Chambers points out that one of the worst phases to use when talking about reading is 'Why?' as in 'Why did this happen' or 'Why did you like it'. I know from experience that this question often leaves students grasping for an answer that they think I want to hear - it really places the teacher in the position of power, rather than creating a real community. Chambers suggests that 'why' also encourages students to give questions that don't have a tonne of meaning. Instead he suggests that teachers should provide a starting point, a detail that gives readers a place to move from.
Developing understanding from texts should be developed organically, Chambers points out. If we want to build up understanding from students, we should do it by asking them to tell us what they like or dislike from the text and then move through what puzzles them. Often by talking it out, students are able to see what they know as well as moving on to new understandings.
How does this apply in a reader's workshop classroom? Well I had a couple of thoughts about how I would be able to use it . . .
- This approach provides an angle/language for conferring with students. I sometimes have problems with conferring, when students come to a dead end and you're not sure where to take them next. By starting with 'tell you what you like/dislike' you give the students a really comfortable place to begin - as their confidence builds, they are able to build their understanding.
- This approach could also be used in small group lessons. As a group, students would be able to contribute to and build on an understanding together, contributing to their shared understanding. The questioning could be changed/adjusted to the aspects you want to discuss with the students.
- You could also use this when working with read alouds. In my experience, talk is the best way to assess student understanding of read alouds, and this provides a good way for students to talk about a book, without feeling like it is assessment.
- Students could be taught to use this language with each other. Book/reading buddies can be a really powerful way of sharing knowledge, and if this approach is modelled and taught, students could use it before writing book letters, or completing tasks. Alternatively, it could be used as the students are finishing their individual reading, to help them clarify their opinions and understandings right after they have read.
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