“THE (?) Achievment Gap

The “Achievement Gap” in reading has received some attention in the past few years.  It is generally thought of as the gap in reading achievement between children who are economically disadvantaged (aka “poor”) and children who are not.  Most recently the attention has been focused on children who are not meeting grade three reading standards and the proposal that they be “held back” in 3rd grade.  I have repeatedly suggested that “we can’t wait” until 3rd grade to pay attention to children who are not progressing at the expected rate–relative to their grade level standards.  We need to pay attention to progress from preschool on throughout a child’s education.

I’d like to add to that issue other issues I think should be addressed by “The (?) Achievement Gap.”


Why is the standard “grade level reading.”  What happened to the concept of the gap between potential  and achievement.  We sometimes see that schools pay attention to “potential” when they recognize “gifted” children–whether in academic subjects or “arts.”  At the high school level we offer “A.P.” courses.  We recognize some children’s abilities by offering them scholarships or options for how to use some of their school time.  Ideally, we recognized some dimension of “giftedness” in all children  I think that was what “Multiple Intelligences” was supposed to be about.


Don’t all kids have the potential to be achievers–relative to their potential?  So, is there an achievement gap for children who aren’t currently reading at “grade level” but have potential to read at and, equally important, above that level, given the kinds of instruction and opportunity to learn that they need.  Here’s a perspective on another group of children who experience an achievement gap.



Dialogue/Conversation and Learning: Preschool Through High School and Into Adulthood

In recent posts the emphasis was on dialogue and young children (age 3+/- to grade 3), but dialogue retains its importance to learning through school and into adulthood in the world of work, politics and social media.

Next, I’d like to frame a contemporary book on dialogue focused on grades 3 to 12: Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers & Marie Crawford, Stenhouse Publishers, 2011.

Chapter 1 is Titled: Reasons to Converse in School (pages 7 to 24). The authors present the “advantages of conversation in 5 categories: language and literacy, cognitive, content learning, cultural and psychological. Just to detail a few, noting that each of these categories is subdivided:


*Builds Academic Language

*Builds Vocabulary

*Builds Literacy Skills

*Builds Oral Language and Communication Skills


Critical Thinking Skills

Promotes Different Perspectives and Empathy

Fosters Creativity

Fosters Skills in Negotiating Meaning and Focusing on a Topic


In a section titled, Behaviors of Effective Conversation, the authors list 5 “behaviors”: appropriate eye contact, facing one another, attentive posture, nodding to show understanding and appropriate gesturing. While those elements are important, it is the “attitudes and dispositions” that reflect our sense of “rules.” (pp. 42-43) These include

Humility: admit they have things to learn, open to new ideas and having minds changed, knowing that our opinions have limitations, patient.

Thoroughness: exploring ad deepening ideas, extending conversations, look at all perspective and possible solutions to accomplish a task.

Respect: open to opposing views, providing opportunities to talk.

Positivity: attitude that great learning can happen through conversation.

Interest: be interested rather than be interesting, work with, build from and encourage others’ ideas.


The authors describe the roles as “skill based.” (These roles are based on the 5 core conversation skills described in chapter 3: elaborate and clarify, support ideas with examples, build on and/or challenge a partner’s ideas, paraphrase, synthesize conversation points. These are student roles, but the authors don’t take a sink or swim approach. They don’t assume that the students already (naturally) have these skill-based roles. They note:

“Designing effective conversation tasks is an ever-evolving process. Sometimes the prompt (based on deep questions, thinking skills, product/task, and personal experiences) needs to change; sometimes you need to intervene and help students while they are conversing.” (p. 59). Further, the authors discuss ways to “train” students for advanced conversations (See Chapter 5).

Skill-Based Roles for Group Conversation (p. 56)

“Even though you want students to use all of the essential conversation skills as they talk, at times you can tell them to emphasize a certain skill in order to hone it. For example, in a group of four when student can be the focuser, another the builder, another the elaborator and example person, and the last person the paraphrases an synthesizer….”


