Days 2 and 3 of Inquiring Into Theme: Introducing Purposeful Annotations + The Note and Notice Contrasts and Contradictions Signpost

In my previous post, I outlined how we dipped our toe into deconstructing a piece of literature to take apart the “puzzle pieces” with a short text and then put them back together to see a big picture of theme.  On Day 2, we did a quick recap of the previous day’s activities and concepts about theme, thematic concepts, and thematic statements. I then gave students a copy of the short story “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes (I got my version from CommonLit) to mark up as we began our read aloud.   I had two goals in my mind:

  1.  To show students how we might highlight AND annotate with purpose to better notice the “puzzle pieces” of our text (i.e. literary elements).  Students copies these shortcut codes and notes into their notes as part of their warm-up.
  2.  To introduce the first Note and Notice signpost of Contrasts and Contradictions for close reading of fiction by doing a read aloud and interactive think aloud with “Thank You Ma’am” using the mini-lesson outlined in Lesson 1 of Note and Notice.  I was inspired to incorporate the fiction signposts into my work with students this past spring thanks to a blog post from the amazing Julie Swinehart.  I wish now I had incorporated these signposts into instruction from the very beginning of the year, but at the time, I was initially trying to follow the Calkins lessons closely, a mistake since there are virtually no real meaningful annotation strategies in the unit.

I did a brief overview of the signposts and their purpose to help us as readers and then a quick introduction to Contrasts and Contradictions (see notes below).  I told students to think about anything they noticed that was surprising or unexpected as we read the first part of the story together.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading aloud the first chunk of the story and getting into librarian mode as I read with gestures and expression for my kids!

After we read the first chunk together (I followed part of the lesson outlined in the Contrasts and Contradictions chapter), I gave students a copy of a page I had copied from the Note and Notice Literature Log, and I asked students to jot down:

  1.  A passage where a character acted in a way that was surprising or unexpected.  They were to identify the surprising moment and include the paragraph numbers.
  2. Explain why the moment was surprising or unexpected.
  3. What might have possibly motivated the character to act in this way?

I gave students about 8-10 minutes to think and write before we gathered to share aloud our noticings.  Students identified moments of contrast and contradiction both for Mrs. Jones and Roger, and we made sure to include our “what makes you say that” for each question about the moments they picked.

Based on the student responses, I felt they were ready to move forward into the story on their own and continue their work of noticing moments of contrast and contradiction as well as purposefully annotate with highlights and shortcut codes.  Our tasks included:

  1. Try to find at least one example of each of the literary elements in our list of possible elements we could notice and annotate.  Students were required to highlight and put the shortcut code; they had the option of making additional notes.

2.  Students were to find at least ONE more additional contrast and contradiction moment; they were to find more if possible.  I provided students sentence starters to help them get at the question of “what is causing the character to act this way?”

3.  The final step was for students were to choose from their highlighted and coded annotations and transfer one of each to the chart pictured below.  I incorporated this chart and the purposeful annotating to set up the “discovering theme” station rotation activity that students would begin on Friday, September 21.

My learners had half the class on Wednesday and all of Thursday to complete their work; they could also work on the assignment at home if they chose to do so.

On both days, I circulated around the room to answer questions and to serve as a sounding board when students got stuck with their thinking.  On Thursday, we warmed up with a quick “ticket in the door” review; students who finished the work from Wednesday early could work ahead to finding their own contrast and contradiction moments in their independent reading books.

All of the work for Days 1, 2, and 3 were designed to scaffold students for the “discovering theme” station rotation work that we started this past Friday, September 21, and that we are continuing into next week.  I will blog that learning experience later next week, but so far, my 8th graders are off to an amazing start with that work!

If you haven’t used the Note and Notice signposts, I highly recommend them based on my experience this past spring.  There is a super helpful Facebook group for the fiction signposts; you can also join the conversation with the nonfiction signposts here.

Tonight Kylene Beers and Bob Probst will be part of a Twitter chat about the signposts strategies as well as the Book, Head, and Heart strategy from Disrupting Thinking.   The chat begins at 7PM EST, and you can follow along at the Reading Recovery hashtag.

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