Counting Down to Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: What Does It Mean to Teach Dynamically?


If you’ve seen Heinemann’s Spring Catalog already, you may know that Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading will be out in about six weeks. And as a run up to its release, I’d like to share some of the books’s big ideas and features over the next few weeks, beginning here with the concept of dynamic teaching.

the-education-trust-report At some point as I was writing the book, I started noticing the word dynamic in various articles and blog posts that showed up in my inbox and twitter feed. Most of these talked about a need for teachers to embrace more dynamic practices, such as this study from The Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to educational equity, which looked at the kinds of reading-related assignments students were being asked to do to meet the Common Core Standards.

As I share in the book, one of their major findings was that “many—if not most—assignments were over-scaffolded . . . [with] much of the work actually done for the students rather than by them.” In particular, the researchers took aim at close-reading and text-annotation tasks, which they said “were so tightly scripted they actually appeared to interfere with the deep understanding of complex text.” And this led them to ponder whether “the implementation approaches we have chosen are overly mechanical, denying the dynamic nature of teaching needed for strategic thinking.”

comprehension-going-forwardA similar finding is shared by P. David Pearson in his wonderful coda to Comprehension Going Forward“Toward the Next Generation of Comprehension Instruction.” Having taken a hard look at the current state of strategy instruction, he acknowledges that its implementation—especially in classrooms where teachers are using commercial reading programs—often lacks “the dynamic, adaptive and responsive character,” needed for it to be effective and meaningful. And that leads him to conclude that these practices also “stand in need of reform.”

But what precisely might a more dynamic implementation look like? If you go to Google and type in dynamic teaching, you’ll find any number of ways people think about it. For some, it means bringing more technology into classrooms or creating blending learning opportunities. To others, it’s about us, as teachers, being more energetic, enthusiastic and engaging; while still others think it involves making more real world connections between what goes on inside and outside of school. All of these practices are certainly worthwhile, but none of them—even when combined—necessarily capture the essence of the word dynamic, which the Oxford Dictionary says describes a system or process “characterized by constant change, activity or progress.”

For me this means teaching that engages students in a recursive, interactive process that allows their thinking, understanding and sense of agency to actually change, develop and grow as they work together to figure something out—whether that’s the difference between a scene and a summary, which I wrote about recently, or, in the case of reading, what an author might be trying to show us about the human condition.

john-deweyIt’s worth noting that this concept of teaching isn’t new. It goes all the way back to Dewey who believed that learning required thinking, not “a diet of predigested materials” and that “we only think when confronted with a problem.” Therefore, he thought teachers should “give the pupils something to do, not something to learn” (as in strategies or skills), and if “the doing was of such a nature to demand thinking,” (as trying to figure something out is) “learning would naturally result.” And one of Dewey’s colleagues and friend, Michael Vincent O’Shea, even used the word dynamic in his book Problems in Everyday Teachingwhich was published in 1912. According to O’Shea:

“Whenever a pupil is obliged to make things work, he will think as effectively as it is possible for him to do. If in our teaching we can arrange a program of exercises of this concrete, dynamic character, we can keep pupils thinking up to the limit of their constantly enlarging capacity. Really, the art of teaching consists mainly in realizing this plan to its fullest extend in all studies. . . [as] there can be no effective learning in any class where the pupils are not in a dynamic attitude toward the thing which is being presented. And they can not be dynamic for any considerable length of time unless they are self-active in organizing and setting forth in some way.”

More recently, this vision of dynamic teaching was recommended in a report put out last August by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) called “What Matters Now: A New Compact for Teaching and Learning.”  There they argue for a set of “New Teaching Dynamics” where, in order to “empower students to become self-directed and responsible learners,” teachers need to become learning strategists rather than content providers.


As you can see from this graphic, being a learning strategist requires teachers to take on multiple roles, some of which will be new to many. These roles also require us to be flexible, adaptive and responsive thinkers, frequently in the moment, which can also be new—and scary. And here’s where Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading comes in.

Throughout the book, I’ve tried to make the teaching moves involved in this kind of teaching as concrete, explicit and replicable as possible so you can transfer and apply them to different grades, instructional settings and texts. You’ll find chapters that show you how to create and implement dynamic learning opportunities for your students in reading, and each of these ends with a chart, like the one below, that captures and names the specific teaching moves shared in each chapter’s classroom examples.


From Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading by Vicki Vinton. 2017. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishing

Additionally, you’ll find sections in those chapters that unpack the thinking behind the moves, share ways of providing vital in-the-moment feedback, and show you not only how to plan for this kind of teaching but how to actually be prepared for the various twists and turns a more dynamic approach can take. And with that said, it’s time to begin thinking about next week’s post: What Is Deeper Reading?


24 thoughts on “Counting Down to Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: What Does It Mean to Teach Dynamically?

  1. Vicki, I am so excited the new book is almost here. Appreciate this little sneak peek; it’s sounds like this is the book I need right now.
    Congratulations on finishing it. I cannot wait to read it.

  2. “teaching that engages students in a recursive, interactive process that allows their thinking, understanding and sense of agency to actually change, develop and grow as they work together to figure something out”: what a well-crafted, succinct description of what we should be aiming for! And yes – for all this talk of a changing world, examples of people calling for exactly that from long ago are legion.
    Congratulations on another book. What an accomplishment!

    • So good to hear from you, Matt! And so glad you appreciated the words from the old guys! I was so excited when I stumbled on O’Shea’s book and saw all those references to dynamics, but I was a little worried I was being too wonky. More than anything, though, I’m really looking forward to hearing what you, Susan, Mary Gage and all my other Opal friends think about the new book. And I so hope our paths can cross again soon!

      • Worried about being too wonky? That’s like worried about too much Maxine Greene: no such thing. Looking forward to the book – and hoping it helps all of us to think bigger!

      • There’s never too much Maxine Greene or John Dewey! And, yes, I hope it makes people think bigger. But few think as big as Opal!

  3. Ditto everything Allison said!

    I love the seeing the “Steering the Ship: Teaching Moves . . .” that you included. I can’t wait to see how you continue to define dynamic teaching and deeper reading.

    The statement that I’m holding onto is “Ask students what they’re thinking if they respond to the text with gestures, expressions, or exclamations.” These may be the signal for the reader to slow down and think! (And I love annotating with “!!!” when I’m reading!)

    SOOOON! YES! ❤

    • So glad you noted that particular Steering the Ship move, Fran! In the book, I talk about how those furrowed foreheads and ah’s are authentic reader responses that shouldn’t be overlooked because they’re indications of thinking. Can’t wait to hear about what else grabs you!

      • I often chuckle when “South friends/presenters” want to rush in because they perceive the “furrowed forehead” to be a dissenting opinion instead of a time to pause, to process, to merge the new and the old thinking . . . beyond simple regurgitation!

  4. Congratulations, Vicki, on the imminent arrival of your book! I know what a labor of love this has been for you. I love this quote from Dewey: “we only think when confronted with a problem.” This is true for teachers as well as students, yet the importance of this so often gets lost in the daily time crunch. Can’t wait to learn more about “how to create and implement dynamic learning opportunities for your students in reading.”

    • Just remember, Catherine, that you and Fran both helped me get through a sticky part of writing the book, for which I’m ever grateful for! And, yes, I think that as teachers we need to see problems as opportunities for us to think as well as students – and experience for ourselves what Jerome Bruner said: “Being able to go beyond the information given to figure things out is one of the few untarnishable joys of life.”

  5. So glad that the new book is coming out soon, Vicki!

    Your words struck a chord with me: “These (teacher strategist) roles also require us to be flexible, adaptive and responsive thinkers, frequently in the moment…”, which sounds a lot like another way of saying what Matt noticed above. For me, good learning often starts when I allow myself to be present and curious, to sit back on my haunches and listen with ears cocked and heart open. Yet, unfortunately, school (and I’m part of it!) is so often about striving and reaching and rushing.

    Looking forward to savoring your new book.

    • From Dewey to the NCTAF, I really tried in this book to support what I’m suggesting with as much research and evidence as I could find in the hope that I could really make a case for school not being all about striving and reaching and rushing. There’s so much out there that suggests we need to slow down and focus on learning, rather than achievement, including this that I spotted in a Thomas Friedman op-ed just yesterday: “In this age, leaders have to challenge citizens to understand that more is required of them if they want to remain in the middle class — that they have to be lifelong learners.” If we focused on creating lifelong learners in school, leaders wouldn’t have to challenge us – we’d be challenging them, as seems to be actually happening in town halls across the country this week!

      • That we can all be a part of an effort to demand that the purpose of schooling is to invite, sustain, and expand original thinking: that seems like a worthy movement.

      • Or, to be wonky, as Bertrand Russell said: “When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That’s if you want to teach them to think.”

  6. We have dutifully taught strategies. The unfortunate outcome for some students has been that the strategies have become the point. It’s no wonder. The “teach” has been strategies so of course, that is what our students proclaim. Your book will lead (and remind us, thank you Dewey, et al.) a significant mind shift. We have to know how and when to use our tools, but that isn’t the point. It’s the house of thinking we create.

    • How I love how you put this, Julieanne! The point is “the house of thinking we create.” And while I’ve been a little overwhelmed these days, I have been reading your blog posts, and I’m loving the house of thinking you’re creating in room – in particular the work around Katherine’s book & bringing that Obama quote into the room. He makes a cameo in my book, too! Oh, for a President who reads!

  7. Hi, I find your blog and books invaluable! As a teacher of 2nd graders, how do I get them to the point where they can be independent thinkers? Your books give me much to think about – but I feel I need more support! Does your new book have more concrete examples for the lower grades? Thank you for sharing all of your thinking; it helps me to understand what I know is missing.

    • I am so hoping you do find the kind of support you’re looking for in the book, as I’ve tried my hardest to make what I’m advocating for as replicable as possible. And so you know, that Steering the Ship chart comes at the end of a chapter that’s centered around a small group session with a group of struggling second graders!

    • I wonder about supporting independent thinking at the same time as interdependent thinking… I think it’s all in the questions that you ask – and in the conditions you create for exploring those questions. In addition to all the wonderful work Vicki and her colleagues do, I encourage you to check out the work happening with young children at Opal School:

      • I had followed Opal School for many years before; this is what school should be like! Thanks for the link and yes, I agree about creating a safe place to explore their own questions – hoping thats what they want to do. It is always a work in progress and its hard to figure out next steps.

  8. Pingback: Counting Down to Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: Solving Problems as Readers | To Make a Prairie

  9. Pingback: What I Did on My Snow Day: A Slice of Life | To Make a Prairie

  10. Pingback: Literacy Lenses

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s