This year the fourth through eighth grade ELA teachers went through three days of training in text dependent analysis. The general idea is that students read through lenses in order to notice patterns and come to a new understanding.
In the reading workshop, students choose the lenses they are using to notice and note while reading their independent reading novels and book club books. As a result of the training, we have begun to put together menus of lenses and types of understandings that best work with each of the units.
Here is an example of a basic menu of lenses and understandings for one particular unit. As teachers model additional lenses, these too are added as options.
In content areas such as social studies, students can read historical fiction through some of these same lenses in order to get to a new understanding such as theme to determine our takeaways as readers– what we now know, think, feel, or believe as a result of what we notice in historical fiction.
Students choose two lenses to actively read.
For example, what do I notice about the psychological setting (lens #1) and the actions (lens #2) of the characters.
Students jot what they notice while reading or at the end of reading depending on preference.
Students use their notes to look for patterns within the lenses they are noting. Maybe a character acts differently in different settings depending on who is there or the mood the setting creates.
By looking at what they’ve noticed and the patterns they are seeing in their observations, students can use that to come to a new understanding such as theme by asking themselves, what does the author want me to know, think, feel, or believe about that?
The same work can be done with nonfiction text using lenses that are specific to that genre. Below are examples of the lenses and types of understanding that can be used with nonfiction text.
Below is an example of my notes while looking through the lens of word choice while reading an article.
Specific lenses and understandings can be used for historical fiction reading in the social studies classroom. See some examples below.
Below is a short story annotated using the lenses of character actions and speech.
When students cannot write directly on the text, they can stop and jot in their notebook as seen below.
Much like discussions, noting is driven in student choice. Students in one book club can each choose two from a menu. There may be some overlap, and that it okay. After a few days to a week, students can switch out and read through new lenses, too.
By actively reading through lenses in order to notice patterns that lead to a new understanding, students are thinking deeply about what they are reading, able to have better discussions, and have the evidence to cite in writing.
Diane has been working very hard in the last few months to engage her readers. One of the ways she went about it was through the use of spiderweb discussions. They were rough going at the start, but each week the students reflected and determined what they did well and what they should do moving forward to deepen their conversation and include everyone.
Recently we videotaped one particular book club that was reading the historical fiction novel, Between Shades of Gray. Diane gave the students a very open-ended prompt to think about first, and that was all they needed to begin their discussion.
How do you think the challenges the characters have faced in the book influence their life after deportation?
The discussion was timed and continued until the timer sounded. The teacher documented the discussion by creating the spiderweb while listening. Students can also document discussions as we have done in the past through the fishbowl. The web (shown left) was the one documented during the discussion (above). Notice how students were able to facilitate for themselves and keep the discussion moving.
Compare the discussion with the rubric (below). It is clearly evident that the students were successful in all aspects of the discussion.
I wish we had thought to record their reflections after, it was incredibly reflective of how they have done in the past to now. However, a few things did stand out when asked how they liked book club discussions compared to work they have done in past reading classes. The group quickly lamented the use of teacher-created questions and packets that meant nothing to them. They expressed how much they like to have real conversations about their own thinking that doesn’t feel like a waste of their time.
For more background on the spiderweb discussion, check out previous blog posts.
This year we have book clubs in our sixth, seventh, and eighth grade reading classrooms and a couple coming next year to eighth grade social studies! Book clubs can be incredibly engaging when students have choice and the ability to be self-directed, but it’s certainly not a free for all, and like everything else within the workshop, follows a structure that students understand.
Recently the students in Diane’s eighth grade historical fiction book clubs and Bridget’s seventh grade book clubs have been participating in various spider web discussions that look across multiple texts at common themes, but students can and should participate in smaller discussions once or twice a week with those who are reading the same novel as well.
What does this look like?
In Bridget’s class two different book clubs worked together to accomplish a shorter Spider Web discussion without the need for the teacher to directly supervise, meaning more than one discussion can go on at one time. Because the students have already participated in multiple large group spider web discussions, they are very familiar with what is expected of them whether they are inside or outside of the circle.
Preparation – A Small Amount
Students can be given five minutes to do a quick brain dump in preparation. This is one example of a discussion that requires very little preparation, but offers a lot of choice.
Preparation – Focusing the Stop and Jots
Another method that can be used is dividing up the lenses for reading. Having the students choose the two lenses they will read for that week to determine a new understanding and switching their lenses each week. Students in the club do not have to read using the same lenses. If there are four in a group, see how many they can cover by choosing two lenses each.
