Using Historical Fiction Picture Books Part Two

In the Article “Comprehension Strategies for Reading Historical Fiction Picturebooks” by Suzette Youngs and Frank Serafini in The Reading Teacher, October 2011 the authors offer suggestions for moving readers from the literal details to the interpretive assertions.  Yesterdays post focused on the considerations for using historical fiction picture books.

I think consideration must be given to teaching the teacher before teaching students from the transition from literal to interpretive assertions.  To a certain degree the teacher must own the content or have a clear understanding of the content before moving further.  With inquiring minds of all ages (teacher included) we hope the multimodal text will plant a seed in the learners head to inquire further. At the completion of the reading- pre, during, and post- I would hope the book would help the reader form an emotional attachment with the book. The article by Youngs and Serafini offers three strategies:


Phase I: Previewing, Noticing, and Naming

As readers approach a picturebook, we encourage them to focus on these elements or thoughts>

  • What visual and design features do you notice?
  • How do the visual, textual, and design modes relate to one another?
  • What did the illustrator, author, and publisher include in the peritext?
  • What type of historical fiction might this be?
  • Focus attention to Historical fiction as a Genre. Are they aware of different examples of historical fiction? I suggest keeping a chart somewhere in your room of different historical fiction books you have read and be able to talk about what they notice in the differences.
    • o   fictionalized memoirs
    • o   fictionalized family histories and stories
    • o   fiction based on research
  •  Essential Questions to Ask When Reading Historical Fiction
    • ·         Is this true? How much is this true?
    • ·         How can we distinguish between fact from fiction?
    • ·         How do the authors know?
    • ·         How much of it happened like this?
    • ·         How can the auto rote help to construct meaning?
    • ·         What type of historic fiction is this?
    • ·         How do the illustration and the text work together?
  • Attention to Visual and Textual Elements
    • ·         What did you notice about the cover, back cover, title page, end pages.
    • ·         What did you notice visual and design elements of the picturebook”
    • ·         By allowing readers to determine what is important by focusing on what they notice, teachers can shift the focus of the discussion to what matters to their readers. (Youngs, 2011)
  • During this first read-aloud, we take note of the balance between narrative and factual elements, how color is used throughout the text to suggest moods and themes, how characters are portrayed in the written text and images, how the story unfolds and how it makes us feel, and other narrative features such as setting, character, plot, and resolution. By focusing readers’ attention on the visual, textual, and design elements of the picturebook, we establish a foundation for readers to move from attending to the visual and verbal features of a picturebook to the interpretation of these elements. (Youngs, 2011)

Phase II: Moving Beyond Noticing to Interpretation

  • Read the book a second time!
  • Invite readers to consider the meaning potential of various visual and textual elements embedded within the picturebook and how these individual elements contribute to the story as a whole.
  • Help the learners pay attention the one telling the story and their perspective.
  • Help the learners pay attention to how the image is framed, the setting of the image or illustration. Framing is a way illustrators invite viewers into an image or distance them from what is being presented.
  • Character-reader relationship- A technique that illustrators use to develop a relationship between the character and viewer is called demand and offer. When a character in an image or illustration makes direct contact with the viewer, this is called demand and when a character looks at other characters or objects within the image, it is called an offer. (Youngs, 2011, p. 120) Demand offers the reader an interactive role and demands the attention of the reader where as an offer does not bring the reader into a direct relationship with the character. Rather these scenes and actions serve as information for the reader to consider. The author and illustrator works together to create a relationship between the reader and the characters and events in the story. (Youngs, 2011, pp. 120-121) This is an important position to consider in the genre of historical fiction.

