Tag Archives: close reading of informational text

Critical Thinking Across Multiple Texts – Choosing Texts Part 2

I’m hooked on the art of locating and layering texts for students to read and think across. In my last entry, I described a series of lessons where middle school students used an evolving definition of “honorable” to think critically about the role of medieval age warriors and modern warriors. We chose text excerpts and video clips from multiple sources, but in a very purposeful way.

Honorable anchor chart

When I choose multiple texts for close reading, I like to select texts that build on each other. I want students–when they go to read a second or third text–to say, “Oh, I recognize some of the information in this text from the last text I read…” or “Wait, this is new information…this expands my understanding.”

Below are the excerpts I selected on “knights” from a few library books I found and from sources on the Internet. Notice how in Text 1, the author provides some basic information about the young nobleman’s being a page, a squire and then a knight. In Text 2, the author provides more detail than the first. Thus the student can take what they learned from Text 1 and add to their learning with Text 2. This is an easy exercise to engage students in and reveal the power of reading across texts. I chose Text 3 (an excerpt from a longer book) because there is detailed content on particular aspects of the squire’s training – serious training and bodybuilding. The content in Text 3 expands the reader’s understanding of the squire’s training. Text 4 (a short video) extends the student’s understanding about the skill required to be a knight even further. By engaging in close reading and thinking across these four texts, the student can develop some depth in their understanding of an ability or an achievement of the knight that might be considered honorable. (FYI – The knights were not always honorable. I also located texts that described the Code of Chivalry and how the knights sometimes did not follow this Code.)

TEXT 1

1931680

100 Things you should know about knights and castles (Walker, 2001, p. 16)

It took about 14 years of training to become a knight. The son of a noble joined a lord’s household at age seven. He learned how to ride, to shoot a bow and arrow, and how to behave in front of nobles. He then became a squire, where he learned how to fight with a sword, and he looked after his master’s armor and weapons. If he was successful, he became a knight at 21.

Text 2

51cPDT975dL

Knights: Fearsome Fighters (Hanel, 2008, p. 20-21)

A knight’s training started when he was young and lasted several years. Around the age of seven, a boy born of a knight or other high-class parents was sent away to live with his father’s master or a powerful relative. The young knight-in-training was considered a page. He ran errands, served food, and performed other duties for the nobleman and the woman of the manor. In exchange for his services, the page received a good education. He learned to read and write, play music, and observe good manners. His preparations for later fighting also started, as he was taught how to care for the horses and learned a little about weaponry and fighting techniques by watching others or practicing with supervision.

Around the age of 13, the page became a squire. Squires studied directly with a knight and received more rigorous training for knighthood. They learned how to use weapons and participated in mock battles. At the same time, they continued their servitude, helping the knight in various tasks, including cleaning weapons and taking care of the horses. Sometimes a squire rode into battle to attend and observe his knight.

Text 3

61xRdDBEE0L

Excerpt from Medieval Lives: Knight (Butterfield, 2009, p. 14-15)

Note: This book is written about a fictional English knight and in the present tense.

Becoming a Squire

When he is 14, the page’s parents watch their son receive a simple sword in a ceremony confirming him as a squire. He swears an oath of fealty, or loyalty, to the knight in whose household he lives. He is now expected to be that knight’s personal servant in battle.

Serious Training

The young knight-to-be now begins his training in earnest. He learns to aim his lance at the quintain, a wooden arm with a shield on one side and a heavy sack on the other. If he fails to hit the shield full-on, the sack will swing around and knock him on the back of the head! He also practices aiming his lance through metal rings hanging in trees.

He learns to ride superbly, controlling the horse with his knees and feet so that his hands are free to hold weapons. His saddle is shaped high in the front and back to help him stay on. He trains with two other squires and sometimes they have mock sword fights using wooden swords.

Bodybuilding

The squire works at building up his strength so he will be strong enough to wear heavy chain-mail armor and mount a horse while wearing it. He tries to make himself stronger using a well-known squire’s trick. He sews dirt into the pockets and hems of his clothing to make it heavier. He becomes good at vaulting over his horse while wearing chain mail, and he rides hard while hunting and leaping over ditches and hedges. He and the other squires are competitive and try to outdo each other in their knightly skills.

