authors write things. They don't keep repeating that over and over. So for sure, with your little ones, and actually it's an activity we have in the syntax book of have the pronouns up there. If they are able to read them or even if they're not, you can start to establish that this little group of words. Here are pronouns or the subject pronouns. I would start with, I wouldn't give them all the pronouns and then write Grace is the star. And then say, now, instead of Grace, we can take this word she and put it over Grace. And who is the she? It was Grace. And literally, concretely show them that. I think that many of the principles of instruction that we think of with decoding, like using letter tiles and moving them around and building and all of that, we can do all those things with the syntax, and we should do all these things to make it really concrete and very tangible for children.
[00:35:08] Kate Winn: Yeah, I loved how you were comparing changing sentences to word chains. And my mind is just spinning with how I could do things like that, which is great.
[00:35:18] Nancy Eberhardt: Well, I think it's really remarkable. We have 26 letters from those 26 letters, and they're representing in combination these 44 sounds. And depending on how you count the sounds, I think it's even more remarkable that we have eight grammatical elements and only really a few sentence types. And out of that, we have all of the words in books, in magazines, and things that we say.
It's just really an elegant system. And I think appreciating that elegance and helping kids get excited about the fact that they can play with the words and what they're doing is a wonderful thing. And I go back, I'm applauding you for starting with the little kindergarten age, because the sooner we get that appreciation and that excitement and that playfulness going, the better. I think we fail our children when we think we're going to teach them to read meaning. Decode first, and then we'll get to this other part later. I think it's a sad disservice. And then we have a lot of children getting to third and fourth grade who may be able to say all the words correctly and be unable to understand what they're saying.
And I apply that even to decodable text.
I think I may have mentioned to you I had the great privilege, really, to get my master's degree with Dr. Isabelle Lieberman. And for many of your listeners, they may not know who that is, but she was in the room when it happened, when they were talking about the importance of phonemic awareness. So, I mean, this is a person of great eminence in the field. And I was so fortunate to get to get my master's. But anyway, she was watching me work with a little girl who was reading the Mac and Tab story, Mac set on the map. And I was so proud of her for decoding. This was my first student teaching lesson with a child being observed. And I said, now, I said, who did it? Who was doing something? And she told me, Mac, I said, where on the map?
And Dr. Lieberman said afterwards, I've not seen somebody ask those questions with decodable text. And to which I said, well, why wouldn't we ask? Because I think we have to really honour the fact that those words that kids are decoding, they should be thinking about meaning. And I would encourage those working with the youngest children not to overburden them with this, but to engage them in the meaning of the text.
[00:38:13] Kate Winn: I love that. Okay, so last thing before we move off sort of the classroom strategies is I'm going to put in a plug for Sortegories because it's great. Now, in my class, I haven't gotten much to the syntax piece of it yet, but I've used it for a lot of great things. Like even when I first screened my kids at the beginning of the year, the ones who didn't have first sound fluency and then using it with my small group for that skill and that sort of thing. But I know you do have some great sections on the grammar and the syntax pieces as well, so I wanted to throw that in there for people looking for a web subscription that is something really interactive and engaging to support in their classrooms that I use that. And that's great too.
[00:38:51] Nancy Eberhardt: Thank you for that plug. And I'm delighted to know you're using it and you're using it in the way that we would really love to see teachers use it, which is strategically not necessarily doing all activities with all kids all the time. And for those who don't know, it's a nine-activity, interactive or web-based, rather app for beginning reader, for emerging readers. But one of the things that, to your point that we got to in some of the activities was working on some of these features or these qualities of words that I was mentioning, which is to be able to sort words, do what we call a grammar sort based on function. We're less concerned, as I said, about whether they're called nouns or verbs. But is it a naming word or is it an action word? Or maybe the word could be both. And how important that is for us to help kids to think about words at that level. And then we go from there to an all with words that the children can decode based on the scope and sequence, because we think it's real important that we link together the decoding with these language skills. But we have the children build a phrase that they can decode. But then we go and say, we ask them, what question is this phrase answering? So, like, if I said on the mat, the question that they would say that that is answering is where? As opposed to if I said the dog, it's telling us what did it. Or if I said ran, they would tell us that that or ran fast tells me what they did. And the whole point of this is to move children from reading word by word while we have to get the individual word accuracy down.
Once we do that, we want to get into these meaning units that are really our phrases.
And then that carries over into the connection to reading comprehension, because when we are demonstrating that, we're paying attention to these, what we'd call phrase boundaries, where are those phrase boundaries? That is a component of reading fluency and it's a component of comprehension. So we carry this all the way up to where we have the children doing this process of identifying which phrase or word is answering certain questions that are syntactic in nature, and then put those sentences together and we ask them, what is the topic of the three sentences? These are informational sentences. You haven't gotten there yet because this is the very last activity in level b. But what we're now putting together is that you can identify the who or what it's about, and then you can identify how it's connecting. Is it a synonym or is it a pronoun that is helping to tie this together?
