10: Making Connections

Earlier (See cognitive student strategies 5 and 6), we explored how background and prior knowledge are critical if students are to make sense of the new material they encounter.  In those strategy descriptions, we emphasized what students and teachers can do before reading a text to either build appropriate new knowledge or to activate the background and prior knowledge that will be relevant.  However, background and prior knowledge play key roles in understanding texts in other ways; intertextuality, the types of connections they make and the literary experience the connections offer students.

Intertextuality.  Intertextuality is a term that in modern use encompasses a variety of other, more nuanced, terms.  When one text shapes or informs the direction, tone, style, or meaning of another, we have intertextuality.  Allusion and parody are two forms of intertextuality when an author connects, borrows, transforms, or imports elements from another text.  However, the term is not limited to what authors do with their written work in relation to other works.  A reader, working with a text, may also connect patterns, themes, and characterizations from other sources read or encountered previously.  Intertextuality has been called a dialogue among texts (Foster, 2003) and our use of that phrase is a form of intertextuality.  In fact, making connections is rewarding; let’s connect this text with Foster’s text directly: “The basic premise of intertextuality is really pretty simple:  everything’s connected.  In other words, anything you write is connected to other written things” (p. 189).  Whether the source is cited (as convention dictates we should in this type of writing) or the source is Shakespeare, a religious text, or a movie that your students went to see last weekend, noticing and making connections between texts enriches the experience for every reader.

Types of Connections.  Here, we borrow from the work of Harvey and Goudvis (2000) whose strategies include teaching students to make connections of three types.  In text-to-self connections, students are encouraged to think about the background knowledge they have about their own lives and experiences and connect that with the texts they read.  Text-to-text connections are the sort of connections readers make and that we discussed in the paragraph above about intertextuality.  Text-to-world connections ask readers to notice the similarities and relationships between the background knowledge they have about the world and how it works with the text before them.  Harvey and Goudvis caution teachers and readers about tangential connections that do little to advance understanding of the text. Making connections is fun, of course, but the connections a reader makes today is tomorrow’s existing (prior knowledge and background knowledge) knowledge which enriches future reading with additional connections.  Students who make connections between and among themselves, their world, and the texts they encounter know how to pay attention to the attributes of each that make prediction possible.

Literary experience.  Teachers of literature often need students to notice the connection between the literature at hand and the literature from another time (last week, last year, two millenniums ago).  It is tempting to expect students, who may have read the source text, to simply make the connection between source text and current text.  Sometimes, they can’t. Our students are competent novices; they notice what we point out and tentatively make connections of their own.  Making connections is a kind of risk; you likely remember raising your hand and saying something like, “This story kind of reminds me of another one I recently read.” But when pushed to say why, it became difficult.  Connections take time, and the attributes of the connectors aren’t always readily apparent.  The more connections a reader can recognize, even with prompting from the teacher or text itself, the more the reader will be able to make connections solo.  That’s just how connections work—it’s exponential—so patience with students who don’t see what we see as experts in our disciplines is an important key to helping students take the risks associated with trying out a new connection.

Learning to Predict

  1. Daniels (1994) offers eight prompts for connecting a text to self, other texts, and the world. Connect reading to
    1. your own life
    2. happenings at school or in your neighborhood
    3. similar events at other times and places
    4. other people or problems
    5. other books or stories
    6. other writings on the same topic
    7. other writing by the same author
    8. things the reading just reminds you of
  2. Teach students to think about whether a connection is useful in constructing meaning about the text at hand or if it is just tangential or superficial. Modeling how to tell the difference is a sound instructional practice.
  3. Offer students the opportunity to read texts that are exportable. Smith and Wilhelm (2002) found that young men in high school like to read things they can talk about or export into a conversation.  They offer the example of a student who read the Wall Street Journal with the intention of using that as a foundation for discussion with his father.  Exportable text, while often easily captured and reduced to headlines, main ideas, and sound bites, offer students the chance to think of themselves as literate and to make connections as a result of the conversation.  Modeling, again, is a sound technique, but be certain to tell students what you are doing and why.
  4. Be patient and point out connections you see as a teacher. Ask students to elaborate or build on those.  Patterns detected from past encounters with text invariably translate to predictions during encounters with new texts.  Did you see the movie where the stranger rides into town, but the townsfolk are in trouble?  Even if you didn’t see it yet, we bet you know how it turns out.

Applications and Examples

Secondary Classroom.  Eric was assigned the role of “connector” for the discussion in his literature circle group (Daniels, 1994), but he did not know what to do.  The book his group had chosen to read was The Young Man and the Sea by Rodman Philbrick (2004).  You have probably already guessed that the book is built along the lines of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1952).  In Philbrick’s book, the narrator is Skiff Beaman.  Skiff’s mother has died, his father has given up on much of life, his father’s boat has sunk at the dock, and the town bully makes fun of him all the time.

