#cyberPD: Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading, Chapters 7 and 8

..reading is a transactional act, with a text’s words only coming to life as they interact with a reader’s mind and heart, and that the students who leave our schools will need to know how to interpret many things, not just analyze them, we need to bring interpretation — and feelings — back into our classrooms.— page 133  

Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading

Every chapter I read in Vicki Vinton’s new book opens up a new door for me as a reader and a reading teacher. I believe I will be reading it again and again during the school year, seeing more each time as I use this line of inquiry with my students.

Vicki takes simple ideas and books and subtly addresses the craft of interpretation in Chapter 7. The work readers do to interpret a text, supports their eventual understanding or analysis.  Our natural pattern-seeking behavior drives the process of inquiry and interpretation. When a pattern breaks, it calls readers to revise what we thought we understood, and create a new pattern or a new line of inquiry.  This complex work of interpretation is the heart of how readers can make the leap to analysis and meaning. Interpretation is how we support our thinking.

Some big ideas from Chapter 7:

While Common Core standards ask students to analyze more than interpret, we as teachers know for students to analyze, they must spend time and energy around interpretation. Interpretation is the basis for any analysis.

The process of interpretation is essential not just for readers but for historians, writers, scientists, inventors, leaders, thinkers. Without interpretation that involves examining multiple lines of inquiry, we can not make meaning.

Details offer keys to interpretation, and we often miss them while we are figuring out the story. A simple move I plan on to make next year is at the end of a Read Aloud, rereading the beginning with the end in mind. Asking readers, what details did we over look and how might these details enhance our interpretations and final analysis.

We know nonfiction writers want to inform their readers about the topic they’re writing about by giving us lots of facts and information, but they don’t always explain those facts in a really clear, understandable way.  That means that, as readers, we could know those facts well enough to answer a question or use them in our writing, but not fully understand them. — page 147

This quote from Chapter 8 is a key idea I’ve highlighted to start my nonfiction reading and writing work next year. Too often young readers come to nonfiction thinking they will be spoon fed the information. Or worse, that they can scour for the answer to a specific question about the text. To read nonfiction, we must take an investigative stance.  One that requires us to figure it out and be at risk of confusion.

Our work this coming year will be about finding those confusing moments when we need to build understanding with logic and inference.

Some big ideas from Chapter 8:

Expository nonfiction often requires a logical, “if-this-then-that” approach. By recognizing places of confusion, we can teach readers to ask how does this work, how does this connect, how did this happen, and/or is something missing.

Nonfiction is full ideas and language that the writers assume readers understand. Be aware and ready to address this through inquiry.

Court confusion and it’s more confident cousin curiosity.  Embrace confusion as natural part of learning.

Thanks to the #cyberPD community for choosing this book.

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#cyberPD: Vicki Vinton’s Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading

Reading is a complicated act. To teach it we need to be responsive to the problems our students face. Chapters 5 and 6 in Vicki Vinton’s new book, Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading,  highlight practices I plan to hold on to for the coming year.

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Chapter 5, Creating Opportunites for Readers to Figure Out the Basics, hones in on how to support readers who missed the essential ideas in a story: the who, what, when or where. These students “should” be able to access these ideas but aren’t.  They may have chosen their book. They may even jot and talk with a partner. But when you confer with them, you realize they have no idea. They are completely lost, and they don’t know it. I know these kiddos.

Vicki offers key strategies and examples of how to “design opportunities” for readers who are confused even though they are reading self-selected, technically just right books.

The chart below will be in my conferring notebook this fall.  

In this chapter, Vicki takes us through the nuts and bolts of a small group lesson: from choosing a text and crafting the teaching point to facilitating the session with nuanced teaching considerations.  It is beautifully done and worthy of study with your grade level team. My major takeaways follow.

