Dialogic Talk Enriching Our Students’ Reading Metacognition and Close Reading: The Need to Teach Metacognition

Author: Janet Hester, Secondary ELAR Specialist

We know that we must accelerate our students’ rate of literacy growth to close achievement gaps. We know that our emergent readers and writers need targeted literacy intervention in their Reading classes—and also in their general ed English classes. We also know that we must actively work toward engaging our most vulnerable students.

So then, what are the small things we all might tweak in our general ed and intervention classes to enrich literacy experiences? To create academic prompts that add zest and flavor to our students’ interactions with text?

One simple practice we might neglect is the Think Aloud: a teacher modeling the act of reading for students by slowing down the reading and pointing out the moves strong readers make to comprehend and interpret text. Think Alouds are necessary for emergent readers in in grades K-12.  Region 13’s Distinguished Speaker, Harvey “Smokey” Daniels pointed to study after study in the What Works Clearinghouse that demonstrate the efficacy of these hallmark instructional moves—teachers showing and demonstrating to emergent readers the power of reading strategies: making personal connections, questioning, marking confusing text, visualizing, rereading, employing context clues to understand vocabulary. Daniels’ Region 13 Halloween discussion reminded teachers of the need to explicitly demonstrate “slowing down,” “making notes and leaving tracks,” “reading two times, three times,” “noticing, posing questions, pursuing meaning,” and “being a critical, skeptical consumer of text.”

Students need instruction in the metacognition of reading comprehension just as much as they need instruction in ferreting out unsubstantiated opinions in English I, or finding fallacies in persuasive works in 7th grade. In fact, one might argue that students cannot execute the heavy lifting of grade-level standards until they learn to how to negotiate on-level texts using the metacognitive strategies.  Think Alouds that demonstrate reading metacognition are important instructional work.

But then, how do we transfer skills of metacognition to student application? And how and when do we teach our grade-level standards in our general ed classrooms?

It turns out, many teachers are discovering that they can implement strategies that instill habits of mind that allow students to do the work: to practice the metacognition of comprehension and interpretation AND practice grade-level standards. And . . . their students are engaged by the talk surrounding this work. Their buzz is all over Facebook and Twitter professional accounts. Excited teachers are talking about their students’ literacy growth.

@KyleneBeers I’m loving my students thinking using notice and note #NoticeAndNote pic.twitter.com/rHjArdF0pr

— Holly G.-Daly (@genovaLHSH) November 6, 2014

New Habits of Mind that Inspire Dialogic Talk

These teachers are reading the latest from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, authors of Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading, which explores the habits of mind described above. (They are both scheduled to speak at the service center on January 14th; we are so excited to host these energizing speakers!) Beers and Probst open their book, and a webinar they recently posted on Heinemann’s website, with a discussion of monologic versus dialogic talk in classrooms. Monologic talk, as defined in Notice & Note, is “authoritative and presumes that the goal of the listener is to agree with or learn from the speaker” (pg. 28). As in Probst’s webinar example, “What were the causes of the Civil War, as evident in the chapter you read last night?” (Beers and Probst, 2014).

Such talk sounds unappealing. Think about our classrooms. Our colleagues’ classrooms. Do we lapse into this monologic talk as we “lecture, explain, impart” (Beers and Probst, 2012, pg. 28)? Beers maintains that these types of questions and responses do not help students create meaning. They are not authentic in that they do not place the student in a true give and take of understanding.

The other type of talk Beers and Probst discuss is dialogic talk: conversations that “expect that speaker becomes listener and listener becomes speaker and that through give-and-take other ideas might emerge” (Beers and Probst, 2012, pg. 28).

I loosely transcribed a clip of student talk from the Beers and Probst webinar that demonstrates dialogic talk. Below is an exchange between five 8th grade students discussing the responses to the prompt: What were the Contrasts and Contradictions, or surprises, you discovered while reading the Langston Hughes short story, “Thank You, Ma’am”? Some snatches of this “first draft” conversation:

“Nowadays people won’t be so considerate. They say, ok, he tried to steal my pocketbook, they try to steal from me, why should I try to be nice to them? Or they might try to lock you up or try to kill you. But she did something different. That’s why this passage surprised me. They acting in a different way than we see in real life.”

“I wonder why he didn’t run when he had the chance . . .”

“I want to know, why did he try to take her pocketbook for only for some shoes? What was so special about the shoes that he wanted them so bad? Did he think that other kids he thought were better than him have them? So he needed to have them?”

“Why would he snatch someone else’s purse? . . . You gotta think about the other person . . . I don’t understand why he would do that.”

“Maybe he wanted them shoes because he never had that. He never had a pair of new shoes. Maybe he always got his brother’s old shoes.”

“But you gotta think about it. Does he have a mom? Does he live with his mom and dad?”

“I still wonder why did she took him in?”

