Slice of Life Tuesday: Where did October go?

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Where did October go? I asked myself this morning, as I tore it off my office calendar and came face to face with November.

What had happened to October? I wondered, as I put a great big red “X” through it on our classroom school calendar.

Then, the first of my students began walking into our classroom…two ballerinas, one robot, Minnie Mouse, and a pirate…yes, Halloween is here and October is definitely over.

The question remains…where did it go?

                                                some ind of courage.jpg

We read Some Kind of Courage, and learned about being brave and staying true to the best in ourselves, the “best” we weren’t even sure we had.  And, somewhere in the listening, and turn and talking ,and note jotting, we became a community of readers.  Our read aloud gave us one story to gather around, experience, and learn through. We came to know  Joseph and Ah-kee, and our journey to learning about them was also a journey of learning about each other: what makes us laugh out loud, what moves us to tears, and what lies between.

At one point in the story, Joseph and Ah-kee trade mementos:

We looked at each other a minute, then we both put the other’s memory into our own pocket.  They were new memories, now, but they were tied up and bound to the old.  That’s how memories work, I suppose; you just go through life collecting them, never let go of the precious ones but leaving room in your heart for more.  Pg. 172

And that’s how great stories shared in readalouds work, too…we’re going through our school year together collecting them, loving them, and leaving room in our hearts for more.  So, there was a piece of October…

…which was also spent exploring our stories and writing our own personal narratives.  We dug into our writer’s notebooks and took some ideas for a spin all the way from a seed idea into drafting, revision, editing and publishing.  This anchor chart became our workshop reality, bit by bit, as we learned together that writing is purposeful, sometimes joyful, work:


And October ended with a Halloween themed writing celebration: kids in costume munching on sweet goodies, sharing stories.

We made room for silliness, too, it being Halloween and all.  When the last bell rang, Batman collected writing folders, Alice in Wonderland helped put things away, and a long-tailed, tutu sporting mouse assisted in sweeping away leftover crumbs.   Writing workshop involves many shared tasks.  So that was another piece of October.

Reading and writing, learning and sharing, doing the work of building community…that was our October.  It was a month, all in all,  well spent.

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:

my nf notebook

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!



Our read aloud project: great thinking and some arts and crafts


Celebrate with Ruth Ayres @ ruth ayres writes  …. because, we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get!

Last Monday was Red Kayak project day, so my kids walked through our classroom door laden with bits and pieces of their projects – the parts each one was responsible for.  There was great excitement in the air as groups came together on the reading rug and in various spots around our room and put their projects together.  Some were elaborate, and some straightforward, but everyone was pleased.  It entailed a lot of work, and I loved listening in to the conversations which went into the production of this project – as I do every year, for this has been a cornerstone project for many, many years.


We fold so much into the read aloud that forms the basis for our project – thinking  aloud Notice and Note sign posts and what they mean, growing theories about character and plot, wrapping our heads around symbolism and theme, trying to figure out the arc of a story.  It takes time, and even though there is never enough time to get done what we want to get done, I’ve always felt that this project justified the time invested.

So often, we ask our kids to write about their reading without giving them meaningful ideas about what to write about.  Last summer, along with some amazing teachers, I read and kept notes on Lisa Graff’s Lost In The Sun.  It was such a revealing experience, for I came to understand just how much my own writing about reading depended upon my knowledge of the reading experience, through all the pedagogical material I had read as a teacher, and because I was a Comparative Literature major in college.  When I stepped back, and looked over my entries, and tried to see them through the eyes of my sixth graders, I began to see some of the challenges they would encounter when asked to write about their reading.  Front loading the “stuff” of literature gives them a whole structure and vocabulary with which to write.

In the lead up to project day, I loved listening to the way my kids took that “stuff” and challenged each other in discussing the novel, and the way the different components of story map and Notice and Note interacted and intersected.  Here’s the project template:


I think what I enjoyed most about these discussions was the fact that my kids felt so confident about their thinking, so invested in the idea that they had important things to say.  On project day, they were able to show just such thinking in their presentations, moving fluidly from one idea to the next, and making critical connections between (for example) why a Memory Moment figured at a certain point in the story and how it impacted the plot.

Even though there was a certain arts and craftsy element to some parts of these presentations (I am forever mindful of this post by Donalyn Miller about such projects), like this one for Notice and Note signposts:

FullSizeRender (21) FullSizeRender (22)

the thinking was strong, and meaningful:


Now, we move on to realistic fiction book clubs, and  I can’t wait to listen in to these discussions.  So, today, I celebrate the readers and thinkers in my classroom!


