D I Why

Not another acronym – Just something I did to teach reading skills

When writing to interpret texts, pupils are often asked to PEA. Despite the hilarity that this never fails to bring, there’s something not quite right with it as a technique. Pupils could never seem to immediately ‘get’ what a Point actually was and why you have to provide Evidence in order to make it. Nor did pupils get how that could be followed by Analysis. Questioning how I teach reading skills, I came up with a new plan.

Teaching pupils to recognize the skills that they are using and why they are using them seemed to make sense. As well as being useful skills for school and life, pupils are also examined on their ability to identify, deduce, explain, analyse and compare. They should not be applying these skills by accident through PEA. Similarly, D, I Why was not intended to be another acronym to replace PEA. It was something that made me chuckle. I wanted pupils to be able to recognise the skill of identification, deduction and explanation before they used them successfully for themselves; it just happened to sound as though I was sending them to B&Q.

Introducing the Skills

To get pupils to understand the skills of identify and deduce, I placed an image on the board (any image will do). This image was of an old lady sat on a street. I asked pupils to identify what was in the picture. Automatically, pupils went to deduction as they stated there was a “homeless woman” or that the, “woman was sad.” I wouldn’t allow these as correct answers as it could not be seen in the image. Eventually, pupils began to clarify that to identify something, it should literally be there. We went through synonyms for identify such as “pick out” or “provide evidence” as often, questions that mean the same thing can have very different wording. Pupils began listing the many things that they could actually see: water on the floor, a suitcase, a sticker, not smiling, creases in her forehead and so on.

By separating the skill of identification from the skill of deduction, we were able to see so much more. Pupils were no longer jumping to the first conclusion; they were looking at the minute details of what was literally there. Once happy with our lists, we moved onto deduction. Going back to our original deductions, pupils could now use identified evidence from the image to say why the image had certain connotations. So, pupils went from saying, “There’s a homeless woman.” to, “The woman in the image appears to be homeless. It is clear that she is sitting on a damp ground (something that you would not want to do willingly) and her unsmiling face connotes that she is unhappy.” Deductions are backed up with clear evidence from the source and answers are detailed and precise.

We also explored why it is an entirely different skill to say, “This woman is named Doris and has fallen off her bike, following meeting a clown at the circus.” Evidence allows us to make specific deductions and, like detectives, we must look for clues to avoid being wrong. Creativity is a wonderful skill. However, when reading, we are often looking for the right answer, not an answer from the top of our heads. Once pupils have created clear deductions, using identified information, we could use that information to then speculate or compare, which (when done correctly) is a more creative, higher order skill. It was only revealed that pupils were reading the image once the skills of deduction and identification were understood.

Turning our attention to a text, pupils first identified exactly what was there without making deductions. In this example, we used our class reader Poison. We focused our attention on the first page of description:

“She was an odd looking girl, pale and slender with long black hair that fell symmetrically to either side of her head. Her face was an oval, her forehead high but her chin narrow, her lips thin and her nose perfectly straight, if a fraction too long in the bridge. But it was her eyes that dominated her features, great dark eyes of shocking violet, through which she regarded the world with a sullen and disturbing intensity.”

Poison, Chris Wooding, Scholastic Children’s Books 2003

Before isolating the skills of deduction and identification, pupils had concluded in brief that “Poison is unusual.” Pupils now understood that if they first identify what is in the text, their answers become more precise and detailed. They could look for characters, sentence types, verbs, adverbs or any other language feature that is literally there. Pupils identified a number of adjectives used to describe Poison. They also identified Poison as the protagonist and that these adjectives all had negative connotations: odd, pale, slender, black, oval, narrow, straight, great, dark, shocking, violet and sullen. Once they had isolated what was literally there, they could return to their deductions, creating answers such as: “Poison is an unusual protagonist. The writer uses negative adjectives such as, “sullen” and “odd” to describe her. He also uses “shocking violet” to describe her eyes.

This is where the “why” comes in. Pupils have identified features that led to their deduction but need to explore further to understand the writer’s purpose. Why is she unusual? Why does the writer choose these particular adjectives? Why was our first reaction to her that she was “unusual?” Pupils have isolated and understood the skills of identification and deduction and are beginning to explore writer’s purpose. The first lesson was quite contrived, asking pupils to label what skills they were using where. The paragraphs looked something like PEA paragraphs. However, pupils saw the purpose of identifying the evidence behind their deductions and exploring conclusions in depth to understand the writer’s purpose. Now, when pupils are answering questions about a text, they are able to apply these skills independently. The issues that often occur by simply asking pupils to PEA don’t occur as they have explored and understood the purpose behind applying each skill. They are doing it for themselves with no actual acronym in sight.

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