Welcome back! If you are just joining this series of articles, you might want to refer back to Part 1 of the series -- A Shared Experience: The Key to Effective Read Alouds -- for important background information. In that article, we focused on the shared experience of read alouds; this week we take it deeper.
Merely inviting students to contribute verbally when you read aloud to them isn't enough. Take it to a higher level with analytical talk. What is analytical talk?
Teachers prompt students to engage in analytical talk by making comments that model such thinking and then asking thoughtful questions. (One of my favorites is What do you think the author is trying to say here?") The greatest challenge in delivering a read aloud is to balance planning the instructional insertions" (as we talked about in Part 1 of this series) while making them transparent to students. Heres another example of a teachable moment that arose when an educator from Connecticut (who wants to remain anonymous) was reading to her 8th grade class from Chris Crutchers Whale Talk. She reached the part in Chapter 1 where the main character says,
"My father always said there are no coincidences; that when two seemingly unrelated events occur, they are related and should be treated that way."
She had options here. Lets look at two: vocabulary instruction or think aloud.
The Vocabulary Focus
Maybe this teachers students didnt know what the word coincidence meant. That is a Tier 2 word, for those of you who are familiar with Beck, McKeown, and Kucans work (2002) in that area.
The word coincidence is actually two words: co and incidence, or the related word coincide. The prefix co means together. The root incident comes from the Latin incidere which means to fall into, from in- + cadere to fall. In a short pause in the story, students help identify other words that contain those elements (co as in cooperate, coexist, co-mingle, and connect words they know like incident (as in an incident with the police, or an incident with a parent or principal).
Making such connections is important for students to retain the meanings of new words. In a couple of seconds, the teacher has introduced the meaning behind these words and has let students talk about the word in this context and in other contexts. Then she moves on, keeping that word highlighted in her brain (and perhaps on a note) so she can use it in other contexts throughout class time with students.
The Comprehension Focus
My choice might be to focus on the meaning of the quote in the context of the story. Whether students believe the statement the author has made or not will color their whole approach to, and understanding of, the rest of the story. Its a chance for prediction and thinking aloud. Ask: Do you think thats true?" And heres the key follow-up: Why?" (or Why not?").
Im not asking students what color the characters eyes are; Im asking a thinking question that doesnt have a single answer. Im asking my students to give an evaluation that might be colored by their schema and their view of this character. Im not looking for one opinion to be valued above another at this point. I just want to get everybody thinking. Later on, as the story unfolds, I will refer back to that one place in the story, over and over again (text-to-text connections) to stretch students thinking.
Try these approaches in your classroom tomorrow and then come back and read Part 3 of this series for more ideas.