Think – Rethink – Layer

Recently someone asked me, “What kinds of things do you do in summer to get ready for the upcoming school year?”  I referred the person to Katie because I assumed the question meant “ideas for setting up your classroom or other things related to your organization, management, or curriculum for the next class of kids.”  Since I am no longer working full time in a school my first reaction was that I had no thoughts on the matter.  But over the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that I do plenty in the summer to plan for the next year.  As a literacy consultant who does staff development with groups of teachers and as a volunteer who works in a school to support kids and teachers, I spend lots of time thinking, reading, rethinking, layering my knowledge base, and sometimes shifting my ideas about teaching reading, supporting children who struggle, and guiding teachers toward new understandings.

One way I do this is to read, read, read in the summer.  I read blog posts, professional books, children’s literature, and various articles referred to by colleagues on Twitter.

Here is a bit of the thinking that comes from all that reading:

1. I can’t stop reflecting on the idea of changing the way we talk to children so that they develop a sense of agency as Peter Johnston explains. He got me thinking about this with his first book, Choice Words, but took me even further with Opening Minds. He says we can support children in developing agentive narratives…. “I am a person who…” By the end of Opening Minds he gets us thinking about supporting kids’ moral compasses as they realize “I am a person who…acts when I see injustice or inequality.” But in the early chapters, Johnston shows us how to support all students, even kindergartners, as they create agentive narratives about themselves as readers and writers.  “I am a person who…. solve problems when I read; tries something and, if that doesn’t work, tries something else; goes back and rereads to keep the story in my head;  keeps checking to make sure that what I’m reading makes sense; and so on. He does this by giving us peeks into classrooms where teachers support these agentive narratives so well.  On pages 2-4, teacher Pageen loses her place during a read aloud because of an interruption.  She tells the students that she needs to go back and reread a page to remember what was going on.  Michael chimes in saying that he does that same thing.  Pageen asks him to tell the class more about that. The child describes how he does exactly what the teacher was just talking about. Later in the day the teacher attributes that idea to Michael when she mentions to the class, “Remember what Michael does when… ”  The teacher has “created a story line in which Michael was a particular kind of reader.” Michael nows owns this narrative.  He is a reader who...

2. I’ve also spent hours thinking about Barnhouse and Vinton’s idea of back door teaching — not naming a strategy for the students until they have actually experienced using it as they negotiate a text together (from What Readers Really Do.) Take character traits, for example.  How many times have we asked kids to name a trait of a particular character?  They often say, “she’s nice” or “not nice.”  To help them with better word choice, we’ve often brainstormed a list of traits for the kids to choose from and then ask them to provide evidence of why they think that trait applies. But Barnhouse/Vinton say we should help kids start with what’s in the text.  Help them learn to read carefully and notice what the character does or says.  Then ask, “what kind of person acts like that?” By doing this together, the students have actually done some inferring.  But there is no need to begin the lesson by defining or identifying “inferring” as a useful strategy.  Always begin with meaning making.

3. While reading  an article by Franki Sibberson in Choice Literacy, I got excited to share her ideas for setting up an upper elementary classroom with interactive wall displays.  She suggests a board with pictures of book characters, another with interesting/fun facts, graphs, surveys, or images; another display with word play ideas, and yet another with websites worth visiting.    She says, “Like a museum, I want the room to be filled with invitations and possibilities, with something for everyone.” I can see the kids in that room having so much to talk about and share while browsing the walls in the first few days.

4. From my reading of children’s lit, I am recommending several of my favorite chapter books to read aloud to 4th and 5th grades this year:  One for the Murphys, How to Steal a Dog, and The One and Only Ivan. Today I’m heading to a book store to look for Wonder because I loved what Katherine Sokolowski wrote about it in this week’s Choice Literacy.

What have you been thinking a lot about this summer?  

Are you changing anything next school year because of something you read or heard this summer?


  1. I am restructuring the way I teach reading. I will be putting the majority of the emphasis on self-selected, free choice reading. I am determined to help my fourth grade students become readers and fall in love with reading this year.

  2. Dear Pat,
    Thank you for sharing all of your thinking. I read and loved Opening Minds. I’ve recommended it to several others and bought a copy for my son who is in music education. I still haven’t read What Readers Do, although it is in my TBR pile. I think I know what I’ll be reading while we drive 3 long hours to move my daughter to college. 🙂 All 4 of your children’s lit touched me this summer. Wonderful choices. And of course, Franki’s thinking about her new classroom is always inspirational. This summer has given me lots to think about and I’m excited to start the new school year.

  3. I read Wonder to my fourth graders at the end of the year and they LOVED it! Fits in with the anti-bullying programs. I incorporated the song titles mentioned as well – some songs were enjoyed while others not-so-much.

  4. Thank you for your mention of Back Door Teaching and the work of Barnhouse and Vinton. I am excited to read and learn more. As a stay at home mom and educator, I am encouraged to see how you continue in your craft while being available to the needs of home.

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