You will have to excuse me if I am often focused on education issues. Education plays a major role in my life and my mind is always trying to solve problems or understand issues or find ways to do things better. I think it puzzles over school problems even when I’m asleep!
Yesterday as I observed my students completing a new task I was struck by their differences and reminded of two vital components of classroom work: comprehension and cooperation.
In the spring we read, read, read. Our two goals are fluency and comprehension. However, it is remarkable that students do not always attain both. I have three students who can “read” almost anything I put in front of them…but they don’t understand half of what they read. There are a couple of reasons for this phenomenon. First of all, they may still be so focused on the process of reading each word that the sentence, and therefore the story, is not received by their brains. Another reason for their lack of comprehension is my fault- I have not taken the time to ask them about the story! I have also been focused on their ability to read the words. So now we both begin reading time with a two-fold goal: reading the words AND understanding the story. However, the primary reason for not understanding a story is not understanding the words.
Yesterday’s story was a great example of reading vs. understanding. The book that we read included the sentence “Dad will go in the cab.” Easy to read! No problem! What is a cab? No clue! We sometimes overlook the simplest concepts. Our little country children do not have any experience with a taxi cab. If they have seen one in a movie or elsewhere it was not retained by their brains because they were not given enough information about it to store it for future reference. Without an understanding of the concept of “cab” they lost a key component of the story. Accumulating a powerful, diverse vocabulary is essential to reading comprehension!
Our other spring reading focus is “group work” and it is amusing to watch! Each day I give groups of four to six children a reading project to complete together. Each one involves reading something and completing a task. Yesterday they had to read a four-sentence story, read four similar sentences, and then put those sentences in the same order as the story. (For example, the story said “Beth heard the bell ringing.” The similar sentence was “She heard the bell.”) Today’s task is to read six sentences, read a word bank of six words, and choose the correct word to fill in a blank in each sentence. Other tasks include reading a simple story and answering four questions. Each reading group has a dominate reader and other students of varying levels. The rules are that the group must read together, help each member complete the task and turn in their work at approximately the same time- no team member left behind. Well, you know how that has worked! lol The first time we tried it the dominate readers were out of their seats in record time and they were very surprised when I made them return to their group! Now that we have practiced the concept several times everyone is eager to do group work each day. The dominate readers get to be leaders and the less-confident readers know they will be successful.
And you thought kindergarten was all about playdough and recess!