Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Strategies That Work: Possible Unit Texts

What are the possible texts you will be using in your literacy unit? What challenges do you see these texts posing to your students in terms of comprehension?

I'm currently working on teaching a unit on ecology. This is a vocabulary-intensive field, so literacy techniques should prove very useful here. I've already started using "Vocabulary Note Cards" to give the students a chance to work with the language before encountering it in their reading.

It's hard to find good entry-level texts on ecological issues. There are picture books for young children and thick nonfiction tomes written for well-educated adults, but there isn't much out there for teens and less literate adults who might want to know about the issues affecting our planet. Because of that, I'm falling back on periodicals. I've started scanning the newspaper each morning while I ride the BART, looking for articles about environmental/ecological issues that we could discuss in class. I should also go to the library and see if I can find some good magazines for our use.

The biggest challenges I anticipate are (1) articles with a lot of vocabulary terms and (2) articles that are written above the reading level of most of my students. I'd like to challenge them a little, but not so much that they get frustrated and give up.

Looking at the lists of strategies that good readers use, which strategies do you think would prove most useful to your students in their comprehension of the text you give them?

  • Monitoring comprehension is foundational, I think. If you don't know when you're lost, you can't take any steps to correct it.
  • I like the idea of using sticky notes to make notes on the text. While I wouldn't have any problem with them writing on photocopied newspaper articles, I notice what the authors said about students filling up sticky notes where before they couldn't write more than a few lines on a blank page.
  • One technique that they didn't explicitly mention in the text is the Socratic seminar. Our students have practiced this technique a few times in Advisory, and I think it lends itself well to the (often-contentious) debates about ecological issues.

I also want to talk to Willi about the strategies she is using in Humanities. The students are currently doing literature circles, so I think it would aid buy-in if we could use the same techniques in both classes.

A final thought: One of the things this week's assignment has done is to make me more aware of my own literary comprehension -- or lack thereof. Every time I sat down to work on the homework for this week, I found my eyes crossing in short order. Partly, I think this is because of the lack of visual aids; this book has long stretches of uninterrupted text about techniques that are not really explained very thoroughly (at least not in these opening chapters). I tend to learn complex concepts more easily when charts and diagrams are employed. Of course, my fatigue is no doubt another factor; I've hit the end-of-semester drag, I'm only sleeping five or six hours per night, and I'm running into a chain of discouraging events at school. It probably says a lot that I devoured that first chapter last Thursday, when I'd only had to teach one lesson and it had gone quite well, whereas now I'm having a hard week and trying to read this stuff on my own.

There's a lesson there for teachers: the stuff going on in your students' lives is going to affect their ability to absorb new content, especially via reading. Most of my students are far less literate than I am, so if I'm having trouble reading my assignments, how much more are they!


Victoria said...

Remind me the next time we meet that I have a possible source of short articles for you on various topics that could relate to your curriculum. The strategies you are using to find text are pretty good though-- part of the whole teaching progression is becoming aware of what is out there.

Chris T. said...

Hey Chris, do the "vocabulary note cards" only have definitions or do you also include pictures or exmaples? I'm thinking of incorporating something like this or using the worksheet we received from you last meeting.