TDA: Students Take on the Images

This is a great time of year to work in a lot of analysis work using images so students have lots of opportunities to talk and talk and talk!

I’ve been visiting some great fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classrooms this week and love the excitement kids get when doing this work. They don’t even realize they are working and the engagement has been incredible.

Here’s the gist of what I’ve been doing to model for teachers using their own students. Sometime after break I will revisit these classrooms and begin using lenses for close reading and texts, but in the meantime these teachers will be trying lots of image work with them.

The Modeling

Teaching Point + Strategy

Today I am going to teach you that readers come to new understandings when reading by looking closely for patterns. Watch me while I read this image by looking closely at the details I notice, the patterns I see, and then ask myself, “What so these patterns show?”

Active Engagement

Students work in partnerships not groups. Students are more actively engaged and on task when working closely with a shoulder partner. This time is just as quick paced as the modeling. I use timers, model fast and furious, and expect students to work fast and furious as well. The active engagement was not longer than 6 minutes and could have been condensed.

Invitation to Practice Independently

Students were invited to try this work in their independent reading books. Whether they use post-its or a readers notebook, they are encouraged to stop and jot what they notice while reading and identify patterns. Then they can do some deep thinking work and ask themselves what the patterns show.

The work that students did today included what they noticed about the lenses of repetition, setting, and even tone. When they noticed patterns they were able to discuss different aspects of the image including central idea/theme, the author’s purpose, and the effect it had on the reader.

After the break we will move from pictures to short texts, but in the meantime, students will have lots of opportunities to practice with images with a partner, try the work in their independent reading, and receive specific lenses in small group and conferring to notice.

Everyone can try this work! This image for Juicy Couture was a fun one to try with sixth graders.

Click here and try as many as you can!

Let me know if you would like support too!

TDA: Starting with Images

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.

Coming Soon!

Once you get your feet wet with the images, I will share out the use of the lenses to look through while reading.

Notebook Status Report

Independent reading is not just about reading for pleasure. We are teaching students to read actively and push their thinking beyond being able to summarize and retell.

Recently, I tried something I have never done before. I used one of the books in the classroom library to read, stop and jot, and write in my notebook. I highly encourage everyone to try this work.

I found several benefits to doing this work as though I were a student and kids loved seeing my progress and the possibilities of writing about reading.

I used it time and time again in conferences and during minilessons to show my process for how I was writing about my thinking and not summarizing.

It also helped me to better understand what kids may need to be successful and how the notebook could be used to track thinking in order to write about deeper meanings.

As I read, I would stop and jot along the way, placing the post-its in my book. At the end of each reading, I took 5-10 minutes (no more than 10 minutes!) to look over my post-its and choose a pattern I was noticing and what new understanding I was having as a result of noticing the pattern.

When I finished reading, I found myself jotting big ideas that I could see throughout the book and in my notes.

By doing the work myself, it gave me some new insight about what I want to see students doing which is to read actively in order to think deeper about reading. I noticed how I could better support them and could model how I push myself to think beyond the events. Essentially I am using various lenses, looking for patterns, and coming to a new understanding while modeling for students how to do the same. This needs to be modeled, practiced, and discussed with reading partners regularly.

Analysis is HARD! It needs to be modeled regularly, part of the every day practice, and discussed in partnerships often. It’s not a matter of stop everything and analyze for a few days. It’s not a one and done.. It’s not a sometimes. It’s a daily practice! By doing your own notebook work, you will be able to determine just how challenging this work is and what students may need to be more successful.

One of the great benefits I’ve noticed of using a reader’s notebook instead of separate pages, packets, or worksheets is it becomes a tool and truly promotes real thinking and writing about reading. It shows teachers over time how students are progressing and what they may need to grow. It’s a basic yet mighty tool for both teachers and students.

Fourth grade teacher, Michelle, has started doing this work with her kids and writing about her thinking while reading in front of kids. She modeled the pattern she noticed by looking closely at what characters do and say to think deeper about the character and encouraged her students to do similar work during independent reading.

I’ll leave you with two more examples of tracking thinking in front of students. I recently visited Diane’s eighth grade and Bridget’s seventh grade classrooms and found that both were using chart paper to model for students their own thinking while reading their independent books Girl in Pieces and The Cellar.

The Three Legged Stool: Intentional Instruction Focuses on Growth and What Students Need

We know the minilesson is the weakest tool. It exposes students to the rigor, but so many of our students are not ready to do this kind of work themselves. This is where small group and conferring comes in. Once students are released to do their independent practice, which should be the majority of their time in workshop, the real meaningful instruction can begin. Because this time is so important, and time is something we cannot increase, we need to be very intentional with our small group and conferring so that students are getting exactly what they need in order to grow as readers and writers.

