Giving students what they need to access text

2015-09-11 07.31.44I remember pretty vividly a lesson on annotation I did several years ago.

I was very excited. I had selected Kate Chopin’s Desiree’s Baby, a text I knew to be rich with lots of examples of, well, just about everything. There would be no end to what we could highlight and scribble notes about in the margin. Plus, there was the added bonus–this was a text I knew the students would love.

As I began to model, marking every craft move Chopin made, the students scrambled to keep up. I just knew their busyness was a sign of engagement. I would stop and ask questions about the text or ask students why they thought Chopin made this comparison or chose this word. Students would oblige and guess (and guess and guess) at the possible reason.

After I made a particularly brilliant comment about something great Chopin did in the text, a student asked, “How did you do that? I don’t see what you see at all!”

Once finished annotating Desiree’s Baby to death, I gave the students another Chopin text to do on their own and set them off. I’m sure you aren’t surprised that I didn’t amazing results. Students were frustrated when they couldn’t make sense of writer’s craft and their purpose (or even at time understand the text).2015-09-11 07.27.46

I mistakenly believed that my thinking was transparent to students and if I just talked about it, they would get it. I did not take into account that I was an English major in college and had even studied this text in one of those courses. What made me think that these sophomores were going to make that leap without learning skills to access the text? The truth is I didn’t really think about skills or access to text at all.

My mentor gave me Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s Notice and Note. I thumbed through the pages, thinking it might be a little too childish for my sophisticated sophomores. But the cries of confusion from my students haunted me. I decided to give it a try, and my world was changed. Well, at the very least my teaching practice and student learning in my class.

Notice and Note gives six very specific “signposts” to help students notice important moments in a text. In other words, it gives students access to the text. It showed me how to teach skills that students can use in any texts they read, which they now do in their independent novels as well as text we use in class.

Notice and Note was the beginning of my change. Other books such as Kelly Gallagher’s Deeper Reading and Christopher Lehman and Kate RobertsFalling in Love with Close Reading are must have resources. There is also a Facebook group for Notice and Note that has so many resources you could spend days going through it.

In Write Like This, Kelly Gallagher says, “The Wizard of Oz would have been a lousy writing teacher.” He would be an equally lousy close read teacher.

Bonus Read: Zackary Kirk did a series of posts on doing high school differently. His last one, Teach Like a (Master) Teacher!, is a call to stop teaching like anything other than a really great teacher. He challenged me to be reflective while also giving lots of additional reading to keep me thinking.