My freshman year of college, I signed up for a British survey course and the professor announced we would all teach a piece of literature to the class with two other peers. I dreaded the experience of getting up in front of the class, but I began to dread it even more as group after group presented and the professor said the class still wasn’t getting this “unpacking the text” protocol that he was teaching. So, I found myself assigned a multi-page poem and within my group, it fell to me to lead the “unpacking” exercise portion of the presentation. Blame it on being the only freshman! I don’t remember the poem except that it had to do with Jacobites and there was a symbolic stanza about waves crashing between France and England. I know this because that stanza was the only stanza that we focused on in the poem when presenting. What I also remember is that my group was the first, and perhaps only, group to be congratulated for actually reading and teaching with the “unpacking the text” successfully.
One, this is a moment that I can point to that gave me the confidence to become a teacher.
Two, I have to think that as more students are exposed to the standards of Common Core and teachers focusing on precision of language, author choices in craft, and analytical close reading, they will be better equipped to face my professor who wanted us all to “unpack the text”. Unpacking the text was nothing more than focusing on small, meaningful section of text to find meaning with support. It’s there in many of the standards, with reading standard 5 focusing on structure.
Reading Informational Text Standard 5: Choices Writers Make
The idea of being able to analyze, at the smallest of levels, an author’s choices in organization and presentation of idea is the focus point of Reading Standard Five. I’ve noted in blue the changes I noticed in the progression from Kindergarten to 12th grade in Reading for Informational Text, Standard 5. What do you notice when you examine the language?
Grade 11-12: Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging.
Grade 9-10: Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).
Grade 8: Analyze in detail the structure of a specific paragraph in a text, including the role of particular sentences in developing and refining a key concept.
Grade 7: Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to the development of the ideas.
Grade 6: Analyze how a particular sentence, paragraph, chapter, or section fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the ideas.
Grade 5: Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.
Grade 4: Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
Grade 3: Use text features and search tools (e.g., key words, sidebars, hyperlinks) to locate information relevant to a given topic efficiently.
Grade 2: Know and use various text features (e.g., captions, bold print, subheadings, glossaries, indexes, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently.
Grade 1: Know and use various text features (e.g., headings, tables of contents, glossaries, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text.
Grade K: Identify the front cover, back cover, and title page of a book.
My initial takeaway is that K-3 deals with the components of a text, with an unspoken nod that 1st graders will begin using electronic texts. Though the electronic text features don’t change from 1st and 2nd grade.Kindergarten starts with the outside of a physical book. 1st grade moves to the big text features like headings and 2nd grade delves deeper into sections of text like captions. There is a sense that the reason to know text features is to maximize a student’s energy and time, to build efficiency in locating information. Grade 4 introduces structure with the assumption that the student now knows all the little features. What’s interesting is that from grades 5-10, the focus of the student’s analysis keeps moving back and forth from the larger, whole text or section to the small, sentence level choices.
What I thought about most is that this standard is similar to many of the writing standards. Not only is Reading Standard Five asking to understand an author, but also it’s creating a meta-cognition of how good writing happens. The presence of an author making choices weaves in and out of the standard language in grades 6-12 because it’s important that students recognize that all writing is a series of choices for a reason. By standard 11/12, the student needs to make judgments on the effectiveness of an author’s craft and the standard has defined that effectiveness according to being “clear, convincing and engaging.” Isn’t that what we want of our own students’ writing…to be “clear, convincing, and engaging”? If I can analyze how an author lays out his/her claims and make judgments then I can begin to apply those same structures into my own writing. But, this meta-awareness will only happen if the teacher also pays attention to and helps students see:
- how the reading and writing standards complement each other
- where students come from in previous grades and where are they going in the next grades.
Changing Perception and Making Moves
My district is talking again about vertical alignment from 6-12 grade, which everyone agrees is a good thing and necessary. But, we also agree that it’s hard to make decisions about alignment, stick to decisions, and keep an open communication between buildings (and even within buildings). I’m beginning to think that our starting point needs to be the standards, and we all need to sit down and actually analyze the progression from kindergarten to 12th grade.
How would you change your conversation with colleagues and students if you knew the expectations of previous and next grades? What steps do we need to take to notice and act upon gaps that we see in student learning?