Monitoring Comprehension and the Backchannel

I’m doing something a little different with my reading instruction this grading period. This grading period, I decided to slide away from the rBook tied to the Read 180 program. What I learned, over the course of the first six weeks was that 75% of my students are repeats. They have taken Title I Language Arts either as 7th graders, or in summer school. What does that leave me to teach out of the rBook? Now, I realize that Scholastic sells a number of other texts that I could use in the place of the rBook that I have, but I came up with a different solution.

One of the things I feel like the rBook lacks is specific strategy instruction. My dream class would be a reading workshop, a la Nancie Atwell, and I want to bring a little bit of that into my reading classroom. Now, Atwell would argue with me about the reading strategy instruction, but I think one of the things my students really need to learn how to do is monitor their comprehension. They haven’t been. That’s part of the reason that they’re in my class. I put to Nancie Atwell that kids who already read well use the strategies authors like Harvey & Goudvis (Strategies that Work, 2007) and Keene & Zimmermann (Mosaic of Thought, 2007) suggest we need to teach. They do it without thinking, thus, it doesn’t interrupt their reading zone (I’d cite this, but I lent my copy of The Reading Zone to a teacher in my department).

That was the background. Now, the activity.

In my class, we’ve been talking about monitoring comprehension. I’ve told my student that while they’re learning, it’s good to notice the things that they’re thinking, making connections (which a number of my students do very well, especially with text-to-self) etc. On Monday, I read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs aloud and modeled my thinking, pausing periodically to allow students to think about their own thinking. They shared those thoughts on Edmodo. Because there were natural pauses built into the reading, using Edmodo was a fabulous tool to record and share students thinking.

Today, I decided to truly backchannel, allowing students to record their thinking as they were read to. The idea, as I explained it to them, was to notice the things that they think when the only thing they’re worried about is listening comprehension (many of my students have significantly larger listening vocabularies than recognition vocabularies).

Screen shot 2011 09 29 at 5 38 17 PM

To accomplish the kind ofsynchronous discussion that I desired, we used TodaysMeet. I created the room at the start of the day, and students used their Edmodo usernames as their handles when they logged in each period. I used the first chapter of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – it came in the mail  yesterday – which turned out to be fabulous. Looking back over the transcript, students were predicting, asking questions for clarification, sharing connections they made both to self and to text. What was great about it was that I think, for what I was trying to accomplish – encouraging students to make their thinking visible as a stepping stone to having it go on in the background – we did very well. I think my students not only liked to the activity, but they also appreciated seeing that others thought the same things they did, or for those who struggled with making their thinking visible, what their peers were thinking.

The bonus: somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 students added A Monster Calls to their “Books I Want to Read” list, and I have a few mad at me that they won’t get it right away.

Double bonus: You know that annoying “problem” we have with students wanting to multitask – texting, etc.? Many other bloggers have already said it and I’m just echoing them at this point, but this multitasking, or channel switching (and I think I heard this at a conference I went to this summer) is something our students already know how to do. Why not reappropriate the skill for the classroom, allowing students to verbally process as material is presented?

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