See, Think, Wonder, 6th Grade Reading (2012)


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This is a collaborative post co-written by Philip Cummings and me. We are cross-posting it to both of our blogs–A Retrospective Saunter and Through the Looking Glass.

The beginning days of school should be magical ones. While students meet their new teachers, view the classroom design, and try to sort out what it is they may learn during the year, it is imperative for teachers to create a culture of thinking and learning, as well as a climate of group collaboration on those first days.

This year we, Alice and Philip, combined our magical forces to teach as a team during the first week of school. We decided to improve upon last year’s See, Think, Wonder — from my (Philip’s) first days of school lesson and extend the students’ thinking further while creating new classroom dynamics. As we had made significant changes to the physical styles of our classrooms during the summer, we knew that the students had much to observe.  Additionally, we, along with Julia (our Martin Institute Resident), flavored each classroom with many hints about us as people and teachers of reading.

To begin the lesson, we asked students to develop their own driving questions about the design of the 6th grade reading classes, the 6th grade reading teachers (including Julia), and 6th grade reading. Before starting, I (Alice) took a few minutes to review with the boys what makes a good question, focusing on the idea of writing deep, open-ended questions rather than questions that could be answered with one or two words. Our sixth grade guys easily recalled their past lessons on “Fat Questions” vs. “Skinny Questions.” We asked the students, “What do you want to know?” and allowed them a few minutes of think time. Then we asked them to write their questions on sticky notes. Using the group discussion connection rules as a platform, the students shared and posted their questions that would help focus their inquiry and drive the See, Think, and Wonder activity that would soon follow. The following are a few samples of the students’ “driving questions:”

  • “Ms. Parker, why do you have brains in your closet?”
  • “Why does Mr. Cummings like Phineas and Ferb so much?”
  • “How does all this stuff connect to reading?”
  • “How will the books we read connect to our lives?”
  • “Why do you both teach reading?”
  • “What do you do to prepare for the school year during the summer?”

After deciding “What Inquiring Minds Want to Know About 6th Grade Reading,” the students began exploring the rooms looking for answers to their driving questions. The students moved from room to room investigating the closets, checking out the bookshelves, noting posters on the walls, examining pictures on the shelves, and analyzing the arrangement of the rooms.  The only areas “off limits” were the teachers’ wallet, purses, and backpacks.

The students returned to the desks and began making lists in response to the prompt: “What did you see?” They recorded their lists on a sticky note. After a few minutes, the students shared their best discoveries. Then, they came up to the board and posted their “Sees” for the class. The following are a few of the things they noticed:

  • strategies for reading
  • Phineas, Ferb, and Perry
  • Flying Pigs
  • various types of books to read
  • places to go read
  • many types of paper
  • school supplies

Once the students had returned to their seats, we discussed what it means to make inferences and draw conclusions. “How does one make an inference?” The guys then responded to the prompt “What do you think?” making another list on a sticky note. After a few minutes they started sharing their thinking aloud. As teachers, we neither confirmed nor denied whether their conclusions were true. We only responded with an additional question asking “What makes you say that?” requiring the student to support his inference with evidence based on what he had seen. Here are some examples of our students “Think” statements:

  • “I think the books will somehow connect to what we are learning in other classes.”
  • “I think collaboration is important.”
  • “I think Ms. Parker’s room is wacky and random, but Mr. Cummings’ room is cool and organized.”
  • “I think there will be some freedom and independence in Mr. Cummings’ and Ms. Parker’s class.”
  • “I think our teachers are optimistic.”
  • “Mr. C and Ms. P like their students to use knowledge to build projects.

Each student shared his “think” statements by posting them on the board for the class to see.

Next, we asked the students to consider what additional questions they have now that they have explored the room. We explained that we wanted them to go deeper with their questioning. They responded by creating another list to answer the prompt: “What do you wonder?” Again, the following are a few samples of the responses they shared with the class:

  • “I wonder how old Mr. Cummings is.”
  • “I wonder if we’ll ever go outside to read.”
  • “I wonder what the differences between the two classes will be.
  • “I wonder why they are both so relaxed.”
  • “I wonder how will the fun affect our performance of reading in school and out.”
  • “I wonder how sixth grade reading will be different from fifth grade reading.”

At this point we were almost out of class time. As the students posted their “Wonder” statements on the board, we told them that their “ticket out” for the day was to come up with a “Headline” for the day’s class. We reminded them that good headlines capture the main idea and inform or entertain the audience. We stood at the door and gave high fives as the boys informed and entertained us with creative headlines, a few of which follow:

  • Class Time Thoughts
  • Classical Creativity
  • Pigs and a Platypus: The Perfect Combination
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Creativity
  • The Odyssey of Reading
  • Getting to Know Cat Daddy, Cat Momma, and Their Cribs
  • See, Think, and Wonder So Much to Ponder

We have found See, Think, Wonder to be a great way to introduce ourselves, the subject of 6th grade reading, and our individual classroom design to our students on the first day while engaging them in inquiry and encouraging them to think. If you have never tried See, Think, Wonder with your students you can find an explanation of the thinking routine here.

What is your reaction to our first day lesson? How do you engage your students’ minds on the first day of school? We’d love to hear from you.


Love Today

“Love Today. Here I am is where I ought to be. “ Louise Erdrich

And this is what I know for sure, here I am, IS where I ought to be. Each day has been a marvel as it has unfolded! My lens of understanding about our world has widened significantly. In reflecting about my first week at Saint Andrews Scots School, we are the same regardless of our significant distance apart.

