Friday, 30 January 2015

Helping pupils interpret what they're reading.

I've written this before, so ignore it if you've read it.If you are interested in going beyond 'retrieval' and 'inference' with your pupils, students - or indeed with yourself, and you want to help anyone get into 'interpretation', here are four open-ended questions which you can use as a kind of core method:

1. Is there anything in this text that reminds you of anything that has happened to you or to anyone you know?

2. Is there anything in this text that reminds you of anything that you've ever read, or viewed as, say, a play, film, TV programme, etc.?

3. Is there any question that you would like to ask the writer or anybody or indeed any 'thing' in this text?

4. Can you answer any of those questions yourself?
In ideal circumstances, the best framework for asking these questions is small groups - with some larger group sharing. 

Each of the questions can have supplementaries - particularly for older students e.g. 'why do you think that moment in the text makes you think of that particular thing that happened to you/ or that you've read in that other book?' Those supplementaries will take students to close points of comparison and difference.
As a teacher or enabler, you have to be patient, accept what might appear as banal, or off-beam, in order that pupils and students can feel confident and entitled. And you have to have an open belief in the power of the groups and the larger group to debate and arrive at points of agreement and disagreement. In classes where there has been some tension between people, you insist on the 'respect agenda' i.e. 'do as you would be done by'. 

In an atmosphere, where this kind of process happens quite often, the teacher/enabler can offer his/her thoughts but it's always advisable to not swamp the pupils'/students' voices. The cunning use of 'I don't know' when pupils and students ask you for definitive answers can generate more debate not less!