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  • Laura Sarsten

Thinking for Themselves

Questions often wake us up and provide us all with a chance to unearth some of our own thoughts, beliefs, and wisdoms. Recently, I had the pleasure of working with a group of 8th grade teachers where we got into a deep conversation about the various ways students can think and interact with the texts they read. I was in the midst of sharing a few different strategies, jotting ideas and doing some modeling, while the teachers feverishly were documenting some of their own notes. All of a sudden, I heard a teacher say, “Laura. Can I tell you something. You are offering us so many great ways for students to think differently and authentically, but I have to be honest, I am not so sure my students right now even want to think. Where do we start with all this?”

This valuable and vulnerable question the teacher posed certainly woke me up! I stopped strategy sharing, I put a halt to our intended plan, and I thought to myself I guess the more important question than is….

“What DO we do when our students aren’t showing interest in thinking for themselves?”

It is essential that we encourage our students to ask questions and experience learning wholeheartedly. This also might lead us to rethink the reasoning behind attaching teacher posed questions to the informational reading we do with our students. In the past, I recall moments when I provided “required questions” that corresponded with an informational text, with good intention of course. I remember thinking, this is sure to help deepen their understanding of the text, however, I have come to realize that consequently the students simply read to seek answers to the questions I developed, resulting in them losing sight of their own. In efforts to help them think critically about a piece of text, I might have been robbing them of the opportunity to develop their own questions, seek their own answers, and create their own pathway to meaning.

If we give too much support and provide too much structure we could be getting in the way of readers’ ability to find excitement and interest in writing to think and writing to learn. Perhaps, if we can shift our perspective slightly, we can open up space for students to wrestle and interact with text in their own genuine way. What better way to experience the joy of being purposefully present in our learning than by choosing how we want to memorialize our reading experiences.

Some Student Generated Notebook Entry Examples:

  • Emotional Word Splash: This reader extracted words from the text, splashed words of their own that came to mind while reading the text, and then wrote a blurb as to how the words are related or tie together. This response can help a reader synthesize the words used in the text with their own thinking.

  • Text, Think, & Compare: This reader chose to take specific parts of the text, generate their thinking behind the information, and then compare their initial thinking to their lingering thoughts after reading the text. This type of writing can help readers see how the text has influenced their thinking or if perhaps their stance and ideas remain the same.

  • Analyzing a Quote & Why the Author Might Have Chose It: In this type of writing the reader found a specific quote, expressed his ideas surrounding the quote, and then dug a little deeper by examining the possible purpose or reasoning for using this quote. This is helpful so that readers think about possible intentions of author’s choices to begin to distinguish the intended impact of the quotes to us as readers.

  • My Own Questions & Proposed Answers: This reader was interested in her own questions surrounding a topic. She then recorded her own proposed answers before diving into the research to discover the truths. This way of thinking and writing allows readers to honor their own questions, generate possible answers, and then seek to confirm or to revise their answers after reading.

  • Ideas From Text & How it is Similar and Different to My Thinking: This reader writes with purpose by writing a synthesizing statement after reading an informational book and then thinks about how this either is similar to her initial understanding or different.

There are times when modeling ways to think about texts can be helpful to students, but sometimes our supports can get in the way of student thinking. We can choose to give them the space to truly explore and show what they think. It's often in those moments that we get to see the joy of them being purposefully present in their learning.

This is the second of three blogs in a series from Laura. Follow this link for the first post, Stirring Up Interest for Writing About Reading.

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