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Turning the Page on Complex Texts: Differentiated Scaffolds for Close Reading Instruction (Grade-Specific Classroom Scenarios for Common Core State St

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Ensure all learners become successful close readers. In this powerful resource, the authors examine what features make a text complex. Learn how to select appropriate complex texts and design instruction to meet the needs of every student. Explore grade-specific classroom scenarios that illustrate how to scaffold lessons to foster close reading and deepen comprehension at all stages of K–12 education.

Benefits

  • Gain practical teaching strategies for creating close reading lessons.
  • Consider grade-level-specific instructional scenarios that illustrate how to support students’ reading comprehension as they learn to read closely.
  • Learn how to evaluate a text’s complexity and how to ask text-dependent questions that can help students engage with a text.
  • Study evidence for why continuous close assessment of student performance is vital for making sure all students learn to closely read complex texts.
  • Discover potential contingency scaffolds for the classroom and how to use them to promote student success in closely reading a text.

 

Contents

Introduction

Part I: Background and Planning Information

1              Understanding Close Reading

2              Identifying Text Complexity

3              Making Decisions That Support Close Reading Instruction

4              Assessing During Close Reading

Part II: Instructional Scenarios

5              Understanding What the Text Says Through Differentiated Scaffolds

6              Understanding How the Text Works Through Differentiated Scaffolds

7              Understanding What the Text Means Through Differentiated Scaffolds

8              Supporting Knowledge Demands with Differentiated Scaffolds

Epilogue

Appendix A

References and Resources

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1 Understanding Close Reading

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What constitutes a close reading, and what types of instruction support close reading? These are two questions that many educators have considered since 2010 when NGA and CCSSO’s (2010) Common Core State Standards identified the ability to “read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text” as the first English language arts anchor standard for reading (p. 10). Anchor standards are the overarching expectations of the CCSS for each of the four strands: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language. As more and more teachers become comfortable crafting instruction and management that support close reading across grades and disciplines, many wonder what to do at the end of a close reading when some students are still struggling to understand the text and also what to do with those who have mastered the text.

To begin to explore answers to these questions, we first need a shared definition of close reading. Sheila Brown and Lee Kappes (2012) provide a comprehensive description:

 

2 Identifying Text Complexity

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Daily, ongoing practice in closely reading progressively more challenging texts strengthens students’ reading muscles and equips them to read more deeply. Having students spend most of their time reading comfort-level texts fails to challenge them. Teachers will want to ramp up text difficulty in ways that will help students read appropriately complex texts independently by the end of each school year, as required by anchor standard ten for reading. More specifically, the International Literacy Association (formerly the International Reading Association) guidelines for Common Core implementation (International Reading Association, n.d.) note that students in grades K and 1 should engage with complex texts through teacher read-alouds, and students in grades 2–12 should be given opportunities to read complex texts. At least some of these texts should require students to struggle in ways that help them develop persistence and stamina, two characteristics of good readers.

What does this mean for your students? It means they will read more challenging complex texts more often and more closely and deeply than in the past (Lapp, Moss, Grant, & Johnson, 2015). According to PARCC (2012), research links close reading of complex texts to gains in reading proficiency for all readers—whether struggling or advanced.

 

3 Making Decisions That Support Close Reading Instruction

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Now that we’ve defined close reading, and identified the factors that make a text complex, let’s briefly consider some key decisions that you must address as you prepare a lesson to support your students in becoming close readers of increasingly complex texts. You make the following decisions as a result of your assessments of student performance. It’s important to remember that the decisions teachers make greatly affect student learning (Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2008). These decisions can also help you assess your own progress as a teacher of close reading; as you gain experience with the process, your decisions about what constitutes a complex text become more obvious, the questions that support students being able to analyze these areas of complexity will be easier to craft, and the scaffolds that you design to support all students becoming close readers will become more differentiated.

Because there is so much emphasis on teaching students to closely read short, complex texts, there’s a temptation to just select any short passage, even though it may not be related to the lesson purpose, to engage students in a close reading. Doing this would be the opposite of what should occur. Once you identify your lesson purpose that is, of course, related to the standards being addressed, you can then select a text and plan a close reading as one dimension of the instruction designed to accomplish the purpose. While we list possible texts to support sample lesson purposes, it’s important to note that the text should be selected after the lesson purpose has been identified because the study of the text should help accomplish the purpose. We mention these texts here merely as examples of the relationship that should exist between a content purpose statement and a text selected to help students achieve the purpose. Also note that while we identify texts that are related to the accomplishment of a specific lesson purpose, we are not suggesting that an entire book be used for a close reading. A text or passage selected for close reading should be short—approximately one page—because students will be reading it more than once.

 

4 Assessing During Close Reading

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Teachers who are focused on their students develop a good idea of their students’ range of existing literacy skills and disciplinary knowledge strengths and needs. They notice the learning that is occurring for their students, and they act on these observations. It is this knowledge that provides the basis for instructional planning. These teachers first identify the instructional purpose, then they plan instruction intended to support students accomplishing that purpose, and then during instruction they continually collect evidence that helps them identify the students who understand well enough to accomplish the lesson purpose as well as those who do not. They gain these insights by watching students as they participate in class discussions, share their written and oral work, self-initiate study of topics that interest them, and select texts for independent reading. They continually assess, and the inferences they make based on the data they collect inform their next instructional steps. This continuous assessment is often referred to as formative assessment, which is assessment for learning and occurs throughout the teaching and learning experience. It is unlike summative assessment, which is assessment of learning and occurs after the teaching and learning have concluded. It follows that formative assessments are most helpful when applied during a close reading, as teachers are able to gauge student learning in real time and make adjustments throughout the lesson to best ensure student understanding and success.

