Investigating Word Meaning
"Some of my students are excellent decoders, but reading is more than decoding--it is active meaning making. I teach my students that they all have little reader voices. As we read, we're asking ourselves questions, making observations, and getting excited about our discoveries. Even when we've stopped reading, our reader voices continue to speak to us."
Angie Zapata teaches third grade at Matthews Elementary School in the heart of Austin, Texas. Ms. Zapata's class (ranging in size from 18-22) includes children who have been with the school since pre-kindergarten, homeless children who spend just three to six weeks at Matthews, and children whose parents attend or teach at the University of Texas. Mathew's proximity to the university also enables Ms. Zapata to receive classroom assistance from undergraduate student teachers.
In the lesson featured in the video, Ms. Zapata's students were learning to investigate word meaning. They were using context clues, root words, and their own personal reading strategies to tackle challenging words like "salutations." Ms. Zapata modeled how to use graphic organizers to take new information, add it to personal knowledge or intuited information, and arrive at a "plug-in," or reasonable inference. Students then broke up into smaller groups and had an opportunity to become "word detectives," testing out modeled strategies and their own approaches.
Ms. Zapata's literacy routine incorporates the use of Total Physical Response (TPR) exercises to help students comprehend word meaning. This includes physical gestures, verbal and audio cues, and color associations. She encourages her students to use color- coded sticky notes to identify challenging words, and she signals transitions from one lesson to another with a vocalized "ding, ding!" All of these cues enable students to become more aware of their own thinking and activity, a meta-cognitive approach that Ms. Zapata feels reinforces comprehension. For example, as students generate their "plug-ins" or rational inferences, they sing and move to the Glade commercial chant: "Plug it in. Plug it in."
Ms. Zapata records class-generated plug-ins on a large chart that her students can continually refer back to. Using the chart gives all students a chance to contribute. In this way, Ms. Zapata challenges her students to reflect on and refer to their own ways of making meaning.