Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Yikes! Everyone else has moved on to Week 3 and I haven't responded to the Week 2 readings yet, even though I finished the actual reading last Wednesday. I'm teaching a summer class, and responding to their work is taking most of my writing time.

I have continued to think about DYNAMIC TEACHING. This week, I think my reading around a "Problem-Based Approach" really deepened, partly because at the same time as I am reading DYNAMIC TEACHING, I'm also reading Ruta Sepetys newest novel, SALT TO THE SEA. SALT TO THE SEA,  so far  is a really hard read. The novel is set in Germany, during World War II. It's based on an actual event involving a ship, but it's an event I had never heard of. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character, three of whom, as far as I can tell now, are trying to reach the ship in order to escape Russian-occupied Germany, and one who is a Nazi soldier- I can't tell yet if he is a good guy or a bad guy.  The early chapters are all structurally linked-- each chapter starts with a similar sentence and ends with the word bang. The bang I think, is connected to two of the four soldiers, a young Polish girl and the Nazi soldier, but I'm not positive

As a reader, I'm paying super close attention. I'm making connections-- so far the structure of this book reminds me of Anthony Doerr's, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, and I'm trying to remember how Doerr used the image of "light" over and over in that book. I'm having to read and reread, trying to remember each of the different characters. I'm paying careful attention to the details, knowing that at some point, but maybe not for quite a while, I will I know how all of theses pieces fit together. I know that there is a lot I don't know. 

Sepetys definitely puts readers in a state of "in media res." My current state fits with what I'm understanding of Vicki Vinton's "problem-based approach. "A problem-based approach… wants students to feel the  confusion and discomfort a text can spark, so they can also feel the sense of accomplishment and pleasure that comes from working their way out of it" (72). I'm wanting to keep reading. I want to understand the story. I want to know more about the actual historical event. I want to understand how these characters are connected. I know that if I hang in there, things will eventually sort themselves out.

I also know that I am more than a little confused. I'm having a hard time keeping the characters straight. I keep having to go back and reread, to remember exactly who is who, and what I know about them. I have even thought about jotting some notes in the front of the book, which I sometimes do for my book club reads. Vinton says, "Readers have to know they are confused or don't know something, and students who continue reading without actively connecting details or being aware of what they don't know often wind up being lost in books that are supposedly just right for them" (62).

I also know that I have strategies that I have learned from other books. Two or three years ago, I read Antony Doerr's, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. I loved this book, and loved how Doerr structured the chapters, alternating between each of his two main characters. I recommended it to everyone I knew. Interestingly, though, I didn't really pay that much attention to the images of light, at least not until Linda Baie said something about that being a part of the book she had especially appreciated, then I had to go back and reread. Now, as I read SALT TO THE SEA, I'm paying more attention to the images and phrases that repeat. This seems to fit with Vinton's comment, "The intention of any problem solving session is not just for students to get the text, but to give them a chance to build up the muscle to deal with problems that texts pose" (79), and also, "The important thing about a problem is not its solution, but the strength we gain in finding the solution" (81).

SALT TO THE SEA is also really pushing me to think about myself as a teacher. I've been thinking about Vicki's overarching goal for her readers (page 18). I shared it last week:
Readers bring their minds and their hearts to a text,
and as a teacher of reading,
that means I want students to be able to
analyze and interpret, reason and imagine,
critique texts objectively and  respond to them personally.
And I want them to do this with
real independence
and a strong sense of agency and identity as readers,
in ways that support
academic success and a love of reading. 
With that goal in mind, I have also been thinking about these two questions that were in the previous reading: 
  • What is this text really about?
  • What might the author be trying to show us about what it means to be human in this complex world of ours? (p. 12)

Vinton's chapter 5, about the "basics" seems to fit with the first question, "What is this text really about?"  I'm intrigued, and still thinking about how I could structure each  mini-lesson, or at least many mini-lessons around what writers do AND how readers respond. I wonder, could I create some kind of sentence stem, or graphic organizer or use colors that would help kids use and internalize this framework."

I'm also struggling with the reversal of gradual release of responsibility- you, we, I. Vinton says, "You can always jump in and offer more support if you see students really flailing, but you can't retract support once you have given it. So think about how much modeling you will offer as you plan, rather than just providing it as a matter of course, knowing you can't always see what students can do if you don't give them enough space to show you" (73). I teach mostly English Language Learners and a great deal of our reading work is done in pre-reading, primarily in the area of building background language and vocabulary, and I wonder what would happen if we didn't do that work. 

Vinton also caused me to think more about teaching as noticing and naming. "Noticing and naming is thus, a form of feedback-- and a powerful one at that. It helps build students' sense of agency and identity as readers, makes the invisible work of reading more visible, and by employing generalized language, turns one student's thinking into a strategy that both he and other students can use in other texts" (73, 74). I think I'm really good at doing this in writing, not so much in reading. 

Vinton's Chapter 6 linked really well with the second question from page 12, "What might the author be trying to show us about what it means to be human in this complex world of ours?" I want my intermediate grade teachers to read this chapter, because I think it would help us do a much better job with theme. I've used some variation of Vinton's know/wonder charts, but I wonder why I haven't done more with these. And I wonder how I can help myself and my teachers ask better questions and respond in ways that will help students grow. 

So much to think about!!!


Mary Lee said...

Love, love, love how you link Vinton's ideas to your own reading! (I listened to Salt to the Sea, so you can imagine my challenges with characters. The BANG was a very clear connecting device delivered audibly.)

I found myself using Vinton's questions, "What is this text really about? What might the author be trying to show us about what it means to be human in this complex world of ours?" to think about public art in Chicago. What is this piece of art representing? What might the artist be trying to show me about what it means to be human in this complex world of ours? Thinking about the intentional moves of the artist in the same way I'll encourage students to think about the intentional moves of the author is fascinating!

Katie's Kitchen said...

Loved reading your reflection and I am shaking my head to many ideas that you posted about because I feel I did too...I also was intrigued to see what you thought of Salt to the Sea because we will be listening to it ( my boys 18, 16, 14 and husband) on our way to Florida on Friday!! I love the language what is this story really about and have used it with first graders! It works!!! Thanks for your post.

Ramona said...

I totally enjoy reading the reflections on Vinton's book. I haven't read Salt to the Sea, but have had it recommended to me many times. I bet it would be interesting to read Echo with Vinton's questions in mind. Thanks for sharing your thinking.