Finally! My own copy of Reading Nonfiction:Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies


I knew I had struck a teacher’s goldmine when I brought what I had learned from  Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s Notice & Note into my sixth grade classroom.  The signposts, together with “What we know/What we wonder” from Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton’s What Readers Really Dotransformed the way we approached reading fiction, as well as the way we talked and wrote about our reading.  So, I was thrilled to learn that a nonfiction Notice and Note was in the works, and waited (and waited…) until that day finally arrived and a copy of Reading Nonfiction:Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies was finally in my hands.

And not a moment too soon.

I would be the first to admit, that teaching my kids how to read nonfiction in a strategic way, especially in the content area of Social Studies, has always presented unique challenges.  Secretly, I have always harbored the distinct feeling that my nonfiction reading instruction was hit or miss, sometimes (judging from the faces of my sixth graders) more miss than hit.  Even my most fluent readers seemed to skim the surface of informational texts,

I love that Kylene and Bob begin by acknowledging the challenges teachers like me face in our instruction – not only do we have to teach our kids strategies to help think through and comprehend their informational texts, but we also have to create an instructional atmosphere that nurtures a mindset for reading nonfiction, described here by Kylene and Bob:

This book had to discuss 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.

That is a tall order for teaching!  Thankfully, Kylene and Bob guide us through this involved and complicated process with wisdom and humor. Reading Nonfiction is organized into four sections in such a smart way.  

I. Issues to Consider: Here, Kylene and Bob present ten issues that collectively helped formulate their ideas in writing this book.  These issues span ways in which we can define nonfiction, the developmental demands we need to take into consideration when choosing appropriate texts for our students, and the issue of rigor and relevance ( “rigor is about relevance and not about a Lexile score” –  let’s have a collective amen for that! (p.49).  I loved this thoughtful section, which addressed so many of the questions and concerns I have been mulling over for some time.

II. The Importance of Stance: In some ways, I consider this to be the heart of this book.  Kylene has been blogging about the thinking in this section since last Fall, and I took advantage of this by trying out some of the ideas in my own sixth grade classroom with amazing success.  Here’s how they introduce the importance of stance:

The reader needs to remember that a work of nonfiction will try to assert something about his world, and he needs to take those assertions with a grain of skepticism. They may be perfectly true, they may be somewhat slanted or biased, or they may be flat out lies. (p. 76)

This questioning stance is shaped by three “Big Questions”:

  • What surprised me?
  • What did the author think I already knew?
  • What changed, challenged, or confirmed what I already knew?

This questioning stance was a game changer in my classroom, it gave us a lens through which to view the text, a perspective with which to read more attentively and therefore more meaningfully.  The discussions that these questions opened up for us were amazing  for I could see real, purposeful engagement with the content of the text.  As Bob writes, these questions allowed my students to think “more deeply about what we’d read. Perhaps that’s because we weren’t just reading facts on a page.  We were thinking about how information fit with what we already knew.  That helped make the reading more relevant.”  This is exactly the kind of reading that sticks, because kids own the process.

III. The Power of Signposts: Having used the six signposts for fiction with such great success, I looked forward to learning what these nonfiction scaffolds may be.  There are five, and here’s the graphic which Kylene so helpfully Tweeted out in last night’s Twitter chat (here’s the link to the archive:

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 8.53.47 AM

These signposts dovetail perfectly with the three Big Questions, “they help students think about the Big Questions with more specificity” (p. 118).  I am so looking forward to introducing them to my students, knowing that they will help us dig deeper into all the informational reading that we will be engaged in, especially when we begin our nonfiction unit of study.   As with the signposts for fiction, these will enrich not only our reading work, but also our writing work.

IV. The Role of Strategies: This was an eminently useful section – hands on ways in which we can “make the invisible thinking processes visible” (pg. 182). These seven strategies have common aims:

…these strategies have two things in common: they require students to do some rereading of a text, and they encourage students to talk about what they have read.  Both practices – rereading and talking – have been shown to be important in improving students’ comprehension” (pg. 184).

Some of the seven strategies were familiar to me, but I confess that I have not used them in as targeted a way as Kylene and Bob describe.  So, I look forward to giving them another go this year, with better success.

The appendices are filled with lists of resources, text samples, links to templates, and QR codes directing the reader to videos of classroom discussions – a wealth of useful information!

So, there it is, a guide to another Beers & Probst must read, must have in your library /new book list.  It was hard waiting for it…but so worth the wait!