  1. “Connect what you’re asking students to do to some understanding of how texts and writers work.”   Writers often do or don’t do… so readers need to…
  2. ” Be mindful of the language you use.”  Academic language and metaphors can confuse learners. Get to the point offering students a clear explanation of what readers do, why, and how they do it.
  3. “…don’t worry about offering a new teaching point each day.” Kiddos need the basics, and that limits the teaching points. And, they need practice doing it. Keep it simple.
  4. “…select more than one text that poses the same problem and let students choose which one to read.”   By offering students a choice of text, it nudges students to do something they may have not been doing well: select a text that they want to and can do the work with. 
  5. “… think twice before automatically offering scaffolds, including modeling.” This is a biggie. Many of our students have learned to wait for help. And teachers, being the helpful sort, oblige.  Vicki suggests we turn the “I do, we do, you do” model on its head. Reverse it by putting the student first. How brilliant.  Let the student do first.  Invite them to show what and how they do, then we can think as a group to build our understanding. Finally, a teacher can notice and name what was done. By putting students first, everyone sees more of what students can do; empowering students and informing teachers.

In Chapter 6, Creating Opportunites for Readers to Experience Deeper Meaning, shares how we can get students “to experience deeper meaning by reading closely, raising questions, and considering possibilities about what the writer might be trying to show them as they read, not after they’ve read.”

This chart will go into my planning tool box for read aloud. It pushes me to create a reading process around curiosity and wondering. With that stance in hand, questions and potential answers are natural outcomes.

As they read, students need opportunities to notice and offer opinions. Vicki encourages talk but also low stakes writing so students can “ponder, deepen, and question their own thinking.”

Low stakes writing is tricky. Here are my take aways that I need to make sure my students understand.

  1. We write to capture and create thinking at a point in the story.
  2. We write to explore ideas that the text makes us wonder or question.
  3. We write knowing our thoughts could change.
  4. It isn’t an essay,

I’ve asked students to sit in the character’s shoes, but Vicki invites readers to shift their perspective with prompts like:

What does the writer think about the character?
What do you think the writer was trying to show you?
What is your opinion of the character?

These questions will nudge students toward recognizing that their ideas interact with a writer’s ideas. And that writers want their readers to consider and develop ideas around their characters.

I’m imagining this chart in my classroom or in a student’s notebook. Maybe with a Post it on the perspective they choose for their writing about reading.


Thanks to the #cyberPD community for choosing this book. Reading and writing in the company of others helps me hold on to and grow ideas that I can bring to the classroom next school year.

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Celebrate: The “I’ve got it” feeling

My week has been so full, it’s no wonder I spent yesterday staring at out the window, catching my breath.

This week, Monday through Thursday I was with my fourth-grade colleagues at UCLA in a Math Professional Development. For those of you who huddle in the language arts camp, and if you know what takes to get to UCLA by 8 am, you may be wondering, why is this a celebration.

405-north bound to UCLA by Mike Owens

All of that perceived and possible torture was mitigated by a daily dose of learning with Megan Franke and committed teachers. I heard Franke speak last spring so when I saw she was teaching a small group on Cognitive Guided Instruction or CGI, I jumped at the chance.

I was not disappointed. By the end of the week, my notebook is filled with practices and tools to take to my classroom; my heart was full of the kind of research-based, constructivist pedagogy that brings me to teaching.  Balancing teaching strategies with student thinking makes for excellent instruction no matter the subject matter.

The honoring of student understanding, not only meeting students where they are but allowing for equal access across the day, is why I teach.  This can be done with teacher moves that push, pull and press students toward their next step allow learning that will stick.  This week we talked how this goes in math.  Do you see connections to moves you take in the language arts classroom?

When a teacher pushes, they ask a student to take something they did and do a little more. It’s a nudge that says, wow look what you did, how about taking that, that thing you did, and try this.

Teachers pull student thinking with tell-me-more queries. How-did-you-do-that questions ask students to tell the details of their thinking and by doing that we (teachers and students) notice more about what they did.

