The most influential lines I read this summer:
“We like a path that guides students through multiple encounters with the text, generally organized around three questions: What does the text say? How does the text work? What does the text mean (Fisher and Frey, Close Reading and Writing from Sources, 2014, P. 35)?”
Could it really be that simple? Could continual focus on these three questions lead students to become better readers? Could these be our overarching reading outcomes?
Of course, these questions correspond directly with the Common Core’s clusters: Key Ideas and Details (What does the text say?), Craft and Structure (How does the text work?), Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (What does the text mean?). Each of these questions and clusters has a corresponding group of standards that support students in their analysis. Considering this, as teachers and students work through these questions, each discreet standard is a guidepost for successful responses: What does the text say.... literally and inferentially (RI/L 1)? How does the text work.… how do diction and structure function to drive the meaning (RI/L 4 and 5)? etc.
Also key to this statement are the words “generally organized around” because the authors are not advocating that we repeatedly ask these questions verbatim, but that we design our lessons and tasks around them so that we can determine how well students comprehend a text, analyze and evaluate an author’s rhetorical choices, and explain why the text is meaningful. When students struggle with one of these areas, digging deeper into the discreet standards where student lapses exist becomes the focus of study.
Sometimes it can be difficult to articulate why teaching and learning in English Language Arts is different. In working through these three questions, it becomes clearer. Since each of these questions comes from a different cluster, teaching a text necessarily draws from multiple standards. In other words, unlike science where a whole unit can attend to a single standard, approaching a text must attend to multiple standards spanning from basic comprehension to integrating the ideas with other texts or real life.
This process involves questioning, discussing, and writing about texts. Keeping track of student successes and struggles serves to drive teachers and students back into the discreet standards in order to develop skills necessary to overcome these struggles. For example, if students are challenged to understand how texts work to create effective arguments, it makes sense to select texts and develop instruction around RI 8: “Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.” However, before students can get to that with any text they must be able to summarize the text's central idea (RI 2).