Question: How can I get all of my students to independently read and deeply understand a piece of non-fiction text?
I love teaching Social Studies! It gives me an opportunity to dramatically tell a story, inspire kids, and use all the wonders of the web to showcase a multimedia presentation that would make most fifth graders heads’ start to spin. After I have thoroughly fired them up about a particular topic I usually set them loose on a piece of reading and then they finish up by answering a few well thought out questions on a worksheet that I have created.
This gives me the chance to walk around and help students out with the reading. I answer questions and probe for understanding along the way. It seems to work. I get the sense that students are learning…but is it enough? Of course not. There’s always more students can do with a particular subject but I am still struck with the never ending question: How can I get all my students to independently read and deeply understand a piece of non-fiction text?
I tried something a bit different today. I assigned a piece of non-fiction text to read and then asked THE STUDENTS to tell the story instead of me.
Here’s what happened
First: The students read through the text and summarized each section without my dramatic story before hand.
Then: We went to the computer lab with our text books and notes and began creating a presentation that they will use to tell their dramatic tale.
Here’s one example of what one of my students created based on the article above.
Does this student deeply understand what they have read in that first section of the article? You betcha!
Here’s another example of student work based on the section titled “The First Try” from the same article above. Again, I can clearly see that based on the images and text on the slide that the student has a deep understanding of what they read.
The beauty of this lesson was that it forced the students to read, reread, understand thoroughly and then decide what type of images they’d use to help them tell the story of Roanoke Island. This was incredibly engaging for all students and much more challenging and complicated than to just listen to Mr. Howell, read the text and then answer questions on a worksheet.
This lesson can be a great jump start into using Creative Commons images, determining validity of sources, and a slew of other possibilities. However, my main objective was to answer the never ending question: How can I get all of my students to read independently and deeply understand a piece of non-fiction text?
Now that the students have had this critical thinking opportunity it will allow me to take this subject matter much deeper. For instance, I can begin to ask students questions like:
- Why would another country want to start a colony in the first place?
- If you were to start a colony, what sort of people would you want to take along with you?
- What challenges would you face when starting a colony?
- What effects would this have on the Native Americans already living here?
- Imagine your are a Native American. What are your thoughts on these visitors?
- What would you have done differently than this first group of English settlers?
- What do you think happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island?
Overall, I think this lesson helped me reach my objective and has set the foundation for an even deeper learning experience.
What are some of your strategies you use with non-fiction text?
Where do I begin?
I’ll start with Authentic Learning.
My understanding of this is it’s an opportunity to utilize a variety of skills and talents to create something magnificent. To have a rich experience filled with challenges and obstacles that allows you to use your strengths and possibly develop a certain skill set to solve problems. To be able to design something you are passionate about and then share that with a larger community.
An authentic learning experience brings people together and gives them a chance to synergize and create something more wonderful than they could have done alone. It is collaborative, yet there is an understanding and a call for creative autonomy within an interdependent situation.
Authentic learning experiences requires a plethora of effective personal characteristics that if used well, leave those involved with a sense of great satisfaction and accomplishment and inspires others.
Does such learning even exist? If so, where?
Well my friends, I am here to tell you Authentic Learning does exist and it can happen on a stage.
We have just finished our second annual musical performance, Pirates of the Curry Bean, with about 60 elementary students from K-5. It was a monumental undertaking that brought our entire community together.
I humbly witnessed the depth and breadth of talent that the parents of our school community brought with them to this production in order to give the students this authentic learning experience.
I was so deeply touched and moved while watching our young students day in and day out step up to the challenges that a full production like this offered. Kids are quite amazing and can accomplish so much when appropriately challenged and given the support to succeed.
I am grateful to have been a part of this musical production and to have witnessed this amazing authentic learning experience in action.
From bended knee, I thank thee.
“Elementary teachers are tour guides to the world…”
New York Educational Commissioner King has a discussion with David Coleman and Kate Gerson on the First Instructional Shift: Balancing Informational Text with Fiction.
