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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Using neu.Annotate to Model, Teach, and Assess Text Dependent Questions

Text Dependent Questions

One of the major shifts ( or really one of the better pedagogical practices) highlighted by the Common Core revolves around asking text dependent questions.

Text dependent questions do not rely on background knowledge or making connections to the world or other texts.

As P. David Pearson noted, in a recent discussion about the Common Core. Comprehension includes the text but also what a reader brings to the text. In recent years, Pearson argues, many teachers have tipped the scales to favor the reader and have all but ignored the text. Pearson is quoted saying:

In too many classrooms, the actual text never enters the discussion," he said. "It's all about kids' feelings about it, or their experiences related to it. The teacher spends 45 minutes wallowing in that space, but never gets into the information in the text.

The goal is to focus students on the meaning of the texts. In simplest terms a text dependent question can not be answered without referring back to the text.

Let us look at an example. The article  Hobbits: our tine cousins from from Science News for Kids provides a text that meets the quantitative and qualitative definition of a complex text for upper elementary and middle school.
Now pick the text dependent question:
  • How are the hobbits, or smaller humans, just like us? Cite examples from the text in your answer.
  • Examine the possible evolutionary paths outlined by the author. Given the evidence in the text which seems most plausible?
Notice that the second question relies more heavily and requires students to dig deeper in the text. Simple adding the phrase "Cite examples from the text in your answer"does not make a question text dependent.

Neu. Annotate, the iPad, and Text Dependent Questions

How can teachers model, teach, and assess how to address text dependent questions? I once again turn to tablet computing as a means to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of instruction that can be driven by student performance. Specifically, I find the neu.Annotate app to be one of the most powerful tools teachers can utilize.

Basically neu.Annotate allows you to mark up and annotate pdf documents. Teachers can use this app to track students close reads as they attend to text dependent questions.

Steps to using neu.Annotate

This post isn't a tutorial on the app but focuses more on the pedagogical affordances of using neu.Annotate to assess and teach analytic reading and the asking of text dependent questions.

1. Cold Read

 I like to begin any close reading activity by first collecting students thoughts after a cold read. That is I begin the lesson before discussing any of the texts, providing background, or explaining the central thesis (this of course does not apply to ELL students or others who require pre-teaching based on an IEP).

To do this I make one version of the article and add a question and a text box at the end of the article for the students.

2. Analyze individual paragraphs.

The next activity I like to do is to look at the text at a local, before a global level. Use neu.Annotate to examine paragraphs at a sentence or word level.

3. Investigate word choice.

Another activity I like to do with students is to then have them look at individual word choice by the author.

5. Examine each idea in the informational text.

My next step is to probe the the organizational strategy the author used. I do this in neu.Annotate by having students highlight the main idea in one color (yellow) and then have them highlight details in another color (blue). Finally students have to rewrite the gist of each paragraph at the end of the document.

6. Final activity

To finish a close read, using text dependent question. I return to the orginal question or task I posed to students followed by some expansion:

  • Outline the author's main thesis. 
  • Examine the possible evolutionary paths outlined by the author. Given the evidence in the text which seems most plausible?

Using neu.Annotate in the classroom

I would begin by first modeling the series of activities with another article. I would follow this by a a group think-aloud as you attack a text. This may take a few classroom sessions as you analyze the different elements of the text from the local to the global. 

Then you can have students complete a similar activity on their own. This can result in some assessment data. Hopefully you will recognize some growth and areas the student needs to focus on by comparing the initial close read with the final activity.

As neu.Annotate creates a digital record of the students data you can easily track how well students respond to text dependent questions. Teachers could have students either email their responses as a pdf or simply share the files by connecting neu.Annotate to dropbox.

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