I have been working with some students in a guided reading group/literature circle. As I have mentioned before, we are reading the book Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. I talked with my collaborating teacher and decided that I was going to give the students a quiz based on the chapters we have read so far.
I created the quiz myself, although I did borrow some questions from online quizzes about the book. The quiz consisted of 14 questions. There were four multiple choice, four very short response questions, and then six questions based on passages of the text. My students have been working on inferring the meaning of unfamiliar words as well as inferring after reading the text. I decided to include questions based on this skill. Two of the questions were also based on discussions that we had as a group to see if the students were paying attention.
So far, I have given the quiz to three out of the four students. Two students have finished. The answers seem to be pretty good so far with only a few mistakes. When they took the quiz, they were allowed to use their book to help them answer the questions. When I first looked over the exam, I decided to just look at the answers that the student wrote instead of immediately crossing out wrong answers.
One of the questions that I wrote was: “Name at least TWO items that are mentioned in the book that are not in Denmark due to the occupation.” For a bit of context, this book takes place during World War II in Denmark, which is being occupied by the Nazis. There are a variety of items that are unavailable in Denmark due to the occupation such as sugar, tea, beer, etc.
One of my students answered this question with the response: “shells” and “two bottels of beer.” At first glance, the beer answer is correct, albeit it is spelled incorrectly. The shells answer would be seen as wrong. However, I am taking a different approach in terms of viewing student’s answers. While reading Debbie Miller’s book, Reading with Meaning, I came across a passage that really struck me. In the passage, Miller discusses an interaction that she had with a student. The student answered a question but her response was not what the teacher was looking for. The teacher hesitated; however, and allowed the student to continue. When the student explained her answer, the teacher understood the student’s thinking and realized that her answer was actually right! Miller wrote, “Wow, I think, she’s right! And I wonder: How many times have I missed opportunities like this one? How many times have I not pursued a child’s thinking simply because it didn’t fit with mine?” (Miller 82).
This idea really stuck with me. Sometimes I feel like we (as a general whole) get so caught up in what’s the “right” answer that we don’t allow students to explore the possibility of another answer. For example, there is a picture that you as a reader may have seen before. I will post it below:
Taken from Google Images.
This is an optical illusion. What do you see when you look at this picture? There is a rabbit (if you look at the right side as a nose and the left side as ears) or a duck (if you see the left side as the bill and the right side as the back of the head). Is there one right answer? No. There are even other answers to this question. While discussing this image with peers, one person said that they saw a “seagull.” Depending upon your schema, you may say a different response. Is “seagull” wrong? That is what the person sees and she has a reason to back up her response.
I personally believe that we should allow students some freedom in their thinking and responses. I want my students to feel free and comfortable with sharing in my classroom. I do not want my students to feel scared because everyone else saw a duck and they saw a rabbit.
When I get a chance, I will discuss these answers with my student and see what her reasoning is; however, I have an idea because I am familiar with the text and I remember the section of the book that she found this answer.
For those of you that have not read the book, the main character is a girl named Annemarie. Annemarie does not know much about the war; however, the point of view of the book, which is in third person, allows the reader to see things that Annemarie would not notice. For example, Annemarie’s older sister, Lise, was engaged to a young man named Peter. Unfortunately, Lise died but Peter and Annemarie’s parents are still friendly. Lise’s death is shrouded in mystery. Peter sometimes visits the parents but his visits occur at strange times:
Annemarie jumped out of bed, and Kirsti grunted in her sleep. Peter! She hadn’t seen him in a long time. There was something frightening about his being here at night. Copenhagen had a curfew, and no citizens were allowed out after eight o’clock. It was very dangerous, she knew, for Peter to visit at this time. But she was delighted that he was here. Through his visits were always hurried – the almost seemed secret, somehow, in a way she couldn’t quite put her finger on – still, it was a treat to see Peter. (Lowry 22).
