I’ll say this for Vicki Vinton, she makes me think, think, think, in spite of the fact that it’s summer and I should be giving my thinking self some time off! Chapters 7 and 8 of Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading tackle the issues of teaching readers how to problem solve with a focus on interpretation, and in the reading of non fiction.
At the moment, I am also deep into a brilliant work of adult fiction, Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones having finished making my way through the equally stunning Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Both books have involved putting into practice much of the work Vicki is asking us to do with our students, since they are incredibly complex and multi layered, both in terms of meaning as well as craft. Luckily, I have two of the smartest and most patient book club members in my corner, with many opportunities to think out loud and problem solve my way through interpreting meaning and craft. I was thinking this, especially, when I read this in Vicki’s book:
Once a reader has developed a coherent interpretation that takes into account all of a text, not just the selected parts, he can turn that into a thesis or claim and repurpose the very same details he used to build his interpretations as evidence to support his claim…
So, if we believe…that 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.” (pgs 131, 133)
Interpretation, Vicki explains, results from noticing patterns the author establishes in the text, “patterns, which, once established, change and break”. Our big questions lead us to notice patterns(what always seems to happen), which leads to hypotheses (maybe this is why), problem solving conversations, and then newer, richer, interpretations.
I was so appreciative of the way Vicki laid out the core principles, pedagogical reasoning, and classroom methodology in the way she is wont to do: i.e. in an organized step by step fashion. It helps that this work builds on the work from her brilliant book with Dorothy Barnhouse, What Readers Really Do – the “what do I know/what do I wonder” lens through which to process meaning making in a text. Having done this work, I could more easily see extending its scope in this way.
This chart is one I will be returning to again, for planning and for conferring, for it perfectly lays out the scenarios my kids most struggle with:
I loved that Vicki acknowledges the trickiness of this kind of problem-based approach to teaching – it goes counter to any neatly packaged, “here’s how to say this” minilesson, it invites a bit of on the spot thinking on our parts, as well as confusion. But, it also leads to complex and rich thinking:
The secret is in the nature of the task itself. It’s what, in mathematics, is called a rich task”, one that presents students with an open-ended problem…and is accessible to a wide range of students because it provides multiple points of entry and ways of solving – that is, it comes with built in differentiation… (pg. 127)
I used the students’ thinking as a model, not my own, and I took time to situate the work within a larger transferable process when I explained why and how writers use patterns…This means I teach into what students are doing, not teach them what to do-and given the complexity of reading for meaning, that rarely involves just one thing. (pg.128)
Chapter 8 got right to the heart of the matter for me when I read, “readers often read right through facts, unaware they don’t fully understand them” (Pg. 139), because…YES!!!! I can’t remember how many times this is exactly what my sixth graders confront in their nonfiction reading lives.
…unlike fiction, expository nonfiction writers frequently give readers only one chance to catch something that has been stated indirectly. That’s because fiction unfolds…Expository nonfiction, on the other hand, often compartmentalizes information into subcategories or sections so readers have only one opportunity to figure out something that has been stated indirectly. (pg. 141)
This chart is immediately indispensable to my teaching practices, for it anchors the issues that often arise for my students and allows me pathways through which to try to lead them to problem solve and figure out what they are confused about/what they understand:
As I made my way through Vicki’s process of explication, and the way this approach looked and sounded in a real classroom, I both appreciated the wisdom of this way of teaching, as well as the preparation it will take to be ready to choose a text, chunk it, set kids up to recognize problems, and how to figure it out in such a way as to be transferable when it occurs again (which it will). Here’s the reason it’s worth it:
I think we risk something even more profound when we turn a blind eye to students’ confusion as long as they’re able to cite evidence from a text: We encourage students to think school is a place where things don’t always make sense. We also risk giving them a warped vision of what it means to succeed, especially in college, where they’ll be expected to do their own thinking and use their own words to explain things.
So, instead, I believe we need to open the door to confusion as wide as we possibly can so that we and our students can see how a mind works as it strives to understand. (pg.161)
After all, is that the kind of lasting work we hope to be doing in each and every one of our classrooms?