Readers Writing: Strategy Lessons for Responding to Narrative and Informational Text
reviewed by Frank L. Cioffi - September 26, 2015
Title: Readers Writing: Strategy Lessons for Responding to Narrative and Informational Text
Author(s): Elizabeth Hale
Publisher: Stenhouse Publishers, Portland
ISBN: 1571108432, Pages: 208, Year: 2014
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Elizabeth Hales Readers Writing: Lessons for Responding to Narrative and Informational Text is a collection of creative lesson plans and a rich educational sourcebook. It contains ideas about how to teach reading, and to an extent writing, to students grades 38, or in some cases, up through high school. Each chapter (except Chapter Eight) begins with an autobiographical anecdote, and Hale starts the book with the story about how she, as a student, was able to fake her way through book reports by simply summarizing. As a result, Hale urges teachers to move away from assignments that require merely summary. Instead, she suggests that we need to direct students toward thinking more searchingly and deeply about the issues they confront while reading. Indeed, she wants teachers to have students verbalize thinking. In so doing, they will come up with a more complex and higher order response to what they read.
At the heart of Hales pedagogy is the notebook. This is divided into three main sections: first for strategy lessons, second for independent writing, and a third for notes that emerge as a result of conferencing (she calls this conferring) with the teacherthis is where students keep track of strengths and next steps taught in their one-on-one conferences (2014, p. 4) with their teacher. This notebook, which she suggests can be decorated in a way to reflect the students personality, and which is handwritten, is essentially a way for students to verbalize their thinking regarding their assigned reading, or what they read on their own. Its a bit old-fashioned, but it has a refreshing authenticity to it. Perhaps a second edition will provide a word processing variant of this notebook, but I dont think thats really necessary.
What should students put in these notebooks? Hale suggests drawing on Blooms Taxonomy (1956)we as teachers need to promote student responses in multiple cognitive ways to texts: questioning, connecting, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating (giving evidence is also invoked several times, though it is not one of the main five). For each of these categories, Hale applies her own five behaviors: Name it, Why Do It?, Model It. Try It, and Share It (p. 22). (Name It often includes a sentence stem, an incomplete sentence that students might complete in a variety of ways, and which focuses them on the topic of the lesson.) These five tactics form the basis for all ninety-one lesson plans in Hales book. They all require active involvement of the teacher (Why Do It?, Model It), they all require students to produce something on the spot (Try It), and they all help build a community within the classroom (Share It). While the sharing is usually only of either the turn and talk to ones neighbor variety, or whole class sharing by two preselected students, this element raises the stakes of each lesson: passivity is not an option. Students have to do work; as Hale reminds us several timesTelling is not teaching (p. 15).
Her first example of a strategy lesson is in the questioning category, and its called Wonder Questions. Hale is honest about possible student responsesit seems as though all of these lesson plans have been used in her classroom. She poses the possibility that some students might say I didnt wonder anything about a text. Although she admits that might be the case, she comments While we can do our best to offer students books that match their level and interest so that authentic questioning is more likely to occur, I also set an expectation that, if questions are not just coming to you, then try to wonder! (p. 23). Here is her lesson plan for Wonder Questions; the text is Rules by Cynthia Lord (2006):
Writing questions about what you wonder
Sentence stem: I wonder why. . .
WHY DO IT? Writing about what you wonder helps you reflect about what
you read and can lead to inferential thinking.
I wonder why Catherines dad never gets angry with David?
He certainly does a lot of things he is not supposed to. I know
David is autistic and so he has a hard time understanding what
he should do. But you would think his dad would still get
Ask students where you used a wonder question and what
you were wondering about Catherines dad.
Turn and Talk: Have students tell a partner why its good to
wonder when you read, followed by a brief, whole-class share.
Strategy entry: Students open the strategy section of their
readers notebooks and write Asking Wonder Questions at
the top of the next blank page. Ask them to write a few minutes
about the most recent chapter of the read-aloud and try to ask
at least one wonder question.
All students share their entry with a partner. Then two students,
previously chosen, read their entries to the class. Classmates
comment on where they used the strategy taught. (p. 23)
Hale applies the same general framework to both narrative and informational texts, and she creates a wide, possibly dizzying, variety of possible class plans. This includes topics such as Movie Connections; In a Characters Shoes; Making a Theory; Analyzing Objects; Evaluating Word Choice for Narratives; Developing Paragraphs on Your Own, Before and After; In Their Shoes; On the Other Hand; and many more for nonfiction. Some plans are used for both narrative and nonfiction informational texts.
There is no index to these strategy lesson plans, and that might be a helpful feature. In addition, the plans are printed on alternating grey background and no-background panels, and in a tiny font. It might be better to devote an entire page to each of these plansthe book is fairly large, seven inches by nine. Having so many of these strategy lessons, as well as natural examples of handwritten student responses, creates a rather busy text thats slightly off-putting to read cover to cover. Perhaps Hale should work with her publisher to imagine a cleaner version of the texts layout.
As long as I am offering more finely detailed criticisms, I have problems with some of Hales language. Its chattiness is surely inviting, and her autobiographical anecdotes offer a nice, personal element; however, I found myself digging my fingernails into my palms when I encountered many of the reason is. . . because structures, or sentences with plural pronouns referring to singular antecedentsif you see a student writing about characters, are they describing them? (p. 136).
However, with these small criticisms aside, overall this is a creative and useful book. For example, Appendices C, D, and E offer common core alignmentsa virtual necessity in our current climate. It should help even veteran teachers plan out and possibly even reconceptualize their courses. And it should be a boon to students whose teachers employ Hales ideas. Almost all of the many lesson plans included sound as though they would make for dynamic, interesting, and challenging classes; ones that encourage all students to engage in independent thinking, creative imagining, and active reading.
Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, NY: David McKay Company.
Lord, C. (2006). Rules. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.