Planning to be more intentional

Seventh grade teacher, Bridget, has been looking for more ways to be intentional with this time, and so we took the time to create tiered strategy lessons based on the learning progressions.

Based on the preassessment she gave in the beginning of the school year, the majority of her students fell into second grade thinking about theme. They could name a lesson the character learned, identified theme as one word, or missed the mark completely and summarized the story instead.

Preassessment data from one class period

Bridget continued to present theme through the rigor of the minilesson, but knew that that alone was not going to be what students needed. After a couple days modeling how to determine theme using the mentor text, Bridget was ready to pull small groups.

I took the learning progressions and armed with Serravallo’s Reading Strategies Book created tiered strategy lessons beginning with the difference between plot and theme all the way to pushing for deeper more sophisticated themes related to literary devices such as symbolism.

While creating the tiered strategy lessons, I pulled any additional tools and a text we could use to practice so everything was in one spot.

We decided we needed some additional formative data to show us where students were in their thinking about theme at that moment since they had some new exposure in the minilessons and were more than a month past the original preassessment.

We gave students a long post it note with lines and told them we wanted to see where they were in their thinking about theme so we could determine what they needed to move forward. We set the timer for two minutes and had them write down one current theme they were noticing in their independent reading book along with what in the text made them say that. Some really wanted guidance, but we assured them we needed to see what they know, kind of know, or don’t know at all about determining theme.

After two minutes we sent them off to their independent reading work and very quickly sorted the post its. We saw three patterns in each of the classes and decided to sort them accordingly.

  1. Students who left their post it note blank, wrote the definition of theme, or wrote a summary of the plot.
  2. Students who wrote theme as a commonly explored issue, such as belonging or independence.
  3. Students who wrote a theme statement.

Group 1

We looked through the tiered strategy lessons to determine where to begin with each group. For the first group, we introduced a common pitfall of writing a summary about the plot but used the second strategy in the tiered lessons to present to this group.

We used the text from a recent quarterly exam because it was a text they were all familiar with and walked them through the strategy. We encouraged them to use this strategy as they are stopping and jotting while reading their independent book and sent them off to read with a copy of the tool on their menu.

As Bridget continues to meet with this group, she will check in on how they are using the strategy, coach kids within their own reading, and present the next strategy in the progression of tiered lessons. Again she will send them off, but now with two strategies to use to guide their thinking about theme.

What about the lenses?

One question Bridget had took us back to the lenses for close reading. Are students still expected to use the lenses?

The answer is ABSOLUTELY! As you present a strategy, you are guiding students to use a lens, look for patterns, and determine a new understanding. In the case of this first group, we showed them how to look closely at a character’s actions, notice patterns, and use them to determine theme. The next strategy lesson for this group will involve looking closely at conflict to do the same thing!

Group 2

The second group we noticed used one word to determine theme. They were using the tool Commonly Explored Issues in Literature, but they were not getting past that issue. This group needed a strategy that fell later in the progression, which was #6 of the tiered lessons.

Group 3

The final grouping we noticed were students able to write a theme, but the themes were pretty basic in terms of sophistication. We complimented them on their ability to determine theme, but explained that now they had to push themselves to think deeper about theme and determine more sophisticated ones.

We decided to move them to strategy #7 in the progression of tiered lessons in order to push their thinking deeper.

Using recent data

We could have gone with the original data and all but one student would have been starting with the strategy #1 or #2 in the progression of tiered lessons, but by doing a quick check in, we were able to determine six weeks after the preassessment with some on grade level instruction where students were currently sitting in need.

By creating the progression of tiered lessons in advance, teachers have a quick tool to meet any one at any time where they are in their thinking about theme and what the next step should be for each student and/or group.

Some useful tips

Tiered strategies can be clipped together for each skill (in this case determining theme) and even hung on a hook for teachers to have quick and easy access. I was also able to open the lessons in PDF and print multiple on one page using 3×3 in order to have an easy way to have something for creating a menu for students to take back to their seat which I put inside the sheet protector behind each strategy.

Directions for Printing Multiple

Next steps

As we move past our work in the structure of the workshop model, the first leg of the stool, we now need to push ourselves to be more intentional with our time and materials and meet students where they are in order to grow their reading or writing.

