Saturday, October 31, 2009

Getting started with short answer responses

My goal is for all of my fourth graders to be able to write a thoughtful, detailed response to higher order questions about what they read.

It's a long road. Each student brings different kinds of thinking to the task. Some just dash off any old answer, while others retell the story in response to every prompt. Still others can start a good answer, but don't make the connections between their text details and their answers.

Many students don't have much experience with academic discourse. Cohesive phrases like "for example", "as a result", and "in addition" are just not in their expressive vocabularies. I can see them struggling with their words, trying to express ideas without access to these phrases. Their task is made much harder!

Using framed responses in guided reading is a way to build student knowledge of these phrases. As you can see from the picture, I created the frame. (And I wasn't in a 6 am to make the frames for all of my groups--I made each frame during the two minutes of transition time between groups!) After we revisited the story, we looked at the frame and the parts that I had written. Then, students offered their sentences to add to the frame. I was working with them the entire time, guiding them to look through the text to find the details to add. Our final response read like this:

Paul Bunyan had a rough childhood. For example, he was left in a cave. He was put in a giant cradle. Also, he cried for thirty days and nights. I wouldn't want a childhood like that!

After we wrote the response, we read it aloud together. Sometimes I have students copy it as well. (I'm careful with this, though, as I don't want the task to become tedious drudgery) Through repeated exposures, students start to internalize the connectors and make their writing more connected.

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