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The Common Core Classroom

Emily Stewart, M.Ed.

Guest blogger Emily Stewart, M.Ed., is a third grade teacher at Murch Elementary, a public school in Washington, DC. During the 2012-2013 school year, Emily will be sharing the real-world strategies, challenges, and successes of implementing ELA Common Core standards in her classroom.

Grounded in evidence. Part 2: Informational text

January 8, 2013

Thoughtful. Careful. Precise. These are the words that should define our students as they provide evidence that supports text-dependent questions. Part 2 of our focus on evidence-based questions takes us into the world of informational text. It tends to be easier for students to find evidence to support their answers within informational text. However, where we sometimes fall short, is in the level of difficulty of the questions we are asking our kiddos.

Last year, I was unpacking the new Common Core standards and wrestling with how text-dependent questions could be written at a higher level. I'm such an advocate for critical thinking, but when we're dealing with "right there" questions, it can be sometimes difficult to elevate that level of thinking — especially if our questions aren't carefully planned. I was noticing that my students needed scaffolds to answer questions grounded in evidence, in order to develop as readers.

Fast forward to June, and our DC literacy team began a process of creating text-dependent questions that built on one another, and eventually layered the critical thinking based on the informational text. In a nutshell, the process we went through to write these units for the grade levels began with a complex, informational text.

The plan to tackle question writing could be done one of two ways. First, we could begin with the critical thinking question, and then produce supporting and clarifying questions written to scaffold, or we could begin with the supporting and clarifying questions, and then write the deeper level text-dependent questions from those. Either way, it truly showed me how important it is to have many levels of Bloom's built into text-dependent questions to support many of our readers.

Connect!

When reading informational text, we need to help our students connect with text in meaningful ways. For years, many of us have been using Strategies that Work, which is the umbrella for making connections. This has allowed us to create excitement within text, because students LOVE to discuss connections that THEY find interesting, and are about themselves.

What I am finding with the Common Core and the plethora of informational text we are utilizing is that we need to try and develop a fascination within the text itself. Evidence can then be utilized to make even deeper connections than the surface ones our students typically build. We need to provide time and discussions for a text to live on its own, so that students pay careful attention to evidence within. We need to train students to connect back naturally, because they never know which texts they might see in the future — and if they are uninterested in the text, they still need a solid supply of evidence in order to really attack a question!

Text Features

I would do a disservice if I didn't put an emphasis on text features in relation to informational text. The emphasis on nonfiction text features is undeniable when reading informational text. One of the ways I have fallen short in the past when teaching text features, is teaching the WHAT, but not the HOW. One of the best strategies to SHOW our kiddos how to utilize these crucial tools is by modeling a reading for them. The article Guiding Students through Expository Text with Text Feature Walks is an incredibly effective method to modeling text feature walks for your students.

Prove It!

There are a few resources I have found to help me write evidence-based questions. Achieve the Core has published some steps to help students read and gather evidence for text dependent questions. The steps are below, but if you click here, it will describe in detail the theory behind it.

Creating Text-Dependent Questions for Close Reading
Step One: Identify the core understandings and key ideas of the text
Step Two: Start small to build confidence
Step Three: Target vocabulary and text structure
Step Four: Tackle tough sections head‐on
Step Five: Create coherent sequences of text-dependent questions
Step Six: Identify the standards that are being addressed

Question Stems for Close Reading of Informational Texts (Adapted from Race to the Top/Strategies for Close Reading)

What clues show you …

Point to the evidence …

How does the author describe X in paragraph X? What are the exact words?

What reasons does the book give for X? Where are they?

Share a sentence that (tells you what the text is about, or describes X, or gives a different point of view)

What is the purpose of paragraph X? What are the clues that tell you this?

What does the author think about X? Why do you think so — what is your evidence?

What do you predict will happen next? What are the clues that make you think so?

Non-Examples vs. Examples

Non-Examples

Why is Earth a special planet?

What planet would you like to live on?

Neither of these two questions requires students to do close reading of the text. Many students could answer the question by using prior knowledge — their answers do not demonstrate that they read the text in question.

Examples of Text-Dependent Questions

Could people live on Earth if there were no Sun? Why or why not? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.

Explain why conditions on a distant planet like Neptune are so different than those on Earth.

In the end, our task is unwavering: create questions that provide opportunities to teach strategies to our kids so they feel successful when they search for evidence and key words to answer text-dependent questions. Don't allow our students to answer a question without evidence and proof. Hold our students to high expectations, and constantly use those magic words, "Tell me more.""

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