Tricia Bennett's picture

My Year with the Making Meaning Program

As a fifth-grade teacher, I strive to provide the strongest instructional supports for my students! This includes providing instruction on reading and understanding texts of various genres. As you likely know, it is a daunting task to plan and pull together materials/resources and implement comprehension instruction that is rigorous. This led me on a search—was there something that would support my teaching and align with my ideas about reading and understanding text?

As a self-confessed nerd, I spend time engaged in conversation about teaching with my friends. These conversations led me to the Making Meaning program. I read the teachers manuals over the summer and had a hunch that this material could be what I was searching for…a year long program, with high teacher support, all the needed materials, student scaffolding towards independence and a focus on using genres to support strategy and skill development.

I started teaching the Making Meaning program week one of the school year. The results were obvious. By October, I was amazed! I was seeing improvements in reading comprehension in all of my students, from the highest- to the lowest-level readers. They were talking about, writing about, and engaging in texts in a deeper and more efficient manner than previous years. My high-level readers were engaged in critical thinking and able to extend themselves because they were pushed to use what they were being taught in texts that met their needs. My low-level readers were using complex strategies in an efficient way with text that was right for them.

Now, as we round the end of the school year, early, amazing results have only amplified. I find that my students…

  • are using strategies as they think deeply about text
  • know what strategies to use when reading independently
  • have the structures to express their thinking verbally and in writing
  • can look at texts in complex ways
  • can independently apply what we have worked on beyond the Making Meaning lesson and the reading block
  • have the social structures to support working well with others throughout the school day.

One of the biggest and most impressive surprises is the way students have learned to use the text, the context, and their schema to make smart inferences. The design of the Making Meaning lessons makes it both easy and natural for students to experience and learn how to infer in various texts.

My one wish is that I had started IDR as intended in the Teacher’s Manual at the beginning of the school year rather than waiting until January. I see now how this independent practice would extend the students engagement in text and would provide a venue for me to coach, confer, and observe what the students are able to do independently (which is our goal after all☺).

My advice to others would be to…

  • spend the time reading the manual and the lessons to build a solid understanding of the intent of the work in the Making Meaning lessons.
  • teach the lessons as written and pay attention to the scaffolds provided for teachers in the notes, facilitation tips, etc.
  • refrain from adding into the lessons. Allow the lessons to build on the text reading of the genres using the strategies and skills.

With thoughtful planning and reflection based on careful observations of students, I think you will also be amazed.

Tricia Bennett has been teaching fifth grade for the last 10 years in Sanford, FL. She uses Making Meaning during her literacy block daily to support students deeper understanding of complex texts.

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Comments (4)

Thank you, Tricia!   I

Thank you, Tricia!   I appreciate you sharing your reflections.  I specifically am thinking about what you said about the IDR.  That reading time is valuable for so many reasons but particularly to extend the work of the strategies.  I often wonder about how to make the transition from having your students have independent reading time to allowing the reading time to be a strategice part of the MM lesson. Thank you for sharing your advice - I just had a great experience this week that reminded me of the importance of  the instructional build - not only unit to unit but specifically day to day and how that is smartly planned in the MM manual to extend and scaffold student learning! Cannot wait to hear more!

Tricia, I agree with you

Tricia, I agree with you 100%!! Your advice to read carefully through the manual and be as true to the program as possible is key!! Some of my coworkers piloted the Making Meaning program last year in their 4th grade classrooms. They never once raved about how awesome the program really is. At first I was hesitant about it because I tend to get a great deal of high flyers. I was dubious as to whether or not it would be challenging enough for them. I used it this year, and I could be a salesperson for the program. We had an awesome time, and the kids were able to articulate how surprised they were with the depth of picture books. I did something very similar in the past, using well written picture books to teach different literary devices. Now I incorporate the two. Our district also instituted the Vocabulary as well as the Being a Writer programs at the same time. The vocabulary is awesome, and it is a perfect marriage with the Making Meaning. If you don't have it, I would strongly suggest you getting it. I've always been a vocab crazy person. I did something similar for years, but the fact that it matches perfectly with the Making Meaning books is like icing on the cake. If anyone would like to hear how to incorporate the vocabulary in a meaningful, yet unobtrusive way, feel free to contact me. I've shared my method (and Vocab. Book) with many teachers across my district from grades 3 to 5 and they love it too. Keep up the great work!!!

