For my Instructional Practices for Reading Teachers class, I was to practice using a Directed Reading Activity (DRA) with at least three students while reading an informational text.
DRA is a strategy that provides students with instructional support before, during, and after reading. The teacher takes an active role preparing students to read the text by pre-teaching important vocabulary, eliciting prior knowledge, teaching students how to use a specific reading skill, and providing a purpose for reading.
I decided to use a fourth-grade science book titled How Scientists Work (Wheeler, 1971). The purpose for reading would be to use underlining, highlighting, and adding notes to make the reading of non-story material more meaningful, as well as to find out what a scientist is and what scientists do.
During pre-reading phase, I planned to motivate and build background knowledge by going over vocabulary using a PowerPoint presentation with pictures and context sentences from the science textbook. I also planned to ask a number of questions, such as, “What are some things in nature that you like to observe?” and “What facts were you able to figure out from your observations?” to elicit students’ prior knowledge. I would then explain the reading strategy they would be using. I planned to teach them to highlight, underline, and make notes while reading.
During the reading phase, I planned to have each student silently read their copy of the informational text. I hoped to encourage them to ask questions as soon as they had them—they didn’t need to wait until the end. I also planned to ask questions to individual students, especially about what they thought the scientists in the pictures were doing.
During the post-reading phase, I planned to stimulate discussion with the following questions:
- What is a scientist? What does a scientist do?
- Can anyone be a scientist?
- What marking system did you decide to use?
- What were things that stood out to each of your that you highlighted, underlined, or made notes by?
- Can anyone be a scientist—do you have to be an adult; do you have to work in a laboratory?
We would then end with a follow-up activity: a little science experiment to see how water magnifies and distorts objects.
That was the plan. But, as you know, plans never go quite as expected.
I decided to take advantage of our trip to a family retreat to share my lesson with some of the children there. My lesson is geared towards 4th graders, but when I got there, there were only three 8-year-old girls available: Gracie, who was in a wheelchair, Bethany, and Eliana. They were a bit young for the material, but there was nothing else to do but proceed and make the best of it. To set the stage for my lesson, I showed the girls one of my college textbooks which I have heavily highlighted, underlined, and made notes in. Then I clearly stated the purpose of the lesson, and asked some questions to see what they already knew about science and scientists. I used a tablet to show the PowerPoint presentation with a picture and the context sentence of each vocabulary word.
Next I explained the strategy of reading and highlighting/underlining/adding notes as a means of enhancing memory and meaningfulness of the text. I told them that they could choose whatever colors or methods they wanted, and cautioned them to not over-highlight. Gracie, the girl in the wheelchair, was unable to read, so her father read aloud to her quietly and helped her to highlight things. Bethany got right down to reading and was soon making many highlights and notes. But Eliana only read for a couple pages and then stopped. When I asked her why, she said some of the words were too hard, and she was discouraged by the length of the paper. Gracie’s father had also become distracted and was no longer reading to his daughter, so I read aloud to both girls, pointing to the words as I read and asking comprehension questions. We also discussed what notations they could make. When we were all done reading, I asked all three girls to tell about what things they had highlighted and why, and then we discussed what scientists are, and if anyone can be a scientist.
Lastly, we did the two little experiments with water which showed how it magnifies and distorts objects. I encouraged them to make observations and ask questions about what they were seeing. For closure, I reiterated that they could make their reading meaningful with highlighting, underlining, and adding notes—even in other books, like their Bibles.
There were things I was very happy with, and things I felt I could have done better on, during this Directed Reading Activity. Let me begin with the good points of my lesson. First, I was very happy that I got to work with a handicapped child. This was such a good, hands-on opportunity to differentiate instruction. My strategy was to do everything in my power to involve Gracie in the reading experience. I made sure she got read to, and I allowed her to keep her highlighter just like the other girls. I also asked her questions that she could easily answer with a nod or short answer. I am so happy that I did not push her to one side or ignore her just because she could not function on the level of the other girls. Secondly, I’m not sure if this goes against the “rules” of Directed Reading Activities or not, but I’m very glad that I read the paper with Eliana and Gracie. We could discuss the text and what highlights to make as we went along. I felt that it offered a much richer, interactive experience for both girls. I almost wish I had included Bethany too, but she was quite content to read and highlight her paper on her own. Still, I feel bad that I was not as involved in her reading process. Thirdly, I really liked the reading strategy I chose to teach the girls, as well as the science experiment activity I planned. Having them highlight/underline/add notes was way to keep them active and engaged while sitting and quietly reading, and the experiment was simple yet interesting and directly connected to our vocabulary words, like magnify and observation. I think both choices helped to make my Directed Reading Activity a fun, interactive lesson.
However, I was not happy with everything about my lesson. First, I did not pre-teach vocabulary words well enough. I just read each word, read the context sentence, showed the girls the picture for the word, and sometimes asked a follow-up question. I should have actively engaged them with each word in some way, however small, instead of only doing so with a couple of the words. Secondly, I felt bad because when Bethany asked me how to spell “scientist” when she was adding some notes on her text, I just told her. I should have made the most of the opportunity to activate her schema and walk her through spelling it herself. Instead, because it was faster and easier, I just spelled it out for her. I think I missed a good opportunity to scaffold learning. Lastly, I felt unable to adequately engage Eliana. She seemed unmotivated and disinterested. Even when I was reading aloud to her and Gracie, it seemed like she was not really paying attention. Also, whenever I asked her a question, it seemed like her mind went blank. She would think for a moment, then shrug her shoulders and say, “I don’t know!” with a totally lost look on her face. Bethany was totally opposite. She was engaged from the start, and she could answer each of my questions with high intuition. I hate to use labels, but she seemed to be so bright, while Eliana seemed so slow and spacey. I did my best to differentiate for her abilities and engagement level, but even my best efforts seemed lost on her. Later, my teacher told me this was probably because the material was beyond her grade level as well as her interest level. Still, even though my lesson did not go perfectly, overall I was happy with it.
Wheeler, R. (1971). How Scientists Work. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.