Friday, May 21, 2010

Our Journey As Readers-Making Inferences/Part II

On one of my latest post, I shared with all of you part of our journey as readers where our ultimate goal is to become better at inferring so our comprehension can increase. If you would like to read the Part I of this post please click here. In Part I, I shared my students' work on making inferences by looking at the pictures in the story. 

Our mentor text: The Story of Ruby Bridges
Language Structure: I can infer that___________________because_____________________(insert picture evidence from the book).
Our big discovery together: Inferring with pictures means not telling what I clearly see in the picture but what the picture means. 

After several practice of inferring using pictures, we were ready to finally move on to the next step: Inferring using words/text. Here is what I do know as a teacher: how to teach inferring. Here is what I discover throughout our journey: they will guide me through my teaching, helping me decide what to teach next, how to break it down into more manageable chunks or what mini lesson I must prepare!!

One of the things that I have learned that worked very well with ELLs was to underline the text where they evidence for the inferring was provided. At times, this was a challenge for them to remember, but the expectations were always there. So, they knew it needed to be done. 

One of our mini lessons (based on what the children were showing me they needed) was how to paraphrase information so that students showed their understanding. It did provided a new level of challenge, but at the same time a lot of vocabulary was learned in context. I also provided them with a list of adjectives (juicy words) to expand their knowledge. 

Once again, my ELL students showed me that they can think at higher level if...

*some language structure and vocabulary was provided beforehand so their learning could be scaffolded. Eventually, they didn't need that list of adjectives anymore, they were acquiring vocabulary in authentic ways. 

Here is my number ONE suggestion with any literacy activities you do with ELLs: give them plenty of oral language opportunities. Learners need to talk, think aloud, negotiate meaning, construct meaning together. We are a community of learners. Like Samantha Bennett, author of That Workshop Book would say, "The one who is doing the talking, is the one doing the thinking." 

After we explore the book The Story of Ruby Bridges inside out, we synthesized all our learning together. This is what the children say about What Inferring is...and What Inferring is not, in their own words, of course!

Because a picture is worth a thousand we go! Enjoy the journey!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Emma's Poem

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free..."

Emma's Poem: The Voice of the Statue of LibertyMy heart was filled with excitement and I felt a knot of my throat while I was reading Emma's Poem The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser.  This book moved me in so many ways. As you know, I teach English Language Learners who family came to our country with hopes of better education and a new beginning.  Emm'as Poem is the story about Emma Lazarus who in 1883 wrote a poem that would change this nation.

But who was Emma Lazarus you may wonder...

Emma Lazarus, born in 1849 in New York City. The daughter of a wealthy Jewish family who found a passion for writing from an early age. She wrote poems, stories and article and quickly became a well-known writer in society.  Emma Lazarus is the writer behind the amazing poem "The New Colossus" which is nowadays engraved inside an entryway to the statue's pedestal.

How did Emma Lazarus found inspiration for this poem you may wonder...

And that is what this book is all about. Linda Glaser shares with us the story behind Emma Lazarus and this meaning that the poem "The New Colossus" had for her. The paintings of this book created by Claire A. Nivola go pefectly with this book, especially the one created for the front cover.

The publication of this book came at a perfect timing as we all witness the changes that bill 1070 brought to Arizona and the painful consequences that those actions could carry to English Language Learners there. The author's note in the back of the book reads,

" Emma Lazarus strongly believed that if immigrants received job training and education they would contribute to society."

I hope you find this book as powerful and hopeful as I did because at this point that is exactly what we all need: HOPE. Hope that things will be done differently, hope that when we make decisions we keep in mind the integrity of the human being.

Enjoy the Journey.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Our Journey as Readers: Making Inferences/Part I

 Last week I announced that My World/Mi Mundo has a new feature entitled Visits to My World/Mi Mundo at the ESL Cafe.  The main reason for adding this new feature is because I want to virtually open the doors to my classroom and our learning journey.  As I teach, learn and grow with my ELL students, we all become smarter and stronger together. If you would like to know more about my school population, languages and background, you may click here to read more.

