Tag Archives: close reading nonfiction texts

Do you have high-reading kinders you need to challenge?

Some our of kindergarten students read above grade level. How do we keep them challenged? A colleague of mine, Lisa, engaged a small group in close reading of an informational text about energy with great success. Here are some photos and tips she shared with me.

Just some background. These nine students were reading at a late first grade level or higher in the spring of their kindergarten year. Lisa met with all nine of them at once. The text they read closely was A to Z’s Where We Get Energy – a level K text. You might just pick some key paragraphs from the text you choose. There’s no need to closely read a whole book.

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-12-37-11-pm

  1. Take notes together and then gradually release responsibility. The students might read the whole text on their own to start so they can get some sense of the big picture.  Together closely read a sentence at a time. Discuss the meaning and then pick important words to write in their notes. Release responsibility – maybe they just tackle a sentence at a time and then you regroup. The photo below is a little fuzzy but it gives you an idea of what a student at this level can do as far as note-taking with support. img_0513
  2. Give it a couple of weeks or more. Lisa said it took several weeks – a few lessons each week. She had a wide variety of readers in her room and many other lower groups to meet with more often.
  3. Provide lots of opportunities for them to summarize their notes ORALLY with a partner. This builds bridges to writing and to speaking fluently on a topic. You might prompt them by saying, “Turn and talk to your partner. What did you just learn in this paragraph? Use your notes to help you.” Some groups will need to orally rehearse with you before they talk with a partner.
  4. Discuss how they can present their information and then let groups of three work together to tackle this task by creating some type of visual.  img_0509-1img_0511
    These photos are fuzzy BUT you can still tell there’s so much thinking that must have happened in this group – they have arrows and visuals as well as text boxes! They are clearly organizing their thinking into categories as well.
  5. Provide time for them to present! I saw pictures of these kids with their posters – oh, the proud smiles!!!!!

BTW – All kindergarten students can do some level of research. Tony Stead proved that to us in Is That a Fact?  After I read this, I was a convert to the idea that even our Pre-A and emergent readers can engage in deep thinking and learning about nonfiction topics – with their peers and on their own. 21353134

Hope this helps.

S

Sample Lesson – Close reading with NewsELA article

Do your students need help with clearly stating a main idea? And with organization when they elaborate on that main idea? Last month I had the honor of teaching close reading of an informational article to a small group of fifth grade students for a demonstration lesson in front of 40 educators in the North Kansas City School District. With a quick assessment prior to the demo lesson, the teachers and I realized the students needed help clearly stating a main idea, elaborating further, and organizing that elaboration. Below are a few notes about the lesson I gave.

I used a NewsELA article entitled “Tortoises battle it out with Marines for the right to stay put” and I lifted this main idea from the questions for students at the end of the article: In the article, one of the author’s main ideas is that the environmentalists and the Marine Corps disagree about whether a soldier training will harm the tortoises.

Before we met, the students read the whole article.

At the beginning of the 20 minute lesson, I beefed up background knowledge by sharing two photos. On my smart phone, I showed them a map of the U.S. southwest and the location in the article – TwentyNine Palms and a photo of the Marine base. Then I asked, “What did you learn?” so I could quickly assess what they understood.

2016-07-22 12.38.162016-07-22 12.40.58

Next I posted the main idea for all students to view and quickly defined key words – writing the definitions on the chart as we discussed their initial thoughts about this main idea. See below.

2016-07-22 13.40.14

I introduced close reading with the pasta analogy and a photograph of pasta that I’d pulled up on my smart phone.

Then we did a close reading of a three-paragraph excerpt from this article and listed key details on sticky notes. I modeled for a few sentences and then coached the students in independently reading and taking notes. I chose this excerpt (see below) because it reveals lots of details related to the main idea. During this 20 minute lesson we only read, discussed, took notes on the first two paragraphs–which detail the Marine side of the issue. The students’  teacher planned to follow up with another lesson to delve into the environmentalist side of the issue.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 6.46.24 AM

2016-07-22 13.41.05

Note: Because I was leading a demonstration lesson, I moved to writing – just for the purposes of teachers watching. Otherwise I would have coached the students in close reading the third paragraph and saved the writing for the Day 2 lesson.

We closed with shared writing and independent writing referring to the notes they’d taken. See the chart below. Just a note – I’d written the main idea statement prior to the lesson. Together we came up with a piece of evidence/a detail and elaborated and composed the following sentences:

The marines are trying not to harm the tortoises. They are moving the tortoises far enough away from the training that they won’t come back. This means they are trying to protect the tortoises.