Pressing student thinking testing their ideas. A teacher might say, what you did right there, that idea, would you ask yourself, is this true for all situations, or only this one? Testing an idea is analytical thinking at its best.

Reading and writing teacher friends, isn’t this what we do every day?

This week I realized why I love school and teaching. Pushing, pulling and pressing our thinking leads to the “I’ve got it!” feeling. And that makes you want more.

Thank you, Ruth, for hosting celebrations on every week. Find more here.


Slice of Life: Blackout

The last bit of chocolate ice cream had melted to syrup when the white noise stopped. Patrons bent over their candlelit meals as the restaurant became sticky and dark. Blackout.

Our meal complete we walked out to the sidewalk, searching for signs of light. Perhaps in the next block. Passing darkened cafes, aproned waiters stood outside waiting for power. Their faces lit by the glow of their phone messages. No more tables to turn tonight.

Up ahead, our car waited. We jump into the oasis of light and air and escape.

Driving towards home, high in the sky, there is a flash of light. Is that the moon?  Off and on.  I watch it appear and disappear in the coal black sky.  Back and forth. Playing hide and seek on the horizon.

We turn south, and the moon reveals itself completely. Shining its nearly full moon shape down on us and follows us home.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more s11454297503_e27946e4ff_hlices here.

#CyberPD: Vicki Vinton’s Dynamic Teaching of Reading

Years ago a colleague shared a copy of What Readers Really Do by Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse. Intrigued and desperate for something to help me teach middle-grade readers to read and like reading, I grabbed it, and I haven’t looked back. This text spoke to how I created meaning. It removed the graphic organizers that I used only when I taught, and never when I read. Finally, reading instruction that made sense.

Over the years this seminal work has been something I’ve returned to again and again to clarify and shore up my understanding and my beliefs around reading.  Vicki’s blog, To Make a Prairie, has provided a place to revel in her thinking, storytelling, and teaching. It is a place to refine and discover how this complex work of teaching reading can go.

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Now with Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading I have another place to zoom in, improve and fortify my beliefs around why this work matters. With this post, I’m joining in the #cyberPD community to reflect on the first four chapters of Vicki’s new book.

The subtitle of the book, shifting to a problem-based approach, says so much.

…in a problem-based approach, my aim as a teacher is to help you develop your problem-solving capacities as a reader, not to get a particutlar text. — p.12

…It’s about the process of thinking, making sense, and perservering in the face of not knowing exactly how to proceed.– p.13

This is exactly what I’ve been doing this week reading Yaa Gyasi’s epic saga Homegoing. I know little about the cultures presented and have a vague understanding of the history the story covers. Every chapter leaps generations and continents. It is breathtaking and at times confusing. I’ve had to go back to understand the logistics and connections. I have trusted myself to read, read on, re-read, and problem-solve as needed. I have trusted the writer to lead me. I started this tale knowing little, but now, I am thoroughly vested in figuring it out.

This kind of learning only happens if readers bring their minds and their hearts to a text, and as a teacher of reading, that means I want students to be able to analyze and interpret, reason and  imagine, critique texts ojectively and respond to them personally.  And I want them to do this with real independence and a strong sense of agency and identity as readers, in ways that support academic success and a love of reading. — p. 18 (underscore added)

The words I underlined in this section follow Vicki’s italicized ands. Teaching readers to interpret, imagine, respond personally while having a love of reading sounds like the work I want readers to engage in. This means getting students texts where they can practice that work is critical.

Vicki asks us to consider shifting “from the current vision of text complexity to one that fully acknowledges the role of the most unpredictable piece, the students” — p. 20  And that teachers “assess a text’s complexity by how much a reader has to figure out that the writer has conveyed indirectly.” — p. 22

By thinking about how much a reader has to figure out in a text, we can consider how students are really reading. Focusing on the work each student is doing to create meaning on their own guides our teaching.  And by allowing students to do this, we build student agency around reading.

