Building Ideas

Vicki Vinton and Sunday Cummins have reinvigorated my desire for teaching main idea/s. I have shifted how I teach finding the main idea because of their ideas. I am finding that texts and articles today with any depth to them are often written with more than one main idea . We also have to get kids to move beyond simply repeating information shared by the writer or combining information into one sentence.

In her book Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading Vicki shared two important concepts that stood out to me.

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Readers have to read with the intention and the want to, to figure out what all the information they are sharing means as they read. When kids read NF texts they often think all they have to do is regurgitate information the writer shares. Doing this may get you by in reading levels A-F, but it won’t even work there some of the time.

Vicki discusses how ideas are different from facts. Ideas are born out of knowing and understand facts, they are not the facts themselves. Main ideas are formed by piecing together the information the writers shares with readers as they incorporate it into their existing knowledge. They use their existing knowledge with what the writer shares and implies. I remember when I was in school and was taught the main idea of a text was often in the first or last paragraph. When that was actually the case that was in prepared texts that were often written for the purpose of identifying the main idea. We were not finding the main idea in real literature and articles like, what our students are reading and being asked to read today. We must evolve our teaching.

Readers have to be willing to work to understand what the facts mean when thinking about them together. This could also include trying to figure out how the writer feels about a topic because a writers opinion can cloud over the facts or put a new twist on the facts that the reader has to recognize and consider. NF writers often imply thinking that readers have to piece together as well. Vick talks about how patterns and themes in fiction texts are often repeated, but in NF texts readers often have one chance to notice something before the writer moves on.

I am experimenting with using a Combine and Synthesize Chart.  Vicki talks about this chart in chapter 9 of her book.  I started to play around with this chart and some of Vicki’s ideas about teaching from a problem-based approach. I was also incorporating ideas from Sunday Cummins new book Nurturing Informed Thinking.

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Both of these literacy consultants drive home the idea that as a reader of NF you have to do more than just repeat facts from the story and really work to combine and synthesize information into really understand what a writer wants readers to understand about a topic, which is often more than one thing, an idea not a fact.

I introduced how to use the combine and synthesize chart with a group of second graders reading this level F LLI  book.

I introduced the idea of making a connection between text features and the writers accompanying words on the page. Sunday talks about doing this on page 40 of her book as one of her 9 lesson ideas to help carry readers thinking deeper.

I took her idea and tried to keep the focus of my lesson on meaning making and the thinking a reader has to do. I didn’t have students searching the book for different kinds of text features or do any scaffolding for them about content. We opened the book to the first page and I said “lets look at this text feature. It’s a photograph of a beetle.  Writers choose what text features they want to include in their book. As a reader we have to figure out why the writer included it, by asking what the writer wants me to understand about it.”

We talked about what we noticed in the feature and then read the accompanying  text and connected them together as we thought about what the writer wanted us to understand. We noticed that the beetles might be eating the leave on page 3 and that in the close up on page 2 the beetle has six legs. We wondered if all bugs have six legs and if bugs were the same as insects. The students actually came up with the term insect. As you can see we got more information from the photograph then we did from the writers own words. Our understanding is going to be much deeper than if we just glanced at the photographs.

Then I let the students read the rest of the text as I conferred with them individually. While conferring I focused students attention back on the text features and then connecting the features back to the writers words.

Students gained a lot of information from these text features. Each page showed similar features about different bugs.

By looking closely at the pictures they were able to have the word crawl already in their heads, which helped them quickly cross-check it as they struggled with it in text. They noticed that the ant was carrying something that seemed larger and heavier than itself. This brought out some information students already knew about ants being able to carry objects 10 times their body weight. We were able to verify that the ant indeed does have six legs as one student debated about the antennas. I tried to keep them away from brining in their background knowledge until we had examined the text features thoroughly. Although in reality they were probably using their background knowledge to help them understand the text features. This goes to show something I firmly believe. When you try to break down skills and strategies too much you end up hindering their natural thinking processes.

We did most of our work orally, but with readers in other guided reading groups I might makes copies of the text and let students annotate the text features and take notes.

After reading the book and completing a turn & talk about what new information they learned vs information they already knew, I introduced the Combine and Synthesize chart.

We completed the chart together digitally using an iPad displayed on a TV using Apple TV.

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This text did not require much synthesis but it worked well to introduce this chart and to introduce really looking at text features trying to notice and figure out why the writer included them.

This lesson helped these students learn to self-monitor their reading on their own and gave them a few strategies to use to push their thinking deeper in a more authentic way then having them search for text features and identify the type and writing it on a graphic organizer or sticky note. I did not over scaffold the text or do the thinking for them. I led the discussion and nudged them in the right direction holding true to a problem-based approach to teaching. I also didn’t simply follow someone else’s model but adapted the lesson to fit the needs of my students at this point in time after thinking through and reflecting on 2 literacy consultants ideas.

Let me know your thoughts and reflect with me!

Author: Troy F

Reading Specialist

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