“Mr. Wolsey, I have no idea what connections to make for discussion tomorrow.  I get that the story is about a big fish and a boat like Santiago from the old man book.  But what else is there?”

“Okay, that’s a pretty good start.  You noticed that this book is a lot like the book we read together in class last month.  Is Skiff at all like you in any way?”

“No way,” he said, “my dad sells cars and works hard, mom works at a school and isn’t anywhere close to dead.  No one at school makes fun of me, so no connection there.”

“You’re right, there’s not much to work with on that score.  Let’s try something else.  We read The Outsiders (Hinton, 1967) at the beginning of the year.  Do you remember how Ponyboy and Johnny felt when they had to live in the abandoned church by themselves?”

“Yeah, sure, they were pretty lonely.  Not only did the socs cut them out of everything or beat them up, their own friends didn’t know where they were.”

“They were pretty lonely. Hmmm.”

“Oh, I get it. Skiff must be lonely, too. I need to get this in my journal before discussion tomorrow.”

Eighth-grade students in Mrs. Jones’ class are also learning to clarify difficult passages and make connections through reading of “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe.  She stops at key points to ask students for predictions and clarifies points where she can connect her knowledge of Greek mythology with that of the poem.  Her lesson can be found in Figure 10.1.
[Insert Figure 10.1 about here]

Elementary Classroom. In their partner discussions during the read aloud of the Olivia books (e.g., Falconer, 2000), the students in Mr. Castagnera’s first grade class focused on what might happen to their favorite character.  To help them figure out what might happen, Mr. Castagnera focused on making connections.  As he said to his students, “When you can make a connection, you think like the character and then you might be able to figure out what will happen.  Of course, some authors like to be tricky and they give us clues that throw us off.  But that’s okay, making predictions helps us learn and remember, regardless if we’re right, right?”  Heads nod as the students wait excitedly for their teacher to start reading.

On the first page, Jacob says to Mariah, “I’m good at a lot of things, too. I bet Olivia is good at art because I am good at drawing things I do good.”

Later, when it’s Mariah’s turn, she says “I saw this show on TV, she had to change all of the time because she was scared.  I think Olivia is scared because she’s changing her clothes too many times.  She’s probably scared that she’s going to get in trouble.”

Figure 10.1  In her own words: Karen Jones, Nashville Christian School, Nashville, Tennessee.

After reading stanzas seven and eight in which the Raven is introduced, students make predictions and we clarify connections to other texts and world knowledge.

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—

Perched upon a bust of Pallas, just above my chamber door—

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling.

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

 “Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,: I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly, grim and ancient Raven wandering from the nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the night’s Plutonian shore!:

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore ”  

From “The Raven”, by Edgar Allan Poe

After some discussion, the students will probably arrive at the following clarifications on their own:

  1. The Raven is a metaphor for the lost Lenore.
  2. The Raven represents a messenger from the after-life.

However, the phrase ““perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—“ leaves the students a bit confused, so I ask them, “Why would the speaker have a bust of Pallas in his chamber?”  One student will probably ask who Pallas is, but if not, I will ask students if they know who this is.  After taking responses, I will then clarify to students that Pallas is a pseudonym for Athena. Students will think of one question dealing with possible connections between Pallas/Athena, the Raven, the speaker, and Lenore, and I will ask them to write it down in their journals.

11: Summarizing

Quick!  Summarize an article you read from the morning newspaper.  Be careful; this is trickier than it appears.  To complete this task, you might return to the article, reread it, and identify only the most important points.  If you took this approach, you were summarizing.  Another approach is to attempt to recall the article from memory.  If you take this approach, you are no longer summarizing; instead you are retelling.  Retelling and summarizing are not the same thing exactly, but the two are often confused.  In retelling, important points may be lost among all the details or may not be recalled at all. Retelling does have an important role to play in classrooms that value literacy. Moss (2004) points out that retelling is an important technique that teachers can use to understand what students know about stories they read, and they lead to better summarizing.

In summarizing, students must pay attention to the most relevant attributes of a text passage and determine which are most significant in relation to the rest of the text, the writer’s purpose, and the reader’s needs.  Summarizing and predicting share the characteristic of requiring the thinker to identify important attributes from among significant and less significant details.  Students who stop to summarize what they read are also more likely to notice the elements of the text that lead to better predictions as they work through the text.

