Why Blog

I’m passionate about finding ways to simplify comprehension instruction and learning. I’m concerned that we are defining comprehension too narrowly as an accumulation of five or six meta-cognitive strategies when cultivating comprehension involves so much more than that. We need to help children acquire accurate fluent reading skills and strategies; build background knowledge; develop their oral language and vocabulary; make reading-writing connections, and acquire a repertoire of meta-cognitive strategies to use as and if needed.

So I invite you to join me in blogging about this ever-so-important topic. I look forward to hearing your ideas, teaching strategies, book recommendations, classroom stories, etc., basically anything that will inspire a healthy conversation among colleagues.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Retelling as Written Response" Ideas

[This post is based on a question Lisa posed in the June 25th comment box.]

Dear Lisa,

I think you’re “right on” when you have your ELL first graders talk about the book you’ve read aloud before asking them to respond in writing. The types of guided responses you've asked them to make and the prompts you've provide seem varied and developmentally appropriate. And I totally get how this is so much more difficult when they attempt them on their own. This is always the case and, as you well know, their skill develops over time. So we need to be patient.

Let’s focus for a moment on the “retelling” part of your question. You’ve expressed concern that asking kids to retell stories would be tedious and boring. It may be, but the extend to which it actually is depends on how often we ask them to retell and the types of retelling we engage them in. Two things need to come into play: First, we need to balance written responses with oral responses such as readers theater, book talks, etc. and visual representations such as making pictures, character maps, etc. Second, we need to expand the scaffolds we provide for students as they retell. 

You mention Beginning-Middle-End (B-M-E) as one scaffold. In The Next Step in Guided Reading, Jan Richardson offers two others that work with early readers such as yours. They are Somebody-Wanted-But-So (S-W-B-S) and the Five-Finger Retell.

Here’s how Richardson describes S-W-B-S:

“The students write a one-sentence summary using the S-W-B-S scaffold. At first you will need to help students write this response, but eventually you should be able to say, Write a ‘Somebody-Wanted-But-So’ for this story.

Somebody: Who is the story about?
Wanted: What did this character want?
But: But what happened?
So: How did it end? What happened next?

The response should be written in a complete sentence. As students write independently, you should circulate among the group and scaffold students who need your help.”

In addition Richardson discusses the Five-Finger Retell where each finger represents one aspect of story grammar.

Thumb: The characters are…
1st finger: The setting is…
Tall finger: The problem is…
Ring finger: The events are… (What happened first? Next? Then?)
Little finger: At the end…

Since your students are young and ELL, this is a scaffold you would introduce and initially use in whole-class settings. However as the students get the hang of it you might ask them to write about “one finger” with enough detail (and perhaps a picture) to show they understand how it works with the story as a whole. And of course, they will need multiple demonstrations of what you mean.

I close with this reminder. While responses to text—written and otherwise—are important and should be something kids do during their independent reading time of day, we need to remember that providing voluminous opportunities for them to read just-right books is still our number one priority. Kids can’t improve their reading if they don’t read.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Daniel Willingham Podcast-Background Knowledge and Reading Strategies

I was going through some files preparing for an institute I'm doing this week in ohio and came across a link to a podcast given to me by a soul-mate teacher in Portland, Oregon. Well...I finally listened to all 15-minutes of it and am so glad I did! It's Daniel Willingham talking about background knowledge—how important background knowledge is and how comprehension strategy instruction is being over-done. Now that you have a bit more time—assuming you've already begun your well-deserved summer break—take your laptop on your deck, grab a cool drink, and listen... Bet it will start you thinking about next year.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Juggling Time for Reading and Response

In a May 30th comment box Mary raised the issue of there being a fine line between asking kids to respond in a thoughtful manner to texts they read and one that doesn’t take too much time away from their independent reading. She writes that her children often get caught up filling in their response sheets when perhaps time would be better spent reading.

I understand her dilemma and I have experienced it often myself. And admittedly if I went back to classroom teaching tomorrow I’d have to seriously reconsider the amount and type of response I ask students to make. Especially in light of the Carnegie Corporation’s 2010 Writing to Read Report that recommends, based on a meta-analysis of reading and writing research, that teachers have students write about texts they read to improve to improve their reading. The report states on page 5 that “students’ comprehension of science, social studies, and language arts is improved when they write about what they read, specifically when they:

•  respond to a text in writing (writing personal reactions, analyzing and interpreting the text)
•  write summaries of text
•  write notes about a text
•  answer questions about a text in writing, or create or answer written questions about a text.

So you see, not only would I need to consider how much kids should respond during the reading workshop but also how to get them to write more throughout the content-area times of day. How often and the types of responses I might ask them to make would, of course, depend on children's age and stage of reading development, but would certainly include more…more drawing, more writing, more quick writes, more writing about what they are learning. If studies cited in the Carnegie Report link writing to children's reading development then I’d be remise not to consider how this might play out in my own classroom. And unfortunately I’d still be left with the dilemma of how increase the amount of responding children to without taking precious time away from their reading. No quick fix here…just the challenge of figuring out a personal solution to this ever-so-important juggling dilemma. (Thanks Mary, for raising the issue.)