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Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

"Notice & Note": fanning the reader's fire

Sometimes when I visit schools, I get to see something new — something that’s eye-catching, because it seems to work to open students’ eyes.

This is one of those things.

Last week I was in Hunt Middle School in Burlington, Vermont, where the sixth grade reads my book The Revealers every year. I always think Hunt is a very good school, judging by how bursting the sixth graders are with good, thoughtful questions each time I make my annual visit. After our sessions this time, I got to talking in the school library with language-arts teacher Lee Slocum Orlando, who began showing me students’ entries on web pages they had made about my book. Their pages had titles like “Aha Moment,” “Words of the Wiser,” and “Tough Questions.”

“When you journey through a book, don’t forget to [stop sign] and notice any Notice and Note signposts,” the teacher had written.

I asked, “What is this?” And here's what I learned:

Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading is a 2012 book by two educators, Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. They write, “We read and reread a range of popular adolescent literature looking for how authors showed when a character was changing, what the internal conflict was, or what the theme might be. We thought if we could teach students to notice these features, then we could teach them some questions to ask themselves.”

That could encourage students, the authors suggest, “to read the text more closely without becoming dependent on teachers to always ask the questions.”

I can generally tell how well and actively teachers have engaged kids with my book by the energy and interest with which their students ask when I visit — and the level of engagement among Lee’s students was striking, as it always is at Hunt. So I followed Lee to her classroom, to find out more.

I saw one student’s sample page — here it is, “Maggie’s Revealers site” — and I learned the Six Signposts. They are Contrasts & Contradictions, Words of the Wiser (“When a character ... takes the main character aside and offers serious advice, STOP and ask, ‘What’s the life lesson and how might it affect the character?’), Aha Moment, Again & Again, Memory Moment, and Tough Questions.

“It got me thinking differently about the book. It was very much a community thing,” the teacher told me as I scribbled in my notebook. “They were seeing things, I was seeing things, we were in it together. That’s when teaching gets powerful for me, and I think for the kids too. I’m learning together with them.

“The whole idea behind these signposts is to get readers thinking more deeply about the text,” Lee wrote to me afterward. “I’m sure you could sense my enthusiasm, as a teacher and as a reader who loves discussing books. The conversations spurred by the Notice and Note questions were very rich — and, as I said, using them brought us all together as readers and thinkers.”

Including, in the end, the (very gratified) writer too.

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