Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reading Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web was the first book I remember reading on my own. I didn't go to a school where children were taught to read with authentic books in first grade. We had lots of books in the classroom and we listened to a lot of read alouds, but I really can't remember reading by myself for most of the year. We did round robin reading from a textbook in groups. I didn't dislike the approach. I can remember looking forward to my turn to read in the group. I didn't mind it mostly because I was a strong reader and a fast learner. What I do remember is borrowing Charlotte's Web by E.B. White from the school library and reading it in the classroom toward the end of the year. I was captivated, transported to a new world. This was the book that led me to discover the magic of reading. I wanted to share that same feeling with my first graders (a vast majority of whom will not be reading Charlotte's Web this year, and many who might not even get there next year).

A coworker warned against it saying it was too hard for the ELLs and they wouldn't understand. I couldn't help but think about what one of my professors from my masters program said, "It would be a crime to withhold English from the children." She is a bilingual educator and strongly believes in dual language education. What she meant was that we owe it to the children to give them the best possible programs like dual language so that they can learn English at school to the best of their abilities, so they can transfer the knowledge of their first language to English. This statement was ringing in my head like a broken record. I have done a lot of read alouds this year and I just had this feeling that my students were ready for some magic, so I began one day.

Now, usually when I do a read aloud, it involves a chart with vocabulary and pictures and reflections. Sometimes I have a K-W-L or a character web. I just didn't feel like doing any of this with Charlotte's Web. I wanted them to have a pure experience in listening to the story. I wanted them to envision what they were hearing and to absorb the language as it is written. So I decided to implement a few strategies I thought would support them while not over-scaffolding. The first is bilingual preview, view, review. This is where I preview the text in Spanish (for my new arrivals) before reading it. Then I read the text as written in English, and we recap in Spanish. I scaffold for vocabulary by doing a lot of vocabulary-related think aloud and drawing little sketches on the board as we read. It's usually only 1 or 2 words per chapter. I'm also doing think aloud for higher level literacy skills like envisionment, inference, prediction, and even some for basic comprehension. The students think aloud at times too and I don't discourage it.

All I can say is that my class is captivated. Even my recent arrivals sit there in awe of the way the language sounds. My students are silent throughout the reading of entire chapters. I can see their eyes processing it all. Sometimes one of my new arrivals will repeat certain words to himself as I am reading. I've even heard him translate little things to himself without interrupting at all. It shows me he's following. For example, every time the goose talks he utters, "el ganzo" quietly to himself. His eyes light up when I do the Spanish review and he chats away with his turn and talk partners when I prompt them at the end of the chapter. When I am finished, they beg me to know the title of the next chapter.

This is the pick-me-up I needed right now. I was feeling really down about my job, the profession in general, my school, even my students at times. No matter how many programs the system tries to shove down our throats and infiltrate our classrooms with, we will always have authentic literature to bring us back to life.


Capt. Schmoe said...

That's what it's about isn't it? The joy of a well told tale, taking us to a place we've never been.

As soon as I read the first sentence of this post, I started to smile.

Miss Deiss read it to us 43 years ago at Jefferson Elementary, I will never forget it. I read it to my kids as well.

As wonderful as the memories that I have of the experience are, I am sure that your students will enjoy the experience you are giving them equally as much.

Strong work P.I.C.

miss brave said...

How funny -- I am reading Charlotte's Web to my class right now too! Yesterday, we were discussing the part when Wilbur doesn't win first prize at the fair, and I asked the class what they thought of Templeton's suggestion that Wilbur might end up as bacon if he didn't win. A lot of them thought the Zuckermans might still kill Wilbur. I said, "But why would they give him a bath if they were planning to kill him?" and one of my students immediately responded, "They want clean bacon." Yikes!

It sounds like your kids are loving it -- that's so great!

Sarah said...

When I taught kindergarten, I would read this aloud to them at the end of the year. They loved it!! Such a great book!

Edris Goolsby Harrell, Ph.D. said...

The little boy translating out loud warmed my heart! He demonstrates what most ELL students are doing in their heads. I do workshops on appropriate instruction for ELL students (see my blog: Would you mind if I spoke of this anecdote, mentioning your blog?

peace in the classroom said...


Thank you for your comment. You may absolutely share this anecdote! It is so important to understand what our ELLs are experiencing and how they are acquiring language.

Ms. Peace