In my introduction to "Improving Reading Comprehension", I narrated background information Jennifer Spencer provided about (1) five kinds of long-term memory, (2) Charlotte Mason's understanding of memory, (3) strategies for getting facts and information into long-term memory, (4) assessing reading comprehension, and (5) sources of three models of retelling/narration. Jennifer did not explain Charlotte Mason's model because Charlotte Mason educators were her audience, so I concluded with links to Charlotte Mason's writings about narration. In this blog post, I will describe the other two models plus Jennifer's hybrid and the results of her research. In my next blog post, I will narrate how I have applied her very practical session at home.
The first book Jennifer reviews is Read and Retell by Hazel Brown and Brian Cambourne. This book contains thirty-eight examples of descriptive, persuasive, argumentative, explanatory, and instructive writing. It outlines four steps in narration. First, teachers build a background by encouraging students to think forward to the story and predict the content, vocabulary words, and phrases based on the title of the story. Second, students read the text, orally or silently. Third, students retell the story in writing without peeking. Fourth, students in small groups share and compare retellings, figuring out how they differ from each other and differ from the texts. Then, they rewrite their narrations fixing altered meaning, omitted details, borrow ideas from other narration, etc.
Jennifer explains several aspects of this approach that seemed out of line with Charlotte Mason principles. She thought the method seemed artificial, not organic to the process of reading to know and telling what is known. The passages selected by the authors are not as literary as Charlotte Mason would have recommended. Moreover, Charlotte preferred whole, living books to excerpts and highlights. Finally, students are encouraged to reread the text, while Charlotte Mason emphasized a single reading.
Jennifer favored the second book in developing her hybrid model of teaching four aspects of narration (sequencing, connecting, interpreting, and narrating): The Power of Retelling. This developmental model of retelling enables children to add abstract, critical, and inferential thinking to their narrations. Developmentally appropriate strategies cover four stages: pretelling, guided retelling, story map retelling, and written retelling. The pretelling step is just like the first step of the earlier model (predicting content, words, and phrasing). In the guided retelling stage, teachers use concrete techniques to explain the structure of stories, identify elements of the story, and build background knowledge with related books. They also model narration for the students. In the story map retelling stage, teachers show student how to use abstract tools like graphic organizers to see patterns and highlight relationships between parts versus the whole, personal experiences, and various comparisons. This step enables students to move beyond exact retellings. The written retelling stage is very similar to the process explained in the earlier book. If this approach intrigues you and the book does not satisfy your hunger, one of the co-authors, Vicki Benson, holds seminars!
Jennifer's hybrid model includes living books and allows a single attentive reading. She chooses whole novels and builds background knowledge through picture storybooks and nonfiction trade books related to the novel. She recommends working through the developmental stages outlined in The Power of Retelling. She finds the best graphic organizer for retelling is a six-column Go! Chart with columns for prediction, vocabulary, understanding, interpretation (abstract ideas, theme, real meaning, tone, symbolism, inference), connection (with the phrase "__________ reminds me of __________ because __________), and retelling (beginning, middle, end). Her students write their ideas on sticky notes and place them on the chart. First, her students record pretelling in the first two columns (prediction and vocabulary). Next, they read the story and write notes on their literal understanding and interpretation in the next two columns (understanding and inference). They make connections and justify them in the connections column. They review their predictions, take down any wrong ones, and make new ones for future chapters. Then, they retell the story, keeping clear the beginning, middle, and end of the chapter. Finally, they create a comic strip with one square for each chapter to guide them when they write a narration of the entire novel at the end of the last chapter. Jennifer also encourages parents to hear ten minutes of reading aloud every day.
Jennifer flies through the results of the three areas measured by the Ekwall-Shanker Reading Inventory (oral reading accuracy, oral reading comprehension, and silent reading comprehension). After the pretest, she spent twelve weeks applying these ideas with a fourth grade class reading the novel Little Women. Then, she retested after twelve weeks and observed a leap of one to two grade levels in all three areas assessed.
In my final blog post about this breakout session, I plan to show how we are applying Jennifer's model at home.