All of this occurred to me today as I worked with teachers at Farristown Middle School in Berea, continuing our study of Cris Tovani's book, So What Do They Really Know? Chapter five, our focus for the day, is on Annotations, and Tovani promotes student note-making on text to capture and demonstrate thinking in real-time, as it were, giving teachers a lens into each student's thinking process. Near the end of the chapter she explains how she tested the practice across content areas by, among other things, interviewing strong content area teachers about the kind of active reading their students do. The part we dwelled on in the Farristown team meetings, though, is what Tovani says she asked at the end of each interview: "If you had time to only teach your students one thing about the way you read, what would you tell them?"
Now the question's a bit contrived; time for just one strategy doesn't necessarily make much sense. But the idea is a vital one, and it made me think immediately of something Kittle and Anderson both say: the students we have in our class ended up there by whatever process, for whatever reason, by whatever power, but while they are our students they are our responsibility. And if there's something we know that will positively impact their learning, something, for example, we understand or have benefitted from about reading practices, then we have the obligation to share our knowledge with them. I asked every teacher in every group to answer Tovani's question (as an annotation in the margins of their book and out loud for the group), and it was clear to me that every one of them not only seriously thought about how they'd answer but also reconciled the answers their colleagues gave with what they were thinking and - importanly - thought about how they could transfer this thinking (theirs and their colleagues') to their students.
A social studies teacher talked about context clues, and list five ways he "naturally" uses them when he reads unfamiliar text. A science teacher talked about visualizing what he reads, and realized he could model annotation for his students by letting them draw in their margins or let a series of statements run down the page all beginning with "when I read this I see..." Another science teacher stressed the important distinction between decoding and comprehending, and explained from her own experience the dangers in students passing themselves off as having understood when they actually only read competently, and superficially. A music teacher, perhaps logically, talked about the importance of sounding out words, emphasizing correctness and attention to detail. And a Special Ed teacher explained how she had learned to slow down and now passed that wisdom on to her students who might otherwise be satisfied with going through the motions.
And I repeated for each group my own cardinal practice: I read to find out what questions a writer must be asking in order to write. I'm glad Tovani had her questions, and I'm glad she not only answered them in writing her books but also shared them - as questions - in places so that we can directly explore our answers too. And I'm glad the teachers at Farristown are thinking about how to answer her pointed question about reading practices. Their students will benefit from it. As will all of ours. So I put the question to you: if you can only teach students one thing about the way you read, what is it? Leave a comment and share your wisdom. Our students are