I was happy to meet so many of you out at the Leadership Conference this weekend. As usual the conference was invigorating. I enjoyed Dick Allington's presentation and meeting him very much. I am set to present next at IRA in San Francisco in April. I look forward to meeting more of you at that time.
I continue to work through the strategy instruction outlined in Mosaic of Thought and Strategies that Work with my class. I'd like to share this week some new thoughts on how my instruction has developed. This past week in my class (2nd grade) we were working with Prior Knowledge. This is the first week of this study. I began on day one with a large piece of chart paper on the chalkboard. At the top I had written "Thinking About Prior Knowledge." I then wrote -- "What do we know about prior knowledge?". I asked the kids the question and they looked at me kind of funny. While I had modeled this in the past I had never really made them aware I was doing so. How many of us have done this? We read a book on Day 1 and build background through webs, KWLs and other such graphic organizers. We attempt to prepare to read and are indeed accessing prior knowledge as we build background. What we don't do is tell the kids we are doing this and perhaps more importantly why we are doing it. As with the other strategies, it is important that we share what we are doing and why we are doing it. Below is the format of my first 4
days of this instruction.
Day 1 - Develop chart with kids. What do we know about prior knowledge is written on chart. Ask if they know what prior knowledge is. Then tell them you will model for them. I chose a nonfiction piece for the first day, a book about Bats. I held up the book and showed them the cover. I said, today I will read a book about bats. Before I read the book though I want to access my prior knowledge. I look at the book's cover and ask myself "What is this book going to be about?" Bats. I think I'll make a web to see what I already know about bats before I read. I then make a quick web - Bats. I say things like - I know they come out at night, that means they are nocturnal. They are small. Some drink blood and are vampire bats. Some eat insects. I continued to list a few things I knew about bats. Then I said that when I read this book I might see some of this information. I proceeded to read 2 pages of the book. I told the kids that when they got their reading bags I wanted them all to pull out a nonfiction piece. I wanted them to look at the book and before they read, make a quick web like I did to write down what they knew about the topic. We shared a few of these after the reading/conference time.
Day 2 - I had the chart still hanging on the board. Nothing to this point had been written under the What do we know about prior knowledge question. I read the question and a few kids responded talking about what we had done yesterday. I am not recording responses at this time. I then held up a book I was planning to read. The book was a fiction piece. I told the kids that our brain is very much like a computer. We have all this great information inside our brains in neat little compartments. When we access prior knowledge it is like using a search engine on the computer (most of mine don't have computers at home). I said that when you use a computer and want to find information, you type in a key word and it searches. Accessing prior knowledge is very much like this. You look at the book and when you ask yourself what you know about this topic, you are searching your brain for a match. I made some little searching noise as I put the topic in my head. I then wrote what I knew about the topic. A quick listing -- not a dissertation, showing them that prior knowledge can be used with fiction as well as non fiction. I then told the kids that during the reading time I wanted them to pull out a fiction piece and access their prior knowledge before they read. After I conferenced, I did a quick wandering and selected a few kids to share. We discussed what they did. One girl was reading Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping. On her web she had written among other things that "sometimes Amelia doesn't understand what Mr. and Mrs. Rogers want her to do" WOW! When she shared we talked about how this knowledge would help her understand the new Amelia Bedelia book she was reading. Another child had gone ahead and made a KWL chart in her book. On her own she had realized that this organizer we had used in class would work well when accessing prior knowledge. As she shared this other kids began to see that there were other ways of accessing prior knowledge. They also were beginning to make connections between what was done in class and why it was done.
Day 3 - The chart is still hanging on the board. I still have nothing written under the question. I begin with the question and a few kids respond. They have I see gotten the idea that prior knowledge is done before you read and helps you comprehend. I again modeled accessing my prior knowledge. I talked more about the brain and how the information is in little compartments. I said the brain was like a file cabinet with many different file folders in it. When we access prior knowledge we take out the file and open it. This is important because we want to be ready to learn new information and also we want the new information to be placed in the right file in our brain. The kids had free choice on genre this day, but were asked to access their prior knowledge before they began reading their selection. After I conferenced, I walked around a bit and observed what they were doing. I selected a few kids to share and we again discussed what they had done and how it had helped them. I could see they were now ready to answer the question on our chart.
Day 4 - Again I returned to the chart's question - What do we know about prior knowledge. Still we had nothing recorded. We had a quick discussion of what we had done this week so far. I then asked the kids in their reading logs, before they read to jot down a few ideas. What is prior knowledge? What would you tell someone else about it? They did a quick write before they read. After I conferenced, we shared what we had written. Everyone had a chance to share what they had written and a few shared what they had done that day to access prior knowledge. We chose 4 responses to add to our chart. These kids were given postits and asked to record their response on the post it. These were glued to our chart. Below are examples of what these 7 year olds wrote. (I don't have them here so this is from memory. I hope I can convey the depth of their response and do them justice. I will include the exact text of their responses in my next newsletter.)
Prior knowledge is something you do before you read to get your brain ready. It helps you comprehend what you are reading because you think about what you already know about the book. When you read you will see some words that you don't know, but when you use prior knowledge you have a better idea what these words are...
Prior knowledge helps you comprehend when you are reading because you think about what you already know before you read. Your brain is like a file cabinet and you need to get the right file out before you read. It helps you warm up your brain and get it ready to learn new stuff.
Prior knowledge lets you access information from your brain before you read. Your brain is like a computer and using this strategy helps you comprehend because you think about what you already know about something before you read.I was very happy with the week and the responses. Next week we will talk about how readers use prior knowledge. I will be modeling this again all week and the kids will be working with the strategy. I wanted to make the point here that not only do we have to model and teach the strategies, but we have to have the kids respond and articulate how it helps them understand what they read. They need to make the connection between what they are doing and how it helps them understand their reading. Powerful stuff and so necessary. It is not enough to just see them use the strategies, they have to understand why they use them and how it helped them as readers. We always need to take that next step.
I'd love to share your ideas in this newsletter. Many of you have signed up to write for the paper. Please don't wait for me to contact you to do this. When you sign up all you need to do is send me your article via email. I will then contact you and let you know when it will appear in the paper. I am now collecting articles for the next issue. What have you been doing in your classrooms? We'd all like to hear. Please send your article to me for upcoming issues - firstname.lastname@example.org .