The Children

How children love to know! They are like sponges that soak up information to process and then apply. Children are curious by nature and desire to know more… whether it be about learning about another part of the world or striving to show their understanding about a character’s point of view in a novel.  SASS is a bilingual school ( thank goodness because I know very little of the Spanish language)! In my fifth and sixth grade small group reading classes, we frequently talk about deep questioning… which we refer to as burning questions. These questions propel us toward understanding. While in the hallways, classrooms, cafeteria, and even on the playing fields, I was bombarded with those deep questions. Rarely did the children at SASS  ask those yes or no skinny questions. Instead they required me to answer with an explanation of… what we read, how we read it, the schedule of PDS, one boy even took me to a map and required that I explain the Mississippi River as it relates to Mark Twain and my city.  WOW! The children here love to kiss and hug, even strangers. As I also love to connect in this way, I certainly felt comfortable in my own skin. Several girls wanted to touch my hair as an extension of that hug or kiss. They also used this greeting to engage me in …more questions to broaden their understanding in a more personal way.

The Teaching Culture

Teachers have a passion to teach and connect with their students. They are lifelong learners as well. Through my observations in the classrooms on both campuses of SASS, these key  pieces are resoundingly true. While in a year six classroom that was doing a writing extension about a character’s point of view from the novel The City of Ember, their teacher keenly assessed that a small group that chose to write a dialogue were confused about the nuts and bolts of the mechanic part. She immediately took them to the smart board and did a mini lesson on the skill needed at hand. The students then went back to work to write with a new sense of understanding. I watched her do this several times during the class period in a variety of ways.  Within the confines of a small group reading class in year two, where speaking Spanish is rarely permitted, a wise teacher permitted a young guy to slip back into his mother tongue when he talked about a time when he was treated unfairly. She explained to me that when the young students become passionate about what they are talking, while they may start and finish in English, they sometimes slip back into Spanish. Taking those teachable moments, makes us who we are.That passion to move a child forward into the world. The staff at SASS are lifelong learners and ENGLISH speakers too! During our  breaks, many teachers shared their professional growth goals with me which ranged from differentiated instruction to a model for conflict resolution. As I returned home to our bed and breakfast late each day, my brain was exhausted . Thoughts about Spanish words and phrases, teaching, students, the actual school facility and grounds whirled around in my head, sometimes even while I slept.

Smiles and Laughter are Universal Languages

Smiles and laughter warm the heart and touch the soul! This week has been a week of smiles and laughter. A smile is a way to invite a stranger to share comfortably, whether it be with a simple hug or a way to begin a conversation about what brings us together. Laughter breaks the ice…especially when you can feel comfortable about making mistakes and laughing about them in a group.  As I have shared with you, I don’t speak Spanish, just a few words. I do understand some of it though. Throughout this week, I have seriously attempted to learn words and phrases by saying them to the students and staff. That has been hilarious to the students, but also is my invitation to show them that I can laugh at my mistakes and hopefully learn from them.  One student commented that I spoke the Queen’s English and that I totally botched their language. They imitated how I sounded in their native tongue, which was a scream. Another child,  a girl of course, said that if I didn’t want to try speaking Spanish anymore (I must have sounded pretty horrible) , she would be my personal translator and tutor for these next two weeks. I also gravitated to the teachers who were not as fluent in English to see if we could connect and converse together. My new friend Paola and I shared a year two reading group together, with her Spanish and my English. How wonderful!

I have loved my todays at Saint Andrews Scots School on the campuses of Olivas and Punta Chica. It has been a humbling experience to be here in this proud country and truly an honor to be planted here these two weeks. alice

True South


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“Inside all of us is a compass, it always points true north. “

Within my heart, that rings true for most every day of my life. But today, my inside compass is pointing true south. I am traveling with my Presbyterian Day School colleagues to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Our group will be participating in a two weeklong teacher exchange with St. Andrew’s Scot School.   During this time, my own global UNDERSTANDING will grow as I join hands with the St. Andrew’s community to learn more about the fabric of their school and its culture, as well as being able to peek at colorful Buenos Aires through my looking glass.  I will connect with the fifth and sixth grade language arts teachers at St. Andrew’s to actively weave our curriculums together so that when school begins at PDS in August, our students will take part in a global adventure of their own. What an honor to be a part of this team and it is with great enthusiasm that I embrace this adventure!

Since this is my first post, I feel that you all may want to know a little more about what drives me as a teacher and lifelong learner. As a reading specialist who teaches small group reading to all of the fifth and sixth grade boys at Presbyterian Day School, my charge is to have our guys connect to the printed word as critical and creative thinkers. It is my firm belief that deep understanding is born when our students merge habits of thinking with reading..  On a daily basis, we use the following throughlines to delve deeper into the printed word.

How do readers connect to literature?

1. They mark what they read using Mr. Metacognition’s strategies.

2. They grow a global attitude of appreciation towards others and themselves as they interpret literature.

3. They write reflections to share their understanding of what they read.

4. They use their voices to communicate original ideas and personal connections to literature.

While crafting a deeper understanding of the printed word, it is through eyes of                                    wonder that I watch our boys transform into problem-solvers, meaning –makers,                                   and creators who will navigate the waters of the twenty-first century.