01-Taylor-45028.qxd8/11/20066:23 PMPage 11The Fail-SafeClassroomImproving Reading, Writing,and Content LearningINTRODUCTIONWith release of The National Reading Panel Report (National Institute ofChild Health and Human Development [NICHD], 2000) and the responsefrom the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), there has been arenewed focus on literacy learning initially in the primary grades andmore recently in Grades 4 through 12. In the primary grades, studentsare learning to read. In contrast, in Grades 4 through 12, students areexpected to read to learn content, and yet there are students who still needto learn to read and to read their content texts to access the standards-basedcurriculum. Many teachers from Grades 4 through 12 are frustrated intheir teaching of mathematics, science, social studies, health, technology,and electives since the students have difficulty reading the textbooks,which are often written above grade level. A fourth-grade teacher recentlyshared with me that she conducted a readability test on the fourth-gradesocial studies book and found that it was at the tenth-grade level. Nowonder the students have such a difficult time!This issue continues in middle school and high school, where independence in accessing content text is expected to a greater degree. Providingsupport to address this concern, Biancarosa and Snow (2004) identified a1

01-Taylor-45028.qxd8/11/20066:23 PMPage 22 Improving Reading, Writing, and Content Learning for Studentscritical element of effective adolescent literacy programs as “effectiveinstructional principles embedded in content, including language artsteachers using content-area texts and content-area teachers providinginstruction and practice in reading and writing skills specific to theirsubject area” (p. 4). The emphasis on improving reading, writing, andcontent learning in Grades 4 through 12 and teachers’ needs for a doablesystematic approach—regardless of grade or subject matter taught—arethe focus of this text.Although some of the examples and strategies found in the text maystretch some paradigms, they are based in research and proven in practiceworking with teachers in diverse schools. As a result of using the ideas,teachers and students experienced more success on a daily basis, andschool data reflect higher student achievement overall.As an educational community, we have worked toward but notachieved the goal of NCLB of all children reading on grade level by the endof Grade 3, but we are slowly making progress. The Nation’s Report Card( identifies results of the 2005 NationalAssessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for both fourth and eighthgrades. From 1992 to 2005, nationally the percentage of fourth graderson or above Basic did not change significantly, but the percentage performing on or above Proficient increased. For eighth graders, there was anincrease in the percentage on or above Basic and no significant changein the percentage scoring at or above Proficient. Exacerbating the lack ofsignificant gain is that from 2003 to 2005, eighth-grade students lost2 points! The good news is that the average score for White, Black, andHispanic students increased and the achievement gap between White,Black, and Hispanic students decreased, although during the time periodmeasured numbers of Hispanic students increased. These NAEP datasupport the sense of urgency for all classrooms in Grades 4 through 12to support both literacy learning and content learning as much aspossible.There are many excellent teachers who accomplish this expectationevery day, and for them, this text should confirm their good work. For others,this text seeks to provide support and guidance and to be a source of reflection for continuous improvement. To begin the journey of creating and reinforcing classrooms that improve reading, writing, and content learning, let’sfirst reflect on excellent classrooms that we have known. These are classrooms where all students seem to thrive. These classrooms are fail-safe:Teachers create the environment and instructional experience for allstudents to maximize literacy learning and standards-based achievement.Close your eyes and visualize (use all the senses—see, hear, feel, smell,touch) one of those classrooms.