 

5 Understanding What the Text Says Through Differentiated Scaffolds

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Before students can gain a deep understanding of a text’s meaning and decide whether or to what degree the information is true, they must have a foundational understanding of the ideas and concepts that are literally stated. They must be able to answer questions such as those Adler and Van Doren (1972) identify: “What is this book about as a whole?” and “What is being said in detail, and how?” (pp. 46–47). Text-based questions teachers and students initially ask during close reading and collaborative conversations throughout the reading help focus students on the basic key ideas and concepts within a text. Questions that focus on the text’s language, structure, and meaning stretch the knowledge of the majority of students who, at the conclusion of the close reading, will be ready to use these insights to share and expand their understandings.

Because we know a few students may still need differentiated contingency scaffolds designed to ensure that they will also be successful when closely rereading the text, teachers must decide what scaffolds will help these students gain a basic understanding of the textual information. The contingencies teachers plan should serve as temporary scaffolds to support students in eventually being able to read the initial text and gain an understanding of its meaning. This chapter focuses on the six types of differentiated scaffolds that are designed to enable students to acquire a general understanding of the text and its key details: (1) text-dependent layered questions, (2) graphic organizers, (3) language frames, (4) text chunking, (5) think-alouds, and (6) paired texts. Often explored in a small-group configuration, these scaffolds should push students to revisit the text’s meaning as they identify key details and ideas that, when synthesized, provide a general understanding of the text.

 

6 Understanding How the Text Works Through Differentiated Scaffolds

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Virginia Woolf (1925) writes of fellow novelist Joseph Conrad, “. . . the vision of a novelist is both complex and specialized” (p. 225). The same can be said for the op-ed writer supporting her argument with research-based evidence, the historian who documents noted events within a social context, and for the poet who conveys sentiments in lyrical verse. The written word can be laid down in a variety of ways, some of which follow the particular rules and expectations of a certain genre or area of publication, while incorporating both academic and technical words and phrases. Complexity is at the heart of such writing—in quantity, quality, and in relation to the skills and experiences the reader brings to the text.

Students as young as third grade are expected to recognize the relationships these text structures convey. Most teachers, however, will agree that in virtually every class there are students who struggle with these complex conventions of language. Comprehension increases greatly when text structures are accurately identified and interpreted. Given this, a prepared educator who plans well will have contingencies on hand to support learners who need extra scaffolds to support them identifying text structures and their impact on the meaning of the text.

 

7 Understanding What the Text Means Through Differentiated Scaffolds

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Without a clear understanding of the language the author uses to convey meaning, readers are often unable to make inferences because they do not glean clues while reading. This prevents them from putting the pieces together that would help them deeply understand the author’s purpose, bias, intentions, or the interconnections of ideas within the text and also as it relates to other texts on the same topic.

While the author’s vocabulary and language use are certainly dimensions of every facet of comprehension, we emphasize language as a primary feature of understanding what a text means because it is well known among educators that the level of one’s understanding of language either aids or hinders literacy learning (Dickinson & Tabors, 2001; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Therefore, the instruction shared in this chapter focuses on familiar routines that can serve as differentiated scaffolds to support students making meaning of a complex text by deeply analyzing the author’s use of language: (1) text-dependent questions, (2) think-alouds with annotation, (3) graphic organizers, (4) visual text, (5) word sorts, and (6) word work.

 

8 Supporting Knowledge Demands With Differentiated Scaffolds

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Savvy teachers recognize that nothing is more important to student comprehension of content than the knowledge they already have about a topic (Marzano, 2004). Numerous studies have confirmed this relationship between background knowledge and achievement (Dochy, Segers, & Buehl, 1999; Hailikari, Katajavuori, & Lindblom-Ylänne, 2008; Hailikari, Nevgi, & Lindblom-Ylänne, 2007; Nagy, Anderson, & Herman, 1987). This knowledge is the foundation for all future learning and provides the proverbial hooks on which students can hang new learning about a topic. Background knowledge contributes to every reading experience and improves comprehension, creates and builds motivation and interest, and enhances understanding of vocabulary.

Types of background knowledge that influence text comprehension include experiential knowledge, topical knowledge, cultural knowledge, and literary knowledge.

Experiential knowledge: Experiential knowledge is a powerful form of background knowledge. One of the authors, for example, visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, California. The museum provides many activities that allow the visitor to experience the horrors of the Holocaust. Visitors are each given a card with a brief biography of a child who lived during this time; at the end of the visit they learn whether or not their child survived. In addition, the museum contains a room designed to look like the concrete buildings in which the victims lived. Holocaust survivors give presentations about their lives during this time. Experiences like these help students bring greater understanding to numerous texts during their study of this time period. Obviously, schools are limited in the number of these experiences they can provide, but they can have a powerful effect on student learning.

 

Appendix A: Instructional Scenario Chart

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We have included small-group scaffolded instructional scenarios throughout the text as examples of what can occur after a whole-group close reading experience when a few students have not comprehended the text. Please use the instructional scenario chart in table A.1 to find examples of contingency instruction designed to promote close reading success for every student. Column one identifies the grade level at which the small-group contingency instruction occurred. Columns two and three identify the chapter and page number to make finding these scenarios very time efficient, and column four identifies the focus of each instructional example.

Table A.1: Instructional Scenario Chart

 

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