Thoughts on readers as thinkers and strategy instruction. Part 1

Take a look at this quote:

“Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.”

 

This quote brought me back to my reflecting on transfer and strategy instruction.  I am considering what I have learned from Sunday Cumins, Vicki Vinton and  Dorthy Barnhouse and reflecting on the works they have written. I am currently putting many of their ideas into practice with my students.

nurture         Unknown    What Readers Really Do

 

I believe like Barnhouse and Vinton say in their book “What Readers Really Do” reading happens within three modes or processes and those modes are recursive. Students flip back and forth continuously between these three modes.

Comprehension – – Understanding – – Evaluation 

We use different strategies while we read within these modes. Readers are constantly engaged in the process of drafting an understanding and revising it as they read.

Comprehension  is done line-by-line and paragraph-by-praragraph, page-by-page as readers try to comprehend the text literally and inferentially.  Readers consider and assign meaning  to the line-by-line details they. This is comprehending at the basic level. Next readers piece together those literal and inferential  ideas into interpretations of the text (Barnhouse/Vinton).  Reader assign more value to some details  without completely disregarding others.   Or they should. Striving readers often dismiss what they find confusing or initially understand. They do not carry details with them to consider as they read on.  This is often a missed component of the basic level of comprehension.

As readers connect details they make interpretations  that lead to some understandings about a text on a whole level or on multi-layered levels. You are building upon those literal and inferential thoughts and are considering and interpreting what the writer might be saying about a topic or life, which can lead to understanding an emerging theme or overarching idea. This is your first-draft understanding (Barnhouse/Vinton). Then you evaluate this understanding you have pieced together and re-examine the text on the page and in your mind. This re-examining of parts of the text is crucial to building a rough draft understanding. This is where you might go back into a text to reconsider some of your thinking, look closer at confusing parts, or simply try to understand what the writer might want readers to take away from a text. This close re-reading of different parts of a text are critical.  This is where you may reconsider those confusing details, you hopefully carried with you. You  weigh your interpretation and consider their worth. This is a recursive process through the whole text.

Sunday Cummins talks about reading a text closely in her book “Nurturing  Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content-Area-Sources.” Vinton discusses reading closely instead of reading a text multiple times through different lenes. Reading closely requires readers to hold on to the confusing details, and the details that confront what they believe and consider them across a text. This is something we have to get better at in schools. When students do not notice and note inconsistencies, misunderstandings and confusing details as they read on, they never reach the understanding and evaluations stages with the depth they need.  We have to be wiling to hold onto what we do not understand as readers because we never know when a writer will expect us to refer back to them.

Teachers often expect students to quickly comprehend what they are reading and move them along, to make interpretations and build understandings, without doing the basic comprehension work. This is the invisible thinking of considering the text details and what they might mean literally and inferentially line by line before the considering whole text and its theme or the writers overall point on a topic.  I think we are trying to move students through the modes of comprehension and understanding much too quickly.

When most teachers model, they are modeling a strategy in isolation, and it ends up being more of a task added to the reading process.  Teachers are often asked to design a lesson that makes a strategy the teaching point, without considering the thinking and understanding a reader has to consider before using of the strategy. We often meet readers with the thinking we want them to achieve at the end, skipping over the thinking work that is not as easy to evaluate and grade.

I think that a teaching point can be more about the thinking readers do or something that readers speculate about as the they consider what the writer might want them to feel or think. It can be helping readers create the mindset they need to do this thinking work. A teaching point can help move readers between the modes of comprehension, understanding and evaluation.  Consider using a strategy as a tool to help readers meet the teaching point, not the teaching point itself. In her book Dynamic Teaching For Deeper Reading, Vinton, describes this as a teaching point in one lesson: “Sometimes writers don’t come right out and tell us exactly what’s happening, so readers need to be aware of what they don’t know and then try to figure out what hasn’t been said by paying close attention to the details the writer gives them.”   This is not what I see as a typical teaching point. It does not put a typical strategy front and center.  Vinton brings readers attention to the behind the scenes thinking a reader has to accomplish. This is what I feel is missing in reading instruction. When we try to make the abstract, concrete we often end up making the strategy something readers do outside of meaning making and a step that separates itself out from meaning making. We too often want to make a strategy something that we have to do to a text, or on a separate piece of paper, not the thinking itself that a reader must complete internally before anything can be shared as an understanding about a text.