01-Taylor-45028.qxd8/11/20066:23 PMPage 3The Fail-Safe Classroom 3What did you see in the classroom?What were students doing?What did you hear?How was the classroom organized?Where was the teacher, and what was the teacher doing?The one I visualize is a seventh-grade social studies class wherestudents are reading and writing while learning about world cultures—improving all three at the same time.There are students all around the room, seemingly doing differentthings. A few are at their desks writing, trying to resolve something in the text that is puzzling them. Others are using theInternet to research the perceptions of their peers in othercountries. Two are in the back of the room practicing a PowerPointpresentation, The Middle-Level Years in Three Different Cultures,which will be shown on the school’s closed-circuit television system during the daily announcements. Three just came back intothe classroom after reading to younger students the book they hadwritten and illustrated, Tamales on Christmas. Five are sitting at atrapezoid table with the teacher, conferencing about their writingand receiving feedback from one another. Students seem happy,even joyful, although their work is at a high level. These studentswork hard, feel valued, and develop intellectually and socially in asafe, supportive environment where they use the literacy processesand strategies to achieve high levels of thinking.Jotting down your answers to the questions posed above will help youformalize your ideas of a fail-safe classroom for literacy and content learning. Before the optimally successful classroom for literacy and contentlearning is developed, we must know what it is and what it is not.ACADEMICALLY ANDPSYCHOLOGICALLY SAFE TO LEARNFail-safe classrooms for literacy development and content learning areacademically and psychologically safe. This means that they are supportive of all students working on standards-based meaningful and challenging work; that is, they have equal access to rigor.

01-Taylor-45028.qxd8/11/20066:23 PMPage 44 Improving Reading, Writing, and Content Learning for StudentsMost teachers will describe their classrooms as safe and supportive.Think beyond traditional conceptions of physical safety to “safety to learn.”Safe for each student means that each one has equal access to the standardsbased curriculum through incorporation of literacy processes and researchbased literacy strategies and experiences of the classroom. To achieve suchsafety, each student must be met where he or she is in the learning continuum (Tomlinson & Kalbfleisch, 1998) and provided the appropriatesupport, processes, and instructional resources to grow. Learning is differentiated, with some students getting different kinds of instruction anddifferent instructional resources. This aspect comes from the teacherconsidering three elements that are essential for creating the communityof learners, a condition of the fail-safe classroom. These essential elementsare the classroom community, the student, and the text resources.Classroom CommunityBasically, the classroom community is developed through consistentstudent-centered decisions on the part of the teacher. Eric Jensen(1998) suggests that such classrooms are absent of emotional threat,value relationship building, and have frequent feedback, clear goals,and choices for students. This classroom community makes it psychologically safe to learn. Students do not have the fear of put-downs orbeing laughed at by either other students or adults in the room.Incorrect answers are seen to be opportunities to think, to clarify, and tosupport a response rather than a negative response like, “NO!” Teacherswho create a community of learners first attend to developing the classroom community and getting to know the students. After those relationships have begun development, the teacher will turn his or herattention to the text to be studied.Classroom community motivates by including clear goals and byproviding reasonable choice for students in assignments and choice inshowing how much they have learned. Other evidence of a classroomcommunity is the literacy-rich, print-rich classroom. While some think ofprint rich as being purchased resources, classroom libraries, and professionally developed print, it also means the display of student work. Whena classroom is a community of learners, it is student owned. I can walkinto the classroom and immediately know what is being studied by the evidence of student literacy and content learning, displays of student work,and student products.StudentBy the time students reach upper elementary, middle, or high schoolthey display many different levels in their academic and literacy

