My two-year old grandson has a new phrase. He says it when he thinks he might be in trouble. Actually, that is what others have said to him and he is just repeating it. When he ran into our home office the other night while visiting us, he had a remote control from our t.v. He knew he wasn't supposed to have it. When I went into the office to find him, he looked up at me, grinned and said, "What's ya' doin'?" That is what teachers need to be asking students only changing it to: "What's ya' thinking?" First of all, students need to realize they are supposed to be thinking! Second, they need to be taught how to think and express that thinking.
As teachers, we need to build a community of learners who know how to think. We need to help them become strong speakers and listeners. Using interactive read-alouds to teach the skills of discussion will help students do this. Martha Heller-Winokur and Marcia Uretsky in Fourth Grade Readers say: "The ideal interactive read-aloud text invites discussion, provokes thinking, and provides opportunities to view a situation from several perspectives." It is the teacher's job to first choose a book that will stimulate discussion and interest. Modeling what this thinking sounds like is important for the teacher to do.
When starting the read-aloud, the teacher will stop and share what she is thinking at that point. Sharing the evidence of this thinking will help the student to know how to do that also. Using open questions will show the students that they are expect to be thinking. Questions like: "What are you thinking?" or "What do you think about such and such?" will solicit ideas.
Some students have a difficult time expressing their thoughts or even just talking in a large group. Having reading partnerships would help these students to feel more comfortable and safe in sharing their thoughts. This strategy helps struggling readers to contribute to a conversation immediately. Other phrases that would help these students might be: "How many of you had this same smart thought?" or "Who had another idea?"
After the interactive read-aloud and plenty of practice in sharing their thinking, it is time to send the students off for independent reading time. The students are asked to apply the strategies to which they have been introduced in their independent reading time. The teacher will confer with them and ask them to share their ideas about characters or situations in their stories. When the reading time is over, the students will gather again to share highlights of the strategies they have been using. It is also important to celebrate the work they have done.
If your students are already familiar with interactive read-alouds and discussion time, remember to review the expectations and routines and go into deeper discussions. A book I have begun to use and learn from is: Fourth Grade Readers by Marth Heller-Winokur and Marcia Uretsky. It applies to all grade levels, not just fourth grade!