Returning to the text invites deeper learning and understanding
Much of the writing we assign our students is public writing—writing to communicate with others. Writing-to-learn is personal writing, writing that helps students increase comprehension of texts—fiction and nonfiction—in all disciplines. Reader response compels readers to interact with the text and makes visible for readers and their teachers the depth of text comprehension. Reader response is a tool for thinking and unlocking the text. This is the tenth article in a series of columns on scaffolding writing-to-learn by teaching a variety of reader response strategies before, during, and after reading.
In classrooms everywhere, after reading a book, a chapter, or an article, one sound is commonly heard: the closing of that book or magazine. How are teachers to know what their students have read and what they have comprehended and learned from their reading? When students are reading whole-class texts, is a test the most appropriate assessment of comprehension and learning? When they are reading in book clubs or individually, how do teachers induce them to demonstrate their learning; return to the book, chapter, or article for even more learning; and train them to synthesize this learning by combining new learning with what they already know?
If teachers have been teaching and scaffolding preview responses and during-reading responses as described in the first six columns of this Write to Learn series, they have been able to monitor students’ reading and comprehension while they are reading texts. Therefore, there are two goals for after-reading response: to take readers back to the book (or other texts) to support synthesis of learning and to share that learning with others, either their classmates, their schoolmates, or the outside world. Post-reading presentations also serve to share texts with other readers with the goal of increasing classroom reading.
There are multiple benefits for inducing students to return to the text. The first time a text is read, the reader is dealing with the physical process of reading and decoding as well as encountering and adjusting to new characters and settings, and in the case of nonfiction, new, and often complex ideas. When students reread or even re-skim after finishing a text, they pick up additional information, going deeper because they have already covered the basics such as the plot and the topic. Rereading can let them make more sense and improve understanding of complex texts.
However, rereading is time-consuming, and there are not many students who would be inclined to follow directions to reread or even re-skim. Asking students to prepare a written, spoken, or active presentation based on reading effects a more willing, and even enthusiastic, return to text. When groups of eighth graders were assigned to collaboratively write a 5- to 10-stanza rap (1-2 for each act) based on their reading of Much Ado about Nothing, they dove right in, pages flying back and forth as they searched through the text, working diligently to create the best rap to present to their classmates. When walking down the hall after class, they were asked by another student what they had done in class; and were overheard to say, “Nothing. Just wrote raps. Fun.” After they presented their raps, which did illustrate deep understanding of the Shakespearean text including the characters, the plot, and theme, the teacher asked how many times they went back to the play, rereading scenes and discussing meaning. They looked surprised and said, “Too many to count.”
Text Reformulation—Why Poetry?
Text reformulation, in which readers turn the text into another format, can be implemented to not only let readers discover what they know and expand that understanding, but share that knowledge with others. The previous three columns in this series each shared one after-reading response strategy using a specific form of poetry—Found Poetry, I Am Poetry, and Poetry in Two Voices. Writing Found Poetry causes readers to look for important words, phrases, and details in the text, developing a theme or discovering meaning. I Am Poetry results in reading from different perspectives and digging deeper into a character or subject, while Poetry in Two Voices effects comparisons within text or between texts or the reader and the text.
Another way poetry can serve as text reformulation is for readers to rewrite text as a narrative poem, choosing only the most important details from each chapter or plot element to convert into stanzas. For more engagement, these narratives can be presented as a rap, as in the Shakespeare example given previously. A chapter in a history or science textbook, or an informational book, can also lend itself to a narrative poem or rap, as readers personify topics, as they did when writing I Am poetry (Roessing, 2019a).
Summarizing and rewriting Chapter 11 of The Giver as a quatrain, a pair of eighth graders wrote:
Jonas’ first time as Receiver, something occurred that was weird
When he was touched on the back by an old man with a beard.
He saw himself on a hill with some snow and a sled
Even though he was still in the Community, on top of a bed. (Roessing, 2009)
An additional advantage of going back to the book is that readers can metacognitively analyze both their new learning and how the text effected that learning. Readers can evaluate the effectiveness of the text and how text is structured and can consider author’s craft. Deliberation of author’s craft also serves to employ texts read as mentor texts for writing and to grow readers as narrative and informative writers.
Whether students are reading whole-class, book club, or self-selected texts, fiction or nonfiction, one effective and valuable after-reading response type is writing a book review. Readers can study mentor reviews, analyzing components and evaluating the components that make them effective. They will probably notice that all reviews contain certain elements:
- copyright date
- a short summary
- the reviewer’s opinion supported with examples
Students should also note that there are elements that appear in only some reviews, and there are elements specific to certain genres of texts. Some examples are
- format or text features
- number of pages
- reading level and/or interest level
- quotes from the text
- other texts by the same author
- author biographical information
- comparisons to other texts
When writing book reviews, it is necessary to think of the audience and the purpose of the review—whether it is to critique the work or entice others to read. An added advantage is that text reviews are a form of argument writing, a mode of writing required under all state standards. See figure 1 for a student book review of Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl.