And then each student chose an additional detail, turned and talked with a peer about what they were thinking about writing, and wrote a short response. (See sticky notes posted at the bottom of the chart). I leaned in and conferred with each student as they wrote.

2016-07-22 13.39.58

The students clearly needed this lesson and, if they were in my classroom, I’d follow up with a series of lessons like this with multiple articles. The 40 educators present  in this demonstration teaching lab followed up by planning in teams and teaching a very similar lesson to one student (while I observed and coached) with the NewsELA article “Tough Times for Polar Bears.” Thank you to North Kansas City Schools for supporting this kind of professional learning!

NEWSELA–I like this site but beware…

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 5.57.31 AM

Just be careful. NEWSELA is a great site for short informational articles for students to read. The  content is usually worthy of student-led discussions and writing about in response. The beauty of NEWSELA is that the same article is available at different Lexile levels. (When you click on an article, check out the blue bar that appears on the right hand side of the screen.) So if you have students reading at a range of levels, you can access or print out the article at a level that meets their needs. My caution is that sometimes when the editors (or the algorithm) attempt to lower the Lexile level, they actually make the content harder to comprehend. They cut or revise details that might actually help a student understand the article better. This is also the case with publishers who include leveled books with their textbooks (e.g. the leveled books that come with McGraw-Hill’s Wonders).

An example – with one NEWSELA article I used recently, the editors substituted “a government group” in the lower Lexile versions for “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service” which was in the higher Lexile versions. I thought “government group” was too vague given that the article also discussed the Marines and an environmentalist group’s upholding of a federal environmental law. Students might be confused. So when I downloaded the article, I reinserted the proper noun. So my advice is to watch out for vague language and important details that need to be included.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 6.39.56 AM

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 6.10.10 AM

TIP. When I use NEWSELA articles, I read the version of the article at the highest Lexile level first. Then I quickly read the lower Lexile versions I want to use to make sure important details I just learned from the higher level version are still in the lower versions. Not all details are important. Just keep your readers in mind. Then I either edit OR I make sure to highlight details that were in the higher version when I introduce the lower version(s) of the article to students. 

Hope this helps.

S

Teaching Main Idea and Details with Photos: Sample Lesson

A simple way to start talking with students about “main ideas” and “supporting details” is to use a photo as a “text.” When you use a photo as a text, you take away the cognitive load of reading and provide more mental space for students to grapple with concepts like “main idea” and “supporting details.”  Below are artifacts from a  lesson I gave as well as sample photos and prompts.

Procedures I used in the lesson:

1) Post a photo worthy of discussion and prompt small groups or partners to discuss by asking, “What do you notice?” For this lesson, the students were studying astronomy. I chose a photo of astronomers engaged in their practice. I provided an additional sentence starter for conversation–“I noticed that…” As the students talked, I leaned in to one conversation and coached students to elaborate on their thinking. BEWARE: You need to coach students to rely on details in the text to support their thinking. So they can say, “The astronomers use telescopes” but they can’t say, “They are looking at Mars.”

astronomers learning

Photo lesson - photo projected

2) For the next discussion, with the same photo, post a content related prompt that includes rigorous vocabulary. The prompt I posted was: What does this picture reveal about what astronomers do to acquire knowledge? This prompt gets at a possible main idea for this photo or a message the photographer wanted to convey. As I read aloud the prompt for the 2nd conversation, I used an orange marker (see image below) to write additional words defining the words “reveal” and “acquire knowledge.” Again, as the partners discussed the details in the photo (which could be details they noticed in the previous discussion), I coached for elaboration and supporting their partner’s ideas. Helpful prompts might include “Say more about that” and “What in the picture makes you think so?”

photo lesson- prompt for discussion

3) Engage in shared writing of details or notes in response to the prompt. See the image below. As students shared the details they thought revealed what the astronomers do to learn, I wrote notes on the chart paper under the prompt.

photo lesson- prompt for discussion

4) Engage in shared and independent writing of a response. Provide a main idea statement and elicit a supporting idea from the students. (Eventually, you want students to work on identifying a main idea conveyed in the photo–in small groups or on their own.) Then ask them to talk with a partner about a supporting detail they will use in their own sentence. Close by asking each student to compose a supporting sentence on sticky note and post at the bottom of the shared writing. See below!

