Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sharpening the Mind's Eye with Novels

Do you remember the book that really hooked you into reading?  Not just your first phonetically patterned leveled reader...but the first book you were really into. The book that put a movie in your mind.

Was it something a parent read? Was it read aloud by a teacher? Was it something you read independently?

I don't know if you remember those first books, but I do! I mentioned how my parents read me classics such as the Little House on the Prairie  series and The Chronicles of Narnia. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of the first novels I ever remember having visualized in 2nd grade.

In fourth grade, our teacher read aloud The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. There was no unit. There were no comprehension worksheets. We just read and talked, read and talked. The 10-20 minutes after lunch each day were my favorite because of this book. Those read-alouds launched me into a love for historical fiction. I remember my sweet librarian directing me towards The Orphan Train Quartet series, and I read them all. 

Did your teach read-aloud a book that left an impression with you?

Think about yourself as an adult. Do you have times where you've been out of reading? It's been a month or two since you picked up a book, maybe? And when you first start up again, it's "hard to get into it," right? 

It is hard to get into, because you probably haven't used your brain for such deep visualizations in a while....

And once you "get back into reading," you're there...

The deep visualizations and comprehension are there. You are there with the characters in your mind. Hopefully you can't put it down. You are there. That's the level of comprehension we want for our students.

How do we get our students THERE?

Students, like us, need to "get back into reading"...or maybe, they need to "get into reading" for the very first time. I saw it every.single.day. in fifth grade. Students who could decode beautifully, and read with great fluency, and they saw little to nothing in their brains.

When I first start a novel, it takes me a few chapters to begin seeing the characters and setting clearly, but by the end, I see it all. My mind's eye is stretching and getting practice.

This is the same for our students, and maybe it was the same for you as a student?  This brings me to a few principles I've determined over the years.

Principle 1: Novels bring our minds to a place of deep comprehension and visualization.

Principle 2: Parents are first teachers, always.

My parents taught me to visualize. I'm sure they weren't sitting in bed at night discussing how I was going to learn to visualize. But, they taught me. Many students have had this opportunity with their families. Sadly, many haven't.

Principle 3: You cannot undo what happens in the home, but you can work to compensate for it with rich literacy experiences.

These principles are my biggest argument for reading novels in the classroom. But, I really want to clarify what I mean by "reading novels."

Do novel studies have a place in the modern classroom?

It depends....Balance in all things.

Novel studies in the past would have the entire reading block focused on the reading of the novel, maybe followed by some comprehension questions or a quiz. I grew up on these, and I turned out fine. However, I'm not sure if this is the best practice for students today.

Novel studies aren't bad, but if that is all you did all year, you would also be depriving your students of all of the other genres, such as biographies, poetry, or persuasive text. 

Not to mention, literacy station, reader's workshop or other frameworks that foster independence! These are important too...

So, I would say the extensive use of novel studies while neglecting other best practices is not a great idea.


Too many times, I went to set up my reader's workshop with fifth graders... We watched book trailers, we got excited about learning all about books that would interest us, we build stamina, we did it all right.

But when it was time to read independently, I knew in my heart that SO many of my students were not truly reading and visualizing their book. And all that time was wasted. 

Independent reading is a waste if students aren't comprehending. And, don't fool yourself, if they write two sentences in their reading journal about what happened, there's still a chance they didn't grasp it.

You can't just throw students a novel that looks cool to them and expect great reading. (this is especially true if you work in a setting where literacy experiences are not happening in the home)

Because of this, I am a proponent of some novel studies, but not in massive amounts. 

Novel Read-Alouds...

I am a huge proponents of 5-10 minutes a day of read-alouds.

Read-alouds are NOT a waste of time. Read-alouds allow students to enter those deep visualization without the pressures of decoding or worksheet or STAAR questions.

Read-alouds bring SO much engagement, and make students excited to come to class to hear the next part.

Read-alouds train their minds to visualize and practices those muscles.

Read-alouds expose students to other worlds, cultures and time periods.

