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, February 16, 2011

Don't Assume Too Much

We often assume kids know more than they actually do. That’s why it’s important to be explicit with them when reading aloud and demonstrating skills or strategies. When I decided to read-aloud Freya Littledale’s The Magic Fish to a first-grade class who were just starting a fairy tale unit, it was to help the kids pay attention to what the fisherman and his wife do, what they say, and even how they say it. I wanted them to eventually deduce that the fisherman is kind and his wife is greedy.

The first page of The Magic Fish goes like this:

Once upon a time there was a poor fisherman.
He lived with his wife
in an old hut
by the sea.

Now I certainly intended to show the pictures, talk about how poor the couple was, and then mention that a “hut” is a simple, small house. One that’s not at all fancy. But then it dawned on me that this may not be enough. It’s unlikely that young children will have had much experience with concept of a “hut,” and then I realized that some children may never have been to the “sea.” So I printed some clip art of “hut” and “sea,” laminated the pages, and showed them to the children at the start of the story.
The setting of this story and the characters’ relationship to it has everything to do with the story. Now I’m not trying to make excuses the wife for wanting more, more, more, but I certainly understand her at least wanting a pretty house. Don’t you? After all she has to stay home all day while her husband is out fishing for dinner. A passtime he may even enjoy! But after that she’s on her own—her wanting to “live in a castle,” to “be queen of the land,” and to “be queen of the sun, and the moon, and the stars” is over the top and can only be attributed to her being GREEDY! Not at all a nice way to be, as she soon finds out.

My point is…take the time to help kids understand the stories we read aloud or those they read on their own. This may make the difference between creating readers who only read when they have to and those who choose to read because they love it.  


  1. All too often I rely on a verbal description when my kids are unsure of what something is. I'll make better use of my prep time now with this reminder to slow down (a theme here! :) ) and make sure I can give them the prior knowledge they need to truly comprehend. Thanks, Sharon!

  2. yes, and the cool thing that happened with showing kids the clip art of a "hut" is that it grounded their thinking about the changes that took place in the story—once they saw what a hut looked liked and talked about it a bit, they appreciated the move to a "pretty house" and then "a castle" and then at the end back to the hut again.

  3. I've recently discovered the ZAPATO POWER series by Jacqueline Jules. A little boy, living with a single mom, who has magic shoes. Perfect for kids just starting to read chapter books.
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