Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tovani Chapters 5,6,7

Just a couple of hours up my sleeve but time enough, I think, to note my reflections on the rest of Cris Tovani's book, and I think this is an exercise well worth doing - I came across so many points which made me think "Ah-ha! I can use that!" or "Ah-ha! That's so true!"

The first point was the idea of ensuring that readers have a purpose for reading, because this helps them remember more of the text. The purpose for reading determines what is important - so teachers need to be clear in their reasons for assigning their reading. (I can think of another very good reason, too - so when students groan "WHY do we have to read this?" I have an answer. A good one. Worth their while.) By giving students a purpose we give them "a lens through which to read the piece" and help them to identify what is important. And we as teachers need to know what we want them to be able to DO with the information once they have read it. By doing this we may be assisting students with their comprehension by giving them an indication of what they are looking for as they read. We should tell them up front what they are looking for. I can see how this works for both English and Drama texts and, in fact, it's something I already practice. I do think it's very important to tell students what we'll be doing with the text, so I might have them keep a "character journal" in which they note as we read the character's actions, descriptions of the character, what they wear, what other characters say about them, what motivates them. I think this helps readers to make a connection to a character in a play or story and seek out details which tell us who he or she is.

The next point - "If the piece isn't going to entertain, teach, or improve my life in some way, I throw it out" - I feel exactly the same way! I cannot focus for long on anything which is not interesting or informative, so I need to remember to make explicit to my students the purpose of their reading, because they probably feel just the same. Setting a purpose will help them (and me) to persevere when reading is boring or difficult.

Tovani discusses a student called Aaron, a reluctant student and reader, and she quoted Richard Vacca who said "All struggling readers have to do is act tough and say nothing, and they can become invisible". Tovani then asks "...if students become invisible, does it mean we no longer have the responsibility to teach them?" I thought straight away of Don, who said on a number of occasions to look for the kids in the back row, because they're the ones who are struggling and in trouble.

I have made a note of Tovani's strategies for holding information: Highlighters (as I've said, already I'm a big fan of these), sticky notes, whole group charts, comprehension constructors, double-entry diaries. I thought these were excellent strategies, just requiring that little bit of extra forethought and effort on the teacher's behalf. Well worth it, I should think.

Then another point which reminded me of Don - "...asking questions is a signal that you are constructing meaning. Readers who don't ask questions are often disengaged and unable to remember what they've read." Tovani then discusses the potential for allowing students' questions to clear up misconceptions and see where the gaps are and what is unclear and needs reteaching. Don had a great deal to say on the subject of questions as this is his primary source of information. He believes whenever you are addressing a group you must allow questions to be asked AS THEY ARISE, not at the end, because your listeners' questions will inform your delivery by letting you know what they want and need to hear, and what is not clear. I reckon Don and Cris Tovani would get along like a house on fire.

In Chapter 7 Tovani discusses group work - and I read this chapter with real interest because, as she states, the benefits of group work are so often discussed, and yet the reality can be slightly chaotic, with much time spent off-task. Having said that, I tried a number of group work exercises with a very - er - lively group of year elevens during prac, and they surprised me by responding and engaging very enthusiastically. Tovani's suggestions for guiding group activities, showing them how to collaborate and discuss, and providing feedback are very useful. I loved the quote from Harvey Daniels: "Students who are given the opportunity to collaborate every day receive the loud and clear signal that working and thinking with others is an important skill, valued both in school and in the real world." I'll remember that - that it's worth the effort.

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