Making inferences…

“Ms Stephanie, I think I’ve got a connection,” a little voice piped up. 

It was the last day of term, The class had just finished reading The One and Only Ivan. A fictional story of a real life gorilla who paints pictures to free his friend Ruby the elephant. I had just finished the last page.
Earlier in the week I had watched as this child had laboured over the inferencing questions in a PROBE reading assessment. The child had found the relevant bits of the story but just couldn’t make the link between the information on the assessment and the background knowledge to answer the questions correctly. Instead the child just kept reading out the relevant bits of text.
We would need to put effort into inferencing I thought.
“Well Ivan kind of reminds me of Mandela.”
My ears prick up. 
A few weeks ago the children had a Google Challenge featuring the South African leader. 
Like all great provocations there were more questions than the answers.
Why did Mandela go to jail?
How does a prisoner go to being president of a country? I thought only bad people went to prison.
People really weren’t allowed to go places because of their skin in South Africa?
“Tell us so more about that.” I wonder out loud.
“Well Ivan wanted to free Ruby the elephant just like Mandela wanted to help black people in South Africa to have a better life.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Ivan had to try really hard to tell people about Ruby drawing those pictures. People came and protested to free Ruby. They also freed him. Mandela wrote all those letters and people and protested to free him and people weren’t buying things made in South Africa so the government had to release him too.”
“Any more connections?” I hoped he’d make the link between Ivan’s domain and Robben Island prison, but quietly I was stunned.
I had never thought to make the connection. 
Another chimed in with that part of the puzzle and now the class are talking about Rosa Parks and inequality while I sit back and take it in.
I kept coming back to the Probe.
To be able to infer a child would need to use their own background knowledge as well as evidence from the text 
The book was selected as theme of collective action fitted nicely with the central idea of our Unit of Inquiry the Cultures ‘The opportunities in communities can be changed by the actions of others.’ Along with developing research and digital citizenship skills, the Google challenges were examples of people and events which demonstrated the central idea. Small little ideas were knitted together by the kids over a series of weeks.
On the other hand, the Probe was completely out of context. Standardized to ensure comparisons between children and used year on year. Yet if I hadn’t been watching other data, I would never thought of changing how to approach reading with this child.
I think my assessment maybe wrong,
I’m wondering if his fluency and decoding skills needed development in inferencing texts. Listening to the story enabled this child to think more deeply about the text. He had made several text to world connections backed up with evidence from the book. Was the mental effort of decoding and finding information what was holding reading back? 
Something to ponder next term…

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