Thursday, February 26, 2009

Effective Talk, Effective Teaching

I have listened in on many reading conferences that sound more like inquisitions than conversations. “Who’s the main character? What’s the problem? Where does the story take place?” Children obediently respond but I often find myself wondering as I walk away, “Aside from confirming this child can recall literal details from the story, what do I know about this child as a reader?”

This question has forced me to reflect on my own conferences and take measures to question students differently. In a fourth grade classroom I’ve been working with, we’ve been investigating the question, “Am I understanding?” My conference today started with, “So, are you understanding?” The child nodded confidently. I asked him to tell me how he knew. He responded by saying that he could easily summarize what he had read, a strategy that we had talked about using when monitoring comprehension.

I continued our conversation by asking him to reflect on whether or not there were times when he knows he is NOT understanding. His reply? “Not in this book because it has short chapters but sometimes when I read books that have long chapters, I don’t always understand.”

Wow. I never would have got that had I stuck to the typical repertoire of comprehension questions. I was so glad I asked because now, he has got me thinking about how to support him when he reads longer texts. He also has me wondering if other children are facing the same struggle. This conversation made me take pause and consider where to take my comprehension monitoring instruction next.

Without this kind of talk, my teaching would be much less informed and consequently, less effective.

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