Tag Archives: Background Knowledge

Exploring The Orenda — Part 2

From amazon.caExploring The Orenda — continued…

How can I activate and provide background knowledge for myself? What questions do I have before reading?

  1. What is the book about? What is the basic story?
  2. Why is it so “award-winning“?
  3. Have I attempted challenging reads before? Have I overcome any?
  4. What predictions are bubbling to the surface before I attack the text 6start reading?
  5. Re: Predictions: Being that this is not a Middle Grades book or a Young Adult book, what challenging narrative devices can I predict that author will employ?

What are professional reviewers saying about this book?

gam-squareI found this review from the Globe and Mail from September, 2013 by Charles Foran:

Joseph Boyden mines Canada’s bloody past for surprising spirituality

From this Globe and Mail review, I can expect:

  • alternating narratives: more than one story intertwined
  • the multiple stories focus upon characters named Bird, Snow Falls and Crow
  • these characters each narrate different events and, therefore, offer differing versions of those events
  • the story involving the Huron and the Iroquois
  • the reviewer likens the story to the real-life martyrdom of Jean de File:Brébuef-jesuits04jesuuoft.jpgBrebeuf
  • the reviewer calls this story “epic” and “worthy of Herodotus”
  • The title, The Orenda, means “native life”
  • the setting of this story is out in the bush

I also read a review from The National Post:

The reviewer, Donna Bailey Nurse, explored ideas such as:

  • The Orenda explores what forces led to the decimation of Canada’s First Nations cultures.
  • A question that arises from the book: are First Nations peoples, by allowing missionaries into their villages, partly to blame for the devastation of their own culture?

“Much more controversial is the idea that First Nations, by allowing the missionaries into their villages, are partly to blame for the devastation of their culture.”

  • The Jesuit priest character embodies this threat:

“…it is his faith that poses a deeper threat to the clan’s survival, the way he uses their own language to attack their beliefs.”

  • this book is violent and graphic:

“This is a very violent work, full of the most grotesque descriptions of ritualized torture that I’ve ever encountered… I’ve never read anything like it and, to be honest, some of it I could not get through.”

And so, with this framing of the text in mind, I endeavor to read Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda…

Exploring The Orenda — Part 1

Exploring The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

Picking up the book:from amazon.ca

Confession: I am not drawn to books I “should” read — although, to contradict myself,  the book Echo by Pam Nunoz Ryan was recommended as a “should” read, which I read and loved.

Reflection: Perhaps placing obstacles or challenges in front of my thinking, hurdles for my brain to jump over, is good — provided they are appropriate challenges. A medical textbook, while obviously a challenge, would be far too difficult for.

The cover of The Orenda is, to be frank, not inviting to me. The art seems a bit abstract and unhelpful.

The stickers on the cover that say that is was considered for prizes such as The Giller and The Canada Council for the Arts are, for me, intimidating. The CBC Canada Reads program says that this book is a winner, an important FNMI book by an important FNMI author — what if I don’t feel the same way? What if I don’t think it is “good”? (What is “good” anyway?)

Better to remain silent and be thought a

Worse, what if I don’t get it? (Perhaps I should heed Abe Lincoln’s advice and should not be admitting this.)


So, I will attempt to go back to basics, to walk the walk of a proficient reader:

What doattack the text 6es a proficient reader do when faced with potentially challenging text? How do they ‘attack the text’?

Activates and Provides Background Knowledge: What do I already know before I start reading this book? What do I need to know before I start reading? (See below.)

Asks Questions: What questions do I have before I start reading? (See below.)

Set a Purpose for Reading: Why am I reading this book? (Still stuck on the “I should read this because it is an important book by an important author” — as opposed to “This book really touched my heart / soul / life and, knowing you, I think you would really like it.” Perhaps only semantics, but it would seem separated by a chasm. And I can feel the difference.)

How can I activate and provide background knowledge for myself? What questions do I have before reading?

  1. What is the book about? What is the basic story?
  2. Why is it so “award-winning“?
  3. Have I attempted challenging reads before? Have I overcome any?
  4. What predictions are bubbling to the surface before I start reading?
  5. Re: Predictions: Being that this is not a Middle Grades book or a Young Adult book, what challenging narrative devices can I predict that author will employ?
  6. What are professional reviewers saying about this book?

I think I will start with #6…

Building Background Knowledge with Oobleck? Part 3

From my last post about Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss, I left off with a qFrom amazon.cauestion:  if I am reading this book to my daughters (or any other book), I wondered about how much I point out certain ideas or concepts so as to deliberately build their background knowledge.

