It’s a good time of year. Hovering around the edges of student groups reading the drama A Doll’s House by the 19th century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, I’m usually paying attention to the discussion, not the reading.
We read the first act together in class, introducing the characters, the situation, how to infer character and motivation from words and actions, how to help the audience understand by expression. I do a lot of modeling of expressive reading and the thinking leading me to that interpretation.
The second act students read together in their table groups. They stop at designated spots to summarize, question, predict, connect. Listening in on these conversations is bittersweet--they’re asking the right questions, helping each other find answers, having their own epiphanies...like they don’t even need me any more.
But this time I found myself having my own questions and epiphanies. And it wasn’t from listening in on the conversation about the reading, but from listening in on the reading itself.
There are, of course, the students whose expression while reading shows a nuanced understanding of the character and situation. Some are expected, and some are surprises. One is a student whose writing seems to betray a significant struggle with English; now he’s shining! Another is student who is usually engages at a minimum. She’s not the concrete thinker I’d presumed--how can I call out that understanding in other ways?
There is the student who engages vigorously in discussion, and reads 2 or 3 lines of dialogue beautifully, but when the speech gets longer, he stumbles, slows down, looses expression and his place. Is reading always this difficult for him? Another student has high reading comprehension and expressive writing, but will not read with more than a monotone. What’s going on there?
One reader stumbles over the word “veto.” When I intervene, no one in the group knows what it means. They listen with interest, ask a few questions, learn a new word, and understand better what’s going on in the story (as well as in tomorrow’s news). How can I get students to identify and figure out the words they don’t know?
These questions and epiphanies would be a lot more useful earlier. There’s something about reading out loud the natural English, in short, conversational snatches, but embedded in the larger meaning of the story that is such a window into students’ comprehension and thinking processes. Thematically, A Doll’s House really fits well at this point in the year, but I wonder if there’s a short drama that would fit in a 1st semester unit.
What work would fit? What would I drop? And are these insights about reading skills worth it? Something to ponder this summer...