My most recent experience doing my own assignment is recording Notice and Note Signposts from the book Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading while reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King. I bought 11/22/63 soon after it was released, in November of 2011, with the failed intention of having a 2-person book club with my husband. My husband read the book, but I ditched it. I tried reading it a couple more times over the next few years, but I always abandoned the book in the first 50 pages.
The Miniseries Made Me Do It
Tacky truth: A few weeks ago, when my hubby told me that the miniseries was soon to start on Hulu, I got the urge to read 11/22/63 again! It was like the stars had aligned: My students had learned the definitions of each signpost. I’d already modeled my thinking, we’d found signposts together, and I’d supported groups as they worked together to find them. Just after I gave students the task of using signposts on their own, I attempted 11/22/63 again.
My Very Own Aha! Moment
The signposts made it possible for me to stick with 11/22/63! The signposts and guiding questions slowed me down, of course, but in slowing me down, they engaged me.
3 things I learned by doing this assignment:
I learned the signposts inside and out. (This didn’t really surprise me; we learn by doing.)
I learned that signposts can be difficult to notice sometimes because readers just want to keep reading! (This didn’t really surprise me; I’m naturally intense. Pausing to be mindful is something I had to learn to do.)
Looking for several signposts at once helped me understand and “get deeply into” the book quickly. (This surprised me; I read a lot. I love to read. I hadn’t even noticed that I’d been missing something which would help me be a better, more interested reader until I practiced these signposts with my own novel.)
I learned a ton by completing this assignment: I had to think critically about the characters and plot just as students had to, and that made it possible for me to teach them the thinking moves I’d made as I identified the signposts and asked myself the guiding questions. I’d practiced signposts with picture books and videos, but using them in a novel helped me understand them on a deeper level. There were times I found myself having to stop every page or two to read the signpost definitions and think about whether I’d missed one. Initially, this felt counterproductive, but once I began valuing the guiding questions, it felt natural.
The Big Debate: Teach Signposts Individually or at Once?
I also realized that teaching all of the signposts at once is the way to go because different readers will connect to different signposts, initially. This connection is key to the “buy-in” struggling readers need. If readers have taken a week or two to learn each signpost, but after several weeks, haven’t connected with one that reveals big value, then every subsequent signpost has already lost its meaning.
Teaching all of the signposts within seven school days allows readers to build a signpost stockpile with which to attempt reading. Signpost stock is invaluable in tackling a book. (For me, it was a book I really wanted to read, but couldn’t seem to finish. For many of our readers, this is any book because they haven’t learned the thinking skills to engage them for an entire novel.)
I worried that teaching the signposts all at once would be a double-edged sword for my struggling readers. Typically, they are the readers in grave need of learning how to stick with a book, and they are the readers who cannot manage learning a lot at once. I found that learning signposts all at once was best, and then offering differentiated assignments so students could choose ways to use signposts was the natural next step. Once students were comfortable using signposts at their own pace, they were really excited to attempt finding all of them each week.
We can’t complete every assignment we give kids; but it should happen when we think they need it (or as in my case, when the stars align). It should be visible to students. It should be reflected upon. We need students to see the mistakes we make and the smart moves we learn.
I’d love to hear which of your assignments you’ve completed and what you learned from doing them. Why do you find this practice valuable? How often do you manage it?