I’ve been thinking a lot about comprehension. As a K-5 literacy coach, I get a bird’s eye view of our school and this view constantly has me wondering how we can all keep growing together. The last few years, I have noticed more and more kids in our upper grade classes telling me that their books have no problems…no big themes or lessons. “It’s just an adventure!”
Then last year, I found myself teaching a section of first graders virtually. I was excited for the opportunity to practice what I preach and dive in head first to curriculum. This time, I realized that there was a heavy emphasis on word solving strategies and the comprehension work was much less explicit. I was able to weave more comprehension work into our day through guided reading and read aloud. These practices had me wondering again, how can our school get better at this work together.
Much of the work I layered into my first grade virtual class relied on a story mountain. We practiced plotting events and then began to add in feelings, a natural way to tied in the Ruler program, developed by The Yale Center For Emotional Intelligence, that our school has been implementing for many years now. This comprehension work helped us to build our vocabulary for describing emotions and we were even able to plot them on the Mood Meter. All of this work made it easier to talk about how characters’ feelings changed and lessons they learned.
This past week, I found myself helping out in a kindergarten class. I wondered if I could take some of the work I did in first grade last year, to our youngest students. Armed with a copy of Corey T. Tabor’s Mel Fell, I gave it a try.
Mel Fell, is the sweet story of Mel, a young bird determined to fly, despite a few nerves. As she finds herself falling from her siblings and their safe nest, she passes many supportive friends, who try to help and provide bits of humor that had the kindergarteners laughing out loud. Finally, Mel flies back to the top of her tree, past her pals all cheering her on. This story fit perfectly with the kindergarten class mantra, “We can do hard things.”
After reading the story, we revisited the pages, talking about Mel’s feelings throughout the story. The students realized that sometimes, we can have more than one feeling at a time. They connected the work to Mood Meter, a brand new tool for them.
If I were the classroom teacher, I would begin to do this work for all read alouds, beginning to map out the events and feelings on a story mountain. This visual can help to fuel bigger conversations about the text. Ultimately, this bigger thinking work would also transfer to the students’ own reading.
I have a dream about what this work could look like across our school and for what it could mean for the way kids understand all the books they read. Mel’s can-do attitude is something I will keep in mind myself, as we begin to tackle this big work!