The interlacing of creative and critical thinking are addressed in the third chapter. Vicki offers this thinking

…I believe that creative thinking is actually the invisible and often unrecognized thinking that helps readers eventually make more nuanced and insightful judgements and claims. … thinking creatively is the behind-the-scenes work that’s needed for students to more thoughtfully complete  many of the Common Core-style tasks…– p.34

Creative thinking is the generative, possibility making, hypothesis forming part of reading work that drives us to figure it out. The reader’s beginning work is to notice what seems important. Then we instinctively consider how the potentially disparate pieces fit together by look for patterns. Asking could it be, or perhaps…

Thinking back to my summer read, Homegoing, I’m in what Vicki would call the “middle middle” of the book (p. 41). It’s messy. I’m looking for those big ideas by piecing together the puzzle. Each character leaves an impression on me, and I struggle to connect the trials of one to the next. I’m looking for answers or at least meaning to the trouble they face.  Pondering this, and recounting the journeys of the characters brings forth more thinking. The book sits with me, and I internalize; testing out theories around what it could mean. I’m sure I have missed details, nuances, and beautiful language on my reading journey. I could have been a better reader along the way.  I’m creating meaning, and at this point in the story, I am also critically considering ideas I have generated. Creativity and critical analysis are interwoven activities at this point.

Will students do this work? Teaching and learning are touched on in chapter four.

Three big ideas: the impact of stress, the necessity of time and repetition, and the importance of pleasure. These three hit home.

Stress makes the majority of learners shut down. Creating an environment of safe learning and emotional support is critical. Pushing too hard, and too often with difficult text is stress producing.

Learning takes time and repetition. That means students read. They do. And

“…This means students often start out unaware there’s something they can’t do — or even something to do– and the first step in the process is to become aware of that.” — p. 47.

I love this.  How powerful is becoming aware you don’t get it on your own. Too often students are looking to be told where and how well they comprehend. It is empowering to know this on your own.

Finally, the pleasure of reading. Thinking about the long game, this is essential. Giving students the opportunity to discover and learn something will keep them going, provide the reason to read on, and in the end create critical consumers of text.




Slice of Life: The signs we wear

The breeze had picked up just enough to make those dressed in suits comfortable. We waited. The line moved little by little. Organizers came by at regular intervals to assure us, it won’t be much longer. The crowd was diverse in their dress. Some in suits, others union t-shirts. Sundresses, jeans, sandals.  A typical dress-how-you-please LA crowd.

The couple behind us said hello to passersby in religious robes. My husband turned and struck up a conversation. The man was dressed in clerical cassock and the woman next to him, his wife, in a lovely white dress.

After introductions, she asked, “Are you a teacher?”

“Why, yes,” I said, a little startled. “Is it that obvious?”

“It’s your bag. Who but teachers want us to read?”

We laughed and talked about the need to read.

At first, I thought, how sad that just anyone wouldn’t be sporting this bag. But on further reflection, perhaps I should be proud.  Teachers are identifiable champions of reading.

Happy Fourth Slicers!  May you have the opportunity to spend some of your time celebrating our country by reading.

Read more slices at Two Writing Teachers.



Celebrate: Learning with Nonfiction Kid Lit

I have this notion that given enough time, I can read and learn everything I need to know about anything.


I usually set my sights too high. This year is no exception. In addition to the professional titles on my desk, I’ve found nonfiction kid lit to be my go-to source for science learning. The Next Generation Science Standards are overwhelming and brilliant.  Science trainings and conferences have helped, but there is something about reading a simple text that develops those synapses.  Tremendous nonfiction kid lit books, like Your Mind-Bending Brain, are fun and informative keeping potentially complex ideas simple.

Book collections provided by Booksource are so helpful. Each grade level has packs designed to address the core science ideas and topics classroom inquiries and investigations need to center around.


