Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts (#5)

“When leading students to reflect on the important issues found in and beyond their texts, it can help to think of reflection in terms of layers….
Reflection begins with the self, and this is the level of reflection adolescents are most comfortable with. When students are reading a great book, they naturally ask themselves, ‘What does this text mean to me?’ But we want them to move beyond the self and into deeper levels of reflection”
— Gallagher, 2004, p. 156

I appreciated the circles of reflection, and may use them for our novel project coming up. We are reading “The Outsiders” (S.E. Hinton, 1967), which deals with many issues that youth are still facing today. The reflection piece of this novel is incredibly important, and I think the circles of reflection may help guide these reflections. Every year, this book resonates with my learners, because it opens up dialogue that is relevant, meaningful, and true.

I also think that anchor questions within these reflective opportunities can help build my learners’ skills on multiple levels. The dialogue can go in many different directions, allowing for my learners’ voices to be heard, empathized with, and connected with. Asking for learners to reflect beyond themselves goes into a realm of empathy that must be intentional. Empathy can be taught, and must be taught through using reflective strategies like the circles of reflection. This helps them take a step back each time they are reflecting further away from themselves, and upon those surrounding them as well.

“As a teacher, I am responsible for preparing adolescents for adulthood, and it concerns me that they are not reading the newspaper. Again, I’ll paraphrase what I said earlier in this chapter: if a student graduates with the ability to analyze The Scarlet Letter but is unable to apply these same critical reading skills to real-world texts, I have come up short in making this student a literate person”
— Gallagher, 2004, p. 145

The discussion with my learners about what the difference between knowledge and understanding was reflects this quote greatly. My learners explained that knowledge is not understanding, because simply knowing something does not translate to being able to do something. This year, my learners and I have been more focused on the skills we have learned and how we can apply these skills to our lives now and in the future.

I am  in my school’s diversity group, and I have begun to see how grade levels and content areas can implement more diverse content in their courses. Cross-curricular work amongst teaching teams within grade levels could be feasible and meaningful for this opportunity. Having learners read newspapers from around the world, different time periods, or from today could tie into Social Studies content while reinforcing the skills the learners need to know.

All teachers are reading teachers, even though they do not see it that way. We read in every course we take as learners. I am working with my teaching team on this idea that our learners read in their courses, and they need to recognize the strategies and skills in literacy they use (or should use).

“The multiple-choice questions value shallow thinking, and so they inspire surface-level thinking. The essay questions value deeper thinking, and when they are used in assessment, they move students to a deeper level of comprehension. Jim Cox is right when he says that what you test is what you get. In my classroom, the assessment drives the level of thinking in my classroom; knowing the assessment ahead of time elicits better teaching from me and deeper learning from my students. In short, if I really want to know whether my students ‘got it,’ I must start with an assessment that will get them there”
— Gallagher, 2004, p. 212

Backwards design 101! Brilliant and important. Some educators I work with backwards design their units without knowing that they are. I often question them on why they are using that summative assessment or how they know that is what they should be journeying toward. Not in a demeaning way, but in a curious way. I have evolved as an educator immensely, and continue to consider what I assess my learners on and why I assess them on such things, in such ways.

I go back to the “So what?” and the “What do I want my learners to get from this?” questions, in hopes that it will aid me in backwards designing my units and lessons. This then helps me know what strategies my learners will use, what skills we are focusing on, how I will group my learners, and more.

Gallagher, K. (2004).  Deeper reading: Comprehending challenging texts, 4-12. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.