[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 seven of our second season.
Before we get started, we would like to acknowledge knowledge 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 Mouse Celebrates the Winter Solstice by Terri Mack illustrated by Bill Helin. It is winter. The land lies still, quiet and stark beneath a blanket of snow. The tiny footprints of a mouse can be seen in the light of the moon. Wrapped in the quiet, and there in the bleak there stood a wise mouse, preparing to speak.
The words that mouse chose were from many years past. She spoke them into the cold night air. So begins the enchanting story of a very special winter solstice celebration. Author Terri Mack and artist Bill Helin have collaborated to bring us this story of strength, friendship, and celebration. The lyrical text and engaging illustrations will appeal to readers of all ages. Add this book to your home or classroom library today. And now on with the show.
[00:01:43] Kate Winn: I am really excited about our guest this week here on Reading Road Trip, Clara Maria Fiorentini. She is a lecturer in initial teacher education at Marino Institute of Education, Dublin, specializing in literacy and early childhood education. Formerly a primary school teacher, Clara also provides ongoing professional development for primary teachers and early childhood educators in the areas of literacy, children's literature, playful pedagogy, and school transitions. Clara is currently in the final year of her Ph.D. research where she is studying current trends in Irish preschool literacy practices at Trinity College, Dublin. Clara has been an executive committee member of the Literacy Association of Ireland for the past five years and is the incoming president of the association for 2024. She has been the face behind the popular Irish teaching blog claramariafiorentini.com since 2014. A proud read-aloud advocate, Clara is passionate about the use of high-quality children's literature in the classroom to support engaging literacy instruction and the meaningful contextualization of literacy skills across the primary years. That all sounds so wonderful. We are thrilled to have you here with us. Welcome, Clara.
[00:02:53] Clara Fiorentini: Thank you so much, Kate. I'm delighted to be here.
[00:02:56] Kate Winn: I reached out to you because I saw your amazing slides for a presentation that you did on the novel in the primary classroom, and we're going to dig really deeply into that here today. But I know that primary in Ireland means something a little different than primary does here in Ontario. So first, can we just clarify what age range are you speaking about when you say primary?
[00:03:15] Clara Fiorentini: Yes. So primary school in Ireland is when children are the school-going age up until 6th class. So it's eight years of primary school. So usually from five to twelve years, we have junior infants and senior infants, and then we move on to first, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th class. Literacy is broken into four different stages, stages one to four. So stages one is the infants, stage two is first and second. Stage three is third and fourth, and stage four is 5th and 6th. In the past couple of years, well, I suppose the past decade especially, we've had significant redevelopment of our early childhood education. So due to the introduction of two free preschool years, 96% of children in Ireland now attend preschool, which means that our school starting age is increasing. Children were usually very young. Starting school in Ireland maybe just turned four, some even three in the month of September just to get bums on seats.
But now our infants are getting those two years of preschool, so they're at least five, usually starting school. There's very few children, four now. But that novel webinar that I was hosting that you happen to be at, which I just find mind-blowing, that was pitched at stages three and four. So third to 6th class. But that's not to say, obviously you can't use novels with younger children as well.
[00:04:35] Kate Winn: Great. One of your slides was just packed with the benefits of using novels with classes in this age range. Can you just share some of those benefits?
[00:04:45] Clara Fiorentini: Sure. I always say that these lists aren't exhaustive, though. But I suppose when I'm talking about using novels, I'm talking about teachers using them to their own advantage to teach and contextualize so many of those key literacy skills. We know that continuum is so, so broad. I feel that as teachers we can be really good at teaching the skills, but often it's the meaningful application of the skills that can be lacking. I think it's Wiley Blevins that says that it's in the application where the learning sticks. We know that a literature rich curriculum has been shown to improve reading and writing skills. So we can use all our talk and discussion around the novel as a springboard into lots of things like building the children's background knowledge, their content knowledge, but also helping build that reading motivation as well, because they're getting the experience where they're finishing a text from start to finish as opposed to just snippets of text.
We can use novels, obviously, to expose the children to high quality, sophisticated and academic vocabulary, but also really dive into the word study there as well.