Summarizing means making judgments about what is relatively important and what it not.  The structure of the source text tends to help students organize their summaries, and with texts that are poorly organized the student summarizer must compensate by reordering concepts (Kintsch, 1990) so they make sense in the final product. The ability to reformulate text to produce more sophisticated generalizations also appears to increase as students become older.  Of note for teachers: training in how to summarize has positive and measurable effects, as a study of seventh graders found (Rinehart, Stahl, & Erickson, 1986). The implication for teachers is that a student who could effectively summarize in fifth grade may need more practice and additional instruction in the eleventh grade.

Learning to Predict

  1. Teach students the difference between retelling and summarizing and let them know that both are important cognitive skills. Summaries can be drawn from accurate retellings.
  2. Provide models of well-crafted summaries, written and oral, using source texts students have read. Ask students to work with partners and in small groups to refine their summaries.  By comparing the work of others who have read the same material, students can compare the quality of their summarizations and learn from the transaction.
  3. Students can create summaries in stages as they work with manageable chunks of larger texts (Hidi & Anderson, 1986). These summaries may be combined and revisited.  Note-taking structures often incorporate summarizing (e. g., Callison, 2003).
  4. Provide time for students to reread and use notes and other written summaries as a basis for discussion and responding to texts. Ask students to use their summaries to predict what comes later in longer texts and to connect what they know from other sources.

Applications and Examples

Elementary Classroom.  Ms. Roberta Donahue is convinced that summaries are an important part of predicting.  She is so convinced of this that she has her fourth-grade students summarize newspaper articles several times per week.  She models good summary sentences and the class constructs several summaries together during the beginning of the year.  When she believes that they are ready, she asks members of the class to hone their summarizing skills at least three times per week.  Students cut interesting newspaper articles out and then attach summaries of them. Ms. Donahue reviews these in a reader/writer conference with each student as they focus on the main ideas, supporting details, and how the summaries help readers pay attention to critical information.  Ms. Donahue also notes “summary writing serves several purposes.  It aids in their prediction skills as well as their writing skills.  Over time, and with practice summarizing, my students write stronger papers.  They know what’s important, what they want to say and how to support their arguments with details.”

Secondary Classroom.  Jennifer Horvath scaffolds instruction such that students understand the concept of summarizing before moving on to more difficult texts (Figure 11.1).

[Insert Figure 11.1 and unnumbered table about here]

When Karen Jones’ eighth-grade students learn about devices in poetry, they begin by ensuring that they understand the main ideas of the poem through summarizing. In this case, students are reading “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe (Figure 11.2) and using summarizing tools to complete their assignment (Figures 11.3a and 3b).

[Insert Figure 11.2 and 11.3a and 11.3b about here]

Figure 11.1  In her own words: Jennifer Horvath, Mariner High School, Cape Coral, Florida.

This lesson is organized to teach students how to summarize and find the main idea of a piece of literature. I have designed this lesson for my 9th-11th grade intensive reading students. I have modified this lesson to meet the needs of students with learning disabilities by modeling the process of summarizing and finding a main idea with them.  My intensive reading classes are filled with many struggling readers. Most of the students are just a little below grade level and need extra practice reading to help them catch up, but I also have several students with different types of learning disabilities (LD). The students that I teach are able to function normally with the rest of the class but usually need “explicit modeling and explicit practice” as mentioned in the article by Gore (2004, p. 97). The lesson on summarizing will reinforce the skill for all of the students while also giving extra support to some students. I have incorporated a graphic organizer into this lesson by having the students complete a simple five question graphic organizer that you can see in the following table.

[unnumbered table to accompany Figure 11.1]

Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
           

 

Figure 11.2 In her own words: Karen Jones, Nashville Christian School, Nashville, Tennessee.

In this lesson I show how those strategies are incorporated. The lesson begins by displaying an overhead with examples of newspaper headlines and lead summaries. I will then discuss with the students what type of information is given to the reader in these items. Next, I will put up an overhead and take the students through each step of creating a summary and then from the summary creating a main idea. I use the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill” to model this process for the students. Once the class and I have completed the first summary together, I place the students in groups of three and have them complete the same assignment using a random nursery rhyme that I have provided for them. When the students are finished, we come back together as a class and the students volunteer to read their rhyme, headline, and summary to the rest of the students.

Figure 11.3a

SUMMARY STRATEGY:  Using a graphic organizer. (Ask students to complete the following steps.)

  1. Think of a time when you lost someone or something very important to you.
  2. Reread the poem, and then think about how the speaker’s experience compares and contrasts to your own.
  3. Write about the poem. In the first column, describe your experience and the feelings you have about it. In the second column, write about the speaker’s loss and summarize his feelings as the poet expressed them. In the bottom section, summarize your idea of who or what the raven represents and explain why you came to the conclusion.

