Friday, April 29, 2016

Jennifer Serravallo's The Reading Strategies Book

This week I attended a half-day session on Jennifer Serravallo's The Reading Strategies Book.

Rather than offer a lot of new information, the session provided a new perspective on a few things for me. This post is not a walk through of all of the goals or each chapter in the book, but rather a summary of the important ideas I took from the training.

There are several Reading Strategies blog book studies out there. I have listed just a few below. Check them out for more information on specific goals.
Literacy Loving Gals
My First Grade Happy Place
The Reading Strategies Book Club
Digital: Divide & Conquer

Skills vs. Strategies

Serravallo begins by pointing out the difference between skills and strategies. She defines strategies as "deliberate, effortful, intentional, and purposeful actions a reader takes to accomplish a specific task or skill" (Serravallo, 2010, 11-12). She calls it a step-by-step procedure that puts the students' work in "doable terms." She says it should help them become more comfortable and competent with a new skill.

Skills are what the student needs to learn. For example- sequencing, inferring, fluency, synthesizing, etc. Strategies are the series of actionable steps students use to help them break down the skill in order to learn it.

Important to Note- Oftentimes, I think we use the terms skills and strategies interchangeably and talk about them as if they are the same when they are actually two different terms.

My Favorite Point- This is my favorite point that Serravallo makes about strategies- Strategies are not a means to an end. They are a temporary scaffold that eventually needs to be removed.

"The objective is not that the reader can do the steps of the strategy, rather that the strategy helps them be more skilled" (Serravallo, 2015, 9).

Something to Think About- Do you require your students to walk step-by-step through strategies that have become automatic or do you allow them to "outgrow" the strategy?

Goals and Assessment

So... how do you know which goal to start with?

Goals start with assessment. You need to match the right goal to the right reader. To help with this, each chapter starts with an overview of what the goal is, whom the goal is appropriate for, and how to assess students with the goal in mind.

Important to Note- John Hattie (2009) synthesized thousands of research studies and concluded that goals paired with teacher feedback make one of the greatest differences on student achievement and progress.

Possible Tools for Assessment
- formative assessments
- reading logs
- engagement inventories
- reading interest surveys
- reading levels

Another possible tool- You will need a text you are extremely familiar with. Have students read the text or read the text aloud to them. Then have students jot down a question, wondering, or thought. Take up the sticky notes and sort them into groups- "deep," "deeper," and "deepest." What can you learn from your students' thinking?

The goals in the book are categorized in a hierarchy of sorts.  

Emergent Reading- for those who are not yet reading conventionally

Engagement- students have to want to read and to have focus and stamina in order to progress

Print Work- students need to have strategies to be able to read words

Fluency- students need to be able to read with automaticity, intonation, and expression

Comprehension- Students need to understand what they are reading and be able to talk about it

While writing and talking about reading are very important, they come last in the hierarchy because it's hard for students to write and talk about their reading if they don't understand the text.

Prompting and Guiding Readers

Some argue that everything you choose to teach requires a lengthy demonstration (Barnhouse & Vinton, 2012; Johnston, 2004). Instead, Serravallo suggests a 12-15 minute lesson. Get in, anchor the learning, and get out.

Show students how. Get out. Let them practice.

Important to Note- We, the teachers, have to stop doing all of the talking. Hence the "get in, get out" and let them practice statement. If we are doing all of the talking, we are doing all of the thinking and learning.

A Simple Teaching Plan-
1) activate engagement, link, and teach
2) coach into a child
3) One-on-one conference with students
4) take notes on what you are seeing and hearing

Hattie's research (2009) shows that feedback connected to a visible goal has the potential to bring about enormous positive results for the student

Feedback can take many forms- 
directive (directs the reader to try something)
redirection (names what the reader is doing and redirects him to try a new strategy)
sentence starter (gives the reader a question or prompt to respond to)

Important to Note- It is often more effective to start with a lower level of support  and work up to more support as needed (Marie Clay, 1993)- within the lesson or across several lessons gradually decrease the amount of support

Supporting Strategies Using Visuals

1) help readers remember strategies
2) help the strategies to stick in their minds
3) helps readers internalize them and make them their own

Check out These Great Resources for Charts- chartchums (a blog focused on making smarter charts) and the book Smarter Charts by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz.

Characteristics of Helpful Charts
- they are clear and simple
- are low on text
- use icons and pictures
- are age appropriate
- have clear headings

Important to Note- Sometime we need to "retire" charts. Once the strategy on a chart becomes second nature for students, then it is no longer needed on the wall. Charts are not meant to become wallpaper.

The strategies at a glance pages make the book really easy to use. Once you determine a goal for a student, you can look for strategies with the chapter. 

Important to Note- Introduce one strategy at a time. Guide the student in practicing the strategy. Move on to a new strategy once the child appears skilled with the first one. 

Another important idea that Serravallo points out is to keep strategies generalizable. Don't refer to specific parts or pages of the text. You do half the thinking when you do so. Keep it simple. Use fewer words. The prompts in the book will help you do this. 

For a sample of the book and other resources check out Heinemann's Reading Strategies Book page here.


  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing the information in this book. Smiles, Jayne
    Smart Kids

  2. I'm so glad you are back blogging!! I loved your blog as a first year teacher, and now as a 6th year teacher I enjoy it just as much. :)


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