I can see drafting a teaching point around how readers need to hold on to details that are confusing, and misleading. Another teaching point might be pointing out that readers are often asked to reconsider current beliefs and consider news ones. These teaching points leaves it open for students to be decision makers. They set them up to be their own problem-solvers by focusing on the thinking work, without teachers answering text specific questions for students. This is a teaching point that could lead into using the strategy of  thinking about what we know versus what we don’t know as we read. Some students may need to see this thinking on a What We Know/What We Wonder Chart. (Barnhouse/Vinton). It could lead to using a coding strategy and then annotating some of what was coded with what we wonder or are interpreting. You could use the STP strategy of “Stop, think, Paraphrase with this teaching point, to help you consider what you understanding and what you don’t understand yet, that you will read to find out. If you keep the focus on text understanding and bring in strategies to enhance meaning, not lead it, then students are able to build up some agency to their reading.

We have to give students a chance to consider the many things that might be running through their heads. The what if’s, and might be’s our mind has to consider before making a claim at understanding and being able to evaluate that understanding.  When we skip these over this type of thinking, young readers might feel very frustrated because we are expecting them to do what more experienced readers sometimes struggle to do. Our students need more time to consider a text, and be shown how to do that.

Part 2 coming soon.

Troy

Diagramming Difficult Concepts

Have you noticed that some readers can give you a routine synopsis of a text they have read, but not be able to explain many details with any depth? Students might confuse a concept or idea the writer presents which keeps them from understanding key themes or layered ideas. They may still struggle understanding some concepts and details even after rereading. What can you do about this?

When rereading a section of text, give students a specific question to read to answer or a definitive type of information to search for that will requiring them to put information together to reveal an inferred or suggested idea.

Another strategy that may be combined with the previous one or stand alone is to read several texts over the same topic. Students should build up a deeper understanding of the topic and start to understand information that may have been confusing to them at first. This has been called creating reading ladders among other names. Students can code the texts with a pencil or mentally  noticing information they already know versus new information.

 

+ = new information

*= I already knew this

When reading a second or third text on a topic or concept, it is important to help students notice that writers often share the same information as other authors but add more details to it. Students may end up coding a sentence with both a + and a *  when a writer broadens a readers understanding in this way. When students read multiple texts about a topic, they should be able to read increasingly more difficult texts because they are becoming familiar with content specific words and gaining background knowledge. Therefore writers will give more in-depth information that should build a students expertise. Students are reading up the ladder in two ways. If you are not increasing the difficulty of text then students will mostly likely not gain much new information they can add to their schema.

Readers need to notice when writers add on to their understanding of a topic or concept as they read more about it. They need to train their brain to notice and note differences which may include contrasting information and more in-depth information so they can add it into their schema.  If we do not instill in our students a mindset to read to gain knowledge and figure things out about life, they often do not do this. Striving readers often do not have this mindset. Students may have this mindset in other areas of their life but not for reading. This mindset has to be modeled and noticed and named in students’ own books as they do it.

Another way to help students understand more difficult or abstract concepts is to have them draw a diagram of the elusive concept or idea you noticed comprehension breaking down with. This is something that can be done in conjunction with the other strategies I have talked about.

This is something that does not work with every book, but can be helpful when the idea lends itself to being drawn. Start with a discussion. Notice and note key words and add in any of the strategies I have already mentioned. Then you can have students draw a diagram representing their understanding. I did this with a group a striving 2nd grade readers.  They were reading the level J book All About Bats by Donna Latham

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Students were understanding the basic information about bats the writer shared. Information like bats being nocturnal and mammals or an animal that roosts. Some of this information they could have already acquired from other sources. When it came to the concept of how bats use echolocation to find food, students understanding broke down. To help with this I shared a video, which showed an animated diagram of echolocation taking place. When you read across a topic, it can include videos, podcasts and stand-alone diagrams or infographics.

Then we went back into the text and reread the section on echolocation and looked closely at the diagram the writer included in the text. The video added a layer of depth to the students understanding, so when rereading that section students were able to turn and talk to each other and explain echolocation with me helping them pull out some key words to use.

