SOL: Knowing and Wondering With Fifth Graders


I’ve been a fan of Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse’s “Know/Wonder” chart since I first discovered it on Vicki’s blog a few years ago. Since then, I have read and learned much from Vicki and Dorothy’s book, What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making (Heinemann, 2012). If you aren’t familiar with Vicki & Dorothy’s book, a Know/Wonder is a simple tool students use to chart their thinking as they read.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spend the day at the Educator’s Institute in Rhode Island and hear Vicki speak about comprehension. She focused on ways we can help students think deeply about complex texts independently. I always feel like I gain new understanding when Vicki shares her ideas. She articulates her thinking about reading comprehension in such a way that I say, “Of course!”

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Earlier this week, I took Vicki’s advice and got “kids involved doing the thinking right from the get go.”  After a very brief introduction, I began reading The Fourteenth Goldfish (Random House, 2014), by Jennifer L. Holm, to a group of fifth graders. The first chapter generated a number of unanswered questions. The narrator isn’t named, and there is only one clue as to whether it’s a boy or a girl.  We find out that the goldfish who just died is really goldfish number thirteen. “So why is the book called The Fourteenth Goldfish?they wanted to know. Right away, they were:

  • gathering information
  • asking questions
  • making predictions
  • thinking about the plot—which has to come first in order to be able to problem solve for deeper understanding—both at the inferential level and the thematic level

In Vicki’s words, they were engaged in a “productive struggle” to make sense of this book.

Engagement is key. How often have you shared a book that you absolutely love, only to find that your students don’t love it? We take it personally, right? Vicki reminded us that “kids have to be engaged with their thinking about a book, not our love of it.”

So book choice is important. Vicki suggested that it isn’t Lexile levels that make a text complex; “texts are complex because they interact in unpredictable ways.”

Unpredictable things happen in the first three chapters of The Fourteenth Goldfish, but because students were engaged and were charting their thinking, a chorus of “I KNEW IT” erupted spontaneously at the end of one revealing chapter.

I will be working with these students over the next week or so. We will continue to “pay close attention to the details,” and develop ideas about this book. Once we have done that, we can start the next phase of this work by looking for patterns. Then we can “develop a line of inquiry” from these patterns and follow it as we continue reading.

Vicki ended her talk with a reminder that “kids can notice a lot if we open the door for them to notice.” Who knows where their thinking will lead us?

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

5 thoughts on “SOL: Knowing and Wondering With Fifth Graders

  1. One of my younger, 6th grade, students just decided to read The Fourteenth Goldfish, and is liking it. Although it’s below her level really, the substance of the book is just right for her, and she is loving it. I’ve read it too, and will refresh my memory so I can help her notice some of these important parts you’ve mentioned. Thanks, Catherine, for the reminder of the important questions Vicki asks.


  2. The know and wonder strategy is so powerful. It works in so many areas. I love hearing the results of this work! Vicki is right. There is so much kids notice if we just let them.


  3. Lucky you to have seen Vicki’s presentation! I love this: “kids have to be engaged with their thinking about a book, not our love of it.” So often this gets left out of our planning process – they need time and the tools to do this work and generate their own love of books.


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