Read on to see how I revised my Fifty Shades presentation.....for the better!
Shanahan's presentation was also very affirming for me (realizing that I had presented much of this content to my own staff four weeks before hearing him) many of the ideas and concepts I heard from him, I had already included in my Fifty Shades of the Common Core presentation, so this let me know I was right on track in my own understanding and learning curve of the Common Core for ELA. It also made me realize that we need to rethink the "complex text" delivery of our teaching and outcome expectations of student learning around complex text. He spent a good part of the day talking about text complexity and the close reading of complex texts-- two BIG take-aways from the Common Core. After lunch he broke everyone into groups and assigned each group an article to read. Everyone in the group had their own copy of a "complex text"...our group was assigned a 5th grade text called "When Is a Planet Not a Planet: The Story of Pluto" He asked us each to a think about these questions--What will students find hard about this? & What will you (the teacher) do about it?/What will you (the teacher) do to help kids understand the hard parts? The sub group we formed in the room decided that wouldn't each read through it all first and then go back and talk about it, we decided as a group that we would read it page by page, silently first and then stop and verbally annotate our thinking out loud as a group. That's just the way our group decided to do it. The story was immediately "hard" for several reasons and there were definitely some complicated verbose sentences, grammar issues and language structure and syntax challenges. There was some obvious vocabulary that we thought students would get tripped up on, but Shanahan's take on pre-teaching vocabulary is, don't. The Common Core de-emphasizes many pre-reading strategies and as he said, there is no need to activate background knowledge about Pluto or the solar system as students need to learn knowledge about Pluto and the solar system from the text and author. After reading this nonfiction "story" of Pluto, background knowledge of planets or the solar system doesn't really help you anyway, since the "story" (which isn't really a story at all, and this is one of the factors that makes it complex), is that it's more about the how scientists change and revise their hypothesis as they learn new information [one of the BIG IDEAS]. As far as vocabulary, Shanahan says to be ready to explain unknown words, terms and phrases, but do NOT teach all this to kids before reading the book. And regarding a book introduction, he believes that all text introductions done the Common Core way is similar to the way articles are presented in The New Yorker--a picture (the cover), a caption (the title) and blurb (a short summary).
Shanahan also got us (my principal and I) really thinking about how ALL kids read and access complex text. Based on an email conversation I had with guided reading guru, Jan Burkins last month, I believed that our school was accomplishing the teaching of text complexity best through read-alouds -- text talk lessons in K-2 and novel studies in 3-5, while continuing to preserve guided reading, doing it as we've always done and teaching students at their instructional level in a small group setting each day. However, Shanahan's presentation got us thinking about this question, "When do kids really ever have an opportunity to read complex text (themselves...not have someone read it for them, "reading by proxy" he calls it) and really struggle with it?" That really got us thinking because for those at-risk readers who AREN'T reading on grade level, what are they actually doing during the reading aloud of a complex text? Well, from what I've seen, they are fake reading, fake following along, passively reading, reluctantly participating and acting or over-acting involved as to not draw attention to the fact that they aren't really reading nor do they have any idea what's going on with the storyline, but all the while "looking like a reader" in a whole group reading setting. Right? I've seen this countless times before. I'm not saying the "text complexity standard through read-alouds" is a bad model, in fact, it's probably great for about 70-80% of your class. However, it's the 20-30% of your class that is the percentage that is holding your class, and most likely your school, back from closing the achievement gap. When in fact, they are the subgroup that we need to be targeting the most...and targeting them means rethinking the differentiated delivery, the text, the task and outcomes for this group of students.
So, I left that presentation with a plan. Not sure how it in your school or district, but in our school and district, we are Title 1 (our school is now school-wide Title 1)...of which the biggest benefit is extra personnel (reading interventionists) to serve those kids that need extra support in reading, where that extra support in reading does not replace the daily dose of small group instruction that each child receives daily from their own classroom teacher. So, as a reading interventionist myself, I wondered how it would go if, for the group of 6 3rd grade students I serve who read on a 2nd grade reading level, who also get a dose of guided reading from their own classroom teacher at their instructional reading level, then come to me, and instead of getting another dose of guided reading at their instructional level, got instead a dose of guided reading at their complex text level? This way, they get their instructional dose, as they always did and continue to get, AND they get a chance to read complex text with my support where all six of them are held accountable to actually reading the complex text and working out the hard parts with my scaffolded support...really struggling through it, getting through the hard parts after determining WHAT makes it hard and hard to understand. Their classroom teacher still does read-alouds with books in the 2/3 stretch band so they are still hearing and "reading" through read-aloud. This plan was beginning to sound very smart. I mean teachers are hard-wired to help, in fact, most teachers swoop in a help students too much during guided reading, so scaffolding students during the reading complex texts wouldn't really be too far a jump, right?
