Unison Reading Beginnings

I teach 6th grade social studies and English in a CTT class.  On a nationally standardized reading comprehension assessment, my students score in a range from the 2nd to the 99th percentile. Practicing Unison Reading, is what unites these statistically segregated kids, and fundamentally what creates a space for those scoring in the low range to feel like they have a place and a purpose in the classroom.   I taught reading for years without Unison Reading, and painfully watched struggling readers give up, tune out, and loose faith in their potential.  I am so grateful for having learned this curriculum because I feel like I’m teaching reading for the first time, instead of instituting classroom management to create a silent environment, merely enabling those who were already good readers to get more practice.

One of my earliest memories of unison reading has to do with the word, “merely,” which I just casually used to conclude my last paragraph.  It’s words like these that Unison Reading has helped me realize that struggling readers don’t know, gloss over, and ultimately create often unreseolved confusion. Eric chose an article about the video game Batman Arkham Assylum from “GamePro,” magazine. Although thrilled by the pictures, the written content would have been too complicated for Eric to read independently, and had he tried, would have resulted in eh all-too-familiar image, of the child flipping through the magazine, enjoying himself, but not getting the practice teachers crave.  Luckily, Eric chose the article for unison reading, and from the first sentence the aforementioned act of truepractice came into effect.  It read, “While other superheroes merely catch the crooks and then parade around with smug smirks, Batman goes out of his way to get inside the criminal mind and twist it into submission; that alone makes him one of my favorite comic book characters.”  The group stopped first to figure out merely, meaning they had only read the first four words of the sentence.  Randall suggested we get rid of the “ly” to see if we knew the beginning of the word, but no one in the group did, so James suggested that we read on.  That led to a discussion of the use of the word “parade” and a discussion of some wrestling references to clarify the idea of “submission.” John then said he thought we had read enough that we needed to go back and figure out merely.  Someone started to search for it in the dictionary when James had a revelation.  He said that he thought because the sentence started with the word, “while,” that the second half of the sentence had to be different than the first.  When questioned a little by his group mates, he said he meant that the second half would be the opposite of the first and that since Batman does all of this crazy stuff, merely probably meant, just doing enough to get by.  Everybody reread and agreed that this made sense.  The dictionary definition that hey found, which previously would have meant little more than a gobbledygook of complicated words, now also was something they could understand.  With confidence, they plodded on to the next sentence and the next. Over and over again I have watched Unison Reading provide moments like these where light bulbs go off and kids learn from one another.  Instead of snapping at kids for feeling frustrated and therefore getting distracted during silent, independent reading, I’m now eliciting their questions and comments in a social reading setting that they want to participate in; I find it to be miraculous!