To round out my series on What Is Good Reading, I'd like to conclude with an area that ensures my students are actually Thinking throughout the reading process. Let's face it, many young readers will often read a text, determine what the text is about, and then leave the text without putting a great deal of thought into what they've read and others won't even put that much effort into reading.
But the readers I want are the ones who will actually think beyond what the words mean and what the text is about. I tell my students, "The more thought we put into what we've read, the more we get out of it." And then, I show them how to do just that.
I begin this lesson by teaching my students about the problems former students of mine have faced in this area. I share these with them because I know some of them will face/may have faced these same problems as well. I list them on the board and ask that they copy them as notes in their reading journals.
Problems with Thinking
- Not thinking about what you read.
- Every bit of information is important as every other bit of information.
- Not making inferences.
- Confusing connection with what is actually part of the text.
- Not noticing the quality of writing.
Then we move into the criteria I want us to use to help us monitor whether or not we're Thinking before, during, and after we've read. You'll notice some of this overlaps with the Read Like a Reader questions I discussed in my previous post Monitor Your Understanding.
- Ask questions.
- Make connections.
- Make inferences and predictions.
- Determine what's important.
- Appreciate the quality of writing.
Once we've established this foundation, we can move into what we need to do, as readers, to help us monitor our Thinking.
Thinking Like Thinkers
Because I have a lot of readers who come to my class lacking critical thinking skills, I want give them opportunities to practice and develop these skills. Good readers are able to read texts critically, analyzing and evaluating what makes them good/bad, what might make them better, and why the author even took the time to write the text in the first place.
In this part of my lesson, I ask my students what the word analyze means. I rarely see 35 hands shoot up into the air, but every once in a while, I'll have a student or two respond with, "To take something apart and look at it more closely." This is a working definition we'll use to make sense of the work we're about to do.
I then ask them if they can think of something they've taken apart because they wanted to know how it worked. Their answers usually include: cell phones, computers, stereos, and, on occasion, an engine to a car. I then tell them, "We're going to take apart the texts we've read look at them more closely so that we can have a deeper understanding of how the author put them together."
Once we have this analogy in place, I model a strategy called The 5 Big Questions to help my students see analysis in practice. This is one of many strategies I show my students throughout the year to help them monitor their Thinking. By the time we get to The 5 Big Questions, we've already gone through the writing process 2-3 times so we've created the "language" necessary for talking about the quality of writing. In having established such "language", we can now begin evaluating what we're reading using this very "language" that we've developed in cl ass. Our "language" includes the Six Traits of Writing: Ideas and Content, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency and Conventions or could include Style, Voice and Diction, Grammar, Format, etc.
I model The 5 Big Questions for the book I'm currently reading using a Think-Aloud. Since I've just finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I'll use it for this journal entry. I tackle these questions one-at-a-time and after I've answered them, I give my students time to answer each one for the books they're currently reading, or a book they just finished. We do a lot of sharing after each question as well so that students can hear a variety of answers on a variety of levels. I set this journal entry up like this:
The 5 Big Questions: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
1. What makes this writing good?
This is good writing because J.K. Rowling's ideas are easy to follow. She's also quite imaginative in creating places that require passwords to enter, the game of Quidditch, and in using owls to deliver letters. Her characters are well-developed and remind me of people I know. Hermoine reminds me of myself with her "know-it-all" personality and overall bossiness.
2. What would make this writing better?
What would make this writing better is the inclusion of a glossary that explains terms like "apothecary", "emporium", "knut", "friar", etc. that younger readers might struggle with. A pronunciation guide might also be helpful. And finally, an introduction by the author that explains she's British would help students who do not speak "The Queen's English" when they come across words like "Privet Drive" to not be confused.
3. What's the one most important thing the author wants you to know?
I think the author, J.K. Rowling, wants me to know that with courage, we can face even our deepest fears. She shows this through Harry's first year at Hogwarts and the obstacles he encounters. His courage seems to drive him to find answers to the many questions he has about his past, his present, and his future.
4. Why did the author write this?
I think the author wrote this because she knew someone like Harry. Someone who was bullied, or who was an underdog who found a hidden talent that set him apart from everyone else. J.K. Rowling most likely wrote this for kids who are perceived as "weak" to show them that they, too, are special.
5. What do you need to know to understand and enjoy this text?
In order to understand this book, you must allow yourself to be a kid again. You must allow yourself to believe in the possibilities of magic, dragons, and "other" worlds. There are weird names for people and places like Snape, Hagrid, Gringotts, and Hufflepuff. As you read, there may be times when such names confuse you, but you must keep reading. In time, the confusing names will make sense. I wonder where J.K. Rowling grew up, what kind of childhood she had, and who were her greatest influences.
Opportunities for Students to Voice Their Opinions
In using The 5 Big Questions, I'm encouraging students to analyze and evaluate the texts they read by giving them opportunities to Think more deeply about the quality of the writing within those texts. Each question allows students to focus on evaluating a key element within the writing: strengths, weaknesses, main idea, purpose, and context. Often, students are engaged in figuring out what something means, but questions 1 and 2 allow students to voice their opinions about the quality of writing--something students rarely get the opportunity to do.
What I like best about The 5 Big Questions is that I can have students use them for developing their analytical and evaluative Thinking skills as readers, but I can also use them as a pre-writing tool for analytical writing. The 5 Big Questions allows readers to apply criteria to other writers while at the same time helping them learn how to have a more critical eye in their own writing. We've used them to help us write and evaluate book reviews, literary analysis pieces, and in reviewing non-fiction. Its flexibility as a reading tool to monitor student Thinking in the form of a journal entry (response), as a pre-writing tool, or as a revising tool makes it one of the most versatile strategies I use with my students all year. In doing so, I'd like to think that I'm making the reading/writing connection more explicit for my students.
For more on What Makes Good Reading and The 5 Big Questions see: READING ALLOWED: Making Sure the First "R" Comes First and THE HANDOUTS: Single Page Reading and Writing Lessons You Can Give to Your Students.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.