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FRONTLOADING: ASSISTING THE READER BEFORE READING

Jeffrey Wilhelm

Monitoring and Assessment

Frontloading is an assessment; Frontloading activities can be used before reading to assess student conceptual, procedural or genre knowledge that may be necessary for success on subsequent reading tasks. Instructional activities and texts can then be monitored or revised to respond to student needs.

Four Resources Guideposts

First Steps Reading Developmental Continuum

Classroom Organisation

Engagement: Empowering Teachers with Successful Strategies

The Frontloading strategy can take many forms. Frontloading is a way to assess, motivate, set purposes, prepare, protect, and support students into:

  • the understanding of new content or concepts
  • the use of new procedures, strategies and ways of doing things
  • generic knowledge about how particular text types are structured and make particular kinds of demands on readers

Frontloading activities can be devised to address any of these issues by assisting students to take on conceptual, procedural or genre knowledge necessary to reading and comprehending texts that make unfamiliar demands on them in any of these areas.

Frontloading, in any of the many forms it can take, involves creating activities that will either activate knowledge students possess and will need to use in reading a text, or will build knowledge they do not have but need to possess to be successful with it. Good Frontloading activities, as will be seen, are a framework to support and organise student use of new concepts and strategies throughout their reading of the text or through the unit in question.

Engagement: Engaging Students in Purposeful Social Practices

Strategy

Frontloading

Text

Tangerine by Edward Bloor, a popular young adult novel, Scholastic Inc, 2000

  • may be used with any genre, strategy or set of concepts that are challenging for students
  • scaffolds and assists students to deal with the demands of new text structures, codes and conventions, reading and learning strategies, or conceptual material in any curriculum area
  • builds motivation and interest in the new text or topic
  • activates or builds necessary knowledge for dealing with a new text or topic
  • serves as a template and thereby assists students throughout their reading of the new text or topic
  • can be designed to emphasise any or all of the Four Roles/Resources of the Reader
  • is an exciting sports story with suspense, surprising plot twists, family issues, moral dilemmas, multicultural issues, and a consideration of the importance of sports, and of the emphasis put on so-called ‘major’ versus ‘minor’ sports
  • engages students through the plot, focus on relationships and moral dilemmas, and the focus on exciting sports scenes; engages sometimes resistant male readers
  • makes use of sophisticated textual codes and conventions such as foreshadowing and symbolism, requiring students to make predictions and construct implied authorial meanings
  • makes use of a diary format and a narrator who has lost (repressed) certain powerful memories, requiring students to connect and understand both simple and complex implied relationships and to make high level inferences based on these
  • connects to English through a study of personal writing and the demands of reading or writing diaries
  • connects to SOSE through a study of personal, familial and cultural relationships, through an examination of sport and its place in Western culture, both positive and negative

Four Roles/Resources of the Reader

Based on the Four Roles/Resources of the Reader developed by Freebody and Luke (1990), Frontloading involves students in the following repertoire of purposeful social practices:

Code breaker

Decoding the codes and conventions of written, spoken and visual texts, eg:

  • recognises the conventions of diaries and the strategies necessary to decode and make meaning, eg the codings of symbolism and how to recognise them
  • identifies the codes and conventions of particular texts which helps them to more explicitly reflect on their own reading strategies

Text user

Understanding the purposes of different written, spoken and visual texts for different cultural and social functions, eg:

  • identifies the various features of particular text structures or genres, and how to meet the interpretive demands of these text types, eg the various personal purposes of a diary, and the various social purposes of publishing a private diary, or writing a novel in diary form
  • analyses text features of diaries or personal writing to scaffold the creation of other texts in diary form, or by electronic means
  • transforms or transmediates such texts into different forms
  • recognises that inferences must be made, or ‘ghost’ chapters written, about the time between dates in diaries

Text participant

Comprehending written, spoken and visual texts, eg:

  • uses prior knowledge to make meaning throughout reading, bringing meaning forward to make predictions and monitor predictions
  • sets purposes for reading, making reading a powerful act of inquiry that can do ‘work’
  • makes simple and complex inferences based on simple and complex implied relationships
  • constructs subtextual, symbolic and implied meanings
  • constructs a framework for meaning so that text becomes more coherent and predictable
  • constructs and understands characters and their evolving relationships
  • builds background understanding on the concepts of family, relationships, multiculturalism, cultural critique, the role of sport in culture, etc
  • builds interest in inquiry around the topics raised by the reading and discussion of the reading

Text analyst

Understanding how texts position readers, viewers and listeners, eg:

  • interprets characters and how readers are aligned for and against certain characters
  • considers whose perspective is presented and whose is not, and with what effect
  • considers how presentation and silencing of voices in a text contributes to textual meaning
  • understands the authorial vision/theme/central focus being expressed by the author through the textual construction, ie the diary, thereby allowing the student to embrace, adapt or resist this vision
  • understands and critiques how diaries present particular times, and particular cultural and social understandings and situations

Four Resources Guideposts

Four Resources Guideposts based on the Frontloading strategy are a useful assessment tool.

