#Celebratelu: Celebrating a culture of hope in the classroom

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

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My teaching hero, Kylene Beers, captured the very essence of my teaching life when she said the above.

I think about this as I drive to school, as I plan my school days, and as I live my school days.  I especially think about this at 7:30 each school day morning, when the doors to our school open and the footsteps of hope make its way up the stairway, into the hallways, and then my classroom.

I hope that the plans I’ve made speak to what makes my kids curious, that what we read and talk about awakens their interest, and that they feel that each moment of their time in our room is worthy of their time.

In their own way, my kids are thinking in terms of hope, too.  They start the day hoping that kindness greets them, that they can count on patience and a sense humor to ease the way through the day, and that they are listened to just as much as they are asked to listen.

Hope is what we’re all counting on…hope eases one day, and makes us look forward to the next.  Teacher and student, we lean on hope…it’s what gives that “hello” its lilt and its smile.  I celebrate that!


Disrupting my teaching and reading thinking with “Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters”

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For some time now, I have been looking forward to  summer  when I would have the quiet time to devote to Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s new book, Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters.   I knew that it would be a book that would leave me thinking about my reading workshop practices with a more critical lens, and one that would challenge me to do better. Where  Notice & Note  and  Reading Nonfiction  gave me new strategies through which to teach meaningful reading, and the thinking behind these strategies, Disrupting Thinking asks me to go one step further and teach towards change:

We argue that the ultimate goal of reading is to become more than we are at the moment; to become better than we are now; to become what we did not even know we wanted to become.  The transactions we have with texts might enable us to do that.  If we read actively, assertively, thoughtfully, responsibly, then any text we read may offer us the possibility that we can reshape ourselves…

Our students, however, too often go to reading expecting a grade not growth.  So, we want to disrupt the thinking kids are doing as they read, thinking that is primarily focused on helping them extract evidence from a text.  We want them aware of the possibility that reading may – perhaps should – give them the opportunity to reshape themselves.  We want them to realize that reading should involve changing their understandings of the world and themselves…We want to ask students to be open to the possibility that a text might be disruptive, and that it is this disruption that gives them the opportunity to learn and grow. (pgs. 59-61)

This is a tall order, but Kylene and Bob, writing with their customary style which manages to be both scholarly and grounded in research as well as humorous, make their case in a systematic and compelling way.

Part I: The Readers We Want  discusses the three aspects we wish to see in both our students and ourselves as we read: being responsive, responsible, and compassionate. Here are some ideas I tagged:

When the reader notices what’s going on inside himself and feels the emotion or raises the question that the text evokes, he is doing more than simply decoding, more than simply word calling, more than simply memorizing what the text offers him. He is instead opening himself up to the text, interacting with it, accepting its invitation into the fictional world or – if it’s nonfiction – recognizing its intrusion into his world, and using it to help him make sense of his own experience. This responsive reader is aware of the effects a text has upon her and the response it evokes… (pg.25)

This kind of intentional, introspective responsiveness is something I need to teach towards much more than I presently do.  “Why did this character/action/scene/problem/resolution make you feel this way and what does that say to you? How might this have changed your perspective about something in your own life?” will be the entry point to rich discussions, as well as build upon the notion that reading changes us.

Our students…come to class, too often, ready to assert that whatever they think, whatever they have come to believe, is flatly, simply, indisputably true and correct.  They are often much more willing to defend their thoughts than to reconsider and perhaps modify them.  And they should, of course, defend and protect what is reasoned and defensible.  But to hold on to ideas when  evidence and research suggest that a change is sensible is to fail to be responsible to oneself.  Somehow, we need to teach them to value change.  Not change for change’s sake, but change that results from more information, a richer understanding, a sharpened perspective. (pg. 38)

I believe now, more than ever, it is critical to teach towards this idea of teaching towards responsible reading.  This chart shared by Kylene over Twitter before Disrupting Thinking was published became a familiar one in our classroom:

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It led my sixth graders to look closely at sources, at the presence of extreme language and what we might be wise to read into that. and at the response it elicited.  We were often surprised at the conclusions such reflections led us to – in other words, how it changed our perspective and made us more insightful readers, aware that all writers come to their task with biases we need to take into consideration, sources we need to question.  I loved the fact that Kylene and Bob made note of the fact that responsibility takes stamina – if we care about the issues of the day, and as citizens we should, then we must cultivate this stamina.

