Guest Post: Fiona Simmonds – Practical Reading Strategies and Design Thinking

Now that Practical Reading Strategies has been out in the wild for a few months, I’ve started to receive feedback from teachers around how they’re using the book in their classrooms.

This post is courtesy of Fiona Simmonds at Port Melbourne Secondary College. Fiona has used many of the activities in PRS in her classes. Even more exciting though is how she’s taken the advice in Part Two of the book around writing units of work, and married the PRS Strategies up with the Design Thinking Process, bringing the activities alive through real world tasks.

Here is Fiona’s piece about how she’s used PRS!

Inspired by ‘Practical Reading Strategies’

I love learning on the run and I love experimenting in the classroom, so after a weekend binge reading session of Leon’s PRS, where I had multiple light-bulb moments, I decided to dive right in. Leon’s explanations and samples of student work made it easy to visualise how the activities would roll out in the classroom – he’s really done all the hard yards – I actually feel like I’m cheating!

At the time, I was teaching a Year 7 Module called, ‘Words have super powers’. Yes, you guessed it, a focus on persuasive language. I found an article that I thought would capture the students’ interest and decided to introduce Reading Strategy 5: Summarising. We read through the article together, stopping after each paragraph. There was plenty of rich discussion and debate about how to sort through the details and identify the key points. As we were in the midst of a persuasive unit, Leon’s ‘Elevator Pitch’ activity made perfect sense. I could also see this really appealing to the Year 7 cohort. I started with an anecdote…

”Leo is fresh out of school, he’s landed a work experience placement at a local business, he’s got a million and one ideas about how to increase sales; he’s thinking of social media campaigns and flash mobs. BUT, no one will listen, he is fresh-faced, inexperienced and he’s wearing trainers to work! One morning, Leo steps into the elevator and there she is, the big boss, the decision-maker. He does a quick calculation, he has approximately 35 seconds before those doors slide back open – he cannot afford to waste this opportunity!”

My students loved this concept and the casual tone of the opening sentence stem for the Elevator Pitch, “You know how…” really appealed to them. I worked through the three stages of the activity, stopping to hear student examples along the way. There was a strong temptation to include lots of detail in the first two sections and they needed reminders about their limited time in the elevator and the importance of ‘sell[ing] the main idea’. It was a terrific learning experience and I’ve had several requests to repeat the activity. It’s definitely on the keeper list!

The first time I tried the ‘Context Walk’ (Reading Strategy 1: Making Connections) I was impressed with how motivated my students were to journey around the different stations and contribute their TTS, TTT and TTW connections. The coding system helped them to clarify the different ways they were connecting to the images. They were also interested in reading the connections that their peers were making – this generated plenty of lively, positive discussion. Students who were unsure, used their friends’ ideas as a scaffold, bouncing off the notes already added to the posters. I challenged the more confident students to do a second lap, encouraging them to use all of the codes, not just one. The images were linked to a theme we’d been discussing whilst reading Shaun Tan’s, ‘Tales from Outer Suburbia’. Students had been contemplating how humans have both a positive and negative impact on the world. One of the images was of a dilapidated shell of an apartment building. It wasn’t an image from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the students predominantly made TTW connections with this event. Their contributions ranged from outrage to disbelief, to sadness. They also posed thoughtful and important questions. It turned out, this activity was delivered at just the right moment in time, allowing students an opportunity to voice their concerns.

The week that PRS arrived in my mailbox was the same week I was planning the school’s Reading Program. I wanted to coordinate our weekly library lessons and reading activities with some of the big events: Reconciliation Week, Refugee Week, Pride Month etc. To acknowledge and celebrate the theme: ‘Be brave, make change’, I selected a description from ‘Maralinga’ by the Yatala and Oak Valley Communities, and students completed the ‘Line-by-Line Visualisation’ activity. Every Year 7 student had the opportunity to participate in the activity when they visited the library that week. Students loved the idea of working ‘back-to-back’ and keeping their drawings a secret until the end. The comparisons were interesting and varied; some students drew individual images, others managed to illustrate a whole scene as the story was delivered, line-by-line, with a 10 second pause between each one. This prompted a great discussion, not only about reconciliation and Indigenous rights, but also about how we “read” differently and experience texts differently. Students gained valuable insight into the way they themselves engage with texts. 

A student work sample of the Line-by-Line visualisation activity

In Part 2 of PRS, Leon challenges teachers to ‘overhaul’ a unit of work and shift the focus from teaching a text, to teaching Reading Strategies. I’m lucky enough to be a member of a foundation teaching team at a brand new school with a mandate to “design” curriculum that is strongly connected to the real world. Leon says that ‘Reading Strategies…embed transferable skills that will help students beyond just the study of [a] single text.’ This spoke to me of students preparing for life beyond the school gates, and understanding that what they do at school, connects to what they’ll do in the future. So, taking a leap of faith, my next Module: ‘Fight or flee’, will use the Reading Strategies to help students contemplate why people respond differently to adversity. I’ll use the novel, ‘47 Degrees’ by Justin D’Ath as a mentor text and students will spend the first 3 weeks ‘Making Connections’ and ‘Visualising’. I’ve planned a ‘Context Walk’, a ‘Text Walk’ and a Sketchnote activity, which combines Leon’s TTS, TTT, TTW with a word investigation and question dump. We will also bring a character to life using the ‘Reading in Role’ activity. Having already experimented with some of Leon’s Practical Reading Strategies in Term 2, I’m feeling confident and excited about what’s in store.

PRS Strategies aligned to Design Thinking Process

Have you used PRS in your classes? Would you like to be included in the guest posts series? Let me know below!

I love getting feedback from teachers who have used PRS in their classes, especially when the activities have been adapted and extended into new ways like Fiona’s Design Thinking Process module. If you’re interested in reading more about how PRS is being used out in the wild, join the mailing list to stay up to date!

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