Monday, March 23, 2015

ASCD dispatch #3: Close, careful attention makes things more interesting

Today, bright and early at 8am on the last day of the conference, we attended a fantastic session on a subject near and dear to our hearts, informational text.

In “Teach Students to Read, Talk, and Write about Informational Texts,” Diane Lapp and Maria Grant offered so many wonderful suggestions and ideas.

Here are some of our favorites:

1. We need to guide students with text-dependent questions that force the students back into the text for answers. These questions should always go beyond basic facts and should never be based on recall of information. They should highlight what the text says, how the text works, and what the text means. Students can then stretch to think about inferences about the text and whether they find the text and the text’s argument credible. And, so crucial to our thinking, they can work to shape intertextual connections between the informational text and, for example, a literary text or some other aspect of their content curriculum. The informational text does not need to be a step away from the curriculum; it can be a step into it!

2. If we pay close and careful attention to something, it becomes more interesting. Multiple readings of one text, for different purposes and with different questions in mind, make a text yield more for a reader. Learning to perform that kind of scrutiny with a text should be the ultimate goal of education; students who master that skill will find their reading exponentially more pleasurable.

3. All of our strategies for grappling with informational text, whether the close, multiple-readings strategy explored so brilliantly by Lapp and Grant, or our approach -- focusing on front-loading vocabulary and concepts, supporting with reading comprehension questions, and solidifying with engaging, complex discussion and writing questions that work to connect the informational text with literature or other content area material -- are designed to allow students to build their confidence, competence, resilience, and stamina with complex texts. Support your students with scaffolding and modeling and guide them. Then, gradually release them into group work and some independence. They may need to return to the scaffold and the support; the process is not necessarily direct. But eventually, they will acquire the skills and become strong, independent readers of a wide variety of texts.

4. Choose as your informational text an appropriate companion to what you’re teaching. Don’t make the informational text standard a step away from your curriculum. Make it a step into that curriculum: the on-ramp to more engagement, more purpose, and more motivation for your students. Choose carefully and your informational text will make your entire lesson or unit more productive.

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