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Mary Shea

Mary Shea is a professor at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, where she teaches in and directs the graduate literacy programs. Previously, she worked for many years in western New York schools as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist, and language arts coordinator. She is the author of five other texts for teachers, a chapter in an edited book, and numerous journal articles and teacher guides. Shea regularly conducts workshops for teachers, staff developers, and administrators. She was recently a visiting professor at St. Patrick’s College in Dublin, Ireland. Shea has held leadership positions in local and state professional organizations and continues to work with and support these groups.

Resources by Mary Shea

Interviews by Mary Shea

Q&A with Nancy Roberts and Mary Shea

The FIVES Strategy for Reading Comprehension

With rigorous new standards in place, literacy is one of the hottest topics. Educators need proven strategies that help students advance their reading comprehension, communication and complex thinking skills. Authors Mary Shea and Nancy Roberts tackle the challenge with their FIVES (Facts, Inferences, Vocabulary, Experiences and Summary) method. Here, they discuss their book, The FIVES Strategy for Reading Comprehension and how it equips teachers of all subject matters to collaborate on literacy and to develop high levels of competence in all learners.

 LSI: Who is the target audience for this book?

MS: It is helpful for both teachers and coaches. The FIVES has been very effective in classrooms and at all levels. It’s important for teachers to know about effective methods; it’s important for coaches to be prepared to support teachers in using best practices.

NR: I think it’s especially helpful to new teachers, who want to help their students understand that there are connections between everything they read—whether they’re reading a novel, a newspaper, or a test book. These are the elements you need to pay attention to so you’ll get the best information.

LSI: FIVES refers to facts, inference, vocabulary, experience, and summary. Have you found that some of the elements are more difficult to teach than others?

 NR: Inference is the most difficult, whether students are in kindergarten or graduate school. It’s an unawareness in our thinking and teaching where we ask students questions and we expect them to pick up on things without our direct guidance. As a result, students think inferences are facts.

Sometimes vocabulary can be difficult as well because there is so much vocabulary out there, whether it’s academic, business, or conversational. When we teach vocabulary, it’s important not to just teach the meanings of words, but also to help students understand them in context. Students need to be able to use words in the proper context.

LSI: What is the core goal of the FIVES method?

NR: The FIVES method helps students develop an automatic way of collecting and sorting information that can be used no matter what they’re reading. It’s deeper than making sure students can pronounce words correctly when they read. That’s not reading; that’s simply recalling words. Students need to be able to understand and evaluate the information.

MS: One of the most important goals of the FIVES is to get students to realize they do many of these things on a daily basis. For example, if a child says, “It’s gray out so I’m going to bring an umbrella,” that’s inference. When we tell a friend about a movie we saw, that’s summarizing. When we connect to a TV show or a book, that’s experience. We emphasize that we’re not asking them to do something completely extraordinary. We’re simply formulizing it in an academic application.

LSI: How does the FIVES tie into the Common Core State Standards?

NR: The Common Core State Standards are consistently addressed across the teaching and implementation of the FIVES. The Common Core State Standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects require students to utilize each of the FIVES areas in reading, writing, listening, speaking, and language development, as well as for Standard 10 in regard to range, quality, and complexity of text. This is true whether we are engaging in expository text or in literature. The FIVES is the perfect fit!

LSI: You discuss how preparing students for an increasingly global society is less about reciting facts and enhancing isolated skills than it is about teaching how to construct and apply knowledge. Why is this the case now, and how does the FIVES method help meet this challenge?

MS: Because information is changing at a faster rate than ever before and is coming from so many sources, we can no longer simply give students information. We must offer them tools to seek out information for themselves, and to construct new content from the things they’re learning. The FIVES method addresses the areas of content procedural and conditional knowledge.

NR: Through technology, our students are bombarded with many things, but not all of them are worthwhile. It’s important that we help them decipher the differences. In order for them to be able to do that, they have to fully comprehend what they’re reading. They need to be able to discern the facts from the inferences.

LSI: What are the differences between what you label the “micro processes” and “macro processes”?

 NR: When we’re talking micro, we’re talking the small things that we encounter when reading, like, Did the author use an ellipsis? If so, why? and Was something bolded? If so, why? Those types of questions have to become so ingrained in our heads that when we read, we ask them automatically. I teach my students to pay attention by telling them they have to create a body move for each punctuation they encounter in a passage. It’s fun and they laugh a lot, but they never read things the same again.

MS: Macro involves deeper reading—for inferring, making connections, and more. You need both.

LSI: How do you see this book used as a book study in PLCs?

 MS: The questions at the end of the book could initiate group discussions, but they would never be the end all. Teachers can come up with many more questions, and I’d hope they’d share those. It would be a great resource for other teachers and book groups. Teachers could go through a chapter per week, trying the strategies in their classrooms. When they meet to discuss their results, observations, and challenges, the group could brainstorm what could be done differently. The key would be to go through the book slowly and share results.

LSI: What is the take-away for your audience?

 MS: There are a lot of comprehension strategies out there—and they all have a place—but the FIVES coordinates a lot of the comprehension strategies that are based on research. When you teach the FIVES, you’re integrating a lot of strategies. And if you’re using it across a school, you’re being consistent with students. When they go from one classroom or grade to another, and the teacher is doing something different and calling it something different, even if it’s similar, it’s confusing to students. But if everyone’s on the same page, students learn how to internalize and apply the methods.

Speaking Engagements

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Throughout The FIVES Strategy for Reading Comprehension, I found myself taking notes and thinking already about how this book will influence my teaching tomorrow! I especially appreciate the focus on ELL and intervention groups in each chapter…and am excited for how this book can help non-English teachers tackle the demands of literacy and content reading in their own classrooms in an accessible, systematic, and scaffolded manner.
Jen Haberling, 2009 Michigan Teacher of the Year
Teachers will appreciate the concise language and the no-nonsense approach of The FIVES Strategy for Reading Comprehension to teaching reading strategies.
Andrea Noonan Fox, 2013 North Dakota Teacher of the Year
The FIVES Strategy for Reading Comprehension is a book about authentic comprehension that will not only help support students with the CCSS, but give them the tools to read with understanding and express their ideas. The FIVES strategy is a fresh perspective on mindful reading and expression.
Katie Brown, 2014 Washington State Teacher of the Year

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