Text 4

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 2.11.28 PM

Short video at http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/chivalry/ entitled “A Passion for Swords, Daggers and Medieval Manuscripts” about a manuscript called “The Flower of Battle” (written around 1410) that describes battle techniques of knights. There are images from the book (so primary source) as well as a trained Medieval martial arts master as the narrator. Students can learn the following:

  • There were specific techniques for combat
  • These techniques required skill and quick thinking
  • If you could not harm your opponent in three moves or less, you are probably equally matched and should back off.

Students can draw the following conclusions from the video clip:

  • Knights were skillful
  • Training to be a knight required critical thinking and a lot of practice
  • Training required a strong body and a strong mind

Yes. It takes time to build a text set like this, but it’s worth the reward when students begin to make clear connections between and across texts. Because I do this frequently, the process has become much faster and this is a text set I can use again and again. I believe that later when students go to do research on their own, having experiences with teacher-developed text sets will help them in determining which texts to use and in thinking across texts as well. A few tips for locating and layering texts:

  • have a clear focus for the texts (like the “stages of knighthood”)
  • collect a stack of library or other resource books, skim and scan for excerpts
  • google topics (but make sure whatever you choose is a credible source)
  • integrate video clips (museum sites are a good source for this) & primary sources
  • as you choose texts, think about how they build or expand content in the previous text
  • select SHORT texts…students have trouble retaining information and thinking about multiple texts when they are too long…maybe build towards longer excerpts later on…
  • be flexible – you may not find the “perfect” (in your mind) set, but students will surprise you in what they notice as they begin to think across texts that have been chosen with at least some thought.

Hope this helps.

Sunday

Advertisements

Critical thinking across multiple texts – Part I

In a 7th grade social studies class I visited a few weeks ago, the students used an evolving definition of “honorable” as a lens for reading multiple texts on warriors – ancient and modern. In the image below, the blue text was our original definition. As the students engaged in discussions about what it means for ancient and modern day warriors to be honorable, we added to the definition. Our ultimate goal was to get at the complexity of what it means to be honorable. What are abilities, qualities, achievements that demand honor? What training or life experiences are necessary? What is the role of codes of conduct? Is it possible to be perfectly honorable 100% of the time? What is tricky about this? What are sacrifices involved in pursuing being honorable?

Honorable anchor chart

Here’s an outline of the lessons we gave:

  1. One day interviewing a veteran – The class interviewed a modern day warrior, a veteran who works at their school. The students were asked to fill out an anticipatory set in advance. This was a very powerful experience that would launch their thinking as we moved forward.
  2. Two days on knights – The teacher and I modeled and then encouraged individual and partner close reading of multiple passages on knights in the medieval period – training and code of ethics. modeled annotations knightsDuring this close reading, the students underlined and annotated information in response to the question, “What are you learning that might help you think about how this warrior is honorable?” We provided lots of opportunities for 2-3 minute student-led conversations around what students were thinking regarding “honorable” and the content they’d just read and regarding how they were adding to their thinking as they read each additional passage. I quickly modeled having a conversation with a student as my partner (referring to our notes & thinking about what a partner had said before responding). Below is one student’s annotated texts.Student 1 annotated notes
  3. Two days on the samurai – A similar routine. Knight and Samurai texts
  4. Two days on modern day warriors – the marines. Students visited http://www.marines.com/operating-forces/strategic-warrior – a website that describes marines as strategic warriors and then they also visited a site that discusses posttraumatic stress disorder and includes videos (primary sources) of veterans talking about their PTSD.Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 6.44.55 AMScreen Shot 2016-06-03 at 6.58.11 AM
  5. Time to write in response to what they’d learned – Students were given a menu of options for responding – poetry, illustrating/creating art, writing a letter of appreciation to a veteran. In the future, we’re planning to encourage students to submit to http://www.teenink.com for publication.

Throughout all of these lessons, we continued to refer to the definition of “honorable” as a way to help students articulate what they were learning.

