We're All on Notice - National Council of Teachers of English
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We’re All on Notice

This post by guest author Mark Condon was reprinted from Unite for Literacy.


What do kids notice as they read? That’s a key question that will help parents and teachers understand what their kids comprehend and what hasn’t yet grabbed their attention.

  • What did you notice about the dog?
  • What did you notice about yourself as a reader as you read this book?
  • What did you notice about how the author is making this enjoyable for you to read?

Each “notice” question sharpens children’s attention to detail. By posing such questions, those that are basically more about the child’s thinking than the particular work they are doing, youngsters are invited to share what they learn from reading, what they find confusing, even what they consider irrelevant.

“Notice” questions are totally open ended. Children’s responses can comfortably range from, “I didn’t see that. Lemme look again.” to “I didn’t know that word.” or “I love that picture!”

Whatever the response to a “notice” question, it can provide the opening for a nice conversation about being a reader, about what books, writing and illustrations communicate, and about how authors convey messages through their work.

When you listen to children’s answers to “notice” questions, you’ll gain a sense of what’s important to them, because children don’t usually notice things that aren’t of personal interest to them. This indication of focus (or lack thereof) shines a bright light on a path to productive and joyful instruction and learning.

Successful teachers gently use children’s attention. They don’t fight for it. By first creating and carrying out lessons intended to honor children’s current levels of awareness and concern, teachers (and family members, too) can set the stage for children to start a conversation about any aspect of literacy. By what kids DON’T notice, they are also letting us know what they are not yet ready for in supporting their expanding sense of themselves as readers and writers.

Each “noticing” provides a platform for the next more sophisticated level of engagement with books and composition. Each time children fail to notice things that we think they would, we teachers and family members gain more insight into how we can help them build new concepts, language or insights.

Each “noticing” also reinforces adults’ notions about which children are already well-beyond the rest in terms of literacy comprehension. Aiming to teach to the majority of the class is a natural response, of course. But by keeping notes about what we notice regarding particular children’s current thinking, we can shape plans for small groups, one on one interactions about book recommendations, brief clarifying conversations and personal invitations.

All of this “noticing” enhances the art and science of teaching and parenting. Our noticing what children notice is how we adults become better teachers and parents.



Mark W. F. Condon is Professor Emeritus at the University of Louisville. He currently serves as Vice President of Unite for Literacy, where he facilitates the addition of new languages to its online Birth-8 library.