Impossible Rescue 3 – Responding to Students

In previous blogs, I reviewed this bookThe Impossible Rescue (Sandler, 2012) and shared how my colleague read aloud this book to fifth graders. The students wrote letters about their thinking regarding main ideas in the text – “what struck me” or “what impacted me” and I wrote back in response. Instructional threads emerged as I read through and responded to their notes:

1. Opportunities to affirm and extend students’ vocabulary. The students used words like bravery, heroism, selfless, and loyalty. I affirmed these words by using them again in my responses like the one below in which I quoted the student and used her vocabulary “bravery” and “heroism.” Notice I also extended her vocabulary by using the words resonated, stunned, obstacles, and perseverant.
Dear A, 

I read your responses to The Impossible Rescue – thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I resonated with your notes about “so many things that impacted you” and on the bravery and heroism of everyone involved in this rescue. As I read this book, I remember just being stunned over and over again by the perseverance of these people. They just did not give up. When you wrote about what “impacted” you, it made we wonder “how”? I think for me, when I face challenges, I need to be perseverant in the same way and not give up when I face obstacles to meeting my goals!


2.  Opportunities to affirm students’ attempts at textual evidence and then push students to elaborate further. In most of the letters, the students described events from the book – events that indicated bravery or events that “struck them.” What seemed to be missing for many students was an explanation of how these events revealed bravery or why these events would “impact” them. Notice in the letter above that I pushed the student to consider elaborating and I modeled what that elaboration might look like by sharing my own thinking – “I think for me, when I face challenges…”

For other students, I defined the vocabulary they had used like in my response below. By defining the word, students can begin to think more precisely about events in the book that support their points and can serve as evidence in their written responses.

Dear G,

I read your responses to The Impossible Rescue. In one response you wrote about how the men were brave and in the other about how the dogs were brave. Isn’t it interesting how humans and animals can both play a brave part in a rescue? The definition of “brave” that I found on-line states “ready to face and endure danger or pain.” Your notes about what happened – the men being will to die to save the 300 others and the dogs continuing to move forward even with bloody paws – is clearly evidence that everyone involved was brave!

Thanks for sharing!


CAUTION: In my experience with k-8 students, writing responses to the students is not enough to move them forward in a significant way. I find that I have to teach the students how to read my responses and then respond or how to read and learn from my responses (maybe over several lessons even). So, with these students, I would ask Student A or Student G if I could share their response with the class. I’d project each response in some way for all students to view (make a transparency or use the document camera) and then I would also project and share my response. As I read through my response, I would mark on it the teaching points I want to highlight. In the same lesson or another, I’d engage the students in a shared writing of a second “student” letter – in response to my letter. For further reading on how to do this, see my article in the Reading Teacher on how a colleague and I did this with third graders.

Okay…would love to hear what you think or how this works with your students!


2 thoughts on “Impossible Rescue 3 – Responding to Students

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