Student Book Review
|Boy by Roald Dahl, Puffin Books, 1986, 176pp, $6.99, ISBN 0-14-130305-0
The author of the famous Charlie and the Chocolate Factory returns in his memoir of early childhood Boy by Roald Dahl. This book follows Dahl’s early life chronologically, giving part and piece of his life in little stories: The mouse scheme from first grade, the Matron from middle school, and the epic torture of fagging from high school. For only 176 pages this book has a high interest level, since the book is written from his adult perspective, older readers can connect to his experiences, while younger readers can enjoy the easy read and enjoyable stories. The book takes place mainly in Dahl’s early childhood, in his two schools, his vacation in Norway. As a young child Dahl was bold and adventurous, most seven year old boys wouldn’t put a rat in a candy store jar. This book shares all the exceptional writing and interesting stores as his other books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Matilda. In fact, most of his stories can trace back to the writing in this book.While there isn’t one single plot, but many plots, each are unique and entertaining. The story of the mouse scheme is full of suspense as the headmaster stares down all the little boys deciding which one it is he going to beat with his wooden cane. The horrid Matron who condemned boys to the walked down to be caned, and the “crack that echoed throughout the hushed hallways”. All of the characters have realistc personalities and are unique. The St. Peter’s headmaster who disliked beating the boys but liked seeing them learn their lesson. The candy store owner whose only pet peeve was children. The mighty Boazers, the testosterone loaded teenagers who loved beating up their little servant boys, like making them warm up an icy toilet. Finally, Dahl’s writing is creative and enjoyable, but it isn’t ever present. In some parts the lack of metaphors and vibrant descriptions lulls the reader into a trance of skim reading, for example, when he talked on about how he admired the bike rider and why he thought he was so cool. His writing does have its good though, for example, instead of just saying his nose was falling off he says its “Ding-Dangling” and instead of tobacco he says navy fine cut, and instead of fish he say flounder with honey glaze and pepper. With phenomenal storeis and characters, this book is a good ready for all ages. I would highly recommend this for a quick, easy, but interesting read.
Since writers appreciate writing not only as a review and reflection of their reading but for an authentic audience, teachers should make reviews useful to the public. There are journals and newspapers, even the school newspaper, that publish reviews, or they can be collected in a classroom binder, a class book blog, or on a school library website for other students to read when choosing books to read or texts to use as background reading. Some textbook companies may be interested in student reviews of their textbooks or chapters. See figure 2 for sample guidelines for a novel review (Roessing, 2019b).
Guidelines for a Novel Review
|Introduction, including essential elements: author, title, publisher, copyright date
Short Summary, 1-paragraph that includes all major characters, setting, and plot elements: exposition, inciting incident, conflict, climax, resolution
Opinion, 1-2 paragraphs:
Your critical analysis of the novel (or the assigned novel element)
Text evidence and quotes, supporting views (include page numbers)
Conclusion: Summarizing statement about novel or statement about the theme
A book review requires that readers return to the text for details, thus aiding additional learning from the text. Reviews, contrasted with reports or summaries, also necessitate reflection and synthesis. Readers need to reflect on what they know about story elements as it pertains to a novel, or text structure and features of informative writing when reviewing informational texts—nonfiction, textbooks, or articles—as well as author’s craft, in their evaluations.
When students write reviews of textbooks or chapters, they evaluate the writer’s style—how the author explains material that is new to learners. They also consider how the material is presented: how it is chunked and organized, the use of subheadings, the means by which new vocabulary and terminology is presented, and how text features such as charts, graphs, illustrations, diagrams supplement text and aid learning. In doing so, readers are activating metacognition and analyzing their own learning styles, what works for them, and why or why not. This also is true when readers review articles and other nonfiction texts.
Less comprehensive than book reviews, book talks are valuable as not only post-reading reflections but as advertisements for a text, persuading others to read the text (again, a form of argumentation). With guidelines (see figure 3), book talks will require returning to texts, preparation, and analysis and evaluation of the text—both critical thinking skills. An added advantage is that students will learn and practice public speaking proficiencies.
Book Talk Guideline
|Content & Organization:
1. ___Attention Step – begin with an Audience Hook
9. ___Eye contact with entire audience
While any response can be written by a collaboration of small groups of readers who have read the same text, the responses detailed above are customarily individual response types, illustrating individual reader’s reflections on their reading and synthesis of their learning. Another type of response is collaborating on presentations for others who have not read the text. These more active response types employ writing scripts or designing storyboards and encourage the engagement of students’ multiple intelligences: linguistic, mathematical, musical, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and environmental.
Described in greater detail in The Write to Read: Response Journals that Increase Comprehension (Roessing, 2009) and Talking Texts: A Teachers’ Guide to Book Clubs across the Curriculum (Roessing, 2019b), some options are listed below, although students will create their own possibilities when permitted choice.
- Book Trailers, which are much like the traditional movie trailers
- Skits or Puppet Shows of 4-5 key scenes connected by a narrator
- Plot or Character Book Bag Presentations retelling the story through objects
- Talk Shows in which a moderator interviews characters and/or experts in the topic
- Newscasts or Newspapers based on the world of the text
- Trials of characters in novels or people in the subject area of a text or article
- Cartoon Strips/Graphic Books, which outline the story or text
- Songs or Musicals based on the texts
After-reading reader response can be individual, collaborative, or even interactive as response invites readers to return to texts for deeper learning and understanding.
Roessing, L. (2009). The write to read: Response journals that increase comprehension. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Roessing, L. (2019a). After-reading response: “I Am” poetry for synthesizing text. AMLE Magazine, 7(2), pp. 40-44.
Roessing, L. (2019b). Talking texts: A teachers’ guide to book clubs across the curriculum. Lantham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.