Showing posts with label multiple texts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label multiple texts. Show all posts

Sunday, September 1, 2013

To Theme or Not to Theme, That is the Question

Dear Dr. Shanahan,
My colleagues have been debating the use of thematic units in the Common Core. Several of them argue that this practice does not fit a "standards based curriculum." They argue that essential questions and enduring understandings need to be specific to the ELA standards. So, for example, a unit with an essential question for a 3rd grade should look something like this:

Unit Topic:  Ask and Answer Questions
Essential Question: How do readers ask and answers questions from the text? Why is it important to use evidence from the text to support your answer?  

The other side on this debate argues that there must be a purpose and sense of relevancy for the units. They suggest:

Unit Topic: Questions and Answers
Essential Question:  Should you question the way things work? What makes you believe an answer?

They also argue that connecting the ELA standards to the other content areas adds meaning and relevance. So the above question could be the basis for social studies as well as science.

What is your take?  How do we ensure that the Common Core standards are rigorous but also relevant?

Good question. This argument is one that I, too, have been watching with a bit of chagrin.

First, remember the Common Core does not directly insist on any particular approach to the teaching of the CCSS. So, at the end of the day, the choice is yours.

Second, guidance in the standards or from some of the advice from the creators of the standards can seem contradictory. For example, the standards place a big emphasis on the reading and analysis of multiple texts, including synthesizing information across texts. That sure seems to encourage thematic units. But, then the standards authors write, “Care should also be taken that introducing broad themes and questions in advance of reading does not prompt overly general conversations rather than focusing reading on the specifics, drawing evidence from the text, and gleaning meaning from it." Which takes us in the other direction altogether.

To me, the biggest change fostered by Common Core is the heavy attention to the text— the standards set specific challenge levels for the texts, provide long lists of exemplary texts to ensure that we select ones with sufficient depth and quality, prescribe proportions of time to be devoted to different kinds of text (e.g., literary, informational), and promote close reading which requires more focused emphasis on the text than in the past.

Given all of that, I think it is pretty clear that those who want to build units around the standards themselves are as far off as can be. That’s why the E. D. Hirsch’s of the world have embraced the standards—because these standards encourage so much attention to the information in the texts; with these new standards there is some real chance of kids learning about their world. If teachers switch the focus back to the comprehension skills themselves, instead of teaching the skills within the context of the texts, we will be pretty much where we have been. (We surveyed teachers when CCSS came out and found that the majority focused their lessons on the skills and selected books accordingly. We’re watching to see how that shifts over the next couple of years).

However, the admonition quoted earlier is an important one. Past experience with thematic units tells me that these often lack depth and can overwhelm the specifics of the text. That's one of the reasons that the vast majority of multiple text its in the Common Core emphasize the comparison of two texts, rather than the synthesis of several. A unit on non-themes like “courage” or “penguins” won’t likely provide the intellectual engagement and motivation your colleagues desire, and yet a more thematic approach (“Should you question the way things work?”) often will override the need to closely read a literary text, and will constrain interpretations. Why engage in a close reading if I already know what it means? 

Generally, I think topical units with informational text can work very well, and there are times with literature when it would be worth organizing units around selections from a particular genre or author; those approaches will allow you to keep the emphasis on the content without imposing a separate content on the texts. And, everything that is read does not have to fit into a collection; some texts are so good, they are just worth reading even if they are not in a text set.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

To Multi-Text Or Not to Multi-Text in Close Reading

You say close reading requires students to rely solely on the text during reading. But many of the Common Core Standards (and the PARCC and Smarter Balanced prototypes) require that students compare texts. This seems contradictory. What’s up?

This is a bit confusing. The basic idea of close reading is, just as you say, that interpretation is to be based entirely on the text itself. Readers aren’t to turn to author biographies or other works in that author’s oeuvre. No Cliff’s Notes either. Even prefaces, blurbs, statements of context, and explanatory notes provided by the publisher are verboten.

These interpretive “prohibitions” are all aimed at ensuring that readers make sense of a text solely by considering the author’s case as stated explicitly and implied by an author’s own words within the text (if an author wrote about his earlier book or poem we’d reject those words, too, because they are not from the universe of the text itself).

However, once one has read a text, grasping what the author had to say, and how he/she said it—in other words, you have successfully read it closely—then it is perfectly reasonable to wonder about how this work connects to other universes. What are the implications of this book for how I should live my life? How does it compare with the author’s other works or with other works within this genre? How does it measure up on some external quality scale? These questions are all within bounds, once a close reading has been done… and all are premature and problematic if engaged in earlier in the reading process.

At least one of the authors of Common Core expressed trepidation to me early on about the inclusion of multiple texts, and I imagine the same concerns linger about how multiple texts are now being addressed by the testing consortia. If a text is being used to help figure out some aspect of a companion text, then it is a distraction from the immediate job of the reader—who needs to trace the path sketched out by the author through his/her words and structures. If these multiple texts are being put together to allow for a comparative evaluation or a synthesis of information from already closely-read works, then it is consistent with the goals of Common Core.