01-Taylor-45028.qxd8/11/20066:23 PMPage 5The Fail-Safe Classroom 5backgrounds. They have learned or not learned many differentvocabularies, concepts, and skills. This is why building common background knowledge for all students is important. Those who know less arewell aware of their deficiencies and often feel neither emotionally noracademically safe unless the teacher infuses literacy strategies to scaffoldstudents to success (Graves & Fitzgerald, 2002). Creating success throughcareful scaffolding develops students’ personal motivation to achieve.Each student’s culture and economic status impact backgroundknowledge, vocabulary learning, and life experiences that either accelerate or make difficult comprehension. This is why building backgroundknowledge and explicit vocabulary instruction are essential (Irvin, 1998).Some classrooms embrace only certain cultures and economic backgrounds, but those that are academically and psychologically safe respectand consider as strength the diversity within a learning environment.Creating a safe, supportive environment means that every student feelssignificant and respected as an individual making progress toward competency as a learner.Text ResourcesThink of the worst teacher you have ever known and picture or visualize (using all your senses) this person in your head. Where did thisteacher begin on the first day of school each year, with the classroom community, the student, or the text? You are correct; the worst teachers beginby immediately assigning reading in the text in the name of rigor! In myexperience observing teachers for more than 30 years, I have seen thatthese teachers have lower student achievement and less rigorous evidenceof learning than the teachers who begin by getting to know the studentsand their academic backgrounds and by building the classroom community. As the teacher gets to know the students’ backgrounds related to thestandards-based content to be learned, he or she will be more strategic indeveloping appropriate instructional experiences for the students.When we think about text considerations, we first think about thestructure of the text. Good teachers in all grade levels and in all contentareas begin with strategically teaching students how to read the text,where to find important information, and how to learn without readingword for word. It is an erroneous assumption that even good studentsunderstand text organization as the teacher does. For example, teach thestudents to read headings, boldfaced words, and sidebars. Essential information is generally found in these areas. Teach students to preview thetext before attempting to read the paragraphs. Previewing means to readthe titles, headings, and sidebars. It also means to read the pictures, diagrams, maps, charts, and graphs (multiple-symbol systems).

01-Taylor-45028.qxd8/11/20066:23 PMPage 66 Improving Reading, Writing, and Content Learning for StudentsFigure 1.1Community of LearnersClassroom CommunityStudentTextAcademic andpsychological safetyBackground knowledgeVocabularyStructureMotivation:Choice, clear goalsLiteracy strategiesVocabularyLiteracy richPrint richPersonal motivationRespectful andrelevantStudent ownedCulture and economicstatusAccessible rigorUnderstanding strategies used by each text for introducing vocabulary and assisting with its acquisition are critical to providing access to thecontent. Each publisher may use a different technique for introducingvocabulary. Most will have key vocabulary highlighted or boldfaced. Thishelps little in science, where a chapter may have as many as 30 new vocabulary words!Well-selected texts have relevancy to and respectfulness of students.Historically, many texts have had biases and underrepresented many ofour students. Publishers are savvy to the changing student populations,so providing students with respectful, relevant instructional resources is afairly easy task, but one to be strategically addressed.Teachers who improve literacy learning provide relevant, respectfultexts supplementary to the core text in the content area. Newer editions ofliterature anthologies, science, and social studies texts have companiontexts and support materials for those students who read below grade level.These texts have explicit strategy support for comprehending the rigorouson-grade-level content standards. Providing access to the rigors of astandards-based curriculum begins with creating a community of learners.NONNEGOTIABLE EXPECTATIONSOF DAILY PRACTICEAlong with creating a community of learners, the fail-safe classroomsincorporate nonnegotiable expectations of daily practice to ensure equalaccess to both literacy development and content learning. Teacherswho are consistent with the expectations of daily practice have positivechanges in student achievement regardless of the grade or subject taught.

01-Taylor-45028.qxd8/11/20066:23 PMPage 7The Fail-Safe Classroom 7Figure 1.2Nonnegotiable Expectations of Daily Practice Classroom is print and literacy rich. Teacher uses the processes of literacy: reading, writing, speaking,listening, viewing, thinking, and communicating with multiple symbolsystems. Teacher reads to and with students on-grade-level texts. Teacher teaches, models, and practices strategies of expert readersand writers with students. Students read independently with accountability.SOURCES: Taylor & Collins, 2003; Taylor & Gunter, 2005.Nonnegotiable 1: Literacy-Richand Print-Rich ClassroomsIn the description of the academically and psychologically safe classroom, the first nonnegotiable was mentioned: All classrooms are literacyand print rich, at all grade levels, even for seniors! As we move up the gradesfrom elementary to middle years to high school, the concept of literacy andprint rich tends to diminish. This lack of literacy- and print-rich materials isconsistent with the lower student literacy achievement documented as itdeclines from elementary to middle school to high school. Literacy and printrich means the classroom reflects the student learning at that time. It is nota bulletin board welcoming students back from their summer break withchanges in athletic schedules as the seasons change. Nor is it the elementaryclassroom with only teacher-made displays of seasons and academic concepts to be studied. In contrast, at all levels the bulletin boards and academicdisplays are probably student developed or are displays of student work. Inother words, these classrooms are print rich—not decorated. For teacherswho use more authentic assessment and less pencil-and-paper tests, creating a literacy-rich environment will be natural.Print rich also means that each classroom has a classroom libraryreflecting the content learned in the classroom and the reading levels ofthe students. Ideally, the percentage of books that are nonfiction willreflect the expectation of the standardized assessment: about 50% at theelementary level, about 60% at the middle level, and 70% at the highschool level. Excellent nonfiction and informational text can be located onyour librarian’s professional resource Web sites, state resources, and publisher Web sites such as you are wondering how you will accomplish obtaining a classroomlibrary, there are several ideas that work. The first is to go to the principaland ask for a budget to order a classroom library. You will need to have an

