Six Shifts in ELA: More Informational Text

Bill and Melinda Gates want our students reading more informational texts.  Actually, that’s what we do primarily as adults, so much so that many people don’t have left over time to read for the pure pleasure of it.

For those of us who teach history-social studies this shift is a godsend.  When it comes to Social Studies, there are two questions to answer about this shift.

  • What non-fiction or informational text should my students read?
  • How should I support the language arts teacher in teaching the students to read in my content area of history-social science.

What to Read:  Recommending Informational Texts

First of all there are many recommended and interesting non-fiction items  that are as pleasurable to read as fiction.  In the Implementation Toolkit published by Tulare County Office of Education aligning the ELA Common Core Standards and the History-Social Science Analysis Skills, there is a list of books recommended in the standards and the California State Framework for History-Social Science.  Two types of informational materials are examined in subsequent paragraphs.

Cover designed by Laura Malmquist

Reading Biographies 

One of the easiest and most engaging informational texts for students to read are biographies.  Suggested biographies are listed for each grade levels.   Biographies  bring history to life because they put faces on the people that played in the drama of history.  Students  typically start out thinking that  “people in the past were stupid”  (Levstick & Barton. 2011. p. 134).  Biographies put people and their environments into perspective, and answer big questions about why they made the choices they made.

Student Activities to Make Biographies Relevant

  • participating in readers’ theaters
  • reading silently using graphic organizers to process information
  • practicing choral-reading interspersed with solo readers to stress:  timing, vocal emphasis and pronunciation
  • writing biographical poems
  • creating an advertisement for the biographical character using propaganda techniques
  • taking notes from different sources about the target historical character
  • making comments on a blog about the biography

Reading Primary Sources

  •  Diaries
  •  Memos
  •  Letters
  •  Photographs
  •  Cartoons
  •  Paintings
  •  Billboards
  •  Statues
  •  Autobiographies
  •  Charts
  •  Maps
  •  Political documents
  •  Military records
  •  Vital records
  •  Census records

Two Tools to Analyze Primary Sources:

One of the most important differences between analyzing sources from a language arts perspective and a history-social studies perspective is the critical, analytic eye with which historians look at the source.  Bruce Lesh, author of “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?” instructs his students to look beyond the text to the context and the subtext of the source.  The context is what was going on in the world during the time the source was created, and the subtext is reading between the lines to find out what is known about the author and the intended audience of the source.  Students are taught to ask, “What was the reason this source was produced when it was?”  Lesh. p. 39  this kind of questions jolt students out of their complacent history comfort zone into a place where they are forced to examine history as it was.

Using primary sources and biographies of both famous and ordinary folks that lived during particular periods of history allow students to create their own understanding of the context of history and draw conclusions in the same way that professional historians do when they are “doing” the work  of historians.  Students who read more informational texts and spend time analyzing them will develop critical thinking skills they need to be effective citizens of the 21st century.

A Tall Tale By An Average Size Boy

Written by: Paula Terrill

In Collaboration with Edward Haney

Illustrations by: Kara-Lynn Smith

My name is Edward. I know what you are thinking, that is a boring and common name. That’s true, but I am not boring or common. I am the most amazing person you will ever meet because my family is famous! Not like movie stars. Better than that.

Chef Paula

My mom is the best baker in the world. Just for fun, she decided to make a chocolate pudding pie big enough for everyone in the state of California to share it.

She didn’t have a big enough bowl for that, so she used the Grand Canyon to mix everything together.

When it was done mixing, she didn’t have a refrigerator big enough to chill it, so she had it flown to the North Pole. It took 200 helicopters to get it off the ground.

My dad is the nicest guy you will ever meet. He holds doors for people. He always remembers to say please and thank you. He loves kids and animals, and even old people. He loves animals so much that he is a wild animal rescuer in Africa.

Wildlife Rescuer Joey

Every week, he gets on his super fast speed boat and travels to Africa to save animals that are sick or injured. Last week, he met a cheetah with a toothache. The cheetah told my dad (you see my dad speaks cheetah) that he had been eating too many berries because he didn’t want to hurt the gazelles and the sugar in the berries caused a cavity.

My dad pulled the tooth and made a necklace for the cheetah to keep forever.

My grandpa may be the most amazing person of all time. When you first meet him, he is quiet and friendly, but don’t let that fool you. He is a knife maker during the day, but in his spare time, he wrestles bears.

Knifemaker Grandpa

This one time we were camping when a great big brown bear came running towards our camp. It was so scary, but my grandpa jumped in front of him and flipped him over. My grandpa is so strong, when he threw that bear to the ground; he caused a great big hole that went all the way through the middle of the mountain. After that, they changed the name of the mountain to Mount Vesuvius.

There was another time we came across a Yeti. That’s a Big Foot that is all covered in snow. It was three times taller than my grandpa and weighed at least a ton. My grandpa scared him so bad, he ran away so fast that it caused an avalanche and buried all the Yeti’s in the snow. That’s why no one can find the Yeti’s anymore.

Yeti and Eddie

I know it is hard to believe from someone with the name Edward, but take my word for it, my family is the most wonderful family ever.

The Importance of Writing in the History-Social Science Class

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.” Benjamin Franklin.

