I got to spend some time with teachers talking teaching and books last week. I think it is my favorite thing to do outside of working alongside students in the classroom. We talked about ways to help students expand their reflections on texts, and how using these strategies can help students develop into deeper thinkers and writers.
I started the day reviewing Notice and Note with them. I have used Notice and Note since attending PD with Bob and Kylene years ago. I love it so much. I think a common stumbling block teachers face with Notice and Note is helping students move beyond just identifying signposts and surface-level reflections. The anchor questions that are provided serve as a great starting point to dig but the only way dirt is being moved is with the exploration of those questions. With my students last week we modeled this with David Robertson’s The Barren Grounds. Morgan, one of the main characters, is a young girl in the foster care system. She has moved around to many different homes after being removed from her birth mother. A result of this is a general distrust and seeming dislike of most everyone, especially her foster parents. As we read students identified the volatile nature of her personality. At one point early in the story, the students identified a Contrast and Contradiction when Morgan is kind to her new foster brother Eli after attempting to leave him behind. Later in the story, another moment of cruelty directed at her brother had students out of their seats. Talking about what they had decided was her jealousy that he had a connection to his family and culture that she never got to experience. Students didn’t just notice this shift in behavior they wanted to discuss their thoughts on the cause. We had great conversations with many hypotheses shared. Ultimately these discussions and the signposts that mark the start of them helped students to gain a better understanding of characters and their actions as the story progressed.
The second piece that I shared with teachers was another tool from Kylene and Bob’s greatest hits. We discussed ways to expand student thinking when organized in the Book-Head-Heart framework that is introduced in Disrupting Thinking In the past I have used poems and picture books as a means to elicit a response. Books like Love by Matt de la Pena and Loren Long or a short selection like Mama by Jaqueline Woodson. These lessons have always done well to introduce the concept but the thinking largely remained at the surface, especially when we got to the heart category. This time around I considered trying things a little bit differently to see how responses and discussion went. I decided to work through multiple pieces of texts as scaffolds for each other. Building and developing background knowledge that supported the next piece of text. Starting with an image students practiced writing in the BHH framework.
We then discussed potential ideas. The conversation was good and students thinking and impressions of the image were varied. We then moved to another piece of text while I read the first few pages of Nikki Grimes Garvey’s Choice. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. As I read students recorded their thinking. The impact of the apple image followed by the first few pages of the text had students recording a ton of thoughts and feelings and our discussion grew. Students who often didn’t participate jumped in with thoughts, the phrase “going off what X said” was used more times than I have ever encountered before as students built off one another thinking. The best part was that we were not done yet. As a final piece, we watched a Disney/Pixar short entitled Float. This film is hard-hitting. I gave additional instruction for the kids to pay attention to the production elements of the film. As we watched and wrote you could hear the gasps as elements of the film stood out to the students. The conversation could have lasted an hour with so many thoughts pouring out. It was the best BHH generated discussion that I have been able to facilitate. I can’t help but think that the additional scaffolding and background knowledge that our discussions established brought much-needed additional depth to student responses.
Over the course of the PD with teachers, we discussed a lot of things. DIfferent ways students could represent that thinking, how to build more efficient conference into our timetable, but mostly we just talked about helping students increase the depth of their answers.
Too often I think teachers, myself included, forget about the building blocks because our thinking is focused on the tower. As I work with students to go deeper into texts I know that I need to provide the tools for the dig. This past week we looked at ways to ask better questions, read alouds, think alouds, multimodal representation, class discussions. No tests, no worksheets. Thinking, sharing, talking, learning, growing, digging. This is the work we are taking the time to do together, slowly and purposefully because rushing through everything seems to be getting us nowhere fast.
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