The teaching and learning of these literacy strategies is best done in authentic contexts. On page 70 of Making the PYP Happen, the authors state that "it is the school's responsibility to provide authentic context for language teaching and learning in all areas of the curriculum," [emphasis added].
In a Primary Years Program (PYP), the program of inquiry provides the authentic, engaging, challenging, and significant context for learners to develop and use language. In other words, teachers should situate literacy instruction right inside the units of inquiry. However, it should be clarified that although comprehension and metacognitive strategies are to be taught within the unit of inquiry, it cannot be assumed that learners will implicitly pick up on these strategies while studying content concepts. PYP teachers still must provide specific time and opportunities for their learners to explore, discover, practice, and construct understanding of these literacy strategies. When we teach literacy in this way, students are learning literacy processes and content concepts simultaneously.
Recently, I took the opportunity to teach a first grade reading lesson from our school's literacy curriculum. The objectives of the lesson were that students would retell story events and visualize & analyze characters during reading. Rather than use the text provided by the series, which would not have been authentic, challenging, or significant for the first graders, I choose a text that would help the learners understand their current Unit of Inquiry's Central Idea: Responsible choices promote balanced living.
A List from Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel.
Before reading the story, I discussed with the students the importance of being able to really understand a story while we read. "After all," I said, "that's the point of reading! To understand what you read." In their book Strategies that Work, Harvey and Goudvis say that "different readers rely on different strategies to help them gain better understanding." One such strategy is visualizing. "Visualizing strengthens our inferential thinking. When we visualize, we are in fact inferring but with mental images rather than words and thoughts." The authors continue, "When we visualize, we create pictures in our minds that belong to us and no one else," (p. 130-2).
However, if we let students keep their visualizations locked up in their minds, students may become mentally overwhelmed. Rather, my goal of the lesson was to get students to make their visualizations visible so that they could more fully engage in thinking. "...it is difficult [for students] to do their best thinking because of cognitive overload, that is, because the thinking demands exceed their capacity. When our thinking is distributed, when we do not have to rely solely on our internal mental resources, we free ourselves up to engage in more challenging thinking," Ron Ritchhart in Intellectual Character: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Get It, p. 100-1).
I prompted students to visualize what was going on in the story as I read, but then to draw those pictures from their mind on a blank sheet of paper. After reading, we talked about what their pictures should include, if they really, truly understood the story. Together, we decided that students would need to have the characters of the story, the setting (time and place), and what went on in the story (the events).
To show students how to self-assess their understanding of the text, one student showed his visualization to the group while I modeled the kinds of questions the students should ask themselves.
|Did I understand the story?|
Did I include the characters?
Did I include the setting?
Did I include the important events of the story?
After reading about making students' thinking and understanding visible by having them draw out their mental visualizations, how could you make your students' visualizations visible with the "texts" they read, listen to, and view?