I LEARNED SO MUCH FROM THESE STUDENTS. In my next few blog entries, I’m going to write about what the students revealed in their annotations as well as how we determined which texts to use.

And a BIG THANK YOU to CHRIS, the classroom teacher who co-planned and taught with me!

Hope this helps.

Sunday

 

What about using the language of text structure to help students compare texts?

Teaching the language of text structures can help students compare and contrast texts more easily.

I gave a lesson to a 5th/6th grade class a few weeks ago with two current event articles on drones. The first article “How can you get a bird’s eye view?” from Wonderopolis is written in an enumerative (or descriptive) text structure. There is the overarching topic of drones and then sub-topics that describe or explain different aspects of drones. The students did an initial read for the purposes of answering the questions, “What is a drone?” and “What are drones used for?” If you skip down to the image after next, you’ll see that I posted the questions for the students to consider during this initial read and then to discuss in pairs. I jotted down a couple of key words before they talked with a partner.

Then I posted the definition of a descriptive text (I thought “enumerative” might be too abstract).

descriptive text structure

After I posted the definition and explained briefly, we engaged in a 2nd read to identify the different sub-topics – putting a box around a word or phrases in each paragraph that identified the sub-topic. Below is an image of my copy of the article that was projected with the document camera. I modeled thinking aloud about how the first three paragraphs were an introduction and then I read aloud and thought aloud about how the fourth paragraph was focused on defining drones.

1st and 2nd read drones

I followed by introducing the 2nd article – “Drone Control” from Scholastic News. I asked the students to read the article and to think about any additional information they were learning that wasn’t in the first article. After they read and discussed this in small groups, I introduced the text structure for this article – problem-solution.

problem solution text structure

We did a 2nd read to identify details that revealed problems and solutions. Below is my copy of the article that was projected with the doc camera and that I marked on to model identifying problem and solution details before releasing responsibility to partners. Notice that the author doesn’t write a problem and then a solution. Instead there are multiple problems posed and more than one solution – this is a complex text!

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 5.15.52 PM

By highlighting the differences in structure, it was very easy to talk about the differences in content.

Grrrr… If you remember my last blog entry, I don’t believe that texts always have easily identifiable structures. Most of the time they don’t. (In that blog entry, I describe using a building analogy to help students understand simple and more complex text structures.) If I’d had the opportunity, I would have followed up this lesson with a third article “Invasion of the Drones” which I think at first glance has an enumerative structure–it lists several sub-topics related to drones. On a closer look, though, I think it would be helpful if students realized that each of the sub-topics is an EFFECT of drones, a circumstance (etc.) that is CAUSED by drones.  So at the micro-structure level (a part of a text within a larger text) there are causal relationship structures.

If students understand and can easily use words like text structure, descriptive, sub-topics, dimensions of a topic, problem-solution, author poses, causal relationships and so forth to describe the texts they are reading, they will more easily be able to compare and contrast content as well as remember that content and perhaps even think critically about it.

In other words, I’m not looking for students to say, “This is a problem-solution text structure.” I want students to be able to say, “When I was reading this, I noticed that the author poses several problems with drones like… and that he also poses solutions to some but not all of these problems like…” OR “When I was reading this, I noticed that the author describes several different dimensions of drones or sub-topics related to drones like…”

If you’re interested, I’ve attached a list of the text structures with “kid-friendly”-ish definitions that might be used on anchor charts. Explanation of Traditional Text Structures

I also explain text structures further in my book Unpacking the Complexity of Informational Texts, Chapter Four “What do we mean by a text’s structure?”

51RHdWP+uHL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Hope this helps.

S

Liberate your students! In the beginning, give them the main idea!!!