Read-alouds can help compensate for shared literacy experiences that do not happen in the home.

Read-alouds build empathy.

Read-alouds can hook students into a genre or series and help them go on to read more.

Read-alouds are rich. They are only a small investment of time, but they can reap big gains.

Read-alouds can dip into a bit of study for quality lessons, and text from those read-alouds can be used later in the year to teach certain skills.

I am TOTALLY preaching to the choir if you are a teacher, because every teacher I know does this.

However, I know WAY too many teachers doing this in fear. Fear of being "caught" not working explicitly on the posted objectives. Fear of a bad performance review. I skipped read-alouds on days when I knew district administrators would be in the building. Isn't that sad?

Read-alouds lead to every objective that pertains to comprehension, and I was fearful about that? Fearful even though I did it for less than 10 minutes a day in conjunction with mini-lessons, literacy stations and other rigorous lessons? Craziness. 

Maybe this is a whole other post to write, but it breaks my heart to see teachers work under fear. It cripples them from doing their most beautiful work.

This post has been long, and maybe I've been on my soap box too long. I would LOVE any kind of feedback on this. What happens with this in your school? Are you allowed to read aloud? Do you have pre-planned novel studies from your district at the elementary level?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

What to do when Students Struggle to Visualize Part 3

Welcome! I've been writing a little series on students who struggle to visualize when reading and what teachers can do to help. If you're new here, you can catch up with these posts...

Last week's posts:
"Failure to Visualize"
Why Students Fail to Visualize
What to do when Students Struggle to Visualize
What to do when Students Struggle to Visualize Part 2

How to Sharpen the Mind's Eye Part 3

Turn the Book Over!

Okay, so it is absolutely AWESOME for students to re-read, dig through the words and identify examples of textual evidence. Most lessons require this practice. BUT, when you're working on visualizing, it is awesome to stop, "Turn the Book Over," and make students talk from the pictures in their head. 

Many times readers who struggle cannot talk about the pictures in their mind, mainly because they don't have many! They will pull words they remember from the text and just say "purple cat"...Or whatever words stuck. If they have the words in front of them they will look down at the words and pull from there. If they have the book turned over, and they have to recall what they visualized, then the self-monitoring really comes into play! If they can't talk about what they visualized, then they didn't comprehend it. Time to re-read.

So, if you're reading in class, or especially in a guided reading group, make sure you have some times where students have the words turned away, so that they have to recall their mental images.

Practice with Literature that isn't full of Imagery

Last week, I wrote about using literature full of imagery to have student's practice their visualization. Using rich descriptions is where you should start when working on visualization. But, not all text is full of concrete adjectives and adverbs. And it doesn't have to be. This is where the rubber meets the road and students must infer to visualize! Yikes!

Sometimes the text doesn't tell you exactly how a character's face might have looked, but you can make a visual of their face based on textual and situational clues! 

So, if you've spent time visualizing rich descriptive language...move into visualizing things that quite as descriptive.

Here is a little textual example from Bud, Not Buddy. This is the very beginning of the book when you are establishing those first visualizations. 

"We were all standing in line, waiting for breakfast when one of the caseworkers came in and tap-tap-tapped down the line. Uh-oh, this meant...either they'd found a foster home for somebody or somebody was about to get paddled."

Here's where you can make sure students are visualizing the setting...Visualize what a caseworker might look like. Who is in a line? It doesn't even tell you that it is children, but you should infer that from the cover of the book, foster home, paddling, etc. Best of all, ask what the the kids faces might have looked like.

Students have to infer to visualize in these contexts. And, as in any reading lesson, most skills cannot be taught in isolation.

These types of not-over-the-top-descriptive texts are very common in any novel your class might be interested in reading.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 6, 2015

What to do when Students Struggle to Visualize Part 2

Welcome! If you're new here, I've been writing a little series on students who struggle to visualize when reading.