As you might expect, the “routines” are directly related to the reasons and (core conversational) skills the teacher intends to help the students build. So, to “Train Students to Take Conversation to More Academic Levels” there are basic overlapping academic (macro) routines to (1) build and explore ideas, (2) debate issues, (3) solve problems, and (4) teach and learn. Chapter 6 gives students the academic grammar and vocabulary to successfully use these routines, including: transitions and connectives, qualifying words, cohesion devices, and “academic” vocabulary (see page 103). . And, ultimately these routines will be to applied in language arts, science, math and history.

Here is an example from history.

“Similar to conversations in literature classes, good history conversations usually depend on skills of interpretation, perspective taking, identifying importance, and persuading, which were described in Chapter 7.” (p. 141) Below is an example of one “inferring cause and effect” routine:

Alex: Why did Columbus said the ocean blue?

Sandra: To prove the world wasn’t flat?

Alex: I don’t know, though. One thing we read said he used maps that showed American land on them.

Sandra: Can you explain the map part more?

Alex: Well, if he had maps, then he knew he wouldn’t fall off the earth.

Although this seems like a fairly simple routine and it might appear as though such conversations happen naturally, without instruction, Zwiers and Crawford (as well as the writer) would suggest that these types of conversation require instruction and practice across contexts.   The details of the Zwiers/Crawford text and hundreds of references support this view. I wonder how much investment is made in the average classroom to develop these kinds of conversational skills.


If the instruction is successful we would expect students to get increasingly more skillful at using these conversational skills across contexts and into adulthood. The adult literature on conversational skills would suggest that we aren’t there yet. See, for example, Deborah Tanner, The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue, Kegan and Lahey, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, and David Perkins, King Arthur’s Round Table: How Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organizations.

New Standards for Speaking and Listening

Laruen Resnick and Catherine Snow, Speaking and Listening for Preschool Through Third Grade

New Standards, 2008, International Reading Association.

In the preface the authors note that speaking and listening are the foundations of reading and writing. They say: “Speaking and listening are to reading and writing what walking is to running.”

And, “The process (of specifying a clear set of expectations for speaking and listening) was an adventure for us, for while researchers and expert teachers know a great deal about children’s language development, no one had translated that knowledge into a clear set of classroom expectations.”   I would add that we are only beginning, after a long period, to pay attention to the importance of speaking and listening to learning.

Resnick and Snow say that there are three important reasons for children to practice and master their native language:

1 Speaking and listening are the foundation skills for reading and writing.

2 Speaking and listening make children smarter

3 Speaking and listening are academic, social, and life skills that are valued in school and in the world.

They go on to describe three kinds of speaking/listening standards, with several subcomponents under each type.


^Talking a lot

^ Talking to one’s self

^Conversing at length on a topic

^Discussing books

2 KINDS OF TALK AND RESULTING GENRES: Children talk for a variety of reasons, or purposes. Among them

^Inform, entertain and persuade others

^Present themselves, their topics, or their points of view to others

^Negotiate or propose relationships with others

^Evaluate people, information, or events

^Think, teach, learn

^Getting things done

^Producing and responding to performances


^Rules of interaction

^Word play and language awareness

^Vocabulary and word choice

Because my current focus is on dialogue, I’ve highlighted those standards that are most directly related to dialogue. In particular, I’m going to focus on only a few: talking a lot, conversing at length on a topic, discussing books, kinds of talk and resulting genres, rules of interaction and vocabulary and word choice. These are the aspects of speaking and listening that support the reasons for talking.

Those standards that are most directly related to dialogue are “kinds of talk and resulting genres” and “rules of interaction.”

RULES: “Beginning in infancy and continuing through the elementary years and beyond, children learn the rules of the game of conversation…..sharing the most widely shared rules of interaction….. It is crucial for teachers to understand that the conversational rules they themselves know and follow are social rules… …children who fail to understand them [the accepted rules] suffer academic and social consequences.” People are expected to take turns, be polite, and learn to address people appropriately depending on whether they are superiors, subordinates or equals….”(p 13)

I would add to these guidelines that the rules to be followed in dialogue are also dependent on context, topic, genre, and purpose. There are numerous studies that address these dimensions, for example: “Talking Like an Historian,” “Talking Their Way into Science,” “Mathematical Discourse,” and “Collaborative Conversations.”

