The Missouri Reader Vol. 41, Issue 1 - Page 47

Katie Schieffer is a fourth grade teacher in Katy, Texas. She has been teaching for 5 years and has experience in first, second, and fourth grades. Katie passionately pursues creating a love of literacy in a rigorous learning environment for all students.

"It (also) benefits students to see and hear the teacher highlighting important data, skimming sections of the text, making connections to past experiences, and taking the time to pause and think about what is being read."

Figure 1 - Ryan's Pic Collage

Tamara Rhomberg, Glenda Nugent, and Dr. William Kerns presented the Missouri Read and Feed Project at the International Literacy Association Conference in Boston in July.


When these restrictions are placed on a teacher, it takes away some freedom and makes working with students in their zones of proximal development and scaffolding them each in every level of the optimal learning model overwhelming. New teachers often find that they feel pressured to teach lesson one and move on to lesson two the next day regardless of how the students performed on the first lesson. It takes time and skill to figure out the best ways to do this. Even as an experienced teacher, I find myself struggling to incorporate the Optimal Learning Model into all aspects of my teaching.

The Optimal Learning Model in Action

When I first put the Optimal Learning Model to use in my classroom I was teaching kindergarten and I started using it with writing due to the opportunities I had to conference with students. When kindergarten students set off to produce a piece of writing, it is essential that they have been given adequate examples of what the finished product should look like. As I started to move through the steps of the Optimal Learning Model in a more intentional manner I discovered a noticeable improvement in the writing pieces that were being produced.

A specific example of this was the writing of animal riddles. The was done during an informational writing unit. The students practiced researching an animal of their choice through classroom books. They noted information about the animals. After they had this information, I introduced the concept of a riddle. Many of the students could state the definition of a riddle, but if I had then set the students free with the writing assignment, I would not have gotten the hoped for results. I found a website with many animal riddle examples, written in just the format I wanted the students to use for this assignment ( We spent a class period reading these and noting the parts of the riddle, such as how clues were given and then a question at the end. This was the first step in the Optimal Learning Model in which the teacher takes control and gives the necessary information and modeling the students will need.

The next step was to model writing the riddles. Our next two class periods were dedicated to modeling using the next two steps of the Optimal learning model. These two steps both include scaffolding the student, but step two requires that the teacher still be in control, then gradually releasing control to the student and being available for support in the third step. First, I talked aloud to myself (think aloud) as I thought about clues to write for my chosen animal riddle. Then I began writing these clues on the board saying the words as I wrote them. When I finished the riddle I went back to reread it double checking to see if I had the right number of clues and the question at the end. This activity was repeated several times with students volunteering more information each time.

During the next class period I had the students take control, but still as a whole group lesson. They volunteered clues for an animal chosen without any feedback from me. I simply wrote the clues on the board as they were volunteered. When finished, we reread the riddle, double checking for the correct number of clues and the question at the end. At this point, I discovered a question that needed to be addressed and although I had released much of the activity to the students I was still there to give support where needed. We needed to determine if the clues actually helped a reader to solve the riddle or if the information was too general. For example, one of the riddles read, “I have eyes. I have fur. I have a nose. I have feet. What am I?” From this riddle we were unable to determine a specific animal. This led to better clues for the next attempts. This stage was also repeated several times so the students could have the supported practice they needed to write riddles.

Finally, I was ready to send them off on their own to write. I reminded them to think about the clues they wanted to write and even tell those clues to a partner as I listened. I wanted to take a last opportunity to provide support if needed. The riddles that were written were done very well. Not only were they written in the form that we had practiced using the Optimal Learning Model, students who had been writing random strings of letters were now writing letters that made sense with their words. When the students were sure of themselves from having been guided thoroughly, they were able to produce higher quality work.

Suggestions for Using the Optimal Learning Model

Begin using the Optimal Learning Model for just one subject and work to perfect that. I chose

Classroom CloseUP