Each day, Alonzo (all names have been changed to protect the innocent) would proudly tell me how many chapters he'd read and I would praise him for being such a good reader. One day after he'd updated me, I asked him what the story was about. He gave me a puzzled look, shrugged his shoulders and said, "I don't know. I just read." His response surprised me, but it didn't. There is a focus on students reading a certain number of words per minute, but not so much on whether or not they are comprehending what they have read. I concluded it was time for me to move on the next reading strategy, making connections.
Activating scheming, text-to-self connections, making text connections all mean the same thing. Were any of my students using the strategy? I found out by conducting a strategy use interview. I read, The Paper Bag Princes by Robert Munsch, to students and asked them if it reminded them or helped them understand anything. I told them to write it down. (Elsa wrote that it helped her understand she isn’t going to get married because it’s too much work.) Most students wrote no. Two students wrote a connection, but they had simply repeated what they had heard in the story.
I needed to teach my students to stop and connect with what is happening on the page. I did this by modeling, through a Think Aloud, how I make connections and how it helps me understand the story better. I gathered them on the carpet and told them I thought they were ready to learn a new comprehension strategy. The strategy was making connections and I was going to show them how good readers use it to help them understand what they are reading. I read them the story Pepita Talks Twice by Ofelia Dumas Lachtman. Pepita is a little girl who speaks Spanish and English and often has to translate for others. One day, Pepita decides it is too much trouble to ‘talk twice’ when it keeps her from teaching her dog a new trick and vows to speak English only. I chose this story because I knew most of my students would be able to connect with Pepita. They, too, often have to translate for parents, grandparents, teachers, and other adults. I had placed Post-it notes at places in the story where I wanted to stop to model making connections. I wrote the connections on large chart paper and stated how it helped me understand what was happening in the story. Even though I talked about how my connections helped me understand the story, I only expected students to make connections at this point. How or what it helped them understand would come later.
After modeling a few examples, I had students write their own connections on their whiteboards. I would read 2 pages, stop, and ask them to write. I told them it was okay if they did not make a connection right away. They may make a connection later on in the story. I was on the lookout for students who were writing questions based on our last reading strategy, which was asking questions. I reminded them we were making connections this time, so they should be writing statements. I read 2 more pages and stopped so that students who had not made a connection the last time would have an opportunity to do so now. After everyone had written a connection, I had them read it to their shoulder partner. I continued in this manner until we reached the end of the story. Each student was able to connect to something in the story, whether it was because they spoke Spanish, had a dog, or had to help someone.
The day before the lesson, I allowed students to select their own partners and books to read together. (Each student had his or her own book to hold.) The criteria I set was that both partners should be able to read the book. Few students chose a partner whose reading level was far above or below their own. I made an exception in the case of Carla and Miley. Miley is the only person Carla gets along with at this time. Miley reads at a higher level than Carla, but I knew she would be able to help her with multisyllabic words that would give her trouble. Carla’s comprehension skills are far above her decoding skills, so I knew she would be able to handle the content of the book. This made them a good fit.
After students returned to their desks, I displayed the reading guide on the document camera. I explained they were to read 1-2 pages, stop and think about a connection, and write it down. I directed them to the sentence frame and poster that listed the steps to making connections if they needed a reminder. (I'd created a sentence frame after noticing some students were still writing questions.) I asked if anyone had any questions. They have used reading guides before, so there were none. They met with their partners and started reading. I circulated around the room and read student responses as they worked.
I noticed Alonzo had read 10 pages and had not written any connections. He was reading a Flat Stanley book, so I knew it was at his reading level. He said nothing reminded him of anything because he had never been flat. I reminded he didn’t have to connect with the exact situation, but something similar. I read a page with him and asked if it reminded him of anything. He said no. The page was about Stanley’s class taking school pictures, so I asked him if he had ever taken a school picture. He perked up and said, “Yes! In second grade we took pictures!” “See, you made a connection with something in the text,” I told him. “Can you write it down?”
I was able to assess and meet with each student as they read, making notes on a student checklist.
I conducted another strategy use interview to assess whether or not students were using the making connections strategy after another read aloud. 100% of students were able to write a connection to the text. We will continue to work with this strategy for the next four weeks because I want to ensure students are getting adequate time to use the strategy, have an opportunity to use it with informational text, and be able to articulate how it helped them understand what they had read.
I wanted to determine whether or not students were able to articulate the making connections strategy helped them understand the story, so I did a ticket out the door asking the question. Again, even though I modeled how the strategy helped me understand the story, this was not an expectation of students at this time. However, that is the ultimate goal of the strategy and this ticket out would guide me in planning next steps.