When students meet they will have collected enough notes to contribute to the various ways the author is developing character, conveying themes, or having an effect on the reader.
Getting down to business
The students here are reading either the Quarantine series or the Legend series. Those reading Legend sat on the inside to discuss while those reading Quarantine sat on the outside to draw the spider web and collect data on the discussion. Once Legend finished their discussion, they switched places with Quarantine. The total time between groups was 10-12 minutes with a couple minutes given to reflect.
With 20 minutes (5 minutes to prepare, 10-12 minutes to discuss and collect data, and 3-5 minutes to reflect) dedicated to discussion once or twice a week, students are given the time to think deeply about their novel, practice analysis using text evidence, and reinforce communication skills that they are ever so happy to do over a weekly text dependent analysis essay.
And the more opportunities they have to discuss and build on their ideas, the more they develop the skills to write better when it is time.
A lot of modeling, scaffolding, and reflection go into this work, but it is more than worth the time spent. Some teachers feel overwhelmed when they try something new and it doesn’t go perfectly from the beginning, but an instructional coach is a great support to use as you create a structure that is familiar to your students.
Through the use of discussions such as the spider web, notice the teacher-created graphic organizers and packets of questions are not in existence and never were. This work supports the workshop’s use of choice, ownership, community, and structure. It is student-led, student-driven, and results in high engagement and motivation. This is authentic reading that students want…just ask them!
Diane and I recently attended the PIIC Professional Learning Opportunity, a three day conference for instructional coaches. The focus was on reflective practice with opportunities each day to participate in break out sessions to support our own professional growth. One of the sessions we attended was titled, Using Non-Traditional Text to Support Analysis.This session in particular really made our wheels turn and drove some of our conversations around engagement in the reading workshop.
We were already familiar with the New York Times’ What’s Going On in This Picture? and how this resource could be used to close read and analyze text. Those teachers who attended the TDA Trainings in our district will remember this well.
PIIC presenters Diana Hubona and Stacy Ricciotti brought a different spin to this kind of work.
They started with 4 images that related to Harry Potter and challenged us to discuss what each meant, how they connected which led us to discussing themes.
Using non-traditional texts such as pictures has its benefits.
Less Threatening- Students (and adults for that matter) can be overwhelmed by the more traditional texts even before adding such a complex skill such as analysis.
Leveled Playing Field – Even if students read below grade level, are English language learners, or struggle with comprehension, using pictures makes the text accessible for everyone.
Increased Engagement – Pictures provide a low-risk opportunity that increases student engagement.
More Opportunity – Students need many opportunities on a regular basis to close read and analyze. Pictures provide not only access but make it possible to provide many experiences which students need to develop and hone these skills.
Marrying the Old with the New
Diane and I decided to do something similar with the historical fiction book clubs but put it a bit more in the hand’s of the students.
The Mini Lesson and Active Engagement
Diane started with the connection, sharing how she learned something new while at a conference at Penn State which made her think differently about analysis.
Using the mentor text Patrol by Walter Dean Myers, Diane modeled how she thought about images that came to her mind while reading and shared their significance to the story.
She then challenged students, with 5 minutes on the timer, to think about their historical fiction book club book and the images that came to mind. Students added four images to a google slide.
Once students chose their four images they turned and talked about what they chose and why it was significant to the story.
Once they shared, Diane went back to her four images for the mentor text, and again went to modeling through a think aloud how the images could be connected.
She noticed that all four images could be connected through the soldier’s sacrifices and then she was able to think to herself, What does Walter Dean Myers want me to takeaway from the text about the sacrifices that soldiers make? which was the scaffold she used to move towards talking about theme.
Once Diane modeled her think aloud, she had book club members do the same using their four images. This experience provided students with the opportunity to not only identify symbols within the text but also allowed the time to think about connections among the symbols and how those connections develop various themes.
Students were then able to leave their book club discussion and take the time to write to explain their thinking about takeaways related to theme using the four images they chose.
A Workshop Fit
Diane typically uses mentor texts to model her own thinking about reading. The students do not use the mentor text to discuss but have opportunities to apply the same strategies to their own independent reading. Diane did not ask her eighth graders to explain the significance of her images or how they were connected to determine a theme. She modeled that thinking first, and then challenged her students to try that same strategy with their book. Modeling is an important principle of reading workshop. Diane broke the modeling down into two short parts with active engagement in between each.