So many things that we can do in terms of writing skills. I mentioned dialogue already, but also, I suppose, exposing the children to opportunities to build and develop their little imaginations as well. I'm a big believer in trying to create that community of reading in the classroom as well. And I think through a novel you can facilitate so much lovely talk and dialogue and really use that novel as the springboard for much of that community building as well. Also our critical thinking, like, there's so much that arises in a high quality novel that we can use if we stop and talk about these things for the children's critical thinking development as well. And I suppose as well, depending on what we're reading, we can expose them to such a wide variety of genres and text as well. And I suppose we could spend all day talking about how we can use novels for comprehension materials or for comprehension skill and strategy development as well. And I suppose creating that kind of sense of comprehension as well, as opposed to just seeing it as little isolated skills. Just a few!
[00:06:49] Kate Winn: Just a few good reasons to use them. We know that when it comes to kids and reading, quantity actually matters. Could you just touch on the reason for that and how novels can help?
[00:07:00] Clara Fiorentini: Yeah, I think the easiest way to think about this is by going back to the Matthew effect, and I know that's used a lot when we're talking about reading achievement, I suppose, in general, and literacy achievement. But if we just scale it back and think about the children who read the most are going to be the children who have the most progress in their reading. Children who read even just at least 20 minutes a day are exposed to 2 million more words by the end of the year than the children who don't. And that has a huge impact on things like vocabulary, their comprehension, their concentration, and many of those complex and higher level academic skills that we're trying to foster on a daily basis in the classroom. And we know as well that the amount of reading that children do outside school is going to vary enormously.
Our most voracious readers at ten years of age read more than 4 million words per year, and that's nearly 100 times more than that of what other readers of the same age do.
And I suppose that's your Matthew effect coming back into play. The stronger readers read more words. Reading more words makes you a stronger reader, and it's that kind of vicious cycle. And the more quality literature that we can use in the classroom, the better. And that's where our novels come in. We can read many different types of novels across the year. We can delve into many types of genres, many issues, many emotions, but ultimately many literacy learning opportunities as well.
[00:08:24] Kate Winn: And what about in those earliest grades? So here, what we would call kindergarten, grade one, grade two, grade three, kind of before the audience that you were targeting, maybe with your original presentation, is reading novels allowed to the students appropriate, beneficial there? What are your thoughts on that? Before they can independently read chapter books, novels on their own?
[00:08:41] Clara Fiorentini: Yeah, absolutely. We're not going to launch Little Women at our five year olds, but that's not to say we can't begin reading novels or chapter books or even little novelettes aloud to younger children. I did it myself when I taught junior infants.
I have a five year old myself now at home who's definitely not reading conventionally yet. But he has a huge interest in books, and he's fortunate that I own a lot of books and that reading together will take priority over many other things, such as housework and laundry. And I'm okay with that.
But for his birthday last July, for example, a friend of mine gifted him a David Walliams book, Robodog, which is a chapter book. It's got minimal illustrations. It's a big, chunky book. And I looked at it and I thought, oh, that's lovely, but I'll put it on the shelf because we won't be looking at that for a while. But no, what drew him to the book actually was something that he associated with some of his picture books, and that was the dust jacket. So by taking off the dust jacket, he was so excited by what he found underneath and was really keen that we read it and we read a chapter a night along with his normal picture books and whatnot for a couple of weeks. And he adored it. And it's just about, I suppose, how you read it.
And I think it's another great way of modeling sophisticated language if they're able to listen into it. And I think it's about the right book. And for me, if you're starting with the younger children, it does need to be something funny, something humourous, and we can build up. We're not going to read a novel aloud in the first week of school. But after the first couple of months of plenty of picture books and plenty of interesting informational texts and plenty of read aloud, that it's just another text to read aloud. And if we need to, we can beam up some images on our interactive whiteboards or use some posters of characters or whatever they need, because obviously each class is different.
