How many times are assignments given out and we ask students to read a passage and respond to a certain set of questions? We have already predetermined what they should be getting out of the text, haven’t we? While at times this is important to help them and guide them through a text, when do we hand over those reigns and help guide the students through the thought process of self-learning?
All too often, there seems to be a confining nature within our reading instruction. At times, we allow little to no personal experience to be brought into the discussion of reading. Students are expected to get a “correct” answer regardless of what thoughts or experiences they have brought to the reading of the text.
Some wonderful connections and discussion have come from allowing students to authentically connect with the text and share those in the class. Discussions dealing with the text and personal experience help students feel valued and we educators can get to understand them and the experiences they bring to our classroom. A textbook company can put a “correct” answer in their answer key, but what each student brings to our classroom can change the relevance of that answer.
How do we help students free respond to their reading?
- Encourage them to share a personal connection.
- Have them summarize if they have trouble remembering long-term.
- Let them ask questions and share confusions in books or content area texts.
- When action gets exciting, students are often eager to share predictions and should do so.
- Let them give opinions about nonfiction topics, but encourage an explanation for their opinion.
- They can share any feelings that may have been stired up while reading their text.
- Encourage conflicting viewpoints and help validate the relevance of each side. It will be important for them to see most issues are not black and white.
In allowing free response, we can slowly turn the reigns over to our students. It takes some coaching and guiding to make the transition to self response. It puts them directly in charge of the reading experience. It is showing them that reading is NOT about getting a predetermined set of information, but being able to connect and learn based on their own needs. Particularly, when we are looking for their opinions and thoughts, indicating students have not come to the correct opinion or inference only serves to negate their life experience. By allowing them autonomy in their response, we are giving them the freedom to make sense of the world, discuss it, question it, and ultimately understand it better than when they first walked in the door.