Another major principle of the reading workshop is time to read and respond to literature. Diane’s students have large chunks of time each day to read their book club book and have opportunities to both discuss and write about reading.
The workshop also allows students to have choice. Not just choice in what they are reading. Every day students read books they have chosen, decide what they will focus on while reading, and in many cases what they will discuss. This particular lesson provided choice because students were not given the symbols but chose the ones they felt were significant. In our experience, students with more opportunities to choose are more engaged and willing to push themselves to think deeper about reading.
Students have many opportunities to turn and talk and gather in book clubs to share and discuss thinking, which is another principal of reading workshop. Today was no different and the amount of talking about the text and their thinking supported the goal of providing many experiences to analyze. The support of a community promotes deeper thinking and students need as many community opportunities as possible to strengthen this skill and provide a more solid foundation before writing.
The reading workshop has a unique structure that allows for more independent and community time than teacher on the stage time. This lesson provided the brief modeling in the mini lesson, many opportunities for active engagement and turn and talk, as well as time to work independently responding to the book they are currently reading. The class ended with time to share.
We were inspired by the work of our colleagues at the PIIC Professional Learning Opportunity and put our own spin on it to bring some more engagement and analysis experiences into the workshop. We are looking forward to trying this out over the summer with some of our own colleagues as we get ready for next year. We would love to hear about your spin on a great approach.
I’m going to be honest. When looking at any Facebook group for teachers, it’s typical to find a teacher ask, “What should I do after reading (fill in the blank with any book)?” The thread following the original post would include one response after the other, “one-pager”. I had no idea what a one pager was and assumed they meant a one page reflection of the book or a one page analysis.
While looking for different ways to incorporate thinking about reading without writing the dreaded TDA essay, I was reminded of the one pager by Theresa who used them last year now and again (I didn’t make the connection last year) and was planning to do something similar for the dystopian book clubs. Theresa has seen a lot of engagement around this work and generously shared her work.
One Pagers as a Get to Know You
One Pagers for Book Analysis
Samples from Independent Reading Books
Samples from Historical Fiction Book Clubs
Samples from Dystopian Book Clubs
I’d love to see something like this with a focus on one or two of the lenses to show a type of understanding and really zero in on analyzing author’s craft.
Thank you for sharing so much great student work, Theresa!
When Bridget started hearing about how Diane and I were experimenting with spider web discussions in order to increase engagement while putting the learning in the students’ hands, she decided to jump in and give it a try.
Why not? It’s the end of the year. What a great time to play around with our craft as teachers when the pressures of testing are not weighing down on top of us. At this point in the year, we are already reflecting and beginning to think about what we can do to better support our students next year.
Bridget was game and so we got to work. The work highlighted in this post is our second week into spiderwebs. I used many of the things Diane and I learned in her classes to get it off the ground last week, but because this is a different population, Bridget and I discovered in the first week that we needed to provide some scaffolding for the seventh graders.
The data showed that the seventh graders quickly understood the idea of talking about their dystopian book club books and staying on task; however, we saw and heard a lot of summarizing and sharing rather than analysis and building on ideas. In order to support the seventh graders this week, we put some supports in place.
Preparing for the discussion
The fast and furious brain dump
Since the students were taking the time this week to stop and jot what they were noticing about the systemic and individual conflicts within the dystopian book clubs, we started this class period with the opportunity to use an open ended prompt that they could write fast and furious in order to dump their thinking onto paper.
This is not formal writing that we worry about our own structure, craft, mechanics and conventions. This type of writing was to dump thinking onto a page in order to begin to process it. We promised we would not show this writing to their writing teachers. The good thing about the fast and furious brain dump is students don’t get hung up on how to write it and can focus just on their own thinking.
The challenge with the way we did the brain dump is there is no “I’m done”. Students write until the timer sounds, and whenever they think they are finished, they ask themselves, “And what else?” and keep going whether its another piece of evidence or starting on a new idea.
After the timer went off, students had an opportunity to share with their shoulder partner some of the ideas they came up with.
While students turned and talked, Bridget and I eavesdropped and had some of the students we listened to share some of the takeaways that we labeled as theme statements.
The image to the right shows some of the theme statements highlighted from one class period.
We had the students have a quick turn and talk about which one of the highlighted themes applied to their novel as well followed by an even quicker fast and furious brain dump on the new theme statement.
