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. 


Mary Lee said...

I love how you moved their learning to the next level from naming what could be seen in the picture to INFERRING the meaning in the picture.

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Tara said...


So very glad that you commented on my blog so I could discover yours! I love it and am soaking up all the information you are sharing (love the mentor text labels inside!) and all the great titles. So many are going on my library list. :)