This past spring, I attended a presentation on how assessments drive instruction given by the Sisters, Gail Moser and Joan Bushey. As they shared tidbits and the wisdom garnered from more than forty years of combined classroom experience, they snuck in a story about meeting Donald Graves a few years ago while in line for a drink at a water fountain. Gail and Joan shared that when they realized who they were standing next to, they exchanged knowing glances and were at first too starstruck to say anything. Determined not to miss their opportunity to rub elbows with greatness, Gail finally said, “Hi Don, I’m Gail and this is my sister Joan. We love your books. What are you on about these days?”
Gail shared that that question launched a thoughtful conversation and she recommended that if ever you come face to face with your idol, “what are you on about” is a great conversation starter because passionate people are always thinking about something.
Now, granted, I’ve got nothing on Donald Graves, God rest his soul, but one thing I can say is that I am passionate about literacy and the thing I’ve been “on about” lately is interpretation. I am intensely curious about how people make meaning when they read. I want to know and understand what we do as readers to push ourselves past the surface and emerge from our reading with new ideas. In an earlier post, I shared Kelly Gallagher’s suggestion of presenting children with short texts like, “Three out of four people released from prison return within three years” and asking them to think about what it says, what it means, and why it matters. I find myself searching everywhere for these kinds of texts. I recently added these examples to my collection:
“The man died. Six months later, his wife died.”
“I just got a puppy. My landlord isn’t very happy.”
“If fish were to become scientists, the last thing they might discover would be water.”
As I looked back on these, it occurred to me that I could have a lot of fun sharing these examples with older children but what about younger children? While they have the ability to interpret, it is important to ensure that what they are interpreting falls roughly within their life experience. And lo and behold, that is when I stumbled upon this gem as I wandered the bucolic streets of Fire Island:
I laughed out loud when I saw it and turned to my eight year old son and said, “what do you think that’s all about?” He replied by saying, “It says they killed the last dog that pooped on their lawn, but I know it’s fake.” I pushed him to say more, to think about why it matters and he cocked his head like he was deep in thought and said, “I think it matters because that they don’t want people to let their dogs poop on their lawn!”
As I continue my quest to understand how readers make meaning, I realize meaning making is intentional. When we push ourselves to question what it means and why it matters, all of sudden what just “was” evolves into something funny or something sad or, if you’re really lucky, something inspirational that leads to a new idea.
My question to you is this: How do you make meaning? What matters to you?