One of the things that I found very interesting in Chapter 13 of Thomas Gunning’s Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties is the idea of the opinion/proof writing strategy. This sort of strategy forces students to state their opinion on a subject and support it with proof such as evidence and reason. The process for this activity/strategy is very easy. Students take a piece of notebook paper and fold it in half, hotdog style. On the left side students will write their opinion. On the right side they will provide their evidence and reason for their opinion. Below is an example that I came up with.
As you can see my opinion is on the left while all my proof and evidence is on right. From there the student and myself can form a paragraph with good evidence to support our reasoning. All we have to do now is put it all together. Then finally all we would need to do is state a conclusion.
Another thing that I found interesting in this chapter is the idea of journals. Journals give students an outlet to state their opinion about things. It is also a very good track record on how much their writing grows throughout the year. This can give students an outlet to express future feelings or a way to show them that they really are important. I remember doing journaling in my elementary school career. There were times teachers gave us prompts to respond to. Other times they would just let us free write on things that were happening in our lives or anything that we can imagine. Looking back now I can see my writing really grew throughout that year and even the content of the writing expanded as well. Journaling will be something that I want to use in my classroom.
I also liked the strategy that Gunning uses for introducing new words to students. He breaks it down into six steps.
1.) Look at the word carefully.
2.) Say the word to yourself.
3.) Close your eyes and picture the word.
4.) Cover up the word and write it.
5.) Check the spelling.
6.) If the word is misspelled, repeats steps 1-5
I have actually seen this method used in a classroom before. The students responded really well to it and were about to learn the spelling words quickly. What the teacher did is give the students a three column piece of paper. In the first column the students first write the word and do the steps like normal and write the word again in the second column. If they get it wrong they would do the process again and then place the final word in the third column. This seems to be pretty helpful and I want to try it someday when introducing new spelling words.
I have always had trouble with comprehension. I think it had something to be hearing-impaired and always not hearing everything that the teacher was saying or asking when conducting a lesson. Because I wasn’t always practicing that skill when things were read aloud it made reading independently at times very hard especially when I was trying to comprehend something. But I loved reading too much to let this obstacle hold me back. How did my comprehension skills get better? It took lots of practice and slowing down when reading.
I have noticed that my case study also has the same reading problem that I do. My case study, let’s call her Alex, is from an all Spanish speaking home where English is used not very often. The only time English is spoken to her is mainly at school. She hears the story and the English words that go with it but her brain is working on overload. Not only is she trying to understand what English words are coming out of the teacher’s mouth or even what is on a page , but also try to understand what the whole thing means. This is why she is having a hard time comprehending. Over the last two weeks I have been working with her on developing better comprehension skills, some even Gunning points out in textbook, and she has improved since the assessment that I had given her in the beginning.
One thing Alex and I started with when working on comprehension is what Gunning calls Preparational Strategies. These are strategies such as setting a goal, previewing, and predicting. With Alex we did a lot of predicting before reading a story. We would look at the cover of the story and make predictions of what we thought was going to happen. Like when we read the story The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry just the other day, she was able to predict the man was going to try to cut down the tree because the picture on the cover showed a man next to a tree with an axe. Her prediction actually did come true. Then man’s goal was to cut down the tree but after falling asleep and hearing from various rain forest animals he decided against cutting the tree down.
Because Alex is still learning English I used the strategy of prompts as Gunning suggests in his textbook. The students were instructed to write a letter to a company explaining why a factory shouldn’t be build where a garden is at. She was able to draw some information from the story and the discussion to aid the argument in her letter. Below is her work on the prompt:
Vocabulary, I hated it as a kid. I still hate it to this day. I’m sure everyone has had a teacher where the teacher would give you the word and have you look up the definition, write it out, and then use it in a sentence. I had a teacher like this every year in school since I could write. This task is boring and uninteresting. It didn’t really help me learn the vocabulary, if anything it made me hate the vocabulary area even more. It pushed me away from the world of words and interesting ways to compose sentences. And then there were spelling test. Yes, it was beneficial to learn how to spell words and I have definitely used the words from those tests. But spelling test for me ended in 4th grade. It really surprised when I got to my Advanced Placement English class in 12th grade and have a vocabulary test on words I hardly knew. I don’t want to be like this for my students. I don’t want them robotically looking up definitions and doing the same process over and over. I don’t want them to lose the rich language that they are building.
With the help of setting a foundation, as Gunning states, teachers can make vocabulary learning less painful and enjoyable. The first thing to do is to set goals. To set goals gives students something to work for and achieve. The second thing is to build on what students know. Take the vocabulary and apply it to what they already know. Explain to them what the word is and where it is found around them. Ask students for examples of the word. The third thing is to provide depth and meaning to the words. There are many meanings to one word. Show and tell students examples of these in not only the definitions but also by using sentences. The fourth thing is to create interest in the vocabulary. Gunning suggests using joke and riddle books. By doing laughs and jokes, students don’t realize that they are learning or even doing repetition. He even says to explore the history of the words. Building an interest will help build excitement to learn new vocabulary. The fifth thing is to relate the vocabulary to the student’s lives. Ask them the note or write down when a vocabulary word has been used. Make it sort of a game to see who can discover the most vocabulary words a week. The sixth thing is to create a memorable event. If you make learning a word unforgettable the students will always remember the meaning and how to use it. This method has been conduct in classrooms that I have been in and it really does work! The final thing Gunning says to do when laying a foundation is to promote independent word learning. Demonstrate to the students who to use the resources around them to help build their vocabulary and knowledge.