I love reading history, but it’s often the last book in the TBR pile. This week Sandy Brumbaum and Shana Frazin created a nonfiction book club group that introduced Uprooted, an account of the Japanese American experience during World War II. to the top of my reading pile.  This middle school read is fascinating; the connections to current events are staggering. I’m so looking forward to the thinking that will be shared virtually in a few weeks. Interested in joining in?

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For the next few weeks, I’ll be celebrating and learning with great nonfiction Kid Lit.

Thank you, Ruth, for your Celebration link up. Read more celebrations here.

Slice of Life: Dancing with Rules

I sat with Laura from Brooklyn outside Zankel Hall. In shadow, as the sun hit the southwest side of 120th, we talked about teaching, about the pros and cons of living in New York versus Los Angeles.

And then, we watched the parked cars came to life as they pulled out and waited for the street sweeper to pass. Honking occasionally at the less aware. Weaving in and around, the street sweeper danced with the cars in front of Teachers College.

Apparently, this happens all over New York.

What we watched wasn’t quite as organized as the above, but the technique was evident. These drivers knew how to navigate the rules of the street. It was all a matter of knowledge and timing. If you mess up, you get a ticket; maybe lose a side view mirror. But for those in the know, it works.

There are times I’m all for rule breaking. Or dancing. With certain things, I either go outside the lines or don’t participate. Writing could be one of those things. I write for myself with a set of rules I negotiate in my writing universe.

Last week  I sat in a classroom outside of my comfort zone. In a class of English teachers, the rules became more defined, and I revisited my writing inadequacies. Fears that my thesis (did I even have one?) did not match my evidence. Verb agreement and structure all came into question. And in the end, did I say anything? Mind you, these fears were created, and the rules were enforced by me.

The lessons I took away from this writing workshop were profound.

Some writing lessons I knew but needed to be reminded of —

Reading texts as mentors can create joy and skill in writers.  Dissecting writing develops writer-self-awareness and content understanding. Revising with specific lenses sharpen meaning and lift the writer and the writing. Doing this work will take goal setting and discipline I’m not sure I possess. My rule breaking tendencies could conveniently sneak in and sabotage my efforts.

Some teaching lessons I knew but needed to be reminded of —

Being in a writing classroom means being vulnerable and possibly feeling inadequate or distracted by those in similar predicaments. When I teach towards higher levels of writing proficiency, I must remember that students are infant writers, just getting their bearings on their journey. When I ask them to ratchet up their work and set goals, it must be done with their fragility in mind. And, this is when dancing with and perhaps around the rules is necessary.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.





Summer at TCRWP

It was only a few drops when I entered the Starbucks on Broadway. Then. Downpour. My desire to move on disappeared and I sat down, thankful I was inside with a charged laptop after a day of TCRWP’s Summer Writing Institute. Not a bad place to be caught in a rain storm. Lots to read and reflect on.

The institute starts at Riverside Church listening to Lucy. I will never tire of her message of purpose. The importance of writing. The importance of narratives. The importance of teaching children that their story matters.

Lucy reads a child’s story. Treasuring each word. We hear the importance of this writer’s story. We know, and more importantly, the writer knows, this matters. To find meaning in our lives, we must believe. Something is there. We have stories of consequence.

Lucy spoke of the trouble with writing. When we get to “thorny” places. When we think we have nothing more to say. When we get to the uncomfortable mistakes and empty places in our lives, those stories can lead us to something. Maybe change. If this speaks to you as a writer, think of what it could mean for our students. Stories of confusion and trouble need to be explored. And as teachers, we need to create a safe place for them to be told.

Thinking of my writing workshop, I know I did not meet this need as much as I should have.  The mission of finding writing that matters gets lost. The focus gets deflected. Easily.

I come to the institute to be inspired and aligned to what needs to be created. To be reminded of the importance of what I’ve always believed. That our stories matter. And it’s imperative that students do this work.

