Saturday, January 11, 2014

Teaching Students What Real Readers Do - Making Our Thinking Visible

I recently wrote a post recommending the book, What Readers Really Do?  One of the ideas in the book that I really connected with related to the strategies we traditionally teach students to use - predicting, connecting, inferring and visualizing.  We often teach the strategies in isolation.  This keeps students engaged but often keeps their understanding at a surface level.  Authors Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton suggest that we need to show students how a real reader uses these strategies in an ongoing fashion.  This past week I have been experimenting with some of the lesson ideas in the book. I am not an expert and don't even know if I am doing it correctly!  All I know is I am always looking for ways to help my students improve their comprehension and enjoy reading more.

When January arrives in second grade I feel it's time to "amp it up" a notch.  I want my students to start digging deeper in their independent reading.  Many are beginning longer chapter books.  They often struggle to stay focused for the entire book and their comprehension often breaks down.  Most have no problem identifying setting, characters problem and solution.  Some can even describe the main characters in simple terms.  But I want them to go deeper.

The first thing I thought about was my book selection.  The authors recommend books that are character driven.  At first I was ready to look for a shiny new book that might meet my needs.  I do this sometimes.  I make more work for myself or re-invent the wheel.  So, I looked at some of my chapter book read alouds that I often use in my classroom.  I thought about why I use them.  I thought about my goals for my students.  What did I want to focus on?  I decided I wanted to focus on 2 things.  First, I wanted to show, or make visible for my young students what "thinking about their reading" looked like - I hoped this would help them keep track of their understanding across a longer book as well as make them aware of their own thinking. Hopefully this would help them notice important details and stay connected to the book.  Second, I wanted them to begin inferring about the characters in their books.  So, with that in mind I jumped right in!

I decided to use Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins.  I think the story is definitely character driven, although the characters are toys.  I also thought this was a good choice because the author does such a good job of "showing, not telling"  which would give my students an opportunity for inferring.  The beginning of the story starts inside a backpack with the characters trying to figure out where they are going.  However, it is very confusing because the author doesn't tell us these characters are toys.

I began the read aloud by reminding my class about our previous discussion about "thinking while we read" and "thinking about our thinking" the day before.  I gave no background for the book and didn't do a preview.  I even took the book jacket off since it had pictures on that might give away important details.  I created the T-chart with the headings and told the class we would be charting the thinking we did as we read.  And then I began to read.  I paused after 1 or 2 sentences to ask the students what we had learned so far, or what we knew so far.  I used turn and talk to make sure all students were engaged.  I found it interesting that instead of sharing a detail from the story, they jumped right to a prediction or inference.  I responded by saying either, "Why do you think that?"  or "How do you know that?"  I found it helpful to restate what they had said in the form of a "I wonder" statement.  I also noticed that students began to start retelling every detail of the story, instead of telling important information they had learned about the story so far.  So, I needed to remind them on the second day that readers notice what they think are important parts of the story.

 As we continued with the story, I paused to review some of our past wonders to see if we knew any answers yet.  You can see that I used a different color marker to show where certain details had answered our questions.  A few students thought there were 4 different characters in the backpack because one character was referred to as both Lumphy and a buffalo.  This confusion was eventually cleared up and it was nice to see those students figure that out.  I only used the t-chart technique for about half of the chapter.

What I liked about this method was that normally students that are confused either remain silent or ask for me for clarification as we read.  While I usually let other students respond to misunderstandings I like that this method allowed everyone to see our thinking.  I felt more students were engaged and figuring out for themselves what was happening in the story.  I didn't ask the comprehension questions or model my own thinking during this lesson.  I wanted the students to take the lead and I wanted to use their ideas.

As we began the second chapter I wanted students to try using the t-chart themselves.  I would read a passage or paragraph and then pause for them to fill in the chart.  Sometimes we would do a turn and talk first, sometimes I would ask students to share their thinking.  Below are a few of my student's t-charts.  This was challenging for some students who aren't able to write quickly.

The 3 main toys in this book take on the personalities of children.  This of course, is not clear to my second graders...yet.  I love that they wonder if Stingray is "dumb"?  Stingray often appears to be a know-it-all while exaggerating and providing a lot of misinformation to the other toys.  As an adult I know Stingray behaves a lot like a 4 year old, but to my second graders she appears dumb.  A few students are wondering if Stingray "is bragging".  Most of my students have figured out that Lumphy is a stuffed buffalo and Stingray is a stuffed toy that looks like a stingray. The third character is named Plastic, and none of my students have wondered about what Plastic is yet.  As the authors of What Readers Really Do? say, the authors like Emily Jenkins of Toys Go Out will provide more clues as we continue to read the book, and students will have more opportunities figure things out.  I look forward to seeing how my students use the clues in the book to describe each toy character's personality.  I wonder if they will be able to revise their thinking as we continue - many students get stuck on one idea and miss opportunities to revise their thinking.  I wonder if they will begin to see patterns emerge across the book.  My goal is to get them to see these things themselves, instead of me pointing them out.

One more quick note I want to mention.  I was excited to notice several of my students using this technique during independent reading!  They were using post-it notes.

I look forward to experimenting with this method next week.  I definitely think a small guided reading group to help with this method might be a great idea too.

I recommend you read the book!


  1. So glad I caught your tweet, Debra! This is wonder-ful. You can actually see the kids connecting the dots of details to figure things out. And you can feel their deep involvement with the story in their worry about the garbage truck. Please don't you worry, though, about doing it correctly. The fact that you're kids are engaged and thinking is proof that it's going well. And the fact that they see enough value in it to use in independent reading is the icing on the cake!. As for patterns, it seems like they're already circling one, this idea that Stingray seems to always be bragging. I confess that I haven't read the book, but it seems possible that that will change over the course of the book and that change will be connected to something the author is trying to show us through the story. And all of that seems to me to make this a perfect choice of books for second grade! Bravo!

  2. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and giving great feedback and support! As I plan this weeks lessons this morning I am excited to see where this takes us. My students were very engaged - with one commenting, "This is just like a mystery and we are looking for clues."