Evolving Understandings: Dig Deep with Signposts

Signposts never cease to amaze me even though I should be used to their impact by now. Every time the signposts help us get really deep in conversation and understanding of a text, I’m floored.

This week, the signposts helped us notice details in the animated short Tamara by Jason Marino. These details, subtle but so important, were crucial in truly understanding the characterization and theme of this almost silent film.

When I chose Tamara, I thought it would illustrate Again and Again and Words of the Wise. I was considering whether Tough Questions might be there too. When I watched it with students, I asked them to note any of the signposts they noticed. I didn’t give them a heads-up on what I’d seen because I’d already modeled finding signposts, so we were ready to look for them together.

We watched the movie several times because we are learning the value in multiple “readings”. I’ve embedded the video here, and below it I describe our evolution of thought- five 8th grade boys and me! Five boys who in August, most certainly, would have scoffed at the idea of giving this sweet movie, and its four-year-old, tutu-wearing main character any serious thought!

Viewing #1

The first time we watched, we noticed and noted these signposts:

Again and Again: Dance, dance, dance! Tamara’s bedroom walls have dance posters and hand-drawn pictures of herself dancing, she’s wearing a tutu, she’s reading a book with people dancing in it, and she has a music box with a ballerina.

Why do these things keeping showing up? Tamara LOVES to dance! She probably wants to be a ballerina when she grows up.


Aha Moment: Tamara’s mom realizes that her daughter’s music box has stopped playing music and that her daughter is still dancing.

How might this change things? We honestly didn’t know. We all thought that it seemed like an Aha Moment because Tamara’s mom’s facial expression changes when she sees that the music box has stopped playing. We agreed that we should keep the Aha Moment written down, give it some thought, and watch it again.


Words of the Wise: Tamara’s mom speaks to her is sign language, saying, “Dance until the stars don’t shine!”

What’s the life lesson and how might it affect the character? Students thought that the life lesson might be that you can do anything you set your mind to, even if it seems impossible. (Like Tamara being a dancer, even though she’s deaf.)

Viewing #2

During viewing #2, we realized that we kept asking why the heck Tamara’s mom seemed surprised that her daughter was still dancing after the music stopped. Students felt like since she knew her daughter was deaf, it probably wouldn’t surprise her that she danced without music. We talked, we looked at our signpost anchor charts, we talked. It was then that we started realizing that her mother’s reaction was also a Contrast & Contradiction because Tamara’s mom had acted in a way that we didn’t expect her to act!

Contrast and Contradiction: Tamara’s mom seems upset that her daughter is still dancing even after the music box stops playing.

Why is the character doing that? We didn’t know! It was driving us crazy! We wanted to know what was up with Tamara’s mom!

So, we decided to watch the video a third time. This time, I asked them to look for any clues that could help us figure out why Tamara’s mom acted that way. We focused on looking for more Again & Again signposts because the repetition seemed likely to give us clues, but we found more than we thought we would!

Viewing #3

Again & Again: Music, music, music! Someone noticed she had a keyboard under her bed. Someone else noticed she had a “radio” (tape player) on her shelf.

Why do these things keep coming up again and again? Someone wondered whether Tamara liked to pretend to play the keyboard. But then we thought about the tape player. When did she use that?


Contrast & Contradiction: Tamara seems unsure of herself, like she’s trying to boost her confidence, when she uses sign language to speak to her mom.

Why is the character doing that? LIGHT BULB moment! Because she’s new at signing! She wasn’t born deaf. She used to be able to hear!

We were so excited! The signposts made understanding this video accessible to my intervention students. Because of the signposts, their understanding is probably deeper than many people who view it.

We decided our initial idea about the theme needed to be changed a bit. We revised “You can do anything you set your mind to, even if it seems impossible” into “You can fulfill any dream you have, even when life throws obstacles your way.”

Love. Love. Love.

Last year, I wrote the post “Three Things I Learned by Doing my Own Signpost Assignment.” In it, I explain how using the signposts helped my finish the book 11/22/63 by Stephen King. The signposts are spots to stop and think. They draw our attention to details we might overlook. They help us go deeper.

For this post, I wrote the entire evolution of our thought rather than only posting our best thinking because I want all readers to experience what happens during multiple readings. Deep, thoughtful understandings take a lot of thought and struggle and conversation and close reading. To get students there, we must show them our own changing and growing ideas. I realize it is not traditional to put ourselves out there. We may even feel vulnerable at first. But I do believe it is the best model of deep understanding we can give to our learners.


This lesson is also used in our Friday Reflection: How Can We Turn Our Difficult Experiences into Seeds for Success?



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