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Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Reading Video Clip 2

Instructional focus
Analysis of STAR data revealed that the students needed further support in building comprehension at the sentence and paragraph level, and their vocabulary also needed extending. Further gathering and analysis of data using PROBE identified the need for practice in making inferences, and how to use information in the text to work out the meaning of unknown words, so Denise planned a series of lessons using a rich explanatory text. The instructional objective was to learn about the language choices the author made to craft his explanation, and to support students in making inferences from the rich descriptive language used by the author. This focus provided opportunities for students to infer and justify their inferences by finding evidence in the text.

The text was chosen because it linked to the class science topic (electricity) and supported students' learning needs in science as well as literacy. The shared reading approach was used to provide the necessary level of support and ensure that all students in the class could access the content of the text, including technical vocabulary, and participate in the discussion.

Through planned links to their writing of explanations, Denise also wanted to explore how the author went about writing the explanation. In particular, she wanted to explore the introduction and how the author used rich literary language in order to engage the reader. This was a direct link to what the children were doing in their own writing of explanations, namely, to use rich descriptive language that will have an impact on the audience.

The shared learning intentions were:

  • to explore the language the author has used to craft his explanation
  • to look for key words and phrases in the sentence or paragraph to help us work out the meaning of an unfamiliar word.

Watch the video and think about these questions:

Deliberate acts of teaching: modelling

  1. As she questions, prompts, and gives feedback, the teacher is modelling what strategic readers do. What important aspects of being a strategic reader is she modelling?

Engaging learners with texts

  1. The students are reading the text "Thunder and Lightning" by William Rea (Connected 2.04).
  2. What aspects of this text make it an appropriate choice both to support these students' literacy learning and to introduce a scientific concept?
  3. Find examples within the interaction where engagement with the text may have enriched students' vocabulary.

Expert comment and transcript

Read teacher Denise Durrant's thoughts on what she achieved in the session and an analysis of the teacher-student interaction by literacy expert Peter Johnston. Peter (Ph.D. University of Illinois) is Professor of Education and Chair of the Reading Department at State University of New York at Albany. His position as an advocate for teachers and students developed from his early career teaching primary school in New Zealand. His many publications include Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children's Learning (Stenhouse 2004), Knowing Literacy: Constructive Literacy Assessment (Stenhouse 1997), and Running Records: A Self-Tutoring Guide (Stenhouse 2000).

Denise Durrant's reflections

The class is large - 32 students - so it was important to keep the students focused, and thinking about and discussing the text as much as possible. So I used think, pair, and share to provide opportunities for all students to be engaged and express their views and opinions. This strategy supported those students who are reluctant to contribute in a big group.

The topic built on what the children had already learned or knew so we reviewed together our prior knowledge at the beginning of the lesson. We had previously read about and studied the water cycle. Now we were narrowing the focus to the electrical activity in clouds. This focus provided opportunities for the students to make links to previous learning to help them to infer and to work out the meaning of unknown words.

In this segment of the lesson, my objective was to help the students see how the author used rich descriptive language to create a certain mood. Baden picked up on that and provided an example from further down the text and, when I prompted him, he was able to articulate the impact the language had on him as a reader. I was impressed with Michael’s response - he modelled for the other students how previous learning could be used. It was a student modelling for the others, rather than the teacher always modelling. This is empowering for the students and I was pleased how that went on this occasion. It also gave me an opportunity to reinforce understanding by giving explicit feedback on what Michael did.

I felt that this session provided an opportunity for the students to develop their ability to infer and to draw on the text to justify their inferences as well as to explore the way the author crafted his explanation. I plan to provide more rich text models in shared reading to help them write explanations that will have greater impact on the reader.

I was also pleased with how Emma used the focus strategy in our shared learning intention to make an inference about the meaning of a word. Again, it was a student modelling how to use information in the text to work out the meaning of unknown words. It provided evidence to me that Emma was independently using this strategy, which was great as it had been a goal focus for her. That is why I selected her to respond and gave her such specific feedback. I was also reinforcing for all the class that this is what successful readers do.

