Making Room for Thinking

How did I learn this summer? I didn’t have a graphic organizer, charts to refer to, or questions to answer.  What I did have was a driving question — How can I get my students to become passionate readers and writers. I also had access to information and and resources to stimulate my thinking,  namely:

  • great PD publications including (Notice and Note, What Readers Really Do, Choice Words, The Book Whisperer and The Units of Study in Opinion, Information and Narrative)
  • “virtual talk” specifically tweets and blogs of the driven, passionate learners of Twitter.

What I learned made me look hard and question my teaching.  Are the tools I’m giving students driving them to become passionate learners? Am I giving them the opportunity and tools that will spur that learning?

Strategies, strategies..does it stick? 

I teach strategies, lots of them. The strategy for every situation and the matching chart to go with it.  All these lovely tools — modeled, practiced, available and ready to be used.  Nothing was wrong with the strategies themselves. But were they being used effectively? When the scaffold and I were gone, did the strategies transfer?

My Aha:

I stopped short,   Actually I had it backwards.  The strategies worked in a controlled environment, but student transference was weak. Not because the strategies were bad, but because my thinking stimulated the use of the strategy, not student thinking.  They weren’t thinking. They were mimicking my thinking. My big aha: provide room for student thinking.

images-1New Rules — Listen, pose open ended questions, acknowledge thinking and get out of the way

There is nothing wrong with setting up the strategy, modeling it and charting it to make it clear. The trouble was how I got there. The source of the strategy needed to be lifted from student thinking. Model yes absolutely. Then as students try it, acknowledge their thinking and then push in subtly, teasing out their thinking with powerful prompts and  questions. Peter Johnston’s Choice Words gives good direction:

           Say more.. What made you think that? What else connects to that idea?      

              Show me…How did you get that idea? How did you figure that out?

                     Why? Why would the author do something like that? 

Making Room for Student Thinking

As teachers we so want our students to “get it” we push in and in the process we disable and we disrespect their thinking process. We take away the possibility of  development beyond us because we don’t trust that they can. And they “get” that, so they don’t think. They don’t think they can.  Johnston’s choice words and questioning creates a wide and respectful yet structured space for students to put their thinking in.

This just in — Another Great Resource for Questioning:

photoProviding questions that will stimulate process, problem solving and synthesis without leading is difficult!  So here’s another great book to put on your to be read pile: Essential Questions  written by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.  It offers a  structure for formulating questions that are  important, timeless, and recur throughout our lives, organically. They are universal questions. They don’t dead end with a one word or one sentence response. They are intriguing. They beg to be answered. They foster investigation. They require critical thinking.  Check out the link above and get a taste of what EQs are and aren’t.

7 characteristics of essential questions:

  • Open ended
  • thought provoking
  • requires higher level thinking
  • raises additional questions
  • requires support not just an answer
  • recurs over time, needing to be revisited
  • is important and transferable within disciplines

Here’s to a year of student-driven strategies.  Driven with questions and prompts that foster room for student thinking and questioning. Here’s to a year of passionate learning.

The Power of Yet

Reading over the summer has been true indulgence. I am so busy, so involved in thought, the day just slips by around me. Nothing is visible in terms of my work. When my husband walks in around 6pm, nothing has changed. I’m still sitting at the table, books piled around me intently working on my laptop. Sigh, yes I feel a tad guilty. What did I do today? Lots I think. Reading and thinking, to a large extent is not visible and seemingly not accountable. This is one reason I am pushed to write. Making my work accountable: making it real.

My recent read What Readers Really Do by Vicky Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse #wrrdchat  led me to re examine Peter Johnston’s classic Choice Words.  A huge aha from these books has been the power of  very small words.

Yet…             One of the key points I took away from WRRD was the understanding that proficient readers are capable of tolerating confusion in narratives because they trust they will understand – eventually. They know that the writer isn’t giving it all away in the beginning; the writer has a plan in mind. While readers may not understand the plan at first, they trust they will. They just don’t understand YET. Knowing and trusting that things will make sense in the future drives us on in our stories.

Students and teachers must also learn to tolerate confusion in the learning process. It is tricky, messy work and we must push on, trusting that we will “get it” just not yet.  It is the nature of learning.  The student who struggles has as Johnston put “a history of telling himself stories about being a failure”  and is unlikely to face a new assignment with hope. But the student with the personal narrative of “I haven’t gotten there yet,”  sees learning as a progression. As teachers we need foster the re-writing of our students’ learning narratives to include a “retelling” by the student that imagines success. We may not be there yet, but we have faith that we will be in the future. This drives us forward in our learning.

dinning room table, my office
dinning room table, my office

Gotta go, only three more weeks before students enter my classroom and the FedEx truck just dropped off Donalyn Millers’ The Book Whisperer and Word Nerds by Leslie Montgomery, Margo Holmes Smith and Brenda Overturf! I’m not quite ready, yet.

My First…

One of the writing strategies I teach my students when they sit down to a blank page, is to think of a first or a last time something important happened in their life. Maybe it was the first time you rode a bike or the last time you saw your grandfather.

I think of that strategy as I write my first grown up,(drumroll) on the web, for all to see (eekk!!) post.

Part, in fact a lot, of what makes this scary is that someone might read it.

But wait, isn’t that what I want? Someone to read it.

But what if they think it’s awful and then post on twitter: See how not to write a blog (insert blog address here) #everyonethatmatters

At this point I am totally freaked out by the possibility of  hitting publish button.

But I digress.

I started this blog for several reasons. One, I am so inspired by the many blogs I have been exposed to via my new-found twitter peeps or tweeps @franmcveigh, @rscalateach  @pernilleripp @kateteach @misterminor…the list goes on and on. These amazing educators are adding so much to my teaching life I feel the need to reciprocate.  Secondly, I want my students to blog and this experience is certainly giving me tremendous instruction in the art of learning by doing. The last reason (I’m aware of ) is that writing is a way for me to synthesize my thinking. It is a way to organize and quiet the ideas that are swirling in my mind into manageable bins.

Simply put my fear of blogging is quieted by my inspirational virtual colleagues, my desire to make a difference in my students’ lives and my need to sort out the mayhem my brain has become after about 300+ hours of twitter information.

One of the many things I love about writing is when it leads to the need to write more. Those hours on twitter and the messy state of my mind will be the purpose of my next post. That jump into the virtual world of twitter space and it’s profound effect on my thinking and daily behaviors the  good and not so good is my assignment. Stay tuned.