[00:10:32] Kate Winn: Well, I'm glad that you approve of the idea of the reading aloud the novels. That is something that I do in my kindergarten class, and I actually started doing it a couple of years ago to try to take advantage of snack time, because we do whole group snack time, and certainly at lunch, they get lots of chance to eat and chat together and that sort of thing. But at our morning and afternoon snacks, I thought, I want to try to maximize this time. So I started reading chapter books. And so, of course, at other times of the day, we're still reading those beautiful picture books and nonfiction texts and all of that stuff as well, and they're getting an opportunity to see the images. But I find at snack time, when I'm just kind of walking around holding a novel and I don't have to be showing everybody all the pictures and that sort of thing, it's helpful. But a tip that I will give to teachers who are listening is, as you were mentioning, choose using the text carefully, because I know where I got to at the end of June, which is when our school year ends. And then in September, I kind of chose a book along the same lines. And then I realized, oh, no, these kids are a year younger than the kids I just had. They are not ready for this book yet. Right. So it has to be sort of those short, snappy kind of chapters and something that's really going to keep them going. But I found that to be a great strategy to get in some more of that reading time with the students.
[00:11:41] Clara Fiorentini: Yeah, absolutely. And it's all about seizing those informal moments across the day and the snack time. That's a great time for reading aloud, I always found.
[00:11:51] Kate Winn: Once children should, and I'm saying this with air quotes, should be able to read novels. So sort of that grade range you were targeting. What if reading something at the level of a novel is still too hard for certain children? Is it still okay to give them something like that? Challenge it? How do you scaffold? What are your thoughts there?
[00:12:08] Clara Fiorentini: Yes. So there's often that kind of fear of challenging text and that kind of, I suppose, what's a misconception now that we have to constantly read at that just right level? But if everything is just right. When are we ever going to get to meaningfully apply or practice skills? And I think despite there being plenty of really good research on this, there's still a lot of those kind of misconceptions around challenging text. But if we as teachers are serious about reading achievement, even for the children, who you might think a particular novel is a little bit hard for, we have to look at how we're reading it, what we're reading it, and how we can support or scaffold that child. We need texts that challenge us. We need to think of learning to read as much, much more than just being able to read words to make the right sounds. Because ultimately, learning to read has been equipping children with the skills and the strategies to be able to deal with text content and text features as well. And again, it's going back to knowing the text, yes, but also knowing your class and anticipating where they're going to need a little bit of help here and there. When we use complex text, that's what facilitates learning, not just for the readers we might be concerned about, but also for our most advanced readers as well. Timothy Shanahan talks about that kind of tripping up stage, but we as teachers shouldn't fear that the children are going to trip up, because for us it's about preempting the obstacles sometimes, and planning is key there. But as well, knowing what to do when the obstacles maybe do arise, it's much, much better to pitch a text high and provide that support and scaffolding than to lower expectations with less demanding texts.
Most children will learn to read equally well with texts that are challenging. But obviously, again, it comes back to what we do with that, and that's where our differentiation comes into play as well. And reading a class together, or reading a class novel together, teaching the children at once with a novel that can be done with our professional judgment as well, with little tweaks here and there to support unique needs where they might arise. And there's a fear sometimes as well, that challenging texts will be demotivating for children, but there's actually no evidence to support that at all. Perhaps, maybe if the teacher is not supporting the child who might need that little bit of support, obviously that's going to be demotivating. But that's our job. That's where we're supposed to jump in and talk as well. Talking about the things that are challenging is really, really important. And that's, I think, one of the things that I enjoyed the most about working with novels at the senior end of primary school, was that the talk that emerged from it and the things, the little things that we maybe were tripping up on, that's what we talked about.
And that it's okay to point out the things we don't understand. And I suppose that goes down to your classroom culture as well.
[00:15:05] Kate Winn: Yes, for sure. So I can remember as a student, and then even in my early years of my career, the novel study was very much everybody has the same book. And I know there was like a central library for the school board and teachers would get online and try to book their novels to have the kits for the certain number of weeks they needed them and all of that. But then the idea of the whole class reading the same novel sort of seemed to fall out of favor. So is that something that you're still kind of recommending or recommending we maybe re implement? Is everybody reading the same novel? And then how do you think it's best read? I mean, is the teacher doing some read aloud? Is it just assigned independent reading? How do you feel about audiobooks, that sort of thing? What's sort of the best way to go about?
