Best Book I Have Not Read

Writing, Reading, Teaching, Life, Attempting to Balance it All

Metacognition Venn Diagram January 16, 2009

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Maggie’s teacher’s wall chart-based on Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregorimg_0960


If you are a teacher of comprehension (and aren’t we all), it is worth your time to join a book group of your own! October 20, 2008

Filed under: books,literature groups,school — bestbookihavenotread @ 9:57 pm
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A couple Mondays ago my monthly Book Club met and even though I haven’t finished (or honestly done more than start), I went to hear the conversation about the book, The Painted Drum by Lousie Erdich. Today as I look back, I’m actually really glad I hadn’t read the book because it really allowed me to watch and listen to the members in an adult version of what we ask students to do in Literature Discussion groups. It was fascinating to get to watch the conversation flow and to see that one reader had even made a chart for herself to help keep track of the characters and their relationships to each other! Just like in class, there is usually one who prefers to listen rather than share. Interestingly enough though, the members of the group never assume she hasn’t read the book, is incapable, or unintelligent (quite the opposite!) as we would with some students who we would push to participate, or perhaps take effort points away.  

I often take away some new understanding about the book, a character, or problem than when I had come to the conversation. There was even a book that I had read the first quarter of, abandoned in annoyance, only to participate in the discussion, decided I was looking at the book from the wrong point of view, finished it and actually enjoyed it. Without the discussion, it would have just sat as dust collector on the shelf.  

If you belong to a Book Club, feel free to comment on any benefits you feel you get as a teacher of comprehension.


Primary Comprehension Toolkit September 21, 2008

I am most of the way through the teacher’s guide of the Primary Comprehension Toolkit and I am impressed and excited! I began using the grade 3-6 Comprehension Toolkit a year and a half ago and our building began using it for all 4th and 5th grade at the beginning of the last school year (2007-2008). It is one of the few resources that all 15 teachers have been able to agree on-everyone likes using it and thinks the learning it promotes in our students is very worthwhile and comprehensive. 

Last year one of the fifth grade teachers and I went through and divided the texts that came with the Comprehension Toolkit and added onto the lessons as needed from the Toolkit Text book for grades 4 & 5. We then made binders for each teacher by grade level.  We agreed last year that teachers would use the binders as suggestions, but if they found new books or texts, they were free to substitute their own titles. The division of the texts left no teacher feeling frustrated that the “lesson had been taught” by the previous year’s teacher. We all saw the value in teaching and reinforcing the comprehension strategies in both grades, but most teachers wanted the security of knowing which texts to use and also the security of knowing their like-kind colleagues would be able to talk to them about how the text had gone when used in their classroom. Once teachers had taught the lesson once, they felt more comfortable branching out into their own text selections. 

I like how the Primary Comprehension Toolkit’s Teacher’s Guide lists the 12 Principles that Guide Our Work.

1. Teach for Understanding and Engagement

2. Create an Environment for Active Literacy

3. Understand that Text Matters

4. Foster Passion and Curiosity

5. Share Our Literate Lives

6. Create a Common Language for Literacy and Learning

7. Build Instruction Around Real-World Reading

8. Provide Explicit Instruction with the Gradual Release of Responsibility Framework

9. Make Thinking Visible

10. Recognize that Reading, Writing, and Art and Interconnected and Synergistic

11. Differentiate Instruction Paying Special Attention to the Needs of Developing Readers and English Language Learners

12. Teach with the End in Mind


There are also sections on how to set up an active literacy classroom in a primary grades, how to fit the primary toolkit into reading workshop, a basal based program  or into content areas, depending on time constraints. 

It seems that the lessons are easier to transfer to your text selections than the intermediate edition, but I haven’t compared them lesson to lesson, so it could just be me being used to the format and equating familiarity with easier.


Comprehension Strategies launching lesson August 28, 2008

Today I taught my first model lesson for three other teachers in fourth grade. I thought it went pretty well. I was nervous the day before when meeting with the teachers to talk about the lesson, but once I was in the classroom with the students, it felt very natural. I did have several things going in my favor: It is a lesson that I had done successfully in my classroom last year; I know many of the students since my daughter is the same age; it was in the classroom of the woman who used to be my co-teacher until this year. I don’t think I could have gotten a more comfortable setting for a first time!

The lesson is one I had read about in book entitled Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor. The lesson is called Reading Salad. I really like the set-up she describes of telling students that you bet they are really good at pretending. You then go onto to explain that they are going to pretend to the be teachers and you are going to pretend to be a student. Remind them teachers are very serious about reading, so they should be very serious because they are going to be grading me as a reader (while pretending to be a student). I selected the book Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen for my role as “student”. The book it is one that I know many of the teachers read last year as we had had several ongoing conversations about it at lunch. I read aloud (with a couple choice words removed) parts of the first two pages of the prologue. I did (accidentally) stumble over a word or two and also have to go back and reread one sentence when my “editing” made the sentence unclear.

When done I asked them to give me honest feedback about me as a reader. They were very complementary, as was last year’s group, despite my couple stumbles. When asked why they thought I was a good reader, they offered things such as “you knew all the words”, “you used expression”, “it seemed like a hard book” and other similar offerings. I then revealed to them that the first time I had read that part of the book, I had been very confused about what was going on, and also shared that I went back to the prologue and reread it many more times as I was reading the book as I figured out new things that I didn’t know when I read it the first time. They were very impressed that I would reread part of a book more than once because I wanted to.

On the fly I remembered a story that my teaching partner had shared with me about her son, who is now a senior in high school. She was very excited that he had learned to read and when she went to parent teacher conferences for the first time, she told the teacher how proud she was of his reading. The teacher (as it so happens, was my mother-which makes the story even funnier to the kids) informed my teaching partner that her son wasn’t reading, but had memorized certain books. She asked her to write some of the words out of context to see if her son could read them. He could not.

This story was a perfect tie-in to the rest of McGregor’s Reading Salad lesson as you ask the students, “Since you are so good at pretending, I bet you’ve been able to pretend you are reading or that you understand something you read, when really you didn’t.” We did a turn and talk with a partner and then shared some instances of when they have “pretended” to read or understand when they really didn’t. It is AMAZING how honest they are about times they knew the words, but didn’t understand, or only looked at the pictures, or flipped pages without reading, etc. The most promising sharing was of a student who shared that sometimes she stops and daydreams about what is happening in the books when she is reading, instead of continuing reading (perfect springboard to come back to for visualizing). 

I went on to explain the Reading Salad part of the lesson. You have a bowl with green pieces of paper marked “text” and another bowl with red pieces of paper marked “thinking” (this is opposite of what is described in her book, but a modification that I found worked better for me after last year’s students).  There is a third bowl marked “salad”. I put two students up on stools/chairs on either side of me and held the salad bowl in my lap. I read aloud Splat Cat (see earlier review) as a think aloud. Each time I read text, green text “lettuce” was added to the salad and when I stopped to do the think-aloud, red thinking “tomatoes” were added until the book was over and there was a salad. 

This year I also added orange carrots to represent unknown/unfamiliar words. The lesson ends with a specialized Venn Diagram of a book (text) intersecting with a head (thinking) for Real Reading (not pretend reading!). I will post a photo of our chart later this week so you can visualize. 

As I stated at first, this is a modified lesson from the McGregor comprehension book. She has many other great, hands-on, visual, or concrete lesson for launching your strategies lessons. 

Later this week I will then like to follow up with a lesson that Franki Sibberson describes in her book Still Learning to Read: Teaching Students in Grades 3-6.