Gary Soto's Help Wanted ADDITIONAL TEACHING SUGGESTIONS
Reader-response journals empower young readers to find personal meaning in their reading. Rather than summarizing to prove they did the assignment, or guessing what the book was supposed to mean according to the teacher or study guide, readers become accustomed to making their own meaning out their reading, making personal connections to it, thinking about their reading at more than just a surface level.
Students write in their reader-response journals at regular intervals according to the teacher’s requirement, such as writing at the end of every chapter or even after important events in the story. Teachers then read what students have to say about their reading and write responses to their students in the form of comments in the margin, paragraphs at the end of a chapter or whatever length and format the teacher arranges.
When students first begin using reader response journals, teachers have commonly experienced two pitfalls that are easily avoided; one is students simply summarizing what they have read, and the second is students revealing their emotional reaction to the book without explaining why they feel the way they do. In “Reader Response Journals: You make the Meaning . . . and How,” (Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 39.5, 380-385) middle school English teacher, Linda R. Berger tells how she came to the realization that
“the inspiring slogan “You Make the Meaning” [which Linda displayed in her classroom] was totally useless to my seventh- and eighth-grade readers if they did not know how. It dawned on me that even though I was no longer the authority in my classroom, my students needed me to be the coach. As Louise Rosenblatt states, “Teaching becomes a matter of improving the individual’s capacity to evoke meaning from the text by leading her/him to reflect self- critically on this process ([Rosenblatt] 1976, p. 26)” (381)
Linda and her class worked their way through this issue and came up with four questions (with examples of the kinds of ideas the reader might come up with) that worked well for their reading of poetry, short stories and novels. These questions are “What do you notice?” “What do you question?” “What do you feel?” And “What do you relate to?” (381).
Under the first question “What do you notice?” Linda give students examples of the kinds of things they might notice, such as changes in characters’ personalities, patterns in the plot, events that might be important later or unusual aspect of the opening or ending? (381).
Under “What do you question?” Linda gives examples for the reader such as questions about the book’s realism, questions about parts the reader does not understand, or questions about connections between the author’s life and the story. (381)
For “What do you Feel?” students might, for example, list specific emotions and what in the book caused them, and any changes in feelings about any aspects of the book. (381)
“What do you relate to?” might include anything in the book that makes the reader remember anything from her/his own life and a discussion of that connection to the book. (381)
The reader response journals are excellent springboards for discussion and writing, too. Students who might normally find it difficult to talk in a large or small discussion book can refer to their reader response journals and share some of their thoughts and feelings, having already thought them out. Students can also use the journal as the prewriting for papers about a book, having a well-developed set of ideas already generated.
Silent Discussion involves choosing five or six provocative quotations from a book students are all reading or have just finished reading and writing a different one of the quotations in the center of one of five or six large pieces of butcher paper (three to four feet long) placed on tables spread out around the classroom. Students work in five or six groups, one starting at each table, each person equipped with a colored marker and a black or blue pen. Each group has a leader who takes the group through the activity. As this activity begins each group reads the quotation at their table and discusses it to the degree necessary so that everyone understands where it came from in the story and what it means,. Then each person (The big piece of butcher paper and the table make this possible for everyone in the group to do at once) uses his or her colored marker to write a response to the quotation. The response might be agreement with the quotation and an explanation of why, or disagreement and an explanation of why. It could be a connection to real life today or any other response that occurs to the student. After about five minutes or whenever students seem to be ready, the teacher signals and each group rotates to the next table and repeats the process until every group has been to every table.
The next time around, as students begin at one table, they switch to their blue or black pens. They read as many of the responses to the quotation as they have time for before choosing one especially interesting response and responding to it (in an appropriate tone). Again, every five minutes or so, the teacher signals and groups rotate to the next table until they have been all the way around to every table.
When the groups have made the two complete circuits and every banner now has a quotation, colored responses to the quotation and blue or black responses to the response, the groups all stop. They choose one especially interesting colored response and all the blue or black responses that were written to it. Then each group presents the butcher paper at their table as they tape December 19, 2005, explain where it came from in the book and what it means. Then they read the responses they chose and explain why they chose them. The colorful butcher paper posters can stay up on the wall for a few days as the teacher sees fit.. one
Movie poster: Students create and present movie posters based on their speculation about a movie based on their book.
Posters are created on heavy 18” by 12” art paper but could be much larger depending on what facilities are available for working on these, such as large tables rather than just individual student desks. Requirements for what the poster must include can be modified as the teacher sees fit, but basically they should resemble a real movie poster with:
Letter writing: Letter writing can take many forms, all of which should be tied in to state writing standards and used as an opportunity for improving writing skills.
One way of using this activity is to have students write to the author. One strength of this activity lies in the fact that if you actually send the letters to the author, students’ level of concern that the letter be well-written will be greatly enhanced. As the you take students though the steps in the writing process (prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing), you may want to begin with a whole class brainstorming session in which the group comes up with what would be appropriate content for the letter, such as:
Young adult authors speaking at conventions who refer to letters they receive from classes that read one of their books, request that consideration be given to them and their time by the following practices:
Another way to use letters is to have students write letters from one character in a book to another, using elements of the plot to demonstrated their understanding or engagement with the book.
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