It's like Alfie Kohn says about some kids having had "school done to them." They've been asked to retell so much during their lives that that's what they think good readers do all the time. Instead, we need to have kids really interpret. According to Louise Rosenblatt's "Transactional Theory of Reading and Writing," true interpretation only happens when a text is met by a reader with real personal experiences and ideas. Interpretation feels like a reader is creating new, unique ideas each time he or she reads a text.
Isn't that empowering? You're allowed to have new ideas of your own! There's not one right answer. The albatross can actually represent many things, depending on your own experiences. It adds more value to the student instead of the reading just happening to them.
Yes, retelling is an important part of our teaching. It's a big part of what we do when we assess students' reading comprehension, but it's only a part of comprehension, especially now.
There are also many ways to predict...based on personal experience, knowledge of the character, thinking about the situation, looking at illustrations. Predicting can be a way for us to see if kids are starting to synthesize. We can ask them to tell us what they think is going to happen and ask how they know. If they can line up text evidence, particularly if it's from multiple places in the book, it's usually a good sign.
However, when it seems that any time we sit down next to a reader and ask what they're thinking, and they keep trying to guess what's going to happen next, they are probably turning into prediction junkies. If the chronic retellers we read about in the previous section are living in the past of the book, the chronic predictors are living in the future. The best readers who synthesize live in the present of the book...able to understand what's going on because of what's happened already, and looking ahead to what is going to happen...and it all makes sense!
Try this simple Litmus test. During reading workshop, go around and ask all your students to name their idea. See how many of them are predicting, and how many are really theorizing. In the beginning of the book, kids should be predicting (along with empathizing and gathering information about their characters and other story elements), but see how many of them are actually in the beginning of the book when they predict. You can see if the prediction epidemic has swept your class.
Sometimes, kids go for the question form of thought because it's safer. They don't run the risk of being wrong, but it actually holds them back. You can explain to them that it's like a scientist's hypothesis. It's a good guess that will probably change as we keep on reading.
I can use some [what I call] filter questions to think about what's going on in the story. Some great filter questions include, "In what ways is (Alex a joker?)" or "In what situations is (Alex a joker?)" When kids read and reread with these lenses, we arrive at much more deep thinking, like, "Alex is a joker who uses his sense of humor to hide his sadness, because he's just not good at baseball." If you think about it, Skinnybones is a Level O text. Kids are expected to do this kind of thinking in this text, or it really isn't just right!! We need to be teaching toward this level of synthesis, even at Level O! If you feel this is too hard for a particular student, it might not be the right level [even if they are getting all the words right!]
It's not enough to just accumulate thousands of facts about a topic, but to grow original ideas and theories that continue to grow as we read on. Instead of, "Polar bears have black skin and translucent fur," you should think, "The polar bear uses the colors of its body to survive the cold weather because..."
You can also take your theory and place it into the container of a larger topic. Take the polar bear example and say, "Many animals use various parts of their body to survive in their habitat," and then read up on some other animals. This can possibly lead to tweaks in the theory as you read on.
Text evidence is just as important in nonfiction, as it is in fiction. The minor details used to be all kids would gather. However, today, it's just text evidence--crucial to hold on to, not because it shows we remember details, but because those details strengthen the good ideas we are having.