As stated in the reflection of the unit assessment, I found my students did not have a firm grasp of determining the central message through key details in the story. They did have a solid understanding of story elements. They were able to identify the problem and solution. I decided to build on this strength by referring them back to the problem and solution, THEN asking the questions, “What can I learn from the story? What is the author trying to teach me?" I asked myself how I could keep them focused on the plot of the story and use the key details to determine the message. I updated the student graphic organizer with additional questions to focus students.
I also decided to re-teach the skill through structured student discussion to enable students to hold each other accountable and build on the ideas of others. Students in this stage of middle childhood are just exiting the preoperational, egocentric stage, so it is not uncommon for them to interrupt others. I have observed this with my students on several occasions. Providing structure would help them learn to take turns speaking and listen in order to paraphrase others.
Students were placed in groups of two. Each group was given Discussion Chips with various paraphrase sentence starters. Students were labeled Student A and Student B. First, students were directed to state the problem and solution of the story. A’s were directed to talk first. They would have one minute. I set my stopwatch to keep track. When the minute was up, B’s were directed to paraphrase what A’s said. I repeated the procedure with B’s going first. This allowed all students to state the problem and solution and have the opportunity to correct reach other if needed. I used Popsicle sticks to randomly call on students to share out what their partner said.
There were times when students were not able to share what their partner said. I would have that partner repeat what they said and urge the listening partner to listen carefully. This structure made all students accountable for speaking and listening to their partner. They made more of an effort knowing they would be called upon to share out.
After students had discussed the plot, I asked them to connect it to the message the author was trying to convey using details from the text. I filled in the graphic organizer (GO) that was displayed on the document camera. I wrote in the incorrect message students had written on the test. Using the Partner A/Partner B strategy, they worked to find a detail in the text to support that you shouldn’t go climbing during a storm. None could be found, so I told them that could not be the message because there was no support. I told directed them to work to find another message. Most students said something along the lines of do whatever it takes to save a friend in trouble. I wrote it on the GO and students wrote it on the one at their desks. Once again, they were directed to find keys details to support the message. This time, students chose key details where the main character decided to climb despite the impending storm and even free climbed at one point. I pointed out how the key details we’d written on the GO matched the stated message.
Kagan Talking Chips
Students worked to determine the theme of a story independently. Each pair chose a story to read. I deliberately set out books that could be read in one sitting. They were told to discuss the theme and support it using key details from the story, writing it on the graphic organizer. I did not continue with the one-minute discussion structure because pairs finished reading their books at different times. However, as I monitored each group, I noted they were taking turns listening to each other. I even heard some students using the paraphrase sentence starters.
A teachable moment presented itself when two groups, who were reading the same text, came up with different messages. Both were able to support it with details from the text. (One was able to use the illustration, which connected back to our work on using illustrations to convey character feelings.) I pointed out that readers can read the same story, yet receive two different messages. It's all about the experience and connections of the individual.
I used a rubric to assess students’ ability to determine the central message. I also used a rubric to assess whether or not students were taking turns during discussion and listening attentively.
Students were given a blank sheet of paper and told to draw a picture of what a good listener looks like. They wrote a caption underneath describing how being a good listener helped them when discussing determining the central message with their partner.
Drawing a picture engaged a different learning modality. It also encouraged students to use their creativity to generate a drawing to represent a good listener. The caption encouraged students to use metacognition to determine how listening helped them be a better learner.