Photo lesson - shared writing

SAMPLE PHOTOS AND QUESTIONS:

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 6.06.40 AM

Making a Difference Unit: What does this picture reveal or tell us about the disposition (or attitude) of these volunteers? What are they willing to do to make a difference?

american-pioneers

American West Unit: What does this picture reveal or tell us about how arduous or difficult life was in the American West in the 19th century?

spartans-pottery-picture

Ancient Civilization Unit: What does this painting (on a piece of ancient Greek pottery) reveal or tell us about the proficiency (or skill or expertise) required of soldiers during this period?

Hope this helps.

Brief, focused opportunities to build background knowledge

Recently I was asked to teach a lesson to second grade students with an informational text on magnets. As I read through the text, I began thinking about how many of the students I’d be working with may not have had many language and hands-on experiences with magnets or magnetism or the concept of force, a push or pull. Many authors of informational articles assume some background knowledge of their readers and research is clear that the more background knowledge a reader has, the more likely they are to comprehend the content in the text. Our colleagues in the field who say we level the playing field by NOT not addressing background knowledge with students and just referring to the text are misguided. A reader cannot help but tap background knowledge – it’s instinctual.

The trick is not to get lost in building background knowledge and never get to the text or to build so much background knowledge, there is no content to grapple with in the text.

Also, it’s essential that whatever background knowledge experiences I provide are specifically targeted at or aligned with supporting understanding of the content in the text. I have to be more strategic that saying, “Have you ever played with magnets?”

Here’s what I did before teaching:

  • I read the article on magnets carefully in advance and thought about the author’s key points. The article was focused on how magnets work – including examples of magnets in the household and an explanation of how the north and south poles of a magnet function (using a toy train with magnets on each end as an example).
  • I found a five minute video that included the same language (academic vocabulary) and concepts the article includedhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYSG5aeTy-Y. I REJECTED videos that were stupid songs about magnets or that did not include the right content. I prefer 3 minutes or less in a video – but this was fine. I searched and located this video in about ten minutes.
  • I picked up magnets with marked north and south poles at my local teacher store (35 cents a piece). I would end up using these in small group lessons versus for the initial whole group lesson.
  • I planned for a 20-30 minute shared reading lesson with the whole group and then take the text into small group guided reading with groups–if at an appropriate instructional level for the group.

Here’s what I tried and noticed during the whole group lesson – each of these approaches served to build background knowledge or access to the content in the text in some way

  • I introduced the focus question for the lesson – How do magnets affect objects? The question was written on a sentence strip and posted for all students to view. I briefly defined “affect” and “objects.”

2nd grade shared reading lesson 2

  • I showed the video – stating the objective for viewing was to think about how magnets affect objects.
  • I asked the students to turn and talk, briefly, about what they learned from the video (a text)–and reminded them that they should refer to the video versus their personal experience. I met with a few pairs, coached them to use the language of magnets and then asked them to share out when we regrouped.
  • I engaged the students in shared reading of the first three pages of the text – pausing for them to fill in particular words. Many of the words I paused at were domain specific words (they’d heard in the video and that they’d heard me read early in the shared text). I wanted them to hear and feel themselves saying like magnet, north, south, pole, force, push, pull.

I ended the lesson by asking them to work with a partner to answer a text-dependent question – What is a force? Again, I conferred with pairs, coaching heavily and asked students I’d conferred with to share out when we regrouped. After sharing out the answer from the text, we made a list of how we were strategic in finding the answer.

2nd grade shared reading lesson 11_14

2nd grade shared reading lesson 3

What I noticed:

  • OH, THE LIGHT IN THEIR EYES when they saw words in the text that they’d heard in the video!!!! This spurred engagement, a willingness to tackle a complex text!
  • OH, THE ENTHUSIASM IN THEIR VOICES when I would pause during shared reading and they would read content words that they normally would grapple with understanding initially given no opportunity to activate or build background knowledge.
  • OH, HOW THEY JUMPED INTO LOOKING FOR THE ANSWER to the text-dependent question. Was this because I’d already helped them access the content in the text without explicitly teaching the concepts?
  • OH, HOW THEY WANTED TO SHARE when I asked them to turn and talk with a partner. Okay…not everybody, but because of the support I’d provided, the students seem to access the content in the text more easily.

Did everyone walk away fully understanding the force of magnets? No. Did most students walk away having learned a bit about magnets? Yes. And isn’t that our goal when teaching with informational texts – to learn content? Yes.
Ideally this lesson would be part of a content area unit on magnetism or Earth’s forces.