Implementing the Strategy

Frontloading using Tangerine

A unit on the inquiry question: ‘What is the role of sports in Western Culture?’ or, to put more of an edge on it: ‘What are the costs and benefits of the Australian emphasis on sports?’

Two kinds of conceptual Frontloading:

K-W-L

The K-W-L (Donna Ogle, 1983) which stands for Know-Want-Learn (what I Know, what I Want to know, what I Learned), is a simple, elegant, and perhaps the quintessential Frontloading technique.

Students are provided with a topic, such as ‘the role of sports in our culture’, and brainstorm what they already know about this topic in the ‘K’ column. As this information is shared with the class certain questions will be raised that can be entered in the ‘W’ column.

In the ‘L’ column students can make notes about the answers to their questions, emendations and additions to what they ‘knew’ (or ‘thought they knew!’). They will also take notes about new information that they didn’t ask questions about, as this kind of information will naturally turn up.

Notice how brainstorming what is known fulfils the first criterion of Frontloading: that background information is activated. If students list information here that is incorrect, all is not lost. They will now be more aware of contradictory information in their reading.

Brainstorming questions fulfils a second criterion: to set a purpose for reading as a form of inquiry. Recording what is learned builds background and provides a visible record of accomplishment by demonstrating what has been learned through the reading.

The information in the ‘L’ column can easily be classified and this can serve as the basis for writing about the topic, or a hypermedia stack or website about what has been learned.

The whole process builds background for further reading about more sophisticated and specialised topics around sports.

Beginnings of a K-W-L Chart based on ‘Tangerine’

The Role of Sports in our Culture
K
(what I know)
W
(what I want to know)
L
(what I learned)
  • sports provide entertainment for lots of people who watch it live or on TV
  • Australians are good at sports/better at sports than people from other countries
  • people who play sport are healthier than those who don’t
  • you can make a lot of money playing sport
  • drugs in sport should be banned
  • to what extent are performance enhancing drugs used by athletes in various sports?
  • how are sports funded in comparison to school arts programs?
  • why do some sports attract more funding and support than others
  • why are sports stars thought of as such good role models
 

Steps

(from J. Wilhelm, T. Baker and J. Dube Strategic Reading, 2001)

  1. Ask students to make three columns on a sheet of paper.
  2. Students write down the conceptual topic of a reading or unit at the top of the sheet.
  3. Ask students to contribute what they know (or think they know) about a topic. These contributions will be recorded in the first column ‘K’ (What we know – or think we know).
  4. As this information is shared by the class, encourage students to raise questions. These questions are recorded in the second column ‘W’ (What we want to know).
  5. Ask students to categorise what they know and want to know. You might encourage students to prioritise their ‘W’ column. This then becomes a list of ‘categories of information we want to find out about and expect to be able to use’.
  6. Let students read a selection about the topic, or conduct their independent research. As they read, encourage them to look for information that helps answer their questions or expands their understanding of the knowledge categories and general topic.
  7. After the reading, have students place the new information they have discovered under the third column ‘L’ (What we learned). Students can then code the new information according to the cited knowledge categories. New knowledge categories may then emerge.
  8. When the K-W-L grid is complete, ask students to create a concept map that organises the information. For example, students might create a map of the personal effects on fans and athletes of an emphasis on winning. This organises the information for student writing, other forms of composing (hypermedia, video, Public Service Announcements, etc), and other projects.

The Opinionaire

Let’s say, though, that you think that the topic of sports and culture is fairly familiar and accessible to your students. You want to problematise the issues involved and put a political edge on the readings by giving your students critical lenses and multiple perspectives around the issues involved. You would then want to choose a different kind of Frontloading activity, like an opinionaire, survey, or scenarios for ranking or role play to try to tease out these kinds of viewpoints. These techniques require students to articulate their own beliefs about ‘contact zones’ – issues that are currently at play in some cultural context – and to stake a tentative position.

The opinionaire is a form of survey that asks students to agree or disagree with particular perspectives on the issues they will be reading about. Results can be used to compare the beliefs of individual students to others who take the opinionaire, and eventually to those perspectives of authors and characters in the texts to be read. In this way, an opinionaire helps students to see that various views exist about important issues, and that they must converse with these perspectives and stake their own claim among the various views.

