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!