Be The Molotov Cocktail II: During Strategies
I'm putting all this work into building anticipation, front-loading content, pre-teaching key vocabulary, and generally getting kids, if not interested, than at least less bored in the text. Like the purchase of a new car, the value of all these efforts begins to depreciate the second I’m done with them. Given a population of ELLs and other academic untouchables, this depreciation probably occurs at a rate more rapid than otherwise – I’ll resist a sub-group to automobile comparison here – and will be less positively affected by the inherent benefits of the text than one could hope.
Upshot? If I don’t keep working, kids start reading with their eyes.
This is bad. People who read with their eyes don’t think, don’t question, don’t contemplate, don’t weigh the new information they’re taking in against previously acquired information. They’re probably unaware of the new information. This is bad.
I’ll head out on that limb of mine and say that this where things fall apart, a lot. As commenter Dina pointed out, none of this stuff on Before Reading is terribly unique or interesting. After Reading strategies tend to be even more well-covered ground. It’s here though, where we try to answer the what-do-we-do-while-they’re-actually-reading question that we can make some hay. This is our barn. How do we keep kids from checking out, from skimming, from avoiding thought, from getting lost John Locke style?
■ Response Journal: Two-columns, chosen or assigned text on the left, obviously deep and thoughtful response on the right.
■ Partner Talk: Sometimes they know it; they just don’t want to tell you.
■ Questions: Oh Dina, I hear ya, I hear ya. Kid’s over here telling us we should ask questions about what students read. What’s next? Does he suggest we should like, teach the standards? (I do, actually). The point here isn’t that we should start doing this, it’s that we should start doing this a whole hell of a lot better. We need to ask better questions, questions that get beyond comprehension recitation, questions that include and scaffold the language we’re trying to build with our ELL kids. We need to ask questions that require responses using the new language we want to see acquired, delivered in complete sentence form (we should also have a sign that says complete sentences, canguros that we surround with Peter Griffin plastic lights, but that’s another tale). These complete sentences themselves need to be scaffolded with hardcore sentence starters displayed in accessible locales.
The real thing here is that we need to think more critically about to whom we ask those questions. Seriously, how often do we consciously plan out not only the questions that get asked, but who we want to answer them? How often do we both lead kids to knowledge this deliberately, but also build in this type of formative assessment? V. gets this question because otherwise she starts checking out. K. gets this question because it gets her using critical language early in the text. A. gets this question because if he gets it right, I know I'm moving at a good pace. F. gets this question because if he gets it right, I know I'm moving too slow.
This also gets us thinking about hits, about the number and extent of content interaction kids have in a given class period. How many hits to kids get with the work? How many with me? How many with each other? Am I keeping them out of the trap of non-participation in exchange for non-disruption? Are their patterns to interaction I need to be aware of (gender, ethnicity, ELL status, social status, proximity, etc.)? To do this, and do it with rigor, is to drastically improve what happens in your room.
■ Active Reader Strategies: Question, visualize, predict, paraphrase, clarify, fact & opinion, make connections, and so forth. These are a big part of elementary, but seem to disappear at middle and high school, never mind that the kids still have elementary learning profiles. You gotta teach these, and then hold the kids accountable to these things while you read. Something like this helps:
I can only begin to explain how huge this has been for my reading instruction, how much my kids have benefited from this type of training-wheels approach to the type of meta-cognition strong readers do as a matter of course. Suffice to say, this has been big for me, even more so because of the massive flexibility build into this approach. The strategies in those boxes can vary based on what you're reading, what's salient to the text, and also what kids have already mastered. Jorge's got visualization and prediction down? Take those off his sheet, and he can fill in other strategies he needs to work on. Ana can do all of these? Let her choose her own way, completely self-guiding. To get to this latter part, you'll need to monitor progress on these strategies. Do this however you do, but when kids monitor their own learning, everybody wins. Something like this helps:
If we can front-load concepts and build interest, and then support reading as we move through the text, by the time we get the summative (after) stage, we will be able to get far more out of the work we assign, and push students' comprehension and analytical skills beyond what many of us are getting from them currently. Then we can really have some fun.