Using QAR to Get to Know Each Other

A MiddleWeb Blog

kids_cusp2I’ve been doing much more in-depth research than is typical of me, trying to find some effective ways of applying a “literacy approach” to the pre-formulated, blocked reading time identified by my principal in this year’s schedule of instruction.

While it would be great to have more flexibility within my schedule, I realize it is a practice that may be necessary when trying to schedule gym, music, art, academic resource support classes, speech and occupational therapy, in-class support schedules, and various and sundry other components that make-up the chaos theory that is a necessary evil in public education.

We do our best to accommodate the needs of each child. It’s a more complicated issue than I understood it to be years ago, when I felt pigeon-holed into planning instruction based on time slots.

There really can be a great deal of flexibility, if I apply the principles I try to teach my students when I encourage them to “think outside the box.” I have to get out of that box too. I’ve been asking myself, What are some truly effective mini-lessons (and graphic organizers to enhance them) that I can use to help my students become more literate  members of society?

I have a strong support system. My district is doing its best to provide us with training in these practices. Money is always an issue, but they’ve asked us to do the best we can to wear our literacy caps, to model good reading, as opposed to “teaching reading skills,” and to familiarize ourselves with a philosophical method of instruction that will help us develop literacy in our learners. “Philosophical method” smells like an oxymoron, but I’m a fan of “jumbo shrimp.”

Literacy & Literate

literate-def-2According to Webster’s New World Dictionary (Second College Edition), the word literacy is defined as the “ability to read and write.” Literate, on the other hand, is defined as “able to read and write, well-educated, having or showing extensive knowledge, learning, or culture.”

These definitions come from the same dictionary, yet the latter has a significantly more detailed, expanded-upon definition. It reminds me of today’s education practices, of the conversations being batted around about the importance of teaching phonics skills vs. the emphasis needed on developing critical thinking skills in young readers.

Both definitions — the simplistic identification of the ability to actually read and write and the more complex definition that’s reflective of the literacy philosophy that my school district adopted last year — are needed. Philosophy isn’t an activity to do with the kids, but creative methods are needed to illustrate the philosophy of reading for my students.

Philosophy begins with the search for greater wisdom, greater knowledge. It can also be thought of as a particular system of principles for the conduct of life, or in this educator’s case, the conduct of teaching reading, social studies, science, and math, to name a few.

QAR Philosophy Method

Toward the end of last year, I was introduced to the QAR Strategy. One of my colleagues was conducting a grade-level workshop, and she introduced this technique in connection with fiction and non-fiction texts.

qarAccording to a helpful explanation at the Reading Rockets website, “The question–answer relationship (QAR) strategy helps students understand the different types of questions. By learning that the answers to some questions are ‘Right There’ in the text, that some answers require a reader to ‘Think and Search,’ and that some answers can only be answered ‘On My Own,’ students recognize that they must first consider the question before developing an answer.” In addition, there are questions that directly involve the reader and the author in a combined answer, “Author and Me” questions. (See this PDF – useful, with occasional lapses into German.)

It got me thinking. If we were going to incorporate a new philosophy about reading, why couldn’t I incorporate a new way of using QAR?

I am calling it the QAR Philosophy Method. It’s an approach to getting to know each other a little bit better as we start our year. Maybe the QAR Philosophy Method will help the kids develop a mindset to look more carefully at each other, much like they would analyze a story. Each child is a story, in and of themselves.

For example:

QAR Introductions

We broke down the four types of questions used in the QAR Philosophy Method last week and came up with some examples for each:

“Right There” Questions:

Are you a boy or a girl?
What color are your eyes?
What color is your hair?

Those were simple. The answer to these types of questions is directly observable in the person I am speaking with.

“Think and Search” Questions (wherein the answer may be found through observable clues):

cap2 What sports do you like to play or watch? Yankees shirts, World Cup soccer jerseys, or any shirt with the specific name of an athlete help us answer this without a verbal response from our “text.”
Are you an organized or disorganized person? A quick peek in a desk can provide important evidence.

“Author and You” Questions (in which there may be no easily “observable” answer, but clues we can gather from our own experiences and observations):

What are some of your hobbies or interests? In class, we noticed that our nametag collages provided many clues about shared interests and what we can infer about each other, in addition to a direct response elicited from our new acquaintance. We noticed we had a lot in common.
Do you have brothers or sisters who drive you crazy? We found out from listening to each other that we all have people in our family who we love AND who drive us crazy at times.

“On My Own” Questions (These are questions we wonder about privately at first – questions whose answers will be revealed as our year progresses and we get to know each other better):

Why does the kid sitting across from me never raise his hand to answer questions? Is he shy? Is he nervous?
Does the girl at the next table get nervous about math? I wonder if she’s scared she won’t understand the math too?
Do any of the other kids feel uncomfortable when they see someone being mean to someone else? Do they feel the same way I do?

Simple tools

SchoolRise Enlightened Teaching offers that, “Teachers can lose balance even within a so-called balanced curriculum if strategies are overemphasized rather than taught as simply tools for learning, literary understanding and appreciation, and personal growth.” (“Accessible Comprehension Instruction Through QAR”)

This year, some of the first tools I can give my students are tools that involve analyzing their own curiosity and individual relationships with learning…and with each other. Maybe I can continue to incorporate the QAR Philosophy Method. One simple tool to help them do much more than just read and write…

Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Wilson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for over 20 years. She has served as content writer and creative consultant for the national, award-winning initiative The Walking Classroom since its inception in 2005. Mary’s work has been published in Education Digest and was honored with the SmartBrief Education 2016 Editors’ Choice Content Award. Trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Follow her on Twitter @maryrightangle and check out her Kids on the Cusp page at Facebook.

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