Book Discussion

“To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”  – Edmund Burke (as quoted by Barnhouse/Vinton)

I wrote a blog a while back called Sharing about meeting with a group of teacher friends to discuss Barnhouse and Vinton’s new book, What Readers Really Do.  When I posted about having that discussion, someone commented that she wished it were an on-line discussion.  Since it wasn’t, I thought I’d post a few thoughts from our get-together on August 14th.

First off, let me tell you what a joy it was to be able to meet at my house in summer time.  Though I highly recommend ‘teachers-as-readers’ groups during the school year, it was such a pleasure to sit in comfortable chairs drinking iced tea and lemonade.  No one was worried about picking up her students in 10 minutes from the art room.  No one was rushing off from an after school discussion to gather toddlers from daycare.  We’ll all be back to school soon (in the U. S.) and the memory of a relaxed discussion will soon give way to the juggling of events that takes over our lives every school year.

Here are some ideas that surfaced from the discussion:

  1. One reading teacher loved the idea of ‘back door’ teaching that the authors talk about.  They try not to define or even mention a strategy until after the students experienced what that kind of thinking felt like and sounded like. They believe in sticking closely to the text and not having students go off on tangents with connections they are making or pictures they are getting in their minds. These things will happen naturally and many strategies will overlap and interconnect as students make meaning from texts. Barnhouse and Vinton talk a lot about how to get students to do the ‘mind-work’ of reading. For example, “We never ask students to identify a theme; rather we help students construct an understanding out of which theme can emerge.” p. 166
  2. A Reading Recovery and LLI (Literacy Learning Intervention) teacher commented that even though the examples in the text were all from third through seventh grade classrooms, she found so much to reflect on.  The idea of ‘keeping meaning front and center’ is also paramount when she teachers her at-risk first graders.  She is careful to have conversations with children even about those beginning pattern texts.  (Mom is driving. Mom is cooking. Mom is running.) “Mom sure is a busy person in this book.  What about your mom?” The authors remind us, “What we need to teach is that reading is an act of accumulation, that meaning grows out of words that we begin to fit into patterns that we then connect and actively construct into ideas.  In other words, we read from the inside out.” p. 130.
  3. A Literacy Collaborative (LC) trainer said that she was going to keep this question in her pocket all school year — “Do we as readers do this, and if so, why and how?” p. 6.  She wants to apply that concept not only to teaching students but also when she does staff development for her Literacy Collaborative teachers. She also loved the word “hunches” that Barnhouse and Vinton use in their book.  The authors support their reason for using this term over the word “predictions.”
  4. Staying on the topic of LC, I invited everyone to wonder with me about how certain concepts that were mentioned in the book would develop into reader’s statements.  We looked at pages 73, 83, and 97 to think about creating reader’s statements.  It’s always good to take something we learn from a professional book and see how it fits with how we are already teaching students. (Everyone at the discussion that day was connected with a school that uses LC.)
  5. A fifth-grade classroom teacher wondered if she should use the idea of the KNOW/WONDER chart and looking for patterns in text with her whole class in a read aloud experience OR if she should try it first with a small group of struggling readers.  We all talked about the pros and cons of trying it one way or the other. Most felt that starting the year with a whole class one would be the most beneficial as it would level the playing field, i.e., the teacher would do the reading and therefore all students, even ELL and struggling readers, could participate in the discussion of the things they noticed, wondered about, or connected back to some other place in the text.
  6. Another reading teacher could think of several teachers in her school that would love to read this professional book with her, but worried about several brand new teachers in the upper grades.  Would this text be too overwhelming for them? Do they need to start first with understanding how a reading/writing workshop approach works?  Is there a place for teaching certain strategies, like visualizing, questioning, activating schema, and so on? Could she help new teachers learn about effective strategy teaching while also helping them support students in meaning-making? In other words, she was trying to synthesize what she’s learned from books like Strategies that Work along with this new text.
  7. We all liked being reminded by these authors about building lessons from the students’ thinking rather than our own interpretations of texts. Their KNOW/WONDER charts help you do that because the charts reflect the students’ ideas. “It helps us maintain our stance as teachers who facilitate thinking, not those who, in overt and subtle ways, sanction specific meaning.” p. 89.

As you can see, our conversation touched upon several issues as we agreed, disagreed, added onto each other’s thoughts, questioned each other, and listened carefully to add to our own knowledge base.  Thanks for coming, friends! I look forward to chatting about other texts in the future.


  1. What a pleasure to have this peek into your discussion! Thanks for providing page numbers to link your discussion points to the book. Your comments encourage me to dive into this book which I didn’t get to during my summer reading blitz.

  2. Pingback: Readers Front and Center | Catching Readers Before They Fall

  3. Thank you for posting this. I am reading the book right now and plan on offering a 4 week discussion group for interested teachers. We are an LC district so I was wondering if teachers would recognize how these ideas could be integrated into a workshop model. I hope my teachers enjoy a rich discussion as yours did!

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