[00:15:46] Clara Fiorentini: Yeah, well, I definitely think we need a mix, but I'm a big advocate for using a class novel and obviously connecting as much of our learning as possible to do that. And we're able to do that in Ireland because we teach all the subjects. I know in different countries we might have specialist teachers for literacy or numeracy or whatever, but you'll hear nobody shouting louder about read alouds than me. At times, my student teachers, my family, my colleagues can definitely attest to that. So definitely, yes, the teacher reading aloud from the class novel is crucial. But with our older readers, particularly from eight and onwards, we have to make sure that we're providing that time for sustained reading.
We can change it up. We might have the children reading independently. They might be paired or small groups, but that sustained independent reading is so important because as they become more fluent, that listening or learning by listening to reading is surpassed by reading for meaning. And they have to get to that stage where they're learning about grammar and words and knowledge of words and understanding of words through reading as well.
And I suppose that whole idea of teaching children to read to a high standard for the child ultimately to move from a novice to an expert reader, that all depends on independent reading as well. So we have to make sure we're facilitating that. And again, it's going back to you, the teacher, and knowing who needs you. So if you are assigning - what I used to do was I would always begin by reading aloud, and then I might assign a certain amount of text for the children to read, and then I'd come back in and read some more. But again, it's about knowing who needs you while that independent reading is happening. I'm not over correcting copies or getting the next bundle of work ready that I'm working with those who do need me or who I might ask them to whisper read for me or whatever it is.
And just a note on the audiobooks as well. Like the audiobook industry is booming, and that's proof that read alouds are not dying out or never will. But I think in the classroom, we just need to be mindful with the audiobooks too. They can be really useful, obviously, for independent work or even a small listening station. But nothing replaces you, the teacher, because the audiobook can't answer your questions. When we do have those tripping moments, the audiobook might necessarily have the same pauses that you, the teacher, might anticipate or want to build in. Can't give you the chats, and the audiobook obviously can't read the room either as well.
[00:18:21] Kate Winn: Thank you. You offer some great advice on how to choose novels for the classroom and the idea of moving away from, as you call them, tired texts. So can you speak to this? The whole idea of how to choose texts and maybe avoiding those tired ones?
[00:18:36] Clara Fiorentini: Yeah, I suppose this comes back from my work as a teacher educator and dealing with students who are going out in placement a lot and been asked to use particular texts or finding it hard to introduce new texts because we have particular trends in Ireland of sticking with certain texts for certain age groups or whatever. And it's not just something that happens in Ireland. Teresa Kreman in the UK has done a lot of work on this as well. And I suppose there are trends that kind of show that we as teachers can fall into habits and routines that often lead to a reliance on particular texts and that can sometimes lead to stagnant experiences as well. And I suppose one thing that I want to stress is that it's not a question of quality of books, it's sometimes just recognizing our habits and choices, and sometimes we're not actually even making choices with our text. We're just reading them because they're what's on the shelf or they're what's on the yearly plan that we've been passed on. And I suppose it's important to remember that classic texts will always have a place, but the classic texts can't dominate as well. And we do have a professional duty to reflect and think about what's dictating our choices and make sure that the texts that we're reading, I suppose, reflect the diversity of the children in front of us, the world that we live in today, and that we're just being mindful that we have a responsibility as reading teachers. And I love that phrase, that we're teachers who read and readers who teach. But really, if we're teachers who read, we need to be mindful of children's literature and reading children's literature and know that our knowledge of text influences our teaching, but also influences what we can offer and choose to children as well. And I suppose it's about making mindful text choices as humans.
I don't know what the official terms are, but it goes back to the Stone Age and being afraid of the unknown and sticking with safe things. So our brains do these things where we kind of rely on the familiarity principle, or it's known as the mere exposure effect. So we prefer things that we've been exposed to in the past that are safe, and that actually has an influence on our choices as teachers as well. We pick the books that we know. So whether know Matilda or the Hungry Caterpillar, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, because we know those and we feel that they're safe choices. But I suppose it's just been mindful of that as well, that if we want to motivate children to return to reading, we have to make sure that we're not just picking texts because we enjoyed them as children, that we're picking texts that they can relate to and that reflect contemporary experiences for them, too. But that's not to say we should never read the old text, but we can use the familiar to guide our choices, as, you know, looking at text and saying, okay, well, if I enjoyed Matilda, are there other books like Matilda maybe, that I could lean into with my class?
