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Read Aloud Podcast: Extending Understanding

r para (14)How can we help students move beyond basic comprehension to deeper understanding and critical thinking about texts?

Today on the Heinemann Podcast, we'll listen to a preview of Kylene's audiobook When Kids Can't Read―What Teachers Can Do, Second Edition. This book is packed full of her knowledge about working with kids on comprehension, word work, and engagement. And the following section on summarizing texts is one example of the very specific tools Kylene has included.


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Hi, this is Edie. Welcome back to the Heinemann Podcast. Kylene Beers writes, "Reading changes us. It changes the way we think, the way we see the world, the way we process information and dream new thoughts. It allows us to discover more about ourselves and the world around us so that we might become better versions of ourselves, so we might fully participate in our communities and our nation. And when we don't read, when kids can't read, all that is gone. We lose that ability to learn in this transformative way."

Today, we'll listen to a preview of Kylene's audiobook When Kids Can't Read―What Teachers Can Do, Second Edition. This book is packed full of her knowledge about working with kids on comprehension, word work, and engagement. And the following section on summarizing texts is one example of the very specific tools Kylene has included.

Kylene Beers:

Chapter nine, Extending Understanding.

Dear George, the year I was in eighth grade, we read A Tale of Two Cities. I'll never forget that we had to draw a portrait of each character and answer 25 questions for each chapter. Each chapter, 25 questions. Reading that book became a labor, a time of copying questions and then writing the shortest answers I could write. Years later, I found myself teaching you and one day I realized that I too had told you all to draw portraits of the main characters from the book we had just finished.

They loved to draw so they will have fun, I rationalized to myself. Then I had you answer questions. Not 25, but probably too many. This will show me what they understand, I convinced myself. You turned in your folder with all your work for this novel. No portraits. No answered questions. Just an empty folder. "Where's your work, George?" I asked. You shrugged. "Did you do any of it?" I asked. You shrugged again. "Come on, George. Why didn't you do any of it?"

"It was stupid," You said. Later I told Anne what had happened. "So was it stupid?" She asked. I shook my head no. "Why not?" She asked. "Because his answers would've shown me what he understood about the story," I said. "Really?" She responded and then asked, "Instead of asking George what he did understand, shouldn't you be helping him figure out how to understand?" "We had already finished the story, Anne," I said. "I needed him to show me what he understood."

She peered at me over the tops of her glasses, her signature move when I obviously had more to consider. I borrowed your gesture and shrugged.


Anne wanted me to recognize that even though George had closed the book, his thinking about the book in many ways was only beginning. That first year of teaching, students shared what they had already comprehended by answering questions. Occasionally, I had them do something creative such as design a better book jacket or provide a new ending to the story. Mostly though, once students had completed the text, I considered comprehension to be the product of their reading.

If I had viewed comprehension as a process, then I would've realized that the thinking students do could extend into this time called after reading. This is the time to entertain new thoughts, to revise understanding, to further connections. After reading scaffolds. This chapter, therefore, examines after reading scaffolds that help students continue to think about what they have read. As you study these, you'll recognize that all of these strategies could have gone into chapter eight with the discussion of during reading scaffolds.

At any point in reading a text, we pause, thus creating an after reading moment. How did I decide which strategies to include in chapter eight and which ones to discuss here? The scaffolds in the previous chapter focus on clarifying confusion or noticing something while reading. These scaffolds lean more toward doing something with the text students have read. Of course, during those doing something moments, confusion is clarified. Because comprehension is a process, delineations from one phase of the process to the next are blurred.

This artificial division allows for parallelism and a table of contents before reading, during reading, after reading, but you should not see them as strict recommendations on when to share something with your students. For all of the scaffolds in this chapter, you should first model them to a large group using the same text. Students then use all scaffolds as they read their own individual texts. All the scaffolds presented help students with a variety of skills all overlapping.


Meredith Beers:


After reading scaffolds. If students need help with summarizing, making cause and effect connections, or recognizing conflict, then use the somebody wanted but so or SWBS for short scaffold. Somebody wanted but so. Summarizing a text appears overwhelming for many students. Some grow silent when asked to summarize, while others restate everything in the story following the and then this happened structure, SWBs or somebody wanted but so offers students a scaffold to guide their thinking about a summary.

Primarily used for narrative texts, whether narrative fiction or narrative nonfiction, SWBS helps students focus on who the somebody is, what that somebody wanted, but what happened to keep something from happening, and so finally, how everything worked out. SWBs also moves students beyond summary writing. As students choose names for the somebody column, they're really looking at characters and trying to decide which are the main characters.

