Students enter my classroom, milling about as they retrieve their writing journals from the bin, and make their way to their seats. While a few glance at the image projected on the screen at the front of the room, most ignore it (and me) and focus on each other. It’s a typical day in my seventh grade ELA classroom.
The bell rings, kids settle as I quickly record my attendance, and I turn out the lights. I glance around to see that journals are indeed open, pencils poised, and I take a position in the front of the classroom, my journal and pencil in hand. The image is stage left of me. Above me, posted on the wall in shiny plastic, are speech bubbles with sentence stems. I had drawn large, cartoon-ish bubbles with a wide marker, written phrases in each, and after laminating and cutting them out had posted them before the first day of school. We used them that day, and almost daily ever since. Phrases included the following: “I believe ___ because…” “ I agree with X when s/he says Y, because….” “I see what X is saying, but I think….” “I understand what X means when s/he said Y, but I also think…” “I disagree with X when s/he says Y because…”. Just a few short weeks into the school year, my students know which one to use when, and even stop themselves and begin again if they haven’t used one in their initial statement. Some even correct others who begin without one. I expect this day to unfold in the same manner. How did I get here, to this point of patterns being internalized? How did my students learn phrases so well that they could (and did) use them even in their history class when analyzing DBQs (Document Based Questions)? Let’s look at how a lesson unfolds, and see.
Several years ago, I attended a session at an MRA (Michigan Reading Association) Annual Conference led by a docent from the DIA (Detroit Institute of Arts). Its topic– ‘reading’ images–intrigued me. I grew up east of Detroit, and visiting the art institute was a common family outing, so I was excited to see which of my favorite pieces would be utilized in this exercise. I came away with more than a rekindling of treasured memories. A few things stood out: with the lights out, students feel more anonymous, and are freer with their participation; the teacher keeps it simple with three repeated phrases:
- What do you see?
- What does it mean?
- Why do you say that?
The teacher repeats what each student says, framing the area the student is referring to with large hand/arm gestures, never making commentary (no “oh, good!” just simple parroting of what was said). I used this practice to ‘read’ images with my students for many years. When I learned about using images to spark conversations in argument writing, I adapted the questions slightly but used the rest of the same technique. Today is no different. Continue reading