Phase III: Moving Beyond Interpretation to Critical Analysis

What happens in the phase depends on the background knowledge readers bring to the text and the intention of the books use in the content area. Let me point out whether one is using historical fiction or another type of fiction the three phases need to be taught along the continuum of early and intermediate literacy stages. The more background knowledge learners have prior to reading the picture book, will help them assume a critical stance.  This path must be modeled and taught.  The path is a forward movement from early literacy to intermediate literacy and the higher level would be disciplinary literacy.  Important considerations include:

  • Many historical fiction picture book illustrators draw on cultural, political, and social symbols to make inter-textual connections within the illustrations and to other visual images. (Youngs, 2011)
  • Here are some open ended questions that will promote this type of thinking”
    • o   Whose view of history is being presented in the book?
    • o    How are historical characters portrayed?
    • o   What systems of power and social issues are being challenged?
    • o   Whose view is privileged in the telling of the story?
    • o   What has been left out of the story?
    • o   How do the images presented affect the readers’ interpretations?
  • Visual Symbol Analysis: “Illustrators of historical fiction picturebooks often embed historical images within their illustrations. Analysis of these images requires readers to construct an image as a historical symbol, to place the image within its original historical context, and to make intertextual connections between the book being read and the embedded image. Anstey and Bull (2006) referred to the use of intertextuality and described it as “the ways one text might draw on or resemble the characteristics of another causing the consumer of the text to make links between them” (p. 30).” (Youngs, 2011, pp. 121-122)
  • Placement of Characters within an Illustration- How the character is placed in the illustration carries additional meaning to the whole text. It tells us lots about the characters social standing and power structures with other characters. Characters placed at the top of the image are given higher social status or power compared to those place near the bottom of the pictures. Characters placed side by side might be entering into an adventure  (Youngs, 2011, pp. 122-123). Other questions to consider:
    • o   What might the spatial relationship suggest?  (Youngs, 2011, pp. 122-123) How might we interpret the placement of characters or objects on the page and throughout the book?  (Youngs, 2011, pp. 122-123) Who or what is privileged in the various images?  (Youngs, 2011, pp. 122-123)
    • o   What systems of power are represented? (Youngs, 2011, pp. 122-123) (We must teach learners to take a critical stance of various images and symbols represented in historical fiction picture books) (Youngs, 2011, p. 122)

These strategies presented by Youngs and Serefini need to be considered as we prepare our learners for the real world. This framework can better prepare teachers for using historical fiction or any fictional picture book in the content curriculum.  It serves as a guide, but should help to focus on the teacher how picture book could be possibly used. I think it is important the teacher understand the framework so that parts as necessary can be modeled and taught to all learners.


Piercy, T. a. (2011). Disciplinary Literacyq. Englewood, Colorada: Lead and Learn Press.

Youngs, S. a. (2011). Comprehension Strategies for Reading Historical Fiction Picture Book. The Reading Teacher , 115-124.

Using Historical Fiction Picture Books Part One

In the Article “Comprehension Strategies for Reading Historical Fiction Picturebooks” by Suzette Youngs and Frank Serafini in The Reading Teacher, October 2011 along with other important notes struck a chord with me: “Cognitively based reading comprehension strategies (e.g., predicting, summarizing, visualizing) often focus exclusively on written text. However, picture books and many other texts that readers encounter in their daily lives are now dominated by visual images Therefore, comprehending the visual images and design elements presented in historical fiction picture books require developing a new set of strategies in addition to the strategies used for comprehending written text alone.”

I love historical fiction picture book and I have a growing collection as more and more are being published. I have used picture books across all curriculum area to supplement both social studies and ELA content.  I used picture book as mentor text in classroom writing workshops and I continue to use them in professional development classes as well.

The article pushed my thinking in new ways about using quality picture books in teaching and learning. I have held a strong belief that picture books are a great way to help bridge connections to the content being taught in content subjects especially history. Pictures, images, and designs features enhances our understanding of the world today just by the way they are presented and used on a daily basis on billboards, TV, Internet, Theater, and other mediums in public places.  In historical picture books they help the readers to make sense of historical events and concepts. In a way picture books are the pre-Madonna of today’s literacy. Picture books helps teachers and students take complex issues, events, and concepts and helps readers bridge a connection for future learning.   We use picture books across the curriculum to supplement social studies content, present complex historical concepts and promote critical discussions. (Youngs, 2011, p. 116)

