Last month I introduced this three-part blog series reflecting on my progress toward alignment of the CCSS ELA Instructional Shifts focusing on complex texts. This month I am looking at the second shift regarding evidence.
This was the first shift that I really “bought into.” One of the first observations I made about the new standards was the added research component outlined especially by CCSS R.I. and W. 7, 8, and 9. I recognized immediately that in order to reach these standards, my English students would need to complete short as well as longer, more sustained writing assignments synthesizing related and relevant (especially) informational texts. As I continued to learn more, I came to understand the value of text-specific and text-dependent questions. These two realizations make up the bulk of my current understanding regarding Shift Two: Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from texts, both literary and informational.
So how do my students and I now read, write and speak grounded in evidence from texts compared to before?
When I started teaching at a large, comprehensive high school in 2004, my English students were not asked to write from sources (other than literature) with any regularity. The Social Studies CBA required research and we felt that was good enough.
Additionally, when Washington state signed on to Core, my school had recently adopted new curriculum. We were excited about what we purchased because it was much more than what we had before. It included an assessment bank, each unit culminated in a writing project that looked pretty high-level, and student texts included margin questions. We quickly came to realize, however, that the new text was not Core aligned in at least one important way–questions rarely asked students to dive back into the text, to reread, develop deeper understanding and then use text evidence to support analysis.
My students are constantly writing from sources at each grade level. Part of my school’s High School and Beyond Plan requires senior students submit a comprehensive 10-page research paper before they can graduate. In my English courses, sophomore and junior students practice this valuable skill by formally writing from sources no fewer than five times over two years with increasing levels of independence. We begin with scaffolded and modeled assignments. Later, students work in small groups with some provided and other self-selected but group-verified sources. Eventually, students are expected to complete the whole process on their own; entering a conversation about a topic of concern, asking their own questions, locating their own reliable resources, and then synthesizing their findings into a written paper and/or a presentation. Are all students able to do this with ease? Not yet but hopefully soon.
On a daily basis, I am also so much more intentional about the questions to which I ask students to respond; nearly every one requires some form of textual support. For simple checking-for-understanding- questions, I have students provide textual support in the form of a quotation and then paraphrase what it says in their own words. For higher level questions requiring analysis or inference, I require that students explain how their text example supports their inference, conclusion, evaluation, etc. I am a stickler for citing page numbers. We practice this over and over so that it is second nature, and eventually students can write their own text-dependent questions as well. This “Complete Guide for Creating Text-Dependent Questions” and this more detailed “Understanding Text-Dependent Questions” module have been valuable resources.
Image: As a 7-12 staff, we have decided to use this pattern to help student learn to write with evidence. We made copies of these posters to hang in every classroom.
I know my colleagues and I have so much more work to do with our alignment efforts, but I am proud of we have accomplished so far. I look forward to hearing about how you have embraced this shift.