Teaching Methods and the CCS

I just read this post by Vicki Vinton (at the suggestion of Darren Burris–@dgburris–thanks!), and it raised a couple of points I hadn’t thought of in regards to using Coleman’s text-dependent questioning strategy.

Vinton says, “But the text dependent question approach relies on teachers directing and prompting students to what they want them to see, not on teaching in a way that empowers students to more independently notice what there is to be noticed through their own agency.”

I can see how this strategy may end up reflecting the kind of teaching I criticized in my text-dependent post.  If, for example, I were teaching a close reading on a passage from The Great Gatsby and I used text-dependent questions to zoom students’ attention in on materialism in the passage, I am, effectively, doing the same things I was doing when I dissected The Butter Battle for my students in the pre-reading stage.  Is there a way, then, for teacher bias and teacher interpretation of a text to NOT influence the kinds of questions asked?  Can text-dependent questions be broad enough to allow students to uncover the meaning of the text on their own?  Or, will even text-dependent questions give too much information away running “the risk of creating teacher dependent students instead of strong, flexible readers”? (Vinton)

Vinton examines the exemplar lessons on achievethecore.org, which require students to read silently, the teacher to then read aloud, and then work on close analysis.  She says, “students will read and listen to the passage passively, waiting for the teacher to tell them what to do.”  I can also see how this would happen–after all, the fundamental reason for pre-reading is to engage students’ prior knowledge and provide a purpose for reading.  Without any prereading activities, without knowing why they are reading, how well will students engage with the text?  (I would argue, though, that appropriate context building through the use of context texts in lieu of a prereading activity such as an anticipation guide would help students be prepared for a cold reading.)  If text-dependent questioning is the only teaching method a teacher uses, then yes, I can see how students would not know what to do with the text without guidance.

I am seeing some confusion in the ELA world about how to implement the CCSS, which is resulting in some of the tension against Coleman.  Even in the Engage NY videos, Coleman explicitly says his text-dependent questioning method (and those lesson exemplars on achievethecore.org) are one method for meeting CC expectations.  If you taught every lesson the way Coleman teaches the Frederick Douglass lesson, your students would be bored out of their minds, and they would absolutely read and wait for the teacher to tell them what to do.

As I said in my comment on Vinton’s post, there are many ways to meet the intent of the standards.  Gallagher, Fisher/Frey, and many other experts are touting other teaching methods and strategies that also reach the intent of the standards.  I think some of the Coleman backlash comes from misinformation in that many are assuming his method is the only method, and having watched many of his videos and read much of the research surrounding CCS, that is not the vibe I am getting.  I believe he is encouraging teachers to use their professional expertise to raise expectations.  Asking questions like, “Where did they go?  What did they do?  Who is the main character?” is doing our students a disservice and not teaching them appropriate literacy skills, but asking text-dependent questions is not the only way to increase rigor in our classrooms.

Vinton says, “But what if, instead, we taught students that every reader enters a text not knowing where it’s headed, and because of that they keep track of what they’re learning and what they’re confused or wondering about, knowing that they’ll figure out more as they both read forward and think backwards?”  Ultimately, I think this is the intent of the CC; we want students to become critical readers and to struggle with complex texts.  The truth is there are many ways to achieve this!

My comment on Vinton’s post:

Coleman states throughout those videos that his method is one method of teaching more rigorously with texts, and I think there is some value in his method. I think what has happened is that teachers have moved far away from letting the text speak for itself and letting students learn how to grapple with a text. In my own teaching, I was more apt to give the answer and/or focus students’ attention on my own takeaways from a text than to let them struggle through on their own. The value to me, then, in Coleman’s text-dependent questioning method is refocusing the attention of teachers and students on what the text says, not on what the teacher says the text says.

The methods themselves are not the focus of the standards; the standards themselves do not say, “You must teach using text-dependent questions.” Instead, experts are interpreting the standards and focusing in on reading strategies that make students more accountable and raise the rigor expectations. Educators must look at all of the methods/strategies being suggested by these experts, compare these with what they are already doing, and ensure are challenging students at a level reflective of the CCS expectations (i.e. teaching students how to struggle with text rather than telling them the answers–after all, no one is going to tell them the answers when they read as adults). When you pair Coleman’s text-dependent questioning method with the work of Gallagher and Frey/Fisher, you can get a more complete picture of common core expectations. For example, pre-reading isn’t off the table, but using methods Gallagher details in “Deep Reading” that do not unlock all the secrets of the text prior to reading the text DOES meet the intent of the CCS. Asking text-to-self questions is also not off the table, but as Nancy Frey says, these questions should be INFORMED by a close reading of the text first.

Teaching methods abound for reaching the new standards, and your “What we Know/Wonder” strategy is another great idea to add to the toolbox. Thanks!


One thought on “Teaching Methods and the CCS

  1. Pingback: Teaching Methods and the CCS | Oakland County ELA Common Core | Scoop.it

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