If you would like to work on creating tiered lessons in order to implement intentional instruction, let me know how I can help. This work can be done in both reading and writing using the learning progressions and is especially quick when teams work together.

The Three Legged Stool of the Workshop: Preparing for Intentional Instruction by Clearing Up Some Common Misunderstandings

Before we move into the nuts and bolts of intentional instruction, it’s important to put to rest some of the common misunderstandings we have that affect our success and that of the students. These misunderstandings can prevent us from truly helping kids grow as readers and writers.

This is a common misunderstanding and as stated in the last post, The Three Legged Stool of the Workshop: Structure, is one of the reasons why the minilesson goes beyond the 7-12 minutes which takes time away from the independent work and small group instruction.

Remember the minilesson is the weakest tool in the shed. It is meant to expose students to the rigor of the work, but for many of your students, they have more foundational work that you need to address during the small group and conferring. By focusing on the mastery of the skills and strategies taught in the minilesson, you will no doubt be frustrated and your students will be too.

The best advice I was ever given by a staff developer at TCRWP is when it comes to the minilesson, get in and get out and if anyone left the miniliesson already mastering the skill, then they came to the minilesson already having that skill mastered! No one should be leaving the meeting area having mastered anything so get in and get out!

When students leave the minilesson they are not necessarily working on the strategy taught in the minilesson. Some students may not have the foundational work in place to be able to use such a rigorous strategy. They may not even be reading a book that lends itself to that work.

If students are in fourth grade, for example, and getting exposed to how characters are complicated, but the preassessment indicates that they are not even able to infer one or more less obvious trait, then they do not have the foundation in place to do the work they observed you do in the minilesson.

Additionally, if they are reading below grade level, the book they are reading is not necessarily going to have characters that are complicated.

We spent a lot of time in professional development on minilessons, and the sessions we read in our Units of Study books are so long that it can make us feel like this is where we need to put all of our time and energy. Again, this is the weakest tool in the shed, so why spend so much time and energy on it? Remember, get in and get out! The most important lesson will be the work you do in small group and conferring. This is where you will meet students where they are and develop a solid foundation.

You can reteach until you’re blue in the face and maybe some kids will grow; however, you will do more by being intentional with your time, meeting kids where they are, and supporting them as they develop the foundational work that needs to be in place to do the really hard on grade level work.

If a fourth grader, for example, is not able to notice one or more less obvious traits, the first thing I’m going to do is teach him to look at what characters do, say, and think and ask, “What does this show me about this character?” On a different day I am going to teach him to pay attention to how a character faces a problem and solves it and ask, “What does this show me about the character?” and these will be the strategies this student is using during the independent practice while reading his book.

As a district we are making a lot of gains in reading when we look at running record and NWEA MAP testing. We have so many more kids reading on or above grade level, and so we think that they can then do the really hard thinking work too. Again, this is why preassessments are so important. They show you where each student is in terms of thinking skills, and while they may be proficient or advanced readers according to running records, they may be below basic in terms of the thinking about reading.

Take a look at the data from this eighth grade class. According to running records, 74% of students in this class are reading on or above what is expected for September. Two data points from the preassessment; however, show that thinking about reading in terms of skills like inferring about character and analyzing theme is more in tune with what is expected in second and third grade. Proficient and advanced readers are reading on grade level, but they need explicit instruction in thinking about reading that goes back to where they are performing now and building the foundation from there.

Using data and the learning progressions to determine needs and how to best meet those needs is a huge part of the work I am doing now with many teachers. I will continue to share this work with you as we grow and learn together. If we can let go of these misconceptions and focus our time and energy where we are going to truly grow kids, we will be on the road to not only seeing kids who are reading on or above grade level, but forming a solid foundation for kids who are thinking on or above grade level too! This work takes all of us, and I’m excited for what the data shows in a few short years as we focus the time we do have on intentional instruction.

The Three Legged Stool of the Workshop: Structure

For several years we have been working hard to roll out and refine the Structure of the workshop model, but Structure is only one leg of the workshop stool. I am currently doing a lot of work with teachers around the other two legs of the stool and will be sharing more about this work throughout the year as we grow our practice as workshop teachers.

For those who are new or need a refresher, the Structure of the workshop model is the first we learn and the first we roll out because without this leg firmly in place, adding the other two legs can get tricky.

The Structure of the workshop is pretty consistent and allows students to know what to expect so they can be independent and successful.

