Monthly Archives: January 2015

Reading like a detective…to get below the surface

Our next set of comprehension lessons feature examining characters, setting, and plot through details in texts.  I find that children are quick to pick up what is “on the surface”; that is “I am like this character because she’s a girl with brown hair like me” or “I am like this character because he likes sports too.”  The challenge is really digging below the surface and inferring meaning.  What can we really tell about a character from his/her actions, thoughts/feelings, or words. This is the challenge we will be diving into further.

“Read Like a Detective”… it has become my motto.  When I can pull out a few sentences and really examine them out of the full context, my ability to infer insights increases. Consider this piece of text:   ” ‘Can I drive now?’ Dan asked again. ‘Not a chance.’ ‘Come on! Let me drive! Please!’ Within the space of thirty seconds, Dan asked if he could drive nine more times…” (from The 39 Clues: The Black Circle by Patrick Carman)

Do you really need to know the rest of the story to make a judgement about this character? Just this small piece gives us some insights into this character.  I personally am making a connection to my youngest daughter Brooke, who when first obtaining her learner’s permit, sent me about 30 texts and left several voice messages in the span of 1 1/2 hours to beg me to take her driving when I got home.  Adjectives that come to my mind: persistent, annoying…  Now if I told you the character was 11 years old, this might get you questioning and thinking differently.

The point is that we can really stimulate our thinking when we read closely about a small piece of text. I think this is the key to getting children to dive below the surface of text past what the writer is telling them directly to what the writer wants us to discover or figure out. 4th graders are practicing this with their Book Club A Wrinkle in Time (you can really hear their deeper thinking in their podcast discussions!  Check them out:

Try this with your child. Find an old favorite and pull out some quotes.  For a challenge, try not to use something with identifying features, such as a character’s name. This directs the thinking to just the text available.  Here’s a sample: “Now they were speeding past fields full of cows and sheep. They were quiet for a time watching the fields and lanes flick past.”

Read Like a Detective quote cards

Video lesson for 3rd graders:

Video lesson for 4th graders:

Point cycles

Trying to run our routine on a weekly basis is proving just too difficult with schedule interruptions and weather incidents, so we are moving to “point cycles” which will last 5-10 days.  We will also adjust to some changes in our menu:

I have to keep perspective on what I am charged to do. As reading teacher of record, I replace the student’s reading instruction so first and foremost I have to make sure I meet all grade level reading curriculum expectations.  This meant I needed to re-evaluate the assignments I give students. Main dishes are the core of my instruction and student practice.  These are “Dive ins”, homework response letters, talk about text, book club/novels, shades of meaning (vocabulary), comprehension lessons (“video”), and NowComment for digital discussions about text. The reading standards I have to meet are all addressed with these important tasks.

Side dishes offer choices but still reinforce skills I have been teaching.  I moved “word study” and “writing station” out of this area because I am not the writing teacher or LA teacher of record.  I want to support these areas, but they are not my focus. Listening station not only builds critical listening skills but also fictional text analysis. Metacognition is about thinking and interacting with texts and different aspects of text. Vocabulary currently is focusing on multimedia sources to gather and consider information. (Students are building domain-specific vocabulary in context). Our poetry station allows students to consider elements of poetry and explore deeper thinking. Finally I “added” newsstand (which was formerly included with metacognition) to get students using our print and digital texts for more informational/non-fiction text analysis.

“Snacks” remain unchanged.  These are intended to give students options for supplement in their homeroom classes.

The idea of “desserts” are to give students an extra but to remind them that the focus is on the other reading tasks.  Word study and writing station have been moved here so that students will not place as much emphasis on these.  I also added “picture book projects” because the students really enjoyed them and many have asked to do another.

The final optional element is the “100 club”.  This is for the self-driven/motivated students that are eager to “work” and want more. These options offer some fun but the learning goals are emphasized.

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Word Wizard Hall of Fame

At conferences I tried to clarify my view of being a “word wizard”. My goal is to help the children learn the skill of figuring out the meaning of words in context as they are reading. As adults, we rely on our instinctive skills to figure out a word we encounter as we read. Of course we know how to look it up if we really feel we need to, but most often we just make sense of it and read on.
This is a skill I am trying to make “obvious” or “visible” to the children. I have demonstrated how to record words they come across in their reading and then use the context to infer or “guess” at the meaning. This is a very individual experience and one that I cannot necessarily demand with ease.  However, I do feel that taking the time and making the effort is important so I have asked the children to try to do 10 words a month. Since it is not part of their weekly routine, I know most of the children forget.
In an effort to reinforce that the time and effort put into being a “word wizard” is appreciated, I am going to recognize those that are turning their monthly collections in very “publicly” with a “hall of fame”.  This is to applaud those that are and hopefully encourage those that are not.
November WW hall of fame  December WW hall of fame

Closely reading to analyze, infer, evaluate

One of the skills I’ve been working on with the children is how to read “closely”… this involves re-reading texts. I’ve also tried to teach them how to use “lenses” when they read. By this I mean specific things to look for. For example, we can read closely using a “word lens” where we are looking for interesting words, new words, or domain/content specific words. Now we can use a “character lens” where we can look carefully for details about a specific character.

Here’s the lesson/discussion some of the 4th graders and I had about “Meg” from A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time (Delve into Discourse)

I am so excited for my 4th graders to start their next novel: A Wrinkle in Time.  This is very different from our first book club selection. Today I shared how our approach is going to allow them to read through different “lenses”…that is, we can look at word choice, we can examine characters/events, we can read like detectives/write like reporters, we can locate “signposts”, we can respond in multiple ways.  There is no way we can do it all!  Thus, I am giving students choices and will find ways for us to explore the book as much as possible (during TaT groups some weeks and during Tiger Time). Weekly “delve into discourse” sessions will be on Fridays where we will continue recording and podcasting!

Here’s the introduction to the book club/study I gave the “red” group today:

A Wrinkle in Time Book Club (Expectation overview)

Read through lenses

Notice and Note flags (Signposts)

Book club scoring rubric_Wrinkle in Time

Blended learning permeates the GREEN ROOM

As I worked on lesson plans for our week back after winter break, I paused and considered how the GREEN ROOM is truly a place of blended learning… and these pictures I took from before break speak louder than words!

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Pretty cool, right?! I am thrilled at how independent the children have become.  Our tech devices are such learning tools that they children use them routinely and efficiently. While there is a great deal of digital influence in tasks, they still do a great deal of traditional “paper/pencil work”, evident in the stacks of work I gladly go through!  If you stop by and visit, it appears that I might be sitting back just watching the action (which I know isn’t true because I create the experiences, give feedback and guide learning), but I think this is quite a testament to the children. I have often joked that they can run the room without me… but I wouldn’t want them too!