Kate Gerson asks, “I wonder then what you think the ways in which this shift changes the role of the elementary teacher?”
Commissioner King responds:
The elementary teachers role ~
- Demands attention to the coherent teaching of content
- Demands a different allocation of time
- Demands a different level of preparation
- Invites teachers to think about engaging different students with different texts.
- Provides an opportunity to add informational text to the teachers tool box.
Kate Gerson, “…creates a window for an elementary teacher to become the facilitator of the world as students begin to access it….”
Commissioner King later responds with, “…being a tour guide to the world will help students become better readers.”
The message that I received from this video, and believe, is that through explicit and effective first instruction with informational texts you begin to expose students to topics they may not have otherwise been connected to. With that, a student may:
- become genuinely interested in a particular topic
- become incredibly passionate and seek out all they can know about that topic
- connect with others who share common interests
- share their knowledge, understanding and passion
- and ultimately expand their reading ability.
It’s a win-win situation!
So here are a few of my To Do Items:
- Take an inventory of the non-fiction texts that our fifth grade team has.
- Seek out and discover non-fiction texts to add to our classroom library.
- Find gaps in my instruction where non-fiction text can be added.
The non fiction article I selected came from National Geographic Explorer magazine. There is also a Teacher’s Manual created by National Geographic as reference if needed. The topic and images that go along with the article will engage kids and allow me to make connections to our Science lessons on Invertebrates and Vertebrates as well.
The main objective is to help students summarize and synthesize the information. I am planning on 3-5 guided reading lessons using this article.
Here’s the link to my lesson on Google Doc’s or take a look below.
Summarizing Non-Fiction Text
Guided Reading Lesson
Fifth grade students will learn how to summarize sections of a non-fiction article.
Introducing the Text:
Demonstrate and communicate needed information which:
Removes some complexities
Allows reader to take on new challenges.
- Help students make personal connections to the images in the article Got Poison?
- Ask them what they already know about the topic (poisonous animals)
- Identify the Bold Titles of each section
- Point out that each section will provides information about different animals
- Show students how to use the glossary to identify the meaning of the highlighted words.
Reading the Text:
Students will read the first two sections, It’s Night and Poison Power, independently.
Discussing and Revisiting the Text:
Lead a discussion to help students:
- Summarize and synthesize information
- Communicate their ideas
- Make inferences about the text.
1. Many animals use toxins—poisonous substances in poison and venom—to
survive. In some cases, they use it to kill prey. In others, the poisons help them
2. Animals deliver poisons in several ways: biting with fangs, injecting with
stingers or spikes, spitting, or oozing poison from their skin.
Teaching for Processing Strategies:
Revisit vocabulary and Glossary
toxins and venom
Here is a screen shot of the first page of this article that I will be using.
Anneberg Foundation ~ Teaching Reading Grades 3-5
30 minute video of a fifth grade teacher in her classroom teaching summarizing.
Read Write Think
Get the Gist ~ this lesson is geared for grades 6-8 but parts could be adapted to grade 5
I know, I know the eReader debate is a passionate one but check this out!
We have a Nook Color in our house and I am reading the Percy Jackson books to my son Gavin. He seems to be enjoying the adventures and twists and turns that Rick Riordan has written in the first book The Lightning Thief.
Here’s the cool twist with using the Nook that I have discovered both as a dad and a teacher.
You can highlight different sections of the text as you read. At first glance this may seem inconsequential but wait…there’s more.
I typically read a few chapters ahead of Gavin and highlight:
- new characters
- interesting or challenging words
- important sections of the text.
Then I hand over the Nook and let him read. He can see my highlights and after which we can talk about the book.
Through this process I am modeling my own reading habits. I am thinking out load for my son by the use of these highlights and it signals to him that, “uh oh, daddy highlighted something here, it must be important.”
What has quickly happened is that he is now highlighting sections while he reads which again may seem inconsequential but wait…there’s more.
There’s a section built into these eReaders that allows you to scroll through all of your highlighted sections which for me, gives me a heads up as to what his thinking is. How cool is that?
