Thursday, October 29, 2009

Unwrapping the Gift of Understanding

This week, I began a conversation with a fourth grade reader with, “So tell me what you know about the main character.” He said, “Well, she has a friend named Justin and has a mean girl named Hannah in her class.”

Do you notice? These are peripheral details about the character in his book.

So I probed further. He went on to tell me about what happens in her class and her teacher’s name and then after I prompted a third time “anything else you can tell me about her?” the floodgates opened. He told me that his main character is forgetful (like him, he said), she thinks she’s mature (which she’s really not, according to him), and she’s the kind of character who’s always getting into trouble.

For me, the lesson in all of this is that it took time to get this reader to a level of understanding that got him excited. I had to ask him three times to think about his character. With each probe, he thought about the character more. Slowly but surely, he arrived at new and deeper understandings about his character.

When I shared this experience with a group of colleagues, one teacher observed how this reader’s thinking unfolded in layers, “like opening a gift,” she said. Ever since she said that, I can’t stop picturing this in my head. Presents get better and better as you unwrap them. We’re eager to open the box and tear the pretty paper but once we see what’s inside, that’s when we really get excited. Understanding is a lot like that. It doesn’t always happen in teacher time with the first question we ask. Sometimes, we have to keep going.

No comments: