Slice of Life: Wondering About Wonder

It’s Tuesday and time for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you Tara, Beth, Stacey, Anna, Betsy and Dana for the this place to share our writing. Post a slice of your own and read more here.
11454297503_e27946e4ff_hWhat Readers Really Do authored by Vicki and Dorothy Barnhouse has been the basis of much of my thinking about reading instruction, and last Friday I had the privilege to spend a full day of thinking  with colleagues and Vicki Vinton. This book has helped me understand the relationship between learning and instruction in general. 


As I plan for the week and then re plan after each lesson, I am always measuring how much I do and how much students do. Every day my teacher-self fights the desire to step in and do more. Every day I hold myself in check, trying to up the percentage of what students do.

I try to hold back and listen to what students are saying and thinking. Even when what they say seems so off, if I really listen I see threads of their logic that link back to the original work or thought. By hearing their thinking that initially appears as misunderstanding, often proves to be so instructive for me and is what drives my next steps. 

Seeing the world and the lesson through students’ eyes is really my job. Sitting in their shoes looking back at me is a true reflection on what learning is going on.

Tonight I am looking back at our read aloud Wonder by RJ Palacio. We started the book with the simple and straight forward thinking about our reading as put forth in WRRD by asking students what do they know and what do they wonder about as they process through the text.


Before we started the chapter called “Locks” I asked students to look back on their thoughts and share what they noticed so far. What popped out at them and what were they wondering about. I recorded their thoughts.

One student said, “I looked Auggie up on the internet and I saw a trailer for the movie, but it didn’t let me see what he looked like.”

Another student wonders, “Does he have a lip?”  (I wonder why he is wondering about the lip, that seems so insignificant but I write it down.)

And yet another student chimes in with, “I’m having such a hard time picturing him because, I don’t know what he looks like.”

Others add, “Yeah, in the beginning it just says about how he looks worse than you would think.”

“And how people are whispering behind cupped hands.” 

“But what does he look like?”

Part of me wants to say, well why do you think the writer didn’t tell you this? Why is she leaving us so in the dark? What do you think that means? But I restrain myself and just write down their comments.

Another part of me is so pleased that Auggie has lingered with a student enough to look it up on the internet outside of class. His own curiosity drove him to it.

So thinking about some the work Vicki shared with us on Friday, I consider possible approaches to pursue this line of inquiry.

One path we could take would be to ask what does your wondering make you think. This is a replicable move across texts. It is clearly what readers or thinkers can do with a wonder. Sometimes we look it up and find the answer and sometimes we look it up and find no answer, so we have to think about our wondering to find an answer.  

Another way we could go is to explore this line of inquiry in the text. Perhaps, if we read closely, there might be some clues we could uncover. Thanks to Kindle the work is easy. I searched for “looks” and “face” and this is what I got:

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking it’s probably worse.


No one had any idea I would come out looking the way I look.


The doctor’s realized there was something wrong with my face, but they didn’t think it was going to be bad. They told mom and dad I had a cleft palate.  (maybe that’s why students were wondering about his lip)


She said when she looked down into my tiny mushed-up face for the first time, all she could see was how pretty my eyes were.


People think I haven’t gone to school because of the way I look, but it’s not that. It’s because of all the surgeries.


I’ll be the only kid who looks like me.


I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all.


I’m used to how I look by now. I know how to pretend I don’t see the faces people make.


Which way to go? The first way is one that could be a move in any exploration of wonder. The second way one could be used when we have a text to explore. Ah, the beauty of having more than one class. I can try both and see what comes up. Clearly this line of inquiry will continue throughout the text. Students are keenly aware and concerned about this and will be on the look out for it. 

Reflecting on this, a couple of things pop out at me. First, curiosity drives independent work and thinking. And second, close reading could be authentically pursued when it is a possible source for answers we are driven to find. Thinking is hard but thinking about something we are interested in is, well interesting.