“Cognitively based readi(Youngs, 2011, p. 116)ng comprehension strategies (e.g., predicting, summarizing, visualizing) often focus exclusively on written text. However, picturebooks and many other texts that readers encounter in their daily lives are now dominated by visual images (Kress, 2003). Therefore, comprehending the visual images and design elements presented in historical fiction picturebooks requires developing a new set of strategies in addition to the strategies used for comprehending written text alone (Serafini, 2005, 2010; Youngs, 2010).” (Youngs, 2011, p. 116)

A picture book brings a unique experience beyond the text, but not so unique when you think about the digital media that all our youth are exposed to beginning at birth.  Beginning with early literacy, picture book use in different areas of the curriculum should expose readers to making meaning of the story or the informational message beyond the text.  Early literacy places lots of instruction based on a text environment. Early literacy and intermediate literacy focuses lots of efforts on skills such as main idea, supporting details, predicting, summarizing).  Unfortunately literacy instruction has prepared students for the multiple choice test.

Very little pedagogical attention has been places on visual system at all grade levels and that poses a new challenge for teachers.  Picture books brings a multimodal system that needs to be understood , modeled, and taught so student will fully comprehend the text.

Below are some considerations for using historical picture books:

  • Teachers must take the time to fully understand the content that is being presented through the picture book.  What part of the book is fiction? Many historical fiction books provide additional background knowledge on the event, time period, person, or conflict and provide information what is fact and fiction. The danger is the teacher not knowing and not discussing this with students.
  • Historical fiction picturebooks are challenging because many readers lack historical background knowledge, are not familiar with the genre, and are inexperienced with the language specific to the historical era.” (Youngs, 2011)
  • The teachers needs to have some understanding of the context of the text and images presented. Are the images accurate of the time period?  The context affects how we will view the text (including all multimodal pieces of the text) and it will affect how we respond. In understanding the context, we must consider the background knowledge. Our goal with a picture book might be to help students to piece together a context for understanding the content that they must learn. We are helping them to piece together clues that will them build a larger picture around the things we what them to learn. It is valuable to know that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was given during a critical phrase of the Civil War. It was given at the dedication of the cemetery for fallen soldiers after the most critical battle of that war. (Piercy, 2011, pp. 77, 80)
  •  The teacher must focus on text. I am including the design, pictures, images, and print for the meaning of text. Here we must focus on the fabric of the communication. What is the author‘s message? That is determined by how she wishes to communicate it including text style, design, images, pictures, use of blank spaces, etc. Consideration must be given to the audience and the intended imagery of the reader’s imagination.  Think closely about how commercials are designed and the audiences they are intended.
  •  This focus on the literary aspects of picturebooks and the lack of pedagogical attention to visual systems of meaning present serious challenges to teachers at a time when image has begun to dominate the lives of their students . This may be due to the fact that multimodal texts other than picturebooks have not been as prominent a feature in the instructional framework of today’s reading programs as they are in the lives of the students for which the curriculum was intended. If teachers are going to be able to help children make sense of the visual images and written language of multimodal texts, they need to first be able to analyze and comprehend these multimodal texts themselves. (Youngs, 2011) The use of tablets and eReaders are posing new challenges are they are being introduced into the classrooms. Reading on-line requires a different a different set of reading skills that are different from reading from one medium. Picture books offer a way to introduce different reading comprehension strategies.



Piercy, T. a. (2011). Disciplinary Literacyq. Englewood, Colorada: Lead and Learn Press.

Youngs, S. a. (2011). Comprehension Strategies for Reading Historical Fiction Picture Book. The Reading Teacher , 115-124.


Why is Social Studies Text So Difficult to Read?

Social Studies textbooks are usually boring! They are often not a good fit for our learners today. Students feel that the study of old events and dead people have little relevance in their lives. Students find little emotional connections when events, facts, timelines, and dead people are taught. Too often historical topics are taught with little context of how past events and historical figures are related today’s issues. Too often old events are discussed more frequently than what is happening in the world today. I found this list in the book written by Donna Olge, Ron Klemp, and Bill McBride, Building Literacy in Social Studies, and thought it was worth sharing since I need it for research I am doing. Below are factors that affect the readability of social studies text and other informational texts:

• Students must have prior knowledge about the concepts. Prior knowledge is key reading comprehension and engagement with the text.

