The Language & Literacy Professional Learning Community (PLC) will explore how best to strengthen their students’ understanding of inference, loosely defined as the ability to use clues from a story to figure out something that the author doesn’t explicitly tell you. The PLC will formulate a strategic plan for teaching young children (e.g. birth through 3rd grade) how to inference. The plan will include student work, lesson plans, teaching videos and a parent workbook that will guide parents in identifying and encouraging children to make inferences at home.
The PLC believed that an individual’s ability to infer unspoken information is crucial not only to navigating stories and texts, but also the social interactions that are a part of everyday life. Using data from an innovative literacy tool referred to as STEP, PLC members found that the 2nd and 3rd grade students in their charge struggled most with the task of making inferences. Specifically, members discovered that these children were constantly backtracking within their texts in an attempt to find key pieces of written information to facilitate their understanding, adversely affecting their overall comprehension. As a result, the PLC believed that scaffolding this skill in very young children – even infants – has the potential to create a solid foundation for building upon this skill during the school years and beyond. Therefore, the PLC members sought to create a continuum from birth through 3rd grade that would highlight the developmental progression of inference skills. Coupled with this, PLC members also planned to compile a parent handbook to support parent engagement in this process.
- Review Literacy Assessments
- The PLC members familiarized themselves with assessments used for literacy at the three campuses comprising the birth through grade 3 end of the birth-to-college continuum: the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Educare school and the two pre-k-grade 5 campuses of the UChicago Charter School, Donoghue and North Kenwood/Oakland. The aim of establishing such as continuum was to better understand what literacy looks like across age and grade levels.
- The group looked at the GOLD standards, Illinois Early Childhood Standards, and Common Core State Standards.
- Members found a Common Core 3rd grade literacy standard that related to skills that children were learning all the way down to birth. In this particular standard (i.e., RL 3.3) children are asked to describe the characters in a story and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.
- Develop Teaching Resources
- The PLC created a library of teaching videos and lesson plans for teaching inference skills to children from birth through 3rd grade.
- The group defined inference and read articles about this skill and its development.
- Members shared their work, including charts, student work, lesson plans, and data from the STEP assessment, as well as the Preschool Language Scale-5 (PLS-5).
- Members videotaped inference lessons at each age level.
- Members worked together to develop a way to evaluate the effectiveness of these lessons at each age level (e.g., whether or not the students able to infer a character’s feelings).
In the course of completing this work, PLC members identified several common challenges around the teaching and learning of inference skills. We have listed these challenges below, as well as the group’s proposed solutions.
Challenge: There was no assessment to identify issues pertaining to the development of inference skills in early childhood.
Solution: Educare is implementing a PLS-5 that clearly evaluates children’s ability to make inferences.
Challenge: STEP data on 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders showed that these students have the most difficulty with inferential thinking, as evidenced by responses to inferential comprehension questions (both oral and written).
Solution: PLC members will work together to create a library of videos that highlight inference instruction in 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade in order to house best practices that help students with inferential thinking and performing better on those types of questions.
Challenge: There is no clearly aligned curriculum that teaches inference from birth through 3rd grade.
Solution: The PLC created a shared definition of inference and learned about each other’s standards and practices before beginning this process.
PLC members discussed what they learned from their PLC experience in a video.
- Stronger: As a team-building exercise, the PLC wrote replacement lyrics for Kelly Clarkson’s song Stronger.