Houghton Mifflin reading program features a selection from Last Summer With Maizon in the theme “Growing Up” in sixth grade. In the selection, a young girl named Margaret must deal with feelings of abandonment as her best friend, Maizon, leaves for a boarding school.
The reading program has “making inferences” as the weekly comprehension skill. Instruction concludes with a worksheet page.
Let’s do something better and ask students to infer from multiple points of view and incorporate visual art.
First Read: Margaret’s Point of View
Ask your students to read the selection and concentrate on Margaret’s point of view toward Maizon’s new life. Ask them to think of what Margaret might be imagining her best friend doing. They should note the details from the story that helped them come up with their ideas. I ask for page numbers to make our discussions go smoother.
Scaffolding The Task
The task is a little complicated, since students must infer what Margaret is thinking. Plus, there are no right answers, just likely and unlikely.
Do an example, where you imagine what one of your students was up to over the weekend: “I imagine that Jim went to the park and played basketball, since I always hear him talking about his favorite teams.”
A non-example always helps, also: “I wouldn’t imagine that Jim went to a cooking class, since, as far as I know, Jim doesn’t cook.”
Examples: My students imagined Maizon finding a new, better jump rope partner. They thought of her making a new friend to dress as twins with. They also pictured Margaret’s letters sitting unanswered while Maizon chatted with friends online.
Maizon’s Point of View
Students will go through a similar process the next day, this time considering what might really be happening to Maizon at her new school. Since Maizon’s real activities are not in the selection, students must infer based on the little information they have plus their own personal experiences.
Students then imagine how Maizon may be struggling with more homework, since her school is more challenging. They thought of her struggling to find friends as a new student as a private school. They imagined Maizon standing with a jump rope and no friend to double-dutch with.
Students came up with great ideas for Maizon’s real life problems. Plus, since most students in my class switched schools to join the gifted program, this gives them a chance to reflect on their own experiences.
After two days of inferring, students create a “split screen” image, with one half visually representing Margaret’s idea of Maizon’s perfect new life, and one half showing life might really be like at the new school.
This can be as simple as a sketch on blank printer paper.
But if you’d like to, use this opportunity to discuss visual arts. Ask students to consider color and texture to representative different feelings in each side of the drawing. Show examples of classic art that use color to portray a mood. Feel free to experiment with collages or other mixed media products.
Now things get sticky. Do we grade the product? If so, What do we grade it on: the artistic representation of two points of view, the details featured in the art, the original notes the student took?
Part One: Presentation
With a product like this, which goes beyond our grade level standards, I like to have students present their work. I listen to their explanation and grade based on the communication of their ideas. I find that students’ explanation of their thinking is adds so much to their actual product. This grade then becomes part of the “listening/speaking skills” grades on our report cards.
If the product itself is below expectations, then I simply require a redo.
Part Two: Paper and Pencil
To assess students’ inferencing, I have a short answer response on our end-of-selection test. In this case, I would ask:
Was Margaret’s attitude towards Maizon justified?
Students then write a well-structured paragraph with at least three pieces of textual evidence. They may use their notes from the first and second readings (once students get used to this pattern, it improves their initial note taking as well). I grade the paragraph and include it as part of their literature analysis grade.
The Wrap Up
So with this idea, we include a challenging reading assignment, multiple points of view, a possible social/emotional discussion, visual arts, an oral presentation, and a written paragraph.
I get a couple of useful grades for report cards and a bunch of cool art to show off on the walls.
And it’s only taken me five years to get the kinks ironed out!