Read to Write: Making Meaning through the Character of a Story

Brian KissmanContinuing from my first blog explaining the “Readers Workshop Approach,” which New York Academy will be implementing this 2017-18 school year, I would like to share with you some basic “making meaning” strategies you can do at home reading with your children. NYA is committed to a strong school to home partnership; what you do at home to support your children to grow into passionate lifelong learners is incredibly important.

In fact, reading to and with our children is the single most important thing parents can do to support their children’s academic success.

And then, supporting children to write about the meaning of what has been read in open-ended ways is very effective to develop reading intelligence.

The following is a simple recursive strategy we use to grow students’ ability to think and make meaning about what they have read as a “habit of mind.”

By using a standard set of open-ended, deep thinking, meaningful questions to write interpretations and reflections about the main character of a story, we exercise our ability to make meaning and think deeply.

Sometimes anecdotal stories are very effective in making a point and “showing” how something works. So, I would like to share the following story with you.

I tutored Bernard in reading and writing for four years, once a week for a least an hour and half, and sometimes twice a week. We focused on developing his abilities to read to make meaning and then express his thoughts in writing.

Across four years, grade 3 through grade 6, we must have read well over 100 books together. At least fifty times we used the questions below to make meaning and think deeply about the main character of the story. Always, our aim was not only to answer these questions in sequence, but to do so by supporting answers with evidence – text to text, text to self, and text to world.

In the fourth year, and for the “50th time,” Bernard answered these questions by interpreting and reflecting upon a chapter in a Harry Potter novel.

Think about it. He answered these questions again and again across the years making meaning to progressively more advanced stories and novels.

His growth, demonstrated by responding to this Harry Potter novel, was simply off the charts! Bernard answered these questions supported by evidence, and he ended up writing 6 pages (12 pt. font in a Word doc). Before he shared it with me, he deleted all the questions, and indented his paragraphs. It read like a well-organized literary essay! Bernard had gained such a high level of automaticity with these questions, that his thinking became a habit of mind and quite profound. Fellow educators that read his “essay” thought that a university student had written it. His parents were very pleased!

Try it. Whether you are a teacher or a parent or a writer, you will be amazed by the results. Support your child to be a passionate lifelong reader. Exercise your ability to read to write and make meaning.

Meaningful Questions

Why did the character act this way?

Was it right or wrong for the character to act this way?

What did the character get from acting this way?

How am I like the character in this story?

What is the lesson learned?

How has this lesson changed the way I think?

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