Just that feature alone is worth the cost of admission, but it gets even better.
Not only can you simply highlight sections or words but you can then insert a note. A note. Unbelievable.
With this feature I am then able to jot down:
- questions I have
- predictions I make
- random thoughts that are connected to that particular part of the book.
I am hooked. Seriously hooked.
Also, just like with the highlighted sections you can also scroll through an archived list of your notes as well. Just too cool!
Think of the possibilities.
Over the course of several years we can have a collection of all our highlighted sections and notes off all the books we have read on one of these cool devices. Whew!
I love experimenting during my read aloud time. It gives me a chance to introduce a variety of genres to kids that they may not have otherwise picked on their own. In most cases, read aloud is one of the favorite times of the day for the students and it is for me too!
Today we started reading Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. We have a copy of this book on tape and I thought I would play the story and have the kids follow along with their copies of the book in hand.
In the midst of listening to the opening pages I grabbed a pen from the Smartboard tray and began taking notes. I drew boxes and bubbles to highlight the setting, and made lists of characters and added details to each as we discovered them.
Modeling this process and how I organized the main ideas and details of the story will certainly help my students do the same. The notes will provide a visual to help facilitate discussions, ask or answer questions, clarify misunderstanding, and strengthen their own understanding of the story.
One unintended consequence that just occurred to me is now I will have the ability to quickly review these notes each day before reading again.
I am working with our Library Media Specialist on designing a Global Warming Unit for fifth graders.
We signed up for a Digital Media Literacy workshop organized by Chris Sperry from Project Look Sharp who is training us on how to embed Media Literacy skills within the Science Curriculum. One of the goals for this workshop is to create a lesson plan that will be posted online.
Our work can be found at the Library Science and Teacher’s Alliance website where we are piecing together our ideas with the help of Chris.
At this point, my understanding of Media Literacy means to use a sense of critical thinking to be able to:
- analyze and interrupt the bias of a particular piece of media
- determine the credibility of a particular piece of media
- gain an understanding of multiple perspectives on a single topic.
This type of thinking will have to be taught to my students. It’s not easy and to be honest I am learning how to do these very important skills myself.
What does Media Literacy mean to you?
What are some examples of how you decode and analyze the media sources in your life?
Time is the never ending challenge for all teachers. My last contribution to this blog was before the 2011-12 School Year actually began some 5 months ago. I had a chunk of time in the car heading home and thought I would record my thoughts at the moment.
Besides that reflective moment I haven’t contributed to the blogosphere in a while. I mean I have added to my Diigo Bookmarks and created digital spaces for my students, but as far as personal and professional reflections…just haven’t taken the time.
So I ask myself a few questions:
1. Is blogging something I really want to continue doing?
2. What are the opportunity costs involved?
3. What positive or negative unforeseen consequences?
4. What other questions could I be asking myself?
As for me, I am off to making pancakes for the kids and then out to shovel the driveway before this afternoon’s basketball game. I shall be pondering throughout the day.
Keep on keepin’ on.
Warning ~ a “talking head” video ahead ~ proceed with caution.
What better to do than talk to yourself during a long drive home.
In this case I happened to grab my handy dandy iPod Touch and document this momentary lapse of reason. Please keep in mind that this is what I look like after a long weekend of hard labor in the landscaping business. I am clearly in need of clean shave.
List of resources I mentioned in the video:
- Standards Based/Standards Referenced Report Cards
- Stealing Reading Moments ~ idea originated from The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
- Our Class Wiki
- Our Class Blog
- Animoto ~ This is fantastic video production software that is entirely web based and free to educators.
- Glogster Edu Ambassador ~ Fill in the short application to see if you will qualify for the Premium GlogsterEdu service.
- Kevin’s Meandering Mind
- Grade Book for the Standards Based/Standards Referenced Report Card.
- Dodie ~ who writes at Technology Chatter
- Tempered Radical ~ after reading his post I was able to create my own Google Form to collect data.