The Art of Inference, A Curious Incident, Indeed

So, I’ve been helping my MT with a class of struggling readers for the past month and a half, now.  I’ve been borrowing very heavily on Kylene Beers’ (who was just recently elected NCTE’s Vice President) When Students Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do.  It’s, honestly, one of the most helpful books I have come across as far as providing realistic and useful strategies for teaching low-ability or low-interest readers.  Every English teacher should have this on their bookshelf.  Since I have just sung Ms. Beers’ praises, I may as well provide a link to some of her reading strategies and lesson plans. 

This past Monday I presented a slightly modified inferencing lesson that I snagged from Beers.  I created a PowerPoint that briefly defined inference (authors imply, readers infer) and contained two images to start using inference with.  The follow-up was having students make inferences with a very short text:


He put down $10.00 at the window.  The woman behind the window gave $4.00.  The person next to him gave him $3.00, but he gave it back to her.  So, when they went inside, she bought him a large popcorn.


My first two texts were pieces of art that I thought might serve the lesson well.  The first piece was Pablo Picasso’s La Vie.  While I was preparing the presentation, it didn’t even enter my mind that nudity would be an issue with my oh so mature bunch of ninth graders. But, when my MT clicks the slide, I hear:

Giggle, giggle.

“They’re naked! Ms. P., why you showing us naked people?”

“Alright, get it out.  They are naked.”

Then one of the students pipes up, “Gosh, haven’t ya’ll ever seen a naked person before?”


More giggles.  For about two minutes.


I wonder if I’m ever going to get through this lesson.


When I finally do get them to start playing the game and giving me some answers, they came up with some really good inferences.  It was going fairly well when I asked a student volunteer to take everyone’s inferences and try to create a story for the painting.


“Well the girl on the left is the woman with the baby’s daughter.  The old woman on the right went to the store.  When her Mama gone, the girl on the left invite her boyfriend over and they start doing their thing, ya know?  Ya know, Ms. P?  They doing their thing and t    he Mama come back and she was mad, that’s why she look so mean.  The boyfriend has his hand out ‘cause he’s trying to explain.  That’s what’s happening Ms. P.”




I just know that I have lost control.  But, hey, check out the inferences.  So, I motion for my MT to click over to my next slide.  Surely, I can gain back some control here.  The piece was Edvard Munch’s The Scream.  No nudity here.


So I repeat the process and ask a volunteer to create a story from the inferences we heard.

“So, like this boy gets lost.  He gets separated from his family and he’s all alone, ‘cause in the picture he’s all alone.  And, he starts screaming because he’s retarded, too.  That’s why he’s screaming, because retarded people scream and they look like that.  Yeah, that’s what they look like, right Ms. P?”

For twenty seconds, I swore that I would never let my kids speak in class again.  Thank god, I have a more than understanding MT.

This entry was posted in English Education, Lesson Ideas, Reading Resources, Student Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

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