Looking at Cause and Effect
"I want to help my students develop a sense of wonder when they're reading. That's what good readers do. They wonder, they form questions, and they pay attention to what's going on in the text. They identify the cause and effect, and then take it one step further--they respond. "
Holly Concannon teaches fifth grade at the Richard J. Murphy School in Dorchester, Massachusetts, an urban community on the outskirts of Boston. The Murphy School reflects Dorchester's African American and Asian American communities: the student population is 72 percent minority. As in any school, many students have special needs. In Mrs. Concannon's class, there are six students with special needs.
In the lesson featured in the video, Mrs. Concannon's students were discussing two books that they have recently read. Woodsong, by Gary Paulsen, is a nonfiction text that chronicles the author's experience in nature. Mississippi Bridge, by Mildred Taylor, presents historical fiction in the story of one African American family's experience during the Depression.
In the featured lesson, the instructional focus was on helping students identify and understand cause and effect. Throughout the year, Mrs. Concannon scaffolds instruction across the curriculum by accessing students' prior knowledge, and then building on what they know. She regularly uses questions to encourage students to think about, anticipate, and interpret events. She encourages them to think about cause and effect in all subject areas. For example, in a science lesson, she might ask what would happen to ice if it were left in the sun. In social studies, she might ask why people emigrate to America.
As students read and discussed Woodsong and Mississippi Bridge, Mrs. Concannon used questions not only to gauge students' understanding, but also to model questioning and discussion as a way of understanding literature in more depth. In both whole-class settings and guided reading groups, Mrs. Concannon asked students to find their answers in the text, and to explain how they interpreted the text and what they thought the author meant. In this lesson and throughout the year, Mrs. Concannon creates anchor charts (PDF) from student discussion and answers.
In discussions, Mrs. Concannon asks questions that connect to students' lives and gives students opportunities to discuss their answers with partners. "Stop and share" is another strategy she uses to give shy or intimidated students a chance to share their ideas and be heard in a whole-class setting. Mrs. Concannon finds that fifth-grade students are eager to share their opinions and make connections to their own lives.