Marsha Wilson Chall

Marsha Wilson Chall

Strategic Thinking

Below is the intro­duc­tion to a text by Stephanie Har­vey and Anne Goud­vis called Strate­gies That Work: Teach­ing Com­pre­hen­sion to Enhance Under­stand­ing, First Edi­tion, pages 3–4. Sten­house Pub­lish­ers, 2000.

Thir­ty sixth graders crowd onto a woven area rug in the read­ing cor­ner. A brass floor lamp casts a warm, amber glow onto their faces. Steph takes a seat in the rock­ing chair in front of them. “Today I am going to read you a pic­ture book called Up North at the Cab­in by Mar­sha Wil­son Chall. I wish I had writ­ten it. I’ll tell you why. This book reminds me exact­ly of my own child­hood. It is the sto­ry of a young girl about your age who left the city every sum­mer to spend time in a cab­in on a lake in Min­neso­ta. Min­neso­ta is called the Land of Ten Thou­sand Lakes. I grew up in the neigh­bor­ing state of Wis­con­sin. We had our share of lakes, too,” Steph tells them as she points out the loca­tion of these two upper-Mid­west­ern states on the wall map.

“Writ­ers write best about things they know and care about,” Steph says. She reads from the inside flap that the author spent her sum­mers on north­ern lakes and was inspired by her own expe­ri­ence as a child and lat­er on as a moth­er when she returned to this cab­in with her own chil­dren. “I was a kid who loved sum­mers,” Steph says while a dozen heads nod in agree­ment. “Like the young girl in the book, I spent sum­mers on a lake where we fished, swam, water-skied, hiked and canoed.” Steph men­tions how for­tu­nate she feels that Mar­sha Chall wrote a book with which she iden­ti­fies so close­ly. “Have you ever read a book that reminds you of your own life?” she asks. Hands wave wild­ly as kids share their favorites.

Koala Lou,” [Mem Fox, 1988], Shel­by bursts out. “I have a whole bunch of broth­ers and sis­ters and some­times I get real­ly jeal­ous of them just like Koala Lu did.”

I Hate Eng­lish,” [Levine, 1989], Jen-Li chimes in. “I could­n’t under­stand a word of Eng­lish when I first came from Korea. School was real­ly hard. I know exact­ly how that girl felt.”

Steph points out that Shel­by and Jen-Li have made a con­nec­tion between books and their lives. “If we con­nect to a book, we usu­al­ly can’t put it down. Good read­ers make con­nec­tions between the texts they read and their own lives. Let’s try some­thing. I am going to read you Up North at the Cab­in. As I read the words, I am going to show you the think­ing that is going on in my head. I’ll use these sticky notes to jot that think­ing down and mark a con­nec­tion. I’ll mark the sticky note with the code T‑S for text-to-self con­nec­tion because it reminds me in some way of my own life and pri­or expe­ri­ence. Then I’ll place the sticky note on the appro­pri­ate pas­sage or pic­ture. I’ll let it stick out of the book a lit­tle, like a book­mark, so I can find it eas­i­ly if I want to come back to it lat­er on.”

Steph reads through the book page by page shar­ing her think­ing about water­ski­ing, the local bait shop, pruney fin­gers from too much swim­ming, and portag­ing canoes. She marks the text and illus­tra­tions with sticky notes cod­ed T‑S and jots down a few words such as, “Some­times we even used peanut but­ter for bait when we ran out of night crawlers” or “Boy, was I mad when my dad made me car­ry that canoe.”

When she comes to a page that shows the main char­ac­ter in an orange can­vas life jack­et with two white but­ton clo­sures, she laughs and stops to share a brief sto­ry. “I can’t help but think of my mom when I see this orange life jack­et. There were five of us kids, and we lived right on the edge of the water. When we were tod­dlers, my mom was wracked with wor­ry that one of us might fall into the lake and drown. Her solu­tion: the day we start­ed to walk, she wrapped us in those orange life jack­ets. We wore them every­where. We ate our cere­al in them. We watched TV in them. Some­times, we even slept in them. We looked like five lit­tle bull­doz­ers!” Two kids in front grab the book to take a clos­er look at the tell-tale life jacket.

“How embar­rass­ing,” Josh murmurs.

“You’d bet­ter believe it. But I think mom was onto some­thing. We learned to swim quick­er than any kids around just to get rid of those goofy life jackets!”

When Steph fin­ish­es read­ing out loud, she encour­ages kids to find a book they con­nect with and to use sticky notes to mark their text-to-self con­nec­tions and jot down their think­ing. We urge teach­ers to do the same. Find that book you relate to above all oth­ers, your con­nec­tion book. Unless you are one of Steph’s life jack­et-bound sib­lings or a Wis­con­sin ice fish­er­man, it may not be Up North at the Cab­in. Read it to your stu­dents, shar­ing your con­nec­tions as you read. There is noth­ing more pow­er­ful than a lit­er­a­cy teacher shar­ing her pas­sion for read­ing, writ­ing, and think­ing. Pas­sion is con­ta­gious. Kids will respond.