Reading to Learn: Setting and Monitoring Your Purpose for Reading (page 2)
It’s important for our students to understand the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Early in the year, especially at the primary grades, we have our students compare fiction books to nonfiction books. It’s easiest to start with the books that address the same subject. For example, Doug read his students Tacky the Penguin (Lester, 1990) and The Emperor’s Egg (Jenkins, 2002). After read-aloud, Doug began by asking his favorite question, “What did you notice?” After students recounted details from each of the texts, Tawnya observed, “They’re different. One’s true and one’s not.” Doug followed up with a question about the evidence she used to support her conclusion. Students quickly started to grasp the key differences between fiction and nonfiction. They started by listing the realistic-looking illustrations found in The Emperor’s Egg, as well as the more cartoon-like features found in Tacky the Penguin. These students needed a bit of nudge to think about content, so Doug asked, “What did you notice the book was about?” They started to articulate that nonfiction books talk about true things and provide facts, whereas fiction deals with stories and things that are pretend or make-believe. As a follow-up, Doug used their criteria to think aloud as he sorted a small stack of books into fiction and nonfiction piles. This class convinced him that he needed to have a “both” pile for books like The Magic School Bus series, which contain informational text told in a narrative form.
Doug continued to move the discussion along by asking, “Why would someone read a fiction book?” and then “Why would someone read a nonfiction book?” It’s important for students to understand that we read books for different purposes. Most will say you read informational books to “learn about stuff.” Doug asked for examples of “stuff” they’ve learned from books (when there was a lull, he started to show covers of some recent read-alouds). After filling a chart, he stood back and marveled at all the information to be learned from books. He also reminded students that they “learn” from fiction as well as nonfiction.
The fact that nonfiction books contain so much information is definitely a benefit, but it’s also one of the reasons why our students find this genre so challenging. For example, a teenager was overwhelmed by all the facts in Exploring the Titanic (Ballard, 1988). She was frustrated because she didn’t know what the author wanted her to learn. It’s hard for our young readers to determine what is important because informational texts are packed with so many facts. That’s why setting a purpose is so important, because purpose gives readers a focus and structures the reading experience.
Great readers set their purpose and monitor whether it is being met. You may remember from the beginning of this chapter that Adam picked up a copy of Time because he wanted to learn about their assessment of No Child Left Behind. He started to read with specific questions in mind, which he hoped the article would answer: Is this legislation helping schools? If so, how? How can we improve this legislation? What do experts in the field say about this legislation? We want students to approach each text with a purpose and a plan for obtaining the information they want and need to know (Purcell-Gates, Duke, Hall, & Tower, 2002).
This is how Adam taught Dahlia and the rest of his fourth-grade class to navigate through text to find the information they needed for their animal reports. Their purpose became clear once the class had determined common questions, such as:
- How does your animal communicate?
- Where does your animal live?
- What type of food does your animal eat?
- Is it a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore?
- Is your animal nocturnal or diurnal?
- Is your animal an endangered species?
These questions guided their reading because they served as a framework for reading with purpose. Of course, we know that this is easier said than done. After his experience as Dahlia’s teacher, Adam taught his students how to read for purpose more explicitly by modeling the process for a class report on honeybees. To demonstrate how readers set a purpose for reading, Adam used the big book The Buzz About Honeybees (Costello, 2006) to answer some specific questions. For example, Adam was searching to answer the question, “How do bees communicate?” He picked up the book and showed his class how he used the table of contents to determine whether this book addressed the question. Adam explained that the table of contents was like using a shortcut because it allowed him to zero in on the specific part of the book that would answer his question. Dahlia called out, “There’s a section called, ‘How do bees talk?’. I bet we’ll find the answer there.” Adam also modeled how he could have used the index to see if the text addressed communication.
At the younger grades, we use picture walks to introduce reader’s purpose. Nancy shows the cover of Bread, Bread, Bread by Ann Morris (1989) to kindergarteners. “Let’s look at the cover. What type of information do you think we’ll learn in this book?” Nancy purposely uses the word information to help focus her students and reinforce the idea that this type of text contains facts. Suggestions range from how we make bread to different types of bread and to how to eat bread. As Nancy flips through the pages, she asks students to focus on the photographs. On one page they see photographs of bagels, pita bread, and a package of white bread. “I think I’ll learn about different types of bread on this page.” Nancy continues to turn the pages, modeling how she uses the photographs in order to understand the author’s purpose. She encourages them to notice the details in the photographs. By the end of the picture walk, the students are brimming with questions and can’t wait to read to see if the text will answer them. When the lesson is over, Nancy reflects with students on what they learned and what they still want to know about bread. She repeats this pattern many times throughout the year using informational texts of all kinds. By December her modeling has paid off. Even her nonreaders can read the photographs in nonfiction books to learn new information.
Of course, we don’t want our students to think that the only time we pick up a nonfiction book is when we want to answer a specific question. We want our students to understand that sometimes our purpose is to learn new things, and not to answer a specific question. When you are reading nonfiction text just for fun, any information you learn is a bonus.
© ______ 2009, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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