Yesterday I conferred with a second grader who was reading The Moon by Deborah Eaton (written at a late 2nd grade level). When I approached her, I started by saying, “What are you reading about?” She responded with “the moon.” I followed by asking, “What have you learned about the moon so far?” This question from me positions the student as a reader and as a learner. She responded with “The moon reflects the sun’s light.” We talked a little bit about how the moon does not have it’s own light and she described how the sun shines on the moon and that is the light we are seeing. Conceptually, she understood content in the book.
I could have stopped there, but I wanted to see if she could identify textual evidence to support her comment. So I asked, “Where in the book did you read about that?” She quickly flipped back a few pages and pointed to a diagram. In the diagram, there was an image of the sun with rays (arrows) shooting out towards the Earth and the moon that was positioned just beyond the Earth.
I pushed further. “Can you explain this diagram to me?” Sure enough she could. I moved beyond the text and asked, “So what side of the Earth are we on right now?” I pointed to the image of the Earth – one side lighted by the sun, the other not. She pointed to the side of the Earth lit by the sun and proceeded to explain which side of the Earth we were on and why. (Now, looking back, I wonder if I strayed too far from the topic of the moon with this question!)
The student clearly understood this particular diagram and was able to refer back to it easily and articulate what she’d learned, using textual evidence. I assessed this in a conversation that lasted less than two minutes.
I returned to this student a few minutes later curious to see if she was still understanding the text. She was still reading The Moon. I asked her what else she had learned about the moon. She pointed to a picture of an astronaut walking on the moon and leaving distinct footprints. She said that the footprints never disappear. I asked her why that was so. She responded that she already knew about the footprints and the text didn’t tell her why, and that she didn’t know why. I quickly skimmed the next page on my own and realized the text does share this information. I wondered. Was she a reader who relied too heavily on the features? Was she not attending to the text and thinking about how the features and the text support each other?
This was a teachable moment and I took advantage of it.
First, I built on her strength – attention to the features of a nonfiction text – and drew her attention to the photo. “Look here’s another photo of the astronaut’s footprint.” She confirmed what I had noticed. Then I said, “Since there are two photos of the footprints, I’m wondering if the author talks about what you already know – that the footprints never change.” This statement revealed that there should be a link between the photos and the running text.
I told her, “I just read the first line on this page and noticed that the author is talking about the footprints being left behind, too. I’m thinking the author might say more about why this is important to think about. Let’s read to find out.” Here, I again made clear the link between the feature and the text and then also demonstrated how considering the connections between the two could set a purpose for me to read.
Together we made sense of the text on the rest of this page and through conversation, this second grader was able to determine that there is no rain or wind on the moon to erase the footprints. At first, she read quickly and summarized what she read. Her summary was “There are no clouds on the moon so the footprints never go away.” Since the text doesn’t mention clouds (see image above), I asked her to share what parts of the text revealed this to her. She had to reread, evaluate her previous response and then adjust based on what she’d just understood by rereading. She clarified that the text doesn’t say anything about clouds, but she knows “there are clouds when there is rain and wind” and that because there’s “no rain or wind on the moon” the footprints will always be there.
I closed by briefly summarizing what we had done as strategic readers. We’d thought about the pictures and what we already knew about footprints on the moon and then we had read the text closely (a couple of times!) to see what information the author might share about the footprints.
There is a lot of potential in these quick conferences with students who are reading nonfiction independently. These two conferences lasted maybe four minutes all together. In just a few minutes, I assessed and determined a teaching point and then took action. If this was my classroom, I might follow-up with a reading workshop mini-lesson on thinking about how nonfiction features and running text support each other and I might also form a guided reading group (with this second grader and others) to focus on this concept as well.