01-Taylor-45028.qxd8/11/20066:23 PMPage 88 Improving Reading, Writing, and Content Learning for Studentsamount in mind, and perhaps even an order list to substantiate yourrequest. Books vary in cost, from the Blueford Series at 1.00 each to thosebeautiful collector books that may cost 50.00 each. Think about checking out of the school or public library the expensive books, and focus thepurchase request on inexpensive paperback books.You may also consider having a class book club or schoolwide bookfair. Depending on the amount of orders, free books are earned from thevendor. A parent or community volunteer may be available to coordinatethe orders and the book fair event.Don’t forget to advertise to students, parents, and community groupsthat you are soliciting books for the classroom. Be sure to review anybooks donated for appropriateness. You can always trade inappropriatebooks for appropriate ones at a used-book store.Nonnegotiable 2: Using the Processes of LiteracyLiteracy processes are reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing,thinking, and communicating through multiple-symbol systems thatdevelop simultaneously as a student’s language grows. These processesare used to learn the vocabulary, content, concepts, and skills of all content areas studied. For this reason, developing all of the literacy processesin every content classroom is critical for every student. Often, by the timestudents reach fourth grade, they struggle with the difficult vocabulary,fluency, and comprehension necessary for reading the content text withoutextensive teacher assistance. The instructor who assigns reading of theon-grade-level textbook and does not incorporate the other processes willmake less progress in literacy and content learning than the one whodevelops them all simultaneously.Listening is not passive. Listening means that students are makingmeaning by organizing their thoughts, drawing relationships betweenwhat is being read to them or what they hear and what they already know,and drawing conclusions. They may be completing a graphic organizer tokeep track of their thoughts. While students are listening, the teacher ispausing, probing, asking questions, and encouraging predictions andhigher levels of thinking. While students are listening, they are developingtheir speaking skills and background for reading and writing.Articulating clearly, organizing thoughts, and communicating orallyare essential to developing excellent readers, writers, and content learnerswho can communicate what they are learning. In fail-safe classrooms,teachers use formal English and academic language of the content areathey teach. This means they use exacting terms and do not dumb down orbaby the content by using less than formal terms. The practice of using