To fill in the wanted column, they look at events of the plot and immediately talk about main ideas and details. When they move to the but column, they're examining conflict, and the so column moves them to resolution. Sharing an anchor chart like the following helps students understand the scaffold. Somebody wanted but so. First, identify the somebody, the character. In our example, let's use Humpty Dumpty. Second, think about what this character wanted or what the situation is or what happened.

To continue our Humpty Dumpty example, the wanted would be to sit on a wall. Next, identify the but or the problem. For Humpty, the but would be, well, he's an egg. Finally, write the so, the conclusion or solution. For Humpty, the so would be that he couldn't balance and had a great fall. You can find a complete template for this SWBS anchor chart in the online resources. Step inside a classroom.

After reading Thank You, Ma'am by Langston Hughes, students worked in pairs to write SWBS statements for Roger and Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, the two characters in the short story. This class of seventh graders had struggled with writing summaries. After the teacher briefly explained the SWBS scaffold using the Humpty Dumpty example, students were willing to give this a try. She distributed the template, which is available in the online resources, and let them discuss.

Shonda. "I think it is Roger wanted some shoes, but he didn't have any money, so he tried to steal some from the lady." Eric. "Yeah, that could work, but then we would have to write more, like another SWBS to explain the rest of what happened." Shonda. "She said we could do that." Eric. "Yeah, but maybe we could just write it bigger. You know, like get the bigger point. Like he wanted money, but the bigger thing was he started feeling bad when she was so nice to him."

Shonda. "That's right. It said he didn't want her to not trust him. That seems like when he realized he wanted her to like him." Eric. "So maybe he wanted to steal her purse for money, but then she took him home and fed him and told him to wash up. And then he felt bad." Shonda. "Or she just taught him a lesson and he felt bad." Eric. "That's good. And that shocked him." Shonda. "I like that. That's real good. He was shocked. Like why would she treat him so good? He was shocked so much that all he could say was, thank you."

Students worked for about 15 minutes, and then as a large group, they shared their statements. Some wrote very specific statements such as, "Roger wanted some blue suede shoes, but didn't have any money, so he tried to steal a purse from a lady when she was walking home." One group wrote, "Roger wanted to fit in, but he wasn't really a thief, so he won't forget the lesson Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones taught him."

As students listened to each other's statements, they realized that some of these were exactly what happened in the story, and some were bigger, like the lesson, you learned from the story. As you listen to what students say or read what they have written, you'll determine which students are thinking literally and which ones are thinking more abstractly. The SWBS scaffold almost always encourages conversations about character differences and character motivations.

It also helps students identify main ideas and details, recognize cause and effect relationships, make generalizations, identify character differences, and understand how shifting the point of view emphasizes different aspects of the story. Students don't need to work in groups or use the template Shonda and Eric used. One important question. When you use SWBS with long texts, you'll want students to write statements at different points in the text.

They can connect their statements with transition words such as then, later, next, at the same, however, or and. Also, if you want to see if students understand which characters face which conflicts on the SWBS template, you can complete the but column and then let students complete the rest of the chart. As students finish their discussion of SWBS, ask one final question, how did the SWBS scaffold help you think about this text?

Expect your students to respond with comments such as, "I thought more about how different characters wanted different things, or it made me think about what the problem was, or it helped me think about what happened, or it was hard to get this whole book to one sentence, but it was fun too." You ask this final question to help students realize that SWBS isn't something they did in class on Wednesday. It's a scaffold they can use anytime to help them think about a text.


Thanks for tuning in today. To learn more about Heinemann Audiobooks, visit Heinemann.com/audiobooks.


Kylene Beers, Ed.D., is a former middle school teacher who has turned her commitment to adolescent literacy and struggling readers into the major focus of her research, writing, speaking, and teaching. She is author of the best-selling When Kids Can’t Read/What Teachers Can Do, co-editor (with Bob Probst and Linda Rief) of Adolescent Literacy: Turning Promise into Practice, and co-author (with Bob Probst) of Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading and Reading Nonfiction, Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies all published by Heinemann. She taught in the College of Education at the University of Houston, served as Senior Reading Researcher at the Comer School Development Program at Yale University, and most recently acted as the Senior Reading Advisor to Secondary Schools for the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College.

Kylene has published numerous articles in state and national journals, served as editor of the national literacy journal, Voices from the Middle, and was the 2008-2009 President of the National Council of Teachers of English. She is an invited speaker at state, national, and international conferences and works with teachers in elementary, middle, and high schools across the US. Kylene has served as a consultant to the National Governor’s Association and was the 2011 recipient of the Conference on English Leadership outstanding leader award.

Kylene is now a consultant to schools, nationally and internationally, focusing on literacy improvement with her colleague and co-author, Bob Probst. 

Topics: Podcast, Comprehension, Heinemann Podcast, Kylene Beers, Read Aloud Podcast, When Kids Can't Read 2E

Date Published: 05/27/24

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