SLICE OF LIFE

I come across the book trailer for POPEYE AND ELVIS in an early morning blog stroll. The trailer, which lasts about 1 minute and 30 seconds, contains photographs of many scenes from the book- a map of South Carolina, a picture of a rural path in a wooded area, an RV, and a YooHoo boat. Uriel*, one of my fourth graders, an English Language Learner, is about halfway through POPEYE. I think he might enjoy this trailer, so I bookmark it and send the link to my email at school.

Then forget about it. Until he says to me, "I finished POPEYE AND ELVIS this weekend. I need something else to read. Do you know where is that frog book (he is talking about OWEN JESTER, another Barbara O'Connor novel),"

"Oh my gosh, Uriel, I forgot! I have something to show you."

Uriel and I sit together at the computer and watch the book trailer. I ask, "What do you think?"

"I didn't picture all those trees," he says. "I just pictured water and a bridge going over it." This is interesting to me, given that a good number of scenes in the book, as I remember, take place on hikes in the woods. It makes total sense, though, given that Denver, and especially the urban area where I WORK, doesn't have many (any?) wooded areas. And also given that Uriel, a very talented athlete, spends most of his weekends playing soccer at fields, not hiking in the mountains.

"Can I watch it again?" We hit replay and Uriel watches the book trailer a second time.

My encounter with Uriel gets me thinking. Or maybe confirms some things I have already been thinking about since our state reading convention in early February. At the convention, Sharon Taberski talked about the importance of background knowledge in reading comprehension. Taberski said that when kids have trouble comprehending, we are quick to wonder what strategy we should teach them, when actually most of the time, students'  problems with comprehension are probably related to a lack of background knowledge. Taberski encouraged us to concentrate on building students' background knowledge and teaching kids to access that knowledge before and during their reading process. Taberski's session made me think Frank Smith's comment that reading is "only incidentally visual."

My students, more than half English language learners, don't have the background knowledge of their more affluent peers. That's not to say they don't have rich lives. Uriel comes from a large extended family-he has a mom and dad, an older sister, at least one nephew (a two-year-old biter who regularly leaves teeth marks on Uriel). Uriel travels all over the city playing soccer every weekend. He's a smart kid, a sweet and gentle kid, one of those "old souls" whose deep thoughtfulness regularly leaves me wondering, "Where did that come from?"

Uriel is a fairly good reader, on grade level, likes to read, takes books home, always has a book going. And yet even this really bright, really talented little guy could use a "background knowledge boost." I wonder how I might make use of book trailers as a pre-reading strategy with my readers. We have already used "read the blurb" or "talk to someone who has already read the book," but now, what if a new "getting ready to read" strategy might be "look at a book trailer?" Hmmmm…

This fact is driven home later in the day during read aloud. The word "jack-o-lantern" comes up and Uriel raises his hand. "I forget," he says. "What does that mean?" And I am more than a little surprised that Uriel, who I would describe as one of my more proficient English language learners, doesn't remember this relatively simple vocabulary word. Then I try to remember the Spanish word for jack-o-lantern, and realize that the best I can come up with is "pumpkin with a face."

Teaching-- definitely a profession where you get to think and grow every single day…

* not his real name