Today's assignment is one that I developed in an effort to support the students in their first book talks. I really don't want the book talks to be stressful for the students, but -- on the other hand -- I also want the students to dedicate some time to preparing for their small-group discussions. In the past, I haven't been satisfied with book talks because they quickly devolve into social hour without appropriate structure. The feeling of the activity should be "social", but the content is academic. It's a tough balance.
I also want the students to connect what we are doing in class with their independent reading. (Thus, the question about author's purpose.)
So, during the introduction, I review the parts of the book flyer and take students questions. The students struggled most with author's purpose, so I gave some examples and planned to address their questions individually, as they worked and I circulated.
After introducing the activity, I circulated and watched the students work. My classes tend to ask a lot of questions for the purpose of clarification. I do find this habit tapers off after Christmas, but -- during the first semester -- I spend a lot of time explaining "what I mean when I ask...."
It was interesting to watch students work because they have such different approaches to the same task. Some students labor over the appearance of their work, while others grab a marker and go at it. Some will remain working on a part of the activity that is difficult, while others hopscotch around, filling in what they know is "easy" and saving the more difficult work for later.
Both of my classes labored over the question that relates to author's purpose: What is the central question that this book attempts to answer? That question really threw them for a loop. In our county, students start to work with author's purpose in sixth grade (even earlier if they are in an accelerated pull-out in elementary.) However, despite the best efforts of the students nad their teachers, I still have students in my classes who believe that authors sit down at computers and books "come out." The approach that I take is to tie author's purpose to the conflict and its resolution. I ask them to identify the central conflict, say how it resolved and to infer what issue the author was trying to grapple with.
When talking to another teacher, we both agreed that the students' naivete is also why they tend to blow "theme" questions on the state tests. The idea that a piece of literature is a piece of art crafted through a series of deliberate choices is an alien concept.
We're working on it!