Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Slice of Life: Storms and Schema

Every Tuesday, a group of bloggers writes a Slice of Life. If you are interested in joining in, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog for more information.

     The other day, I was standing in my kitchen making lunch when I heard a BOOM.  It wasn't particularly loud and didn't last for long.  I puzzled about it, and asked my dog what she thought the neighbors were doing.  Were they moving something big that had been dropped?  Or maybe the train had some freight shift or the construction workers were using a noisy tool.  After a few minutes, the sound came again.  Now I was starting to get annoyed.  So, I took my dog out to the sunny backyard and looked up and down the alley.  No one was doing anything that could have been that noisy.  Then I heard the sound again and turned around. What I saw was a wall of dark clouds that was quickly descending on us.  I had to chuckle.  As a midwesterner, I should be ready for quick changes in weather.  I was a little embarrassed that it took me so long to figure out.  In my head, I apologized to the neighbors for the not-so-nice things I had been thinking about them and all their noise. Then, I started to think about schema.
     I have lately been doing a lot of professional reading to get myself ready for a grade level switch this year.  One of the books I read is Comprehension Connections by Tanny McGregor.  In this book, the author offers a wealth of suggestions about using concrete experiences to help students understand comprehension strategies.  I had just read the chapter about schema, so it was fresh on my mind.  I thought about how important my schema had been in my initial confusion and eventual comprehension of what was going on.  At first, the sun was shining and I had not seen the weather report.  I had no idea that there were storms predicted for the day.  My schema for sunny days made it possible for me to register that thunder as a different sound.  It couldn't be thunder because it was sunny outside.  (Although I have to say, as a Wisconsinite my schema should know better) I was not understanding what was happening because my schema told me something different.  Later, when I saw the roll of clouds, the a-ha moment hit me and now I did have schema to place that noise as thunder.  I added the new information to my situation and had a new understanding of what was taking place, thus synthesizing and gaining much more comprehension of the situation.
     It made me think about how important it is for students to be aware of schema and its role in their comprehension efforts.  My schema actually led me astray, and it wasn't until I linked the new information that I gained understanding.  How many times do students pick up a book thinking that they know something about the topic only to find out that they were not quite right? Adding to schema by synthesizing new information and making connections to what we know about the world can help you to understand what you read. I think this could be a good story to share with students to talk about how initial understanding is sometimes erroneous.  By adding the new information and rethinking, we can then come to a more complete and accurate understanding of what is happening.  Now, every time I am unsure of a big noise, I will be looking at the sky before blaming the neighbors.



  1. Ah, revising your theory/thinking. This is so hard for our students. They get wedded to a particular idea and shaking up their belief structure is tough. Love how you connected your professional reading to life!

  2. When I saw Tony Stead speak a couple of years ago, I had this 'aha' moment about the KWL charts so many use. He said that if a reader looks at a picture, & says to himself, yes, I know this, it's _______________, & his schema is wrong, he's incorrect, but has no way to check. He suggests what he calls a "RAN" strategy, & the first column is "what I think I know". Look up RAN, & let me know if you can't find it. Several of our teachers are using it now to help kids with research & they love it! It fits beautifully with your explanation, Andrea!

    1. Hi Linda, I actually already use RAN charts with inquiry. I love them for helping kids to revise their thinking and to learn. I believe I got the idea for them from Linda Hoyt in Making It Real, along with having students do Investigation posters.