A few weeks ago, I visited several second and third grade classrooms to give a shared reading lesson and then take a small group into a guided reading lesson with the same text. Loved this!!! It makes complete sense that if I build knowledge around magnets or echolocation during a 20-30 minutes shared reading lesson with the whole class, that students in a small group should reap the benefits of the knowledge generated during the whole class lesson, right? (In a previous post, I wrote about the shared reading lesson with 2nd grade students on magnets.)
Of course, there’s no way during the whole group shared reading lesson, the students had enough time to really grapple with the complex text in a way that deepened their understanding of the content as well as their understanding of how to tackle this kind of text. I’d want to engage the whole class in another few 20-minute lessons with the concept of magnetism as a force using that particular text and then also, as appropriate, work with this text again during small group instruction.
“As appropriate” is key. If 2nd grade students are still at the emergent or early levels of reading, I would pick a different text. If they are at a transitional and even early-fluent level, they might benefit from working with a text that has been used with the whole group.
With the 2nd grade students reading about magnets, I started the small group lesson by letting them play with magnets. These magnets had the north and south poles identified and the students quickly realized this. I set my timer for five minutes and while they were playing with the magnets, I challenged them to orally use the language of magnets. I placed two cards with the key words “repel” and “attract” in front of them and coached them to use this language as they tried to “attract” objects and as they experimented with how same poles “repel” each other and opposite poles “attract” each other. I asked individual students to challenge their peers by making statements like “Make your magnet attract a paper clip” and so forth. When my timer went off, we stopped and moved into reading the text.
Prior to my visit, the classroom teachers and literacy coaches sent me running records and comprehension checks for the students in the small group. I examined these as part of my planning. Many of the students were still struggling with cross-checking – some were reading nonsense words, many were making words fit based on the beginning and ending sounds. Some of these words were content words that might not be a part of their oral vocabulary. So I wanted to keep an eye on this as they read. As far as comprehension – the data varied. Some students completely understood what they had read; others were grasping at details towards the end of the reading and did not seem to understand “concepts” in the texts.
I set the purpose for reading–similar to with the shared reading lesson–“How do magnets affect objects?” (Looking back – I wish I had shared this question when they were playing with the magnets, too.) Again – the question was written on a sentence strip as a visual reminder.
Here’s an excerpt of what they were reading –
Look closely and you will see. Magnets can be found on a can opener. The magnet attracts, or pulls the lid off of a soup can. A push or pull is called a force.
There is also a magnet in a refrigerator. It pulls the metal in the door to make a tight seal. Do you know how?
(Wonders, 2nd Grade Reading/Writing Workshop, article Magnets Work)
As the students read and then reread this excerpt – I met with a couple to listen in and coach for self-monitoring and cross-checking. We regrouped and discussed tricky words like “opener” – breaking the words into parts, blending and then rereading the text for meaning. BTW – when they identified the word “refrigerator” as tricky – oh, my! There are no clues in the excerpt to help students and chunking this word is ridiculous at this stage of reading especially with no context clues to cross-check the result – this is one you just give to them.
Then I asked them to reread the text and identify a tricky part – parts of the text they did not understand. I placed “question marks” on a piece of card stock in the middle of the table and when they located their “tricky part” or question, they were to pick up a card. As we discussed – I reinforced how the content of the text and our discussions helped us think about how magnets affect objects.
UGH!!! It took me a lesson or two to realize that the can opener is referring to an electric an opener (remember those?) that many students may not have seen. SO I started bringing in a picture of this can opener (just a screen shot on my laptop) for other groups engaged in the same lesson so that when we thought through the text, we could use the visual to support our thinking about how the “magnet attracts or pulls of the lid of the can.”
20 minute lesson – we worked on oral language with content vocabulary and we read closely two paragraphs. Critical work. Is this okay? I think students need guided reading lessons with texts they can spend the majority of the lesson reading with a teacher present to coach at the point of need. With informational texts, though, there’s a place for spending 20 minutes on less text. There is generative value in what we did–slowing down, thinking through the content carefully, identifying tricky words and tricky parts.