Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Solving the Retelling Problem, Part 2

My youngest son can turn anything into a story. In the grocery store, he would take anything at hand--sponges, pasta boxes, cans of soup--and start making them talk to each other. Stories in our house are told and retold, lengthened and shortened, acted out and rewritten.

This makes it difficult for me to coach some students through retelling. The shorthand, private speech of my everyday life just doesn't translate at first for some kids. To me, using figures to act out a story is second nature. But this needs to be taught to some kids.

For example, take a recent retelling session with a struggling reader. I was taking on most of the work in our retelling of Anansi and the Talking Watermelon; he was just moving around the figures and filling in some events.

"'Then Anansi tricked Possum into thinking that watermelons can talk,'" I read from our list of events. "Can you show this event with your figures?"

The student picked up Possum, Anansi, and the watermelon, and made some mumbling sounds, like fake talking.

This wasn't quite what I was looking for. "Could you act this event out with your figures?" I asked.

"I don't know what they say," he replied.

Oh! I probably would have just picked up Possum and had him say something along the lines of, "Oh, look, an amazing talking watermelon." But this student couldn't get from our events to this level of imagination.

Here was an opportunity to direct the student back to the text. It took awhile, but we looked at what was in the text and eventually got that Possum to talk.  I think that this is crucial to retelling--that kids move the figures smoothly along from event to event, being able to show what's happening and engaging in some little addition that collapse the events in the text. ("A talking watermelon? Cool!")

I was kind of worried about the whole interaction, but I felt vindicated when we got to the end. King Bear throws the watermelon, which cracks, and then Anansi is freed. The student showed the watermelon flying in the air, and then said, "Freedom!" He looked at me and laughed. "That's what Anansi would say, 'cause now he can get out."

These are the kinds of comments that show me that retelling is working. To be able to add little bits of dialogue, make the characters talk to each other--this shows an understanding of the story. Something is happening. We still have a long way to go to retelling independence. But these little moments show that we are making progress.

It's not quite at the level of talking sponges and fighting soup cans, but it's a start.

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