Students then drew their own diagrams and explained them to each other. I then had students write a description next to their diagram.  This really help them understand how echolocation works.

 

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     I did not focus on spelling with this part of the lesson. My focus was for students to write show their understanding of echolocation. They were able to verbally talk about their understanding more accurately then writing about it. My lesson objective was for students to use details from the texts to verbalize and write about how bats use echolocation. This group of students was able to understand echolocation with more depth than other previous groups.  I aways change one or more aspects of a lesson to make it meet the current groups needs and to improve upon it from previous teachings after careful reflection. I write a new lesson plan each time I teach a book no matter how many times I have taught it. I use the notes I took on the previous one as my guide.

 

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The bat sends a high sound and the sound bounces back to the bat and the bat eats the insect.

As you can see this student mixed up the words bat and insect, but was able to verbally explain echolocation correctly. This was first draft writing. I can build off of the strengths in his reading and writing.

You can even pull out certain sections of other texts that include the concept you want to focus in on with students. Students do not need to read entire texts when you know where and with what concept their meaning was breaking down.  As teachers we need to make those instructional decisions of where to focus student thinking. Sunday Cummins inspired me to dig into this type of work through her book : Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content Area Sources.nurture

Troy

Reflections for the New Year

I am looking forward to a healthy, successful 2019. I have seen many posts on blogs and tweets on twitter sharing everyones ideas and thoughts about the new year and how to make it succeful for educators and students personaly and professionaly. I myself seek the continued growth of my own practice and continued growth for my students.

Today I read two blogs that sparked my thinking about growth. One of them was by Vicki Vinton: A New Year with my old friend: some thoughts on my one little word.

In this post she reflects on her choice for her one little word. She like myself chose to keep her word from last year. Her word is “seek.” My word is “reflect.”

Vicki pointed out many ways it resonated with her that I can say, I feel the same about. She talks about seeking out the right images, words and topics for her blog posts, or seeking out the right books for herself and students.

seek

Seek called out to me for those reasons and many more. So much so, I thought about changing my word from reflect to seek. Hmmm?

For two years now as a staff, we have chosen a word for the school year. It can be a daunting task if taken seriously.  🙂

As I stated at the beginning of this post I am going to be seeking out ways to grow my own practice. I am also seeking out ways to be more efficient with my time and seeking ways to eat more healthy, get back on a workout plan. Seeking to spend more quality time with my kids and wife seem like a priorty also. I  plan to seek out time to pick up my camera and explore the word through my different lenses.  I also plan to seek out and take advantage of any opportunities I can create for myself after achieiving National Board Certification.

I am seeking out ways to help the students in my building increase their reading scores on district and state assessments and grow their desire to seek out the answers to their wonderings, questions and thinking as they read.

Vicki said, “I also seek for other reasons. I seek to understand what’s going on in students’ heads as they read—and in the head’s of the teachers I coach. And I sometimes seek without a goal in mind. That is, I seek for the sheer fun of seeking.”

I want know what’s going on in my students heads and I want them to seek things out in their reading and in life for the joy of it, for the desire to know know more, but possibly with goals in mind. Goals to grow their knowledge about life, or a specific topic and to practice reading for meaning and understanding. I do not want them reading for the single purpose of practicing a strategy. I want to help them learn to choose to engage with books and all of their learning and to seek out knowledge. I am reading Ellin Keene’s new book about engagement. It is on my mind a lot lately.

I think students may be bogged down with too many things on their brains to slow down enough, to seek out meaning and understanding beyond the surface level while reding. I am seeking and reflecting on ways to help students read deeper.

Wow! I am seeking a lot of things.

You do not really know what you are driven to seek out for yourself and others unless you do some true reflection however, and set goals and makes some plans. So maybe I should stick with reflect.

The other blog post that got my attention was Colby Sharps: Winning the Day

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He talks about how he used that phrase to help him stay focused each day, and how winning many days in a row builds up a winning life. He got the idea from a football team winning each day at practice and then in games. I think this is something we can choose to do as teachers: win each day. You can’t just say you are going to do this and try to stay positive however. You have to know and understand how you are going to go about winning each day. You have to do some reflecting, goal setting and planning.  Reflecting keeps coming up!