On Tuesday I Introduced "Failure to Visualize"
On Wednesday I wrote about the reasons Why Students Fail to Visualize
And yesterday I began writing about What to do when Students Struggle to Visualize

Today I'm excited to write about more things you can do to increase student visualization! For the next two days I'm going to focus primarily on visualizing fiction....Visualizing fiction vs Informational Text is different! But since it's the weekend, I'm going to take a little break til Monday and then next week we will wrap up visualizing fiction and then go into visualizing informational text! ;-) Without further ado...

How to Sharpen the Mind's Eye Part 2

1) Visualization Exercises and Verbalize your Visualization

It is important to remember that visualizing can be 5D in your mind! So you not only see the visuals, but you should hear, feel, taste and smell the descriptions.

When I'm introducing this, I like to have students close their eyes. I ask them if they think really hard if they can see our principal. I have them open their eyes and tell me what she was wearing in the picture in their head. 

I ask them to close their eyes again and listen for her voice. I ask them if they can hear it? What did she say? (A lot of times they would say something they hear her say on the announcements every morning, like "Good Morning Scholars!")

I know these things sound SO simple and they are SO simple, but practicing visualization and then having to verbalize what you saw is a great way to sharpen skills.

Other great things to have them imagine and then talk to their neighbor about could include:

-Their house on Christmas
- A birthday party
- A trip to an amusement park
- The Zoo (and all the smells..:-))
- The school on fish stick day
- The movie theater

The great thing about this is that it can be done in Kindergarten or lower!!! Just teaching kids to talk about what they see in their head is a great first step!

Next you can bridge a simple exercise like this into a pre-reading activity when you are introducing a new book. Have students close their eyes and draw on their own background knowledge to picture the setting! If you get images in your head before you even begin reading, you will comprehend better when you start!

2) Practice with Literature full of Imagery

I wrote about this when I wrote about Visualizing with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I often prefer using novels or removing pictures from picture books when I begin working on visualizing. Now, I LOVE a good illustration, and I think the illustration can really help with visualizing, but when you're training your student's brains, you want to make them do all the work! No spoon-feeding. So, I just wanted to give you a quick list of sections of Chapter Books that have some great sections to use for practicing visualization. 

With each of these books you could:

-Use it whole group or small grow
-Read sections and have students turn and talk about what they are seeing
-Have students write about what they saw in their head after you read it out loud
-You could read part of it aloud and have them write their visualizations, then they could do a printed section themselves.

This book is just fabulous. One day I'll blog about it. Use the 5th chapter. (In my book it's page 6). Ivan, the gorilla describes his habitat in The Big Top Mall. There are many examples of sensory details that appeal to the sense of sound, There are also great physical descriptions of the location! This would be AWESOME for students to sketch.  (And y'all it is $4.99 in paperback!!!)

This book could work really well for primary students! The very first chapter offers some great descriptive language for visualization. "As he stood between the Giant's enormous feet, a sudden gust lifted his cap from his head...his cap sailed away." -Perfect for younger students to visualize!

An old 5th and 6th grade favorite. Truth be told, I never loved this book, but my students enjoyed it so much that I did use it two of the years I taught. There are many great portions to choose from, but I would choose something between the end of chapter 1 to the beginning of chapter 3 where it describes the plane crash. It's great for visualization. Plus, if you aren't going to read the whole book, just reading selections from the beginning will probably hook many of your students to read more!

Great book, and fabulous correlations with 5th grade social studies! Chapter 5 has a great section about the young boy, Matt being attacked by bees. 

I can never get enough of this book. The narration is so strong and the voice just shines through. Amazing writing! Chapter 3 has a couple parts to pick from. You could focus on Bud being locked in the shed and the descriptions of his surroundings. Or, if you wanna make them laugh, go into chapter 3 a little more and use the part about Bugs getting a cockroach stuck in his ear. There isn't just a ton of crazy description, but there is SO much action! 

There are countless other books you can use out there, just find a section that would be fun to imagine, and take your students there in their minds! And bonus, many of them will go on and read the novels you use! 

Now hold onto your hats, because my next post is going to include ideas for having students visualize with literature that is NOT full of imagery...I know you're all in wild suspense... ;-)

Have a great weekend!