Now, for our first session, I would like to share with you our Journey as Readers. This year, our 4th grade team was focusing  on a deep, intense study of INFERRING. Of course, as a support system that we are, our 4th grade ELLs were also focusing intensively on this reading strategies. First, let me make clear that we did NOT just focus on Inferring, we also learned about all the other strategies. We encourage and teach them to use them simultaneously as they read. However, we noticed that the art of Inferring is exactly that...AN ART.  It is complex, it is messy and it requires a good eye in order to pay attention to details (clues).

So, we all embarked on this journey of "On the Road to Becoming Great Reading Detectives."

As Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, authors of Strategies That Work, state about Inferring..."is at the intersection of taking what is known, garnering clues from the text and thinking ahead to make a judgement, discern a them or speculate about what is to come."

It was very important for our students to understand that in order to Infer you need to use your own background knowledge (on the subject, topic, etc) and also combine clues from the texts. So it almost sounds like a formula:

 Background knowledge + context clues from the text= Inferring

The beauty and (the many, many plusses) of having my students year after year is that I know the things we have covered the previous year. When they were in Third Grade we spend a lot of time talking about background knowledge, what it is and why is important. So, this year the conversations about background knowledge continued as our level of thinking becomes more sophisticated as we are growing.

This year we had to spend a lot of time talking about clues that the author gives us throughout a story.  First, we must break the clues into even further chunks: Clues from the text could be defined as: pictures, words, character's actions.

Once we broke the clues down into manageable chunks, we were ready to explore how all these sound like, or look like. The use of mentor texts is  a MUST in this process because rich, quality literature makes it possible for all to become relevant and alive.
The Story Of Ruby Bridges (Scholastic Bookshelf)
One of the texts used for this journey was The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles. One of the many beauties of using a rich, historical fiction story is that you are hitting so many other standards as you embrace students in a powerful, deep conversation about an important event in American History.

As a language teacher, I BELIEVE in the power of oral language, and in giving students countless opportunities to talk, discuss, ask, answer, wonder about the story. This belief is so engraved in me, and in my teaching that it is natural for me to give students daily opportunities to talk with each other as they try to make sense of how to infer as the strong readers that they are. The students worked in pairs a lot during our journey before they were asked to work independently so they could support and learn from each other.  Through partner work, they make inferences first by using just the pictures as clues.

I gave them the language structure:

I can infer_______________________because______________________.

They were all expected to use this language structure to explain their thinking and their inferences.

When they worked in partners, the support was great. However, when they were working individually, I could start seeing very clearly who is not understanding and what is happening. My revelation was that my students thought they were inferring, however, they were telling me what I can clearly see in the pictures. For example, they would say, I can infer that the mom reads to the girls at bed time. This statement is what I, as a reader, could clearly see from the pictures. However, this revelation lead us to our next day mini-lesson which focused on:

Are you telling me what I can see clearly in the pictures? or what the picture means?

This was our guiding question for our next lesson practice. And after several feedback and practice time, students were able to generate inferences that sounded like this:

I can infer that reading is important for this family because I can see that mom reads to the girls every night. 

Awwww!!! yes! Now we are talking!!!Finally my students started producing real, powerful inferences using pictures as clues from the story. 

From all theses particular sessions on Inferring I learned that...

  • By giving my students the language structure, I set them up for successful conversations. They didn't have to think about HOW they were going to say it in English. They had to think of content, not on the grammatical structure. 
  • By breaking down the clues into manageable chunks, we could explore each clues more in depth. 
  • We learned a lot about ourselves as readers as we were using pictures for clues. We learned that we had to look beyond the picture in order to figure out meaning. 
Next we will be exploring Making Inferences using words from the text as our context clues to infer. Stay tuned for Part II on this post. I hope you found this session useful and adaptable to your own teaching situation. 

Enjoy the journey. We certainly do.