Recently, a group of teachers met with me to review some new stories at levels J-M for the new Pawprints Teal Kit. During these reviews, the teachers and I work page by page through the stories, considering language structure, word choice, whether the pictures support the text, and the overall level of difficulty. We also will work on making the dialogue sound true-to-life.
This group of teachers has been reviewing new stories with me for several years, but for some reason, for the first time, I asked them, "Do you ever think about the books you are reading with your students the same way you think about them during reviews?" They all started laughing and replied, "All the time." They told me they just can't stop themselves from analyzing the text with their students.
One teacher told us about a student who was reading upper level Jasper the Cat stories. The student just loved Jasper and wanted to read ALL of the Jasper books, even the early level stories. But, when she started reading some of those early level books, she began to tell the teacher things like, "I don't like how this sounds. It would be better if it said . . ." The group chuckled and began sharing stories about students who like to discuss the language of books. These students often can pinpoint where the language doesn't sound natural and how it could be improved. It seems amazing to me that six- and seven-year-olds can analyze text in such a way.
Having a discussion with students about a book's language structure struck me as interesting and potentially useful. Over the years I have used books with funky or odd language and I have tried to support students by helping them rehearse it. We could take it a step further and ask them, "Can you think of a better way to say it?" Or, "If you were the author how might you say it?" Exercises like these could lead to a new level of comprehension.
Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.
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