Like any good Frontloading technique, opinionaires activate background and beliefs that students can use during reading, build interest and motivation as students attempt to converse with views similar and different from their own. Finally, the opinionaire provides a template for thinking about and recording authorial and character views because students can ask how various authors and characters would respond to the survey questions, and they can be asked to provide evidence supporting their choices. In this way, students can be motivated to find inquiry questions they may want to pursue, assisted to gather evidence supporting their views about authorial visions and themes, and can be supported to gain material for writing essays and making arguments for particular positions on the issues.

Example of a Sports Opinionaire based on Tangerine

Think carefully about each of these statements.
Write A (agree) or D (disagree) in the ‘S’ column for yourself.
Discuss with someone from home (H) and your group (G).
After reading the novel write what you think the author (A) thinks about these statements.

 
S
H
G
A
Serious athletes care greatly about their physical health and would never do anything to endanger it.        
Serious athletes will risk their health and even premature death to use performance-enhancing drugs if they think these will help them win.        
Participation in sports builds character.        
Participation in sports reveals character.        
Participation in sports makes people self-absorbed and care only about personal accomplishment and winning.        
An overemphasis on winning and competition robs us of the true value of sports and exercise.        
Winning is what sports (and life) are really about.        
Sports are better at building character and values than other kinds of activity.        
The values learned in sports are the values of the competitive free market place, and that’s a good thing.        
Athletes are not held to the same standards for behaviour as academics. They are given unfair preferential treatment.        

(example from M. Smith and J. Wilhelm ‘Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys’: The Role of Literacy in the Lives of Young Men, 2002)

Brief examples of procedural Frontloading

Because particular kinds of texts offer very specific kinds of challenges to readers, we sometimes must frontload students required abilities by building procedural knowledge of reading strategies with them before they read.

In Tangerine, students must make use of the symbolism of place, of the underground fires, of the thunderstorms, of the playing fields, of the town and subdivisions, etc. Students who do not notice and see the symbolic significance of these items and others will fail to engage with and interpret the story fully. Pre-reading activities in which students identify and work with familiar symbols (flags, colours, numbers, etc) could then move to familiar texts like cartoons, fables and advertisements and horror movies to identify the use and importance of symbols in these works. In a short sequence, students could become sensitised to common symbols, to tip-offs that other objects or actions are symbolic (they are described in detail, appear at an important juncture in the story, are important to a character, etc), and to ways in which symbolic meanings need to be interpreted and incorporated into the experience of a story.

(For fuller explanations see J. Wilhelm, Teaching Comprehension through Think-alouds, 2001, and M. Smith and J. Wilhelm, ‘Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys’: The Role of Literacy in the Lives of Young Men, 2002)

Genre Frontloading

Particular text types make particular demands on readers that novice readers may not recognise. Frontloading can sensitise students to the features of a particular kind of text and help them to recognise the text type, the demands it makes, and what they as a reader must do to meet those demands.

Tangerine is a novel told in diary form. If students are not familiar with this text-type, students will need to be made aware that the reader is receiving one person’s private thoughts on events from his or her life. Students will also have to be alerted to pay very careful attention to the dates on the diary entries and to fill in, or write what Umberto Eco (1989) calls ‘ghost chapters’ to fill in the blanks that exist between entries.

Frontloading for such genre demands could include reading cartoons and filling in the ‘gutters’ or spaces between panels in which time has obviously passed. Often we are asked to infer what has happened in the time between the frozen moments in time represented by two panels. Such practice can help students to deal with the demands of the genre of diaries or epistolary novels.


References

Bloor, Edward. (1997). Tangerine. New York: Scholastic.

Eco, Umberto. (1989). The Open Work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ogle, Donna. (1983). K-W-L- Plus: A strategy for comprehension and summarisation. Journal of Reading, 30, 626-63.

Smith, Michael W. & Wilhelm, Jeffrey D. (2002). ‘Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys’: The Role of Literacy in the Lives of Young Men. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Wilhelm, Jeffrey D., Baker, T. and Dube, J. (2001). Strategic Reading: Guiding the lifelong literacy of adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Wilhelm, Jeffrey D. (2001). Teaching Comprehension through Think Alouds. New York: Scholastic.

 

book cover

Tangerine by Edward Bloor is available from:

Jacaranda Educational Supplies
Phone (02) 6251 5029
Fax (02) 6253 1090
Freecall 1800 657455
Email jacaranda@jacaranda.com.au

 

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