Friday, May 17, 2013

Drawing Inferences

Sometimes we have to think fast.

In one of our fourth-grade classrooms, the teacher and I have been working on Common Core State Standard RL. 4.1: Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.  

Using picture books for our focus lessons, modeling our own thought processes, and giving partners plenty of time to turn and talk had already led to some great thinking and sharing about inferences. Students were encouraged to continue inferring how characters were feeling or what else authors might be saying as they were sent off to read independently.

I moved to have a one-on-one conference with a reluctant reader who is new to our school.  When I asked her to tell me a bit about the book she was reading, she gave me a preteen pout and complained, "Why do I have to infer anyway?  I'm just going to go to beauty school."

My brain went into hyper-drive, and I responded, "Let's imagine you just did my hair, handed me the mirror, and turned me around so I could see the entire haircut.  Then when you asked how I liked it, I said [with a frown on my face and an unhappy tone], 'It's fine.'"

"Well, you don't really like it," she said.
"But I said I like it," I answered.
"I could tell you didn't."
"That's right.  You combined my words with what you already know about body language and tone of voice and came up with a truer meaning.  That is a life skill that will serve you well.  That is also what we are asking you to do when you read.  Bring yourself into the text and pay attention to what the author isn't saying, and your understanding of the book will deepen.  That's all inference is."

I would love to tell you that she smiled brilliantly and dug into her chapter book with new zeal, but this isn't a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie.  To truly capture the literary hearts of our most reluctant readers, we will have to impart relevance and real-world connections over and over.  Sometimes our work leads to giant strides and sometimes it leads to baby steps.  As long as we are making progress, I'm happy.