Saturday, 1 March 2014

Day 1: Deep thinking about reading in tandem with my students

 Last night I started reading The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri.  I'm thinking deeply about my teaching of reading and how to make texts more accessible to students.  As a learner, I constantly felt on the outside, unable to get the secret of understanding.  I didn't know how to think deeply about my learning.  I just worried about not getting it.  I imagine many of my students feel this way.  My job is to open the door for each of them in their own way through their own interests at the same time I am teaching them together as a group.

The inside jacket of The Lowland introduced me to characters.  I was instantly reminded about the brothers from Cutting for Stone  by Abraham Verghese.  Since Cutting for Stone remains one of the most influential books I read in the last decade, The Lowland appealed to me.  Finding books that make us feel like we did when we read other books is one of the deepest motivations I wish to create within the reading life of a first and second grader.  Being a reading and writing teacher, I continue to track my path as a reader and writer in order to teach about reading and writing with relevance and authenticity.   As a young reader, I found it difficult to read books with settings and characters outside my scope of experience.  Even texts like To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, completely beyond my reach at the time of first reading, seem like distant poetry more than a story I was able to uncover.  But now, I find myself using reflection and technology to deepen my understanding of my reading in ways that make these complex texts more accessible to me.

When second graders are at the point in their reading journey to read longer texts (chapter books and longer, more detailed non-fiction) they need tools to maintain their interest, record their thinking, discuss their questions, and share their confusions.  In a world of soundbites, vines, You Tube videos and Instagram we are taught to process quickly and move onto the next image or idea.  I want to continue to argue that thinking more deeply about reading and writing is an exercise to think more deeply about life.  The critical thinking skills and logic need time to grow in a context meaningful to the learner.  As soon as you give a child a choice about his or her reading, at the right reading level, you enable them to take the risk of thinking more deeply about a topic of their own interest.  I'm not suggesting teachers stop modeling the group instruction necessary to build common understanding and language of reading and writing with critical thinking.  I am simply suggesting the value of guided practice.

As I start a new book, The Lowland with a setting in a foreign country I have never visited, it is difficult for me to conjure images for the characters.  With my handy iphone, I looked at maps of India, located cities mentioned in the first chapters, sought images of the real golf course in Calcutta where my characters were playing.  Just this simple step is helping me build a schema for my story.  I don't anticipate the need to do this throughout the whole text.  But, just as we teach students to take time and think before reading, I can see how the brain builds layers of understanding for thinking.  It's exciting to study reading theory and reading practices, then to validate them with my own experience.

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