September 17, 2014

Ensuring Active Engagement with Text

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As our understanding of both text complexity and the Common Core Standards deepens, we know that critical thinking needs to be the heart of our instructional planning. While we have always lauded active engagement and have made concerted efforts to nurture deep thinking, we find that we have raised our own personal standard for what passes critical thinking muster and share these 2 strategies as food for thought as you work to raise the bar for active thinking in your classroom.

1. Work to ensure all students are thinking critically.

Recently, we examined a Rigby Literacy leveled reader titled All the World Loves a Puppet by JoAnne Alexander. As we considered this text, it occurred to us that this particular book was dense with new vocabulary and we wondered how we would get students to think about the new language they were encountering.  In the past, we might have been satisfied listing some words like “marionette,” “cross bow”, and “puppeteer” and asking students working in a small group to collectively define the words based on the information provided in their reading. However, we knew that our goal was to support students in their individual efforts to read closely and carefully. So instead, after they read, we asked students to write these words on a post-it and identify where in the photograph illustration each of these words were represented.  Interestingly, students must synthesize information about these words with information provided in the picture.  As students worked to do this, we could clearly see who did and did not understand the new vocabulary. At this point, we modeled rereading strategies for those who struggled while those who understood continued to read.

2. Labor over the questions you ask.

In this particular text, children were presented with information about a host of different kinds of puppets ranging from common glove puppets to less well-known Bunraku puppets. After reading about each of these different kinds of puppets, we realized that this text lent itself well to formulating an opinion.  We imagined that as students read and learned about the different types of puppets, they’d be inclined to think about which type of puppet they favored and why.  Our first thought was to ask this question but as we considered it, we realized that a child wouldn’t have to think hard or read closely  to answer that question. So, we took the question back to the drawing board and opted for another opinion question: If you were advising a new puppeteer, which puppet would you recommend they begin with? Why? Which puppet would you recommend they learn last? Why? In order to be answer these questions, readers must compare and contrast the information provided in the text. They cannot simply look at the photographs and pick their favorite.  They have to synthesize the information presented in the text, pulling details from the text.

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