How I’d follow up –

  • Take this text to small group instruction with students — if appropriate. For second grade students who are at a pre-A, emergent, early level of reading this would not be appropriate. For students who are nearly at the transitional stage or in transitional stage of reading – I gave it a try.
  • Use this text again for another 1-2 shared reading lessons (20 minutes) with the whole group. On day two, I’d pull out the magnets I bought and let the students explore the properties of magnets while also using the language of magnets – “The magnet is attracting the X.” and “The ends of the magnets are repelling.” Then I’d offer another text-dependent question for student pairs to answer.

More on how I took this shared reading experience to small group instruction in the next entry.

Please know you are in my thoughts as you help students grapple with complex informational texts!

S

New Book for Reading Aloud, Close Reading – Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

20256564

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel (K. G. Davis, 2014)

This would make for a great read aloud in 3rd, 4th or 5th grade with opportunities for rereading excerpts of text to think critically about the author’s central ideas and purposes. The main part of the text is written as a narrative with the purpose of “telling the story of” how George Ferris endeavors to bring to life “an idea [for a structure at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair] that would dazzle and move.” In addition, many of the two-page layouts have a non-narrative caption (in bold and a different font) that provides background information pertinent to that point in the narrative. For example, when George’s idea is rejected by the construction chief of the fair, the narrator lets the reader in on George’s expertise on how to use a new metal –steel–and how this would make the moving wheel “strong.” The non-narrative caption for that page serves to build knowledge on this concept – steel, its strengths and George’s area of engineering expertise –

George was a steel expert, and his structure would be made of a steel alloy. Alloys combine a super-strong mix of a hard metal with two or more chemical elements. (no page #s)

This structure – the use of narrative to “tell the story of” and non-narrative to explain is worthy of exploration by students.

Actually, there’s a lot of potential for using this book in the classroom. If your 3rd or 5th grade class is studying motion and stability–Ferris’ engineering and what he must have considered in designing and building the wheel could be discussed.

And with the Common Core ELA Standards, there are opportunities to engage students in conversations (even student-led), close reading and conversation, and writing in response to the text. A few suggestions include –

  • Reading aloud the book (this might take two sessions) and asking students to turn and talk – just to discuss what has happened, to make meaning of what is going on. You might pose prompts along the way like, “What’s going on here that might be a problem?”
  • Using a gradual release to explore the role of captions in supporting the narrative – 1) modeling how one caption supports the text, 2) asking partners to explain how another caption serves to support the text, 3) asking individual students to tackle explaining a third caption and how it serves to support the text with conferring and coaching as needed.
  • Posing questions for critical thinking, conversation, and writing in response like
    • Why do you think the author wrote this book? What was his purpose? What in the text makes you think so?
    • How was George Ferris perseverant? In spite of obstacles, danger, and discouragement?
    • Do you think the author believes that this endeavor –George designing and building the Ferris Wheel–was unprecedented? Why do you think so? What is textual evidence to support your reasoning?

220px-Ferris-wheel

Photo of the Ferris Wheel at Chicago World’s Fair

Okay…hope this helps!

S

 

 

Choosing info text excerpts for close reading

Close reading can be used for the purpose of moving students towards deeper understanding of a content area concept or theme. How are excerpts of text for close reading chosen, though? Here are a few suggestions.

If you are just working with ONE (well-written) text (versus a text set) and want students to grasp the author’s main or central idea for that text in particular –

1) Read the whole text and determine the key idea in that text you’d like students to walk away understanding. For an example of an article to consider, visit this middle school article – The Real Cost of Fashion (Junior Scholastic, 9/2/13) – about issues related to clothing being made in factories in developing nations. The author details how this benefits the consumer’s pocketbook and even the workers (who do not have many choices), but how it can also be risky and potentially life-threatening. It’s actually more complicated than pros or cons when you consider the country’s policies and the corruption involved and how difficult it is to change the way things are for these workers.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 6.20.23 AM

2) Choose an excerpt from the article that reveals the key ideas. It is tempting to try to get at all that the author is conveying in an article. RESIST. Be selective. What do you really want students to walk away understanding better? For this article, I wanted the students to see how having our clothes made in developing nations is not a black or white, pro or con issue. I wanted them to understand that it’s a messy issue. Leaving the country and making clothes somewhere else is not necessarily the right answer because many of the workers in these factories rely on these jobs to survive. But making change happen is complicated by many factors. So I chose ONLY six paragraphs from the article beginning with the 2nd paragraph. (See the paragraphs I marked in image below.) Also remember, before close reading, the students will have read this article through once on their own or with a partner.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 6.27.52 AM

3) Develop a clear purpose for the close reading. So for this article, I might post on the board the following question: What are the advantages and disadvantages to having clothing made in developing nations? What is textual evidence to support your points? Why is this a complicated issue?