The more capable readers are of compassion, the more likely it is that they will be able to read well.  Compassion should sharpen the readers’ ability to see other points of view, other perspectives, and to imagine the feelings of those who hold them.  It should enable readers to take, if only momentarily, the perspective of someone else and thus better understand motivations and thinking. (pg. 45)

In a recent podcast about summer book lists I listened to, I was struck by the call for books that were empathetic – that called for the reader to bring the compassionate stance to his/her reading as a way of moving forward in an increasingly destabilized and uncertain world.  This important work needs to begin in our classrooms, with our youngest readers.

Part II: The Framework We Use: walks the reader through strategies we can use in our classrooms to nurture responsive, responsible, and compassionate readers.  The fiction and non fiction signposts, as well as the “Three Big Questions” are essential elements of my sixth grade reading workshop, but I especially loved the inclusion of this newer strategy:

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I loved using this framework with my kids, as Kylene and Bob write:

…we read to do more than learn from the text; we read to do more than enjoy the text. We read to learn more about ourselves. We read to become more than we knew we wanted to be.  (pg. 71)

It was that last aspect that was a game changer in my classroom – the idea that we bring our hearts into our reading lives, we read to be changed and to grow as individuals.

Part III: The Changes We Must Embrace was a thoughtful discussion and analysis of big changes that must take place and assumptions that must be challenged: how we teachers can go from “best practices” to “next practices”.  This would be a wonderful section with which to frame discussions among our literacy colleagues.  The issue of relevancy really spoke to me, because I believe that my kids are most engaged when the learning in our classroom is made relevant to them; whether it’s teaching about the Constitution or reading John Green, my kids are most “with me” when they feel the content of our work together speaks to them:

…the issue of relevance is relevant.  It can shape the way we choose texts for students, the way we invite students to choose the texts that they will read independently, and the approach we take to all of that reading.  The issue of relevance reminds us that the work children do in  the classroom should be significant to them, not simply preparation for something significant they will undertake years in the future.  If they are to undertake anything significant in the future, it will be because they have learned the importance of significant work early on in their schooling. (pg 122)

Disrupting Thinking was a fitting start to my summer PD adventures, and now that I’ve read it I want to keep the thinking it has inspired growing by participating in the FaceBook book group, as well as the Twitter chat Kyle and Bob will lead on #G2Great.


Finally – Nonfiction Book Clubs anchored by Notice and Note strategies

Today was an exciting day in Room 202 – our first nonfiction book club meetings.  We’ve been using the Notice & Note nonfiction signposts for the first time this year, and I was anxious to see how these meetings would go.  Would discussions be deeper? Would there be evidence of insightful reading and thinking? Would my kids make meaningful connections between what they had each read?  Would all the scaffolding work we had engaged in from September prove to be a purposeful use of the time we had invested? Most of all, through this work, had we succeeded in creating the mindset of reading nonfiction which Kylene Beers and Bob Probst had written about in their introduction to Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies:

…a stance that’s required for the attentive, productive reading of nonfiction.  It’s a mindset that’s open and receptive and receptive but not gullible.  It encourages questioning the text but also questioning one’s own assumptions, preconceptions, and possible misconceptions.  This mindset urges the reader both to draw upon what he does know and to acknowledge what he doesn’t know.  And it asks the reader to make a responsible decision about whether a text helped him confirm his prior beliefs and thoughts or had enabled him to modify and sharpen them, or perhaps to abandon them and change his mind entirely.

The foundation of our nonfiction work was built on “the questioning stance” – three Big Questions which help readers formulate a mindset for reading nonfiction – the critical stance through which they approach informational reading.


From the very first week of school, we have practiced developing this stance through our Wonder Wednesdays, using this template to tag our thinking:


and here is some of what that thinking looks like in our every day sixth grade life,where we have learned that reading nonfiction means a lot more than just gathering facts-we engage with the text continuously, asking questions, raising questions, and making new connections:

By the time January arrived, we were ready to begin to figure out the nonfiction signposts, work that we were familiar with from our work with the fiction signposts.  Bit by bit, with engaging pieces of text I managed to rustle up through Newsela, National Geographic Explorer and excerpts from trade books from our classroom library, we dove into the signposts, experimented with how they shaped and shifted our thinking, and worked in small groups as well as all together as a class.  I noticed these things in particular: that my students’ reading became more purposeful, that their their thinking work (i.e. their conversations) became more insightful, and they were curious to know more.