Remember, however, that there are other ways to read besides close reading. Some of those other schemes actually encourage readers to seek and use information from outside a text:  such as when a reader uses a 19th century dictionary to discern the meaning of a word at the time the author used it in the text, or when a reader uses clues from one of an author’s poems to help decode another. Close reading may frown on such approaches, and yet, I suspect students with these skills will be pretty college- and career-ready, thank you very much.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Multiple texts versus multiple books

When I was in elementary school, each class had one reading book (no, it was not printed on clay tablets). By the time I became a teacher, this book-a-grade system was replaced in the primary grades with two books, one per semester (and there was a lot ink spilled over whether schools could afford this innovation). Still later, the numbers of textbooks expanded even more (what did California require, 6 texts for grade 1?). Of course, when the “whole language” wave moved across the country, lots of schools stopped using textbooks altogether, and replaced them with “class sets” of novels.

The new common core standards present several new emphases, none more important than the shift towards a multiple text perspective. However, this new educational perspective has NOTHING to do with the evolution described above.

The basic idea of the new standards is that it is important that students learn to read across text boundaries: comparing and contrasting themes, characters, styles, perspectives, and so on. It means reading bigger chunks of text, remembering text longer (can’t just read something and forget about it right away), and considering multiple views and perspectives. Students not only need to know how to analyze text from multiple sources, but they need to know how to synthesize information across texts and other sources of information.

That could mean that schools will need to buy multiple books (or perhaps multiple links to some web sources), but it could also be multiple selections housed within a single textbook or anthology. The idea of multiple texts isn’t that kids necessarily need to get their hands on more books (though that isn’t a bad idea). The real idea is that kids need to learn to read and write across the boundaries of different stories and articles.

This shift is a good one… but it won’t necessarily cost any more in terms of books than current approaches for teaching reading. It will likely cost more in professional development expenses, since generally teachers have not been prepared to help children to think across multiple texts and to weigh author's perspectives and the like. This kind of content can be pursued through some exciting lessons, but such lessons will only occur if teachers understand the depth of what is expected. I'll write more about this in a later blog.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Teaching Reading with Multiple Texts

The Common Core Standards repeatedly stress the idea that kids should be reading more than one text. I don't mean they call for kids to have multiple textbooks (the standards say nothing about how teaching should take place), but they do call for kids to be able to compare and contrast, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information across texts. That is a big step forward, since multiple texts place different, and more authentic, reading demands on students.

Here are many of the standards that dictate developing students abilities to read multiple texts and the grade levels that these are expected to be accomplished:

With prompting and support, compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in familiar stories. (K)

With prompting and support, identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic. (K)

Compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in stories. (1)

Identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic. (1)

Compare and contrast tow or more versions of the same story (e.g., Cinderella stories) by different authors or from different cultures. (2)

Compare and contrast the two most important points presented by two texts on the same topic. (2 and 3)

Compare and contrast the themes, settings, and plots of stories written by the same author about the same or similar characters (e.g., in books from a series). (3)

Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics and patterns of events in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures. (4)

Integrate information from two texts on the same topic to write/speak abuot the subject knowledgeably. (4-5)

Compare and contrast stories in the same genre on their approaches to similar themes and topics. (5)

Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics. (6)

Integrate information presented in different media or fromats as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue. (6)

Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history. (7)

Analyze how two or more authors writing about the same topic shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of facts. (7)

Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation. (8)

Integrate visual information with other information in print and digital texts. (6-8)

Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually. (6-8)

Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic. (6-8)

Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment. (9-10)

Integrate quantitative or technical analysis with qualitative analysis in print or digital text. (9-10)

Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums determining which details are emphasized in each account. (9-10)

Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem, evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (11-12)

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats as well as in words to address a question or solve a problem. (11-12)

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media to address a question or solve a problem. (11-12)

That really is not all of them, but it is enough that you get the point: Multiple Text instruction is going to be at a premium in coming years (days?)... here are five guidelines to help you to think about that instruction:

1. Reading single texts is no longer sufficient in teaching reading.
2. Multiple texts need to be introduced in Kindergarten and then are to be used throughout a students' schooling.
3. Multi-text instruction is not aimed at a single type of cognitive processing, it really must require that students analyze more than one text (in terms of content, genre, accuracy, effectiveness, etc.), compare and contrast particular features of texts, synthesize the information from different texts, and to engage in comparative evaluation or judgment.
4. Multi-text instruction involves many types of texts sets: multiple texts by the same author, multiple texts on the same topic, multiple texts that can contribute different but overlapping information on the same subject, and multiple texts that differ in quality or effectiveness or perspective.
5. Multi-text instruction requires different responses by the readers, quite often this includes their own writing or oral presentation of ideas.