• SS text covers a large amount of texts. A fifth grade SS book in SS covers US History from 1860- present day.

• Teachers feel pressured to cover material quickly and superficially.

• The text covers a great deal of academic vocabulary- lots of content specific terminology specific to history or government.

• Students who come from minority population may feel disengaged from a country’s history or politics.

• Social Studies texts, tests, and standards often require students to analayze and synthesize much information. This is a skill that may not have been taught and content teachers have the assumptions students in earlier grades were taught this skill.

• Students have limited ability to understand and summarize the literal narrative of a SS text related to student’s age and reading ability.

I firmly believe

"I’m firmly convinced of the following:
 1. Learners should be in control of their own learning. Autonomy is key. Educators can initiate, curate, and guide. But meaningful learning requires learner-driven activity
 2. Learners need to experience confusion and chaos in the learning process. Clarifying this chaos is the heart of learning.
 3. Openness of content and interaction increases the prospect of the random connections that drive innovation
 4. Learning requires time, depth of focus, critical thinking, and reflection. Ingesting new information requires time for digestion. Too many people digitally gorge without digestion time.
 5. Learning is network formation. Knowledge is distributed.
 6. Creation is vital. Learners have to create artifacts to share with others and to aid in re-centering exploration beyond the artifacts the educator has provided.
 7. Making sense of complexity requires social and technological systems. We do the former better than the latter."
I am not sure how to say this any better. Thanks George Siemens for these words…..

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Ramblings about Literacy and Blogging

I can only write about blogging from my point of view and what I have learned about the bloggers that I follow in my Google Reader and blog post that are recommended through my Twitter feed. In some ways I feel uncomfortable writing about it here, but after reading posts at Langwitches about the posts related to Learning about Blogs for Your Students here and here I began to wonder how I would address blogging in my Literacy in Social Studies series. Foremost, I am all about encouraging more writing in all content area and any form of writing to learn. Writing is our visible thinking and we must find ways to make thinking and learning more visible to get our learners to think critically!

I am not an advocate of a blog being another writing assignment for students to check off! If a blog were to work in a classroom, the teacher must have invested quiet a bit of time learning about blogs:

  • Reading other blogs. I suggest picking four or five blogs and follow over several months. Make comments to blog posts. Pay attention to their writing style, voice, the links, the images and other comments that are left behind.
  • Embrace blogging by blogging. Don’t just jump into! Feel comfortable by following other bloggers who have like minds as you do. Don’t feel like you have to be a perfect writer! Just write and give yourself permission to write terribly, but keep writing. Through time you will get better. Forcing one to blog to become a small piece of the conversation that is so important. It has great benefits for the one doing the writing.

Learning is not about right or wrong, rather, it is discovering what you love, searching for more and creating with what you are learning along the way. Blogging has allowed me to discover my own voice, dabble in collaboration, reflect then make changes in my own practice and share my love of teaching and learning with others.

Using a blog in a history classroom must be about learning and  a teacher using a blog with her students must be willing to be the role model in taking the learner into a deeper learning experience that is way more personal.

With Common Core Standards on our coattails, we know how important writing has become in the global world, which we live. Amateur bloggers will tell you how blogging shaped their writing voice. It allowed me to move past the shy writer that lives deep within me to a more confident and brave voice.

Blogging is about sharing. Sharing is the heart of what a blogger does. Another thing at the heart of blogging is the question(s) or wondering that drives the blogger.  We often don’t reveal those questions in our writing and sometimes the blogger can’t make that identity as well.  Questions, curiosity, and wonderings drive our learning and it drives us to the things that are important to us.

When one thinks about early literacy and intermediate literacy instruction (prevalent in K-5) you tend to think that kids are pushed to the higher level of blooms in reading instruction. In early reading instruction kids learn to put stories in order by the way they occur in the story- basically through rote memorization.  Teachers tend to spend more time on questions that require the regurgitation of the facts. Students have trouble recalling story elements but easily remember  actions and outcomes ,and they tend to struggle with the emotional and/or psychological aspects of a story. We tend to do the same thing with writing instruction especially teaching the perfect paragraph with a topic sentence, three supporting details, and a conclusion.  I wander if this is not the reason student struggle with writing because they don’t have enough time to think, digest, question, and wonder about the different aspects of story. They don’t have enough time dealing with the social, emotional, and psychological aspects of the story. And do you students have enough role models in this process?

