The ultimate goal of reading is comprehension coupled with growing children’s vocabulary and language abilities. One way to achieve this is through extensive exposure to text and opportunities to talk about the stories they have read or are read to them. As classroom observers of literacy for many years, one thing that we have noticed is the limited amount of time that students have to process and discuss the complex nature of the texts.
Molly Ness in her article When Readers Ask Questions: Inquiry-Based reading Instruction states the following, “Children are naturally curious and come to our elementary classrooms well versed in posing questions to their parents and caregivers. On an average day, children ages 2-10 typically ask their mothers an average of 288 questions (Frazier, Gelman, & Wellman, 2009). According to Chouinard, Harris, and Maratsos (2007), children ask between 400 and 1,200 questions each week. Yet, as children begin formal schooling, their questions often taper off, as instruction today provides little room for student-generated questions (Dillon, 1988; Graesser & Person, 1994; Van der Meij, 1988). Furthermore, the questions that kids do ask are mostly factual questions (Chin & Osborn, 2008). It is likely that students don’t ask more questions because of teacher-dominated classroom discourse (Cazden, 2001) and the limited time of classroom instruction. In classrooms today, students do far more question answering than question asking; the typical schoolchild answers an “interminable number of low-level literal questions” (Allington, 2014, p.18), with teachers posing 300-400 questions each day (Leven & Long 1981)”. After reading this, it gave us pause to stop and think about what is truly occurring in classrooms today.
After reading that excerpt it seems that our need to get through all the curriculum is having an adverse effect on students. We are stifling students by not allowing them to use their natural curiosity to propel and enhance their learning. Stop and pause for a minute and think about how often you allow students to process a portion of text by asking a question or allowing students to pose their own questions? The key to processing is the much needed time to think and engage in conversation with peers. Researchers suggest that the most valuable aspect of the read-aloud activity is that it gives children experience with decontextualized language, requiring them to make sense of ideas that are about something beyond the here and now (Cochran-Smith, 1984; Heath, 1983; Snow, 1993; Snow & Dickinson, 1991; Snow, Tabors, Nicholson, & Kurland, 1995).
The read-aloud mini-lesson is one place where students have an opportunity to interact with text that is above their reading level. While the teacher reads the text, students get a glimpse of how proficient readers interact with text as their teacher models their thinking. Another step in this process is the need for the teacher to get a glimpse into the processing that students are doing. This happens when time is allotted for students to discuss with other students higher level questions that are posed by the teacher. Not for the purpose of a correct answer, but for the purpose of revealing or uncovering what students are focusing on or thinking about. This might also reveal any misconceptions they may have about the text.
In planning the read-aloud mini-lesson, teachers need to be intentional and make informed decision for their students. There is not a recipe for doing this. We are going to give you some practical suggestions, ideas or take-aways so you are ready to plan your own read-aloud mini-lesson.
- Select a text that matches the lesson focus or objective.
- Make sure you take into account the length of the text. If the text is longer, are you going to have to stretch it over two days or can you accomplish your goal by leaving the story unfinished if there isn’t enough time to read it all of the way through? What is the best use of your precious instructional minutes?
- Determine the stopping points where you are going to think out loud in order to model how to process the text.
- At these stopping points, teachers are possibly asking questions such as these generic ones: what do you notice? what is happening in the story? what do you think might happen next?
- This is where students need a few minutes of processing time to think and talk with other students and then share what they are thinking and how they are responding to the text. As students respond, teachers are getting helpful insights into how students are thinking and reacting to the text. This is the information that aids in future lesson planning.
- A general rule of thumb about the number of stopping points, once again determined by the length of the text, is on average three. More talk time allows students to process to achieve our goal which is comprehension.
If the idea of how to do this seems daunting and overwhelming to you, Text Talk by Isabel L. Beck and Margaret G. McKeown is a great resource that is available to aid with this. Text Talk is designed for grades K-3. The program includes the read-aloud book, active talk notes that help teachers engage students through: open-ended questions, follow-up questions, word explanations and use of student background knowledge, as well as direct instruction notes to aid in vocabulary development. In using this resource, we found the texts to be highly engaging and interesting for students. One caution we have is that you be very intentional about planning the lesson as we found them to be quite long. We have included a link to an informative Text Talk article.
In closing, we invite you to investigate how much time students are given the opportunity to engage in student-focused conversations during Read Aloud with one of these ways:
1. Videotape yourself and reflect on the amount of student talk opportunities
2. Ask a colleague or a coach to observe and discuss what they notice about the student talk opportunities during Read Aloud.
Please comment below with any questions you may have or ways you have increased student talk opportunities within your classroom. We would also like you to share ideas for future topics you would like us to address.
Mary & Kanika