“What was so good about him that she took him in? You see a lot of poor people all around; I don’t take them in my house.”

“Right. And why did she care so much about his appearance?”

“Maybe she had a son. But something happened to her son. So she felt, you know, bad. So she took him in for that point in time and tried to show him right and wrong. Teach him he shouldn’t be taking people’s stuff.”

“Maybe she grew up the same way and she didn’t want him to be like her.”

“She wants him to be better than she was.”

“She said she did some things wrong in her life. She said it.” (Beers and Probst, 2014)

This discussion is a joy to watch and read. When you view the webinar, you see these students unencumbered by a list of teacher-generated questions, even by a teacher. All they were given was one simple prompt: “What surprised you?” They make eye contact, they listen to one another, and they build ideas off of each other’s contributions. All five contribute. And as a group, they are autonomous in teasing out meaning, and even interpreting, the text.

Beers and Probst argue in Notice & Note that dialogic talk stems from habits of mind that teachers may instill in classroom reading. First we teach habits of mind in reading—then students enter text with a framework for understanding any new text. Affective filters go down, they are less intimidated by text, they are more engaged by text, and they have something to say about text.

 Beers and Probst surveyed literature and looked for features that shed light on character development, internal conflict, and theme. The researchers found six “signposts,” or noticeable points in literary texts: Contrasts and Contradictions (which envelopes the “surprise” prompt from the webinar group conversation), Aha Moment, Tough Questions, Words of the Wiser, Again and Again, and Memory Moment. These signposts should be taught one by one. Once a student notices a signposts she should practice answering an accompanying question that will help shed light on character, conflict, or theme.

For example, Contrasts and Contradictions would be taught methodically using a whole-class text. Students would be prompted to find places where characters say or do something that’s the opposite of what one would expect from that character. Then students would stop and ask the accompanying question to Contrasts and Contradictions, “Why is the character doing that?”

Follow this link to the blog post from Left to Our Devices, wherein Tiffany Ortega describes her journey of classroom implementation of the signposts. Like the Notice and Note Book Club on Facebook for regular notices about instructional moves and successful texts in real classrooms. Search Pinterest for templates of classroom materials to edit for your own use. The signposts have infiltrated social media channels as teachers catch on to their potential.


Implications for Texas Teachers

Reading with signposts is a habit of mind, and allows readers to read for a purpose. The signposts are actually hallmarks of literature that appear in our very own TEKS. Check out the number of student expectation correlations to just one of the signposts, Contrasts and Contradictions.

And of course, when we think of Student Expectations with the overlapping requirement of teaching through the lens of Figure 19, the almighty inference standard, we see how the Contrasts and Contradictions signpost can touch any of the genres, even expository and persuasive texts.

Beers and Probst maintain that teachers might certainly teach the metacognitive moves of strong readers: visualizing, predicting, connecting, etc. But they suggest that by teaching the signposts, we are wrapping in the teaching of metacognition. For instance, students naturally make predictions when they ponder a characters’ contrasts and contradictions. They naturally make connections to their own lives when discussing the characters’ surprises.

Teaching signposts spirals in the metacognitive reading process, the practice of slloooowwwwiiing down reading to make the moves of deeper comprehension. And teaching signposts has the extra bonus of comprehending through the lens of author’s craft. Students are continually asking about the author’s purpose in including an Aha! Moment or a Tough Question. By happy coincidence, we are also hitting so many of our student expectations.  The habits of mind are not a layer added on top of our work in teaching the standards—it’s a way through teaching the standards.

And let’s not forget about our perennial concern of student engagement. Using signposts, students have something tangible to bring to partner and small group discussion. They talk and construct their own meaning of the text. They read from an inquiry stance. They make insights. They revisit the text and analyze at all new levels through dialogic talk.

That sounds fantastic.

These strategies speak to me. I would love to visit a class that is using the signposts in Notice & Note, so please let me know if you wouldn’t mind a visitor. And please begin making plans to visit the service center on January 14th to learn from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst themselves!



Beers, K., & Probst, B. (2012). Notice & note: Strategies for close reading. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Beers, K. and Bob Probst. (2014, October 26). Kylene Beers and Bob Probst Present: Talking about Texts: What Matters Most. Retrieved from http://webinars.heinemann.com/notice-and-note-webinar-intl?utm_campaign=Beers%2FProbst&utm_content=9418318&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter

Heinemann | Notice and Note. (2014, January 1). Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://www.heinemann.com/noticeandnote/?EventID=9585032&FirstName=Anonymous&LastName=Anonymous&Email=&RET=1415203534099

Ortega, T. (2014, May 11). Notice and Note. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://www.lefttoourdevices.blogspot.com/2014/05/notice-and-note.html

the attachments to this post:

Dialogic 4

Dialogic 3

Dialogic 1

Comments are closed.