Peter Johnston's comments

Teacher: I want you to close your eyes and I’m going to read a couple of sentences. ‘It’s been a hot, humid day and you look up at the sky and see huge clouds approaching. At the base it looks dark and brooding. Above this a tower of white billows high into the blueness.' OK, you can open your eyes now. Can you find a hint of warning that something is going to happen? Baden.

This strategy builds the students' focus on the secondary world of the book, which they have to imitate, but also models expressive reading. In asking the students to look for hints, the teacher is continuing to push students to articulate and justify their interpretation, using textual cues.

Baden Um, it says here, um, ‘Soon the cloud is nearly overhead, and everything dims as its shadow seeps across the land.’

Teacher: What impact did it have on you?

This comment asserts that authors have an impact on readers through texts. It asserts this forcefully by offering it as a given. It says, ‘Obviously it had an effect on you, what was it?’ At the same time, it opens the possibility of legitimately different impacts on different readers. Nonetheless, it follows a comment that makes it clear that there should be a hint of warning.

Baden : Well it felt like that it was going to,  like um, something - it sort of felt freaky cause, um, you didn't know what was going to happen next.

Teacher: Good thinking there. Michael?

Michael: Um, like, relating back to the water cycle it said that, um - the like the white cloud that you can kind of see through doesn’t have much moisture in it, so - and the dark like, as it says here, um, ‘dark and brooding’ clouds, um, they would have a lot of moisture and you’d know it would rain or something soon?

Teacher: I like the way you linked back to something you’ve already learnt, that is really good, and you’ve brought that bit of knowledge with you and you’ve added to it, so that’s great thinking there.

The teacher points to a strategy Michael used and reviews it. She also invites expansion.

Teacher: OK, in summing up, the author is setting his scene for his explanation of what causes thunder and lightning. He’s using very descriptive language and he does this to capture our interest. He wants us to be interested in what he’s going to write about.

Teacher: I want you to discuss this with your neighbour. When did you -  one example of when you used this strategy up here, to look for key words or phrases in the sentence or paragraph to help you work out the meaning of unfamiliar words, because there were a lot of technical words in there. Discuss it with your neighbour.

Whether or not they did use this particular strategy, it does get the students reviewing examples of strategic behaviour with respect to figuring out the meaning of words. This sets up the students to tell each other agentive narratives. In this example, it is assumed that all or many of the students will have used the same strategy already described to figure out a word. Often I would expect just an invitation to review whatever strategy was used to figure out words. That offers the possibility of both reviewing the one strategy and offering alternatives for flexibility.

Student discussion.

Teacher: OK. Emma.

Emma: Um well, there’s this sentence, um, ‘If you were in the bush, try to find a low clum of trees to shelter under.’

Teacher: So what word weren’t you sure about?

Emma: Ah, ‘clum’, I think that’s how you pronounce it.

I love this because it is as if she has overgeneralised the model of ‘plumb’ or ‘dumb’.

Teacher: Clump.

Emma: Clump, yeah, well, I found out cause it says that, um, you shouldn't just hide under one, so it would be a bunch of trees?

This is an agentive narrative. Emma says, essentially, ‘I solved the problem by doing this.’

Teacher: Wow, that is really good, you inferred there. That is such a good strategy that you used. Well done, you should feel proud of yourself for doing that because you were a successful reader.

The teacher refers back to the named strategy. Although she offers praise, she offers it in a way that allows the student to attend to the positive feelings that go along with the agentive narrative. It might be a good idea here to articulate the strategy that was used. Calling Emma a successful reader is a nudge toward a positive identity. An alternative would be something like, By using that strategy you were able to figure it out by yourself. This shows what was done and its consequences.

Published on: 22 Mar 2016