Sunday, January 5, 2014

Teaching the Reader... Not the Book: Preparing for a Small Reading Group

I am preparing for a book club with a small group of fourth grade boys.  We had selected the book, but I want to make sure that I am not teaching the book, but teaching the readers.  My preparation began with thinking about these boys as readers. I asked myself,
  • What skills do these two need in order to tackle more complex texts? 
  • What are these readers doing already that we can build upon?
  • How can I use what I know about text complexity in our small group lessons?
I began by reviewing and analyzing the students' running record assessments and recognized that both boys were reading at an instructional level Q.  I also noticed that a primary need was going to be comprehension (specifically: inferential understanding and elaborating using text evidence).  Below is what I noted first:

Strategy Group Focus:   Building Comprehension Skills to push through level Q

Student A Goal:  Comprehension (understanding unknown words and inferential understanding)

Student B Goal:  Comprehension (monitoring- slowing down and elaborating on inferential understanding)

Next, I brushed up the kinds of work that is called for when reading a level Q text.  As I reviewed this information, I had in mind the students' goals.  Here is what I figured I should cover to help push them to be independent at a level Q:

·  Identifying central problem in the story.
·  Synthesis: Asking ourselves, “What now does this text seem to be mostly about?”
·  It is okay to let go of our initial or first expectation as we read and fashion one that is more grounded in the text as it actually unrolls.
·  Think about why characters do what they do (“Another reason is…” / “Another part of this is…”)
·  Identify cause and effect – linking earlier parts to later parts
·  Keeping track and monitoring complex characters and their characteristics (ie: “Oh, there he goes again, acting…)
·  Monitoring our reading – (What we do when we stop and say, “huh?”
·  Figures of speech/metaphors/puns

Next, I read the book we had selected: Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli.  As I read, I marked places that inspired thought and offered examples of level Q characteristics.  I hope to teach these readers how to effectively "stop and jot" so it isn't painful.  I plan on doing this through modeling and showing that when we jot an idea we can carry this idea throughout the text to see if questions are answered or links are made (between character reactions, character change, characters being impacted by the central idea or problem, finding evidence to support theories...)


I have a "loose" plan that I can use with these readers.  I created this plan (the teaching points) based on the above level Q characteristic list.  Though I will offer tips and lessons from the below plan, I will also be flexible and expect that I may not follow this "plan" precisely because the group's needs and reading behaviors will be what is driving my instruction.  This is why I am calling it my "loose" plan.  Because I know these students, I was able to anticipate their needs.  Here are a few of the lessons that I could uses with this small group:
  • Lesson 1: First chapters are usually jam-packed with information.  Readers absorb as much information as they can and pay close attention to some key features.  Readers make notes of these features:
    • The problems
      • Which ones are the most important?
      • Keep an eye out for evidence and problems that are reoccurring
    • Characters
      • How do they talk and interact … what does that say about their personality or the type of person he/she is?
      • Reactions to situations
      • Both main and supporting characters
      • Realizations (main) characters have
      • Identify and note parts that are confusing
  • Lesson 2:  Readers keep track and monitor complex characters and their characteristics
    • Noticing how the two characters contrast
    • Realizations and worries of characters (this links to problems/central ideas)
  • Lesson 3: Readers think about the problems in the story to help determine a central idea.  They hang on tight to this idea and see where it shows up in the story, how characters react to the problem, and how it changes characters.
  • Lesson 4: Readers monitor while they read and know when to stop and say, huh... Readers reread and think about what is going on in the story to make sense of confusing parts. (figures of speech, puns, metaphors)
  • Lesson 5: Readers are constantly thinking about why characters are doing what they are doing.  How does this link to the central idea or problem in this story?
  • Lesson 6: Readers analyze cause and effect in stories.  They link earlier parts of the text to later parts.
As I meet with the group, I will remain contentious to teach the readers and not the book.  My goal is to offer lessons and tips that they can utilize independently across any text as they move through tougher reading levels.

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