In Test Talk: Integrating Test Preparation into Reading Workshop, authors Amy Greene and Glennon Doyle Melton show teachers that they don’t have to choose between best practice teaching and test preparation. In this Quick Tip, you can follow Glennon as she begins a unit on finding the main idea of a story and see how she weaves test preparation into her reading workshop.
It’s mid-October in Glennon’s third-grade reading workshop. The class has just completed a unit of study about recounting the plot of a text. Today the students will begin a unit about finding the main idea in fiction. The children are gathered at her feet, listening intently to their third Patricia Polacco book of the week, Thank You, Mr. Falker (1998). It is the story of a girl named Tricia who moves to a new school and struggles to learn to read. The students alternate between listening to Glennon read and reflecting on the text with a partner when she stops to ask discussion questions. After she is finished reading the text, Glennon draws a chart on the board and titles the first column Plot and the second column Themes/Main Ideas. She reminds the students that plot is the set of events that happen in a story or passage and can be found right in the text. She asks the students to recount the plot of Thank You, Mr. Falker to her, and she records the events in sequential order in the first column.
Glennon then turns her attention to the second column and connects students’ background knowledge to the new concept by saying, “Since you are experts about finding the plot of a text, today we are going to move ahead and start learning about another very important part of a text called the main idea or theme. The main ideas are the big ideas or lessons that the author wants us to think about and learn from his or her text.
“This is a really important skill to have because it helps us understand and enjoy our reading, and it is also a skill that the SOL will test you on at the end of the year. Let’s figure out how to find the main ideas together. Remember when we studied finding the plot of a story or a test passage? Can anyone think aloud with me about what you do when you have to find the plot of a passage, like on the SOL?”
B.J. raises his hand and says, “I just start at the beginning and try to think of everything that I read. It’s really easy.” “Finding the plot is pretty easy, isn’t it? To find the plot of a text, we simply recount the events that the author included in the text. But finding the main ideas is trickier because they are not usually written right in the text. We have to read and then use our schema with the text to infer the main ideas. We have to think about the characters and their feelings more. How do you think Tricia felt when her mom told her they were moving?”
Ahmed raises his hand and says, “I think Tricia felt scared that her new class would make fun of her because she doesn’t know how to read.” Glennon has modeled quality talk all year; she teaches her students to speak in complete sentences and support opinions with evidence from the text. The other students nod in agreement with Ahmed’s thought and Glennon records his comment in a notebook.
Next, she rereads a passage in which a bully named Eric is teasing Tricia about her difficulty with reading. She pauses to say, “Turn to a partner and discuss your thoughts about the way Eric is behaving toward Tricia.” After the students have discussed, she rereads the last page of the book and says, “Talk to your partner one more time about what you think Patricia Polacco would want her readers to learn from this book.”
During each of the partner discussion times, Glennon circulates among her students and records their ideas in her notebook to be used during the next part of the lesson. Glennon directs the students back to the chart at the front of the room. She writes the word fear in the Main Ideas column and says, “Ahmed’s idea was that Tricia was afraid that her new class would laugh at her. Does anyone have a connection with that?” Glennon’s first unit of study this year was about becoming better readers by making connections to text.
Giselle responds, “I have a connection with that. I know how Tricia felt because I was scared when I came here from my country. I didn’t think anyone would speak my language.” Glennon writes fear of being different on the chart paper. “I heard Nancy tell her partner that Eric was jealous of Tricia because Mr. Falker seemed to like her drawing,” Glennon adds. She writes the word jealousy on the chart paper and asks, “Who can connect with jealousy?” “I felt jealous when my baby sister was born. I felt like my parents would forget about me,”says Rokshar. Other students show their connections to Rokshar’s comment by nodding.