A set of widely accepted general “rules” for conversation was proposed by Grice: Conversation should be informative, true, relevant and clear.

REASONS. R and S have outlined an inclusive set of reasons for dialogue. They refer to 4 specific genres: narrative, explaining and seeking information, getting things done, and producing and responding to performance. And under each of these categories they list several variations. For example, under narrative, they list: recounting two or more events, recounting knowledge gained through observation, experience, or text, orienting the listener by giving some setting information.

In the psycholinguistic literature, Halliday’s list of “functions of language” is often referenced as a frame of reference for “reasons” to speak/listen. His list includes 7 categories: instrumental, regulatory, interactional, personal, imaginative heuristic, informative.

REWARDS. If Resnick and Snow are correct, then the rewards for becoming proficient at speaking and listening should include being able to read and write, being smart, and succeeding in school and life. As well, they should be successful in the 4 domains of narrative, explain and seeking information, getting things done, and producing and responding to performance. How these achievements are demonstrated and assessed is the essence of the Resnick and Snow book.

ROLES. R AND S described roles as “superiors, subordinates and equals.” That classification is both basic and simple. The roles are not necessarily specific to teacher/student or adult/child. If we think about roles in terms of context and reason, the role a child plays in one context may be quite different from the role in another context; in some instances the child may become the teacher. In some instances, a child may be, if not the superior, at least the expert depending on the topic. Certainly children take on a variety of roles with one another. Although these standards are only outlined until grade 3, we do want children to adopt a variety of roles as they grow older. One of the things that will impact the roles students play will be the “routine” that are modeled and used in the classroom.

ROUTINES. In the list of standards there are several that suggest that children will need to learn a lot of different speaking/listening routines (and roles): talks a lot, converses at length about a topic, discusses books and chooses words carefully. Here are some examples of what this looks like at the preschool and second/third grade levels. We expect young children to learn a great deal about speaking and listening in a short time.

Talks a lot.

Preschool 2nd and 3rd Grade
Talk daily for various purpose Talk about what they think, read, or experience
Engage in play using talk to enact or extend a story line Explain or speak from another’s perspective
Express ideas, feelings, and needs
Listens and responds to direct questions
Ask questions
Talks and listens in small groups Talk in front of groups on a regular basis

Talk in small groups to collaborate on a project…to facilitate work on a task

Share and talk daily about their own experiences, products, or writing. Talk about ideas or information gained from sources beyond personal experiences

Solicit and provide feedback daily about writing.

Converse at length about a topic

Preschool 2nd and 3rd Grade
Initiate and sustain a conversation with comments or questions through at least 4 exchanges Initiate and sustain a conversation with eight or more lengthy exchanges
Recognize the topic of conversation and make topic-relevant responses Initiate topics within conversations that are in progress
Recognize invitation to converse vs questions intended to elicit a brief response Sustain conversation by extending others’ contribution
Listen to others and avoid talking over Express and solicit opinions
Repair and revert to the topic when necessary

Discusses books

Preschool 2nd and 3rd Grade
Poses and answers specific qs about the text End of 3rd grade has 19 items in this category. Noting just a few
Recites familiar refrains from books that have been heard several times Note and talk about author’s craft
Identify a favorite book and tell why they like it Refer to knowledge gained during discussion
Use information that is accurate, accessible, and relevant
State own ideas with greater clarity when not comprehended
Ask other students qs that require then to support their claim;
Indicate their own/others’ ideas need further support
Compare texts
Capture meaning from figurative language
Analyze the causes, motivations, sequences, and results of events
Use the structure of information texts to retrieve information
Understand concepts and their relationships
Use reasoning and information from within and outside the text to examine arguments.

