Monday, March 4, 2019

Reading With a Writer's Lens

Image result for reading with a writer's eye          So much of the work we do in English Language Arts (ELA) is reciprocal.  Specifically, much of what we learn during Writers' Workshop can be applied when we are analyzing text.  When students read with a writer's lens, they notice craft and structure in text.

          For example, we have learned that, when writing to persuade, authors choose specific words to make the reader think in certain ways.  When trying to convince their audience that something is bad, they might use words such as:  harmful, horrible, terrifying, lethal, dangerous, etc.  On the other hand, when trying to convince their audience that something is good, an author might use words such as:  beneficial, helpful, pleasing, soothing, etc.

          Students can apply this skill when reading text by noticing this type of craft and thinking about how the author's use of this craft affects them as a reader.  Reading with a writer's lens gives young readers the "inside scoop."

          Happy reading!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Thinking Across Texts

Image result for comparing and contrasting across texts

          Have you ever watched a movie based on a book you have read?  If you're like me, you constantly compare the two versions of the story.  How are they alike?  How are they different?  Why?  Or, maybe you're reading a book and think:  Melody reminds me of Tricia in The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco.  Or, maybe you are reading a second article on tornadoes and you notice that the author has included different information than the first.

          Comparing and contrasting within a single text and across multiple texts is a great way to develop critical thinking skills and deepen understanding.  When reading a novel, students pay close attention to characters, noticing when they act "out of character."  They ask themselves:  why is this character acting differently than they have before, what caused them to change?  When researching a topic, students must be able to integrate information from mutliple sources.  After notes have been taken on the intitial source, students ask themselves:  what new information am I learning in this source, what do I need to add to my notes?

          This type of thinking can be easily practiced at home.  Try comparing and contrasting:  restaurants, television programs, video games, parks, sports teams, etc.

          Happy reading!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Developing Ideas While Reading

Image result for reading chart growing ideas          Previous posts have discussed the importance of thinking during reading.  We often talk about growing an idea.  Readers grow ideas about characters, themes, problems, possible solutions, and/or what might happen next.  Young readers often grab onto an idea and "hold it tightly," that is, they don't change their idea as they progress through a text.  Sometimes, they refuse to modify their thinking even when new information contradicts their thinking.

          It is important to guide readers to track their thinking, noting how it shifts and changes as they move through the text.  Good readers "hold their ideas loosely."  They notice when new information requires changes to their ideas.

          For example, when reading the book Fox by Margaret Wild, a reader might think at the very beginning of the story, that Dog has caught a bird for food.  However, when the reader encounters the word "gentle" in reference to Dog's mouth, this idea needs to change.  The reader suddenly realizes that Dog is actually trying to help Magpie.

          How can you help your reader grow ideas throughout the text?  Encourage your child to use sticky notes or a reading journal to track ideas and how they change over time.  When your reader finishes a text, take a few moments to reflect on the ideas developed.

          Happy reading!

Monday, February 11, 2019


Image result for what is theme
      Determining theme is not easy, especially as students' reading levels rise and text becomes more complex.  There can be multiple themes, some major and some minor.  Adding to this challenge is THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER.  

          It is interesting to observe young readers.  They devour books at an amazing rate, racing through a text to see what is going to happen next.  Often, when they get to the final page, they snap the book shut and declare "I'm done."

          It is an intimidating task to get students to pause and reflect both during and after they read a text.  I often like to ask:  how has this book change you?  Many times, however, the answer is a blank stare.

          As long as a readers can support their ideas about theme with text evidence, it is valid.  It is important to note, however, that text support must be drawn from several parts of the text.  For example, if a character trips on the sidewalk in one part of the book, a reader cannot adequately support an argument that the theme of the text is to be careful when you walk.

          It is also important to note that themes are universal messages that any reader can take with them and apply to their life  They are not specific to the text.  Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is a book about a brilliant young girl with cerebral palsy.  It would be too narrow to state that the theme of the book is people with cerebral palsy can be smart (though this is true).  A more universal theme might be, don't judge people by their appearance, or don't judge a book by its cover.

