How Can I Help Students Read Better?

Using Drama to Foster Interpretation:
Activities
1. Oral interpretation of a poem. Select a poem or short excerpt from a story or novel and plan an oral interpretation of that text. Determine the meaning you want to convey through your pacing, emphasis, rhythm, tone, sounds, and nonverbal cues. Then, perform your oral interpretation for your class or create a video of your performance to be shown to the class. Garner some responses regarding the meaning that was conveyed through your performance to determine if the conveyed meaning matches your intended meaning.
2. Storytelling. This storytelling activity was developed by Sarah McArdell Moore, Madison, Wisconsin. Chose a partner, tell them a story—any story, something that is comfortable for you. Topics could be a childhood memory, an apology, a surprise, a recent challenge, or any number of things. Give the story a beginning, middle and end, give it details. Each person will have 3-5 minutes. After both people are finished give the students 5 minutes to write down the other person’s story. Now tell the person back their own story.
3. Warm-up activities. It is always important to include warm-up activities when engaging in drama activities to help group members achieve a comfort and trust level in doing activities together.
4. Create a drama adaptation. Working as a pair, select a scene or scenes in a story or novel or an entire story and adapt to a play with only dialogue and stage directions. Consider how you are relying solely on the dialogue to portray characters’ traits, attitudes, agendas, and goals. When you have completed the adaptation, read it aloud to the entire class, each of you assuming one or more of the characters’ roles.
5. Create dialogue for two characters. Working as a pair, create two characters, give them names, and put them in a situation or scene. Create about 10 – 14 lines of dialogue for the two characters, including an initial description of the situations or scene. Read aloud your dialogue to your class, each of you assuming one of the character’s roles.
6. Devise a drama unit. Select a play and develop a unit for teaching that play. Include activities that involve making inferences about characters’ traits, beliefs, attitudes, and agendas based solely on their dialogue. Also include activities involving study of stage directions and play production so that students could envision how they would produce a play. And, have students perform parts of the play in small or large groups. Ideally, include a field trip to view a play production.
7. Create Shakespearean language. Based on their reading of a Shakespeare play, have students create their some dialogue or insults using iambic pentameter or other uses of figurative language. Have students perform their dialogue or insults in the class.
8. Study film adaptations of a play. Select clips from several different film adaptations of a play, for example, Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, and compare the differences in the interpretations of the play in these different adaptations. Have students compare the extent to which the adaptation is faithful to the original text, as well as how alterations in the adaptation created new meanings for or interpretations of the play. Have students compare differences between watching a live performance of a play and viewing a film adaptation of a play.
9. Create skits based on students’ lives. Have students create skits based on their lived-world experiences. Working in small groups, students brainstorm ideas for a skit derived from interpersonal conflicts or difficulties.
Trust Work
Trust work builds on and increases safe space for a feeling of trust and community to grow in the class. These activities help youth get to know each other through physical and verbal activities.
Students will read together the handouts Trust Work and then follow the workshop guide.
These Activities are described in depth in the text. Students will be able to choose from the following activities:
Trust Circle, Trust Falls, and Blind, Find your Mother like a Little Penguin, Glass Cobra, Circle Height, Falling, Tour of a Place
Storytelling: with writing activity (teacher facilitated)
This activity works best following a very physical activity. Chose a partner, tell them a story – any story, something that is comfortable for you. Topics could be a childhood memory, an apology, a surprise, a recent challenge, or any number of things. Give the story a beginning, middle and end, give it details. Each person will have 3-5 minutes. After both people are finished give the students 5 minutes to write down the other person’s story. Now tell the person back their own story.
10. Storyboarding. Before beginning any storyboarding activities, students should understand what makes a scene in a story or play. The length of the story chosen for this activity should depend upon the amount of time allowed for it. Have students divide a short story into scenes. Students should create a title and a description for each scene. Now the students will be prepared and asked to create a storyboard for the story using their scenes.
2. Giving reader-based feedback to student writing. Using a draft of student writing about literature, meet with the student in a writing conference or give the student oral comments on tape/digital recorder in which you provide “reader-based” feedback that provide specific descriptions of your emotional reactions, response strategies, comprehension processes, or expectations as “movies of your mind” descriptions of how you are processing their draft… “as a reader.”
3. Providing dialogue-journal feedback; training peers for dialogue journal interactions. In responding to students’ journal entries written comments, email reactions, or online chat interactions, rather than simply providing brief comments, engage in a dialogue with a student by providing their own thoughts, insights, reactions, or “reader-based” feedback, just as they would in a conversation.
4. Training peers to give reader-based feedback. One limitation of peer-conferences is that peers often are not able to provide helpful feedback or they only provide vague and/or laudatory comments.
5. Reflect on your writing conference feedback. Conduct a conference with the student about his or her writing. Tape-record the conference, if possible. Then, reflect on your feedback in the conference in terms of the following:

