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Keene & Zimmerman's Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader's Workshop (1997): Summary and Impressions of Three Chapters from the Text
Having carefully read Chapters 5; 7; 9, 10 of Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman's Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader's Workshop (1997), I have found each of these chapters uniquely inspiring, thought-provoking, and refreshing, not only in terms of ideas discussed by the authors about the teaching of reading, but about reading (and other life processes, activities, and events) itself. Most importantly, from a professional perspective, these three chapters from Mosaic of Thought have provided me with additional insights and new understandings about reading processes and behaviors of young students, described by Keene & Zimmerman. Especially interesting to me was the authors' discussions of what seem the inherent or automatic reading processes of those students who might be considered either "stronger" or "weaker" readers within typical classroom settings.
Summary of Chapter Five: "The Essence of Text: Determining Importance"
A. Key elements. Key elements from Chapter Five, "The Essence of Text: Determining Importance," included ways of determining, for oneself as well as one's students (to illustrate their points about this, the authors used examples not just from reading itself, e.g., from Susan Griffin's book A Chorus of Stones: A Private Life of War, but also of dilemmas from "real life," e.g., Ellin's career vs. her attention to her child, Elizabeth, e.g., "I need to take Elizabeth to the library more" (p. 75); Ellin's catching up on work vs. participating in more pleasurable activities, e.g., Ellin's thought that "Maybe it's essential to plow through the pile on my desk (but I don't think so!"). More implicitly, the authors also compared and contrasted, within this chapter, processes (often more automatic for some readers than for others) of identifying and defining "essence(s)" within texts and "essence(s)" within life (or one's day, or within any individual experience or process). Also suggested within the chapter was the idea that it is important, for a teacher who hopes to be able to bring out the best in student readers, to understand and recognize the fact of each reader's unique processes, of identifying and finding meaning in texts.
Another important central idea, within Chapter Five, that I came to understand in a new way, is that reading, like all life processes, involves a series of individual realizations about, and prioritizations of, important aspects of a text, based on interest, past reading (and/or real life) experience, and other factors unique to every reader. Thus, the authors suggest, components of a written text (arguably like components of life itself) will be more or less important, relevant, interesting, etc., to a reader (or not) during reading processes. A key task of a teacher wishing to facilitate student reading, then, is to find ways to encourage each student to make his or her own meaningful connections, between himself or herself, individual experience, understanding, and the reading of a given written text or texts. For students who make such cross-connections less easily or automatically than others, the task of the reading teacher becomes, to describe and model as well as possible, for that student, "good reader" reading behaviors that might enable those students to themselves make their own such connections, while reading, as well.
B. An example of how the material can be applied within a classroom setting with one student or a small group of students. Within this chapter, I was struck by the authors' description of Jeremy (pp. 83-89), a student who was having difficulties not so much with reading itself, but instead with picking out what was and wasn't important within a textbook passage, "Lexington and Concord" (which did not especially interest him). Often, as the authors observe, students like Jeremy find textbook reading (referred to in this chapter as "inconsiderate" reading, since it is not "written in a way that its content and format are familiar or predictable to a particular reader" (p. 87), as opposed to "considerate" texts, e.g., novels, children's stories, etc. Although the authors did not make it entirely clear, in this case, whether or not they had actually helped Jeremy solve his problem with "inconsiderate" texts in its entirety, one partial solution they tried (or a version of it) seems like it might work well, for similar types of classroom reading problems, with "inconsiderate" and "considerate" texts alike, for either one student at a time or small groups of students. This was the technique of giving students who have trouble identifying important ideas within texts a colored marker (or maybe several of them, in different colors) and asking them to pick out: (1) important ideas, in red (or some other color); (2) less important ideas (in a different color); (3) the most interesting ideas (in another color); and (4) the least interesting ideas (in yet another color). This could also even be done at the word, sentence, and/or paragraph level. I have read some articles that suggest reading instruction is effective when combined, when possible, with other types of experience (e.g., tactile experience). So this exercise, it seems to me, would be a good one to try, especially with slower or more "bored" readers, one-on-one or in small groups, or maybe even with a larger group of students.
Summary of Chapter Seven: 'A Mosaic in the Mind: Using Sensory Images to Enhance Comprehension'
A. Key elements. This chapter begins with various examples of written material, and mental images of the authors' springing from that written material, replete with sensory images. The major argument of this chapter is that the conjuring up, in the mind, of sensory images enhances (and can be used by reading teachers to encourage enhancement of) reading comprehension. Sensory images have to do with the five senses: sight; sound; taste; touch, smell. Sensory images, the authors further suggest within this chapter, also often encourage recall of past events, which can, in turn, add to the current relevancy, or interest-level, of a written text, for a student reader or for any reader. A poem by Jane Kenyon, called "Three Small Oranges," the language of which is rich with sensory imagery, is used at the beginning of this chapter to illustrate how automatic (and easy) it is, in the course of everyday human experience, to vividly recall sensory images from written texts, while going about everyday activities. Such recollections, creating automatic cross-fertilizations of meanings between written text and real life, serve, the authors imply, to make richer; more significant, and more personally clear and memorable.
In other parts of this Chapter, Ellin Keene recalls various instances of when she, as a staff developer in the Douglas County (Colorado) schools, she would visit various teachers' classrooms (e.g., those of Enid Goldman; Paige Inman, Todd McLain, and others, and sometimes experiment with the technique of encouraging students to conjure up sensory images from texts they had listened to being read aloud. One such instance took place within Enid Goldman's eighth grade class at Parker Junior High. On a visit to this classroom, Ellin started out by reading aloud to these (initially bored) eighth grade students from a picture book called Where the River Begins, by Thomas Locker, "to help the students describe sensory images I was sure they'd had, but to which they probably hadn't paid conscious attention" (p. 128).
At first, the students felt that both the picture book and the reading aloud exercise were rather childish for their age group. However, as Ellin persisted in both reading the text aloud and asking the students to describe the sensory images they imagined while listening to the story, first a few, and then more of them began, enthusiastically, to describe not only the sensory images they were now visualizing, but their own past relationships to such images as well. As Ellin later concluded, of this slow-starting but ultimately rewarding (for her, the regular teacher Enid, and the students):
These kids showed us that images come from the emotions as well as the senses. Readers take the words from the page and stretch and sculpt them until the richness of the story becomes the richness of a memory replete with senses and emotions. Words on the page become recollections anchored in an unforgettable image of one's own making (Mosaic of Thought, p. 130)
B. An example of how the material can be applied within a classroom setting with one student or a small group of students.
In this chapter, I found Ellin's example of her reading-aloud experiment with Enid Goldman's eighth grade class both thought-provoking and inspiring. As an example of a similar, related exercise, this made me think about one of the most challenging kinds of reading, for students or anyone: the reading of plays (as opposed to, say, acting in them or seeing them performed). It also occurred to me, though, after reading this chapter, that plays, including not just their dialogue but their stage directions, and sometimes even the names of the characters, are replete with sensory images. Based…[continue]
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