I found this graphic on a webpage about how to win each day. I would change; review, to Review & Reflect. 

wintheday

So I think I will keep reflect as my word for the rest of this school year.  I will use my reflections to help me seek opportunities for myself, my students and others to help them grow and also try to win each day using small goals and planning to help me do so through my continuous reflection.

Ha! Does that still count? I think so. The purpose of your one word is to help you be focused on something to improve yourself, right? So it works!

Please do read all the way through Vicki’s and Colby’s posts. I think you will gain something from them to reflect on and use for yourself!

 

Troy

Preparing Readers for Assessments

Hard

We are in the midst of Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark testing at my school. During a brainstorming moment I got the wild idea to create the video linked below for my schools families.

https://www.smore.com/tzs2f

     I hope it also is a reminder for other teachers. I was reminded of many things myself as I composed what I wanted to say within the video. I will share some of them now.

We cannot be pinning reading levels on our students. As educators we have to stop looking at readers as a level. They can and must be reading books at multiple levels in a range.  We have to teach the reader not a level. Text levels are there as guides and to help us get good fit books into kids hands. We use the patterns and text demands typically found within those levels to help us pinpoint what readers need. Good fit books for readers should be based on more than the level itself however. Most books are not easily leveled and may fall into a range of levels themselves. Multiple factors come into play like content, text structure, sentence structure and the depth writer ask reader go to figure ideas out and how much the writer expects the reader to already understand and many others.

If a student tests at a level H instructionally, then the range of books that is best fit for them might be G,H, I, J. The range will vary with every child. You have to consider what the testing book required the reader to do able to do and what others books in the levels surrounding it require. You actually have to look at books individually within a range surrounding their Instructional level thinking about all of those text factors that vary with each book to find the best fit books. That is why analyzing a students running record is critical along with analyzing all of the conferring data you have on that reader.

I hope that as teachers we are not constantly rescuing students, giving them words and revealing to them if they are wrong or right when looking at us for answers or over scaffolding the comprehension work they need to experience doing for transfer to happen. If do this then kids will struggle at F&P testing time when you are really trying to bite your tongue. You should have already been noticing teeth marks on your tongue long before the testing period.

reader

     When we bite our tongues we give our students time to practice the strategies we have been teaching. We give them time to figure out what strategy would work best in the situation.

I also hope our students are getting a chance to practice in books that they are not overly familiar with from read-alouds and focus lessons where most of the thinking work of reading may have been done for them. I hope we are giving them time to experience thinking through the tricky parts of a texts. I hope we are not always telling them what strategy to use without giving them practice at figuring it out for themselves and building agency as readers. They need this practice prior to asking them to do it on their own during an assessment.

We must be giving students opportunities to figure out what strategy to use when meaning breaks down, instead of only using a strategy when told to. They have to feel what it is like to recognize meaning breaking down and then think through for themselves what the best option would be to help themselves. If we let them experience this decision-making process and coach them through it as needed throughout the year then our students will be more successful on any assessment that requires them to read.

I hope we are teaching students to always read for meaning which requires them to go back and reread whole sentence when they notice meaning breaking down. They have to learn to clarify their thinking. We must instill in them the desire to figure things out and to monitor for meaning. This includes monitoring for accuracy and comprehension. We must make sure our students are cross-checking and can use multiple strategies at a time, sometime mashing them together. When students reread sentences for me they often correct their miscues and make better sense of what they just read.

I hope we are anticipating the problems students may encounter during assessments ahead of time and teaching them the thinking they need to do to solve them for themselves. We will of course equip them with strategies and tools but we also have to teach them to think through the decision-making of when, where and how to apply those strategies and skills within texts at multiple levels. We have to remember to be intentional and mindful of our good intentions. Also remember as Alan Lakein says “planning is bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it now.”

Troy

What’s the difference? Skills vs Strategies?

adorable blur bookcase books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Timothy Shanahan wrote a blog post explaining the differences between these two often mixed terms.     Skills   vs   Strategies

Check out his blog post.

http://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/comprehension-skills-or-strategies-is-there-a-difference-and-does-it-matter#sthash.BWBhTyQ4.RvtuLH4W.dpbs

Then go back and read my post about teaching skills and strategies in isolation.

https://troyafredde.blog/2018/02/06/teaching-reading-skills-in-isolation/

I did not clarify how the two terms are different in my post, but stressed the need to make sure all skill and strategy instruction be directly linked to a text where the focus is on reading for meaning not use of a skill or strategy in itself which easily happens.