01-Taylor-45028.qxd8/11/20066:23 PMPage 9The Fail-Safe Classroom 9casual rather than formal academic content language insults thestudents’ abilities to grow in vocabulary and language usage. For studentsto use accurate academic content language in their speaking and writing,they must hear it in multiple venues and multiple times (NICHD, 2000).Although it may not be the norm, students should be encouraged to useformal English, academic language, and accurate content vocabulary whilespeaking in complete sentences at all times.Reading, writing, and listening develop speaking skills. This will surprise those who work hard at keeping the students from talking! In fact, ifyou provide purposeful opportunities to speak, expect appropriate academic language, and provide feedback, you may find that extraneous unrelated talk diminishes. Practicing speaking in front of the class or to a peerabout what is being read is critical. A quick strategy is to ask the studentsto turn to their partners and explain the concept just discussed for twominutes. Or, turn to your neighbor and ask the questions for which youneed answers to understand the chapter; take three minutes to do so.Speaking and using academic language in a more sophisticated way helpsto develop reading and writing skills and vice versa.What is viewing? Viewing means looking, seeing, and taking in cluesthat provide meaning. This meaning is called a mental model, visual, or,in some cases, anchored instruction (Cognition and Technology Groupat Vanderbilt, 1990). Those teachers who gain the most learning fromtheir students will open a unit with visuals, short vignettes or video clips,streaming video on the Internet, demonstrations, or models. These upfront experiences with concepts and vocabulary provide students amental model on which to “anchor” their new learning. This experienceprovides students who may have had interrupted schooling or for whomEnglish is their second language the background knowledge that is essential for learning the new content concepts and language.Viewing has a particular meaning related to the use of multimedia,which is ever present in our lives and the lives of our students. Burmark(2004) reported that we process visual information about 60,000 times asrapidly as text and that such viewing can improve learning up to 400percent. We want students to develop their expertise in viewing, to understand and to be discriminating in what they view—on television, theInternet, CDs, visual and performing arts, and in print. Viewing supportsstudents in developing content knowledge but requires the developmentof the other literacy processes. A previously mentioned example is previewing the text or conducting a picture/visual walk-through of a textchapter prior to reading the text. This walk-through develops vocabulary,concept, and content knowledge and prepares the student for readingthe text.

01-Taylor-45028.qxd8/11/20066:23 PMPage 1010 Improving Reading, Writing, and Content Learning for StudentsIn our technological world, students need to view expertly. To do this,a student must be able to read, to write, to speak, to listen, and to think.The literacy processes are interdependent in their use and development.Viewing is a critical literacy process that will continue to gain in importance as our reliance on technology increases.Communicating with multiple-symbol systems is always present inschools. Multiple-symbol systems include symbolic representations thatare found in each content area. Examples include the periodic table, mathematical symbols, scientific notation, technology, art, music, movement,maps, graphs, and charts. You may think of some other multiple-symbolsystems. Being an expert reader and writer requires the reading, speaking,and writing about these various multiple-symbol systems. Reading comprehension assessments include passages with charts, graphs, maps, andother symbol systems and are often labeled the research and referencestrand. These naturally appear in content texts. Skill with comprehendingthese symbol systems and expressing the comprehension in writing isessential to improving achievement on formalized assessments.Readers are probably surprised to see that we list thinking as a literacy process. Can you read without thinking? Can you write withoutthinking? To make meaning, to translate ideas into print, a student hasto think. Thinking is implicit in literacy development. Comprehensionis thinking. Keeping thinking in the forefront of our literacy processesalso ensures that we will provide students with meaningful work. Suchwork communicates that we believe they can think, and it requiresthem to think. Thinking connects directly with the higher levels ofanalysis, synthesis, and evaluation, which we will delve into in Chapter6. Students demonstrate operating at these high levels through otherliteracy processes. Thinking at a high level is possible for every student,even very young ones, and encourages the development of contentknowledge, skills, and concepts, as well as language, vocabulary, andcomprehension.Developing all of the literacy processes simultaneously will impactlearning. Greatest improvement will take place with deliberate and purposeful incorporation of reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing,thinking, and communicating with multiple-symbol systems into instructional plans.Nonnegotiable 3: Reading To and WithThe third nonnegotiable is for teachers to read to students and withstudents every day using on-grade-level standards-based content. A studentcan comprehend about two grade levels higher than his independent

