Thursday, July 15, 2010

About Reader's Workshop: Talking- The Problem with Why?

I've been reading Tell Me by Aidan Chambers as I talked about here. A lot of the things that Chambers writes about is how teachers can use talk and language to enable readers to come to deeper understandings.

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.
I'm definately going to be spending more time thinking about the use of language when talking about reading. Chambers has made some good points about language which halts conversation or prevents students from really coming to better understandings. I like the idea of letting understanding build organically, it makes a lot of sense to work that way. Hopefully this change in language will allow that to happen a lot easier

Photo from flickr


Julie Niles Petersen said...

I never really thought about, "The Problem with Why," but it definitely makes sense after reading your post.

What you wrote about this book piqued my interest. I love reading about the art of discussion and conversations as it relates to reading comprehension. Currently, this seems to be a pretty hot topic in the field of literacy as it should be.

Personally, I have found great success with, "After having read this, what do you wonder?"

Thanks for a great post and for making me TWRC!

Rebecca said...

We are implementing the SEM-R (Schoolwide Enrichment Model) which is very much like Reading Workshop. The only differences that I can see are that students should be reading books that are challenging during independent reading time and instead of minilessons, we do book hooks using higher-order questioning to stimulate discussion. Here is a link to bookmarks with these types of questions

A Reader's Community said...

Julie: it was a bit of a revelation to me as well -but once I thought about it, it made such sense!

Rebecca: what's classed as a challenging book? Many of my students read books that would be considered (Australian) high school books, but they read them by choice.

My concern with only using questioning (which we use in small group and one on one conferencing), would be making sure that the skills of deep reading are still taught.

A Reader's Community

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Queensland, Australia
A Reader's Community is a place to find ideas, information, resources and recommendations about Reader's Workshop.

This Blog has five main types of posts.

About Reader's Workshop - information about Reader's Workshop in my classroom and how it works

Reader's Workshop Tools - resources you can access and use to help you with reader's workshop

Book talks - Book recommendations of two or three books centred around a particular theme

Book letters - in-depth reviews of one particular book

Reader's Workshop Links - Short links lists to help you find more information
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