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Monday, January 2, 2012


Schema is a confusing word and most people in education-students and teachers alike-think it's a weird word!  Why could't we just say, "thinking" since that's what it is anyway?

So how do we teach our kids to think as readers?  I think the first thing we need to do is teach our students that they are thinkers as they are reading.  Even if they're reading directions for their Xbox Kinect, directions on how to build their Lego Harry Potter castle, the back of the cereal box, they are thinking!

I typically begin my reading lesson on Schema by taking my kids to the back filing cabinet.  They are always so confused and invariably think I'm taking them over to give out worksheets (which I find interesting since I don't use worksheets that often).  We begin by talking about how the filing cabinet is like our brain, it holds files just like our brain holds files-the more activities we experience, the more museums we visit, the dance lessons/soccer games...they all add files to our brain.  For example, every time I learn a new dance step I add a "document" to my brain's dance "file."  Students are totally fascinated by this information and spend the next few weeks telling me every times they are adding a file, or adding a page to the file!  "Mrs. Perrien, when you told us that today about multiples we added a new file to our brain's cabinet!"  **I wish I could take credit for this idea, but I heard it  back when I was student teaching.  To this day I teach the mini-lesson every year!

The next day we continue talking about schema by creating Tanny McGregor's reading salad.  This is brilliant!  Click here to find the directions for the reading salad and readymade "text" and "thinking" tags for building the salad.  (I think you have to scroll down a little bit for the reading salad.)  The book I used this year was Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto.  This book keeps the students' attention and it  has lots of places to stop and think aloud about the story.  As explained in the book I use a bowl and student volunteers put in "text" and "thinking" tags as I read and think aloud from the story.  The most important message we walk away with at the end of the two days is that schema is thinking and we are thinking all the time!

After these two lessons we begin documenting our thinking in our reading journals.  Students make a T-Chart detailing "text" and "thinking" and keep track using their reading workshop novel.  We share thoughts, thinking, ideas with reading partners, in small groups, in large groups...for several days.  Additional mini-lessons include Text Connections, the Concentric Circles of Connections (Again, from McGregor.  It's a way to teach text connections at a deeper and more meaningful level.)  The reading journal response starters for schema include, "That reminds me of..." "I have a connection to..." "I have schema for..." (These are also from McGregor.)  My students are usually most attracted to the T-chart when documenting their schema.

All in all, by the time we are finished discussing schema my students are considering it at a much deeper level!

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