In my job as an educational consultant I feel privileged to spend a good portion of my time working directly with kids in the classroom. Much of what I learn comes from these experiences. During workshops and summer institutes, I share not only classroom stories, but also how these stories inform and revitalize my teaching. I thought I would start to share some of these stories here on my blog with the hopes that others might do the same.
Earlier this week a group of teachers and I were working with some first grade kids trying to figure out best ways to support them in having great conversations about books. We decided to watch them and see what they talked about with no teacher intervention. We thought doing this would surely fuel our teaching. And that it did!
We chose two boys who happened to be reading partners to help us with this. I began by giving them a very quick book introduction. Then we asked each of them to read the book on their own. Finally, they came back and talked about the book together. We listened to what they talked about without intervening.
That’s what we did but here comes the important part…what we learned!
1. Book introductions are not just for guided reading! Book introductions are often thought of as part of a guided reading lesson, but watching these two boys I was reminded of the power of book introductions at other times of the day as well. The book introduction that I gave to the two boys was short but it dramatically changed how they talked later on. Here is what I said, “ This book is called Young Cam and the Ice Skate Mystery. I know that both of you have read other Cam Jansen books, as well as other mystery books so you know something about how mystery books tend to go. What do you think might happen in this book? Rather than guessing what this book was about they were able to predict based upon what they know about mysteries. After than book introduction, they predicted that something would get lost and there would be clues as to what had actually happened.
After they shared, I told them that they were, in fact, correct and specifically in this book a key was lost and that the rest of the book was about trying to figure out what had happened to the key. Then I sent them off to read. Later on when we listened to them talk, they had great fun pointing out what they thought were clues as to what had happened to the key. Their conversation was on target and definitely deepened their understanding of the book. I think that they talked about the clues in their book because my book introduction brought that idea to the surface.
2. Natural conversations about books are a great starting point. When I begin reading partnerships with kids my very first lesson is a simple one. I just tell kids that it’s helpful and fun to read books and then talk about them with a friend. I let them know that often they’ll understand a book differently after hearing what their partner says. Then I send them off to read and later I give them time to talk in partnerships. This lesson surprises teachers because they think I’m going to start by teaching the kids one specific way to talk. There is nothing wrong with teaching kids how to talk about texts, but I usually start with seeing what kids naturally do when chatting with one another. A really extraordinary thing happened when we listened to these two boys talk naturally about the book. At the end of my book introduction when I asked what they knew about mysteries one of the little boys said that in mysteries the problem is usually solved. The other boy disagreed and the two boys (They literally forget that we were watching them) started talking about previous mysteries they had read and how in those books the problems were always solved. At the end of the conversation, the boy who had originally disagreed said, “Oh yeah you’re right. They are usually solved.”
That one quick encounter had so much teaching potential. I often tell kids that you know you’ve had a good book talk when your mind is changed by something your partner said to you. It sounds like a complicated idea but it became seamless when these two boys did it naturally and authentically.
3. Noticing strengths fuels your teaching. Watching these two boys for a few minutes we noticed that they did some really smart things. For example, as you saw earlier, one of them let a conversation change his mind. We also noticed that while reading both of them would often flip back to earlier pages to see if they could confirm their idea or if they changed their mind after looking back. We could deepen these strengths by simply highlighting what they did and suggesting that they do it more often.
4. Noticing needs fuels your teaching. One of the things that we noticed is that although the two boys we worked with were noticing great things in the book, they weren’t connecting to each other ideas as much as we would like them to. We realized from watching them we could show them some language prompts that would help. For example we could teach them language such as. I agree with you because…I disagree with you because. …..Let me show you a place in the book that does this. Can you show me a place in the book that does this?
We spent just a short time with these two boys but once again I was amazed at how much fun it was to watch them and how watching them fueled our teaching and their learning.
What classroom stories can you share and how have they informed your teaching?