The Directed Reading-Thinking Activity builds critical awareness of the reader’s role and responsibility in interacting with the text. It involves readers in the process of predicting, verifying, judging, and extending thinking about the text material. It differs slightly from the Directed Reading Activity. This time I could use a story book instead of an informational text. I chose to use “Moses the Kitten” from James Herriot’s Treasury for Children.
My Directed Reading-Thinking Activity took place in several stages. First, however, came preparation. Before the day of my scheduled lesson, I stapled together black-and-white copies of the story for each student and carefully considered where I would have stopping points. Realizing that the phonetically-written Scottish dialect might be confusing to the readers, I also went through and underlined all the potentially unknown words, and made a glossary of them and their pronunciations and definitions on the back of each story copy. I made sure to mark the stopping points into my personal, full-color copy of the text, so that I could hold up the color copy as the students read their black-and-white copy, in case they wanted to see the full-color illustrations as they read. I was careful to paper-clip the two “spoiler illustration” pages together, so that I would not accidently give away the plot while we were previewing the illustrations.
Prereading activities made up the first stage of my lesson plan with Grace, Audrey, and Kareena, E2 (grades 4-6) students at the charter school where I substitute teach. We started by reading the title page and looking at the cover illustration and making predictions based on it, which I wrote on the whiteboard. Grace and Kareena immediately jumped in with numerous ideas, while Audrey participated with interest, but needed more prompting and made fewer contributions. We then moved on to looking at the numerous inside illustrations, with the girls adding to their growing list of predictions with highly intuitive predictions. Lastly, before beginning reading, I went over the glossary, explaining that the Scottish dialect and other big words would be underlined in the story so they could reference the glossary at the back if they needed to as they were reading.
Then commenced the reading stage. The girls read silently with good concentration and at a fairly similar pace. At each stop sign, we would discuss the predictions and make changes as they deemed fit, sometimes rewriting ones they already had, and sometimes adding new ones. Besides the repetitious cycle of questions for each sections (“What do you think will happen next?” “Why do you think so?”), I interjected additional comprehension questions in specific sections. There were also a couple big words (connoisseurs and fortnight) that I had missed, which the girls asked about and we were able to discuss. Both my questions and theirs led to some interesting discussions, such as why Moses was a good name for the kitten, how long a fortnight is, and how old Moses would be a fortnight after he was found at 6 weeks old.
After each section had been discussed and the story was completely read, we talked about the predictions and checked off the ones that came true. Since the girls had revised their predictions so well as they went along, every single one of them ended up being correct by the time they got to the end. I asked them what made them change their predictions partway through, and they answered that what they read in the text itself often clarified or revised an idea the illustrations had given them. Audrey also explained that, for the most part, their predictions were always very close to the actual events and only had to be tweaked slightly when they read the section, which was true. Lastly, I asked, “Did the illustrations match the story?” to which the girls wholeheartedly agreed that they did. Before the girls left, I told them they could keep their copies of the stories to read to their families, but they decided not to.
The head teacher in the classroom wanted to make sure that I got three students who would give me the least trouble. So, she selected Grace, Audrey, and Kareena, all three very compliant, intelligent, and good readers. They ranged in grade from four to six, and also in personality. Grace and Kareena were very assertive and outgoing, while Audrey was more reserved. She also seemed a little tired—I noticed her rubbing her eyes several times—which could have added to her quiet unassertiveness. Still, they were all model students with no behavior issues or reading struggles, which made each stage of the activity a joy and a breeze. All three girls far exceeded my expectations in their predictions and participation in discussion. I was the one who made several mistakes throughout this lesson.
The girls’ high levels of intuition in predicting were astonishing. I was amazed at how many predictions they made from just the cover. Among other things, they concluded that the story was about a kitten, that he wandered away from his home (because they thought he looked sad in the illustration), and that he might be found. Even more pleasantly surprising was that they guessed that Moses was named after the Bible character Moses (“maybe he’s going to be a good leader,” was Kareena’s explanation). Though her reason was wrong, they were spot on that Moses was named after the biblical character. Later, this led to a good discussion about the actual reason that Moses the kitten was named after Moses the patriarch. “The story says they named him Moses because he was found among the rushes. Is Moses some kind of plant?” Grace asked. I was able to explain the Bible story of baby Moses being hidden in his basket among the rushes on the river, where the princess found him. “So you were right when you predicted that he was named after the Bible Moses!” During another reading and retelling stage, Grace predicted that Mr. Herriot would see Moses the kitten sucking milk from the mother pig before even seeing the “spoiler illustration” on the next page. All three girls directed me (on their own) to reorder the predictions as we went along so they would be in chronological order.
