As little kids, we all let our imagination run wild thoughts, ideas, and what ifs, but then something seems to happen and our creativity gets squashed. We are afraid to dream and put our thoughts and ideas out there for what reason I'm not sure. Is it fear? Is it self-consciousness? Is it laziness? Or is it something deep inside of us that has learned that people don't want to hear our opinion anymore. Do our students learn from state tests, online assessments, and relentless teachers that the only thing that is important about what they read is if they can remember and repeat and summarize the details of the story. As teachers, I believe if we teach students this is what reading is, we are making a HUGE mistake. It is illogical to think that if we drill and kill reading that we are going to produce readers who enjoy reading. It is also illogical to think that if we let students explore the creativity of reading by talking about what THEY want to talk about and exploring text at a deeper level that they will no longer be able to recite to us what is going on in the text. Forget about stupid standardized tests and focus on getting on your students to love reading, the performance on the state test will be so much better if you have true readers taking the test versus summarizing robots who have grown to view reading as a chore.
I used an activity with my students during the first week of school last week to get this point across early in the year. I am not the teacher that is going to make them all read the same book and take chapter quizzes and tests on the book. I am the teacher that is going to constantly support them as they push themselves as readers. It is essential that students understand that reading goes far beyond within the text knowledge. Reading is about making connections, inferences, synthesizing information, critiquing the author, and analyzing the text. But even beyond this, reading is being able to pick out what you, as a reader, truly want to talk about surrounding a text and being able to discuss your ideas with peers and have this conversation be enjoyable. When we can teach students how to do this, we have succeeded. Students having conversation about text is not possible if students are stuck talking within the text with drill and kill questions:
-What is the main character's first name?
-How old is she?
-What happened in Chapter One?
blah, blah, blah, blah, blah....
I'm not saying that it's not important that students understand what's going on in the book, obviously it is. What I'm saying is far too often we stop there, and we're happy that students at least know what's going on. Many of us are part of book clubs with other adults and co-workers. When we go to book clubs, do we sit and summarize the book to each other and ask trivial questions about the book to one another? NO! We talk about choices the author made, what we thought about the characters decisions, how we relate to situations in the story, how we would have behaved differently as characters, how we would have written the book differently as the author. Why wouldn't we want the same thing for our students when they're discussing text with one another?
The link to the activity that I'll place below is one that I did with my students last week during the first week of school. It allowed students to respond to the first three chapters of Susan Draper's novel, Out of My Mind with three different reading activities. Students didn't know at the time that the reading activities were different. One was purposefully set up to ask only within the text questions, the other students wrote down points of what they wanted to talk about, and the third was a variety of within, beyond, and about the text questions. Once students filled out the reading activity they had a discussion based only on the reading activity with their corresponding group members (still without knowing that their reading activities were different). Afterwards, we debriefed as a full group about what types of questions generate the best reading discussion and how they wanted to be treated as readers this year. Definitely check out the activity by following the link below:
Reading Activity to Show Importance of Within, Beyond, and About the Text Talk