Getting students to the point where they talk about deeper topics than who did what or where can be a challenge. For less than confident readers, they don’t trust that they do know how to put the puzzle of a text and their thoughts together.
In her Book Love adult summer book club, I learned from teacher, author, and literacy wonder-woman, Penny Kittle a simple and powerful question that she says is her favorite. “What’s worth talking about here?”
Initially, some of my eighth graders were confused — there weren’t any of the familiar words in the question. Where were the words author, text, evidence, character, infer? Lots of blank stares came up to me as students filled in their reading log via Google Forms. I knew this was a new type of question for them, and I also knew they were ready for it. Purposefully I had not given a mini-lesson on how to answer this. I was intentionally using this question as my formative assessment.
Individually, I framed the question, “What’s worth talking about here?” from the idea that if he or she was leading a small group discussion, what would be the topic the student would begin with. This was enough for some to go on and answer. And as should be true — since all of our students learn differently — some students needed more explanation so we talked through his/her text using character, setting, and plot. As anticipated, some did not need any explanation which is what I found while conferencing with each student. A few of my middle schoolers had been able to respond to the question on their own without my help. And based on their reading conferences, as always I monitored and then adjusted the puzzle of my lesson and timing for the day.
Regardless of how quickly each student caught on, it’s true, this is a great question! Whether it is used as a written reflection about their independent choice novel or during a class discussion about an article that we read together, this deep question gets kids thinking. As a teacher, “What’s worth talking about here?” tells me who understands the fiction or nonfiction they are reading.
Sometimes it is the simplest words that give us the most information and the pieces fall together more easily.