          When determining theme, a reader can start by thinking about the topic of the literary work.  Then, ask:  what is the author saying about this topic?  Using the text from the example above, the topic might be physical disabilities.  Sharon Draper presents us with a character who is extremely intelligent, but cannot communicate this to the world.  Even when she learns to use a device that solves this problem, she continues to be frustrated as those around her doubt not only her mental abilities but her ability to contribution to her community.  The story is told from the point of view of Melody.  The author lets the reader into Melody's "mind" in order to show how unfairly others treat her.  This brings across the message that judging someone by their appearance is often inaccurate.

          Happy reading!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Determining Importance

          Readers of nonfiction often have difficulty identifying what information is important to note and remember.  As I observe students conducting research, I see them copying down long sentences from the text with no idea as to why they determined that this information was important to remember.  

          One of the strategies students have been taught is to use cues within the text to prioritize information.  Readers ask themselves:  what does the author of this text think is important?  The first step is to determine the text structure.  The decisions the author made when structuring the text give the reader signals as to the author's purpose in writing the text.
Image result for text structure          When reading a text that compares and contrasts the experience of immigrants entering the United States through Ellis Island with that of their counterparts who entered through Angel Island, readers know that they should pay close attention to the similarities and differences.  They would even be able to use a Venn diagram or t-chart to take notes as these are appropriate organizers for that type of information.

          How can you help?  Walk your reader through the steps of determining the text structure and selecting an appropriate organizer to collect information that is important.

          Happy reading!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

          When I first started teaching, making connections was a new reading comprehension strategy I learned.  We made text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections.  During our read aloud time, hands would shoot up as students rushed to share the connections they made with the text.  "Johnny's grandmother is sick and so is mine!" or "Suzie wants a cat more than anything else in the world and so do I"  I have to admit, I saw no real value in making connections.
Image result for walk in my shoes

          What I realized later was that I had no idea what making a personal connection to the text really meant.  I accepted such surface connections because, frankly, I didn't know any better.  As I learned more, I began pushing my students to see more deeply.  I asked questions, such as:  how did you feel about your grandmother being sick, do you think Johnny may be feeling that way, too, how does this information help you to understand what the character is feeling?

          When readers make deep personal connections and use them to "see" more within the text, they "get" more from the text.  Empathy is established because they are able to walk in the character's shoes.

          Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Comprehension Repair

Image result for comprehension fix up strategies          

          Students have a wide range of "tools" or strategies to "repair" comprehension when it breaks down.  On her website,, the author, Becky, outlines 10 basic strategies:

  1. Re-read.  When comprehension breaks down, stop, go back to where the text last made sense, and reread to find out where understanding broke down.
  2. Read out loud.  Hearing the text adds another dimension to support comprehension.
  3. Use context clues.  This can take many forms.  For unknown words, readers can search for clues within the text.  When reading nonfiction, these clues may also include text features such as diagrams, charts, and maps.  Authors often anticipate where readers will struggle to comprehend.  They provide extra support to aid comprehension.
  4. Use a dictionary.  When you can't figure out a word, look it up.
  5. Ask questions.  Interact with the text by asking questions like:  where did this stop making sense, what does that mean, what information am I learning?
  6. Connect the parts.  Think about what you have already read.  How does this confusing part fit with the rest of the text?
  7. Make connections--meaningful connections.  Think about what you already know.  Not just information, but life experience.  (More about this in a later post.)
  8. Slow down.  Students often what to zoom through a text.  Comprehending complex text requires a change in speed.
  9. Think about the author's purpose.  What is the author trying to do?  What is the text structure?  What text features are included?  What words has the author chosen to use?
  10. Be metacognitive.  Good readers pay attention to what they are thinking when they are reading.
          Of course, no matter how many strategies students place in their toolkit, the real challenge for educators and parents is to help students notice when what they are reading doesn't make sense.  Readers often struggle to comprehend because they are unaware there is a problem in the first place.  The toolkit is jam packed with strategies, but the box is never opened.

          How can you help?  Read with your child.  Notice the confusing parts and think out loud as you model how to apply strategies to "repair" comprehension when it breaks down.

          Happy reading!