Practicing Slow Thinking in a Caffeinated World

By Joan Flora and Pattie Sloan

This is a story about patience (it takes about 11 minutes to tell):

See parallels to teaching Language Arts?  We do, which is why we decided to slow down and explain three big moves we do in our classrooms to help students pay attention to their thinking.  But we believe it’s important to weave this quote from “This is Water” into the background of our classroom work:

… Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

David Foster Wallace

First Move:  Thinking Aloud

Jeff Wilhelm’s book, Improving Comprehension with Think Aloud Strategies: Modeling What Good Readers Do, remains our favorite resource for thinking aloud with secondary students, including step-by-step directions and rubrics.  Here’s one rubric Joan created for her students:  Think Aloud Rubric.  Other teachers in her district prefer this rubric from ReadWriteThink.

Here’s the quick version of how to begin with any close reading lesson:

  • dr seuss prepStart with short, interesting texts–by short, we mean two to three paragraphs or less (more on this in the near future).
  • Focus on one move at time for developing readers (making connections is a good start–see Think Aloud Rubric) or two moves for skilled readers (connections and clarifying meaning).
  • Model the moves you want students to learn–math teachers are masters at this; take ten minutes to observe a math colleague think aloud with problem solving.
  • Once students know what to do, pair them up, and give each pair two short pieces of text to think aloud with.  One student will do the reading / thinking aloud while his partner listens and notes the thinking moves on the rubric without scoring for quality.  Give each partnership 1-2 minutes to debrief the process–what was challenging, what was interesting, what they’d do different next time.  Joan gives students index cards to capture the debrief in writing.  Switch partners and texts to repeat the process.
  • Some students will want to read the text aloud before they begin thinking aloud–we consider them whole-to-parts processors and found that this pattern makes them comfortable.  We allow it, but the process (a parts-to-whole process, btw) is richer when we discover the text with our raw thinking.  Some readers don’t function like that.  We get it; part of it may be 593757confidence.  More important than protocol, we want students to understand their processes for comprehension.  We’re certain, however, that they don’t approach longer texts through such labor-intensive methods, so as we build their stamina for longer, more complex texts, we know we have help them internalize ways to hold their thinking so they can move forward.
  • Repeat this process with short texts until students are comfortable with the process and understand what kind of thinking they are paying attention to and how they are constructing meaning for it (see David Foster Wallace quote from above).
  • If you have technology to capture students’ think aloud reading, create an ongoing system where students can go to a quiet space to record and score themselves reading and thinking aloud during class (we do this during our free-choice, silent reading time, 407042534_640the first 20 minutes of each class).  Joan’s students capture at least four recorded sessions of 3-5 minutes on iTouches and iPods during a term.  She stores them in files on her laptop as references in tracking literacy growth and for IEP conferences.  Before she had technology to capture student think-alouds, students worked one-on-one with instructional assistants to do the same work, but iPods provide students with recorded proof of their academic growth.  Also, students can listen to several of their audio files at the end of the year to write reflections of their reading / thinking processes.  Joan is hard-pressed to recall a student who didn’t show growth with this process.

In coming posts, we’ll share two more big frameworks for slowing down thinking and lingering on comprehension.  And while we’re doing close reading work, we also seek balance in what Kelly Gallagher calls “the sweet spot of instruction,” not over or under teaching.  There’s no formula for this, except an artful sense of teaching and observing our students. Gallagher’s advice on pacing a novel bears repeating: begin a complex text with a deluxe tour and end it with a budget tour.  Thinking aloud is a deluxe tour–it’s powerful in small doses.


About Teaching it Forward

We are high school language arts teachers in Oregon.
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2 Responses to Practicing Slow Thinking in a Caffeinated World

  1. Pingback: Slow Sprints: Close Reading, Pt. 2 | Teaching it Forward

  2. Pingback: Practicing Slow Thinking in a Caffeinated World | Teaching it Forward

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