Do your students hesitate when you ask, “What is the main or central idea?”  I find that many students have not had enough experience with concepts like extraordinary, perseverant, determined, tenacious, collaborative, compassionate, ambitious to pull these ideas out of an informational text easily. ALSO, many times if they do identify a main idea like, “Mary Fields was courageous,” they have only a superficial understanding of what “courageous” means. If I ask, “What is courageous?” I get a response like, “It means to be brave” — a synonym or “she was courageous when she…”–an anecdote. I don’t get “courageous is when you’re willing to face an obstacle or a difficulty without fear.” Liberate your students. Give them a main idea for the text–with a clearly defined concept like “extraordinary” or “courageous” and then provide time for them to grapple with identifying and explaining supporting details.
With enough experiences like this, they will begin to identify and explain main ideas more easily.

Last week I had the honor of teaching a class of 5th grade students who are studying the American West. We engaged in close reading and writing in response to four paragraphs in an essay on Mary Fields–an extraordinary historical figure described in the book Wild Women of the West by Jonah Winter.

965708

Below is a description of the lesson. I’ve also attached Guidelines for Close Reading Lesson.

  •  In advance, the teacher read aloud the essay about Mary Fields as well as several other essays in Winter’s book. I handed out a copy of the essay to each student and asked them to review by reading silently. I also asked them to number the paragraphs – because we would only be reading closely paragraphs 4-7. I felt like these paragraphs were worthy of rereading and provided enough meat for our discussion and written responses.
  • I introduced the word extraordinary and set a clear purpose for close reading – Why might we consider Mary Fields to be an extraordinary person? I chose the Tier Two vocabulary word extraordinary because I think this is an idea that students will recognize in a lot of texts they read about the American West. See my definition posted for all students to view. After a brief discussion of the word extraordinary, I posed the purpose for close reading and asked the students to write the purpose across the top of their copy of the essay – like I had done on my copy projected by the doc camera.

  IMG_4995

IMG_4998

  • With the purpose in mind and the essay projected, I read aloud paragraph #4 and then thought aloud about details in the first two sentences. I explained why I would NOT underline any details in the first sentence – there were no details that really implied Fields was extraordinary. I thought aloud about how I might underline “haul stones, lumber, and grain and supervise men” and explained why I would choose those details – because these jobs are not normally what a woman in that period would have been doing.

IMG_4997

    • Then I began to release control. I asked students to read and think about the details in the next sentence. I asked them to explain to a partner why those details would support the idea that Fields was extraordinary. We continued through paragraph #7.
    • Next I engaged the students in shared writing of a main idea statement, a definition of the term “extraordinary,” a supporting detail, and an explanation of that supporting detail.
      IMPORTANT NOTE: Asking the students to define “extraordinary” or “perseverant” or whatever main idea/central idea/theme term they are exploring helps them focus on and articulate why particular details support the main idea. In future written responses, I would require students to include this!

Scan 273

For the supporting detail and explanation, I elicited responses from the students and then helped individuals craft a sentence that I could write.

  • The students followed by choosing a different detail to write about including explaining how this detail supported the main idea–on a sticky note. Below are some examples. As usual, there were some students who stated a detail and their explanation made sense, BUT there are always others who need further instruction!!! That’s the way it should be if I’m in their zone of proximal development, huh? What I learn from their responses can inform my next lesson–probably with another text on an historical figure and an opportunity to grapple with the term extraordinary.

Scan 277 Scan 278 Scan 279

  • We closed by sharing in small groups. I included asking the students to check their peers’ writing to make sure their reasoning made sense and then to offer feedback as needed.

Hope this helps.

S

 

 

Analysis of Responses to 8th Grade Text Set & Prompt, Part 2

In the last blog entry, I shared a rigorous text set and prompt developed by an middle school ELA team. The team and I met (via Webinex) to discuss the students’ written responses. First we look at the strengths of each student’s analytic essay; then we discuss the students’ needs as writers. Integrated into this discussion are implications for our practice. You might use our insight (see notes below) to think about your own students’ writing or as part of an “looking together at student work” experience in a PLC. (You should be able to click on the images of the student work to see an enlarged image :).)

