The poem was "Letters to My Daughters" by Judith Minty. The rules are, you CANNOT look back in the poem as you go through. You must read in a straight line from top to bottom until you get to the end of the poem. You will be allowed to read it twice more so don't worry if you are confused. Just rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, your understanding of the piece at the bottom of the page after your first reading. Be honest. No one will ever see these scores. 1 means you are completely confused, your eyes went over it but nothing went in. 10 means you can write the definitive Cliffs Notes guide on the piece. Then read it again, no going back up as you read but straight through top to bottom as you did before, and score your understanding. Then read it a third time the exact same way, no looking back but reading straight through, and score yourself.
When you have done this, look at your scores. Did they, at any point, go up? If so, WHY did they go up? What did you do on the second or third reading that you didn't do on the first one?
This WHY is the basis of the class discussion. The scores are kept completely private. Make a chart with two columns on the board or the overhead projector or whatever. One side says 1st reading. Other side says 2nd/3d reading. Have students share their observations. My personal experience was that I skipped reading the title, I just dove right into the poem. The second time I consciously looked at the title to help me make meaning of the text. This is a confusing poem the first time through but the second time you are able to put some of the characters into a context because you now have a better framework for them. With the extra information you are now able to visualize the characters. Many people in our seminar also mentioned that they read more slowly the 2nd and 3rd time.
This experience really helps demonstrate the value of the rereading and the quality of reading that happens then, that does not happen on the first reading. Kylene Beers suggested having children go back and reread a book they read when they were younger, and ask them, what did you see this time that you didn't before? When kids are little they love to hear the same books over and over. They read the same books over and over. Who is is that is turning them off from rereading, making them think that good readers read it once, know it well, answer the comprehension questions correctly, and move on? WE ARE. But that's not what good reading is. She talked about helping children move from being "schooltime readers" to "lifetime readers." You never put down a fabulous novel that you adored and think to yourself, now I'll make a diorama.
Children need to learn to be drawn into the text, not turned away, not pushed away from it by our ridiculous follow-up work that teaches them to skim for surface meaning and move on. An efferent reading stance -- focus on carrying away fact, little interaction, distance from the text -- is appropriate for cookbooks, instruction manuals, tax forms... but is that the kind of reading we want kids doing in the classroom? We want an aesthetic reading stance -- living through that text, immersed in it.
The whole seminar was about strategies that get children into the text -- mostly by more advanced interaction with it and by discussion with peers -- and rereading is key. She talked about her own daughter who ended up, by changing school districts, reading To Kill a Mockingbirdthree times.
The third time she came to her mother and said, this is a GREAT book, with tears streaming down her cheeks. And then she said, this is so much better than the version we read in 8th grade. And Kylene said to her, it was the same book. It wasn't abridged, my darling, you were. So don't think that you can't teach one of the classics to your students because "they already had it before." Great books are great because they tell us different things at different times in our lives. Reread them!!!