For this first class we randomly chose books to join the discussion in the fishbowl, but we found that we got a lot of sharing and summarizing, so we quickly adjusted for the next class, realizing more scaffolding was needed to deepen the conversations.
We decided if students needed more support with deepening conversations, we needed to zero in on one or two of the highlighted statements. We chose one or two based on how many students chose each so that we would have 10-12 students inside the fishbowl for the discussion around common theme(s).
Based on the work Diane and I have done in her classes and last week’s discussions in Bridget’s classes, we felt that students would still benefit from the fishbowl as they learn together to strengthen discussions.
Students not inside the fishbowl listen and collect data to provide feedback for growth as described in this previous post.
What did it look like?
After each discussion, students who collected data had time to turn and talk about what they noticed before the class had a chance to reflect on what went well and what they need to do moving forward.
Time for Reflection
It’s imperative that students have the time to reflect on what they think went well and what they can do moving forward to grow.
A quick story about the importance of reflection
Last week, which was the first day of a spider web discussion in Bridget’s class, the students had 5 minutes for their fast and furious brain dump. In fifth period the ideas were pouring quickly into reader’s notebooks in the form of charts, diagrams, long writes, and I was giddy with excitement. With so many ideas I was sure this first discussion would be A-MAZ-ING!
When it was time to begin, I set the timer for 6 minutes and then…
they said nothing!
They literally said nothing for 6 painful minutes inside the fishbowl while people on the outside, ready to collect data, sat and waited for anything, but nothing happened.
In the reflection they were all very vocal, both inside and outside the fishbowl. They brainstormed all these reasons why they did not start and what they could do in the future. So we gave them the opportunity to redeem themselves; the next day I showed up and we tried again. This time we had 6 minutes of amazing conversation with lots of student prompting, which is what they decided they needed from each other to feel comfortable.
This side story is to illustrate the importance of reflection and to allow a space where students can fail but grow from those experiences. Bridget and I were dying inside, wanting so badly to save them from themselves during that initial 6 minutes of silence, but I am confident that through their reflection, which highlighted how insecure they felt and what they could do to support each other, they gained more than if we had thrown them a lifeboat.
One reflecting discussion
A note about choice with scaffolding
One of the tenets of the workshop model is not only student voice and agency but also choice. Currently Bridget’s students are in a dystopian book club unit that offers 14 different engaging series to choose from including, Shatter Me, Darkest Minds, The Maze Runner, Gone, The Loners, The Uglies, The Selection, Matched, and The Missing just to name a few. Clubs could be as small as 2 and as large as 6 to ensure that students have choice.
For our discussion we also allow for choice within the fast and furious brain dump by keeping the prompt open-ended, again allowing students to write about what they have been noticing and their personal takeaways.
Even though we decided to highlight and further explore some common themes we were noticing, the list was generated by the students, meaning each class had a different list, and the discussion was around 1-2 of those student-generated common themes, again chosen by the students to further explore.
At no time did the teachers decide upon the theme statements for students, which meant each class’s discussion was very different because they were based on what students chose to explore. Student choice amps up the engagement and buy in, but also allows students to take ownership and not rely on teachers to make decisions for them.
It is especially challenging for students to have a spiderweb discussion while reading so many different books, but by focusing on common themes within the genre, students not only get to explore how they play out in other books but also get interested in books within the genre that they might want to choose later for independent reading.
In the future, I do want to share one club’s discussion as an example.
I look forward to next week and seeing how students continue to grow!
There has been so much talk and professional development around text dependent analysis this year, so it’s not a surprise that kids and teachers for that matter are over it!
Diane and I will be working together to bring you some moves you can make in your classroom that provide the many opportunities students need (because they need MANY) to close read and analyze while taking out the redundancy of writing one TDA after the other.
But as Diane and I began to brainstorm, Danielle dropped on my desk the most beautiful graphic essays created by her students, so I had to share!
Danielle outlined the expectations (seen above) and provided time for students to organize their ideas before they began. The result? Beautiful graphic essays that included thematic statements (thesis), evidence to support the statements, and an analysis of each piece of evidence. She also challenged them to incorporate symbols that related to characters, setting, theme, or conflict.
Students can close read and analyze as well as use creativity in a way to show deeper understandings of text without always writing an essay. We can find lots of ways to practice skills without the overkill of the dreaded TDA essay.