This marks the final post for this summer’s #cyberPD. The book Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading has brought forth a great community of thought. Thank you to Cathy Mere and Michelle Nero for organizing the Google community and tonight’s Twitter chat. Thank you to all of the thoughtful participants and a huge thank you to Vicki Vinton for giving us an incredible basis for conversation about reading.
Chapter Nine Reflections on Considering Ideas and Opinions in Nonfiction:
Teaching “main idea” to middle-grade students has been challenging and frustrating at times. It can show a student’s comprehension of a text, but it also can create student confusion. Coming up with what a text is mostly about is often watered down and essentially disengaging response to a text. In this chapter, Vicki hits what might be an essential problem with the pursuit of main idea.
Like teaching students to think of themes as a saying or one-word abstractions, we tend to offer shortcuts for the complex, messy work of engaging with an author’s ideas, and then we ask students to practice the shortcut as a skill. Such a skill might be useful when studying content and answering test questions, but it doesn’t help readers who are reading to expand their understanding of the world. And perhaps that’s why students have trouble with it: Identifying main ideas as a skill just doesn’t seem terribly meaningful. It might offer the satisfaction of completing a task, but it doesn’t provide the aha feeling that accompanies illumination. — page 167
Meaningful. Aha. Illumination. Isn’t that what we read for? Isn’t that something that we want students to read for?
Nonfiction writers present more than just the facts and chronology of events. In subtle ways, they share their opinions and ideas about those events and facts. If we simply ask young readers to tackle complex texts by asking what the text is mostly about, we avoid the work that will allow them to engage with the ideas the author presents. As critical consumers of media and current events, ferreting out a writer’s implicit point of view requires more than a simple main idea response. It requires a different and more interesting approach.
…readers don’t find ideas in texts; they construct them from the details they notice. — page 170
Understanding implicit bias is tricky. Knowing this, a reader must approach a text with the understanding that facts can be presented as beliefs or ideas. Vicki approaches this complexity by setting students up a to consider, what does the writer want us to understand by taking us through a classroom’s thinking about a text. The inquiry and thinking process is a strategic process of understanding, questioning, reacting, and sorting out ideas, bit by bit.
- What does the author want us to understand?
- Sort out ideas and details, asking if they are separate or are they connected
- Combine ideas
- Consider is that the only thing the writer wants us to understand
- Consider is that the author’s opinion or someone else’s (distinguishing a quote used from the writer’s pov)
- React to the text: what do you think? feel? believe?
The prompts listed below (pages 180-181) guide the reader towards deeper thinking about a nonfiction text.
• What do you think about the facts the author has presented (what’s your opinion or reaction to them) and why?
• What do you think the author thinks about the facts and why?
• Do you think the author sees things the same way you and or the people he has quoted do or not, and why or why not?
• What do you think about what you think the author seem to think (again, you opinion or reaction) and why?
This is huge thinking work and might seem too big for young readers. But, if we break down the process, or “frame” it, as Vicki suggests in her lesson sequence, into parts, students can manage and be engaged in rich thinking while the teacher keeps sight of the whole.
Dealing with and identifying “loaded language” an author uses is a great lesson in finding an author’s point of view. Identifying and discussing words and even punctuation that evoke emotions can be a great way to reveal the author’s presence in the text. In the nonfiction text, I’m currently reading, the author uses exclamation marks liberally.
At the end of this chapter, Vicki poses some essential questions for inquiry with students. Finding what my students think about these ideas will be fascinating. Discussing and revisiting these questions could set the tone and monitor the growth of readers in my classroom.
- Do you think there’s a difference between knowing and understanding?
- Do you think the experience of reading fiction is different than that of reading nonfiction?
- Do you think there’s a difference between a topic and an idea (or facts and ideas) in nonfiction?
- Do you think authors want to do more than persuade, inform, or entertain their readers?
- Do you think identifying themes in fiction or ideas in nonfiction help you as a reader — or in your own life?
Chapter Ten Reflections on Conferring with Readers:
Conferring with readers is probably the most important work teachers can do with readers. And it’s the most daunting. Most teachers I suspect, feel that they need to have that teaching point ready after a quick assessment of a reader. I know I did. But honestly, after years of trying and failing to do that work, I went to do a lot of listening before I had any idea of what the reader was really doing. Chapter ten has defined, focused, and confirmed ideas and teaching moves to make in reading conferences. It opened up the windows and let the breeze roll in because it gives permission to do lots of research on readers before attempting to teach.
Some things I’m adding to my conferring tool box:
Research, Notice and Name, Research, Notice and Name
Asking students what they understand and naming the reader work they have done is huge. If teachers just do this with kiddos, I believe every reader will grow. The process of pushing a student to do the next thing based on what they are doing is the goal. To make my teaching life clearer I’ve put together this sheet. I tried to include various if, then situations alongside Vicki’s reader centered questions.
Teach book choice through meaning.
Ask students to read the first few pages to figure out who the characters are, how they are connected, what’s happening and where they are. Then if they are unsure have them read on. This move focuses choice on meaning and gives a clear strategy to check up on understanding at any point in a story. Vicki says, “…reading a book is like entering a relationship.” By allowing students to test their understanding at the outset, readers can “date” the book without making a serious commitment or mistake about choice. By focusing on meaning students can better make a good choice.
So much to think about in this book.
Vicki invites us to dive in and take on the challenges of teaching students to read deeply. It’s complex, at times overwhelming, and even impossible work. But, at the same time, it’s exciting, meaningful and honest work. It’s the work of creating students who understand the power and purpose of reading.
For now, here’s what I look forward to in the coming school year.
• Determine complexity of text based on percent of inferential work needed
• Use read aloud to construct a complex vision of reading
• Allow for robust and flexible interpretations of texts providing the basis of analysis
• Frame thinking work into bite sized pieces so students can do complex thinking work
• Research the Reader, Notice and Name, Rinse Repeat
For my students and me:
• Make sense of a text through reason and logic
• Transact meaning with the head and heart
• Respond to texts personally as well as analytically
• Ask what the writer wants me to understand in nonfiction text
• Choose books based on meaning