Minilesson (7-12 minutes)

It is imperative that the minilesson is kept tight. Many teachers fall into the trap of making sure students have mastered the skill/strategy taught in the minilesson. However, the skill/strategy taught in the minilesson is meant to expose students to the rigor. It is known as the weakest tool in the shed, so by spending too much time on the minilesson you will be at risk of losing students through frustration, minimizing independent practice, and taking time from small group and conferring, which are your strongest tools…so keep it tight!

If you feel you are spending too much time on the minilesson, talk to your kids about it. Let them know that you are working to keep to the 7-12 minute lesson because it’s so important that they get to the real work in their independent reading books and have time for small groups and conferring. Set a timer and reflect on the parts that are eating up your time.

Common Time Eaters!

  1. One common time eater is not having a routine. If students are not joining you in the meeting area with the correct materials in a quick way, that is something to teach and practice for sure!
  2. The biggest time eater is calling on students. By cold calling on students, teachers don’t necessarily know what they are going to say or if it’s going to move the lesson in the right direction. And of course kids don’t always get right to the point so again more time wasted. If you find yourself asking a question and then looking for hands, STOP and tell kids to turn and talk. Give about 20-30 seconds, always interrupting their conversation and share what you heard from students, even if someone didn’t necessarily say it. Trust me, they won’t ask!

Independent Time (the majority of the time)

This is when students are reading within a band of “just right” to practice reading and thinking about what they’re reading. They may try to use the strategies taught in the minilessons; however, more often they are practicing strategies you have taught in conferring and small group based on what they need. More about what they need will be addressed in the second leg of the workshop stool – Intentional Instruction.

Common Time Eaters!

  1. One common time eater is not having a plan. Before students leave the meeting area, have them turn and talk about the work they are doing in their book.
  2. Another time eater is the routine. There should be a routine for quickly and quietly getting to their independent spots with all of the materials they need. Again if students don’t know where to go or what to take with them, this is something to teach and practice.
  3. A lack of stamina and engagement can eat time as well. How can you get to the work of conferring and teaching small groups if you are too busy redirecting students? Often times students who are not in a band of “just right” are off task and not engaged. If they think they are in a “just right” book, have them read a page out loud to you. Pay attention to miscues and ask them to describe what they see in that part. If they struggle to describe what is happening accurately, they are not in a “just right” book. More times than not, it’s the struggle that is getting in the way. If books are “just right” but stamina is an issue, you can use mid-workshop interrupts as a quick break. Each day space the interrupts a little further.

Share Time (5-10 min)

Students need time to write about their reading. Many teachers are doing a 4-5 minute timed Fast and Furious Write based on 1-2 of their stop and jots (what they noticed while reading.

Additionally, students need time to discuss what they are noticing in their books, any patterns they are seeing, and new understandings they are coming to about character, main idea, theme, effect on reader, etc.

Common Time Eaters!

  1. This time is often neglected because we run out of time, but again this tool is stronger than the minilesson! This is where the students are practicing analysis skills (to practice analysis they need to talk a lot) and hearing about books that they too might want to read next. That’s why we need to be diligent in keeping our minilessons tight.
  2. One common time eater is reading without a plan. Students don’t know what to write about if they are not using strategies to not only read but think about what they are reading. If you notice students who are not taking the time while reading to stop and jot, this is something that could be turned into a small group lesson. More about this will be shared during the second leg of the workshop stool – Intentional Instruction.

The first month of school is often used to make sure the structure is tight. Routines are learned, students are in books that are “just right” and teachers are determining student needs in order to begin putting into place the second leg – Intentional Instruction.

Moving forward, I will spend time to share out some of the work we are doing with Intentional Instruction; however, if you need any support with any of the aspects of Structure, let me know. I am here to support you!

Pressing Pause to Fold in What Students Need

I recently had the pleasure of working with two fourth grade teachers who were working so very hard. The problem was they were working too hard. I know we all can relate to trying to balance this giant plate full of everything we need to accomplish while trying so hard not to drop it on top of our head, but in this case, for the kids’ sake and their own, they needed to put the plate down and walk away for a minute.

I want you all to know that it’s okay to push the pause button and deal with the issues that get in the way of moving kids forward. Now, I’m not saying you stop following IEPs or attending parent conferences or to abandon the workshop model, but it is okay to hit pause in the curriculum when something isn’t working. In the case of these two classes, we had a combination of needs that we determined through data collection.

  1. A number of students were struggling with routines.
  2. A larger number of students were struggling with the rigor and pace of the first unit.

