Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Good Reader's Habit #3: Questioning and Predicting

You wake up in the morning, already a little late. The sky is cloudy, even a little dark. You don't have time to catch the weather forecast so you grab your umbrella -- it looks like rain and you may as well be prepared.

In your head, you've just engaged in two behaviors that good readers often exhibit: questioning and predicting. You are wondering what the weather will be like, then you predict it might rain and prepare accordingly. This sort of thing is automatic -- you barely register it as conscious thought -- but some readers need a little push to engage in similar activities while they read.
I should say that technically, questioning and predicting are two separate habits, but they are closely linked, so I am including them together. Questioning is just that -- the reader poses questions about the text. The questions may be about anything: why is the character doing that? How fast can a whitetail deer run? What is behind the black door? Is the river going to flood? What does honeycomb feel like? How tall is Mt. Kilimanjaro?

Questions don't have to have set or specific answers; they're merely an indication that the reader is thinking more deeply about the text than just a surface read. Consider this: if your child is spending all of his or her time decoding the text (see the Quick Guide if you don't know what this means) then it's doubtful s/he is taking the time to think deeply about the content of the story. All his or her energy is going toward decoding and not toward comprehension. Questioning is a way to encourage that deeper thinking.

Somewhat similar is Predicting. Predicting is a way for the reader to become invested in the outcome of the story. As soon as your child makes a prediction about a story, s/he will immediately become more interested in finishing the story -- to see whether his or her prediction was correct. Good readers make lots of predictions, about both big and small things. Ever read a mystery novel? If you've ever thought "The parking garage attendant did it," or "It's going to be the sister-in-law," then you've engaged in predicting. And you can't wait to get to the end to see if you were right. And then you have to tell everyone you figured it out by the end of chapter 6.

It feels good when we predict correctly. Take the rain analogy from the beginning paragraph: if it doesn't rain, you'll shrug and say "well, at least I was prepared." but if it does rain, you'll think "HA! I knew it!" and you'll either be unbearably smug or quietly self-satisfied for the rest of the day.

Good readers make predictions about the story as they go along. Let's take one story and see how questioning and predicting might play out. Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis begins with a mystery. The Pevensie children have returned, they think, to Narnia, but nothing is familiar. The questions and predictions that follow cover the whole book, not just the opening mystery.

Questions: Where are the children? Why is everything unfamiliar? What has happened? Why is everyone afraid of the dwarves? How did Cair Paravel become an island? I wonder how hard it is to shoot a bow and arrow? I wonder what bear meat tastes like? What do dwarves really look like? Why does King Miraz want to kill Caspian? How will Caspian escape? What happened to Caspian's horse? Who is Dr. Cornelius really? Why can't anyone see Aslan but Lucy? How will she get them to follow her? Will the others ever see Aslan? I wonder if it would be scary to stand next to Aslan? What will they find in Aslan's How? What does a werewolf look like? Will the Penvensies go home to England?

Prediction: They are in Narnia, they just don't know it. Aslan is hiding from them because he's mad at them. They're going to find some bad guys in Aslan's How -- maybe some of Miraz's soldiers. Caspian's army will beat Miraz's. Susan is going to marry Prince Caspian. The Pevensies are going to stay in Narnia now.

This is just a short list -- and notice that the questioning list is much bigger and wider-ranging. Predictions are more specific and answerable.

Like any habit, this can be modeled by the parent. Find places in the text where you can ask questions -- remember, these can be anything; don't feel like you have to come up with something deep or profound, just roll with it. It's an expression of curiosity, not a doctoral dissertation. One of my all-time favorite questions which one of my kids asked one night when we were reading fairy tales was "What does porridge taste like?" It's all about curiosity. For predicting, just stopping periodically and asking "What do you think is going to happen?" is a good place to start. As you get comfortable with it, you can make your predicting questions more specific: "How do you think Frog will get Toad to wake up?" or "What do you think is wrong with Old Yeller?" or "Do you think Gregor is going to die at the end of Code of Claw?" The more you do it, the more skilled you will get at it, and the more you model it externally for your children, the more likely they will be to do it internally as they read.

Next Up: Good Reader's Habit #4: Inferring

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