September 30, 2015

Reading is thinking!

Good readers know they need to think critically about a text. Authors craft stories very carefully and as readers, it's our job to consider the text on a higher level.  

We do this by differentiating between thick and thin information.  For example, in some cases, it's irrelevant that a character's favourite shirt is red.  In other cases, it can be symbolic. Perhaps the character's late mother gave him that shirt and he hasn't gone a day without wearing it since she passed.  

A professor I had in first year American Lit told us that the character that carries keys in the story is the character that holds the power.  And when you think about it, it's really true. She who holds the keys can literally let you into new places...or not.  That really stuck with me.  Whenever I come upon a character with keys (and I'll be honest here, it doesn't happen that often), I consider the power they hold within the plot.  

This week, I focused my reading instruction on thick information (useful/relevant) and thin information (less useful/relevant).  

I showed the boys and girls the package pictured below. I asked them what they knew about the contents by just looking at it.  Without any information or prior knowledge whatsoever, they didn't know very much. We came up with one or two observations, but they didn't help the boys and girls figure out what was inside.  In other words, we couldn't help it, we came up with thin observations because there was no information provided to really consider. 

Then, we unwrapped the package and there was another layer of wrapping paper, but this time it was polka dot paper. Did this new information help us in understanding what was inside? Let's think critically about this:  no it did not.  

We simply needed more information. So we really, REALLY started to pay attention.   

That's when we noticed that when we shook the box, you could hear a rattle sound. Ahhh! More information. Then the kids concluded that based the way I was holding it, it must be light. Then the questions began!  Is it a toy? No.  Is it alive? No.  What's it made of?  Plastic.  

And then we stopped for the day.  

On Tuesday, more questions emerged.  We were taking our prior knowledge (schema) from the day before and using it to help us generate new questions.  Is it food?  No, but you use it to prepare food.  That's when questions REALLY got thick and the thinking really took off!  More information+paying attention=mystery solved. 

I opened the end of the package so students could see just the end of the box. Not super helpful, but still, with more information, students could think on a higher level about what this mystery item might be.  

Finally, one detective in the class put it all together and guessed! It's an apple-peeler!!! 

The take-away from all this is that good readers must consider all information, sort it carefully and ask themselves, "How does this help me understand and connect to what I'm reading?" 

Reading is thinking, and as readers, we really need to pay full attention to the text because maybe there's more to that quiet, unsuspecting character with the keys.  ;) 


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