The Very Beginnings of an Action Research Plan

Since my planning session the other day with the incredible Ellin Keene, I have been working hard to put together a rough plan for my action research.  Because writing helps me to think more clearly, and because I am hoping that my plan will get better as I write it out, and because I so very much value the thoughts of anyone who happens to read this plan, I am devoting this post to attempting to write out the very beginnings of my action research plan (hence my very creative title).

So let’s start at the very beginning. My question, which seemed really simple at first, but then led me to so much more than I would have imagined, is as follows: What are the most effective instructional tactics to help students to develop their own goals in narrative texts?

What led me to my question was my own reading.  I was reading the book We Were Liars for a book club.  As I was reading, I started to notice that the main character was FILLED with contradictions.  So as I read, I decided to pay attention to moments when she expressed drastic contradictions in how she felt.  By paying attention to these moments I hoped to better understand why she had these strong, opposing emotions all the time.  And as I read, having that specific goal, really helped me to read the book in a different way and allowed me to better understand the main character.  When I went to my book club, many of my comments were focused on the goal that I had been working on and I thought about how powerful it would be to help students learn to do this kind of goal setting as they read.  So I began to formulate my plan.

The first place I started, before thinking of any instructional tactics or ways to measure success, was to think about my criteria for success.  How will I know when my students are able to do what I want them to do and what is it exactly that I want them to be able to do anyway.  Here is what I have so far…

Students will be successful when they are able to:

*independently generate meaningful reading goals that will help them to better understand their texts in some way.

*work independently, over a period of time, on these goals.

*keep track of their progress in their reading journals.

*use the work they have done on their goals in order to explain what it has allowed them to better understand about their text.

*articulate what they have done to their peers and guide others to do the same (through blog posts and through teaching lessons to their classmates).

Great! So now that I know what I want my students to be able to do, I have to try to figure out some way to teach them how to do that.  Honestly, I don’t know what will work.  What I do know is that I truly believe that this is something that my students are capable of doing and that will allow them to be better readers.  What I also know is that the most important thing for me is that I find a way to help my students to set their OWN goals, not just to effectively work on the goals that I set for them.  I want them to learn to notice the things that they truly find captivating about their books and to pay close attention to those things. I believe that by doing this, by learning to read in this way, they will be able to create more meaning from every single book (and article, blog post, website, etc.) that they read. But it HAS to come from them.  And that will be my biggest challenge.

Like I said, I don’t really have any idea how to do this, but here is a list of some possible ways I might try:

*Whole class mini-lesson on reading goals, what they are and how they can help us to be better readers. Creating charts on what makes a good reading goal and how to come up with them and how they will help us.

*Use guided reading to help teach students how to set goals with focus on, “What do you want to pay attention to as you read?” Model my own reading goals. Read part of a story or a first chapter and talk about what you might want to pay attention to if you were going to continue reading.

*Provide time for students to teach each other what goals they have been working on and how it has been helping them and how they have been tracking their progress. Shorten MY mini-lessons to provide more time for THEIR lessons.

*Create a class chart of reading goals. Perhaps an actual chart (to hang on the walls) and a virtual chart (using a Google Form) for students to refer back to and to gain ideas from.

*Take students who have similar reading goals and put them together into groups so that they can discuss their progress and provide feedback to each other.

*Use reading journals as a place to keep track of goals and progress towards goals.

*Have calendars hanging up for students to schedule conferences with me and to schedule times to teach the class.

*Focus reading conferences on setting goals and asking how goals will help the students to be better readers.

*Perhaps have students try using the following language:

1st: “I have noticed that…”

2nd: “So I want to pay attention to…” or “So, I want to look for moments when…”

3rd: “In order to help me understand…”

*Students work in their journals on their goals and when they feel as if they have reached a good place, with new understanding, they will use the notes in their journals to write a blog post explaining the work that they have been doing. They will publish this post to share with others so that others can learn from them.  This might be a good step to know that they are ready to teach the class.

I have also started to think about data collection.  For me, this is going to be one of the hardest parts, as data collection is not something that honestly excites me all that much.  I will obviously be collecting samples of students’ work from their reading journals, recording our conferences (and perhaps our guided reading groups, literature discussion groups and the teaching sessions that the students lead), using comprehension rubrics to track their growth as readers, and then some type of student surveys or interviews.  That part needs a whole lot more flushing out at this point.


So that’s the start of my plan.  Even sitting alone at my computer, thinking about this plan excites me.  I am genuinely curious to see where my students lead me on this one.  I feel strongly about the importance of this work and I am excited to share the journey with anyone who might choose to tag along!


6 thoughts on “The Very Beginnings of an Action Research Plan

  1. Jess – I loved reading about this! I had one thought. Have you read Notice and Note? The signposts they name were a powerful way for my 6th graders to understand the text the way you’re describing. Contrasts & contradictions focus on those very contradictions you describe. It might be a helpful tool for your students – tangible ways to think about the text at a deeper level…

    • Lisa! Thank you so much for reading through this mess of thinking. I had to get started on writing it all out because I was anxious about the school year starting and having NOTHING figured out! Notice and Note is next up in my pile. I keep meaning to start it and then get distracted. It sounds like it would go along PERFECTLY with this work. Thank you so much for thinking of it and passing it along. I can’t wait to hear more about what you have been thinking about!

    • I was going to suggest the same book // I’m re-reading it this summer. Also I loved you inquiry; I wonder how you will essentially redefine a reading goal for your Ss. They might think a goal is a certain number of pages or expanding genres/ this is some sophisticated stuff and something I am trying to accomplish with the 8th graders as well. To do this one needs to really have to slow down and be aware of the thinking – esp. Questions and kids don’t often want to slow down and think — they want to zoo through. Good luck!! This is some great thinking Jess.

      • YES!! Not only do I need to redefine reading goals with the students, but with adults as well. When I share this goal with others, they have automatically assumed that I meant how much a child decided to read. I believe this kind of goal is important and has its place, but I want to go to that next level with reading goals. I know that it is going to be a struggle and I also know that if I can help my kids to do it, it will really pay off! Thanks so much for the thoughts. I hope I get to see you soon at some PD or something of that sort! Happy summer to you!

  2. I really like the plan you’ve laid out, and especially how you have (as someone above said) redefined a reading goal as something to do with understanding and the quality of the reading experience, not just quantity of what’s been read. I use goal setting a lot with students and I love the idea of a chart where everyone’s goal is displayed. I wonder if there’s a way to make progress toward the goal visible and celebrate that progress?

    As far as data collection goes (which, being both a huge nerd and working in special ed/intervention, excites me…), I like all of the ideas you’ve come up with. I think pre-post assessments that include comprehension rubrics (or even an assessment with an IRI) and some sort of reading attitudes survey that includes statements like “Setting goals helps me to be a better reader”, “Setting goals and tracking my progress helps me improve”.

    Good luck! It sounds like a great project.

  3. Pingback: How We Asses Our Students Shows Them What We Value | Crawling Out of the Classroom

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