In order for any workshop to run smoothly, there are routines that need to be in place. These routines need to be taught, consistent, and practiced so that less workshop time is wasted. We need those minilessons to truly be mini because students need the time to independently practice the work. Even as an eighth grade teacher, I would take the time in the first weeks of school to practice the routines in engaging ways, but I want this post to really focus on the second need.

The fourth graders were struggling with the rigor and pace of the unit. The first thing we did was look at the pre-assessment for the unit. When looking at their written responses compared to their running record and NWEA-MAP data, we saw some conflicting results. They were not necessarily struggling readers, but the data did show they were struggling thinkers.

Part of our job as workshop teachers is to get our kids to read and read and read. But just reading is not enough. We also need to teach strategies for thinking about our reading that can be transferred to any text.

The written responses from the pre-assessment were showing more summarizing and not thinking deeper about things like character and theme.

We decided to use the reading progressions, starting with inferring about character, and look at what is expected from each grade level. Since students were only summarizing events and not thinking about character, I looked from each progression and noticed three teaching points within the skill of inferring about characters that could be used to develop their thinking while reading that students need as a foundation before they can do the work of fourth grade readers.

For example, if readers do not have the skills developed to make character theories (third grade), they will struggle with determining what drives a character to make particular decisions (fourth grade).

From what I noticed in the progressions, I was able to create three strategy lessons, each strategy providing a foundation for the next.

Three strategy lessons based off of the learning progressions to push thinking about character

When developing strategy lessons, you can find some tips and actual strategies in the Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo, or you can walk yourself through what you do as a reader to meet the goal.

Once I had three strategy lessons to help support readers as they practice developing their thinking about character, I grabbed a book that I could use to model each strategy. I set the minilesson up just like any of the lessons in the units of study so the routine continues to be consistent and predictable.

Basic Outline of a Reading Workshop Session
Session 1 of 3

After reflecting on this lesson, we determined that students would benefit from a tool that listed a variety of character traits to help build vocabulary. I often gave students a binder ring and we would add tools as needed. In my class the notebook, independent reading book, post-its, and toolkit were in their reading folder, but many elementary and middle teachers also use gallon size storage bags.

The next day I introduced the tool and a new strategy to push our thinking.

After this lesson, we used the independent time to move around and check on the traits they noticed yesterday while reading. Readers who didn’t have any post-its from the day before, did the work right then and there through some guided practice. They read a page or so of their independent reading book aloud to us, and we listened in for what the character was doing, saying, and thinking and prompting them through the strategy.

Those who had post-its we checked to be sure they were noting about traits and not feelings and providing any tips that might help.

At the end of this session, I took three minutes as students joined me back in the meeting area to show them how I took a post-it note or two and wrote long to explain my thinking. We set the timer for 3-4 minutes and students wrote fast and furious about a sticky or two they chose before sharing their thinking with their turn and talk partner.

I highly recommend this work for a number of reasons, but most importantly it provides daily practice which builds engagement and stamina. A short burst of writing each day also allows students the opportunity to determine for themselves what is important to explore, giving them the choice and ownership that they need to develop their thinking about reading without relying on being told what to think about. This foundation is essential for students to have developed long before entering upper grades.

This type of writing is not meant to take more than a few minutes with time to share with partners; however, by doing short bursts each day, students will gain confidence and also have a record of their thinking over the course of a book to go back and choose something to really explore in longer and more formal writing such as text dependent or literary analysis.

On the third day we added one more strategy lesson that had students using the work they were already doing from the two days prior and creating theories about character.

During the active engagement, one partnership came up with a theory about Ruben that blew us away!

“Ruben is the kind of kid who takes responsibility for his actions.”

fourth grade partnership

During the independent work time, we continued to conference with students to see the kind of work they were doing and offer any additional tips or strategies to support them. Again we walked through a strategy right then and there with their independent reading book with anyone who was struggling.

Time to Push Play!

Now that students were exposed to three foundation strategies to work with, the teachers were ready to press play again on the unit. The minilessons in the unit are rigorous and provide exposure, but not all of the students may be ready to implement the strategies from the unit anchor chart until they have a more solid foundation to build on.

Normally we teach these foundational strategies in small group, but since the data showed this foundation was lacking for the majority of the students, we folded in this three session If…Then…type of mini unit. Not every fourth grade classroom across the district has the same needs, but by using your data, determining needs, and paying close attention to the learning progressions, you may need to fold in some different If…Then…units and mini units at various points throughout the year in order to best support the students who are sitting in front of you.

Moving forward, the students will not only use the anchor chart for the unit to guide their thinking about their independent reading but also have the option of using any strategies taught in the If…Then… mini unit or from small group and conferring lessons.

