A trip down memory lane: Part five
Thanks to Facebook memories, I was reintroduced to my first literacy blog I created for a grad school assignment. I am going to be reposting my old posts here. They are a reminder of why I became a teacher. They are a reminder of how I developed my teaching style. They are a reminder of my pedagogical philosophy. Many of the posts I have reread, still ring true to me and are embedded in my daily practice as a teacher.
Originally Posted on I'm Making Readers & Writers For Life December 8, 2011.
"Too Cool for School"
So in high school I thought I was so cool and so smart in Ms. Petrao’s English class when we were discussing the books we read in class. I felt like an intellect reading further and further between the lines. To me I was writing college level papers by comparing The Lord of the Flies to Machiavelli. If I could find that paper I might laugh, I might cry, I might edit. What I am getting at here is I could not have had these deep conversations and strong analysis without the deep comprehension skills I had subconsciously developed in elementary school. What I now realize, this was not subconscious, but that my excellent elementary teachers worked tirelessly to teach me how to understand the great aspects of the books we were reading. Looking back, I want for my students when they reach high school to feel just as cool as I did when debating the books meaning or understanding how a character may represent the devil. I know that as an elementary teacher it is my responsibility to give students countless opportunities to practice the numerous comprehension strategies out there. So how will some of these various strategies create smart alecks in high school?
- Establishing purpose for reading: give a student a text and their automatic reaction is WHY? Give the student a purpose and they are focused. Like when I taught my students about visualization in Holes they had a simple task for that one chapter. It was to read the chapter and see if they can actually see in their mind what Camp Green Lake really looks like. When they get to High School they can put all these various purposes together and just read. They can visualize while predicting because their reading ability is at a sophisticated level. And by that point outside of the classroom the point of reading is for pure entertainment.
- Using prior knowledge: We don’t know everything but each and every one of us knows something. The knowledge students have spent years acquiring through school, experience, and intrigue gives each student an individual perspective on a book they are reading. They can use this prior knowledge to really understand the books meaning. Two students with two different backgrounds can both use their prior knowledge to have deep meaning of a book. Ask the two students about it and chances are you will get two very different answers. Certain parts of a book will speak to them where the other student may not have picked up on it. When they get to that discussion circle in my class (they are not waiting until 9th grade to analyze a text if I have anything to do with it) both students can orate their interpretation. It can enlighten the other readers to aspects of the book they were in the dark about. There are new angles in how they see the books progress of events or sympathies they have for characters.
- Asking and answering questions: The only stupid question is the question not asked. There are three levels of questioning: low, medium and high. Low questions are often phrased with When, or who and can often be answered in one word answers. Then the middle is what which has a couple of more words for the answer. The high level questions of why and how is what I want my students to be asking as the read along. All types of questions have their place while reading but the lower level questions will probably get answered by reading further in the text. However those high level questions that challenge a student’s thought process is my ultimate goal. Why would she do that? How could a mother treat her child like that? Why does digging holes build character? Some of these questions have answers that students will come to in their reading but others require them to think even after the last page has been read. These open ended questions are great launching pads for class discussions or writing assignments. This will have students flex their ability to analyze and draw connections from sections and aspects of the book if they were just reading it to read.
- Making inferences: If a writer wrote every word down that indicated his or her intention every book lining a library’s shelf would be as thick as War and Peace. Reading between the lines is just as important as fluently reading the text in a book. It is important to stop and ask students to think, what is really being said here? How do I think the character is feeling? The author introduces us to settings, plots and characters but expects their reader to make inferences about the unwritten features of these aspects. But how is a student supposed to know they are supposed to be making inferences as they read. Cue teacher. It is my job as a teacher to show students the art of inferring. In child appropriate language ask a kid if they have any additional thoughts about a sentence or paragraph chances are they did. From author’s word choice we can infer a character is nice because the author tells the audience he is very happy and shares his toys. Making inferences helps students to think about what may happen next or help formulate opinions based on the tone of the author’s writing. Developing the ability to infer has students think beyond the text and dig for deeper meaning.
- Determining what is important- main idea: The main idea is not the last sentence of the first paragraph of a five paragraph essay, it is the theme of a book that peeks through when you least expect it. It may be obvious, or it may need a bit of digging to uncover, but it is there. It needs to be shown some love. Every great book has a theme or a main idea the author is trying to tell its audience. Exploring this while trying to understand a book will once again tie the whole book together. This character fits in with this theme because he exemplifies this characteristic. Or the theme is shown to the reader by this sequence of events. Understanding main idea and theme will give perspective to a student’s understanding. When analyzing text’s students should consider how these themes are omnipresent and what their effects are.
- Summarizing: The ability to read something anything and put it into your own words shows that you have read it, thought about, processed it and come up with the words that make the most sense to you of how to make sense of what you just read. Putting the plot into one’s own words sounds simple but is actually very difficult because there are so many small but necessary steps to summarize effectively. When analyzing it is important for students to summarize to give their group mates background of the events that go into the opinions that are being formed.
- This is a big undertaking, but I know the payoff is worth it. I want to have students that when they get to High School are confident enough to discuss with their class what they thought and why. We all have thoughts, but the why piece will most impact a student’s growth. That “why” will grow and the students will become excellent examiners for all things in their life. They will want to gain understanding about why something works or why this process works for creating a recipe. Why not ask why? There is only room to grow. A book is a puzzle piece that needs the reader to put all the pieces together for a complete piece of literature.