I read a comment from Shanahan’s post where a teacher said

“I found students comprehended with few strategies or skills articulated and taught in isolation. The one comprehension strategy I did teach repeatedly was the use article features such as titles, sub-titles, section titles, photo and photo captions. Acquisition of the skills used to comprehend was assessed through the content and the use of format in their completed written feature articles. ” 

This really shows shows what students are transferring into their own reading. Notice also that this teacher said the strategy she taught repeatedly is one the students used. That is not a coincidence. I would venture to say most skills are being taught in isolation with very little use of strategy instruction to support them. Some skills are useless without a strategic reason to use it. Students may know a skill but not when to use it or the thinking it requires to use it on their own. Noticing text features is a skill students need that becomes very effective when used strategically while reading for meaning.

As Shanahan points out strategy instruction is centered around the thinking a reader must do. He says,

“The basic premise of strategies is that readers need to actively think about the ideas in text if they are going to understand. And, since determining how to think about a text involves choices, strategies are tied up in meta-cognition (that is, thinking about thinking).”

I feel skills are the prerequisites that a reader must have in place to effectively apply strategies to comprehend. Shanahan talks about how comprehension instruction today has become skill based and it should be taught more as a strategic process. I whole heartedly agree. When taught as a skill which is implied to be something that becomes automatic without much thought, or only about recognition. Comprehension requires more than simple recognition of a metaphor or a text structure. Comprehension of a text requires you to get down and dirty and think. It is a process, more than a skill. It is an invisible process and not black and white. It is not easy and is harder to assess than a skill. As Shanahan implies it has been approached more like a skill to fit into standards that we so want to be able to easily assess.  It is certainly not done that way for the student. Comprehension instruction taught strategically with meaning in mind not isolated skills makes good sense.

That being said skills are more easily modeled than strategies. Strategies require students to do the thinking. If teachers only model strategies doing the thinking for students and limit their practice to using certain books where most of the thinking has already been done for students then transfer of the strategy will never happen. For that to happen students must be taught the language they must use to verbalize their thinking. Teachers must notice and name specifically what students are doing as readers in the act of reading, not rely solely on modeling and provide them opportunities to practice different strategies as they arise in their own texts.

Thank you Timothy for your post, it helped me reflect on my own post with more depth, meaning and understanding. I hope others do as well!

 

 

Do You Have Students Break Words?

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I am trying a new approach in the Word Study component of my guided reading lessons. Sunday Cummins shared this approach with me recently. Jan Richardson shared it with her. It comes from Michele Dufresne.  Twitter: @MicheleDufresne

It is really simple and makes great sense when you think about transitioning readers from using sound boxes into chunking words or breaking a word, a strategy you should be using with readers in stages Early – Fluent.

This strategy teaches readers to break words into meaningful parts or chunks. This is a strategy you should be prompting readers to use as you listen to them read and get stuck on a word. Breaking a word will help the reader hold onto the meaning of the word and sentence as they work through it. The alternative of asking readers to stretch it out, does not often work and it causes them to lose meaning of what they are reading. Breaking  a word should be used as part of the cross-checking strategy when students are reading.

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The old adage of sound it out is not effective when reading for meaning.

This new approach involves asking students to break words apart instead of asking them to build words during the word study component of guided reading.

When introducing this approach, you may want to tell readers where to break words at first. However you want them to be responsible for breaking the words themselves when possible. You have to know your readers and what they need. If they do not need to be told, then do not tell them. Let them figure it out.

Let readers take on as much responsibility as they can. Never start from the stand point that readers cannot do something, give them a chance and jump in when they need the support. Remember one benefit of guided reading is that the teacher is right there supporting students as they try things out. It will be more authentic for the student and they will remember it better when they do the work. Then they will transfer the skill more easily.

Example: Break chop in front of the vowel:  ch  op

Or just ask students to chunk/break the word.