Michael raises his hand. “I think it is cool that Tricia can’t read but can draw really well, and Eric can read but can’t draw well,” he says. Mark agrees. “Yeah, everyone has things they are good at and things that they need help with.” Glennon writes strengths and weaknesses on the chart paper. Then Glennon asks, “What do you think Patricia Polacco wants us to know or learn about life from her book Thank You, Mr. Falker? What were the main ideas in the book? Use our list and the text-to-self connections you made while we read to help you.” Students partner-talk and then share ideas such as fear, family love, and learning not to give up.
Glennon concludes by connecting their ideas and discussion to the test once again. At the bottom of the chart, she creates a multiple-choice question in the same format the SOL uses.
Which is NOT a main idea in Patricia Pollacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker?
C strengths and weaknesses
Glennon encourages the students to use their test-taking strategies to navigate the question, and, after they have answered, she asks, “Why is it important to be able to find the main ideas in a text, beside the fact that it will be on our SOLS?” The class giggles and Bo Hyun raises her hand. “Because reading a story is sometimes like learning a lesson,” she says. “If you can’t find the main idea, you don’t get the lesson!”
Glennon reinforces his thinking. “That’s so smart! When readers read fiction and test takers read passages, they can’t just read the text. They have to use their schema and their hearts to decide what the author wanted them to learn or think about. Sometimes tests call this the main idea or theme. We’ll learn more about this tomorrow.”
No matter how big or small your house, I bet that at some point this Thanksgiving you found yourself in a crowded kitchen. That’s just how it is: the kitchen and the kitchen table are the heart of the home and all good gatherings begin and end there. This is what this week’s poem made me think about. Enjoy!
Perhaps the World Ends Here
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
Stenhouse editorial director Philippa Stratton received the NCTE Outstanding Educator award this past week during NCTE’s annual conference in Orlando. To mark the event, Stenhouse author Ralph Fletcher interviewed Philippa and published an article in Language Arts about Philippa’s career, the early years of Heinemann and the founding of Stenhouse, and the long road professional development books have traveled over the years.
Read the full article here, including tributes to Philippa from authors like Shelley Harwayne, Lucy Calkins, and Martha Horn.
In Nonfiction Matters, Stephanie Harvey offers teachers the tools to help students explore nonfiction and dig deep to reach a more complete understanding of the real world. In this week’s Quick Tip, Steph shares some ideas on creating a classroom environment that promotes and encourages students’ natural curiosity.
Denver kindergarten teacher Sue Kempton maintains a classroom that looks like the Denver Zoo, complete with a working beehive. The bees fly in and out of a tube through the window to the outdoors, where they collect pollen and bring it back to the hive to produce honey. Sue’s kindergartners keep a daily log of hive activity. Intermediate students who wander in for announcements or buddy readings can hardly drag themselves away.
First-grade teacher Debbie Miller teaches science and social studies through a jobs curriculum: students are assigned real jobs such as geologist, archaeologist, mathematician, historian, reporter, comedian, poet, surveyor, zoologist. They learn to view the world through a different lens and begin to make important new discoveries.
It’s not fair to restrict these wonderful activities to five- and six-year-olds. Adolescents would revel in these explorations. Stimulating classrooms like Debbie’s and Sue’s spark enthusiasm and curiosity at all levels. Engagement follows naturally.
Comfortable classrooms foster inquiry. Teachers need only hearken to the libraries of their youth. Rooms lit by soft lamps, containing overstuffed couches, area rugs, bulging bookshelves, framed pictures, fresh flowers, promote reading, thinking, and discussion. Clusters of small tables lend themselves to the easy exchange of ideas. When kids engage in inquiry, busy conversation is the norm. I search far and wide for inexpensive furnishings to soften the classroom and frequently hit the jackpot at garage sales.
Conveniently placed resources and equipment keep unnecessary teacher interruptions to a minimum. Baskets of nonfiction books placed on each table assure that kids always have something to read; no unnecessary scrambling around in a harried search for text. A relaxed environment eases daily tension and contributes to thorough inquiry.