  1. Notice how these two essays (Student #1 and Student #2) are very different in how they address the prompt and yet they both address the prompt. Is the prompt the problem? This has been surfacing in my practice a lot. Sometimes we get what we ask for…                           Student #1Scan 191Scan 192                                                     Student #2     Scan 193
  2. In this next essay, notice how the student (#3) explains the textual evidence. Frequently, students do not explain the evidence or they seem to be engaged in filling-in-the-blank writing about text evidence that doesn’t reveal deep thinking. Notice how this student has systematically included explanations – but not in a way that sounds formulaic. I’d put this piece on a document camera or Smart Board or make copies–as a mentor text for the rest of the students.                                                            Student #3Scan 194Scan 195
  3. For this example, what is the student (#4) assuming or inferring their reader will understand in paragraphs 2 & 3? This is a frequent pit fall for students–they write as though you, the reader, get what they are saying and they don’t have to explain. After a pretty good introduction, this student summarizes the two resources, implying a contrast, but not stating or explaining the contrast explicitly until the end of the essay. The student attempts to make clear the similarities and differences at the end of the essay, but these ideas would be stronger if they were integrated into the earlier content as well as developed further. SO – this student is on track and just needs some coaching.                            Student #4 Scan 196Scan 197
  4. In several of these essays, the connector language (i.e., the words students use to develop their ideas) is strong:  as opposed to, both, but, yet, in both of these articles, however. The teacher has explicitly taught students this type of language. During the Webinex, we talked about creating an anchor chart with a list of these words as a reminder to students and adding to this list as the year moves forward.
  5. This writer (#5) starts with a clear introduction and then what happens?   Frequently our students lose their way, huh? I’ve started wondering how my instruction gets in the way here.  Students use a lot of cognitive energy on the intro and then their energy/focus wanes. What about giving the students an introduction that I wrote and asking them to only focus on developing the ideas, the middle part of the essay? Or just developing one idea (a well-written paragraph) with textual evidence and an explanation?        Student #5 Scan 198Scan 199
  6. And then there’s this writer (#6). There’s one in every classroom, huh? This student, while passionate about the topic he/she chose, doesn’t address the prompt. How can we check in with him or her to make sure they understand the prompt? If we have a group of students not addressing the prompt, how can we think aloud during a mini-lesson about what the prompt is asking?   Student #6  Scan 200

Okay…hope this helps.

 

 

 

Do students understand what we mean by “key details”?

Is the term “key details” vague for your students? I’m teaching 2nd/3rd grade students this week and trying out an anchor chart that attempts to make the term “key details” more concrete for students.

IMG_4263

I think a “key detail” might change depending on what our purpose is for reading. Here are a few of the ideas I have for this anchor chart (which I would add to over time –as we experienced reading for each type of key details)  –

  • a word or phrase that helps us answer a question
  • a word or phrase that gives important information about an event like who, what, when, where, why
  • a word or phrase that gives us a clue about the meaning of an unfamiliar or new word
  • a word or phrase that helps me make sense of what I am reading

This chart might become an anchor for students’ thinking and a living document the teacher can add to or change or revise as students “read for key details” across many lessons.

I’m using this chart (see the image above) this week with second grade guided reading/writing groups who are reading about the USDA. Our text dependent question is “How does the USDA protect us?” I’ve found myself referring to this chart over and over again as a reminder for the kinds of details the students need to look for as they engaged in close reading.

I think it’s helping!!!

IMG_4254IMG_4255

Value of Conversation Before Students Write in Response to Prompt

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.53.24 AM

Love this short video clip on the Teaching Channel of a 5th grade teacher helping students make meaning of informational text through conversation. The students sit in a circle for a 20 minute discussion; they signal to the teacher with two fingers when they have a thought to add to the previous student’s comment or a thumbs up when they want to introduce a new thought (including questions they have about the text). Stacy Brewer, the teacher, facilitates the conversation, trying to make sure that all students are provided with an opportunity to contribute and trying to help students listen carefully and build or develop understanding through conversation. Prior to this – the students have met in small groups to talk about the text and Stacy coaches the groups! (To figure this out, I watched a video that is an overview of her structure–see below.) During the small group and large group discussion, the “text” is fully present as the students are asked to let the group know what part of the text they are talking about, as the students are asked to return to the text to help another answer a question, etc. In this clip, the text they have been reading is in a “textbook” and it is on the journey of Lewis and Clark. (Evidently, they have read this text and made some notes–this might include shared reading for some, partner reading, or independent reading.)