[00:21:29] Kate Winn: And you call those read-alikes, which I think is really neat. So when you take sort of that classic or maybe something that might be a little more tired that we're just doing because it's safer familiar to us, we can think about the read-alikes. So could you give an example, maybe, of that, like, a classic book and what some read-alikes might be?
[00:21:45] Clara Fiorentini: Yeah.
An obvious one is Harry Potter. I know 1997 is not that long ago. Well, for me it's not. I know some of my students, they didn't even exist then, but Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, it's still a really popular text. To use in kind of that middle to late stage of primary school. But again, while it's a great text, and I've always enjoyed the Harry Potter series, there are so many other contemporary fantasy books like that that we can offer to the children as well. And none better than like, the Amari series, which I know has been doing really well but isn't as common maybe in classrooms, or like even Matilda, that was published in 1988, still a really popular one in the classroom. But there's the Matilda Effect by Ellie Irvine, which was published in 2017, which obviously is a nod to the original text, but is maybe a little bit more relatable for children today. Or if we know that children maybe have enjoyed some of those classics, that we can use our teacher knowledge of text to offer similar texts like that.
And the same applies to our picture books as well, just using the familiar to guide our choices.
[00:23:01] Kate Winn: And is there anywhere teachers can go? Is there a website? Is there a reference to kind of find ideas of instead of using this, here are some ideas you can use.
[00:23:10] Clara Fiorentini: That's a good question. I think the teacher social media space can be a great place to start. There's no one set list, but I suppose there's lots. What I would do, obviously, I read a lot of children's literature myself, but what I would do is I tend to not look so much at what's in the charts, the children's literature charts, because what we find is that, again, it's a lot of the tired texts dominating the charts. Or like, what was a real bugbear for me was like, for almost a year here in Ireland, Peppa Pig Goes to Ireland was like the top selling children's book. So no offense to Peppa, there are other great books out there, but I think it's about, if you link in with the UK or the reading for pleasure resources from the Open University, they have such an amazing bank of materials that are free to access for teachers.
There are educators on there, like I mentioned, Teresa Kremen and John Bedell, who are constantly sharing great literature. And there's the CLPE work as well over in the UK, where they do studies every year on the increasing diversity within texts, and they list lots of contemporary texts as well. I find that's really useful and even just, I suppose, keeping an eye on hashtags. Like in Ireland, we have a great hashtag at the moment, Discover Irish Kids Books, where we're seeing a great drive for kind of making Irish children's literature a little bit more known and giving it a better space online and things like the hashtag read aloud, read aloud revival, those types of hashtags. You find all sorts of amazing literature there too. And talking to your teacher friends.
[00:24:50] Kate Winn: Yes, absolutely. What would you say is the value in using novels or complete text as opposed to extracts? Because obviously you could expose kids to more authors and more different aspects if you're using extracts. But I know that you feel strongly that there's a place for whole novels. And why is that?
[00:25:09] Clara Fiorentini: Yeah, there's always, like, it's fine to use extracts every so often, but watch that extracts aren't the only thing that children are reading. And I know that's something I get up on my high horse about a lot, but there's a real kind of preponderance of reading anthologies that kind of dominate the texts that are used, particularly in Irish classrooms. I can't speak to everywhere, but I know it's kind of commonplace globally. We have these books for the senior end of school, which have snippets or extracts, kind of decontextualized chunks of text. And while they're fine and they won't harm your most capable readers, it's actually a kind of frustrating approach for shared reading and reading instruction. And Michael Lockwood, a literacy researcher in the UK, argues that there's this kind of worrying case of extractitis, which is spreading rapidly because we're rearing our older primary readers on this diet of text fragments, as opposed to actually giving them the chance to experience a beginning and an end of a text. Because sometimes if you don't have those, maybe finally developed inference skills and those higher levels of comprehension, it can be quite challenging to just launch into reading something when you don't have the beginning or you don't get the satisfaction of the end as well. And we want readers to experience that feeling of hoping your book will never end, and a series of extracts are certainly not going to afford that kind of emotional connection. And reading then can become something that we associate more as work or a chore, and more likely to kind of feel flat and boring or a little bit vapid because there's no incentive to return to it. It's that kind of one-and-done approach. Whereas I would argue that reading a novel is an experience, and if you're reading it from start to finish, you're unable to gain a deeper understanding of characters, how they change, how we mightn't like them. Think of Professor Snape.
