Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Picking Up Three - From My Stacks

I've decided to write one post each month to think through and share texts that I have in my stacks.  I have lots of "gems" and sometimes it's helpful to hunker down on the library floor to revisit and "re-vision" how I might use the great pieces of text I've collected.  Many texts are old favorites just waiting to be shared in a think aloud or shared together to nudge our conversations as readers.  Many texts are forgotten books that I discovered along the way, but never got around to using.  Many texts were added to my collection for a specific purpose, but never quite made it into a crafting lesson.  

One of the questions I'm often asked is "What text should I use to teach ____?"

Here's my answer... choose text that you love!  That's the easy part.  But sometimes that's just not enough.  As we plan a strategy study, no matter the thinking behavior we're delving into with our students, text choice is critical.  If we truly believe that "thinking strategies" can and should be applied across genre, across experiences, and across a study, we have to be wise in our decision making as teachers.  What texts lend themselves to the thinking that I'm hoping my young readers will store in their strategy wheelhouse?

If we want our young readers to infer, to synthesize, to activate their schema, etc. we have to be selective as we plan instruction... and then we build a classroom library rich in the kinds of text we're hoping our students will read!
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Here's my plan.  I've pulled three books out of my collection.  I'll give a brief synopsis of the text and then share one way we might use the text as readers during the crafting portion of reader's workshop; focusing on a specific thinking strategy (although each text lends itself to more than one strategy).  My hope is that you'll begin to search your own collections for that "just right" book to use as you craft* a strategy with your readers during reader's workshop.

My friend and colleague, Susan Logan, gave me When Everybody Wore a Hat by William Steig when she brought a group of visitors to my classroom a few years ago.  It is an autobiographical sketch of William Steig's childhood in which he invites us into his eight-year-old world... in 1916 when "everybody wore a hat."

Strategy Focus:  Drawing Inferences

When you read this text, you can't help but infer.  Readers infer when they create personal meaning from the text by gleaning insight and interpretations.  William Steig's simplicity in thought nudges us to "step into his life" as a young boy growing up in the 1900s.  His is a very unique point of view.  I might use this book as a shared text with my students.  Together, we might work together to draw conclusions and build our schema as we "think through" text together.  This might happen fairly early in a study when I'm nudging learners to speculate, think about questions that lead to an inference, or gather clues from the text.  Together, we might explore a portion of this book to gain insight into our own process of "coming to know" how wise readers infer.  Remember, inferring helps readers deepen their understanding beyond the text and lends itself to broad, personalized experiences.

I bought this book for two reasons:  Jean Craighead George and Wendell Minor.  I love when the two of them were able to collaborate.  The Buffalo Are Back is one of their collaborations; one example of their stunning work.  Together, they tell the story of the demise and return of the buffalo (including Theodore Roosevelt's role in the process) to the great plains.  The text is broken into short sections, each dealing with a specific aspect of the American Buffalo in the west.  I love Wendall's dedication, "To Jean, in celebration of her fifty years of writing wonderful books that teach children the wonders of nature." 

Strategy Focus:  Asking Questions

This text can be used encourage authentic questioning.  As readers, we spend time asking questions before, during, and after reading.  Because this text is full of such rich language, readers can generate questions at the word, sentence, and whole text level.  I might use short sections of this text throughout a study of "asking questions" and "lift" certain passages for students to grapple with independently (later in a study).  I might also use portions of it as a think aloud early on in a study of questioning.  This book ties well into a study of ecosystems or western history and is "question rich" text.  Remember, asking questions helps readers pose possibilities to stretch their own thinking as they develop and explore their wonderings as readers.

I admit it.  I bought this book on the bargain shelf at The Boulder Bookstore.  It just makes me laugh (Jennifer Larue Huget has also written herself into a great mentorship with students as writers).  This book explores the "what if" aspect of running away from home... and what child hasn't threatened that at least once in his or her childhood.  It's funny.  It's a book that nudges readers to contemplate, wonder about, and explore the benefits and consequences of "running away."  

Strategy Focus:  Activating, Utilizing, & Building Background Knowledge 

Wise readers have to learn to activate their schema - blending their background knowledge and background experiences.  I would use this book near the beginning of a study as either a think aloud or a shared experience.  As readers, knowing that differences in text structure affect our understanding, we often use our schema to make sense of text.  This text lends itself to the idea of activating schema before, during, and after reading.  Using schema nudges readers to pay attention to purpose and to acknowledge when their background is either helping or hindering their understanding.  I think using this book to nudge collaborative thinking during a crafting session would be perfect; I picture lots of "turn and talk" as we explore the text.  Remember, activating, utilizing, and building background knowledge and experience is more than "connecting" to the text; it's about using what you know to better understand what you don't know. 

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So... until next month, here's your homework.  Choose three books from your stacks.  Think about these things as you read:
  • Does this text fit into my current strategy study?  If not, what strategy might I use it with later?
  • As I read this text, what thinking strategy to I find MYSELF using?  How am I being metacognitive?  How might I use it with students?
  • Is this a book that I want to use for crafting or do I just want to "talk it up" and get it into the hands of children?
  • As a reader, do I find this text compelling?  Is sharing it worthy of my time or my students's intellect? 
  • How might this mentor author fit into another content... writing, mathematics, social studies, etc.?  
*Craft, to me, is the mini-lesson during reader's workshop.  That's the perspective I'm writing from as I share these texts. 


  1. As I read this I thought two things: I must get my hands on these books and what books should I write about in my next post?....

  2. Oh boy...what a call to action! I can't wait to see what shows up for my three books. So glad you are writing!