Reflection: Student Led Inquiry Second Read of "The White Umbrella" - Section 4: Second Reading of "The White Umbrella"


My first year of teaching was at a small public school on the Navajo reservation in Arizona.  It was small.  I taught four classes and and had sixty students.  The cultural diversity was the one Hopi family and some kids who were half native and half white.  They didn't talk about the white part.  The poverty level was. . . bad.


As an inexperienced, young, white teacher, I did my best.  I tried to keep hope throughout the year.  I think I lost all the hope that year when we got to the state standardized test. 


The ones who were willing to ask for help would raise their hands.  Their questions were usually, "What does this word mean?"  And I couldn't help them.  It broke my heart. It broke my heart that I couldn't help them, but even more than that, my heart broke because I realized that no matter how hard I tried, how much vocabulary instruction I gave them, there was no way I could teach them every word they might encounter.  I had failed them. Maybe not completely.  One of those students is a senior in college, about to graduate with a degree in engineering. 


I knew the importance of teaching vocabulary in context and using context to teach vocabulary.  It was that moment, though, that I understood the importance of it.


Today?  I realized that what I understood back then and had been doing for the last nine years wasn't good enough.  I was picking and choosing the words the students had to learn.  I was predicting what words they did and didn't know.  Sometimes I was right.  Sometimes I was wrong. 


I taught those words prior to reading the story.  I thought I was teaching vocabulary in context, but to the students?  I wasn't.  There were countless times when we would read a story, encounter a vocabulary word, and kids were genuinely surprised that it was there. "Hey, that was one of our vocabulary words!"  they would explain.  I would think, "Yeah.  What did you think we did all that vocabulary work for?"  But to them, that vocabulary wasn't connected. 


This time?  We read the story, choose and learned vocabulary, and read the story.  This time?  Let's take the word good-naturedly for example.  The sentence is "Eugenie smiled good naturedly" when the narrator and her sister interrupted her own piano lesson.  This is what I heard:


"Oh, Eugenie's nice!  I thought she was mean at first.  Like smiling in a mean way like she didn't mean it. But she's actually nice."


It was perfect. It was vocabulary in context.  It was relevant.  And you know what?  During my first read, I thought the same thing.  I wasn't reading closely.

  Teaching Vocabulary
  Student Led Inquiry: Teaching Vocabulary
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Second Read of "The White Umbrella"

Unit 5: Developing Critical Thinking with Shared Inquiry and Socratic Circles
Lesson 6 of 9

Objective: Students will be able to analyze how the elements of literature interact, how a theme develops, and further determine the meaning of vocabulary words by reading "The White Umbrella" for the first time and writing comments at critical points throughout the story.

Big Idea: Reading a story twice gives opportunity to delve deeper into the author's meaning. . . and absent kids to get caught up.

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