For what ever reason we spend little time with the higher level of blooms questioning- the what if, the why, thinking beyond, creation, etc.  We don’t seem to value this in early stages of literacy, but it is the most important area to develop thinkers our of young learners. If we don’t value it here, we are not going to value it with writing.  We should be putting more time in this area. CCS calls that we do this! CCS will demand teacher rethink teaching practices for early learners.

We can’t let the excuse be that Johnny is a poor reader. We have to do better in building pre reading experiences. We have to offer every student challenging text to read.  Then we have to take what the kids are learning and help them visibly show what their learning through writing. Model! Model! Model!

Writing is  the heart of reading instruction. From pictures to words to sentences to paragraphs, we must insist that thinking become visible. Once are thinking is visible we can possibly begin thinking about making their visible thought in a blog. This happens once they are able to move to writing complete sentences and paragraphs.


I hope in the weeks to come to write more about making thinking visibly.



What’s Your Pulse?

Today Kay Connors @kconners09 has given permission for me to repost this blog post from her blog at Dimensional Learning. The other day I was learning from Kay in a chat at #edchat on Twitter. The timing for this post is awesome with some of the discussion we are having on the district level in my office. Thanks Kay for allowing me to post it here.

Kay Conners is an 8th grade World Geography teacher in Warrenton, VA. With 14 years experience in public and private schools, Kay co-authored Anywhere Learning in Educational Leadership, ASCD, March, 2009. She has presented at the National Middle School Conference, National Social Studies Conference and VASCD, VISTE in Virginia. Kay believes in the power of collaboration and getting out of the way of students’ learning. Kay earned a BS Ed from Miami University (OH) and MEd from George Mason University.


Just as a physician takes our pulse during an office visit to check our health, schools should be doing the same. What’s your school’s pulse? Here are some thoughts on a healthy school pulse.

When walking through the building do you see:

  • Students in groups, not just talking, but asking questions, using content vocabulary, creating learning together, excited about what they are doing?
  • The teacher is involved in student discussion and learning and not the center of learning?
  • Students can tell anyone who comes in to the classroom what they are researching, discussing, analyzing?
  • There is high expectation for learning, not just test scores? There are student projects showcased?
  • Learning is taking place all over, even in the hall with students are spread out using computers, textbooks, library books, other devices as allowed? My favorite pictures in my classroom are those of students putting together a presentation while the textbook, notebook, etc are on their laps and desks. I co-wrote and article for Educational Leadership in 2009 and it is still timely. Here is the link for those interested-
  • Learning happening anytime, anywhere and are you, the teacher, a part of it during non school hours?  Are students sharing writing, projects, and anything else with you on Google Docs, Edmodo, etc.?
  • Active not passive learning?

As I walk through the halls of my own building, I think about our pulse. What does learning look/sound like to you?

Let’s make it real! Literacy in Social Studies

I can count on one hand the things I remember learning in history. I learned that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, that there was once a thing called slavery and it was abolished, that there have been several wars and battles, For me history was a lot of dates, strange names, places, and events presented as points on a line. The goal of history was to memorize all of these facts and dates, recite them on a test, and repeat the process the following week. Sadly, that was about it. It wasn’t until adulthood until I started listening to stories that were told by my father and other local historians. My dad told me a few stories of his time in WWII and I always wanted to hear more. He was not willing to share too much and I never figured that out until I read Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation. And then their was my introduction to the History Channel and I was fascinated because they told stories that included emotions of people in wars and other historical events. Then I found history interesting and less about a textbook with important dates and facts. History became engaging when it was presented as a story. It really isn’t about all of the dates, places, and facts. History is about people. History is about story. Students need more than the loosely connected events, people, and dates that fill history textbooks. They need narrative. Textbook writers are boring, history is not. I never had the opportunity to read about first hand events until my adult life. It was about the emotions, the aftermath, the effects on human life.

