One of the primary goals of this program is to build the solid comprehension necessary for students to become absorbed in a work of fiction. When a reader is absorbed in a book, the world of the story comes alive in his or her imagination. The reader identifies with the main character and imaginatively participates in the character’s adventures. The repeated experience of absorption makes a lasting impact on a reader and is crucial to his or her academic success.
Students in this program greatly improve their comprehension in fiction. They apply the skills taught in class, reading and discussing a substantial work of fiction both in class and at home. Because reading widely is the best way to build comprehension and absorption, students receive an extensive booklist that they can use for the next several years. Below, you’ll find detailed information about the comprehension instruction that the program provides.
Students learn a three-step process for previewing novels before they begin reading. As they preview, students use the cover of the book, introductory material such as a dedication or preface, and the “about the author” information provided in most books to think about what the book might be about before they start reading. Doing a fiction preview primes readers for good comprehension and helps them to approach a novel with confidence and enthusiasm.
Learning to identify and keep track of the basic elements of a story gives readers a significant boost in comprehension. In this class, students will learn to pay attention to the key story elements: character, setting, and plot. They will learn to consider who the characters are, and how they resolve the conflicts they face and achieve their goals. Students will also think about setting and plot: Where does the story take place? What happens in each part? How does the plot develop over the course of the entire book? Readers who are attentive to these story elements not only have a better understanding of what they’re reading, but are also able to become more fully and meaningfully absorbed in the story.
Discussing books is a meaningful way for readers to improve comprehension and become more absorbed in what they read. The teacher leads guided discussions in which students identify and explore the story elements described above. In addition to group discussion, students respond to comprehension questions in writing and participate in one-on-one discussions with a partner during each class.
Students can only fully understand what is happening in a story when they recognize what is most important. Being able to identify and keep track of main events (the most important events or ideas in each part of the story) increases comprehension by helping a reader follow plot developments. In this program, students learn how to distinguish main events from details, and practice tracking the sequence of main events for the chapters that they read in class.
Great literature contains worlds of meaning within its bounds. It can transmit positive values, and expand students’ knowledge of the world, of human nature, and even of their own lives. In addition to discussing plot, character, and setting, the teacher leads students in discussions of the deeper levels of meaning in the books they read. For example, one important level of meaning in The Fellowship of the Ring—the novel students read as part of this course—has to do with the tension between the main character’s fear of the unknown and his sense of duty. Frodo, the main character, is given both the responsibility and opportunity to travel beyond the world that he knows in order to protect it. In class, students discuss the conflicting forces around Frodo’s mission, the decisions he makes, and the new light Frodo’s experiences can shed on students’ own lives. Through participating in such discussions, students are led to reflect upon their own life experiences and come to see that while reading literature is enjoyable in its own right, it can also challenge them to live richer, more thoughtful lives.
Retelling what happens in a chapter or story is another way for readers to understand and remember what they have read. It also helps them keep track of story development. In class, students practice this skill by giving “tellbacks” to a partner. A tellback is when a reader sets aside the book and tells someone else, in his own words, everything that happened in what he just read (including both main events and details).
In class, the teacher will stop students once or twice per chapter and have them give a tellback to a partner. When students reads at home, they give tellbacks to a parent or another family member who is available to listen. If no one is available to hear a tellback, students can also give them out loud to themselves.
As part of their weekly home practice, students watch a Video Companion DVD that features two experienced teachers discussing The Fellowship of the Ring. The Video Companion supports students’ comprehension by addressing key story elements, such as plot and character. It also leads them to consider the deeper levels of meaning in this book.