Experimenting with a “Really??” stance in reading nonfiction

Like every other teacher I know, I’ve been waiting for the new nonfiction version of Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s Notice & Note , which is due to be published sometime this Spring, I think (I hope!).  In the meantime, I’ve been following their Tweets, blogs, and webinars in the hopes of picking up any and all information about new signposts and strategies for nonfiction.  During their October webinar, Kylene and Bob shared some new thinking they had explored about reading nonfiction, and some key questions to pose to our students as we help them navigate the often complicated waters of this genre:

Screen shot 2014-12-02 at 10.06.08 PM


Last April, Kylene had shared this post about nonfiction work in which she wrote: We want students aware of what they are discovering as they read.  We want them to enjoy that feeling of surprise, amazement, and even skepticism.   We want them to say, “Really?”  Yes! This is exactly the kind of stance I hope my students take when presented with nonfiction options…I would rather that than the unenthusiastic groans I usually hear when I announce that we will be beginning our nonfiction genre study, or begin to pass out our Social Studies textbooks!  I was particularly intrigued by this note taking  template that included in the post:

Screen shot 2014-12-02 at 10.20.39 PM


With our nonfiction genre study just launched, I can finally begin experimenting with these ideas and trying them out with my sixth graders.  We began by sorting through the questions that drive new thinking in nonfiction, and how to work with the template as we read our Social Studies texts:


I chose to begin with these texts (Joy Hakim’s wonderful series: A History of Us) because, quite frankly, I was just as tired of the guided questions we were using as my kids were.  I wanted to see if this new way would open up a more thoughtful reading of his text, whether my kids would “enjoy that feeling of surprise, amazement, and even skepticism” as they read about the early days of our nation’s history.

Here’s one student’s take away:

 IMG_0176  IMG_0177

And another’s:

 IMG_0180 IMG_0178

We had wonderful discussions based on these notes, and I was so pleased to see that this format seemed to allow my kids to engage in a much more meaningful way with the text.  Here’s what they shared about the process:

  • “I think I understood the chapter better this way, I could focus on reading not hunting for the right answers.”
  • “I felt I just got better information from the chapter.”
  • “When I took bulleted notes or answered questions, I felt like I was just copying stuff, not thinking about stuff.”
  • “I felt like I extended my thinking – like it was more than trying to find the answers, before it was like in one ear and out the other.”
  • “This kind of makes you look for interesting stuff and then figure out more about it.”
  • “I think we need to practice in class more to get a feel for it – that last column was kinda confusing.”*

*Interestingly, once we began sharing notes from this column, we began to see that this last column was where we were able to do our best “thinking about reading”.  Here is where my kids began to extrapolate and draw conclusions, make connections, ask deeper questions that would drive further learning. “What does this suggest?” became a way to frame what was discovered through our chapter reading, and to extend our thinking.  Through practice and class discussion, we realized that this was, in a way, where our ah-ha moments most often took place.

We will continue to experiment with this template and this new stance in reading nonfiction in the weeks and months ahead.  After all, what could be better than a classroom full of amazed sixth graders reading fabulous nonfiction and going “Really??”


5 thoughts on “Experimenting with a “Really??” stance in reading nonfiction

  1. Tara,
    This is exciting stuff. It was interesting to see the student response that taking notes in this way allowed some of the students to “focus on reading”, which seems like a very cool observation, and speaks to how we sometimes ask students to put the text through some process at the same time as they are simply trying to read it. Also, and ironically, it may be that the scaffold we design to help students get information from the text (in the form of a bunch of questions) might actually hinder the process of meaning-making because it doesn’t allow the reader to really enter the text very deeply.

    Thanks for sharing these insights.

    • Yes! Thank you for putting into words what my students were trying to say: you, Mrs. Smith, with your Q&A’s, often get in the way our meaning making. So fascinating to hear the leaps they were able to make on their own, just by opening up the process. So it IS exciting work – such fun to experiment with new avenues of inquiry. Thanks for stopping by, Steve!

  2. I like seeing how you take a strategy and make it your own. I have a hard time with this. Your results look authentic and show me that I should take a risk and try new ways of leading my students.

  3. I’m going to try this with some students, Tara. Of course they’re all reading different texts, so I need to see how to help students with different needs use it profitably. Thanks so much for the examples you’re using, and I enjoyed seeing the student response too.

  4. This is something I am going to share with teachers. I so appreciate the examples of your charts and student work. It makes it so much more real for teachers. Hopefully they can look and think “Yes, I can do that too.”

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