Posts Tagged ‘reader response’

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Along with many others, I am reading and reflecting on Vicki Vinton’s book Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading.   This week’s assignment in #cyberPD is chapters 5 and 6.  In these chapters, Vicki gets down to the nitty gritty of reading instruction by taking us with her into a classroom and watching her guide students through a read-aloud. So often we are given theory without practical application. In this book, I feel I am a fly on the wall in Vicki’s classroom.

We are invited to use a Notice/ Wonder chart.  A few years ago when I participated in the Global Read Aloud, this was the way I had my students enter into a Voxer conversation with other classes.  By using notice and wonder, students can engage in the text without the stress of “text-based questions” or a “literary essay.”  It’s low-stakes reading.

Ralph Fletcher makes a case for low-stakes writing in his latest book Joy Write.  Low-stakes reading, like low-stakes writing, is necessary to build critical thinking skills as well as to honor our students for who they are as readers and writers.  All ideas are accepted so all become active participants in the discussion.

In chapter 6, Vicki writes about low-stakes writing prompts for fiction.  She gives a list of the values of this kind of writing.  I want to add to this list.  I agree that the writing can give you a glimpse into the minds of the students, but I contend that the act of writing itself helps to solidify that thinking.  By writing down thoughts about reading, students engage their core thinking.  They focus and process at a higher level.

Turn and talk can become open and write.  Adding the low-stakes writing component will help me build my students’ muscles for longer high-stakes writing.  I require a reader response each week about independent reading.  Some students struggle around what they should write.  By using read-aloud and low-stakes writing about reading alongside notice and wonder, my students will be able to practice writing about reading.

Curiosity puts the brain in a state where it is ready to learn, according to Albert Einstein.  Vicki goes on to say that curiosity is nurtured in a classroom from the inside.  No outside motivators will make this happen.  We must cultivate a classroom atmosphere that welcomes questions.  Wonder should be at the forefront.  Perhaps my daily journal prompt should be “What are you wondering about today?”  Keep curiosity alive around reading and students will lead themselves to the joy of learning.  You can just stand by and watch.




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Last week as I was reading DigiLitSunday posts, I found these questions on Fran McVeigh’s post.

Do we REALLY want students to be critical thinkers?

Then how are we encouraging “critical thinking” every day in our classrooms?

How are we REALLY encouraging independent thinkers and workers?

Tough questions that I contemplated all week.  Am I really encouraging critical thinking in my classroom every day?  To answer this question, I looked at my various assignments during the week.  On Monday, we watched a Flocabulary video on The Voting Rights Act and answered these questions:

1. Connection to other movements: Think of a historical event or movement that is similar to the Selma marches. How are these events similar?

2. Connection to current events: Are racial equality and voting rights still issues in the US today? How have these issues changed since 1965? In what ways are they the same?

3. Connection to civic participation: Why is the right to vote an important right to protect?

I have to credit Flocabulary because not one of these questions elicits the exact same answer from every student.  When we look for questions that encourage critical thinking, we must wonder if the answer will be the same for every student.  Granted these questions also depend on quite a bit of prior knowledge.  Not all of my students have a clear understanding of voting rights or what race relations are like today.  Some of them are quite sheltered from the news and that’s OK with me.  They’re young.  But my older students, those in 5th and 6th grade, really thought deeply about these questions and offered some thoughtful responses.

What is important to me as a teacher of gifted students is to open up the door for communication and for critical thinking.  I have to be willing to hear different responses, and not always ones I agree with.  Critical thinkers are active, and our challenge as their teachers is to keep them thinking and questioning and wondering.

One way I do this is assigning reader responses.  There is no one right way to respond to a book for my students.  We have a chart on the wall that lists multiple options.  These options include: write about the theme, relate to a character, connect the book to the larger world, etc.

This week a few of my students are reading Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels, Smile, Sisters, and Drama.  One student was appalled that Drama was placed on the second grade shelf because it is at a second grade AR level.  “This book is not appropriate for second graders!”  She explained that the book deals with the sensitive subject of sexuality.  A selection from her reader response:

“This book can relate to the world because just like Jesse people know their sexuality, but can’t tell their friends or family because they’ll be teased or judged. In Jesse’s case his father doesn’t accept his older brother Justin because he’s gay, so Jesse is afraid to tell anyone because they might not accept him.”

