Friday, March 28, 2014

text-dependent questions

The last post was dedicated to the Close Reading (CCSS Reading Standard 1) of complex text (CCSS Standard 10), which is a way to teach students to read a text which enables them to do the work required in the CCSS Reading Standards 2-9.

But in order to maximize a close reading, teachers need to prepare complex, text-dependent questions for students to answer. Questions that ask students to go back to the text for the answer, rather than their prior knowledge or experiences. Questions that probe the deeper meaning of text, rather than move to questions beyond the text before the levels of meaning have been uncovered. Engage NY has a great video to introduce the idea of text-dependent questions. As in the last post, we have been so good at teaching text-to-self connections, we sometimes leave it at that for comprehension. Students are left thinking that comprehension comes from their prior knowledge and experiences, rather than an investigation of the text. We need students to get lots of practice answering questions that require them to go back to the text to respond.

But writing thoughtful, complex questions requires planning. The first step is really understanding the benchmarks for your grade level. These benchmarks provide the framework for the type of questions to ask. Focus on key ideas and details, then the craft and structure, and finally, the integration of ideas, just as the benchmarks are laid out. Achieve the Core has a great Guide to Creating Text Dependent Questions, as well as a Checklist for Evaluating Question Quality of your own questions or those that come with your published materials.

Something that ALL teachers need to keep in mind is that these standards, the CCSS, can be met in all classes. Close reading of text and text-dependent questions can be a part of any content area. Indeed, any class that relies on text of any sort can keep close reading and text-dependent questions in mind throughout planning.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

close reading

Anchor Standard for Reading #1: 
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and 
make logical inferences from it; 
cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking 
to support conclusions drawn from the text. 

It seems as though everyone is talking about close reading these days. Though the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) have been in place in most states for about 4 years now, there is still a lot of unfamiliarity with the content of the standards. The CCSS are designed in a way that students need to closely read and reread (Anchor Standard 1) complex text (Anchor Standard 10) in order to achieve Standards 2-9. But what is "close reading" and how can (all) teachers support this important practice in their classrooms?

Defining Close Reading

There are a number of definitions of "close read" out there, but in general, it refers to the deep reading of complex text in order to understand key ideas and details, analyze text craft and structure, and evaluate the text in comparison with other texts through multiple readings and discussion. Basically, it is the reading that is necessary to meet the CCSS in Reading fiction and nonfiction texts.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) defines close reading as the following:
Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (PARCC, 2011, p. 7)
The movement toward close reading is somewhat in response to the pervasiveness of "making connections" in reading. Many times, the teaching of reading is dominated by asking students to connect personally to text in any way - sometimes in ways that are unrelated or irrelevant to the text - as the main means for understanding text. This isn't to say that making connections needs to go away, just that students need to be making connections as they read instead of through guidance with the teacher before or after reading. This is a time for students to dive into a text without a preview led by the teacher - students should preview the text on their own. If there is key information students need about the source or context, then teachers should include this information, but only if students can't get that information through the reading of the text.

When to Read Closely

Now, this practice is not intended to be used with every text students read. This type of reading could kill the love of reading in students if they were asked to closely read every piece of text they came across during a school day. Indeed, selection of text is key for this strategy. Not all texts are worthy of close reading. Close reading is not a good teaching tool when readers need to only getting the gist of a text, reading for pleasure, or for longer pieces of text.

For close reading activities, short pieces of text are best. The CCSS suggest using traditional literature - folktales, legends, myths, fables - as well as short stories, poetry, and scenes from plays as texts that lend themselves to close reading. Nonfiction recommendations include short articles, biographies, personal narratives, and primary-source materials, such as speeches, the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, or sayings from Poor Richard's Almanac. Appendix B of the Common Core State Standards includes many recommendations, including picture book suggestions that can be used with younger readers. As you can see, many types of text can be used for this, but the key is that it is short text that can be uncovered through multiple readings.

How to Teach Reading Closely
Once you've found a piece of shorty, meaty text, plan your close reading lesson. Lessons include:
  1. Multiple readings of a text (with a pencil) 
  2. Text-based questions and discussion that focuses on discrete elements of text  
  3. Discussion amongst students 
  4. Writing about the text
When encouraging students to annotate text, some key annotations include:
  1. Number the parts (or paragraphs) of the text.
  2. Circle important and/or unknown words
  3. Underline important parts/key details
  4. Note relevant connections to a portion of the text
  5. ?  Confusing parts
To prepare for this reading, teachers should read the text for important ideas and create text-dependent questions for students to answer. Teachers can then categorize the questions/information from the text into three levels: in the text (literal), things to think about and search for in the text (inferential), and thoughts connected to the text (generalizable/evaluative)

Here's an example of a guide for the multiple readings:

First read:
  • What does the text say?
    • Readers should focus on the essential (literal) meaning of the text, and be able to paraphrase the text. Summarizing and retell are the main strategies employed during this reading.
Second read:
  •  How does the text say it?
    •  Reading focuses on how the author communicates the message of the text (inferential). Strategies employed at this stage include identification of text structure and inference.
    • Nancy Boyles includes a really helpful chart for developing questions about craft in her article in Educational Leadership: Closing in on Close Reading.
Third reading:
  •  What does the text mean?
    • Readers now focus on an analysis (evaluation) of the text, including the author's purpose, drawing conclusions, comparing to other texts, and making connections to the text. Strategies readers might employ include determining theme, identifying author's purpose, and making text connections.
    • Some questions that might guide this analysis include:
      • What question is the author trying to answer?
      • What is the author's purpose in writing this text?
      • Is the author clear or vague and confusing?
      • Is the author precise in description?
      • What is the author's point of view?
      • What assumptions does the author make?
      • What information does the author include, or choose to leave out?
      • What does this text make you think of, or what does the author's message make you think of?
The key here, though, is that students need lots of explicit instruction in how to do a close read before they will likely be ready to engage in it on their own. MODEL everything, thinking aloud as you engage with text so that students can see the process. This will take time for students to be independent in the process.

For more information, here are a few sources:
Up Close with Close Reading
Close Reading and the CCSS
Grade 4 video example
Kindergarten video example 
Video from The Reading & Writing Project

Next time, we'll tackle text-dependent questions!