And we think if teachers can see that, then they can do that when they're reading a story to the children, if they're reading something from Readworks, if that's a familiar resource for you, that it's possible to transfer that kind of practice that we're providing in sort of to other text.
So we're hoping that not only are we helping the kids, but we're helping teachers move in this direction with their instruction.
[00:42:54] Kate Winn: Well, and one last note about Sortegories. It's also amazing that you and Sheryl or whoever on your team, you have done a little document that correlates the Sortegories activities with our new Ontario Language curriculum, which is very helpful, too.
[00:43:07] Kate Winn: So thank you for that.
[00:43:08] Nancy Eberhardt: Well, all credit goes to my wonderful co author, Sheryl Ferlito, for, for doing that. She had the AHA moment to show that, so. But we hope it helps you.
[00:43:20] Kate Winn: Wonderful. Thank you. Ok, a couple more questions. Next one is assessment. So how do we assess as classroom practitioners? How do we or should we? And then is there such a thing as some sort of like, formal syntax assessment if we think there's an issue or how does the assessment piece work?
[00:43:36] Nancy Eberhardt: Yeah, this is an area where I think we're getting better. You mentioned a few minutes ago the PELI that starts to look at how the oral language comes in, and some of that certainly relates to syntax. There are parts of the CFOL, I always get the acronym wrong, but it is a diagnostic test from Acadience, which I would encourage people to look at because it will give you that kind of diagnostic information.
But I would say that a lot like assessing comprehension, it's a very complicated thing, much more complicated thing to do. And I don't think we have as many classroom tools to use as we need, frankly, that would be an area to really focus on for all of us because I don't think we've come up with a good way to assess that.
So that probably isn't the most promising answer you had hoped for, but I think that we have more tools if we're suspecting that kids are having some difficulty like the CFOL. And I love the fact that PELI’s helping identify.
I'm going to use the word sort out, but I don't mean that in a negative way towards kids, but help to tease out children who maybe have a less developed sense of syntactic awareness and syntactic knowledge.
Not that they can label it, but that they're using the language more proficiently. These tools will help us to do that.
So again, I think those kinds of tools are helpful. I'm less enamored, though, unfortunately, this is how we test things with those that basically say, is this a complex sentence or is this a compound sentence? I'm not sure how helpful labeling and looking at syntax from that direction is, but that is kind of the state of the art, I'm afraid.
[00:46:04] Kate Winn: Okay. No, that's very helpful. Thank you. And you just mentioned PELI again, and I just think it's so helpful because even when I screened those kids and, you know, we can identify where maybe there's some risk. So now I just have a little oral language group where those kids are getting a little bit more of something to help.
[00:46:21] Nancy Eberhardt: Right.
[00:46:21] Kate Winn: So we try to get to them early, which hopefully will prevent some things down the line, too.
[00:46:27] Nancy Eberhardt: Right.
What I meant to mention earlier, I think that in this area, that to the extent that you can have your speech and language pathologists be your friends and be in your classroom and help, this is where we should be engaging the talent and knowledge of that discipline in terms of teaching reading and syntax, for sure. That's what they know. And I think they can be very helpful and not just with the children who are struggling the most, but I think just in general.
[00:47:08] Kate Winn: Well, and that kind of leads me to my last question, because the SLPs, yes, should totally be our best friends. They know so much about this. And I know in Ontario and I'm sure in other places in some boards, they've been the know crying from the know about how we need to move forward with structured literacy, know based on all the things they know from their own training and their work. And so in places like my board, where it's all come around and we're all working together, it's fantastic. But there's that teacher education piece too. Right? So the last thing I wanted to ask you is, in your experience, do you think classroom teachers know enough about syntax? I mean, I'll just give you an example. I get paid to write and I do professional freelance writing on the side magazines, that sort of thing. And until I did my science of reading deep dive a few years ago, I had never heard of cohesive ties. Right. There are certain things where, I mean, I think I have fairly good syntax. Of course I'm probably going to stumble over my next few sentences now that I've said that orally, but actually knowing certain things and knowing terms and knowing how everything all works together. So do you think teachers know enough about syntax? And also, where would you recommend teachers go to find out more? I mean, of course, your syntax knowledge to practice book I would recommend. But what else do you think?
[00:48:26] Nancy Eberhardt: Yeah, well, first of all, the short answer is no, I don't think teachers know. And more importantly, I think it's kind of a traumatic word to bring up with a lot of teachers because they don't know. So I think for that reason we need to make it accessible and try to make it. I'm hoping by some of my examples make it seem doable and why that would be worth doing so. First of all, no, I don't think teachers know enough. I think part of that is that they didn't learn it themselves. I think we haven't been teaching this. I go back to my earlier comment that I think we've overemphasized how to read the words and not necessarily how to make sense of the words.
