When I was a fifth-grade teacher, a typical day ended with a hundred and one important details that needed my attention — planning for the next day’s classes, calling parents to talk about a struggling student, gathering books from the library for our new inquiry project-the list seemed endless. Among these preoccupations, faculty meetings and workshops were near the bottom. On an afternoon when I was expected at a grade-level meeting to review benchmark papers, for example, I usually arrived distracted, disorganized, and, therefore, minimally involved in the process. What I needed was the professional development equivalent of that fabled black dress that took a woman from the office to a cocktail party without missing a beat.
Unfortunately, I rarely found that adaptable outfit to help me move from one context to another in good cognitive shape. As someone who is frequently leading those sessions with colleagues after school, I am sensitive to the transitional needs of the teachers with whom I work. Over the years, I have put together a “wardrobe” of ideas to help make classes, workshops or study groups, as Janet Allen would say, “meaningful and memorable” right from the beginning.
One approach I use with success is the anticipation guide, a transition tool that’s more Target than Saks Fifth Avenue on the bling index, but one that helps people move efficiently from the concerns of their daily teaching lives to what I hope is the renewing experience of a well-designed learning opportunity.
Anticipation Guides: An Introduction
Anticipation guides were developed by J. E. Readence in 1986 as a way to engage readers with a text before, during, and after their reading. Formats differ, but the anticipation guide I’ll describe here looks like a three-column chart. In the middle column are a series of statements about a topic. Statements can focus on the prior knowledge a student brings to the text, or on themes and essential questions posed in the reading. Students think about these statements before reading a text and decide if they agree or disagree with each one. By anticipating the content of a text, students are more likely to find connections between their existing background knowledge and new information, and as a result, their interest in the reading will grow.
While reading, students use the statements as a way to read purposefully, looking for sections that relate to the statements on the anticipation guide to help them decide whether they continue to agree or disagree with each one. After reading, students take another look at the statements to decide if they want to change any of their original opinions based on what they learned.
For example, if students were going to read about mollusks in their science books, an anticipation guide to accompany the reading might include statements such as, “A mollusk is a creature with a sturdy backbone” [not true — students should eventually disagree] or “An octopus is an example of a mollusk” [true — students should eventually agree]. A well-written anticipation guide includes a variety of statements; those designed to test basic comprehension of content, and those intended to explore values or opinions that spark lively discussions. Here’s an example of this latter type of statement, related to mollusks: “Having an exhibit of mollusks in a zoo would not be very interesting.” Readers will not find clear cut data to inform their thinking about this kind of statement. Instead, they need to make inferences and draw independent conclusions to decide whether to agree or disagree.
Using Anticipation Guides with Adults
Using an anticipation guide to support readers’ comprehension and to prompt substantive discussions among students about a topic or issue, is what teachers find most valuable about this tool. The basic intent of the anticipation guide is easily transferred to different contexts with adult learners to achieve the same engaging effect with a topic. I know because when I use an anticipation guide to kick off a literacy workshop, teachers are hooked.
Below is an example of some anticipation guide statements I use when I’m hosting a workshop about content area reading:
- I have so much content to cover in my classes, I have trouble finding time to teach reading skills.
- I’m not sure what it means to teach reading to kids who are supposed to know how to read already.
- All reading is not created equal: Different kinds of texts require different ways of reading.
- I often choose to read nonfiction.
- Most of the reading and writing people do in the “real world” is nonfiction.
- I have some successful teaching strategies to help my students better comprehend their reading in my classes.
Each statement reflects a big idea I plan to explore during the workshop. As teachers think about each of these ideas they are mentally preparing to engage with the content when we begin learning as a group. The statements are designed to be open-ended yet provocative, so that people who arrive at the workshop distracted or ambivalent are easily absorbed into the fabric of this new context.
In addition to the transition benefits an anticipation guide offers, the constructing of this tool is invaluable for me. Deciding on statements to include on an anticipation guide requires me to think carefully about my goals for a workshop, and how I want to evaluate the influence of my workshop on teachers’ thinking. Writing an anticipation guide also keeps me honest. I need to constantly revisit my guiding beliefs about well-designed professional development experiences when I strive to write thought-provoking statements.
The most meaningful and memorable workshops I’ve attended have tapped into the expertise I bring to the topic, while inspiring me to confront perceived obstacles and to figure out how to overcome them. As someone who now hosts workshops, I want to be sure I help teachers uncover their existing beliefs about the topic we’re studying. I also want to honor the experience they bring to our workshop so I can tap into the many reservoirs of expertise that exist among colleagues. Finally, I am careful to design experiences that blend theory and research with practical applications that teachers can adjust to fit their instructional needs.
Ensuring attention to teachers’ belief systems, their professional experience, and the potential application of new teaching ideas is a tall order for a workshop or study group that might last for only an hour. Anticipation guides help me maximize my time with teachers through the careful construction of statements, and by “fitting” teachers with a tool that moves them effortlessly from the preoccupation/responsibilities of their daily teaching lives to the more global work of studying best practices.