Making Connections

Questions Teachers Ask in the TDSB

Why is there so much focus on getting students “to connect” during reading?

The goal isn’t getting students to connect; the goal is to get them to comprehend. When students read, they naturally make connections to what they know, have heard or have seen. Connecting helps consolidate and reconcile new knowledge. Thoughtful connections are often a springboard to making inferences about texts. When students make relevant connections that draw upon evidence from the text, their writing improves. When students make relevant connections that refer to other things people have said, their conversation improves. Extending thinking by making connections while reading, writing, and speaking is a critical literacy skill.

In “Teach Like a Champion,” Doug Lemov says that “connections aren’t inherently valuable; only good connections are ” and that we don’t really teach “making connections” as much as we have to manage and guide students while they are practicing this skill.

How do I get students to connect to a topic that they know very little about?

Teaching students to connect must really begin with choosing material that students find relevant. Picture books with universal themes or “big ideas” are often a great place to start. Finding out about your students’ interests and then picking appropriate resources is critical to your success at teaching students to make connections. Once students are more familiar with the skill of connecting, they will find it easier to tackle more difficult and less familiar texts with more success.

Students often know more than we think they do about many topics. A student might not have any experience with snowboarding, for example, but might know a lot about skateboarding. Teachers can’t teach connections but they can manage or guide students to see them by providing some basic ground work.  The prompt, “Talk to a partner for a few minutes about what an expert snowboarder and an expert skateboarder might have in common?” might establish just enough background knowledge for students to be able to connect to the new topic.

My students make lots of connections but many are irrelevant. How do I get them to make relevant connections?

Begin by teaching students the main idea of a text. Once students understand what the main idea is, they can then be taught to link their connection back to the main idea. After a student has made a superficial or irrelevant connection you can ask them, “So what?” or “How does your connection link back to the main idea of the story?” or “How does your connection help us better understand this story?”

I have taught my students how to make “text to text”, “text to self” and “text to world connections.” Now they think they have to make one of these kinds of connections each time they answer any question. Where did I go wrong?

Teaching students “text to text”, “text to self” and “text to world connections” is one part of the larger plan to teach the skill of making connections. Students need to understand that they can relate to many different kinds of texts, experiences, feelings and thoughts, in a variety of ways. Connecting is just one way of understanding. Don’t get too hung up on the T-T, T-S, T-W part or your students won’t see the bigger picture. If they are answering in a mechanical fashion to every question, it may be that they have had too much drilling on one particular strategy and have stopped thinking. Try varying the kind of connection question you ask and also give them multiple strategies for answering questions. Consider, for example, asking a “compare and contrast” question that necessarily asks students to make connections by the nature of the question.

 I find that I have real trouble teaching my students how to make “text to world connections.” They just don’t seem to have enough life experience to be able to make a world connection. How do I overcome this problem?

Teachers must bring world issues into their classrooms and talk about them. A good starting point is to talk about global issues that concern you personally and relate them to what is being studied in your class. Your modelling shows your thinking and we know students need a lot of practice when it comes to making connections to big ideas. For many students, the classroom is the only place where they engage in conversations related to global issues.

As for your comment about your students “not having enough life experience to make a world connection,” I would be careful to value the lives that our students are living. Their exposure to the world and its issues may be quite dissimilar from ours but just as valid. Life’s large lessons and observations may come from sources as diverse as television, video games, street smarts, travel, war, divorce, and literature just to name a few.

My students get totally hung up on text-to-self connections and can’t seem to get beyond. What do I do?

Doug Lemov in “Teach Like a Champion,” suggests that text to text connections are preferable to text to self connections because text to text connections, “reinforce testable ideas rather than judgements, opinions, and stories that students may or may not be able to access.” He suggests that making connections should always be taught in the context of reinforcing comprehension. Relevant connections further an understanding of the text.

Some ways to redirect students’ superficial connections might include:

How does the connection you just made help us understand the article we’re reading right now?

How does the connection you’ve made further our understanding of the character we’re talking about in this story?

Is the “Making Connections” section of the EQAO assessment in the open-response and multiple choice questions the same as the making connections we refer to in our classroom practice?

The “making connections” in EQAO broadly refers to the following:

  • Extend understand of texts by connecting, comparing, and contrasting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, insights, prior knowledge and to other familiar text and to the world around them (e.g. current events)
  • Predict the meaning of and solve unfamiliar words using different types of cure (meaning , structure and visual)
  • Analyze a variety of text forms and explain how they help readers understand texts
  • Identify various elements of style and explain how they help readers understand texts
  • I make judgements and draw conclusions about ideas in texts and provide supporting evidence from the text and their own ideas
  • Identify the strategies they found most helpful before, during and after reading and explain how they use these strategies to understand the text

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Making Connections

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