Reconsidering the Signposts

I had the chance to attend a small group workshop with Kylene Beers and Bob Probst this week where we dug more deeply into their approach known as Signposts – an approach that teaches students what to look for in texts and how the author might be promoting readers to think.

I had not been a “signpost” teacher per se, but had been using their Disrupting Thinking text, as well as the older Question the Author text, as part of our English curriculum re-design. But it took this PD to help me see the intentions behind the signposts and how they are tools for dialogic reading, not prescribed steps (which had been my misconception – like requiring kids to “find the contradiction” vs “when you discover the contradiction, consider what it means… ask yourself …..).

From Notice and Note by Beers and ProbstAlthough I teach students strategies, elements of genres and model the kinds of thoughts people have as they read, I steer as far away as I can from approaches that tell students what to think when.

If a student has never heard of the Holocaust and chooses to read Number the Stars because the title sounds beautiful and the book blurb makes them curious, I let them journey through the book and see where it takes them. I follow into questions they have, and direct them toward resources they can rely on (beyond school tools; I want things that they can utilize at home on their own).

If I notice there are aspects of the text they aren’t getting because they lack knowledge, I dialogue with them about what they are noticing about the context, what they are noticing, etc. Like the girls who were reading this, didn’t stop to look up what Copenhagen was. To me, that’s not a teachable moment. The teachable moment is why didn’t you stop, and then let them process through some strategies.

My belief is twofold: one, historical fiction is its own experience. You shouldn’t have to be an expert to experience what the author wrote. And two, books like that should naturally spark curiosity – has this ever really happened? If this is historical fiction, how much is real? Etc… I have political and philosophical stances that I am really hardcore about, but I’m even more hardcore about kids being able to draw their own conclusions and seek out tools beyond me to deepen their learning.

So when I went to the Kylene and Bob Workshop, I was enthralled. I just wanted to hang out with them, invite them to my school and see them with my students because I was now seeing the signposts in a new way. In fact, they were exactly what I had been trying to develop — signals that exist in all texts (narratives or more specifically fiction, and non-narrative nonfiction texts) without knowing it.

Through anecdotes and humor, they shared how the signposts have flexibility. Example: Contrasts & Contradictions indicates when a character acts outside the norm of their behavior β€” Kylene and Bob emphasized this can also be when the character acts in contradiction with the reader’s experiences or expectations. Same with Words of the Wiser – it doesn’t just have to be when another character gives advice to the troubled character β€” it can also be the character’s inner voice that provides that wisdom, a signal of the character maturing or learning.

In this way, the signposts can be taught and used in a way that honors students’ own sense-making and personal entry points to a text.

I am so excited now to see how this transforms my next few weeks!

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