She went on to rant about the recent controversy over transgender students and bathroom use.  Reading with a critical eye as well as having an open policy for student responses helped this student not only relate to the book, but also to express her own opinions about the subject.

My students are not just writing for an audience of one.  They write on a blog we share with other gifted classes.  When they write about their own thoughts, they trust that others will read them with the understanding that we are all trying to write in a way that best expresses our own thoughts.  A blog space is just right for experimenting with thinking and writing.    A critical thinker understands that others have different assumptions and different perspectives, so in the blog space, we must make it safe for those expressions.

Thanks, Fran, for posing those questions and for helping me realize that critical thinking is purposeful and intentional every day.

I am off to New Orleans Mardi Gras on Sunday, so I am posting early.  Please link up when you can.

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Poetry Friday round-up with my dear friend, Amy, at The Poem Farm.

Poetry Friday round-up with my dear friend, Amy, at The Poem Farm.

writing secrets

Mrs. Simon, I don’t know what to write.
Oh, no! I don’t have anything to write about!
I have writer’s block today, Mrs. Simon.

These words echo in my classroom regularly. Why? Because we are all writers. And we all know that writing is hard.

I asked my students to write long about a book we are reading. (Global Read Aloud: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly HUnt.) You could hear the sighs. For some reason, that bad word…long…sent them into total fear. So I saddled up to the computer connected to the board. After stumbling over the necessary technology to get them to see what I was writing, I set about modeling a long writing.

I actually surprised myself that I could do this on-demand-in-front-of-everybody writing from nothing. But I realized that it all comes from practice. I just started typing and the words came. My students laughed at my typos as I was trying to type quickly. They noticed that my long writing was only 140 words. The assignment became less intimidating.

Yet, one of my best writers sat in front of her computer not typing. And it seemed the longer she stared at the blank page, the harder it got for her to start. I didn’t have a very good answer for her. It happens. We’re writers. We are going to have those days when nothing comes to mind. So I let her leave class with this instruction, “Think about what you may want to write about and we’ll start again tomorrow.” Some writers need time to think.

I know this is Poetry Friday, and you are asking yourself, “Where’s the poem?” Sometimes with writing, you need to write about what you need to write about.

Kielan is a writer. She is in 6th grade, and I’ve taught her since she was in second grade. She’s had her share of writer’s block, but she is connecting with Ally in Fish in a Tree. This is her long writing about how she was bullied like Ally.

In Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s book Fish In A Tree, Ally’s at the restaurant where her mother works. Her mother is a waitress there. While Ally is at the restaurant suddenly her “friends” walk in. Shay and Jessica walk in the restaurant and start talking to Ally.

Ally tries to resist them, but her mother thinks she should talk with them. Her mother doesn’t know what Shay and Jessica do to Ally. They talk to her about the sympathy card Ally gave to their teacher. Something similar like this happened to me too.

I was in 4th grade when it happened. A girl named Emily was in my class. Every time a teacher was near she was nice to me, but when there was no teacher near she was mean to me. When she was nice to me I would reject her and then I would get in trouble.

She sat right in front of me in class and we were kind of enemies. I had to read aloud in class and answer the question. I read the passage right, but I got the answer wrong. Then she got called on and she got the question right. She looked at me, gave me a mean look, and then rolled her eyes. After school she saw me in Mcdonald’s at Walmart. She called me smart, her friend, pretty, and nice, only because my mother was around, but then the next day at school, she called me dumb, mean, her enemy, and ugly. She made me think I was dumb. Just like Ally felt in the story.

I made my own quote. “Trust no one” and “Never trust a phony with anything”.–Kielan

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

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Once again I am playing around with apps to use with my students. For my reader response this week with my virtual book club, I tried using Piktochart. I have mixed feelings about the results.

Piktochart is designed for business presentations that include data. Data is not my thing. Reading and writing is. So how could I re-use this program to fit in with digital literacy?