The how to teach writing that inspires joyful and courageous writing is the focus of the small group sessions that follow.

Katie Clements: Making Literary Essays Meaningful and Beautiful.
Katie started us off thinking about how we see literary essay with our students and how our students see literary essay. Many saw the work as tedious and uninspired. 
The idea of meaning and beauty was not in our day to day experience.

Katie offered some ways to make literary essays meaningful and beautiful. These ideas give writers permission to grow personal ideas to find joy and importance that liberates thinking and the writer.

• Structure matters, but not one structure
• Include some uncertainty in your thinking
• Provide room for the reader to make meaning
• Create time for lots of attempts and trials
• Showcase a unique take on the text
• Invite the reader in so the reader has a place in the literary essay
• Allow for more joyful and playful language and approach
• Incorporate characteristics of multiple genres
• “Prevision”

We thought and wrote around texts. Lots of quick attempts to see the text differently. Ways to make meaning
• Notice a detail that catches your attention.
• Ask yourself what haven’t you written about or how do two elements work together.
• Study times of trouble and write long about them.

• Talk with others about tentative ideas.

• Move up and down the ladder of abstraction (small detail to big ideas)

Katy Wischow: Creating Tool Kits for Small Groups and Revision
I use tools. But I was sure my “kit” of tools could use improvement.

Katy set us up to discover ways to use mentor texts across the writing process. Most of my tools revolve around revision. But Katy had us thinking about how tools could be used.

A few things to consider-

Look at what could be used and ask, how does a writer get to an idea? Travel to author’s web page.

Wonder — how do you think this author got there. Both Jack Gantos and Ralph Fletcher have published ways of mapping their neighborhood. Georgia Heard has her beautiful heart mapping ideas. Author websites and YouTube videos can provide insight into the invisible work writers do.

Mark up a text with post its. Asking, what are the big things I want to show? Consider craft, structure, grammar and our own attempts at writing. 

Clarify the teach by creating tools. If I can’t say it as a step by step, 1-2-3 process, then I’m not clear on how to teach that strategy. Tool creation tightens up your knowledge.

As with all tools, it comes down to selecting the right tool for the job. What and when to use them. We thought about tools as scaffolds. Acknowledging that some tools will always be needed. And other tools are helpful in the moment.

There’s more, but the rain has lessened, so I’m off. Tomorrow will offer more learning and (hopefully) clear skies.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.





Celebrate Summer Reading!

This morning I celebrate the beginning of summer.

Though school ended a week ago, it’s taken a week to close up the space that will be my home next school year.

Teachers collect things. When we move we take stock of what we have and make decisions as to what we need. Treasures and tools that were essential might not be anymore. In my world book are important tools. To meet the needs of students, I’ve collected thousands of books. Boxes and boxes. But here’s the problem, over time books age and become less relevant.

As much as it pains me to discard these treasures, no nine-year-old will pick up a book with an aged or torn cover. No matter how good the story is, yellowed or water damaged pages will not beckon a reader. Donalyn Millers’ advice was in the forefront of my thoughts as I sorted books this week. Bolstering each decision. To keep or toss.

Books with stains, torn pages, split bindings, or funny smells turn off readers. If a book is yellow with age or depends on tape to remain in one piece, throw it away, The physical condition of the library says a lot about its currency and how much we value readers. — Reading in the Wild

There are other lenses I’ll need to consider when summer ends.
Some around science and social studies. Others around fourth grader needs and sensibilities.  But this week, I celebrate the removal of “ugly” books and the beginnings of a new home for my classroom library.

Yesterday, I closed the door on a stripped-down, boxed-up room.

Today, I open the door to summer reading.

4th Grade TCRWP Reading and Writing Units of Study
My growing TBR pile
Fabulous books from Booksource to introduce Nex Gen Science Standards

Read more celebrations, here on Ruth Ayers Writes.