Learn more about graphic organizers.

Name:  ____________________________

SUMMARY ORGANIZER

My experience: Character’s experience:
My summary/resolution statement:

 

12: Visualizing

In cognitive student strategy 4, Jason Lefevre told us about an elegant fishing story, The River Runs Through It (Maclean, 1976).  In that novella, the author describes the Big Blackfoot River.

The straight line on the map also suggests its glacial origins; it has no meandering valley, and its few farms are mostly on its southern tributaries which were not ripped up by the glaciers; instead of opening into a wide flood plain near its mouth, the valley, which was cut overnight by a disappearing lake when the great ice dam melted, gets narrower and narrower until the only way a river, an old logging railroad, and an automobile road can fit into it is for two of them to take to the mountainsides. (p. 13)

Now, close your eyes.  We’re going to summarize.

Summarize, with our eyes closed, you ask?  Of course, we are going to summarize visually.  With your eyes closed (we know—you’re peeking in order to read these words), imagine the Big Blackfoot River as the narrator of Maclean’s story described it.  Can you picture a mountain river in a valley so narrow there is almost no bank on either side; do you see and feel the water rushing through the gorge?  If you can see this river, then you have an idea about where much of the rest of the story takes place, and you will be able to use that information to make predictions about events in the story. When we visualize, we are summarizing but not with words.  The pictures we imagine when we read help us think about and reconceptualize the information in the text we have read.

Ten fourth-grader students worked with teacher Linda Parsons (2006) to think about what visualization tools they used as they read and how they engaged with texts.  These fourth-graders identified three dimensions of visualizing as they read: picturing, watching, and seeing.  “Picturing” did not involve movement.  In the passage above, you probably visualized a still image of the river, as if your construction of the image were a photograph or drawing.  “Watching” involved the young readers thinking of themselves as being in the story but unable to interact in it.  The students characterized this as the story occurring “in front of you” (p. 497) and the action is outside of the reader.  Readers who visualized themselves as being participants in the story or who feel they are experiencing it were “seeing.”  All of these dimensions were useful, and students proficient at visualizing moved fluidly from one type of visualizing to another as the story progressed. As they do so, they pay attention to relevant attributes of the story that help them construct the visual and that allow them to reduce uncertainty through increasingly fine predictions.

Besides the visualizations that are mental constructions of that which is not physically present, student readers also learn from the visuals that accompany some texts and they learn to create their own visuals digitally or on paper for others to see.  Smolkin and Donovan (2005) suggest that teachers should direct students’ attention to visuals that accompany texts and point out the connections.  Teachers may also direct students’ attention to specific features of the visual itself.  Pointing to a map, a teacher may say, “Do you see this dotted line?  It shows boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase. You will notice that it roughly matches several geographic features like the Mississippi River on the eastern side.” Further, when students learn to create their own visuals for others to see, they form deeper connections to the material and add additional layers likely to improve recall and text processing (e. g., Rakes, Rakes, & Smith, 1995).

 Learning to Predict

  1. Identify passages during shared reading, guided reading, or read-alouds where you can pause and ask students to visualize the scene, character, event, or condition.
  2. Provide opportunities for students to draw their visualizations of stories and nonfiction texts.
  3. Point out the visuals that the publisher or author includes with text. Identify how the visual enhances understanding of the textual material and what parts of the visual may require extra scrutiny.

Applications and Examples

Elementary classroom.  Jeri Sorensen asks her kindergarten through second grade students to visualize and draw as a means to check comprehension.

[Insert Figure 12.1a, 12.1b, and 12.1c about here]

Secondary classroom.

Figure 12.1a  In her own words: Jeri Sorensen, Mary B. Lewis Elementary School, Bloomington, California

I teach English language learners at the earliest levels of their development in Bloomington, California.  The students are in grade kindergarten through second grade.  Recently, students were working on several themes depending on grade level.  Kindergarten was learning about seasons, first grade worked on a unit about the farm, and second grade worked on a theme called “From Field to Table.” I wanted to check the students’ comprehension of material that was read to them, so I chose poetry as the genre.  The poem was a haiku I wrote about autumn.

Red, orange, yellow, brown

Falling gently to the ground,

Twirling, whirling leaves.

I gave each student a piece of paper and some crayons then asked them to close their eyes and listen to the poem.  I told them to make a picture in their heads then draw that picture on the paper.  The kindergarten student in the group, Allison, drew a line of leaves while the first grader, Kallie, drew circles around her leaves to show that they were spinning or twirling.  Another first-grade student, Michael, said, “The leaves falling down, the hairs are moves around.”  The pictures showed that the students understood the words in the poem.  Their descriptions of their drawings showed me a glimpse of where their oral abilities in English are, as well.

