Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pre Reading Skills - Predictions

Pre Reading Stories are tales that help students focus on elements of comprehension without the mechanics of reading getting in the way.  This entry deals with the concept of predictions.

Being able to make predictions while reading and revise those predictions as the information is revealed is a critical skill in the process of comprehension.  Readers must learn how to pay attention to texts in a way that allows them to make both short and long term predictions.

Short term predictions are the sorts you make when you first meet a new character or encounter an event.  The text should give clues about what is happening with the characters and surroundings.  The reader should start making predictions every time some bit of information is revealed.  These predictions can be anything from 'this is a love interest', to 'I think this is the bad guy'.  As the reader goes through the text, their short term predictions about what is happening are revealed to be either correct or incorrect.  If the prediction is correct, the reader files the information away and continues building a framework for the tale.  If the reader's prediction is incorrect, then the reader must synthesize the correct information and make another prediction based on this new idea.  

The process of making short term predictions continues all the way through the text until the conclusion.  Sometimes the ending is a surprise, sometimes it is predicted.  Some readers love being right, some enjoy the surprise.  Either way, these short term predictions help them with the other kind of predictions:  Long term predictions.

Long term predictions deal with what the reader thinks is going to happen later in the story between characters, events that have yet to occur, and how the story is going to end.  These predictions take shape over a much longer time in the story and they are subject to the short term predictions.  

Predictions give a story shape.  They let the reader know that the tale is going somewhere and they get more and more of an idea where that is the longer they read.  

Students who do not predict as they read have no sense that the story is ever going to end.  They do not register events in an effective way and they do not view reading as an event that is heading towards some culminating and exciting conclusion.  It is just a bunch of events.  

My favorite example of how predictive behavior affects how we read happened when I was in a workshop given by Gerald G. Duffy.  He told the following short story.

I was flying.
There was a girl and her mother sitting across the aisle.
The mother was busy working on her laptop.  She kept pulling books out of a satchel beside her.
The little girl was looking out the window and aimlessly around the plane.  Then, she reached over and removed a book out of her mother's satchel, took a crayon out of her box and started scribbling wildly on the book.  Her mother looked up and said, "???????"

What did the mother say?  Well, I suppose that depends on the predictions you made.  When you read the first sentence did you see someone with wings?  Did you imagine they were a pilot?  Did you see a huge airplane?
Next, when you realized they were flying in some sort of conveyance, were they in first class or not?  Next, was the mother being inattentive?  Was the chid bored?  What sort of book did the child take out of the satchel?  Was it one of her own books?  Why did the child take the book?  Was it one of her mother's?  Was it okay that the child colored on it?  What color was the crayon?

All of these questions lead up to what her mother said when she saw the child coloring on the book.  As a reader, we make these predictions every time we encounter text.

Storytelling is an amazing way for students to practice the art of prediction.  Stories create vivid pictures for students and that sets the listener free to let their imaginations roam when it comes to what will happen next.  Anyone who has ever told a suspenseful story to children knows that when you get to the part when the characters are about to do something foolish the students will yell, "Don't Touch the Spinning Wheel!"  "Don't Go In There!  She's A Witch!"  "Don't Eat The Apple!"  They all know something bad is going to happen and they try to warn the characters.  The more students work on the skill of prediction, the better they will get at doing it automatically. 

Storytelling is an amazing tool in the arsenal of educators to help students develop the pre reading skill of prediction.

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