Last year we had a pretty intensive training on text dependent analysis for ELA teachers in fourth through eighth grade. One of the things we learned in the training were the three steps to get to analysis that helped us focus on the craft of the author. Often we want to start with the big idea and ask something like, “What’s the theme and what in the text makes you say that?” While we have been doing this move for a long time, it does not encourage close examination of craft and intentional moves an author may have taken to push a particular message through.
The anchor chart
Instead of starting at the bottom and determining a new understanding such as character traits, theme, effect on reader, central idea, and author’s purpose, we start at the top and teach readers to pay attention by asking what do you notice? What do you explicitly see?
Once we have noticed a lot, we want to look and see if there are any patterns. When it comes to patterns, we are thinking about buckets. What do we notice that could all go into one bucket, and what would we call that bucket?
After seeing a pattern or even multiple patterns, we want to look at those patterns and determine a new understanding. If we are looking for theme, for example, we may ask, “Based on the bucket(s) and what’s inside, what does the author want us to know, think, feel, or believe? What message(s) is the author pushing through?”
Analysis takes a lot of practice and scaffolding!
Before kids can write, they need lots and lots of opportunities to discuss with partners. Analysis is hard stuff so many times we can use images to get us going. Jackie, a sixth grade teacher at Rush, showed me what she was using and I LOVED the idea. During the training we shared lots of images from a series by the New York Times called, “A Picture a Day”. Jackie decided to also incorporate advertisements including this one below.
I decided to try one out myself. Look at this add for Camel Lights.
You could model using one and then provide some guided practice with another. I might have turn and talk partners try this one next as they are guided through step 1, then 2, then 3.
How one teacher supported students
Jackie noticed her students were struggling with noticing patterns, and so she created a scaffold which she will soon take away just to give them a nudge. She gave them some possible buckets to fill for the Heinz Ketchup advertisement and now that they have had some experience, she will have students determine the patterns they are seeing moving forward.
Jackie’s sixth graders then wrote their thinking while supporting their ideas with specific moves the author/artist made. The student example below proves her thinking by including how the author/artist used color, words, and even formatting.
If this is all new to you or you haven’t gotten your feet wet with this process, click here to use some of the pictures we’ve compiled and try it out yourself!
And if you would like some modeling with your students or simply would like to plan with your current unit, you know where to find me!
One rule of caution! There is not one “right” answer and there can be different patterns noticed. We want to celebrate and push for individual thinking.
Once you get your feet wet with the images, I will share out the use of the lenses to look through while reading.
One of my pushes this year is pushing thinking using the reader’s notebook. While re-reading Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them and her newer book 180 Days which she co-wrote with Kelly Gallagher, I found myself re-energized by the act of doing the work in front of kids in a real and organic way.
Our great reading teachers have been modeling active reading with stop and jots and think alouds within mentor texts pretty much on a daily basis, but when it comes to the reader’s notebook there is a disconnect. Kids want to be told what to write about and how it should be formatted. As workshop teachers, we know that everyone writing the same way about the same thing is not conducive to growing readers. They do not benefit by doing what the teacher wants; they need to have the choice and ownership to push themselves.
Revisiting Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s work made me wonder. What would it look like if we modeled moving from the stop and jot to the notebook? What would kids see if more than one teacher modeled using the same text? This was an experiment that I felt was important to take on, so I asked some of my people who I have worked with in the past to do this experiment with me. I thought I’d get a couple volunteers, but little did I know that all of my people would volunteer!
My first stop was with my former coaching colleague turned fifth grade teacher. I shared my idea during his prep one day, and he not only said yes, he suggested we start that day! We grabbed two of the same book from his classroom library, and when his fifth graders came back from special, we shared our plan.
To do this plan, we had to flip the workshop around and begin with independent reading followed by the minilesson. While the students read, we did not conference or pull small groups. We joined them in reading and jotting. After about 30 minutes of independent reading, they joined us on the carpet and we took 5 minutes to look over our jots and write a notebook entry.
The kids paid close attention while we grappled with our thinking and writing about our thinking.
Then we each explained how we went from our stop and jots to the notebook entries that were before them. They turned and talked about what they noticed about how we went about it and how we formatted our writing.
I continued my tour with Sarah Wolbransky, also a former literacy coach who went back to the classroom this year to teach fifth grade. We did the same experiment. Using a different book that we had not read from her classroom library.
From fifth grade, I hit the middle school and Bridget Sperduto’s seventh grade. The best part about middle school is we can do this for five periods, which is the equivalent of five class periods of reading and noting. The students were not only able to see what we each did using the same book, All American Boys, but also what we each did over the course of five class periods!