While on Twitter, I discovered Mem Fox’s Ten Read-Aloud Commandments for parents. Although the ‘commandments’ are geared towards parents of young children, elements of the list are applicable to reading aloud to teenage students, I should imagine

For reading to my girls at home, Fox’s Commandment #9 states:

“Never ever teach reading, or get tense around books.”

From this commandment, I think I take that it is my job to simply to expos664px-In_the_evening_they_were_read_aloud_to_Cornelia_(The_Works_of_J._W._von_Goethe,_Volume_5)e them to a lot of ideas and words and characters and stories with animation and enthusiasm and positivity, and if they ask for clarification about something organically, then I can explain or elucidate.

But if they don’t ask, I infer that Fox is saying don’t make the reading aloud about learning; instead make it about enjoying reading for the sake of enjoying reading.

So, then, if my girls just listen to stories for the sake of listening to stories, how is their background knowledge being built indirectly?

In a different article (Building and activating students’ background knowledge: It’s what they already know that counts), Fisher and Frey go on to suggest how wide reading indirectly builds background knowledge:

“Reading is an excellent, indirect way to build background knowledge. Through books, readers meet people they otherwise would never have met, visit places and times that they would not have otherwise been able to visit, and interact with ideas that shape their understanding of the world.”

In Deeper Reading, Kelly Gallagher quotes David Sousa:

“…much like a tree growing new branches, tree-576847_640everything we remember becomes another set of branches to which memories can be attached. The more we learn, the more we can learn and retain.” (34)

Gallagher continues:

“The more branches I grow, the easier it will be to add new ones.” (34)

Gallagher also notes:

“…reading comprehension is tied closely to what the reader brings to the page — to what the reader knows before reading.” (26)

If this is true, then hopefully, when faced with challenging reading, my daughters may have the story of Bartholomew and the Oobleck bubble to the surface.

Building Background Knowledge with Oobleck? Part 2

In my last post, I explored how reading Dr. Seuss’ Bartholomew and the Oobleck

From amazon.ca

From amazon.ca

to my two older girls (ages 7 and 9) might help them indirectly build background knowledge, as explained in Fisher and Frey’s article  Building and Activating Background KnowledgeIn that article, the authors state:

“…reading a wide range of texts on a given topic builds background knowledge. When students read texts at their reading level, their understanding of the topic improves.”

So, I wondered what background knowledge is being indirectly built by reading this text.

Some possible topics and messages could be:

  • The world of royal hierarchy: Kings have people who work and live under them
  • The nature of being a ruler vs. being a leader.
  • What power can do to a person / The desire for power can blind a person to what is going on around them: the ‘riches’ they already enjoy as well as the suffering of the people around you.
  • Be careful what you wish for.
  • The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
  • A hero can be anyone, including the smallest person with the least amount of power.
  • Bravery means standing up for what is right in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
  • Taking responsibility for one’s actions, particularly mistakes.
  • The power of saying “Sorry”.
  • Change is not always for the better.

The question I now have is: will my girls get all of that from hearing this book read to them? How much should I guide them to a particular understanding of this text?

Building Background Knowledge with Oobleck? Part 1

From amazon.ca

I recently read Dr. Seuss’ 1949 prose book Bartholomew and the Oobleck to my 9-year-old and 7-year-old over a few nights as their bedtime story. I saw it at the library and was wondering if it might work for my 7-year-old, if the book was too difficult in terms of vocabulary and fantastical-ness. And she did report that she was confused by the book for the first part because it was a bit “weird”, but ended up loving it.

I choose to read this Dr. Seuss to them because of an article my Learning Coordinator colleague, A. Gilbert, introduced me to this year, written by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. The article is entitled Building and Activating Background Knowledge and towards the end of the article, Fisher and Frey briefly touch upon the difference between building direct and indirect background knowledge. Direct building is when I, as the teacher, deliberately and explicitly build or activate background knowledge prior to reading a text, such as by providing vocabulary or by framing the text.

Indirect background knowledge, however, can be built in a number of ways, explain Fisher and Frey:

“Indirect experiences build background knowledge in more subtle ways. For example, teacher modeling (see our column in the November issue) shows students how teachers think aloud about content. In addition, reading a wide range of texts on a given topic builds background knowledge. When students read texts at their reading level, their understanding of the topic improves.”

They add in one other element:

“In addition to teacher modeling and wide reading, background knowledge can be built as students interact with one another.”

But I want to focus in on the ‘reading widely’ element of building background knowledge and had this question:

Might reading Bartholomew and the Oobleck help my girls indirectly build background knowledge? How? About what?