4) Study the excerpt and think through the types of details the author has included. For example, what I noticed in the 2nd paragraph is that the author does not reveal any information related to the purpose until the last sentence in the paragraph. In the next paragraph, the author shares statistical evidence about the cost of making clothing in developing nations versus the United States. During my think aloud with students, I want to make clear how the initial information in this paragraph (2nd one in article) does not answer my purpose for reading. I want to highlight my “a ha” – how I realized the author gave me information I needed in the last sentence – “labor and other costs are cheaper.”

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 6.41.27 AM

5) Go for it. 🙂

Okay…more on this lesson soon. Just wanted to get at how I go about choosing excerpts. If you are working with a unit of study – you might want to look for excerpts of text or primary sources for close reading that reveal the enduring understandings related to the unit…more on that soon, too.

Finally – sorry it’s been a couple of weeks since my last entry. I spent two weeks working in Illinois and Wisconsin with some amazing educators. Thanks to everyone who opened their classroom doors for a close reading of their practice!

Close Reading Instruction Essential #1

When you engage students in close reading of an informational text excerpt, you must study that excerpt thoroughly. I find that I have to read and reread carefully, keeping the purpose for close reading in mind, doing my own close reading (line by line) and taking notes. I can use these notes later as I teach, but just taking the notes helps me understand the excerpt better.

Below are two images of my notes, taken as I studied to lead a close reading lesson with 4-6th grade students. FYI – I chose the excerpts based on the teachers’ (whose classrooms I was visiting) guiding questions for their current unit of study.

IMG_2071

IMG_2070

PARCC’s 3rd grade sample test items – make time to read and this is why…

This is a quick and dirty summary of the newly released PARCC sample test items. If you are in one of the 19 states that will be taking the PARCC tests in 2014-2015, thought this might help you think about what our students will be facing.

Third Grade Sample Items – summary and a few of my thoughts –

  • There are three sample test items; the third is the culminating activity that incorporates the thinking students had to engage in to answer questions in the first two items.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 5.25.35 PM Jacket

  • SAMPLE ITEM 1 – Students are asked a question that requires synthesis. Four events in Eliza’s life are listed in bullet form (these are drawn from the passage students read) and then the following question is posed: “What do these details show about Eliza?” So this isn’t about just recalling facts from a text to answer a question. Instead, as aligns with Common Core, this is about thinking across events and identifying the author’s main idea.
  • SAMPLE ITEM 2 – Students are asked to reread three consecutive paragraphs in one of the passages and answer a question about how the events described in these paragraphs are related to each other. So again – they have to synthesize, contrasting events and thinking about what this reveals. BUT THEN PARCC also includes a follow-up question which asks students to identify the best quote from those three paragraphs that supports the answer to the question they just answered. So this is getting at students’ understanding of textual evidence.
  • SAMPLE ITEM 3 – This is the culminating activity that previous items have built toward. Students are asked to write an article for the school newspaper how Scidmore and Carver faced challenges to change something in America. With the additional prompts of – “In your article, be sure to describe in detail why some solutions they tried worked and others did not” and “Tell how the challenges each one faced were the same and how they were different.”

This is just a brief summary of the items. If you go to the PARCC site with sample items you can read PARCC’s assessment claims (how the sample items meet the standards for assessment), their justification of the answers to the sample items, which standards the questions align with and so forth. There’s also a rubric for scoring the final response, but notice that it’s only for responses to prose or narrative texts.

Just by reading the sample items, I recognized which CCSS Reading Informational standards were being assessed. (Maybe because I live and breathe this stuff.) This is good material to think through when planning. Just the time spent analyzing these docs and writing this blog has helped me start to formulate ideas for materials and instruction.

Oh…one beef. Why do the test questions refer to Scidmore only by her first name – Eliza and to Carver by his last name? Why not Eliza and George? Or Scidmore and Carver?  Hmmmm….is that a sexist thing? Okay…maybe it’s because in the texts (I haven’t read the one about Eliza), the authors refer to Eliza and Carver so PARCC wants to use the names they are referred to throughout the text. Maybe I should let go of this 🙂

Okay…hope this helps.

