Friday, October 31, 2008

More school

Since I'm on a roll with my assignments, I might as well post chapters 4-6 of that book you readers liked so much, right? Ha! I'm going to post it anyway. Chapters 7-9 are coming tomorrow. I don't work Fridays, so I'm going to spend all day cranking out the last three chapter summaries for this Saturday, my last day of class for LANG 7801 at Hamline University. In two weeks I'm up for LANG 7802: Literacy in Grades K-6 with a different professor. I'm looking forward to the change. I need to keep things fresh to avoid getting myself into another rut. Here you go:

Chapter 4: The Presence of the Past (Using Schema to Understand and Remember)

Summary

The authors begin to explain what schema is with a short introduction from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. They take turns discussing how they personally responded to the passage and what it reminded them of in their own lives. They explain that schema is nothing more than capitalizing on the known before diving into two portraits of classroom teaching where the teachers focus on this strategy in their classrooms. One of the teachers they follow for an eight-week schema unit is Debbie Miller. The other is Kathy Powell. Both are primary grade teachers in the Denver area. Both use the “Gradual Release of Responsibility” model for their schema units. The schema strategy studies involve four phases in both classrooms: planning, early, middle, and late. These are explained in a useful table on page 76. Both teachers model thinking aloud as a way to tap into student’s prior knowledge frequently and believe that good literature is vital to teaching the strategy of thinking aloud. The authors include a useful table about how to choose a good think-aloud text on page 81. Finally, in true Keene and Zimmerman form, they list a summary of what proficient readers do in bullet point form as it relates to schema and using background knowledge to remember what is read.

Personal Response

Reading about Debbie Miller’s classroom in this chapter is absolutely inspiring! Hearing about good teaching practices while using excellent literature in the classroom to inspire young minds is what I aim to do as a reading teacher, so it’s always nice to read about someone doing just that. I got many good ideas from Miller as to using the language of schema strategy in the classroom whether it is writing it down on a chart or just addressing it orally to students. I know from previous educational experiences that Miller is a teacher that spends months establishing the culture of her classroom, and I think that is essential to solid reading teaching. She would not have been able to have those discussions without that structure in place. It seems daunting now to think about spending eight weeks on a schema unit in a classroom, but the results that Miller was able to achieve are incredibly rewarding. Also, Miller emphasized author schema as a strategy, bringing together books of similar authors for students to study so that when they read a book with that author, they will know how to go about thinking about their reading. I never realized how much what I know about a particular author influences my reading as well. I will definitely use these author studies in my practice as well.
Chapter 5: The Art of Discovery (Questioning)

Summary

This chapter begins with Susan Ludvigson’s poem “Inventing My Parents” and an immediately following reflection from the authors on the questions asked while reading the poem. The authors point out that questioning is really just a quest for more information and that it along with the other strategies in the book is essential to reading comprehension. The authors quote research that states children who struggle to read don’t consistently ask questions as they read. The chapter also follows the middle school classroom of Julie Melnyk as she uses Chris Van Allsburg’s The Wretched Stone to teach questioning while reading. The authors then follow a primary teacher as she leads her first-grade class in the practice of questioning while reading using reading and writing workshops. Both teachers use authentic literature and model thinking aloud to formulate questions before asking them to generate their own questions on their own books. Both teachers use the Gradual Release of Responsibility model for strategy instruction. Both teachers use reading and writing workshop as an essential part of their strategy instruction, and a crafting session plays a huge role in the writing workshop. Finally, the authors discuss the culture of the classroom and how to set expectations during an open reading and writing workshop, including crafting sessions, invitational groups, and reflection sessions.

Personal Response

The authors make a point that resonates with me deeply when they talk about people who never ask us questions about ourselves and how we take this personally. They say that these people are people that we don’t make friendships with because we feel like they don’t care. They turn to mere acquaintances. I’ve never thought of before. Questions are just so vital to human existence, when we don’t ask them, we feel that we are being neglected. Questions are things that I thought were natural, just not to children. Because questions are so natural in teaching, I think it has become too habitual and teachers (like myself) often forget to ask real and thought-provoking questions. I’m learning through my work with the AVID program that children have to be taught to create higher level thinking questions and they need explicit instruction on how to do this. I use cue words, words such as “hypothesize”, “compare and contrast”, and “analyze” just to name a few. I’m sure there are other ways to do this though. I also use a lot of the thinking aloud strategies with questioning that the middle school teacher in this chapter does with her students. I think questioning is one of my strengths when it comes to teaching strategies, just because it’s something I do so naturally. Where I fall short, however, is the talking about the strategy itself. The middle school teacher in the chapter says specifically, “I realize that when I ask these questions, they play a very specific role. They help me get grounded in the story. The questions pull me right into the story and make me want to find out more.” This is something I think to myself, but not something I have been saying out loud. I will change that from now forward in my personal and professional practice because I have learned from the reading that this is important for students to know so they don’t protest by saying things like, “why do we always have to ask so many questions?” (I’ve had students say this to me too.)

Chapter 6: Creating Meaning (Inference)

Summary

The authors begin with their usual piece of text and reflection based on the strategy focus, this time inferring. The authors state that “when we’re considering the most effective ways to teach inference, we must begin by scrutinizing how we infer. We need to be aware of our thinking, so we can be as explicit as possible when describing to children how we infer in lessons.” The authors also state how important it is to listen to an inner voice and trust that voice when making meaning from reading and how readers need to know that they aren’t “wrong” in their inferences if they are different from those of their classmates. The authors stress the importance of conferring in strategy instruction once again. A useful table that I know I will refer back to is that on page 160, telling me how to instruct careful book selections for students. The authors do their usual following of a two teachers during conferences with students, and are painfully careful to listen to both student and teacher during the conference.

Personal Response

I like the way the one of the authors describes inferring in this chapter. She states that “I trusted that listening to my inferences would help me understand. I didn’t always read this way. I have had to work hard to make myself a more aware reader, one who thinks about her thinking as she reads. I have moved from a passive to an active stance.” I like this series of statements because I think many students are similar, from what I’ve observed. Again, I think it is important to implicitly tell students that they are thinking about their thinking as they are reading, and this is not something that I thought about before reading this book. I do a lot of questioning when reading myself, I don’t trust myself or my inferences a lot of the time, so this strategy is one I’m going to have to work a little harder on if I’m going to teach it effectively.

Major Learnings

A major part of what I learned this week would be the fact that it is preferred for teachers to use the big words such as schema in front of their students, even as low as second grade. It seems to be that when students know what you are teaching and have a firm grasp on why they need to know what they need to know, they are more active in their learning. I don’t think I would have thought to use the word “schema” when addressing a group of seven-year-olds, but after reading this I just might. One of the teachers in the case studies uses the phrase “your very important job when I’m reading” and I will use this in my practice because I know believe it is important for students to know what the goal is before reading.

Classroom Connections

A lot of what I read about this week with teaching reading strategies also holds true with just plain good teaching strategies. Know your students and what they know so that you can activate the right schema for the book or lesson you are teaching. Listen to your students and their responses when you are reading so that you know how to correct thinking and redirect conversation as needed. Come prepared to the classroom goes without saying. The most powerful classroom connection however comes with the thought that reading is synonymous with thinking and doing. There needs to be a system in place in a classroom so that students know that the culture of that classroom is a thinking culture. Students and teachers alike need to be held accountable for their thoughts and this takes time to build this classroom culture. This is what I will strive for in my future classroom and all other educational experiences that I come to before my own classroom. There is no one way that does this. There are strategies that the authors suggest and I will use thinking aloud and model taking notes with the best of them.
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