DETERMINING AND DELIVERING STRONG “MAGIC THREE” QUESTIONS
Jaclyn DeForge, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching first and second grade in the South Bronx, and went on to become a literacy coach and earn her Masters of Science in Teaching. In this series for teachers, educators, and literacy coaches, Jaclyn discusses different strategies for ensuring students hit end-of-year benchmarks in reading.
I’ve talked about how to set individual reading goals for students, the importance of student motivation and regular assessment and, most recently, about turning the running record assessment time into a meaningful conference by sending students back to their seats with their own personal “Magic Three,” a set of three questions to focus on while they read. So where do “Magic Three” questions come from?
I pull them from a few different places: guided reading notes, struggles I’ve noticed during the most recent running record assessment, and sometimes, from my most recent Read Aloud mini-lessons. I limit the questions to three, because I’ve found it’s a manageable number for even the youngest of readers, and it eliminates questions of fairness and builds a sense of the learning community within the classroom, as every student walks away from their running record conference with the same number of next steps.
When selecting which strategies to highlight for each student, I want to keep the following guidelines for myself in mind:
- Is this a strategy I’ve worked on with them before or introduced to the class?
- Is this something I feel confident they can try on their own? Can they somewhat monitor their own success in implementing this strategy?
When delivering the “Magic Three” to each student, I’m a fan of the infamous “compliment sandwich” technique. It’s easier to hear where we need to improve after hearing how awesome we are! Here’s how a hypothetical post-conference “Magic Three” talk might go with one of my former second graders:
“Erika, I just wanted to tell you that I have been so impressed with you lately during Guided Reading time. I’ve noticed you taking some really thoughtful notes as you read, and I like that you always go back to the text to support your answer. That’s a strategy really thoughtful readers use and I’m excited to see how your careful attention to detail helps you as we start working on level L books. Now for our “Magic Three” until we sit again: the first thing I want you to think about when you read a fiction book is character. It’s really important that every time you read a book, you ask yourself:
How would I describe each character to someone who had never met them?
You’re so good at helping your classmates come up with support for the adjectives they come up with to describe the characters we’ve read about, but I would love to see you start coming up with the describing words, and let your classmates come up with the support, since that’s already something you’re good at. So what are you going to focus on when you think about the characters?
The other thing I want you to focus on is unfamiliar or confusing words: even as an adult, I come across words in my reading that I’ve never seen before, but I can’t let that scare me and stop me from understanding what’s going on in the text. I’ve noticed, and a lot of your friends do this too, that when you come to a word you don’t know, you’ll skip it and keep going. As the books we read start to get a bit more challenging, those words we skip over might be important to understanding what’s going on, so it’s really important that if you come to a word you don’t know right away, that you try to figure out what the word is and what the word means. So the two questions I want you to ask yourself when you come to a word you don’t know are:
Did I try to sound it out or look for other words and word parts I already know to help me figure out what the word is?
Did I read around the word (the sentence before and the sentence after) to try to figure out what the word means?
Those are your “Magic Three.” So what are the three things you’re focusing on this month?
Thank you so much for taking the time to read with me today. I’ve noticed how you’ve been speaking up and answering questions a lot more during Read Aloud. You’ve shared some pretty spectacular insights and I think your careful listening is really contributing some great thoughts and questions to our discussions, so thank you for that!”
How do you communicate next steps to your students? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or share yours in the comments!