As a 5th grade teacher, we

As a 5th grade teacher, we were told to use MM and BAW this year with fidelity. I was very excited about it! I have always used the Comprehension Toolkit and Strategies That Work programs, and MM seemed to resemble those programs.

While MM does teach readers to collaborate and look closer at text, it isn't rigourous enough to use alone. I have supplement for phonics instruction (inclusion class). My students still struggle to read the words on the page. It is extremely difficult to make them better decoders and more fluent readers when they still are sounding out words.

I was told not to provide judgemental responses when students answer a question because it makes "me the most important person in the room." I disagree with that. My students need encouragement and redirection. Their confidence is low as it is. The last thing they need is to be embarrassed because they can't prove their answer in whole group. I would rather them fumble in a one-on--one conference with me or even a small group rather than the entire class.

MM is a scripted program. I have had to remove my personaility for my teaching to accomodate the program. No longer am I allowed to adlib or take a lesson in a different direction if that's where the class wants to take it. At this point, I could hand my book to KoKo the Gorilla and she could teach my class.

While MM is a great way to teach students to delve into articles and provides students and teachers with the texts they need to teach the lessons (I do love that I don't have to search for appropriate model lesson texts now), it just isn't what most of us in my county want. It isn't aligned with the FSA. Along with BAW, it takes up the entire literacy block so that I can't fit in much small group time to work on basic reading skills. This is a great program for your average student. However, it just doesn't cut it for the struggling and gifted students.

Hi Kelly.  It sounds like you

Hi Kelly.  It sounds like you are a great reading teacher who not only understands what it takes to be a reader but you are also reflective about your practice.  Like you, I have also previously taught reading using The Comprehension Toolkit and Strategies That Work.  Moving from using a framework like The Comprehension Toolkit to a curriculum can sometimes feel like a script, but I have found Making Meaning isn’t so much a script as a detailed guide.  Instead of restraining me, knowing that Making Meaning was written by reading experts gives me the freedom to spend my energy listening to my students and their thinking rather than spending it trying to create a year-long curriculum and find all the supporting texts to go along with it.

What I do find when using Making Meaning is that, rather than ad-libbing, I’m able to truly go deep with whatever strategy we are working on.  One of the great myths about teaching is the “teachable moment”.  The way that I have come to view it is this  - if something is worth my instructional time, it is worth my planning time.  If something comes up during a discussion that I think we need to explore, rather than going “off script” to address it right then, I will make a note of it and spend the time during my planning to figure out how to address within future lessons in a way that is meaningful and not off-the-cuff.  What I always try to keep in the front of my mind is what the students are learning and what my evidence is that they are learning it.  So even though I am following a curriculum, the most important thing is whether or not the students are learning and understanding it.

When it comes to how I respond to students during class discussions, changing my patterns was definitely hard.  But the more I read about teaching and learning, the more I am coming to understand the power of our words.  It isn’t so much about not correcting students, it is about helping them become independent thinkers (not just readers).  One of the hardest, but most important, things to learn is how to ask the right questions to lead students to discovering answers for themselves.  We never want to leave a wrong answer out on the table as if it was correct.  Even so, we don’t want to position ourselves as the only person in the room capable of knowing the right answer.  Our ultimate goal is create independent thinkers - that can only happen if we help them learn to do it.

As a teacher in Florida, I do share your apprehensions about the Florida Standards Assessment.  As our team learns more about the Common Core State Standards and the FSA, the more we are coming to see that the way Making Meaning structures its lessons and questioning is preparing our students way more than we were before.  Having the students constantly look back to find evidence in the text for their thinking is directly related to how the students are going to be questioned on the test.  

Teaching is really hard and it is clear you are a dedicated and caring teacher.  I hope that you continue to work to figure out Making Meaning.

:D Cary