raise it up: lifting the level of discourse

the CCSS speaking and listening standards and, for many teachers, danielson domains 3b (using questioning and discussion techniques) and 3c (engaging students in learning), have pushed collaborative discussion to become a much talked about topic in our field and we wholeheartedly agree that the voices heard the most in our classroom should be those of our students; not us. being able to thoughtfully discuss our ideas and opinions with others is a crucial life skill.

when we think back to our own schooling, we  remember more times when we were asked questions designed to check our comprehension of texts we had read than times we were  asked to engage in discussion around a text or issue. it was definitely more inquisition than conversation.

now, it’s common practice to have students turn and talk to each other. “accountable talk stems” seen in classrooms are meant to give students the language they need to engage in discussion with each other. but all too often, we talk to teachers who are disheartened with the level of discourse in their classrooms.

sure, kids are saying “i agree ” or “i disagree” and giving reasons, but conversations often stay at a surface level. more importantly, kids seem to be using those phrases because they think that’s what they’re expected to do rather than because they are genuinely interested in discussing their ideas.

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stopping random lists of facts (or small groups to support standard 2 with informational text)

we know that all teachers have seen the reader who creates long lists of facts when reading an informational text. you know what we mean…it looks similar to this page of notes from a student who has dutifully jotted down “important” facts and details from his informational text:nonfiction literal notes 11_5you get the idea. long lists of facts copied straight from the text. but who cares? what are kids supposed to do with these facts? store them in long term memory just in case they’re ever on jeopardy and this just happens to be one of their categories??

the real work, the work we’re teaching toward in anchor standard 2, isn’t to make long lists of facts, but to take these long lists of facts and analyze and sort them to come up with bigger ideas within the text.

what can we do for our students who are having difficulty getting past listing the facts and never really getting to the big ideas? Continue reading

creating room in your room for reading standard 2 (literature)

it wasn’t until we were teachers that we saw the fun in thinking about messages and themes.

as students – high school students in particular – talking about the themes of the book always seemed daunting. we remember it being presented to us as thinking about the theme, singular. there was so much pressure to come up with the right theme, a deep enough theme.

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strategy lessons: reading standard 2 (informational)

we know that the main purpose of reading an informational, or nonfiction, text is to learn something. kids, though, often get stuck in the little details. if you’re a teacher, you know that any fact or detail with numbers attached to it seems to scream IMPORTANT to a kid. nonfiction texts are about so much more than facts and details. just as there are ideas in our fiction books, there are ideas – central ideas – that are supported by facts and details across a text or a section of a text.

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strategy lesson: reading standard 4 (literature)

reading anchor standard 4, a craft and structure standard, states that students will be able to “interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyzing how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.”

this work will likely require multiple modelings and coaching students through the work, and read aloud is a great place to start with it. for a possible progression of how this could go, see the post about gradually releasing responsibility.

we believe strongly in creating scaffolds, modeling using them, making them accessible to students, and celebrating when they’re used. students who don’t need them aren’t likely to use them (for long, anyway; they may use them at first, but will likely quickly drop it because they don’t need it), and those students who do need them will feel empowered by their success with using them.

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strategy lessons: reading standard 3 (literature)

thinking about characters is something kids are asked to do every year in their fiction reading. it’s important to have some sense of how reading standard 3, which states that students will “analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text,” progresses vertically across the grade-levels so that our teaching is not only grade-appropriate (i.e. rigorous enough), but also so that students aren’t being taught the same strategies year after year.

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