Yesterday, Angela Stockman, a literacy consultant from Western New York, shared her own memory of being a high school student tasked with reading and figuring out T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock. Today, Angela helps us to think about how to help readers embrace the dissonance that Eliot caused her.
How do we help all readers gain the kind of confidence that I did that spring? I’m not really sure, but I know this necessitates cognitive dissonance. I know that as a teacher and a professional development facilitator, it’s my job to create it. I also know it’s my job to help learners manage it productively.
For instance, many of the children and teachers that I work with are daunted by the idea of close reading and text-based questioning. The models provided by our state are helpful, but many of the teachers that I know remain eager to keep the responsibility for quality question design and discourse in the hands of kids. It’s taken a long time to let go of those reigns, and some teachers wonder if we need to take them back again in order to align with the expectations of the Core. Another challenge? Asking kids who read far below grade level to lead quality conversations about complex texts seems like an impossible dream. But we’re trying, and in the trying, we’re learning what works.
3 strategies for helping students manage cognitive dissonance:
1. Chunking very complex texts into smaller portions helps us moderate frustration levels.
2. Opening honest conversations with kids about how difficult reading can be and sharing our own comprehension challenges is powerful as well. As kids dive in, they know that we don’t expect perfection. They also know we are confident in their abilities to use what they read to lead rich text-based conversations, even when they aren’t able to understand many of the words that they confront.
3. Sentence frames and anchor charts have become excellent travel companions for the readers we work with, enabling them to talk about tough text in increasingly sophisticated ways–unprompted.
I also prepare students for difficult texts by asking them to write about personal experiences related to concepts in the text. For example, before I had students read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce, I had them do a quick write about a dream they had that they thought was real. What was it like when you woke up? This exercise foreshadowed the story’s narrative form and the surprise that comes at the end. Asking students to relate conceptually to a text through personal experience gives their experiences (and writing) validity, since students are already experts on their personal experiences. It’s also a good way to get students thinking about themes in the text ahead of time.
As we think about supporting students struggling with cognitive dissonance, it makes us wonder what others are doing to manage this in their classrooms. Thoughts?