1. What attributes of the writing context (e.g., task, audience, purpose, instruction) support or hinder the quality of the writing? Explain.
2. How engaged was the student in the conference. What percent of the time did you talk? What percent did the student talk?
3. Describe the quality of the student’s self-assessment and predicted revision.
4. Did you make your points clearly? How can you tell?
5. Did the student understand the feedback? How do you know?
6. How comfortable were you and the student during the conference? Explain?
7. What do you believe were the most successful features of the conference? Explain.
8. If you could do the conference over, what would you do differently? Why?
6. Reflect on your written reactions to students’ writing in terms of the degree to which you employ the following feedback or evaluation strategies:
– praising specific uses of interpretive strategies versus vague statements such as “good job.”
– describing: providing “reader-based” feedback about one’s own reactions and perceptions of the students’ responses that imply judgments of those responses.
– judging: evaluating the sufficiency, level, depth, completeness, validity, and insightfulness of a student’s responses
– predicting and reviewing growth: predicting potential directions for improving students’ responses according to specific criteria and reviewing progress from previous responses
– noting changes in students responses: describing ways in which students have changed or improved in their responses over time.
7. Formulating reasons for student difficulties in their response. Read some students’ journal entries or essays or reflect on students’ discussion responses and formulate some possible reasons for difficulties in their responses or their reluctance to express their response, talk in discussions, or express personal perceptions. Then, for each difficulty, define a teaching technique that you might use to address that difficulty.
8. Formulating reasons for your judgments of student interpretation and predicting future improvement. In judging students response, it is important to provide specific reasons for those interpretations based on criteria of completeness, relevancy, sufficiency, quality, and insightfulness, specify ways to improve their interpretations, and how making certain improvements will enhance their interpretations, so that students know why they are being judged and ways to improve on their interpretations. You also need to tailor your reasons according to your knowledge about individual differences in students’ abilities, knowledge, attitude and potential.
Using some students’ writing, specify your judgments of their writing and then give reasons for your judgments. Then rather than telling students what changes to make, pose questions or model ways in which they could improve their interpretations and how those improvements will enhance their interpretations.
9. Record changes in students’ interpretations over time. Using some students’ writing over the period of several weeks or months or recollection of their discussion participation, note changes in their writing based on the following criteria:
– Amount of oral and written response: as represented by the degree of participation in group discussions or the length of journal entries (none, little, some, extensive).
– Attitude towards expressing response: as represented by the degree of students’ perceived enthusiasm about or interest in expressing responses (little, some, high).
– ability to use different tools: as represented in students’ use of talk, write, art-work, or drama tools: mapping, listing, free-writing, role-playing, and so on, to express their responses (ineffective, effective, highly effective),
– use of a range of different interpretive strategies: as represented by students’ ability to employ the different strategies (ineffective, effective, highly effective).
– Level or depth of response: as represented by the degree to which students explore or elaborate on their responses (little, some, extensive)
– application of critical lenses: as reflected in students ability to apply critical lenses to their analysis of texts.

10. Record changes in students’ free-reading/voluntary reading.
Keep a record of students’ changes based on the following criteria:
– Amount of voluntary reading
– Attitude towards voluntary reading
– Degree of defined reading interests (vague, somewhat defined, and clearly defined)
11. Develop a literature test or exam. Develop a literature test or exam that you might use in your student teaching as part of one of your literature units.
12. Develop a portfolio assignment for use in your unit or student teaching.
13. Analyze a standardized literature achievement test. Find a standardized literature achievement test, such as standardized reading tests such as those used to determine students’ “reading ability”. Complete some of the items yourself, examine these items in terms of the validity of these items as measures of “knowledge of literature,” “literary understanding,” or “reading ability.” Note the influence of prior knowledge about the item passages or texts by seeing if you can answer the items without reading the passages or texts. Check to see if you answered the items correctly and issues related to what determined if these items are correct.
14. Analyze the relationships between your state standards and state-wide assessments. Go to your state or district Website for your state literature standards and reflect on the kinds of learning valued in those standards.
The student will read and analyze a variety of narrative and poetic forms.
a) Explain the use of symbols and figurative language.
b) Describe inferred main ideas or themes, using evidence from the text as support.
c) Describe how authors use characters, conflict, point of view, and tone to create meaning.
d) Compare and contrast the use of the poetic elements of word choice, dialogue, form, rhyme, rhythm, and voice.
e) Compare and contrast authors’ styles.
All students should

– analyze an author’s craft and style
– compare and contrast the characteristics of literary forms including novel, short story, biography, essay, speech, poetry, understand characterization as the way that an author presents a character and reveals character traits
These standards involve primarily adopting a formalist approach that focus on teaching analysis of literary form. Analysis of the verbs employed in standards for students at the secondary level—identify, recognize, know, understand, etc., or represent relatively low-level thinking skills in contrast to higher-order thinking skills such as the ability to synthesize information and ideas, formulate and apply one’s own ideas, pose questions, connect experience to learning, criticize, judge, or evaluate.
Then, examine the kinds of assessments that are designed to determine that students are meeting these standards (in some states, there may be no specific assessments or tests).
Discuss the influence of these assessments on curriculum and teaching in the school in which you are doing your student teaching: what is your attitude towards “teaching to the test.”
15. Conduct a mock literature assessment. Conduct a mock literature assessment using peer groups of 6 or 7 students:
– Each group devises a writing assignment for another group. Groups need to consider the purpose, audience, text, strategies involved, time limit, and wording of the directions. Each group then develops a set of criteria for analyzing the essays using holistic or primary trait ratings.
– Groups exchange directions and, either in class, or as homework, write the essays. Groups then return their essays with names removed.
– Groups rate the essays using their criteria, attempting to achieve some agreement.
– Groups then share their ratings, discussing the validity of those ratings and the difficulties or limitations of conducting assessments.
16. Conduct a survey of students’ reading interests. As part of understanding the literature curriculum for the school in which you will be doing your student teaching, create an informal survey of students’ voluntary reading interests or amount of outside reading, their interest in the books that are required reading, and their attitude towards reading. Employing a reading or learning log can be an effective way to record and assess the quantity of students’ reading experiences.

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