I began working with several groups of students on inferring because although my students can infer isolated pieces in a text (what a word means in the context of a sentence, what a character meant by a phrase in a book, what might happen next, etc.), I am noticing a pattern that many of my students do not infer across the text and as texts become longer and more complex, this becomes more of a barrier to true comprehension. I'm finding students who can retell a story with every story part, but they miss some subtle thing that makes the story. Their inferring is at the basic level and they rush through-making up their mind fast without pausing to think about the whole. So, I planned a few lesson and have continued from there.
I always thought that problem and solution was a rather basic thing to teach but there are so many conversations that have come from it that I am realizing how important it is for 8 and 9 year olds.
Hippo! No, Rhino!, and Where's Walrus? and each student left with one of these books I asked them to jot notes on stickies as they read.
We came back together to talk and their stickies confirmed my thinking from our reading of Chalk. I realized that these students were reading events but not reading for the whole story to come together in some way. I needed to help them read across a story. There were lots of stickies about little details not connected to the big story. I know that these are important for readers , but only if they can see how they fit into the bigger picture. So I changed my focus to problem and solution to give these students a way to focus--how to read across a story for the bigger picture in a story--more than isolated events in a sequence.
For the next lesson, I used the wordless book Fossil by Bill Thompson. This one is patterned similarly to Chalk so I figured the kids would be able to dig deeper and see the problem and solution more clearly after having read and discussed Chalk. For Fossil, I asked students to focus on the big problem and the big solution and we talked through it. They were much better able to do this when they weren't jumping around to lots of unrelated details. Instead, they read with a focus in mind that they wanted to get a sense of the whole story.
In the meantime, during individual conferences, we also talked a bit about the book that each child was reading during independent reading. They were delighted to discover that the books they were reading had problems and that the longer the book, the longer it took to solve the problem!
One thing I am noticing is that my students are often missing the subtle things that a character does to solve a problem. Often a character does something (like in Miss Nelson is Missing) that seems obvious to adult readers even though it is not stated in the story. I wanted my kids to read knowing that often characters did something deliberate to solve the problem and that readers sometimes read for that.
For this lesson, we read the book, I Want a Dog!. I picked this book for a few reasons. First of all, the problem was hinted to in the title. Second of all, the character does something very obvious to solve the problem and I knew my kids would see that. Finally, I knew that there were lots of books about kids who want pets and I wanted to be able to build on this lesson later in the study. So, "What did the character do to solve the problem?" was the focus of this lesson and kids caught right on, excited to know this little trick for finding solution. (They acted like they were in on a big secret!) The focus was helpful as they weren't jumping all over the place, hoping the random details they noticed would somehow make sense to them.
Before I finish up with this group, I want to give them tools to go a little deeper into their understanding. I want them to see that problem and solution matters and that often a character changes over time because of the problem. I know that they are at the point that they are reading across a whole story now and they are ready to see the impact of the problem/solution on the characters. So my next few lessons with this group will be around the idea that the main character often changes because of the problem they encountered and that readers often ask themselves, "How does the character change in the journey to solve the problem?" I have a few books in mind for this conversation and they are all three books that make sense as next steps and for this new focus: Those Shoes, The Summer My Father Was Ten, and A Bad Case of Stripes (Scholastic Bookshelf) are the three books I'll use next. I may only use one or two depending on how much support students need with this new idea.
These kids are not necessarily struggling readers but they are struggling with this idea and it is keeping them from truly understanding what they read . I am all about discovery, but sometimes kids need some ways into discovery. They need to know what to read for and some things to remember as readers. Then when they move into complex texts they know these things will hold true and that's where the real thinking and discovery comes in. I've been careful to choose books that really make visible the things I want them to see that are true of many stories so that they differently on their own. In less than 2 weeks, they've changed their expectations of story.
I am rethinking small groups to be a bit longer than usual (over 2-ish weeks) to really change several behaviors that add up over time. This cycle has taught me a lot about what transitional readers need and about how to better plan small group instruction so that in a short period of time, students can become more independent readers.