I continued in the middle school, but this time my seventh and eighth grade teachers, Theresa Simon and Danielle Armstrong, pulled their classes together, and the three of us got to work using Everything, Everything.
Seventh and eighth grade teacher, Justin Hopf decided to join one of Danielle’s classes and since we were already pretty far into Everything, Everything, we decided to pull another book from the classroom library.
From there I went back to the elementary school to experiment with Chris Jordan and his sixth graders. We used a book from his classroom library that neither of us had read.
Later that day, I joined Gina Miller, Kelly Kovach, and Natalie Hartman, a sixth grade team in another building. They pulled the entire sixth grade together to do the experiment with Out of My Mind which showed how four different teachers went about this work.
I ended my tour in eighth grade with my Wonder Twin, Diane Murray. Using Ghost, we modeled our thinking and writing about reading across the day.
What did I learn from this experiment?
I learned that notebook entries should not take more than a few minutes. We’ve seen that when given prompts and structures, students will take hours and sometimes days to push themselves to do the thinking work that should only be taking about 5% of the workshop time. The time spent was because students were often so focused on being right and formatting it correctly that they were losing time from the real work.
I learned that students need to see a lot more of modeling. I encourage teachers to keep their own reader’s notebooks and share images of their own work but also take the time to do the work right in front of them. Students will benefit from seeing you grapple with your own thinking and how to get it in the notebook.
I learned that students may start with imitating exactly what you do. Having the confidence to do it your own way takes a lot of time and practice. Keep modeling your process!
I learned that when kids don’t have enough experience and don’t know what to do, they default to writing a summary or nothing at all.
I learned that these notebook entries are the seeds that can be used for long writes that are not as frequently written.
I learned that reader’s notebooks show thinking over time and that thinking can change along the way.
I learned that together as a team we can do so much more to model with kids.
I learned that other people think differently than I do even when we may be reading the same book.
What did students learn?
A LOT! They watched us in the moment write about our thinking based on what we noticed, taking no more than 5 minutes to write our entry. They listened as we explained our process of stopping to jot, determining what to explore deeper in the notebook, and how we decided to organize it. They learned that it’s okay to take charge of their own thinking about reading, but most importantly, there is no one right answer or one right way to go about it.
I look back at my notebook compared to Lee’s. We both ended up looking closely at how the characters were acting, but we came to different conclusions. Kids need to see this!
I also look back at Diane and I who came to similar conclusions by noticing different patterns.
I encourage you to do this modeling in front of kids. I’m not going to lie. It’s slightly uncomfortable, but that’s what kids need to see. They need to see us struggle with making sense of what we notice while reading, so they are less overwhelmed when they are expected to do the same. They need to know it’s really hard work but so important. They need to see that we too have to really push ourselves. If you’re able to do this work with a colleague to show the different ways you both go about it after reading the same text, it’s pretty powerful. And if you would like to invite me in to do this work with you, you know how to find me!
As I listened to teachers and students, I decided to do some experimenting myself. I am a firm believer that students learn best when they have access to real modeling, so I pulled out a new notebook, chose a book from the classroom library, and got to work doing what I would expect from kids.
Much like reading to discover strategies that I use to keep myself focused, engaged, and thinking about my reading, taking the time to actively read with stickies in hand helped me see different strategies that I could use to model with students.
How do you know what to write on the sticky?
Short answer…whatever stands out to you! Stop and jots are not meant for everyone in the room to notice the same thing. Students do not need to be told, “Everyone should stop and jot about___,” nor do they need a worksheet, but a scaffold might include the close reading menu of possible lenses for reading and your current anchor charts for the unit of study. Remember, the close reading menu is just an extension of the anchor charts from the reading units. Students in the younger grades or students who struggle can even start with using SIR and note what is surprising, important, or repeated.
So what goes in the notebook then?
The notebook is not a place to rewrite what was noticed on the stickies. It is, however, a place to think deeply about something you may have noticed. After reading for about 20-25 minutes I stopped and jotted on a sticky 13 times in those 29 pages. So now what? I found myself looking back and noticed a pattern. I noticed that in those pages I wrote “unimpressed” multiple times. When I thought back, I realized that the main character and his mother both had multiple instances of acting unimpressed. As a reader, I know that when I see something come up again and again, it’s something to stop and think deeply about. Why would the author do that? What do I think it means? Why do I think it’s important?
I took three of my 13 stickies and started to explore through writing my thinking around that.