Chooses words carefully

Preschool 2nd and 3rd Grade
11 items. Some of them 11 items
Sorts relationships among words in knowledge domain Builds word maps
Adds new domains from subjects and topics the are studying Uses specialized vocabulary (academic language)
Learns new words daily in conversation Provides definitions of words
Shows a general interest in words an word meanings, asking adults what a word means or offering definitions Demonstrates flexibility by choosing from word options
Uses some abstract words and understands that these words differ from concrete things Develops a basic awareness of meaningful word parts
Uses verbs referring to cognition, communication, and emotions. Uses metaphor language
Understands antonyms, synonyms, homonyms, homographs and homophones

Can we simply teach each of these elements of speaking/listening-dialogue in sequence or must we figure out how to integrate them? How do we start at a simple level and scaffold the child to the next level? How do we know where a child is at any point in his or her development of language skills?


A Middle School Achievement Gap?

Here is an article about Middle School students not meeting “standards” and being held back.  Are these the 3rd grades who had an “achievement” gap?  What changed for them in 4th grade? 5th grade? 6th grade? 7th grade?


Dialogue and Learning: A Long and Contemporary History

From September 6, 2014 Post

On this blog about “Dialogue” many of the posts have been related to school success and reading success, particularly as children grow from infancy through elementary school. In an effort to find patterns relevant to school and literacy success as they relate to dialogue the following format will be used for future posts reviewing classic and current works on dialogue: Reasons, Roles, Rules, Routines and Rewards.

I begin with an “old” classic written by an author whose work I greatly admire: Marion Blank. Her recent work on reading includes: The Reading Remedy: Six Essential Skills, 2006, Jossey Bass.

Each review will include the main points of the reference [in quotes], my comment [in italics], and “Related Ideas” from other historic and current sources.

Marion Blank, Susan A. Rose, Laura J. Berlin

The Language of Learning: The Preschool Years

Grune and Stratton, 1978

“Regardless of differences in orientation, one factor that almost all [preschool] programs share (with the notable exception of Montessori) is the important placed on the verbal exchange that occurs between the teacher and the child.” (p. 1)

Reason: “We have set out to study the language of the preschool that foster higher level intellectual activities.”… (p. 8) ….

…influenced by James Moffett…”Moffett’s model contains three components which, at first glance, are disarmingly simple. First, there are the participants who are speaking and listening to one another (speaker-listener dyad); second, there is the topic or subject which the participants are discussing; and third, there is the level of the discussion.”…. (p. 9)

For example: Preparing a batch of cookies. Some likely teacher questions

What is this? (referring to the flour)

Tell me what we put in the bowl before we added the egg.

Why don’t we eat that part?

What will happen to the cookies when we put them in the oven?

Note diversity of questions…“of greater importance for our purposes is the level of complexity (of the questions). For Instance, a request such as, tell me what we put in the bowl before we added the egg, will almost certainly be more demanding for a young child than a question such as, what is this. It is the differential of the complexity of the demand that we call the level of discussion.”

Blank goes on to describe a scale of complexity—labeled a “perceptual-language distance rubric.” (p. 13)

First there is the material being discussed: perceptual. Second, there is the language that the teacher uses to direct the child’s analysis of the material—language. So the scale consists of 4 levels representing the perceptual element and the language used to “abstract” the information from the material.

Matching Perception

Selective Analysis of Perception

Reordering Perception

Reasoning About Perception

Roles: Who are the participants and how are they related to each other?

In this early work, Blank et. al. was focused on the roles of teacher and learner. They do not expect, given the child’s (cognitive and social) developmental levels, to be able to focus on or modify the level of abstraction for different listeners.

Rules: The teacher sets the rules and directs the discourse in terms of her (his) goals of helping the child to learn to use language more abstractly. At the same time, the children are free to talk about whatever is of immediate interest to them. “Topics of discussion are perceptually based experiences that are within the young child’s level of comprehension. Within this limitation, however, the variability ought to be as great as possible because variability serves both to maintain the children’s interests and to lead them to generalize their use of discourse skills.” (p. 20)

Routines: “to proceed from simple to relatively complex levels.” (p. 21) with the caveat that the teacher’s goals may not be consistent with the child’s ability in any specific instance of discourse.