If your students need to be told where to break the word I think it is important to say break the word in front the vowel. This will help reader distinguish vowels from consonants, a skill they must have when breaking apart larger, more difficult words. Recognizing different vowel combinations is very helpful.

In my 2nd grade group this week I practiced this strategy.  I wrote the word sticky on a white board and asked my students to build it and then break it out, without saying the word out loud. They came up with 3 different ideas.

                                                      st   i   ck y

                                                     stick   y

                                                    st  ick    y

All of these can be helpful to individual students. So, do not penalize readers for breaking the words differently. But make sure you ask them to explain their reasoning.  There are certain guidelines you will want to enforce, however.

Keep vowel pairs together: ea, ou,  ir

Keep digraphs together:  th,  ch,  sh

Keep blends together:  st,  sw,  sl

Keep prefixes and suffixes together

                                                    (This is not a complete list)

Look for meaningful chunks that keep common patterns(rimes) together:

CVC words like: p op,  s  at,   t ub

 

Readers in the Early stage of reading will probably need more support.

Here are a few more examples of words my students have broke apart this week.

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This student changed her break in the word to “con” “nect” when I asked her to explain reasoning for the break in the picture above. She even said at first I though it was “co” (with a long o sound) and then I thought it was “con”  I always ask student to explain why they broke the word the way they did and let them notice a better way to break it without directly telling them when at all possible.

The other students broke it like this:

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Here are the basic steps

Step 1:  Write a word on a dry-erase board. Do not say the word and tell students not to say the word. (chop)

Step 2: Have students take the letters off their trays and make the word.

Step 3: Tell students to break the word at the vowel. (ch   op)

Step 4: Have the students say each part chorally. (/ch/  /op/)

Step 5: Have the students put the word back together and read it. (chop)

Step 6: Tell the student to change a letter or two to make a new word (e.g. tell them which letters to change). For example, tell the student to “change the letter c to a letter s” so they have the letters for shop). Do not say the word and tell students not the say the word.  Students then break the word, say each part, and put the word back together as they read it.

Step 7: Write a word on the dry-erase easel with the same rime but different onset. Have students read it. (stop). If they need help underline the rime (stop).

Now when readers come to a difficult word and are trying to cross-check it, I have them try breaking it as an added strategy. When reading with this group of 2nd graders I had  to prompt them to break several words this week. They wanted to guess or try to stretch it out. A habit I am trying to break. They quickly put their finger on the word and eventually all solved their words by breaking them apart.

I like to say break the word instead of saying look for a part or word you know. Saying that can sometimes backfire on you. For example in the word: finger, recognizing the word in will not help. I am sure many of you have encountered many words where it didn’t help. You have to think about the word, text and student when making in the moment word solving decisions.

I did not have to tell any of these 2nd graders the words we chunked this week. They solved every one.

Let me know if you try this out and how it goes. Email me if you would like a copy of this complete strategy.

 

 

 

Three Phase Plan with “A Day in Space”

I love how Sunday is continually thinking and adapting her lessons plans to meet her needs and the needs of the Ss she is working with. I think it is important to remember that lesson plan forms can always be adapted to fit you and your students needs. When I taught guided reading in the classroom I was always creating and adapting my own lesson plan forms. I was always finding ways to improve them. You have to be willing to grow and learn as a teacher and make things work for your needs with guided reading. Don’t be afraid to try things out for yourself. It is good to try out using different pre-made plans before trying to create one of your own, so you know what works and what does not for you, your students, building and district.
I love how Sunday centers her lessons around reading form meaning, and making sure students really understand what they are reading beyond the surface level. She is not placing the use of a reading skill above making meaning. Love that!

sunday cummins

Here’s an example of a lesson I gave using the three-phase  learning plan that I introduced in the last blog entry. The source is an article from NASA.gov entitled “A Day in Space” (posted by NewsELA). This lesson might be used with 3rd-5th grade students or striving middle school readers. Below is a link to the filled-out plan. There’s so much of teaching that I can’t get into a “lesson plan,” though, so below is a more detailed explanation of what happened in each phase.

Three Phase Plan Day in Space

Phase One – Meet the Source

The teacher and I gave the students a hard copy of the article to read as a whole.  I started the lesson with this synopsis:

This article is about how astronauts live and work in space. One of the main ideas in this article is that astronauts do some…

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