|Lauren, Rebecca, Susan and Audrey with |
two of our fantastic institute participants.
The best part about conferences are the opportunities to make connections with others doing similar work. ILA has been terrific for us in that regard!
Last year at ILA 2015, we had the opportunity to see a session by Lauren K. Francese and Rebecca Marsick from Westport, CT, authors of Stretching Beyond the Textbook: Reading and Succeeding with Complex Texts in the Content Areas. We were impressed by their model for rigorous, interdisciplinary nonfiction units and immediately saw connections with our own work in our Using Informational Text series (Rowman).
We also had the opportunity to meet with the two women at the helm of CommonLit, Michelle Brown and Sarah Mielbye, who have put together a free, searchable database of cross-disciplinary fiction and nonfiction for teachers to use to create their own units and connections.
Good people with similar ideas: so we proposed a pre-conference institute for ILA 2016, and we were delighted to be accepted and to come together this past Friday to present our ideas, share our visions, and collaborate. It was a terrific session, with wonderful presentations and an informed, engaged, and curious audience. Thank you to all for your participation!
We opened with the following kickoff question: When you’re planning a unit, why is it important to include informational texts?
Many of the answers, shared through the terrific backchanneling tool TodaysMeet, are worth recapping here (so that those of us working hard on this enterprise can see our ideas reflected back by others):
- We use nonfiction text to promote connections to world.
- It is about being a global citizen through critical thinking.
- Connections to real life
- Disciplinary literacy!
- Students can make more of a connection to the world around them
- Students are very engaged by informational text.
- provide clarifying information
- real-world applications
- important for students to learn how to read in specific disciplines.
- bring an authentic voice to the unit
- Integrate reading into writing/connect to current events
- To foster democratic participation by determining bias, counterclaims, corroboration, etc.
- Teach 'em to be investigative journalist.
- to help students understand why we are "doing this" in school
- To Stretch Beyond the Textbook!!!
- To give purpose to all text
- Connect (explicitly) to something that matters
Are there challenges to doing this work? Absolutely. You are not alone if you are finding this hard work. Here are some of the issues your peers who participated in the institute struggle with:
- Finding time to locate high-quality articles aligned with content
- Finding appropriately leveled texts
- Making sure factual info is updated.
- Can be boring for a middle school student if not presented in an engaging way
- Difficulty level of text, young students first need to be taught how to read nonfiction text-structures, features
- Balance between high engaging and text complexity
- Comprehension strats - teachers doing all the work-what about allowing kids to struggle with support?
- Scaffolding text so all students can engage in a meaningful way.
- Having teachers see themselves as literacy experts in their discipline.
Susan and Audrey, together with Lauren and Rebecca, and Rob from CommonLit, shared models, strategies, resources, and tips. To share in our ideas, please check out some of our materials here. Or reach out to any of us.
Here are just a few of the key points we all emphasized in our session:
1. Find opportunities for connections/collaborations with other teachers, even if these are built on interpersonal friendships rather than disciplinary connections
2. Use big questions and media to engage students and spark curiosity
3. Think about purpose and perspective with every text
4. Remind students that everything is a text to be read and analyzed (video, images, artwork, documentaries, nonfiction, and fiction)
5. Use activities and organizers to build students’ confidence and ability to make meaning from complex texts
In closing, we asked our participants to reflect on what they used to think in comparison to what they now think. Here are our two favorite responses:
"I used to think I was alone in merging subjects. Glad to know there are more folks like me trying to make cohesive learning experiences real."
"Don't overload by using the whole article - use excerpts of informational texts."
We are not alone. Many of our excellent peers are engaged in this work. It can be challenging, but we can employ a range of strategies, including excerpting the texts we use and collaborating with others, so that we don’t overwhelm ourselves or our students.
Informational text connections can give purpose and meaning to our content and help students develop the critical literacy skills they need to be effective learners and engaged and informed citizens.
Meanwhile, thanks again to our great audience and to all the terrific teachers and instructional leaders working hard to make literacy across the disciplines a meaningful part of every classroom for all students!