I chose a report template from the few free ones provided. Adding in a text box was cumbersome. We have gotten so accustomed to apps reading our minds. The text box never appeared where I wanted it to go, so I struggled to move it and arrange it. I don’t think students would have as much difficulty. They tend to be more savy with a mouse.

The part I did like about this process was the motivation to graphically design the ideas. Design is becoming a big part of digital media. If we tap into design with our students, I believe we add another element to their learning and processing. Making a product to represent their response to reading is a way to authentically create digital media. I may be wrong, but I think it would take some of the chore out of reader response. I still believe strongly in choice, so Piktochart will go on my list of choices for responding to reading.

Lost in the Sun- Trent

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SOL #25

Jessie Wilcox Smith, Flickr, 1915 "The New Book"

Jessie Wilcox Smith, Flickr, 1915 “The New Book”

Reader response has been an integral part of my gifted classroom curriculum. Now that the first round of testing is done, I am wondering if there is a way I can continue using reader response while integrating testing style writing.

I hesitate to call this authentic writing because God knows I don’t write about every book I read. “Sometimes I just want to read for the pleasure of it,” one student said exasperated by yet another reader response assignment.

But sometimes it is helpful to write to process thinking, or to make that metacognition happen in the first place. I am doing that very kind of writing right this minute. Writing to discover. Could reader response be a discovery? Could we learn as we write?

In my class this morning, we had a discussion about theme. I was pushing my young writer to think deeper about his reader response. He said he thought the theme was stated in the title, “Walk Two Moons.” I grabbed this statement and held on.

“What is meant by the title?”

“Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.”

“Are there examples from the story to prove this theme?”

He continued by recalling scenes from the book. “So, what is the most important thing about your claim that this is the theme?”

“Text evidence!”

I love when we make connections between what we are actually doing when we read with what the testers want us to do. You must support your claim with evidence from the book.

Linda Baie posted yesterday about reader response. Here are some take aways from that post that I want to build into my renewed reader response assignments:

  1. Think about the book as a whole.  What theme arises?
  2. What imprint does this book leave on your life right now?
  3. Talk about the author’s craft.  How did the author tell the story?
  4. Is the main character in your heart?  Why?  Did he/she teach you anything?

It is also important to have book discussions with your students individually.  I talked to Jacob this morning about his reader response.  He wrote that he would like to go to the moon.  I asked, “Can you tell me more about this?”

He said, “I really don’t want to go to the moon.  I am scared of how you would float out into space.”  He eventually wrote about the earth having an atmospheric bubble that helps you breathe.  So much more interesting than the patent answer.  I told him this.  He became proud and confident in his own personal response to reading.  It became about more than the facts in the book.  He became an authentic reader and writer, expressing his own fears and understanding about outer space.

I want reading to be freedom for my students, not a burden.  Freedom to fly into outer-space or to walk two moons.  Freedom to find their own way exploring the world in books.

walk two moons


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Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge!

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge!

My students write reader responses each week to whatever book they are reading. At the beginning of the year, I placed some questions in their binders to prompt these responses. I find that week after week, they select the same questions to answer.

A few weeks ago, I read Dana Murphy’s post on Two Writing Teachers about reader responses. She wrote about three different strategies she teaches her students, lifting a line, character maps, and visual note-taking. I posted these ideas on our class blog and have discussed each strategy with my students.

Words with wings

I love the connections I can make with authors online. I follow Nikki Grimes on Facebook, so I saw a post about her talk on Booktalk Nation (which, sadly, I had to miss) along with the opportunity to purchase a signed copy of Words with Wings. The book arrived last week. Vannisa is a fan of verse novels and picked it up immediately. She decided to lift a line to write her own poem about the main character. When I talked to Vannisa about her poem, she told me she was interested in how the character herself was also just words on the page.

I know a girl
who waits and listens.

For her daydreams,
she awaits.

Who comes from
a family
that doesn’t

for words
to take her
high into the sky
or her mind.

Tell her to stop,
she won’t

Who comes from

in her mind.

No one even knocks
on the door
for a visit.

Who comes from
a book.

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