And one thing that I didn't mention is we can't really understand the meaning of many words, just the semantics, until words get into a context, even if it's a.
I, if I said to you in a cast that would have a whole different meaning. If I said John had a part in the cast versus John's leg was in a cast.
And I think knowing that in a cast doesn't tell you everything either, that you have to keep expanding is really important. So I think we have to make it less scary for teachers. And to me, trying to apply the same concrete, manipulate the parts, break it down, keep it related to what they're reading are all ways to make it seem purposeful and meaningful. As a teacher, I don't think the theoretical here is going to help with getting children to it will help at some level, but I think the practical application is what I think will motivate teachers to want to know more, which is I loved your point about I didn't know what a cohesive tie was either. I was like, what is that? But when you think about what that means, what's the difference between a cohesive tie, which are pronouns or synonyms versus connectives, which are prepositions that show relationship or conjunctions that join things or adverbs that show the flow of information like first, next, last. That's another reason that what the Writing Revolution shows how to keep using some of those structures over and over to tell a temporal progression.
Those are so powerful and honestly, at some level simple.
If we don't try to do it all at once. And that's where to the extent that your Ontario curriculum makes a progression of these so that you're not trying to do everything all at once, that will also help that each grade we move this concept along, I think is also helpful not to think we're going to do all of this all at once.
So in terms of some of the resources, I thank you for mentioning Syntax Knowledge to Practice. We tried to do what I'm saying in that book, which was to show activities, much less about the theory of it all, but more to so how can I do some of these things with children?
I've already mentioned From Talking to Writing? I think Charlie Haynes comes to this with a wealth of knowledge out of Massachusetts General Hospital and their speech and language area there.
The Comprehension Blueprint from Nancy Hennessy, I think is a wealth of information. It is a pretty dense information, but they are also on the cusp of getting their book, the Reading Comprehension Blueprint Activity Book, out the door. She and a colleague, Julia Salamone, have taken the activities that are suggested in the blueprint and are actually making it kind of an activity oriented so teachers can put this into practice a little bit more easily.
And again, I think that the Writing Revolution is super helpful. You mentioned the Syntax Project. I think that is a resource that is very definitely worth looking at as a way to do it.
And there was one more thing that went through my head that I was going to say, but the syntax project, oh, and I think Sadler's book on sentence combining is another helpful resource. I think these all work together and can be very helpful.
[00:53:57] Kate Winn: Yeah, great. And I mean, I think almost everything you've mentioned there can be that oral level starting in K-1 and then some of those books. Like I know with the Saddler book, it's kind of recommended for two and up or Writing Revolution three and up, that sort of thing. But you can start young and then just work your way into the actual written portion of that. This has been such a fantastic conversation. I've learned so much and my head is spinning, which is a good thing. Nancy Chapel Eberhardt, thank you so much for being with us on Reading Road Trip today.
[00:54:24] Nancy Eberhardt: Thank you for having me along on the trip.
[00:54:28] Kate Winn: Show notes for this episode with all the links and information you need can be found at podcast.idaontario.com and you have been listening to season two, episode two with Nancy Chapel Eberhardt.
Now it's time for that typical end of the podcast call to action. If you enjoyed this episode of Reading Road Trip, we'd love it if you could rate and or review it in your podcast app as this is extremely helpful. And of course we welcome any social media love. You feel inspired to spread as well. Feel free to tag IDA Ontario and me. My handle is thismomloves on Twitter and Facebook and Katethismomloves on instagram. Make sure you're following the Reading Road Trip podcast in your app and watch for new episodes dropping every Monday. Also, just a reminder to register for the IDA Ontario Literacy & Learning conference happening in April in Toronto.
[00:55:20] Kate Winn: If you haven't already, this is going to be a great event. My friends Nellie Caruso, Leigh Fettes and I will be back with a session called Unlocking Word Power: Practical Classroom Strategies for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction and the session description reads: Join teachers Kate Winn, Nellie Caruso and Leigh Fettes as they delve into the transformative power of effective vocabulary instruction across all grades. Discover evidence-based, use-it-tomorrow strategies in this session that will provide the tools and knowledge needed to teach this critical component of proficient reading and writing. Don't miss this opportunity to maximize the power of vocabulary instruction to support equitable educational outcomes for all students. We really hope to see you there. We couldn't bring reading road trip to you without behind the scenes support from Katelyn Hanna, Brittany Haynes, and Melinda Jones at IDA Ontario. If you're enjoying Reading Road Trip, please consider making a donation. IDA Ontario is a volunteer-run charity that depends on donations to do our work supporting educators and families. I'm Kate Winn and along with my co producer, Una Malcolm, we hope this episode of Reading Road Trip has made your path to evidence based literacy instruction just a little bit clearer and a lot more fun. Join us next time when we bring another fabulous guest along for the ride on Reading Road Trip.