These foundational steps seem very beneficial and if they were used when I was a student in elementary school I probably wouldn’t have been so turned away from vocabulary. I hope as a teacher I can incorporate these activities into my students’ learning.
Today I taught my second lesson. We worked with the story of The Great Kapok Tree. I had the students at first look and predict what they could from the cover of the book on what the story is going to be about. They had some very good guess saying that a man was going to try to chop down the tree. They were pretty much dead on. From there we read the story.
Once the story was over I brought out a picture of a kapok tree and two other pieces of paper as well as different pictures of animals. The students, one at a time, had to categorize where the animal had to go. Did it appear in the story? They would place it on the kapok tree poster.
Does the animals, even though it did not appear in the story, belong in the rainforest? The student would then place that animal on the blue piece of paper.
Finally students are asked does the animal not belong in the story or the rainforest? If so then the student will place the animal on the yellow piece of paper.
The girls really like this activity, especially when they had to explain why that animal was placed there. They were even to explain at times what an animal said in the story of why the man should not cut down the tree.
We ended the lesson writing a letter to a fictional factory on why they should not build a factory in a place where a garden exists. The girls put up strong points but could use some work on letter designing and developing a strong stance against a problem when stating their opinion.
It was a joy to work with these girls. I hope that I have equipped them with tools to help aid their comprehension skills.
Today I taught my first lesson out of my mini unit. The lesson was based around the story of Miss Rumphius and her accomplishing her dreams. From that theme I developed a lesson around the idea of comprehension, something that I noticed my case study struggles with.
To begin my lesson I asked the girls to name some of the dreams that they had. They all said that they wanted to become famous singers. One specifically says that she wants to be Rhianna. One of the girls also added that she wanted to live in a mansion. I also added my dream to the list which is to become a teacher. The girls laughed and said that that’s what they thought I was going to put.
Next I had to girls look up words in the dictionary to help aid them in their reading. I got this suggestive tip from Gunning’s textbook and have written about dictionary use before on this blog. It was time to put it to the test and it worked really well. When the girls came upon the word when reading that got excited because they knew the word and what it meant.
After reading the story I had the girls recall what Miss Rumphius’ dreams were and if they could remember if she ever accomplished them. The girls, even my case study, remembered all of her dreams and that she was able to accomplish them.
For the conclusion of the lesson I had the girls write to the prompt: “If I had to make the world more beautiful, I would…” They pretty much tied the prompt back to the story and talked about planting flowers like Miss Rumphius did. My case study even remembered the details about using the flower lupines in her drawing and writing. Below are their writing pieces.
Lately the class has been working on a Cinderella unit. They are reading books from all around the world with the same concept of the character “Cinderella” in all of them. Some of these stories include Ye-Shin, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, Scarface, and Centrillion are just some of the many Cinderella stories that they are reading. What I thought was most interesting was their Cinderella Map.
Next to their map is a little legend or key. On this key they write down the title of the Cinderella story with a symbol representing it. The students will then find the country where the Cinderella story is from and put the symbol on the Cinderella Map.
I really like this idea and really want to incorporate it into my classroom. I have seen this theme of discussing different Cinderella stories before in a first grade classroom, so I think the unit is good to move around in the grade levels. I also like the fact that they are bringing in map work and social studies into this lesson.
I also got to work with my case study group. We read The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Their teacher has said they have been really focusing also on story maps at this time. So we create our own story map as we read our story.
The girls seemed to really enjoy creating their own map. My case study student was also participating in areas. This is showing me that discussion really helps her when trying to comprehend a story. She can do it on her own but with help from others she can comprehend even further.
One of the sections that really interested me the most in Chapter 9 of Thomas Gunning’s textbook is the section that talks about dictionary skills. Recently at my fieldwork placement I came to a child, not my case study, who would turn to the dictionary for answers to help her read. She said to me that if she is struggling with a word she would look it up in the dictionary to not only help her sound it out but also to find out what its meaning is. I was even more amazed when she told me that her mom is the one who pointed her into that direction. She would approach her mom looking for help with a word and her mom would tell her to go look it up in the dictionary and is also a role model who does the action that she enforces. Gunning praises dictionaries as essential tools for learning.
According to Gunning the best way to teach dictionary skills is to “model the use of the dictionary”. As a teacher we are our students’ role model. They are going to learn and create habits by observing us. If a word no one knows comes up in class, be that role model and either look it up yourself or have the students look it up. This proves that you too are human to them and that because of that factor, you too can make mistakes or need help.
Gunning goes on to talk about how the most difficulty of using dictionary skills is choosing the correct meaning and then understanding it. It is important to make sure that the dictionary that the children will be using is something that they will understand and is at their grade level. There dictionary will not one that an adult would use. How can we help students with these problems? Most of this can be done by demonstration. Place the definition in the dictionary up on the smartboard or overhead and show the students how to use context clues in the reading to help pick the appropriate definition. Do not just do this process but many more times. Repetition will be the key here. Do not be the teacher who gives our worksheets or list of words for students to look up and define. This will most likely turn your students away from using the dictionary. Make it like a game to see who can find the word and the correct definition when given an underlined word in a sentence. Students will have fun doing this activity and have no idea that they are learning or reinforcing the idea of using the dictionary.