Our discussions also far exceeded my expectations, with Grace, Audrey, and Kareena adding a depth and maturity far beyond their years. I was so glad that I had thought to include a glossary on the back of their copies. I noticed Grace referring to it often when she encountered the underlined words. Still, I felt bad that I had somehow missed two big words, connoisseurs and fortnight, especially since I wasn’t quite sure what connoisseurs meant myself. Kareena asked if it meant “masters,” and I cast about for minute before saying I thought it had to do with being really good at something. When I got home and looked up the word, I found that Kareena and I both had the right idea, and was amazed with her astuteness. When it came to the word fortnight, I told the girls that I was pretty sure it was 2 weeks, but that they could look it up some time to check me on that. I was then able to extend their thinking by asking them how old Moses would have been a fortnight after being found. I was pleasantly surprised when they remembered that the text had said he was 6 weeks old when the vet rescued him and were able to conclude that he would have been 8 weeks old when the vet saw him again a fortnight later. In the very next section of reading, Kareena spotted where the author stated that Moses was indeed 8 weeks old, which confirmed our guess that a fortnight was 2 weeks. In the last stage, the girls and I had a good time going over their predictions and how the illustrations were connected to the written story. “The only illustration that I didn’t think matched the story was the last one,” Grace said, pointing out the picture of the kitten on the stone wall. “The story says that Moses’ favorite place to sit was on the wall overlooking the house, so I thought they should have a picture of him on a wall looking at the house instead of away from it.” This gave us opportunity to discuss the fact that in Scotland, they often make their fences and walls out of stacked stones, and that the building she saw in the background was a farm building, not the house. This helped Grace to understand that the illustration was indeed accurate and also built all three girls’ schema about Scottish culture. Throughout this process of predicting, answering questions, and discussing, all three girls showed considerable strengths and abilities in extending ideas and making connections and evaluations of the text.
When it came right down to it, the only one who made mistakes during this activity was myself. First, I forgot to specifically ask the girls to retell what they had just read when they finished each section. Instead of asking, “Now that you’ve had a chance to read that section, what do you think it’s about?” I jumped right into prediction revisions/additions after the girls finished a section. However, as they were revising their predictions, they would naturally explain what they had just read, which showed me that they have accurate understandings of the storyline, even though I did not explicitly ask them to retell it. Secondly, I did not adequately stress that the girls read the lines from the story to prove their prediction revisions. In fact, I forgot that step completely during the first revision stage. After that, I did ask the girls to explain what in the story indicated that they should revise certain predictions. They summarized the parts of the story that proved their ideas, but I did not have them read specific lines from the story. Thirdly, I do not believe I handled one of Kareena’s misconceptions very well. At one point in the story, she told me she thought one of the cats in an illustration was guarding Moses. When I asked her why, she said it was because the story said that he gazed at the vet with patient eyes. “So, you think that when it says he looked at the vet patiently, it means he was guarding something?” I asked. I didn’t just want to tell Kareena she was wrong; I wanted to ask questions that would unveil what thinking processes had led to this misconception. However, once I realized that somehow she was thought patiently had the connotation of menace, I just said something like, “Hmmm, okay,” and let it go. I don’t think I should have done that. Yes, I’m glad I asked some questions at first to figure out what she was thinking, but when I was not able to lead her to the right understanding through questions, I should not have let the instance go without explaining the proper meaning of patiently. Still, even though I made some flubs along the way, the girls more than made up for my errors with their avid participation and intuition. All in all, my favorite part of this activity was the rich, intellectual discussions that I was able to have with the Grace, Audrey, and Kareena at every stage of the activity. In fact, in many ways, I feel like I was not able to teach them anything or enhance their reading abilities in any way—they were already well developed!