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A Book

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

Emily Dickinson. 1830–1886

I don’t remember who used that poem during their presentation, but I was glad to hear it again. I first learned of it during my poetry class with Dr. Miller. It struck me as wonderful at the time; regrettably, it sort of got lost in the noise.

I did indeed learn quite a bit during the reading conference. Here are some thoughts, quotes, and ideas in no particular order—this is how they landed in my notebook.

** Gradual release of responsibility. Chant that with me—it’s how I want to approach my work. Teachers work too hard—to the detriment of their students. Why do students run to the bus at the end of the day and teachers crawl home to a comfortable chair (OK, why do they want to crawl home to a comfortable chair)?

** Program dependency can indicate a lack of teacher confidence. This is a national problem.

** Relationships, relationships, relationships…

** My expectations for my students cannot be too high.

** My goal: to be a master of my craft.

** Too many children are being placed in special education.

** Essential conditions for learning:
– Joy and confidence
– Focus on meaning, comprehension, and relevance
– High level of teacher knowledge
– High expectations for all students
– A whole-school responsibility for the achievement of all students

** Teach it first, label it later.


** High comprehension is associated with lots of non-fiction reading.

** The ability to be (or the characteristic of) self-directed is critical for success with high-stakes testing. Again: gradual release of responsibility

** There is a huge difference between the abilities of “hundreds of books” kids and “thousands of books” kids. They need to read.

** Different reasons to read-aloud during the day:
– To build community. Live together to love together.
– To put language in the air. If you expect your students to use more than basic language, they need to hear more than basic language.
– To feature poetry. Poetry teaches fluency—phrase units are built in. Phrasing improves comprehension and enjoyment (not speed).
– To complement your writer’s workshop. Read from 2 or 3 selections of advanced work. You don’t have to read the entire book—just tasty morsels.
– To build bridges across the curriculum. Build images and vocabulary for other reading and writing.
– To close the day with reading. Imagine how nice it would be if the last thing your students did before walking out the door was to listen to you read. Not listen to you correct, discipline, cajole, herd, or manage their departure. Read. “OK, there’s the bell…”

** Teach the brain to sustain over a long period of time.

** What you hear them reading aloud is probably what they hear inside of their heads.

** A signal of comprehension is vocal inflection. Prosody. A monotone can indicate a lack of comprehension—the student isn’t doing much more than simply decode the words.

** Model Prosody intentionally. Use voices; vary your cadence; raise your voice; whisper; exaggerate the use of punctuation.

** Stephanie Harvey reminded us of Donald Graves’ quote: “Teachers are the chief learners in the classroom.”

** Books are quiet friends.

** “Education is to nourish your soul and transform your life” I didn’t get the name for that quote.

** A question to ask after any experience: “How did that change you?”

** Reading comprehension is about gaining the big picture, not the small details. The details are important, but not the most important thing.

** Reacting to literature is an active process: Stop, Think, React (or respond).

** Reading comprehension is the evolution of thinking…it’s the development of the voice in our head when we read.

** The number one way to process what we learn is to talk about it.

** If the teacher doesn’t monitor comprehension, she won’t know when the students stray from it.

** Follow up a read-aloud with a writing activity. It improves comprehension, writing, and thinking processes.

** Use post-it notes for an interactive read-aloud. Who knows why, but kids fill them up.

** Interactive comprehension activities identify student misconceptions. “No, Johnny, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a civil war general.”

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October 2005
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