Saturday, November 22, 2014

Close Reading for Understanding Dialogue

    Young readers have a great deal of trouble with dialogue. It seems as if the task of every autumn for me is to help readers learn how to recognize dialogue, figure out who is speaking in dialogue, and visualize conversations as they read.  And what an important task this is! Dialogue carries plot details and characterization. When students don't know who is speaking, or don't realize the importance of dialogue, they miss essential details of a story.
    For fourth graders, tracking a conversation in text without pictures requires careful attention to detail. After some initial instruction, I was curious to see what my students could do. I designed this assessment to peek in at their processes:

Dialogue Assessment from Emily Kissner

   As I looked at student responses, I noticed several patterns.

1. Every question correct. About a quarter of my students answered every question correctly. This doesn't mean that their instruction is done--in fact, it means that students are ready to really explore dialogue and learn how to wring more meaning from it.
2. Trouble with Line 4. Notice how the dialogue in Line 4 does not have a speaker tag. Readers have two ways to identify the speaker. They could look at the textual conventions of quotation marks and a new paragraph to know that someone new is talking. Alternatively, they could look at the context of the conversation to know that the miller wouldn't thank himself. Students who did not answer this question correctly often said "the miller" or even "sir".
3. Trouble with "You look tired". Teachers who know kids--really know kids--will not be surprised to hear that a decent number of students said "the miller" in response to this question. Skilled adult readers are shocked by this, as they clearly see that the miller has dropped out of the story by this point. However, readers who are having trouble managing characters in their heads will assign dialogue to anyone that seems convenient!

Next Steps
   I hate "going over" tests. This is probably a major character flaw. Instead of "going over" the answers, I made clean copies for all students who scored less than 4/5. Then I gathered the students in small groups to reteach. Together, we read the text and aloud and answered the questions again.
    I used sticky notes to symbolize each character, so that we could talk about who was in the story when. This helped students to see that Hans leaves the mill on Line 10, which makes the miller drop out of the story.
    The small group setting helped students to talk out their issues and their misconceptions. "Well, of course the miller wouldn't say thank you," one student said. "It would be kind of silly for him to thank himself for gold."
   "Oh, the rider is a different person!" another student exclaimed. "Well, that makes a lot more sense."
   I waited until after we had discussed the passage to hand out the scored assessments that students had already taken. Then we were able to talk about new understandings. What did students know now that they didn't know then? How were they thinking through the story events differently? How might this help them with their independent reading books?

    I eventually wrote three dialogue assessments, which I have added to Analyzing Story Elements. It took us a few tries to get it right! Even now there are still some students that are working on identifying narrators in first person stories. More lessons on identifying speaker in dialogue can be found in my book, The Forest AND the Trees.

New Texts

    Last year I wanted to combine social studies and fluency. I realized that my struggling readers needed much, much more exposure to the names of states! I wrote sets of leveled geography texts about different regions of the United States. I think that I can safely say it is one of the more difficult writing tasks that I have undertaken. You can find them here:
-US Geography Leveled Readings Northeast
-US Geography Leveled Reading South
-US Geography Leveled Readings Midwest
-US Geography Leveled Readings West
    Hawai'i and Alaska are both so big and interesting that they deserve their own texts, which aren't quite finished yet.

What's New on Frolyc
    I have lots of texts and activities for student iPads over at Frolyc. If you want to see new activities, subscribe to the What's New on Activity Spot Pinterest board. This month I have worked on Genres: Science Fiction and Fantasy, Autumn Poem, Anthony Wayne (a chronological order text) and more.

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