As I am thinking about history, I began to wonder about the teaching of reading comprehension in the ELA classroom. I was a student in public school between 1964-1978. I am old. In those days the teaching of reading was boiled down to completing series of worksheets and reading in the basal was about reading in round robin and answering questions at the lowest level of Blooms. I don’t remember ever spending much time talking about literature at the emotional and social level and the creative level of discussion. Public school forced me to hate reading! It forced me to hate history! History then was something written in the textbook and the facts, events, and people. It was never about the what if, the imaginative thinking, the emotional side, and so much more.

I fear that in the teaching of reading comprehension in the early grades teacher have not changed very much from the time I was in public school. Reading has moved in some degree past the worksheet factory, but I still see teaching of reading comprehension as the lowest level of blooms. When we teach story line organizers, we forget all the things story lines leave out- the emotions, the social, the creative thinking, etc.

As early learners enter our K-5 classrooms, we put them on a reading level and we wait to move them until the perfect time. We have to find ways to increase the reading the complexity and with higher level reading teachers must know how to scaffold the reading so that the weakest reader will take something away from the reading. And I challenge teachers to be good role models of reading in their classrooms.


As we move forward with Common Core Standards, K-5 teachers are challenged/told that 50% percent of the reading must be informational text! With that in mind what a great place to bring history into the classroom. What great place to bump up reading instruction to a higher level! What a change on the horizon when K-5 teachers are told to put more emphasis on teaching math and reading and they too often put science and social studies on the shelf. If we taught reading correctly in the K-5 classroom, students would learn to love history and science and many other subjects. I breath easier that a change may be on the way!


And why can’t history, science, reading, writing, and math not be so boring! Let’s make it real!



Literacy in Social Studies: KWL revisited

KWL Chart Revisited

It was 18 years ago that the KWL chart was introduced to me and it took me 10 years of teaching to figure out why using a KWL chart is an important thinking tool.  It was four years ago I discovered it was a thinking tool rather than a graphic organizer. I hope to encourage you to revisit your thinking of why this tool is important. A KWL chart should be used to support what students know, what they are puzzled about, and think about what they are learning.  The structure of this one tool can be helpful to help students support their own thinking during a unit of study. I want to revisit this thinking structure as thinking activity at the beginning of a unit. 

Class Action

As students enter the room and sit with their learning group, each group finds four different primary source images from the Civil War.   As the class begins, they are asked to examine one picture and write a statement related life during a war on a sticky note. Every day during history, students are use to beginning their day with some type of short quick write activity. After about three minutes, students share their picture and what they wrote with their learning group.

After I give a brief introduction to the unit on the Civil War, introduce the essential questions, and go over a handout with the content questions for the unit, I ask them to pull out the sticky notes. They have five minutes to brain storm what they know about the Civil War and any thoughts or knowledge that relates to the essential questions. They think and write silently for about five minutes and then they turn to their learning group and share. As they share they jot down new thoughts that are generated from their discussion. They put all their sticky notes on a large piece of construction paper because they know I want to see what they were thinking. They know that I will post their charts somewhere in the room.

One person from each table shares out. I encourage them to generate new thinking as they listen.

Second, I ask them to revisit and think about all they have heard. I get them to think about what they heard from the sharing that puzzled them. I have them think about questions they have about the Civil War? They have time to write the question first and then I have them make a chart of questions. 

Both charts are collected. After school I typed out all their responses about what they know and their questions along with the essential questions and content questions. The content questions are the required for minimum learning based on the state standards and ends of course test.

I use all the information to guide instruction. The instruction that follows is based on inquiry. 

As they move through the unit, we refer back to the chart and journal what we are learning. The KWL will not look like a traditional graphic organizer but the journal will capture what they are thinking along the ways.


Here is what you should observe happening in this scenario:

  • Thinking becomes visible and there is evidence from charts and journals.
  • Journals begin to show what they are learning.
  • Students are highly engaged. Evidence will show those students not engaged.
  • Create pathways and patterns for future engagement with the unit of study.
  • Students are writing to learn.