01-Taylor-45028.qxd8/11/20066:23 PMPage 11The Fail-Safe Classroom 11reading level when hearing the pronunciation and having eyes onprint. The higher oral language comprehension is why teachers areencouraged to briefly model how fluent readers read a textbook, a piece ofnonfiction, or fiction with students every day. It is not entertainment butthe opportunity to teach the vocabulary and essential content concepts.Since this is instructive, it is not round-robin reading but reading by afluent reader—probably the teacher. It may also be an audiotape, DVD,or CD that accompanies the textbook or other shared text.Reading to and with students also supports developing lifelong readers (Trelease, 2001). Hearing a fluent reader read with expression andcomprehension develops the joy that motivates students to want to readmore and to reread the shared reading text. In addition to Trelease’swell-known The Read Aloud Handbook (2001), readers may want to accessRead-Aloud Anthology (Allen & Daley, 2004), which includes a variety ofselections for upper elementary through high school. Reading to and withnaturally leads to independent reading, the next nonnegotiable.Nonnegotiable 4: Teach, Model, andPractice Strategies of Expert Readers and WritersWhen teachers read to and with students, they are teaching, modeling, and practicing the strategies of expert readers and writers, showingthat reading has meaning and is joyful. On-grade-level readers have developed their own strategies for comprehension if they have not been taughtspecific ones. Below-grade-level readers do not understand that goodreaders are strategic and that they too can become strategic and developgreater comprehension. Below-grade-level readers are not the only oneswho benefit from explicit comprehension strategy instruction; on-gradelevel readers who have difficulty with specific types of text, like science ortechnical reading, improve comprehension with strategies. Direct, explicitinstruction in comprehension strategies is recommended in Reading Next:A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy(Biancarosa & Snow, 2004). Research-based comprehension strategiesare delved into more deeply in Chapter 5.Nonnegotiable 5: Accountable Independent ReadingThe fifth nonnegotiable expectation of daily practice is that studentsread independently every day on their reading level and teachers holdthem accountable for doing so. The suggested amount of time is 20–30minutes each day. It is important that the independent reading is a book,because the teacher and student can match the book to the student’sindependent reading level. A student can easily be held accountable for

01-Taylor-45028.qxd8/11/20066:23 PMPage 1212 Improving Reading, Writing, and Content Learning for Studentscompletion of the book and for upward growth into higher-reading-levelbooks. More important, as surprising as it may seem, many strugglingstudents reach twelfth grade and admit they have never read a book untilthey find this just-right book and get hooked on reading. Therefore thestudent selects the book he or she will read on his reading level that is ofpersonal interest.Daily accountability means that the student probably maintains areading log of the dates of the reading, last page read, and a short summary, or connection to the current day’s reading, or prediction about thenext day’s reading. When teachers ask students to read a certain numberof pages or note the number of pages read, it becomes inefficient if thestudents cannot find the page to begin reading the next day, and it doesnot support comprehension improvement.After reading the entire book, an overall accountability that gives thestudent choice and the opportunity to demonstrate joy in the reading isimportant. Giving a book talk or making a storyboard or poster of thebook is a good way for students beginning in Grade 4 to show with joy thatthey have read a book. An example of a visual that a ninth-grade teacherdisplayed in her room uses the traditional graphic of introduction, risingaction, climax, and falling action. The students write on the graphic theassociated events in their independent reading book. Accountable independent reading is revisited in Chapter 4, “Developing Fluency in ReadingAll Texts.”NONNEGOTIABLE EXPECTATIONSOF DAILY PRACTICE AND WRITINGThese nonnegotiable expectations of the daily practice of reading tostudents, reading with students, and students reading by themselves applyto all classrooms. After students have read or been read to, they write. Inall grade levels, students write about what they heard or read, what itmeant to them, how it relates to something else they have read, or how itrelates to their world. Teachers who are making progress do not teach orassign writing out of the context of reading. Vocabulary and language ofthe lessons are modeled and taught through the reading and are expectedin the writing. The more students read, the better their writing and comprehension will be. They just can’t help it! These nonnegotiable expectations of daily practice will be addressed throughout this book withpractical a

Classroom community motivates by including clear goals and by providing reasonable choice for students in assignments and choice in showing how much they have learned. Other evidence of a classroom community is the literacy-rich, print-rich classroom. While some think of print rich as being purchased res