You Just Don’t Get It

Do you ever feel like kids just aren’t getting “it?”

You look at what they are doing but the “what” isn’t telling you anything.

Try looking below the surface to the find the “how.”

Iceberg

I went to a session with Dorothy Barnhouse and Charlotte Butler at NCTE this past weekend called, What Stories Do Our Reading Conferences Tell About Our Students. I couldn’t help but take several of their points and suggestions and turn them around into stories that students are telling us about their writing.

Often times we walk up to a student after teaching a wonderful minilesson and notice they just didn’t get “it.” However, that may not be true. Writing isn’t an “it.” We all know there are many layers, like that iceberg. What students show is often far less than they understand. Processing through all that knowledge takes time and the benefits reaped from a lesson may not emerge above the surface for quite a while. We have to remember that the “what” and the “how” are connected. We are not teaching the “what,” or what students put on paper, we are teaching the “how,” how to improve the skills of the writer.

Here are some ideas on how to get past the “what” in a conference.

“Look at what you did!”

Students often do things as a writer that are based on misconception. For instance, we may have been teaching leads in a primary class. Walking out to a conference we notice a student beginning each sentence with a lead. Much like when we first teach a child to use periods, they are all over the paper. We could re-teach the lesson and correct their mistake, or we could identify how they got to this place.

“What did you try?”

Talk to the child and ask, “How did you make these decisions?” Dig deeper into his thinking and help him to realize his misconception as opposed to just retelling him, “Periods only come at the end of each sentence.” We need to remember that students begin a new skill with approximation. This student is approximating exactly what we taught.

“Maybe?”

Use a statement like, “Maybe you were thinking a period goes at the end of each word. Here is my example. Where did I put my period?” (You could also use a mentor text that is different from your minilesson model).

“AHA!”

When the child makes the discovery in your example ask him what that might look like in his story. This is an “aha” moment. The child has come to his own understanding, which is much deeper, and you now have a better understanding of the writer.

Looking below the surface takes time and energy, but it is a sure fire way to see the next step for our writers. I would encourage you to try these statements when you confer and dig into the many layers of thinking that sit below the surface.