We all kind of had assumptions about him, and then it changed completely right at the very end.
Children are more likely to become invested and to persevere with what's happening next or what might happen next. When we give them the chance to actually see what the next is, it opens them up to all sorts of things like plotting and links and links between opening and endings that you would kind of struggle to create if you don't have the examples there. And we want the children to get to that stage where they're using their reading experiences to inspire their own writing, too. And also, when we're reading texts, whole texts, like a novel, we're giving them a chance to gently be introduced to lovely, sophisticated vocabulary, but in a way that the words are made clearer and more memorable because we're seeing their contextual use over the course of a full text.
[00:27:58] Kate Winn: In terms of responding to these novels that we are reading, what are some examples and non-examples of meaningful response tasks? For example, I know you have mentioned maybe cutting back on the dioramas and that sort of thing if we want meaningful responses. So what can you tell us about that?
[00:28:16] Clara Fiorentini: Yeah, again, I suppose this goes back to trying to use our time as widely as possible, or as wisely as possible. And I know in Ireland we don't have a minute to waste when it comes to our literacy instructional time. We don't have a very big literacy block. It's quite tight. And if we think about how broad that continuum of literacy skills is, we have to be careful with what we're doing. And while things like dioramas, character sketches, cover sketches, the dreaded chapter summary, they're nice, they're not harming anyone, but not necessarily the best use of our time. So I would be encouraging a lot more dialogue, talking about what we've just read, looking at our chapters and seeing where the opportunities are for meaningful word study and vocabulary learning and close reading and sustained reading as well, going back and reading things, rereading paragraphs where we need to, and maybe having specific tasks for that. And I suppose meaningful opportunities for connection making and visualizing, but thinking about those more complex skills, like being able to anticipate, think retrospectively, and evaluate as well. And those are things that we can't just do by building a diorama and spending two weeks painting it and sculpting and so on. Again, nice, but I don't know if we've time for that.
[00:29:41] Kate Winn: No, and if you are also the art teacher and maybe that's a little piece of your art, that's great. But I totally see your point about using that literacy block for valuable literacy instruction. This is kind of related to what I just asked. But again, I can remember with these classic novel studies, the chapter questions, right? Like read chapter one, and here's your chapter one questions. Read chapter two. Here are the chapter two questions.
How can we best support comprehension? Or also even the piece of assessing comprehension? Like, what kind of products can we be asking for? We don't want those chapter questions anymore, I'm assuming the same way as maybe I did them when I was a kid.
[00:30:18] Clara Fiorentini: Yeah, because we can do a lot of those orally. That's what can be the starting point for our dialogue. And I suppose when we think about those kind of, even the recount, the summary questions, they're really very micro. They fall into that kind of stage of microprocesses when we think about building meaning and building comprehension, there's a whole lot of processes of meaning that we need to consider, and we're often very good. And at teaching those microprocesses, they don't take much to master. The children generally grasp them quite quickly, and I find a lot of those kind of vapid exercises or comprehension exercises, or what we see labeled as comprehension exercises, often focus on those micro and nothing much else.
I tell my students that they're kind of the read and regurgitate type exercises. There's not a whole lot more to them. And we need to be thinking about the other processes, like integrative processes, like being able to integrate ideas between sentences and knowing how sentences connect or passages connect in text, thinking about the metacognitive side of things, being able to monitor their understanding. Did I understand what I was reading? What else do I need to do to help me with this? And the elaborative side of things, which is a tricky one, where they're bringing their prior knowledge and their inferencing together.
What do I know already that helps to connect to what I'm reading? And again, going towards those macro processes, their overall understanding as well, and thinking about not just what I understand about this, but what exactly was the author trying to get me to understand? Or what's the author pointing to here? What am I taking away from this?
