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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

One of the key compnents of comprehension is text structure. Students' comprehension is supported when they understand how concepts in the text are organized. Teachers are often afraid of or intimidated at the thought of teaching text structure. The articles below deal with nonfiction read alouds. I have intentionally included these because nonfiction text structures are usually the least familiar and most challenging for readers of all ages. Read alouds are a great way to introduce and study text structures. Vocabulary is also supported by read alouds. A simple fact supports this...a student's listening vocabulary is 3 to 4 years above their reading vocabulary. Given these factors, it is easy to see why teachers in the content area should seriously consider doing some read alouds at strategic points during their instruction. Comprehending content is comprehension ... resulting from strategic reading. Courtesy of Choice Literacy.

The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy
March 28, 2015 - Issue #426
The Devotion of Reading Teachers
If you plan to build walls around me, know this -- I will walk through them.
                                                            Richelle Goodrich
Reading teachers are a devoted, dogged, stubborn type, aren’t they?

Last week, a fifth-grade teacher in our building led a nonfiction text discussion about sugarcane with her students. The text explained that sugar is actually derived from a plant, but it is cut and processed to create the sugar we use in cooking. The teacher, Stacey, showed many images of sugarcane and explained that it can be chewed to extract the sugar; afterward, the rough, stringy fibers are discarded as waste. Yet, despite her descriptions, her students couldn’t seem to grasp that the sweet white stuff they sprinkle on their oatmeal comes from… that.

So Stacey embarked upon a quest to find some sugarcane. She visited three grocery stores, drove on a wild-goose chase of Latino and other markets, and called produce departments all over the city.  When she looked at each manager and asked if they had sugarcane, they hesitated or looked at her with a blank stare. “Uh… no, ma’am. We don’t carry sugarcane. Never have.”

Stacey refused to give up. After a week-long search, she finally found a high-end market that stocked sugarcane. She’d called ahead, so the produce manager was expecting her. He greeted her warmly. “We’ve been waiting for you,” he said, grinning. “We don’t sell much of this.” He handed her a long stalk, then paused. “Can I ask?  Why are you buying raw sugarcane?”

She explained. “I am a teacher.  My students read about sugarcane last week, and I want them to touch and taste it so they understand what it really is.”  She added, “I have a question for you—why do you stock sugarcane?  Besides reading teachers, who buys this stuff?”

He thought a moment, and then laughed.  “Just other reading teachers,” he said.  “That’s about it.”

As Stacey recounted the tale of her sugarcane search, I couldn’t help but remember back to my days of teaching language arts. I also searched relentlessly for real-life examples to support texts. In one case, my class had read a story in which a Civil War era soldier sustained himself by eating only hardtack and salt pork. I told my students that these were staple foods given to soldiers all through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries because they were a cheap, fatty, and filling meal; better yet, they were virtually nonperishable. I tried my best to describe the taste and texture, but I knew my students didn’t truly understand what living on these foods could possibly be like.  But I wanted them to really understand, so I searched for genuine hardtack and salt pork.

Ultimately, I got my salt pork from a local meat vendor, and had to make the hardtack myself from an online recipe. It was worth the trouble. After a taste test, my students were in a position to grasp how living on these two items as an exclusive diet would be a pretty tough way to go.

That’s the joy in teaching comprehension, after all:  the tiny little thrill that we all feel every time our students say, “Ohhhh!” and begin to expand their thinking about a concept. When we truly connect words to meaning, we’ve met our goal.
This week we consider ways to improve read alouds. Plus more as always -- enjoy!
Jennifer Schwanke
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Free for All
[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook:
Franki Sibberson has suggestions for Making Time for Nonfiction Read Alouds:
The texts and authors for this year's Global Read Aloud are being selected now. You can read details here and make plans to participate in the fall:

Brindi Anderson at the Nerdy Book Club is Letting Go of the Reins as she hosts read aloud volunteers in her middle school classroom:
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