As I read this book, subtitled Strategies for Close Reading, I kept thinking about the contrast between good readers—who have lots of experience with reading and use their background knowledge about genres to figure out what’s going on—and struggling readers, who don’t even know what to look for. Before you can find meaning in a text, you need to have some familiarity with the organizational elements that contribute to its messages.
NOTICE AND NOTE tackles this problem head-on by describing and explaining six explicit strategies that readers can use to notice significant moments in novels and ask anchor questions in order to make sense of what they are reading. For example, the “Contrasts and Contradictions Signpost” indicates when a character does or thinks something unexpected, or an element of the setting strikes the reader as unexpected. The corresponding anchor question is: “Why would the character act/feel this way?” This question, in turn, should lead to conversations about character motivation, a key to unlocking the meaning in any novel. The other five signposts and anchor questions have the potential to lead to equally profound discussion and analysis.
Beers and Probst rightly take pains to clarify that they are not proposing a scavenger hunt; while they acknowledge that readers must find clues in order to make meaning, they don’t believe reading should be viewed as a “Where’s Waldo?” exercise. Their goal is for readers to become more alert and better able to express their understanding. The authors offer ample evidence that their approach can have impact, offering numerous “before” and “after” examples of students who at first stammered and struggled to talk about a text, then a few months later could articulate with much greater fluency and confidence what they had gleaned from the text.
In the first half of the book, Beers and Probst lay the groundwork for their approach, and in the second half, they drill down on each strategy, providing models of the lessons they teach along with pages and pages of graphic organizers and other tools needed to teach these lessons. It’s a lot to digest, but I’m not complaining. My guess is that most teachers will gobble down the first half very quickly and revisit the second half when they sit down to write unit plans and lesson plans.
As much as I love the concept of signposts and anchor questions, I think my favorite part is their section on “Letting Students Create Text-Dependent Questions.” With a few simple steps, they demonstrate how to teach students to ask questions about texts to drive comprehension and learning. I love this approach because it makes texts accessible to everyone—after all, we can all think of questions as we read—but more importantly, it signals the importance of INQUIRY in learning and ENCOURAGES students to ask questions while reading, which is, in fact, what good readers do.
All in all, this book makes a vital contribution to the ongoing discussion about how to help students become stronger readers.