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Friday, June 14, 2013

Common Core Literature Standard 1

What's the best way to address the CCSS for literature in the classroom? I've been exploring this for the better part of two years and would like to discuss it with you. Let's go standard by standard.

Each post will discuss one College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard for Reading (which correlates with a Reading: Literature Standard with the same number at each grade level). Today we'll start with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1, which we'll just call CCRA.R.1 for short.

Here it is: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

What does this standard ask students to do?
  1. Read carefully.
  2. Gather evidence from the text.
  3. Explain or infer to answer the question.
  4. Support the answer with matching evidence.
  5. Cite the text (Grades 4 up).
  6. Quote the text (Grades 5 up).
  7. Optional but suggested: Conclude.
Let's go through each of these steps.

Read carefully. This is something we always want our students to do; however, reading to answer questions requires more slow, focused reading. It's been difficult for me to know whether my students should read the questions or the text first, but this past year we settled on this sequence: read the text slowly and thoroughly, read the question, go back into the text and scan for relevant information.

Gather evidence from the text. Underlining, highlighting, and jotting notes in the margins work really well here. I know, students can't always write in their books, but this is important! Modeling is essential. After finding a question to model, I copy a few pages then model how to scan and locate evidence, as well as how to paraphrase in the margin. Many students want to highlight or underline everything. They need to see how to pinpoint only essential phrases or sentences. Making a bulleted list on a separate sheet of paper is the next step in my class.

Explain or infer to answer the question. Is the bulleted list the answer or is the answer still somewhere in outer space? This is the difference between explaining and inferring questions. If it's an explaining question, students need to summarize to answer the question. For inferring questions, they need to ask themselves, "What does all of this mean??" That brings them to the answer. Again, at any grade level, modeling is absolutely necessary. Don't forget to teach them how to use question parts in their answers!

Support the answer with matching evidence. Now they need to take a good hard look at the evidence they've collected. Encourage them to be choosy. I can personally abide by two, three, or even four pieces of good evidence. When they want to include five or six, it's getting too messy. Too much evidence shows that the reader cannot discriminate between what's important and what's not.

Cite the text. In fourth grade, students need to begin citing. What does this mean? Footnotes? No, all they need to do is tell where they found the evidence. Early in the year, students can simply refer to the text ("In Hatchet..." or "The author tells us..."). As they get more familiar with citing, they can mention the general location in the text ("At the beginning of the story..."), and finally you can help them with specific citing (" paragraph 3").

Quote the text. This is required for Grade 5 and above. It sounds easy: just find some evidence and quote it. But it's not that simple. Weaving appropriate quotes into the answer (and knowing just how much of the quote to include) is an art. Again, students will need modeling and lots of practice.

Conclude. The standard doesn't explicitly tell us that students need to conclude. It is, however, a part of the writing standards beginning in Grade 1! Bringing closure to an answer can take many forms. For example, I ask my fourth grade students to wrap it up with a personal insight or opinion. Some third grade teachers in my school district teach use "Me-Author-Author-Author-Me" to teach their students to answer the question (Me), support with three pieces of evidence (Author-Author-Author), and wrap up with a personal insight (Me).

Teaching kids to answer questions effectively is hard work but well worth the effort! Since I've been emphasizing the importance of modeling, I'd like to offer an activity for you to use in your class. Although it was written for fourth grade (RL.4.1), you can tweak it to work for any intermediate grade.

Do you have some additional ideas for teaching CCRA.R.1? We'd love to hear them. Don't be shy! Comment and tell us all!