The Number One Piece of Advice

It’s the start of a new semester, so I’ve been meeting with a lot of students lately to help them reflect on the successes and setbacks of the first semester. Puzzling through their issues — whether related to reading, writing, or some combination of the two — I find that we continue to arrive at the same, basic piece of advice: find inventive ways to show your thinking in the act of. . .

So, for example, students sometimes state, as a goal, that they would like to improve their ability to read for comprehension. They arrive at this goal because either they don’t understand the insights that arise during our class discussions or they are not doing well on our reading comprehension assessments. They need a way to improve before these events; they need a way to practice.

“Find inventive ways to show your thinking in the act of reading,” I find myself saying. “What does that mean?” they find themselves asking. “As you read, circle sentences where you feel confused. Draw question marks next to these passages. Then, during a free period, bring the passages, and their attendant question marks, to my office so that we can read them together and discuss them.”

This works because it allows students to show me not only the moments where they understand, but also the moments where they are fuzzy or confused or struggling or puzzled. This, too, is thinking! It’s just not the kind of clear, neatly packaged, polished thinking that teachers expect to process and that students believe they need to generate.

If students can show up in my office and say “these are the six moments where my thinking became a little confused,” then we can really get to work. We don’t quite achieve the same result when students show up and say, “this book is confusing,” or ask, “why do I keep earning low grades on my reading comprehension quizzes?”

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