A blog to share information on literacy strategies across contents and grade levels. Metacognitive strategies included. "Metacognition is, put simply, thinking about one's thinking. More precisely, it refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one's understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one's thinking and learning and b) oneself as a thinker and learner." -- Vanderbilt University
If you plan to build walls around me, know this -- I will walk through them.
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
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!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Free for All
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