After discussing notes, questions, etc. Stacy poses a question for Turn and Talk conversation. She’s written this question on a sentence strip (card stock) for all students to view – “How does the author feel about Lewis and Clark?” Then they regroup and discuss the possible answers – referring to the text to support their answers.

Stacy poses another question – “What is the author’s viewpoint of exploration?” and this time she provides a sentence frame written on a strip – “The author thinks exploring is____.” After more discussion, the students are asked to return to their desks and write in response to the two questions.

There is an additional video (5 minutes) from this lesson that shows what happens just after “Text Talk Time” – with Stacy meeting with a small group of  students who need additional support – to engage in more conversation and help them plan for writing. “When we talk about things it gets our brain ready for writing” – Stacy.

Beautiful structure with lots of access points for a group of diverse learners. There is a lot of potential for this to happen with the structure she has created.

Two short, easy, free videos – that provide a lot of content for us to consider in our practice.

First video – Analyzing Texts: “Text Talk Time” https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/analyzing-text-as-a-group

Second video – Analyzing Texts: Putting Thoughts on Paper https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/analyzing-text-writing

Video that is an overview of the whole process – from small group student-led “brainstorm” to whole group to small group support lesson – https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/analyzing-text-lesson.

 

New book by Tonya Bolden – Searching for Sarah Rector

searching for sarah rector

New book for late-intermediate and middle grade students – Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America (Bolden, 2014). Let me start by saying that Tonya Bolden has become a “go to” author for me; her research is meticulous, thorough and her writing is appropriate for her audience with rigorous and rich content. I was surprised by this book, though. From reading summaries, I thought I was in for an adventure. Maybe an adventure akin to The Impossible Rescue (Sandler, 2012) or Chasing Lincoln’s Killer (Swanson, 2009). But this book is not a “can’t-put-it-down” adventure. Instead Bolden, uses Sarah Rector’s story as a frame for bringing to life the political and legal experiences of African Americans born and/or living in the Indian Territory and the state of Oklahoma as the culture of community-shared-land shifted to individuals owning land. Sarah Rector, a “Creek freedman” and, therefore, a citizen of an Indian nation, was eligible at birth to be allotted a piece of land. Her parents pursued this and then, through a lease to an oil driller, Sarah became very rich. Except that African American parents were not trusted by the government to be guardians of their children’s estates; generally, a white man had to be assigned. Except that many of these guardians were crooked. Except that…

A central theme in this book is how misunderstandings lead to unfair judgments or distorted views – in many arenas including those of journalists for The Defender in Chicago as well as lawyers for the NAACP in NYC as well as the judgment the author, Bolden, made about what kind of guardian Sarah had been assigned until she dug further into the primary sources available.

This is a case study in the limitations of what we know – in the present and regarding the past. There are actually no primary sources that provide insight into Sarah’s actual thoughts. There are only court documents, other legal documents like land ownership papers, newspaper snippets, a few photographs and so forth. Bolden notes how she aquired a lot of information through a “Dawes Packets” – files of information “tied to an application for a land allotment in Indian Territory, which includes a birth affidavit, census cards, and often testimony” (p. 58). The layout and design of the book integrates a lot of primary sources – including sources like photographs of cabins in the same place and time Bolden used to infer what might have been Sarah’s living conditions. Because Sarah’s personal voice (through journals or interviews) is not present in the primary sources, we only get to know her from a distance; this was an unpleasant surprise for me, but I adjusted.

The power of the author’s work is in Bolden’s perspective – she can only write what she has interpreted from primary sources, many times very dry ones 🙂 If you are working with a savvy group of readers/writers, I’d share this book with them as a mentor for doing their own research. Reading excerpts from this text might be beneficial to all (5-9th grade) students engaging in research, in reading, in writing – including the author’s notes (p. 51) about her research and about the care we have to take when consulting primary sources (that may present distorted pictures of what happened).