Game Changer: Using Thought Prompts to Write About Reading

I truly believe that things come to you in life, just when you need them. In October, I had the good fortune to attend a professional development session with the wonderful Kate Roberts at the Literacy for All conference in Providence, Rhode Island. Kate presented on the topic of writing about reading, which as we teachers know, tends to be a struggle for students. I view writing about reading as a means to process and discover new thinking about a text. However, despite our best efforts, many students tend to default to retelling events or listing facts when they write about texts. I have long been in search for a way to scaffold this work for students. Kate provided that scaffold and it came in the form of prompts that I’m calling “Thought Prompts”.

Kate introduced the prompts by presenting an excerpt from a text and asked us to come up with a thought about it. She then modeled developing her thinking using the prompts. In true workshop fashion, she handed us the reins and gave us a chance to try it. I turned to my good friend and Lit Coach Connection partner, Shelley Fenton, who after I shared my initial thought, prompted me to go deeper with the prompts on the poster to the right. Before I knew it, my original “I think” statement grew to become an insight into the character’s motivations and struggles that I hadn’t previously considered. When Kate asked if anyone had an epiphany, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. I waved my hand and announced, “I did!”

The Missing Link

I came back to my district eager to share this work and found that students in grades 3-8 benefited from it immensely. As I co-taught lessons, I saw that not only did kids’ thinking about texts deepen but also they were excited about their new discoveries. “This is this missing piece!” exclaimed one of my colleagues, “This is really a game changer for my students.” The lessons went so well that one Friday after school, another teacher and I found ourselves talking about how impressed we were with her students’ thinking when we ran into each other in the Target parking lot!

The prompts served as a link between students’ reading and writing. Teachers noted that students transferred this work when writing in preparation for the upcoming standardized ELA test. Teachers no longer had to remind students to provide text evidence and explain its significance. The prompts, “For example…” and “This is important because” guided them to do this naturally.

This work also transferred outside of school. Without the teacher’s prompting, some students took it upon themselves to use the thought prompts to help them explore their at- home reading. This self- directed work indicated that they found value in it.

Some Next Steps

As educators, we are always considering ways to grow our readers and writers even further. After meeting with a group of middle school teachers who are engaged in a book study of DIY Literacy, authored by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts, we decided to create micro progressions to help students reflect on their writing about reading and set goals to deepen it even further. Additionally, this work generated conversation about determining reading skills that will help grow readers in grades 6-8 which promises to create a more cohesive reading curriculum in the middle school. Sometimes one good instructional move develops into positive instructional and curricular change!

For me, the true success of this work is that it created more engaged and joyful readers and writers about reading. Writing about reading no longer seems like a chore but rather, an opportunity to express and support one’s thoughts and feelings about a text.  

2018 SOL #21

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