When it comes to kind of comprehension instruction around text as well? I always recommend looking at what the research is telling us. And even recently, I think it was 2021. We had an amazing article by Nell Duke, Alessandra Ward, I think, and David Pearson on the science of reading comprehension instruction, I think it was called. And within that, they created this really simple little table with six points around effective comprehension instruction.
Know that comprehension instruction should begin early, that it's important that we link it to teaching text structures and text features, which I'm pretty sure I mentioned already, that we link it to vocabulary and knowledge building. That strategy instruction is important, but obviously isn't the only thing it can support our reading comprehension.
But it also lists that we need to think about volume reading, which ties in nicely with novels, with text discussion and analysis, which obviously is to do with more dialogue and actually close reading and deep diving into text, but also writing about what we're reading as well. And that's not just answering those kind of little questions.
And also it talks about the importance of instructional practices that kindle motivation and how they feed into comprehension as well. And I feel like what I encourage teachers to do and what I do with my student teachers is that we take that model, I just pull it out into a little table, and we look at maybe one of those little kind of flat comprehension exercises, and then we look at a novel that we've been studying and see how each of those six components can be fulfilled or maybe aren't fulfilled. And then what we do is we pull it out and we can use that for literally any text. We can use it for a picture book. We can use it for an informational text or a chapter book or a novel as well. And I find it's a really useful, simple model that teachers can use to actually plan meaningfully for comprehension instruction. And I think as well, with comprehension, we can't underestimate that kind of importance of just rereading something. Nobody's going to die because we have to reread a paragraph just to actually dive a little bit deeper. We've all had that experience where we've been reading something, and I certainly can relate to it with academic literature, where you read through a paragraph and you just think, what did I just read? And that's the case for a lot of the children when they're reading these more complex texts as well. So just going back over and reading something together again and talking about it to make sure that we're giving them that chance for that sustained analysis of something and helping them see it as normal to reread, and that we as adults or we as fluent readers do things like that as well, that it's normal to check for meaning and to check our understanding.
[00:35:01] Kate Winn: In your presentation that you did, you talked about the idea of using a novel as an anchor text that can then be supported by other texts. I really like this idea. Can you talk about that a little bit, please?
[00:35:09] Clara Fiorentini: Yeah. And I think it's pretty commonplace to use maybe a picture book in the younger years as an anchor text. And really, we can do the exact same with a novel and a whole lot more. And again, I suppose that's going back to working with student teachers and helping them show how that they contextualize a lot of their instruction by putting a text at the center and letting that be the springboard for learning. For me, just making something an anchor tech means that we're helping children deeply engage with whatever the idea of that text is, but connect it to other things as well. We're not really meant to read things in complete isolation. We hear so much about that kind of importance of intertextuality. So, for example, if I was reading a text like The Boy at the Back of the Class and that was my anchor text, I would also make sure that I was reading that's about a child. It's got a fabulous twist in the tail.
It's about a child who joins a school in the UK, having been in a refugee camp for a while, and life has been quite traumatic. But then we would obviously read other texts about those types of experiences as well. So I might read the picture book, The Journey by Francesca Sanna, but then I might also read some poetry about migration or refugees. I might read some informational texts, but then I might read another novel afterwards as well, maybe a shorter one that gives the children that chance to transfer the learning across as well. But I suppose it's about thinking about their literacy learning and their reading instruction in a much broader way, as opposed to, that's just something that happens over here, but also it's actually something that's connected to everything else that we're doing as well. It's anchoring the learning, I suppose.
[00:36:59] Kate Winn: And I love that idea too, of still incorporating picture books, even in those older grades as well. Right. And I mean, picture books, I think sometimes people forget the rich language and the ideas that can still be in those, that can benefit older readers compared to maybe like an early reader chapter book, which is going to be just written more for decodability. And it's pretty simple. Reading a picture book with these older children is still a really rich thing to do. So I really like that idea of kind of that novel as an anchor and then incorporating other types of text.
You also have talked about this really neat idea called a book tasting. So can you tell us what is a book tasting, why we would do that, and how to maybe run one in our own classrooms?
[00:37:41] Clara Fiorentini: Yeah. Now, I cannot claim the idea for book tastings. I don't know where I came across it. It's been something that I've been doing for years as a teacher myself.