Don’t Forget the Halls and Walls Walls can teach. In classrooms that value inquiry, teacher- and student created charts summarizing research reminders and strategy guidelines hang throughout the room. Topics, questions, sign-up sheets, and kids’ work cover the walls. The information is topical and useful. Teachers no longer need worry about coming up with cute bulletin boards.
Halls offer the open space environmentalists dream of. Use the halls to your advantage. Shelley Harwayne considers corridors rich with life an essential ingredient of inquiry-based education. Halls can house student-led classes, club sign-up sheets, announcements, presentations, kids’ work, popular Web sites. Halls come alive when we see the tracks of the students who inhabit them. Hospitals are sterile; schools are not. Let’s not confuse the two.
Classroom Correspondents Classroom correspondents who keep everyone informed about goings on in the community are central to inquiry-based classrooms. Literary correspondents stay in touch with the bookstores and libraries through newsletters or occasional phone calls and report upcoming author signings and storytelling sessions. Broadcast correspondents follow radio and TV schedules and enter the day and time of important programs on a weekly chart. Film and drama correspondents report on films and theatrical productions of interest. Everyone tells everyone else about good books, magazine articles, films, plays, and TV programs read or seen, either through oral announcements or
Take Note of Real Events Classrooms engaged in nonfiction inquiry celebrate real events, real issues, real people, and real stories. They invite a veteran in to share experiences on Veterans Day. They study the electoral process during a national election They follow a breaking news story. Replicating real situations fosters inquiry and enhances understanding. To help students get a sense of their place in history, some teachers encourage kids to chronicle public and personal events in a scrapbook or on a time line. Birdie, a seventh grader, highlighted sixteen events, half public and half personal, from her birth in 1983 through the fall of 1994. Taking a scrapbook, she headed to the library and copied old newspaper headlines and magazine covers that marked important public events during her young life, including the space shuttle Challenger disaster, the Gulf War, and the arrival of the Colorado Rockies in baseball-starved Denver. Personal artifacts included her first lost tooth, a blue ribbon for diving, and a picture of her first day of kindergarten. Exploring public events alongside personal milestones helped her understand the relationship between her life and world affairs in the eighties and nineties.
Looking for support in improving assessment and grading in your school or classroom? Rick Wormeli has created a collection of resources that teachers, administrators, parents, and policymakers can use to tap into the principles and strategies in his best-selling book Fair Isn’t Always Equal.
The free collection, hosted by Stenhouse, features two extensive chapter-by-chapter study guides for Fair Isn’t Always Equal. One is for book study facilitators and includes tips on how to handle difficult conversations about controversial topics; the other is for teachers to use independently or in small groups.
You’ll also find videos and articles in which Rick addresses key issues such as late work and collaborating with faculty members who have different views about assessment and grading. Presently there are three videos:
“Affecting Change” offers advice for leaders on managing change with their staff.
In “Standards-Based Grading” Rick argues against the practice of assigning a zero as the lowest F on a hundred-point scale.
“On Late Work” explains why assigning a failing grade for a missed deadline is not the most constructive way of helping students improve their work habits.
More videos, articles, and podcasts will be added in the coming weeks.
Finally, a Q&A section shares real questions about assessment and grading that Rick has received from educators all over the world, along with his responses.
We hope to see you in sunny Orlando at this year’s NCTE conference this weekend. Stop by booth 717-723 to browse our latest books and meet our authors. Our booth will be buzzing with new and well-known authors all weekend:
Friday, November 19
2:30-3:00 p.m.: Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz, authors of Day by Day
3:00-3:30 p.m.: Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, authors of Strategies That Work
4:00-4:30 p.m.: Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, The Sisters, authors of The CAFE Book
My name is frustrated.
Today was a mad day.
Getting ready for school today, I did not talk to
anyone while eating breakfast.
At recess, I yelled at all my friends and told
everybody to be quiet.
At lunch, I couldn’t eat my lunch because it was
During spelling class, I could not spell any word
because my pencil broke and when I came back
from sharpening it was over.
That is what life is like when your’re frustrated.