We all know the three fundamentals of text connections (in fact, I know them both as a student and teacher):
Unfortunately, (or fortunately?) I realized that I was a prime example of, “you’re doing it wrong!” I was indeed doing it wrong by not teaching in a way that encouraged students to move past surface level and think more deeply about the text, themselves, and their world.
I had asked my students for years to make connections to and with the texts that they were reading. Honestly, I believed that the complexity in this activity lived in their ability to make factual connections first to self, then to text, then to world. That somehow the progression from self to the greater world around them was an accurate display of thoughtful analysis. Example from one of my favorite novel study books (and one of my favorite books in general):
Text-to-Self: “Stargirl and I are both an only child.” Fact.
Text-to-Text: “The book Stargirl reminds me of the book Schooled because they both have main characters who are considered strange or different by their peers.” Fact.
Text-to-World: “Stargirl reminds me that there are many social pressure that teenagers face while in high school.” Fact.
In what way would asking students to make connections like the ones above be encouraging them to think more deeply about the characters and themes present in their novels as well as themselves and the world around them? They don’t. How do responses like these demonstrate a students’ ability to think critically and draw conclusions about the texts that they read? They don’t.
At this point, I began to add a little more structure to the connection questions that I asked. No longer did I assume asking students to, “make a text-to-text connection,” would elicit the kind of response that was expected of 6th grade readers. With this structure came expectations of textual evidence. Also, I began to write questions that focused on specific aspects of character or theme instead of asking for something broad and general.
There’s a good chance that you’re thinking, “I already knew this.” And that’s awesome. I decided to share my personal epiphany because I think even great teachers (I consider myself to be one) in their effort to do everything that great teachers do, sometimes overlook even the most obvious of opportunities to push our students’ thinking just a liiiiittle bit further.
Please share your experiences with meaningful text connections below!