The Ingredients of our Third Grade Reading Discussions
This semester, our third grade students in the Dong Wu Xing Village Primary School had many opportunities to discuss books that they read. Before starting a discussion, the teacher would choose a suitable book based on students’ reading level and background. The students would then read the book using different formats. Sometimes the teacher would read aloud to the students and sometimes the students would read in small groups, pairs, or independently. The teacher prepared discussion questions and encouraged students to bring up question they wanted to discuss. This helped them to cultivate their thinking skills and empathy with characters and situations in the books.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein tells the story of a tree that gives all it has to a boy but receives nothing in return. After reading it, the students asked: “Why did the boy ask the tree for help?” “Why did the boy cut down the tree branches to build a house?” It's clear from these kinds of question that students need the teacher's guidance to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the story. Their questions help the teacher to evaluate the students' current levels of understanding and how to guide them to a higher level. For example, in order to direct students' thinking towards the topics of "Giving” and “Altruism", the teacher raised these two questions for the students’ responses:
- Do you think the boy in the story is selfish? Why?
- After the tree gave the boy its branches, why do you think it was unhappy?
When we read Frederick by Leo Lionni, students enjoyed reading aloud the poems written by Frederick, the field mouse who is the main character in the story. We asked the students:
- Do you think Frederick is a poet? Do you like his poems? Why?
- Why do people write poems? What is your favorite poem?
Good questions can lead students to think more deeply. This is how some of our students responded:
“I like (the poems) because they make me feel what Frederick said about the four seasons.” –He Xiaodan
“Frederick is a poet. I like his poem because it makes me feel warm.”-Xu Peng
To prepare students for better quality reading discussions, we need to help them understand what a reading discussion is like and what role they each need to play. We showed our third graders a video of a reading discussion in action at our previous program school, Guan Ai School. We asked the children to compare what they saw in the video with our reading classes so far. “What do the children in the video do well? Do you think our class can do as well as them?” The students then participated in setting discussion rules. After comparing themselves to the students in the video, they discovered some areas they needed to improve in. “They tell stories better than we do. I just speak casually,” said He Putian. “They speak in a loud voice when responding. A lot of people answer the questions,” noted Zhang Fengge. “They only stand up when they’re answering a question,” observed Liu Xiaoqing.
The teacher's attitude when facilitating reading discussions is very important. She must offer her support and encouragement of every student’s thoughts and explain to them ways to constructively participate in a discussion. Her guiding questions stimulate dialogue that contributes to building a more effective classroom and learning environment.
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