Learning – and Teaching – From My Mistakes

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers.  Won’t you join in?

Learning – and Teaching – From My Mistakes

My social media feed was blowing up with its glowing reviews of After the Fall by Dan Santat. Kirkus Reviews said it was “A validating and breathtaking next chapter of a Mother Goose favorite,”  The School Library Journal called it “A terrific redemptive read-aloud for story time and classroom sharing,” and The Horn Book stated it was “luminous.”  These reviews encouraged me to pre-order this masterpiece. I couldn’t wait to read and share this new version of the story, thinking it would be a good fit for the many classrooms that were working on the power of persistence.
The book arrived on a Tuesday afternoon.  I was so excited to read the story that I quickly tore open the box even before taking off my jacket. I stood in the kitchen, school bags at my feet, reading the book aloud to my adult daughter, feverishly turning the pages, anxious to get to the ending.  I read so quickly and without thought that once I got to the last page I was lost, baffled and I stood there wondering what had just happened.  I realized that in my haste to get to the end, I had word-called my way through the book, not taking any time to stop and think. I felt like many of my students that simply read the book and can’t recall a single detail.  I knew I had to go back and re-read the book, this time slowly reading the words and pictures, trying to capture all that I missed. 
When I got to the end of the book I quickly understood why it was called luminous, a breathtaking next chapter, and a redemptive read aloud, that is as long as the reader stops and notices along the way! I was now so in love with the book that I wanted to share it with everyone, but I also decided to make my mistake into a teaching opportunity.  After all, how many times have we seen our students read so quickly they missed the main point?  I needed to use this luminous book to share my mistakes with students so that they could learn how not to read the book or any book for that matter.
To help me model reading is thinking, I decided to use a technique known as the know / wonder chart. I first heard about using this format to make thinking visible during my summer #cyberpd study of Vicki Vinton’s book: Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading, and I knew I wanted to try it out.  My visits to classrooms began by telling my story of reading quickly and getting to the end and being confused by the story.  I asked the students if this had ever happened to them.  Most hands went up. It was then that I shared how the second time I read After the Fall, I spent more time looking at the pictures, and stopping to think about what happened,  and changing my predictions along the way.  All of these strategies helped me to truly understand the story.  Finally, I shared the importance of stopping and thinking when reading a book using the know / wonder chart as a tool to help with this thinking.  As we read the book we stopped at key locations to think, change our predictions and wonder a little more.  When we finally reached the end of the story the children’s expression showed me that real thinking and deep understanding had taken place.  Their surprise and astonishment of what had happened “after the great fall”  was unmistakably a sign of deep comprehension, and more importantly joy in understanding a great story.  

Our know / wonder charts were messy, filled with cross-outs and arrows and ideas, but as we reflected on our learning, I knew that making our thinking visible through the charting led the students to a greater understanding of the story.  More importantly I was thrilled that my mistake, my first quick read of the words in the story, created an important comprehension opportunity for all.

Oh, and the book: After the Fall?  You HAVE TO READ IT!  It’s brilliant!

3 Replies to “Learning – and Teaching – From My Mistakes”

  1. A lesson learned in the moment of excitement! And it turned about to be one that can be shared with students too. Love that you utilized a strategy from the #cyberPD book from this summer too! I love, love, love this new book … Brilliant!

  2. Upon the enthusiastic recommendation from one kindergarten teacher, I just read this to the other kinder class today. They loved it! And I love your suggestion of another way to use this book to model stopping and thinking as you read. Now I'll have to get invited to read it again to a few upper grade classrooms!

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