My job as literary support allows me to work with many students.
This past week I worked with a group of first graders. We were supposed to read a story and then they would use a little spinner to answer story element questions. Each student had their own book so we took turns reading. While one student was reading, the rest were supposed to be following along with finger, eyes and mind, all while they were listening to the reader. That task in itself was difficult for many, they seem to think that if someone else reads they can zone out.
It turns out we never made it to the spinner, I could see that even though we were reading the words, there was not a lot of understanding going on. I decided it was time to “teach” check for understanding.
My district is transitioning from a scripted reading program that doesn’t teach "the love of reading", to Common Core that also doesn’t teach "the love of reading", but at least with Common Core there is a bit more flexibility than something scripted. These scripted reading programs don’t have you teach reading skills and strategies, they talk about them. They are also a "one size fits all" program. So, these firsties have been told that they must check for understanding but they haven’t been shown, haven’t tried it, or even had to practice, let alone believe it is something they must do every time they read. The only time they “check” is when they decide to go back and look for an answer to a question.
I decided to take this opportunity to teach check for understanding. Instead of just reading the story and then asking questions at the end, we stopped after reading each page and I had the students retell what they just read. We had to re-read each page because they could not retell with accuracy what they just read. After retelling what they read I would ask them questions and if they still couldn’t answer we would re-read and find the sentence, phrase or word that answered the question. Some of the students were getting impatient because all they wanted to to was read the words, they didn't get why we were constantly checking our understanding.
I only had 20 minutes with each group. I don’t know that in those 20 minutes I convinced them of the importance of checking for understanding or that they should retell what they read before they turn the page. I don’t know that I will continue where I left off next week. But what I realized is that for many of these students, reading is simply reading the words, not immersing one’s self in the story itself. That makes me sad.