Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Building Independence with Text Structure

It's never fun to see the chasm between what I think I've taught and what students have actually learned. But when this chasm becomes apparent, I have to dig a little more deeply to find out exactly where things have gone wrong...and find a way to fix it.

Take this past week. As we were getting back into working on text structure (after a break for state testing), one of my students wrote, "I have injoyed learning about text structures like peregrin falcons and red tail hawks."

Oh dear.

If this student was confusing the text structures with the topics that we have been reading about, other students were probably doing so too. On reflection, I could see where she got this idea. This year I have really worked to put together a coherent text set of related texts. For a struggling reader, it makes sense that the concrete, real topic (peregrine falcons) would replace the abstract idea (text structure). Add to this the fact that my text structure bulletin board has been concealed for the last three weeks for testing purposes, and I could see why she would write this. And I was glad that she did--after all, I need to know when things aren't working well!

Look back to texts
Our first order of business at the next class was to find examples of different text structures in our reading folders. We worked on this one text structure at a time, for about 10 minutes in each class. In my co-teaching class, students have worked with various adults and read various texts. We found all of the chronological order texts and stapled them together. The next day we found all of the cause and effect texts, and then the problem and solution texts.

This was actually very helpful, as students shared their different texts with each other and talked about why each one fit a particular text structure. Of course the process was a little painful ("Is this one? What about this? Is this one?") but it was a good way for students to move into the abstract thinking for text structure.

Emphasize using the text structure

The next thing I needed to make clear to students was that text structure can be useful. I made this poster quickly and then worked through it with the first guided reading group. We talked about the word browse and what it means. Then I handed out copies of Salamander Crossing--a text with a familiar topic for students--that had the text structure cue words problem and solution highlighted.

Well, the kids thought this was very amusing, and they quickly figured out that the text structure was problem and solution. (Whew!) Then we talked about how the text structure could help students to understand the topic. What might the problem be? What about the solution?

Independent graphic organizers
I love neat and tidy graphic organizers...but kids definitely need to learn how to make their own. I showed students examples of different graphic organizers to see if they could pick out which one to use. "That one! That one!" they said excitedly, when I showed the simple boxes for problem and solution. Double whew!

I had kids scatter throughout the room to work alone on reading the text and making a graphic organizer. Then they added some pictures to their graphic organizers to show the problem and solution with pictures. I wrapped it up by having students share their pictures on the document camera as we talked about which ones related to the problems (one showed a sad, flat salamander and a driver saying, "Oh no!") and which ones related to the solution (a very cute little person holding a flashlight).

Looking back
Looking back, it was good that I found out that students were having trouble with text structure. It  never hurts to make the abstract concepts we are teaching as explicit as possible.

If you're curious about mole salamanders, here is a lovely video. Some night I may go out and try to see them for myself...unfortunately, March and April evenings are always too chilly for me to brave it!

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