The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Reading Closely and Writing Extensively

We are getting down to the wire before ISAT week is upon us! Just four more days of school, a regular two-day weekend, and then we are starting! As I told my class this morning, we are definitely doing prep work for the test, but not in the traditional way. I am not giving my students practice tests, we aren’t honing our bubble sheet skills, and we aren’t stopping the regular sequence of classroom instruction to get ready for the exams. Instead, we are using this time to practice skills that are part of our learning targets anyway but will be helpful on the ISATs.

Today we started our week-long exploration of extended writing based on close reading of texts. We recently finished our fourth thematic unit in our reading series, and one of the wrap-up activities ties directly into this practice of reading closely and writing extensively. Before working independently, though, I reviewed some of the key concepts of these skills with the whole class.

We talked about the fact that nobody ever remembers every single detail from every single story they read, so it is important to read and then reread. We talked about marking important details related to the question while reading the first time and then skimming the text to find supporting details when reading a second or even third time. We focused on how important it is to write down or otherwise note the key details that related to the question.

Then I shared strategies for organising one’s thoughts. I pointed out that while I could give them printed graphic organisers now, I want them to think about ways they can make their own organisers on blank paper, whether Venn diagrams or T-charts or concept maps or just lists. And we also discussed how we can tie our own ideas and understanding to our responses as long as we can find evidence from the text to support them.

After reviewing all of the things we have talked about all year about writing in response to reading, it was time for the students to try it on their own. I gave them a full 45 minutes to review the stories, find evidence for their argument, plan, and write their responses. I gave notices of time as they worked and was really glad to see so many students pacing themselves appropriately. Some finished earlier than others, of course, but all took the writing task seriously. As papers were turned in, I looked over them and saw that most understood the task, some started but didn’t quite complete, and only a few need some more specific guidance on writing extensively on a topic. And though ISATs are less than a week away, we still have plenty of time before the end of the year to master this type of writing!

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