Self-Extending Systems: Teaching with Discontinuation and Independence in Mind

Literacy Pages: The Series presents the first introductory post in an 8-part series related to Reading Recovery and Teaching with Discontinuation in Mind from Early Lessons. 

We know that our goal is to provide our Reading Recovery students with the instruction they need to be able to discontinue lessons within 12-20 weeks. This means that our students need to develop a self-extending system.

“It is successful processing that is called up by the learner that creates a self-extending system (Clay, 2016, p. 128).”

In order to help students achieve successful processing, we must ask ourselves an important question, are we doing the necessary analysis and planning with the development of self-extending systems in mind from week to week, day to day, and moment to moment during our students’ programs? Deep analysis and intentional planning are necessary to develop independent readers from the start. “With problem readers it is not enough for the teacher to have rapport, to generate interesting tasks, and generally to be a good teacher. The teacher must be able to design a superbly sequenced series of lessons determined by the particular child’s competencies, and make highly skilled decisions moment by moment during the lesson” (Clay, 2016, p. 20).

The power of Reading Recovery is in the careful thinking for each individual student. For accelerated learning to take place, we must avoid complacency and the trap of becoming too causal when administering and analyzing the Observation Summary and writing predictions of progress. We cannot routinely complete each part of our lesson, simply follow the procedures in Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals, or continuously use our “go-to” prompts. We have to do the hard observational and analytical work that Reading Recovery requires because that is what sets it apart from other interventions and accounts for its decades of success.

Once the school year is underway and we have lots of students to consider for Reading Recovery, other caseloads to assess and plan for, coaching responsibilities, and the rest of the many hats literacy specialists and interventionists wear, it can be easy to get into the routine of assessing and teaching without the deeper thought behind the actions without even realizing it has happened. Here are a few ways to help prevent this scenario:

  1. Review Clay’s An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement at the beginning of every round. Remember that The Observation Survey is not just an assessment, it is a tool that helps us to collect information about everything each of our students can do so that we can plan accordingly to strengthen what our students know during their ten roaming around the known sessions. If we take the time to record as many observations as possible, it will allow us to take on the challenging task of targeting “the cutting edge of this child’s learning during every lesson” (Clay, 2016, p. 18).
  2. Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals should be kept within an arm’s reach to not only refer to for the “what” and “how,” but also the “why” that drives our decision-making. Before the year begins, remind yourself about the “why,” behind everything we do in Reading Recovery. 
  3. Specifically, reread the sections in Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals describing roaming around the known and predictions of progress to prepare for a new round of students. 
  4. For an even deeper understanding, delve into Clay’s other works such as Becoming Literate: The Construction of Inner Control (2015) or Change Over Time in Children’s Literacy Development (2015). 
  5. When it’s time to write Predictions of Progress, think about the task as if you are creating a portrait of each student that you will rework throughout their programs. Each one should be unique to the child. Our predictions of progress guide us as we take our students, via their own path, to meet the competencies of the average peers in their classrooms. We adjust our predictions of progress as needed based on observations of our students.
  6. For renewed perspective on the change over time we should expect to see, you can also re-familiarize yourself with the sections in Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals (2016) entitled, “Discontinuing Individual Lessons,” and “Building the Foundations of a Self-Extending Processing System.”    

When considering whether to discontinue a student Clay (2016) writes, “There can be no hard and fast criteria. The decision to discontinue a child’s series of lessons must be weighed up very carefully.  The aim will be to place the child in a classroom group for reading where he can continue to make good progress” (p. 186). In other words, it is not as easy as discontinuing a student simply because they have reached a certain text level.  Clay suggests that in addition to text reading level we should also consider the following points:

  • The teacher is fairly confident that the child will continue to make satisfactory progress,
  • The child works independently and effectively at problem-solving more complex texts,
  • The child’s reading sounds phrased and is fast and fluent,
  • The child composes 2-3 long and complex sentences receiving little help from the teacher,
  • The child can write many high-frequency words fast and independently, and
  • The child can solve new words using sound and letter sequences and by analogy with known words.

Clay (2016) provides a rundown of seven key features of a child who is developing a self-extending system and becoming an independent reader and writer:

          • self-monitor
          • search for different kinds of information
          • anticipate syntactic structures
          • integrate sources of information
          • make new discoveries
          • cross-check
          • reread to confirm

Clay (2016) says, “Teachers can help children to work in these ways from their earliest attempts to read and write” (p. 43). We can ensure that we have discontinuation in mind from the very beginning by making early behaviors secure, fast, and habituated as soon as possible so that readers can monitor, search, discover, correct, and solve. 

The upcoming posts in our Literacy Pages: The Series will each focus on one of these characteristics and how to keep the hallmarks of a self-extending system at the heart of our teaching through careful observation, analysis, and teaching for inner control of these behaviors from their earliest attempts at reading and writing.

One thought on “Self-Extending Systems: Teaching with Discontinuation and Independence in Mind

  1. Pingback: Part 4: Rereading to Confirm

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