Next, we turned to book clubs: these are topic based, and every student reads a book of their choice about agreed upon topics of their choice – civil rights, food, life in war time, animals, space. We tagged our thinking  with signposts, and then reflected upon the 3 Big Questions in our reading journals.  I demonstrated this for my kids in my own reading journal with Larry Dane Brimner’s  Birmingham Sunday:

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Today we met to share our learning with our book club mates. It was noisy, but each group was deeply engaged in sharing their books and making connections within their topics.  The signposts gave our discussions specificity and focus, and the big questions allowed for broader conversations and extrapolations.  Everyone had something important to share and say about their books, and (this was most important to me) every student had found relevance in the texts they read.

It was messy and noisy work – each student had a LOT to say, so much so that we ran out of time to write a reflective piece about these discussions.  That will have to be saved for tomorrow.  Tonight, however, as I sit listening in to the recordings I had made of some of these discussions with Kylene and Bob’s Rigor and Talk Checklist for Nonfiction in hand, I couldn’t be more pleased with our first round of nonfiction book club meetings.  We are ready for round #2!



Kylene Beers says don’t read it again, read it with new eyes – this year we started to learn how.

The last Monday of the school year.  By the side of my desk are stacks of Social Studies notebooks to scan one last time before I rubric them for content, completed assignments, and neatness – all the skills they will need in the years to come.   As I leaf through our year of learning about American history, I am struck by the way our thinking morphed from the beginning of the year to the end – how it grew richer, more authentic, more student-centric.  Like many other teachers, I have struggled with how to make the teaching of history engaging and meaningful, especially when it comes to the use of the text book.  In our classroom, we learn history through projects, movies, and primary source documents. But, there is also the text book.  We are lucky in that our text is Joy Hakim’s acclaimed The History of Us series, which is lively and well written.  So, how to make use of this text in ways that are more interesting and meaningful to my students than just through dry guided questions and answers?

While attending the Boothbay Literacy Conference last summer, I paid close attention to what Kylene Beers and Bob Probst had to share about their research into nonfiction reading.  The thinking behind this slide stuck with me:

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but how to accomplish this? How to help my students connect with their texts and become more personally invested in their reading.  Luckily, Kylene and Bob were on hand to guide my thinking, through what they shared at Boothbay, a webinar I was able to participate in, and Kylene’s Tweets about their soon to be published Notice and Note for nonfiction.  This idea became the focus of my work in Social Studies all year:

Instead of assigning questions, or framing discussions based on pre-ordained questions, I moved towards these questions:

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Bit, by bit, first by modeling what such thinking looked like and sounded like, and then by talking through the differences we noted in how our thinking changed, and (most importantly) how the ideas in the text came to matter to us when we read through this lens, my students came to see the value in this new way of reading.

By beginning with a “what surprised me?” stance, we prepared ourselves to be much more attentive and engaged than we would have been if we were simply going on a fact finding mission to answer specific questions. Diverging responses to this question opened avenues of rich discussion, and we were able to make much deeper connections between ideas in this way, too.

What did the author think I already knew? really forced my kids to sift through the text to examine what the author presupposed of their background knowledge. Many times, we discovered that the reason we didn’t understand a concept fully was because the author thought we knew something we didn’t.   Putting a great big ? next to passages like this allowed students to take ownership of their own comprehension process.  For example, in reading about Abraham Lincoln’s life, the author writes that it was remarkable that Lincoln saw a city for the first time when he was 26 years old. My kids were surprised that this was a remarkable thing at all, until we asked: What did the author think I already knew? and realized that Hakim figured that her readers already knew that most people in Lincoln’s time and of his means did not travel far from where they were born, and many may never see a city in their entire lifetime.  This led to a great discussion about the Industrial Revolution, and how societies and attitudes were changed forever as a result of advances in technology and communication.

The third question, What changed or confirmed what I already knew? allowed us to sift through misconceptions, verify information, ask questions about why our thinking had shifted, or how we decide to weigh facts and opinions – whether our own or those of the author.

At the end of our year of reading about history, as I parse through the notes my students have been taking, I can hear echos of all the discussions we’ve had as well.  I know the work is not yet “done” – both my kiddos and I have much work ahead. For me, it will be in the company of a brand new class of sixth graders next year.  And for my kids?  Well, I hope that they have begun to learn to read in a way that makes the text matter to them.  Kylene Beers says don’t read it again, read it with new eyes – this year we started to learn how.