By doing the work myself, I notice that what stands out to me and what I need to think deeper about cannot be directed by a teacher or a worksheet.
I notice that over time (I’m now on page 110) I stop and jot most when:
I see repetition (the way a character acts, responds to something, or even a word that’s repeated.)
I see a character give advice.
I notice a character acting differently than I would expect in a situation.
I notice an issue the character is facing.
But Diane, who is reading the same book and noting, stops and jots most when:
She sees a pattern in the moments of choice of a character.
She notices the way a character struggles internally compared to externally.
She sees how the setting might be driving a character’s choices.
Is this one more thing to add to the massive plate?
No! It all goes together. Think back to the TDA training.
First, students stop and jot what they notice while independently reading. This may produce a lot of thinking, and that’s okay.
Next, students look back for BIG IDEAS they might notice through a pattern. When looking back on my stickies throughout pages 65-76, I noticed that there were a few that made me think about the issue of belonging.
Finally, students take that pattern or one BIG IDEA and explore this thinking deeper in the notebook. This is meant to push thinking about reading and practice skills like inference and analysis. But most importantly, it is mean to be student-driven.
Students need to be in the driver’s seat as much as possible. They choose their independent reading book, they choose their reading spot, they choose what to notice and what to explore deeper.
The more students are in the driver’s seat, the less they rely on what the teacher wants and what is the “right answer” or “right way”.
This process continues on a regular basis throughout the reading workshop. Each day students return to their reading, noticing, identifying patterns, and thinking deeper about BIG IDEAS. It’s also known as the life cycle of the sticky note.
One thing to consider. Writing about reading is only a small percentage of reading time. Some students will try to spend days on end in the same entry. This type of writing is about showing thinking more than formal writing.
Students need to know it’s about being FAST AND FURIOUS. All of my entries are no more than 5 minutes! This may need to be modeled!
How do I grade notebooks?
Notebooks are a playground for thinking and not meant to be grades each day; however, it is possible to have students choose one entry a week to self evaluate and turn in for a grade, but ideally a conference around their notebook would work better because students could leave with a strategy to try if they are struggling with any aspect of the life cycle of the sticky note.
Sometimes we get so focused on making sure everyone is doing the work that we get a little tunnel vision, requiring specific notebook pages that look a certain way. We focus on format and lose sight of the deep thinking. In my next post, I plan to show you the work of multiple teachers modeling the life cycle of a sticky note using the same book to highlight how even when reading the same book, we can notice, think, and explore a BIG IDEA differently, and it’s okay!
I leave you with my thinking across six independent reading sessions
This year the fourth through eighth grade ELA teachers went through three days of training in text dependent analysis. The general idea is that students read through lenses in order to notice patterns and come to a new understanding.
In the reading workshop, students choose the lenses they are using to notice and note while reading their independent reading novels and book club books. As a result of the training, we have begun to put together menus of lenses and types of understandings that best work with each of the units.
Here is an example of a basic menu of lenses and understandings for one particular unit. As teachers model additional lenses, these too are added as options.
In content areas such as social studies, students can read historical fiction through some of these same lenses in order to get to a new understanding such as theme to determine our takeaways as readers– what we now know, think, feel, or believe as a result of what we notice in historical fiction.
Students choose two lenses to actively read.
For example, what do I notice about the psychological setting (lens #1) and the actions (lens #2) of the characters.
Students jot what they notice while reading or at the end of reading depending on preference.
Students use their notes to look for patterns within the lenses they are noting. Maybe a character acts differently in different settings depending on who is there or the mood the setting creates.
By looking at what they’ve noticed and the patterns they are seeing in their observations, students can use that to come to a new understanding such as theme by asking themselves, what does the author want me to know, think, feel, or believe about that?
The same work can be done with nonfiction text using lenses that are specific to that genre. Below are examples of the lenses and types of understanding that can be used with nonfiction text.
Below is an example of my notes while looking through the lens of word choice while reading an article.
Specific lenses and understandings can be used for historical fiction reading in the social studies classroom. See some examples below.
Below is a short story annotated using the lenses of character actions and speech.
When students cannot write directly on the text, they can stop and jot in their notebook as seen below.
Much like discussions, noting is driven in student choice. Students in one book club can each choose two from a menu. There may be some overlap, and that it okay. After a few days to a week, students can switch out and read through new lenses, too.
By actively reading through lenses in order to notice patterns that lead to a new understanding, students are thinking deeply about what they are reading, able to have better discussions, and have the evidence to cite in writing.