While meeting with the fourth grade teachers after pressing play, the teachers were happy to report that the engagement and confidence in their fourth graders was evident. I could feel their sigh of relief and renewed excitement in their work.

Because this type of scaffolding work is so dependent on the students who are currently in front of you, I am happy to meet with any teams that feel like their students are struggling with the pace and rigor of the units at any point in the year. Together we can support student needs!

At the Corner of Active Engagement and Analysis

While visiting classrooms, I’ve seen time and time again the effective use of my all time favorite teaching tool, turn and talk. The beauty of this tool is that it can be used in any classroom at any time and provides an opportunity for 100% student engagement.

Students, like grown ups, have a need to talk. By channeling student talk into instruction, that need is being met and students are less likely to lose engagement as they are when students are instead being cold-called on to speak. We all know we can leave it to the same three hands to do all the work for us.

Time is often saved using this effective tool because the teacher can listen in and know exactly who to call on to share with everyone or can even share some possible responses based on what he or she heard while eavesdropping.

My rule of thumb…every time you ask a question and find yourself scanning for someone to answer, STOP! This is the perfect time to instead say, “Turn and talk with your shoulder partner,” then listen in.

While visiting one particular fourth grade class, I was blown away by the amount of time students were actively engaged in the lesson. In fact, in close to 17 minutes, students had so much opportunity that the teacher only talked for a total of 6 minutes!

But this teacher took it to a whole new level when she provided a book club discussion within the lesson too. Sara Hearn discovered in a writing unit, prior to this year, that when students had the time to discuss a text in a book talk fashion that their writing of analysis grew exponentially. She has embedded this method into her minilessons at times to provide students with the opportunities to dig deeper by talking it out in a whole group. This is very similar to the spider web discussions we have been experimenting with in the middle school, also to push thinking and provide additional opportunities for analysis.

The thing is…and we all know this…ANALYSIS IS HARD! If we leave all analysis to writing, it’s even harder. The more opportunities students have to share after independent reading with their turn and talk partner, push their thinking during minilessons with their turn and talk partner, and participate in whole and small group book discussions, the more they can develop their analytical skills. If they can think it, they can say it, and if they can say it, they can write it, but they need time and opportunity to talk a whole lot.

Check out how Sara uses the tools of turn and talk and book discussion within a 17 minute period. While some parts may be difficult to hear, notice the level of engagement throughout the lesson as well as how the discussion is student-led.

Even though not every student had the chance to speak in the whole class discussion, Sara did provide an additional opportunity afterwards for a turn and talk with a shoulder partner.

To see how advanced this type of analysis work can get, check out how Diane Murray, who in four short years will have many of these fourth graders, uses student talk. With one open-ended prompt, these students led their own discussion that included characterization, changes in character, how parts affect the whole, symbolism, and theme without any additional prompting.

Student-led discussion and turn and talk are essential components of developing analytical thinking skills. We know that we can teach students to write TDAs until we are blue in the face, but if we are not taking the time to provide opportunities to discuss and develop their analytical thinking, the work will no doubt fall flat.

If you would like to experiment with this work with your students, you know where to find me!

The Power of Modeling: From Sticky Notes to Reader’s Notebooks

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!

Lee wonders if the poor behaviors are a result of living in poverty while I wonder if the leaders feel helpless and try to control the situation by punishing everyone instead of those who are really responsible.

I also look back at Diane and I who came to similar conclusions by noticing different patterns.

What’s next?

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!

What’s the Deal with All These Sticky Notes?

While visiting classrooms and chatting with teachers and students, I’ve noticed some common themes.

  1. Kids want to be told what specifically to stop and jot about.
  2. Teachers are frustrated with minimal stop and jots and surface thinking on notebook pages.
  3. There are all these sticky notes, but now what to we do with them?

If you need a quick background on the purpose and benefits of the sticky note, read “The Life Cycle of a Post It: Management, Functionality, and Benefits of Capturing our Ideas on Post Its” from the Heinemann Blog.

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:

  1. I see repetition (the way a character acts, responds to something, or even a word that’s repeated.)
  2. I see a character give advice.
  3. I notice a character acting differently than I would expect in a situation.
  4. I notice an issue the character is facing.

But Diane, who is reading the same book and noting, stops and jots most when:

  1. She sees a pattern in the moments of choice of a character.
  2. She notices the way a character struggles internally compared to externally.
  3. She sees how the setting might be driving a character’s choices.
Diane’s Notes

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.

Moving Forward!

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