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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

SLICE OF LIFE

I come across the book trailer for POPEYE AND ELVIS in an early morning blog stroll. The trailer, which lasts about 1 minute and 30 seconds, contains photographs of many scenes from the book- a map of South Carolina, a picture of a rural path in a wooded area, an RV, and a YooHoo boat. Uriel*, one of my fourth graders, an English Language Learner, is about halfway through POPEYE. I think he might enjoy this trailer, so I bookmark it and send the link to my email at school.

Then forget about it. Until he says to me, "I finished POPEYE AND ELVIS this weekend. I need something else to read. Do you know where is that frog book (he is talking about OWEN JESTER, another Barbara O'Connor novel),"

"Oh my gosh, Uriel, I forgot! I have something to show you."

Uriel and I sit together at the computer and watch the book trailer. I ask, "What do you think?"

"I didn't picture all those trees," he says. "I just pictured water and a bridge going over it." This is interesting to me, given that a good number of scenes in the book, as I remember, take place on hikes in the woods. It makes total sense, though, given that Denver, and especially the urban area where I WORK, doesn't have many (any?) wooded areas. And also given that Uriel, a very talented athlete, spends most of his weekends playing soccer at fields, not hiking in the mountains.

"Can I watch it again?" We hit replay and Uriel watches the book trailer a second time.

My encounter with Uriel gets me thinking. Or maybe confirms some things I have already been thinking about since our state reading convention in early February. At the convention, Sharon Taberski talked about the importance of background knowledge in reading comprehension. Taberski said that when kids have trouble comprehending, we are quick to wonder what strategy we should teach them, when actually most of the time, students'  problems with comprehension are probably related to a lack of background knowledge. Taberski encouraged us to concentrate on building students' background knowledge and teaching kids to access that knowledge before and during their reading process. Taberski's session made me think Frank Smith's comment that reading is "only incidentally visual."

My students, more than half English language learners, don't have the background knowledge of their more affluent peers. That's not to say they don't have rich lives. Uriel comes from a large extended family-he has a mom and dad, an older sister, at least one nephew (a two-year-old biter who regularly leaves teeth marks on Uriel). Uriel travels all over the city playing soccer every weekend. He's a smart kid, a sweet and gentle kid, one of those "old souls" whose deep thoughtfulness regularly leaves me wondering, "Where did that come from?"

Uriel is a fairly good reader, on grade level, likes to read, takes books home, always has a book going. And yet even this really bright, really talented little guy could use a "background knowledge boost." I wonder how I might make use of book trailers as a pre-reading strategy with my readers. We have already used "read the blurb" or "talk to someone who has already read the book," but now, what if a new "getting ready to read" strategy might be "look at a book trailer?" Hmmmm…

This fact is driven home later in the day during read aloud. The word "jack-o-lantern" comes up and Uriel raises his hand. "I forget," he says. "What does that mean?" And I am more than a little surprised that Uriel, who I would describe as one of my more proficient English language learners, doesn't remember this relatively simple vocabulary word. Then I try to remember the Spanish word for jack-o-lantern, and realize that the best I can come up with is "pumpkin with a face."

Teaching-- definitely a profession where you get to think and grow every single day…

* not his real name

9 comments:

Linda at teacherdance said...

Many things to ponder in your words, Carol. The big challenge too is that if everyone in class is reading a different book, how does one cover all the background needed? I like that you took us through so much of the story. Obviously, at least for this young boy, the visual is helpful to him via the trailer. It's a good point to think about starting there since so many are available today. Thanks for the thoughts!

elsie said...

I love your final line, especially the "think and grow every day." This is such a good reminder to look deeper when students have difficulty comprehending. I have been reading and rereading Taberski's book Comprehending from the Ground Up, it makes me think through my practices.

LiteracyTeacher said...

I totally understand where you're coming from. I had to work so hard to build my students' background knowledge when I was in the classroom. It's so important to provide them with access to secondary discourses. I know you will work together with their families to do it in a way that is meaningful and respectful of where they come from.

Kudos for recognizing how special Uriel is (and where he comes from).

Nanc said...

Love always when you slice! The background info is so important for all of us as readers. I was trying to talk about that with my teacher friends...they laughed when I said that I started crying when I read One Giant Leap (about the moon landing). It just had so much voice and I remember where I was that summer and that my dad was watching the moon in a different spot. I think trailers can really help.

Tara said...

That's such a powerful teaching story. I love the way you found a way to reach this student.

Christy Rush-Levine said...

I find this post especially interesting following recent comments by David Coleman regarding common core standards and a shift away from concentrating on background knowledge. I am constantly struggling to determine where my beliefs lie on this continuum. Your story definitely gives me food for thought!

Michelle said...

Isn't it amazing what we take for granted what we think kids should know and understand? I'm often amazed at my students' lack of knowledge -- whether they are ELL or not! It's a great reminder to front load and give as much as we can through pictures and book trailers. I love that idea. I've been thinking about how I can incorporate them in my room as well. They are short, sweet and very enticing! Thanks for sharing Uriel's story!

OneSunflower said...

You are right to reference that many of our students have lives that are rich and varied but don't necessarily build back ground knowledge.

Katie said...

Great thoughts in this post! I actually just finished my first Slice post for tomorrow and it's about book trailers!