Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Big Ideas, Big Challenges

There's a book on my shelf called Teaching Children to Care and although it's about dealing with conflict and "character education" it could well be the title of my research work into higher order thinking at the moment.  It seems that one of the prime ingredients in having students develop new ideas, synthesize or create opinions is that they care about what they are reading.  I've been introducing "Big Ideas" in our reading work, these are ideas from the reading that you can follow, gathering information as you read to support the idea.  In their most basic sense they could be something like "Maniac Magee is a nice boy" and then cite evidence of him helping young children untie the knots in the shoelaces.  A more global "big idea" might be "In a community it's important to take care of each other" which came from our current read-aloud Number The Stars.  I know that for many children getting to that global sense will be a step, although I believe many can make it.  I'm also realizing that for many students the first step is to care about what they're reading.  As I wonder about what would help a student care about their reading, I think the real first step is to think about what they're reading.  I'm still surprised at the number of students who can't tell me anything about a book they're reading.  What goes on for the student who is reading and not remembering or thinking?  Are they reading at all? Perhaps they are reading, as in de-coding words but not understanding what they're reading.  A major component of most literacy instruction is self-monitoring for understanding, but what if that monitoring is not functioning?  If a book falls open in the forest and no one remembers anything that happened, did it make a sound?
I'm old enough to remember the glory days of television bashing (yes, this was long before video games or home computers) so I'm loathe to sound like my parents complaining about young whippersnappers who can't sit still.  I do have other theories however.  One is that when children are exposed over a long period of time to screen programming (games, movies, etc.) that is mature in nature whether in terms of violence or emotional (romance, sex, family issues) content they develop an ability to accept not understanding what they're seeing but still enjoying the experience because sooner or later something will either blow up or a character will remove most or all of their clothes.  I have no scientific research to back that up, just conversations with students who when asked about what they were reading couldn't tell me anything but could vividly relate the R rated program they had watched the night before, at least in terms of the violent actions, although were unable to offer any thoughts about why the things were happening in the program.
Before we devolve into a wholesale rant about children watching adult content (which I'll probably end up writing about before too long anyway)I'll return to the original idea.  What I'm finding is an important thing to consider in teaching about finding big ideas, ideas that can develop students higher order thinking skills, in reading is that students need to think about reading before speaking, or writing about reading.

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