During the summer of 2017, Refugee book by Alan Gratz was released. There was a huge buzz about this awesome book that I decided to get it. I even ordered several copies and shared with colleagues so we could all read it together. However, I had to stop reading it and put it away. I didn't stop reading it because I didn't like it; I stopped reading it because I found myself disoriented while reading it.
You see, I am an English Learner (EL). English is my second language. As matter of fact, I've only had 3 years of high school and my college education here in the USA. Read here if you want to learn more.
Even though I was compelled and excited to read this story, I found myself struggling to make sense of what was happening. I was getting frustrated. I was getting caught in small details, I couldn't remember the most important events, I was forgetting what I had just read and was unable to make connections between events. I TRIED! I KEPT READING! But I felt like I was wasting my time. So I gave up and put the book away.
All year went by and I kept seeing posts about how awesome this book was and how everyone should be reading it. I felt bad and kind of embarrassed that I had not been able to read this wonderful book. However, reading 'Más Allá del Invierno' by Isabel Allende, entirely en Español, was super easy and refreshing to my mind.
So, why did I have trouble reading Refugee, you might ask? Well, allow me to shed some light on the book's NARRATIVE STRUCTURE (text structure is the overall organization of the text).
The novel alternates among three narratives that explore the lives of refugees in different decades and parts of the world.
The book is beautifully written, and its narrative structure is brilliantly constructed...but, it threw me off and confused me as an English language learner.
Isn't comprehension the purpose of reading? If so, if you can't read it, you can't comprehend it! Comprehension is the process of extracting or constructing MEANING!!
Giving Refugee Book a Second Chance
The #ELLchat_BkClub voted on reading Refugee over the summer of 2018. As matter of fact, I also voted on this book because I was still intrigued by everything I've heard about the story and I really wanted to read it.
Guess what?!? I read it ALL in just 4 weeks!
However, the only reason I was successful in completing the book was that I had support.
You see, participating in a book club not only provided the accountability for my reading but also facilitated weekly discussions with other participants reading the same story.
Dr. Katie Toppel, the book club moderator, provided weekly questions based on a given number of pages read, and that in itself, gave me the purpose for reading I needed to pause and reflect on what I had read.
I was not just reading the words! I was making sense of the information and ideas. I was constructing meaning, and also retaining information. So this experience led me thinking about my ELs and thought about gathering some resources about this topic.
Why Teach Fiction/Narrative Text Structures?
The question should be, 'why wouldn't you teach narrative structures?'. If you want students to make sense of the text and build on ideas to construct meaning and to retain the information they're reading, then you MUST intentionally teach its structure.
Students NEED a purpose for reading! The purpose of reading is COMPREHENSION.
Again, if students are finding themselves disoriented while reading a narrative, they WILL NOT comprehend, construct meaning, and/or retain information.
How to Teach Text Structures
ELs, and all students in general, NEED explicit text structure lessons; they need tools to support them as they move throughout their reading whether is non-fiction or narrative text.
I find this blog post on Cultofpedagogy.com by Jennifer Gonzalez loaded with resources on ways to teach text structures for non-fiction text.
This "20 Strategies to Teach Text" is fabulous. It actually gives a great perspective as to why and how to teach text structures.
Some key elements our students need to focus on while reading narratives are:
Here's an excellent list of printable graphic organizers provided by Fountas and Pinnell.
The most important strategy we can teach our students is to PAUSE AND DISCUSS the text!
MODEL, MODEL, MODEL how to think aloud while reading! Here's a great video that teaches how to model thinking aloud to increase comprehension.
This "Think Aloud Checklist" is a great resource our students can have with them as they read and think about their reading.
Introducing Fiction Text Structure with STORY looks like a fun way to teach this topic! Click here for more.
S – SETTING
T – TALKING CHARACTERS
O – OOPS! A PROBLEM!
R – ATTEMPTS TO RESOLVE THE PROBLEM
Y – YES, THE PROBLEM IS SOLVED!
In conclusion, the method you choose to teach your students 'Narrative Text Structure' doesn't really matter. What matters is to make sure students know how to navigate through challenging text formats to comprehend stories. Having the tools described above will increase reading speed, help retain content, and support with connections with incoming new information.
I would love to know if you use any of these resources or if you have any others I need to learn about. Please share comments below!
Happy reading and thanks for reading my post!