I used the same procedure in a third-grade, regular education classroom of 20 students using a poem about a tree, but the poem does not include the word “tree.”  Rather, it describes a tree.  After reading this poem, I again asked students to draw the picture they saw in their minds and to write a sentence to tell me about their pictures.

Figure 12.1b Myna’s illustration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 12.1c  Myna’s sentences.

13: Asking and Making Clarifications

Clarification requires readers to recall earlier predictions and points of confusion in critical evaluation of what the reader has encountered (Palincsar & Brown, 1984).  Students might think of clarification as a refining process by which understanding is enhanced.  To make a clarification, the reader must recall an earlier prediction (or a point of confusion) and determine which of the following apply:

  1. The prediction was accurate,
  2. The prediction was not accurate, which suggests that the reader has adjusted a construction of the text or its meaning,
  3. The prediction’s accuracy is still to be determined, but more information has been gained to inform or refine the prediction.

Learning to Predict

  1. As with other strategies, modeling by the teacher or capable others is a key for students to learn how clarifications are made.
  2. Clarifications can be at the focal level as students use context cues to construct word meanings, recognize connecting words to understand how sentences relate to each other, and note how events lead from one to another.  Clarifications at the global level about the overall themes of a story or main ideas in nonfiction also require modeling.  In other words, a student who is proficient at clarifying word meanings from context may not be proficient at clarifying how one story event connects with another.  The types of clarifications students are expected to make should be taught.
  3. Students need practice with clarifying, as with other cognitive tasks. Consciously thinking about clarifications that lead to better understanding leads.
  4. To record their predictions and points of confusion, students might be encouraged to use sticky notes to flag and record exactly where in the text the thought occurred.  Hashey and Connors (2003) found that students became more comfortable when they compared the concepts and vocabulary flagged with one another.  The clarifications students generated when they processed their predictions and confusing points as a class were more authentic.

Applications and Examples

Secondary classroom.  Students reading Call of the Wild

(London, 1915) in Mr. Wolsey’s class discussed the theme in small groups.  As they discussed the events of the novel, they became increasingly confused about how the events of the story were related. A prediction they had agreed upon earlier in their reading was that Buck would end his days side by side with his human friend, John Thornton. Why did Buck end up as the leader of a wolf pack?  What was the author’s point after finding friendship with a Thornton?  As the students struggled with the places Buck had been and where he ended up, Mr. Wolsey listened.

He thought that the text structure as outlined in the chapter titles might be helpful to them.  First, he reminded them of a movie character, Luke Skywalker, who seemed to have very little to do with Buck, at first. Students remembered that Luke had served as a model of a hero that was similar to another hero about whom they had recently read, Beowulf. Then, he pointed out the chapter titles.  In short order, they noticed the pattern, the heroic cycle, lent meaning to the story.  Like Skywalker and Beowulf, Buck had been on the hero’s journey (Campbell, 1968), an archetype that helped them understand that Buck’s journey returned him to his primitive home among the wolves.  By pointing out the text structure at the point in the discussion when the students most needed it and reminding them of prior knowledge they already had available, the students were able to make global clarifications about the theme of a novel that had previously left them confused.

Toni Kinsey’s sixth graders make predictions and clarify as they read about Michigan’s northern neighbor, Canada.  In her own words

In the section about European immigrants, prior to reading students look at the picture of the French and Indian war and see the suffering of the British. Without reading the selection students may predict that the French and people of the First Nations won the battle. Another prediction that students often make is that the areas in which most Canadians live are in the Southern regions. By looking at the map of geographic features students are able to predict the settlement areas prior to reading the section entitled, “Where do most Canadians live?” Further they may predict that the rugged terrain and cold climate in the North makes the newest territory, gained in 1999 by the Inuit, Nunavut, less habitable. Each of these predictions will become important to discussions later in the unit.

As they read, students need clarification about the reasons Canada is a multilingual and multicultural country. Students often accidentally call the English language, “American.” They frequently see people conform and become part of a homogeneous group. Middle school students fear being different and may forget the importance of cultural differences and traditions. I model clarification by referring students to the examples of many different cultures found in the textbook then discussing the many contributions each culture has made to our own and the notion of valuing differences. In order to find more information, I model and have students glance through the book locating the “Spotlight on Culture” boxes. By looking at these they will see the unique traits of many different cultures. We will discuss the notion of living in harmony as opposed to conforming.

Toni Kinsey, South Meadows School, Chelsea, Michigan.

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