When Peter visits, he brings Annemarie’s family some surprises: “‘Look, I brought you something. One for Kirsti, too.’ He reached into his pocket and handed her two seashells.” A few paragraphs later, Peter says, “’For your mama and papa, I brought something more practical. Two bottles of beer!’”
By looking at it in this light, I can see how my student would think that seashells are an item that are not available in Denmark due to the occupation. Technically speaking this answer is not “correct” but in a way it does make sense. I want to maintain this mindset in order to allow my students to explore their answers and respond without feeling pressure.
Yesterday, my collaborating teacher asked me to find about twenty books from the school library for my class. She wanted to start a contest in my classroom whether the students would read the books, take an AR exam and try to pass with an 80% or higher, and continue to do this for as many books as possible. She asked me to try to look for a theme but that might not be possible. She wanted me to choose books from a third and second grade level. So I went to the library and I chose the books. I tried to get a range of picture books. I included some books from my childhood that I loved. I made sure to include books that celebrated diversity, such as Yoko by Rosemary Wells.
I made charts for each of the books so students could sign out the books. Each chart has the title of the book, the author, and the illustrator. There are three columns: “Your Name,” “Date Checked Out,” and “Date Checked In.” Below is a picture of an example that I wrote to show the students how to check out and return books.
After I finished the charts for each book, my collaborating teacher explained to me again what she wants the students to do with these books. I volunteered to type of the directions for them so we could put it in the box with the books so the students can always refer back to the paper if they are confused. When writing the directions, I decided to clarify what the manila folder was just in case the students did not understand the term. I figured it would be easier for the students to understand what I was talking about if I described the folder. I used “tan” and “yellow” to describe the folder because the students could use either term to describe the color of a manila folder. An elementary student might also be used to saying the word “yellow” instead of “tan.”
My collaborating teacher wrote in another step that I had forgotten to mention because I thought it would be obvious to the students. I am really glad that she added the step because it reminds the students to take an AR test on the book.
When I finished all of this, my collaborating teacher asked me if I wanted to explain this concept to the students the next day. I was a bit nervous but I accepted. I pulled out the organized book box and I explained the directions to the students. I showed them the directions using the ELMO and went step by step. As I read the directions, I modeled the actions that the students would take. For example, I picked a book (The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein) and I took out the form with the chart. I wrote in my name and the date I checked it out. Then I put the paper back in the manila folder.
I explained this multiple times to the students and my teacher checked to make sure the students understood by asking them to repeat the steps back to her. The students had problems responding, so I took out the folder and I explained what to do again and I modeled it for the students.
My collaborating also asked me to read part of a book every day for my students to get them interested. I decided to read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I told the students that he was one of my favorite authors when I was a child and that I loved to read his poetry. I read some pages in the book and then I put the book back so the students could read. I noticed that the English Language Learner in my class chose the book that I read and two other students were looking for the book.
I watched my students and there seemed to be a constant line of students checking out books. Many students were lined up to take AR tests as well and many of the students seemed to be receiving 100%. My collaborating teacher left a bell next to the computers in our classroom and she told the students that they can ring the bell once if they received a 100% on their AR test. Four or five students took AR tests and received 100%.
This week has been a really great week. I have noticed that my students are getting more comfortable in the classroom. One of my students is a typically shy boy who does not really like to work with girls. I have noticed lately that he has been more vocal than usual, especially with me. Normally he speaks very quietly but he was speaking at what I would consider to be a “normal” volume with me multiple times today. I am very proud of him. This is not to say that being quiet is “wrong.” I understand that some students are shy and/or introverted and they prefer to keep quiet; however, by seeing this progress in a student, I see that he feels more comfortable in the classroom, including around me, which is one of my goals as a future educator. I want all of my students to feel free to share, even if their answer might not be correct.
I am excited for the next time that I will be in my classroom. Unfortunately, the semester is coming to an end and I will be moving into another classroom but I have really enjoyed my time with these students and I hope they have as well.
- Miller, Debbie. Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades. 2nd ed. N.p.: Stenhouse, 2013. Print.