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

More Than Words on a Page

I just spent fifteen minutes writing up an apology for my lack of blogging the past two days but then I thought, “This is silly. If people were really that worried about my inconsistent schedule, they would have asked. I have better things to do.” So I deleted it all. If you really must know, I was at work and class for most of Monday and working as an election judge all day yesterday.

I had an interesting conversation with one of my reading groups this morning. We were starting a discussion about Kate diCamillo’s Newbery Honor book Because of Winn-Dixie and I asked the group to tell me about Opal’s relationship with her father. (They just started reading two weeks ago.) One of the members of the group started to give a rather detailed summary. I stopped her and explained that I didn’t want a summary. I wanted to know what they understood about the main character’s relationship with her father. This somehow got us onto a tangent on reading comprehension and the same student asked me what comprehension was.

We’ve talked about this. As a class, as a small group, during one-on-one conferences. My students know that comprehension is understanding a text. It involves reading, re-reading, thinking, questions, summarising, asking questions, predicting, inferring, and drawing conclusions. Comprehension isn’t just reading the words on the page. As I said this, I realised that I had a great way to illustrate this concept. (Well, maybe not illustrate. I’m not sure what the aural equivalent of illustrating a concept is, but that’s what I was going for.)

Just as performing a musical piece is so very much more than just playing notes on a page, so is reading more than just the words that are printed. I don’t need to teach my students how to read; they can all do that. What they need to learn now is how to read better. How to interact with a text, to think about it, and think about it deeply. To consider the message of the author, the thoughts and feelings of the characters, their own thoughts and feelings as they are reading, what they are learning, how they are connecting.

The same student whose comments started this train of thought made this comment during the video: “Wait. Are you saying that reading should be fun?!” I paused the video. I looked directly at her and then each of the other members of the group. Then I said this: Reading the words on the page isn’t fun. That’s boring. But comprehending what you read should be. That’s my goal.”

Reading should be fun. It should be enjoyable. “It should be about heart, feelings, and moving people, and something beautiful and being alive.” There’s a lot in common between reading literature and performing music. Once my students figure out that connection, I know they will be well on their way to being successful learners!

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