It's highly possible that I probably came across it through the reading for pleasure resources from the UK again. But ultimately it's exactly what it says it is. It's hosting a book tasting in your classroom where you offer loads of books for the children.
You can set the room up like a little cafe or a restaurant if you want. Some people do Starbucks, where it's like a little coffee shop. I lean into the book buffet model and with my Italian heritage, I play some nice Italian-themed music.
And yeah, you can do it with any types of text. I tend to start with the picture books because the children can read from start to finish. I've used this with all age groups. You set your intentions or whatever, that we're going to read for maybe 30, 40 minutes. The whole idea is that you just enjoy your texts. But obviously, if you want, you can set some little tasks for the children as well, that they might record the name of the books that they enjoyed or a friend that they might like to recommend it to. With the older children, it was a nice way as well of introducing novels or getting them interested in maybe novels that they might choose themselves to borrow and read. So we would do a first chapter Friday every so often, or a first chapter feast where they would have a look at some novels, read the first chapter, decide if they wanted to keep it, or maybe look for another one.
Again, it's just about celebrating literature, celebrating reading. It feeds into that lovely kind of culture of reading in the classroom. And I can honestly say, once you do one, the children will constantly remind you and ask you to do another one, just as my student teachers do as well.
We can map it to many of our learning outcomes for what we have as the primary language curriculum over here. But again, it's promoting and facilitating that lovely, sustained reading experience as well. If you really want to think about it and tweak it, you can make it all around a theme. If you were maybe doing a unit of work on the sea, then all your books could be about the sea and sea animals and sea life and so on, or maybe famous explorers.
I suppose what I like about it as well is that it's playful, it's interactive, it's dialogic, it's fun, but ultimately it gets books into the hands of children and you can set the scene with little tablecloths and place settings. And we have battery-powered candles, which we light every so often.
It all depends on how intuitive you want to go. On my website, I do have getting to grips with book tastings, which is just a little blog post detailing how it works and all the little placemats and things are there free to download if anybody's interested.
[00:40:34] Kate Winn: This has been so fantastic to hear you talk all about this. It's almost making me wish I were in an older grade right now because I feel like, yes, I've got my little chapter book read aloud at snack time, but I'm thinking about all these amazing things we can do with novels to support our students. Before I let you go, what are you working on now? Where can we find you? Let us know.
[00:40:53] Clara Fiorentini: Well, yeah, well, I'm supposed to be finishing my data collection at the moment that's ongoing, hoping to wrap that up soon. But I am quite active on social media, Instagram mainly. You can find me at Clara Maria Fiorentini. I am on X as well. It's just Fiorentini_CM as you find me. Kate, it was through a webinar. I do plenty of webinars. I think that was one of the perks of the pandemic that the webinar model really took off, which has just helped a lot with accessible CPD, especially in Ireland. A lot of our teachers are in quite remote areas and getting out to courses in the evening.
It isn't always straightforward.
So I have some webinars coming up for 2024. Dates will be released soon enough and I'll share those on my social media and my website as well. Probably most excitingly for me is that I'm the incoming president of the Literacy Association of Ireland this year, which is a huge honour, and we're always trying to increase our reach. We've been around for 50 years almost.
You can find everything about the Literacy Association of Ireland via the website literacyireland.com. We have a Twitter and an Instagram page as well, and generally we'll have a few webinars or fireside chats coming up. But I suppose our main event is that we have a conference every November, and we do like visitors and we do tend to have people who will travel across various ponds to join us.
So you can keep an eye out for that and any coverage of that too, in the late spring. And that's really it. Kate, thank you so much.
[00:42:30] Kate Winn: Amazing. So, Clara Maria Fiorentini, thank you so much for being with us, talking about the novel in the classroom. We appreciate you being here.
[00:42:38] Clara Fiorentini: Thank you so much.
[00:42:40] 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 seven with Clara Fiorentini. 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 for a growing podcast. 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. And in case you haven't seen it, we are randomly choosing listeners who share their episode takeaways on Twitter or yes, I know I'm supposed to call it X and sending them Reading Road Trip stickers too. Make sure you're following the Reading Toad Trip podcast in your app and watch for new episodes dropping every Monday.
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 to IDA Ontario, 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.