Read This Book on Titanic Not That One

514JAXEWYKL

A Night to Remember (Lord, 1955) is listed as an exemplar text in Appendix B of the Common Core. It’s okay, but not stellar. Instead I would recommend reading Titanic: Voices from the Disaster (Hopkinson, 2012). It is a better exemplar of what 6-8th grade students should be reading. See my blog on Hopkinson’s book for more of my thoughts on this gripping, well-written book.

Titanic voices from disaster

Notes on A Night to Remember (Lord, 1955) –

  • Lord’s purpose is to retell the events of the night the Titanic sank. His writing is straightforward and sometimes feels hurried as he almost lists who did what and when. As a result, it wasn’t until very late in the book that I wanted to keep reading. He also jumps straight into narrating the night of the disaster by telling how a seaman on watch spotted the iceberg. Unlike Hopkinson who builds an understanding of the Titanic and its passengers/crew up front, Lord’s details about the difference between the classes, luxuries of the ship, and how the building of the Titanic was an engineering and design feat are sometimes marginal and don’t run as a coherent thread throughout the book. (He discusses the issue of more first class passengers surviving than those in steerage – but explicitly and late in the book.) Really, because I’d read Hopkinson’s book which does a magnificent job of developing central ideas through the text, I was waiting for similar ideas to surface in Lord’s book and was disappointed. In other words, I pieced together details that revealed a theme – because I knew what to look for, not because Lord helped me through his writing.
  • Lord did extensive research to gather information for this book and details his research in acknowledgments at the end of the book. He admits to the difficulty of accurately recounting what happened with statements like this one about the times of events  – “The times given in this book are the honest estimates of people intimately involved, but they are far from foolproof” (p. 151). For the most part, the book is written in a way that reveals research versus conjecture – so Lord quotes what survivors said versus making up what they might have said and so forth. But he’s not perfect and our students need to keep this in mind. Two examples

1) On page 76, Lord writes “George Q. Clifford of Boston had the rueful satisfaction of remembering that he took out 50,000 dollars’ extra life insurance before the trip.” Clifford did not survive. So how do we know this?

But two paragraphs later he writes – “Little things could return to haunt a person at a time like this. Edith Evans remembered a foretune-teller who once told her to ‘beware of the water (p. 76).'” The word “could” is key here – he is probably using someone’s recollection of a conversation with Edith (who did not survive) and conjecturing, but he qualifies that it is just conjecture with “could.”

2) Throughout the book, Lord sheds negative light on women’s role in the event. At one point, when he is writing about one of the men trying to get the women to step into the life boats, he states, “Andrews had good reason to be exasperated. Women were never more unpredictable.” Throughout the book, women are portrayed as helpless and passive and the men mostly as courageous, solid and firm. Lord wrote this book in 1955 – before the second wave of feminism (which began in the early 60’s). While Lord portrays himself as a writer who is narrating the facts of an event which he has thoroughly researched, his prejudices are still present to some extent. It reminds me of author Jim Murphy’s comment in The Great Fire (1995) about the perceptions of the males who wrote about the great Chicago fire – “Men who wrote about the Great Fire generally portrayed women as passive and helpless, waiting for their husbands, brothers and some other man to save them. This seemed to go doubly for women who were wealthier. But if we look beyond the condescending references, a remarkable picture of strong and very active women emerges…” (p. 91). Lord might be guilty in a similar way. Let’s remember he’s narrating as fact what was really just the perceptions of survivors about what happened (as revealed in transcripts from hearings, in interviews with him, in letters, etc.) and he chose what details to share based on his perceptions of reality as well. (This would make for a very good conversation amongst students!) Late in the book, he comments about how some women rowed the oars of the life boats and one even steered, but his statements are too little, too late (for me).  Just skimming Hopkinson’s book – her language is very different – I need to reread again with this lens in mind – but I’m fairly certain her language choices regarding women’s responses and actions are more neutral. This would make for an interesting close read – contrasting excerpts from the two texts and discussing how women are portrayed through choice of language and details to share.

  • Another reason Hopkinson’s book is better is because current nonfiction authors make use of features in a way that a writer in 1955 would not have. Hopkinson’s book has extensive photos of the Titanic as well as the Titanic’s sister ship which would have had similar features and luxurious accomodations; she also includes pictures of the people, images of documents, maps, etc. Lord has a diagram of the ship with a numbered list of events at the beginning of the book.

Okay…just my thoughts. Not a bad book. I just think there are better, more current choices. Hopkinson’s book wasn’t out when the exemplar texts were chosen and there probably would have been copyright fees the CCSS writers didn’t want to deal with when they chose excerpts so we got A Night to Remember instead.