I went to the library on the Sunday after Shanahan's presentation and I spent about 30 minutes looking for text (in the 2/3 stretch band) that I felt would be engaging and relevant to the six students in my "3rd grade but reading at a 2nd grade level" group. Then, I found two books about Thanksgiving. One called, The Pilgrim's First Thanksgiving, a very traditionally told story of how the Pilgrims came to America. Then I found a book (a graphic novel) called Two Bad Pilgrims. Both books in the 2/3 lexile stretch band.
Noting that text to text comparisons are important in the Common Core, I checked them both out so we could compare the perspectives and views of the individuals told in both books. (Both books were non-fiction). I began by reading only the first chapter of The Pilgrim's First Thanksgiving...covering the voyage on the Mayflower. Then, I put it down and passed out photocopies to each of them of first four pages of Two Bad Pilgrims. [You can photocopy up to 10% of a book without violating copyright laws....and this way each student had their own copy to hold, read and annotate.] I asked each student to read the first page silently, several times, mentally noting tricky parts, tricky words and hard to understand sections. Since this is a graphic novel, this also presents an additional challenge, although a quick structure to teach and move past, nonetheless, there isn't the traditional left to right, return sweep with words...word boxes and speech bubbles are all over the place. Mind you, and this is big, you [the teacher HAS to read the book or section first] not to pre-teach, but to anticipate the complex spots and sentences. For me and this group of students, the tricky spots were mostly with the language, not necessarily the hard words, but the way the author uses language...reading anchor standards 4, 5 and 6...all the ones about author's style and craft.
For example, here are the spots from page 1 (just page 1) that led our text-based discussion:
1) the graphic novel structure
2) narrator: the story is being told by the professor ABOUT the boy pilgrims who interject
3) vocab: university, pilgrimology & goody-goodies
4) Sentence "Perfect, prayerful and obedient." You have to know that those three words go with the goody-goodies referred to in the sentence before, and that goody-goodies refers to the nouns Pilgrims from the first sentence....lots of complex noun and pronoun strings students have to understand and connect together.
4) "medium-bad" compared to good, medium bad is still actually bad
5) The first two sentences are the non-examples of what the book is really about
6) vocab: nearly - meaning almost
7) "Of course" after "from our parents"...spent several minutes discussing what the author meant by using the words, "Of course!"...Tyrese finally said, "well kids only repeat what they hear from their parents, they learn it from their parents, so if their parents are saying it, they are going to say it, too!"...(Brilliant!)
As you can see, there were at least 7 text based teaching points on this one page alone, this page took about about 20 minutes to work out. The next page about 15 and the 3rd page about 20 as we made the organizer below. As you can see there is SO much text to talk about! Here is the graphic organizer we made just to organize the information on page 3.
After we finished reading the first chapter of Two Bad Pilgrims together, we had spent about three days on it, but their understanding was very solid and they begged to keep reading it. I told them I was going to turn it back into the library and they all wanted to race down to the library to check it out. Not only were THEY reading text at a complex level for their grade level, they were engaged and struggling, they felt so accomplished and was actually proud of their "struggling"...because they persevered and got it....they CARED about what they were doing...ultimate example of RIGOR right there.
With all this said, and the lesson and reading group structure changes I made after Shanahan's presentation, I added nine more slides about text complexity and differentiated ways to serve students in addition to an instructional text level dose of guided reading daily to my Fifty Shades of the Common Core presentation to create this revised file. I presented the revised presentation to Knightdale Elementary on October 31st. I will be presenting it again Dec.5 in Pittsboro County, NC, on January 5th in Arkansas and on March 10th at the NC State Reading Conference.
One last note, I was excited to find (and I hope you are too) something called the Basal Alignment Project. How many of you, like our school, have old Houghton Mifflin anthologies sitting around collecting dust? Well, this project has created (over 200 lessons so far) text dependent lessons using stories from these anthologies. The project is housed in Edmodo, so if you don't have an Edmodo account, you'll need that. The directions for joining the Basal Alignment Project group are HERE. You'll want to scroll to the bottom of the page under the Steal Those Tools section. For those of you who just want to see what one of those lessons looks like, here's one I downloaded, I'm sure they wouldn't mind if I linked a lesson here just to show you...Raising Dragons from the 3rd grade Houghton Mifflin Anthology.
Guide to Creating Text Dependent Questions by the authors of the Common Core
I really think this post is jam-packed with good information, a lot to take in I know, but there really is so much good stuff to share! Let me know how your text-dependent reading lessons are going and how all students read complex texts at your school. I'd love to hear. More important to consider is this question...