Controlling our Attention Part 2

Warning: Be careful as you read! I am trying to process how our attention span hinders or helps learning and job performance. Not clear where this blog post is going.  This is definitely writing in the raw! I decided to make it public.

This is a continuation of the conversation started on November 14, 2011 Controlling Your Attention and then again here Channeling Your Attention.

I wish I really could control my attention! I feel like I need to go to some AAA meeting or join a self-help group that will help manage it! Do you have that same problem? I do know that I am not the only person who can control it.

This morning I sat through a meeting and caught myself not paying attention. The principal talked about how they were using benchmark test at the end of the quarter. At that point my mind started wondering about those kids who are not able to perform well on those test.  At another point the principal was telling us about his Friday school. Again I could not keep my focus but began to wonder how it might work and what parents thought. I found my attention drifted in a different direction. There were other people in the room that kept the conversation going. It was important for me to think deeply about this idea.

The same thing happened in an earlier meeting when the principal was talking about the school learning environment and how he was working toward changing it with his staff. And the fact he was being met with lots of resistance from his teachers. My mind wondered again thinking about the conversation I had with a school administrator about how we all different in how we learn. Again we need to figure out how to put our collaborative knowledge to work for the good.

And in an early discussion I had a conversation about attention and most people’s attention changes on average every seven minutes.  Throughout the morning I focused on my attention and have been wondering how to control it.

As you sit through your next profession development, pay attention everyone in the room. Take notice of what they are doing. Are they texting? Tweeting? Grading papers? Staring blankly in to open space? Notetaking? Doodling? Talking? You see all sorts of behaviors, but yet most of the teachers would not permit many of these behaviors in their classroom. I wonder what you could learn from the collective thinking in the rooms!

Spend the day watching kids! Don’t watch the teacher! What are the kids doing? What are they not doing? What can you tell about their attention? I wonder if we could capture their thinking and what would we do differently if we could!

I love visiting Kindergarten classrooms especially when they are gathering on the rug around the teacher as she reads a book.  Great teachers talk about the book before reading!  Watching the looks on the kids faces get bigger! Then the reading starts. A kid interrupts to tell about a connection they have. Another talks about something he did with his Dad that the book reminds. Another talk about the pictures on the page! And the chatter goes on as the teacher reads! The teacher allows the chatter and I am thinking, “Wow”. This teacher understands how important it is for kids to share their thoughts! The teacher allowed the story and the picture to grab their attention! She allowed the learners to share their thoughts!

But yet in another classroom, the kids had learned that this was inappropriate behavior to talk while the story was being read and there seem to be interruptions from fidgeting and kids touching other kids and even more disruptions during the reading.

In this first kindergarten scenario the teacher promoted creative thinking. The believed that learning is social and learning happens in a network. The teacher knew how to channel their attention.

I am presently reading the book Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn  by Cathy Davidson and her book discusses this topic of attention in the chapter about the changes in the work place..  This chapter brought me to this writing, but the point I want to make is this. I am reading this book differently from a fictional writing. I am reading the book to learn and I am very interested in information that is presented in the text. While reading, I need to manage my attention. Certain topics and cues trigger’s connection or interesting points that stops me from reading further. My mind wonders off and many times have this “a Ha” moment(s). Many times I begin to wonder and formulate questions. In order to control my attention I may highlight sentences, passages, phrases, or words or write in the margins or write on a sticky. I might even write a blog post about what I am thinking like I am doing now.

I started this book a week and half ago and I am only on page 175. Last night at 9:30 I had to put the book down to think through what I was reading. And this morning I had a conversation with colleague about what thoughts this led me to. And now I am writing this blog post.

But I think this is important to think further about as we think about the attention spans of the learners in our classrooms. As I am reading Davidson’s book I have tools in place to help me control my attention as I read. In another book I read earlier in the year Because Digital Writing Matters, I controlled my attention and thinking by tweeting my thoughts, wondering, and connections as I read.

What tools do our students have to help them control their attention? What tools do you use to help control yours?

I think this something we must address as we move into full implementation of Common Core Standards. What tools are going to give our students to control their attention and scaffold their reading when the text becomes more complex?