The authors go on to describe ways to measure a child’s current level of discourse abilities and what to do to scaffold the child to the next level (of abstraction), with examples of dialogues demonstrating the types of language activities that will help the child to grow. This is NOT the more typical (and heavily criticized) I-R-E(initiation, reply-evaluation) sequence. The teacher clearly has in mind to help the children move to a higher level of responding.

RELATED IDEAS: Past and current

Cognitive Taxonomies

Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956, 2000), other hierarchical taxonomies, Higher Order Thinking, Level of Questioning

Attention to level of complexity/abstraction has been a focus in education for a long time—Bloom: back to (1956) and currently (2000+).  Other level of abstraction schemes, including current focus on complex text.

Analyzing Cognitive Complexity, Baxter and Glaser, 1997



PARCC Text Complexity and Cognitive Complexity Measures: Their Role in Assessment Development and in Supporting Claims about Student Proficiency and Readiness



Cognitive Complexity – Depth of Knowledge (DOK)

The Role and Importance of Cognitive Complexity (2012)

The Iowa Core Standards for Literacy and Mathematics are intended to play a central role in defining what teachers teach. That is, teachers are to align their instruction to the Standards. The Standards not only define the topical, procedural, and conceptual knowledge students are to learn, they also define the type of cognitive processes in which students are to engage. This is known as cognitive demand or cognitive complexity.


Webb: Alignment, Depth of Knowledge and Change (2005)


Smarter Balanced  Assessment:  CCSS

Cognitive Complexity

….”The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has adopted a cognitive Rigor Matrix for its assessment program.  This matrix draws from two widely accepted measures to describe cognitive rigor:  Bloom’s (revised Taxonomy of Educational Objectives and Webb’s Depth-of-Knowledge Levels.  The Cognitive Rigor Matrix has been developed to integrate these two models as a strategy for analyzing instruction, for influencing teacher lesson planning, and for designing assessment items and tasks.  To download the full article describing the development and uses of the Cognitive Rigor Matrix and other support materials, go to”: [page no longer available].


Questioning and focus on level of questioning also have a long and current history.

(Palinsar and Brown, 1986), (Robin Lee Harris Freedman: Open-ended Questioning, 1994), (Frey and Fisher, Rigorous Reading: 5 Access Points for Comprehending Complex Text, 2013)

Thick and Thin Questions: YTube-2012, 2013



Dialogue With Your Baby

Dialogue: Natural and/or learned!

A Framework for “Dialogue and Learning”

There are hundreds of blog posts, articles, and books that address “dialogue.” They range across age groups (infancy to adulthood), contexts (home, school, business, medicine, politics, public media), content (stories with particular themes or topics, science, history, art, math) and purposes. Some of these sources are simply noting the content of the dialogue, some the type of dialogue, some are critiquing the lack of or tenor of the dialogue, and some address how to teach/develop/learn to engage in meaningful dialogue for the purposes of learning, expanding ideas, and solving problems.
On this blog many of the posts have been related to school success and reading success, particularly as children grow from infancy through elementary school. In an effort to find patterns relevant to school and literacy success the following format will be used for future posts: Reasons, Roles, Rules, Routines and Rewards.

Reasons: What is/are the purposes for focusing on dialogue?

Roles: Who are the participants in the dialogue and how, in the particular context, are they related to each/one another?

Rules: Is there a set of “rules” that participants follow. Are the rules implicit or explicit. If implicit, are all of the participants aware of the rules? Do they all agree to the rules?

Routines: Dialogue entails multiple “turns” among participants. What kinds of “turns” are there? How do participants determine whose “turn” it is and what kind of contribution is appropriate? Meaningful? Helpful? How are the routines influenced by Reasons, Rules and Roles?

Rewards: Can dialogue really achieve the desired/specified “reasons” for all of the participants? How do we know?

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