Teaching Reading Skills in Isolation

Have you ever had this problem?

You are working on metaphors and similes, and have just taught a focus lesson on them. You release students after your lesson to go back and practice noticing them in a piece of text. When you meet with a few students you realize they are just skimming the text for the words “like” or “as”.

They end up marking several places where the author used the words like or as, but not in the context of a smilie. You may be thinking, ugh! What have I done? This is the way I was encouraged to teach this lesson.

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Here are a few suggestions to stop this from happening.

Keep the focus of the lesson on reading for meaning. Make the importance of recognizing similes and metaphor seem like a tool that can help you continue to read for meaning.

Focus on why the author chose to use one. Make the focus of your teaching show how the author is comparing two things, places, or characters. Lead your discussion focusing on why the author chose to do this. Ask what might the author be suggesting here? What does the writer want me to think or feel here?  What does the author want me to understand here? Metaphors and similes help us  gain a deeper understand of a person, place or thing. That is why they are important to recognize. Don’t make the focus be on “like” or “as.”

Introduce metaphors & similes in an authentic way. Keep the focus on reading for meaning. You can still do a read-aloud and model how, noticing metaphors or similes can help you understand what the author is saying better. When you model, model the thinking process a reader goes through trying to understand what the author is saying in the comparison. You might say something along the lines of , “This seems strange. What does the author mean here? I don’t think these normally go together.” Or “when the author compares a character, place or thing, or idea with something else, this is a clue for me to slow down and figure out what the author wants me to understand. The author chose to make this comparison for a reason. What could that reason be? You might wait to name the comparisons as a metaphors or simile. You might ask them to keep an I out for comparisons in their reading today, and to be willing to share any examples they notice.

Keep pushing the idea that comparisons help us understand the authors meaning better. Ask them to keep a list of comparisons they find, snap phots of them or something. After students have found some comparisons then you can dig down and talk about if they notice any similarities or differences within them. They may notice more than you think. When they notice details on their own they will probably remember it better then you spoon feeding it to them. If they are not noticing them on their own, notice them in your read-aloud and make your own list over several days. Notice them in the students books and and snap a photo of it to add to the list. Once you get a handful on the list start looking at them closer and let the students discover what they can as you lead. You could have them annotate a simile or metaphor by using and arrow and asking them to share what it means in their own words.

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Students really should not be reading for the purpose to identify metaphors and similes.  The purpose for reading should always be to read for meaning.  The reading skills we teach should be tools that help us understand our reading deeper. They cannot take away from meaning and become the focus. When they do kids end up doing reading tasks, not authentic reading like the example at the top of this post.

Teaching skills are important. The skills we are asked to teach & assess, from our district and state standards give students another tool to use, to read for meaning.  We have to assess those skill and they have their place. Just do not teach them in isolation and lead students away from reading for meaning in the process. Notice and name skills as students attempt to use them authentically in their reading, or model for them the thinking needed to use them in their books of choice, along with your read-aloud books. They will show up in the books kids are choosing to read. If they are not showing up quickly enough you can bring your own texts, and notice and name them when they do pop up. Do not rely only on the texts you bring and have read aloud or modeled from however. You have done most of the thinking for students in those books and they will never transfer the skill across texts when the only practice they have is from using books brought to them, or read aloud to them. They need chances to authentically use the skills we teach in books they want to read and are reading independently as we confer with them. When we notice and name the skills they are using, that is powerful! We are acknowledging they are doing what readers do.

 

Author: Troy F

Reading Specialist

2 thoughts on “Teaching Reading Skills in Isolation”

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