Both California’s Common Core State Standards (CCCSS) and the History/Social Science (HSS) Framework and Standards recommend writing as an essential tool for teaching the discipline of history/ social science because writing develops analytic and critical thinking skills.  History classes should include both informal and formal writing.

 Informal Writing

A history class should practice  informal writing “routinely over extended time frames for a range of tasks, purposes and audiences (CCCSS Range of Writing 10, Grade 3)”.

  • Students must learn how to take notes.  They should always record their source of information whether from a lecture, an online source, book, or article.
  • A double-sided journal works well for this activity.  On one side of the paper the students record important facts from reading the text or primary source materials, lectures, student reports, and videos.  On the other side they record their own thinking, beliefs, questions, and ideas to analyze as they learn.
  • learning logs
  • outlines
  • doodles
  • lists,
  • graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams and concept maps.
  • Digital notes:  Evernote is a free online product that allows students to record and insert pictures into their notes.

After they take notes, they should analyze their notes to decide the main idea, the author’s or speaker’s opinions or point of view, and find the credibility of the information source.  Informal writing is most effective when it is shared with one or two peers.  Typically these written works are not edited by the students or teacher for errors, but they may be expanded and modified after being shared with a classmate.  Writing informally to learn is one of the first steps students use when preparing to write a formal history/ social science essay.

 Formal Writing

Formal writing in history/social science answers a question and includes:  arguments, informational texts and narration of historical events in both short and sustained research projects.  All three of these writing types consist of answering question and presenting facts and examples to persuade a reader to accept the student’s interpretation of history.  The teacher’s responsibility is to begin a writing project with a question prompt about a significant issue within a larger historical context that will stimulate student thinking.

Writing programs differ only slightly in describing five steps in writing a formal historical essay from pre-writing to a published document.  The steps are:  pre-writing, draft, revising, editing, and publishing.  Students do best when teachers clearly communicate what they expect by showing examples of similar papers at each stage of the process about other topics in which students have written successfully to a prompt.  It is also helpful to demonstrate to students what is not successful, but teachers must always end by showing the successful model.

  • Pre-writing
    • Students must understand and analyze the prompt, place it in the proper context, and develop a thesis statement in which they state their opinion about the topic.
    • Students need to know the purpose and audience for which and to whom they are writing,
    •  Pre-writing also includes collecting and sorting information.  Students may need direct instruction on how to use the Internet to research, how to tell secondary from primary resources and understand why both are important.  In addition to gathering information, students will discard unimportant details, and keep only those that support the claim they make in their thesis statements.
    • Finally in the pre-writing stage students need experience with academic vocabulary.  Teachers need to be clear in their instructions as to which words students are required to use in their final product.
  • Draft
    • Starting with a hook like a quotation or interesting fact students will turn their outlines or graphic organizers into an essay with an introduction, body and conclusion.  The thesis, stated somewhere in the introductory paragraph, controls the argument and answers the historical question in one sentence.  It states the author’s opinion authoritatively using the verbs “to have” or “to be” rather than using specific opinion words.  The thesis statement should be followed by persuasive words such as “This is historically important because…” or “This shows that…”
    • Each paragraph also has a main idea, general and specific details, and a transition or conclusion.
    • In the body of the essay, students should start with the weakest argument (Scarcella, 2003; Schleppegrell, 2004.).  Students should aim to include 3-4 factual details to prove each argument or concept.
    • Rather than offering a simple summary, the formal historical essay concludes by restating the thesis and applying the analysis to a broader context to show its significance in history.
  • Revising
    • Word sorting activities, using word banks or thesauruses they make edits to revise and improve their reports.
    • They read each other’s work and “question the author” to make sure that the message they have is clear.
    • They allow time to distance themselves from their work so they can be objective as they make deep cuts and edits to their original draft.
  • Editing
    • Proofreading and editing still needs to take place to perfect the product.  They need to check for punctuation, complete sentences, capitals, grammar.
    • Finally they should include text features such as: font sizes, bold and italicized print, charts, maps and pictures.
  • Publishing
    • Finally the works is ready to be published.  This may be in the form of a paper, book, brochure, or a digital production such as a blog or photo story.  There are many other forms of publications each with their own requirements.

Writing about history is often controversial, and cannot be understood unless writers imagine themselves in a different period of history, in a different place and culture.  They must garner facts and evidence to take up a new identity and make sense of the events of history.  Tom Clancy states, “The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.”  Often history doesn’t make sense, and student historians have the opportunity to investigate and produce their slant on what really happened in history”.  Writing helps students learn from and make sense of history, and develops their critical and analytic thinking.  Write on, historians.

Ubiquitous

ACADEMIC VOCABULARY

Academic Vocabulary is one of the six major shifts in language arts standards as states are moving to implement the Common Core Standards.  Teaching academic vocabulary is going to be ubiquitous.  Every content area teacher ia already responsible for teaching vocabulary.  All content teachers teach the vocabulary that is unique to their content.  Where, but in a history class, would you learn the word Senate?  The shift in academic vocabulary instruction due to the implementation of the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts is that all content area teachers will  become responsible for teaching Tier 2 words, words that are ubiquitous across all content areas.

USE THE WORD IN A SENTENCE

The word ubiquitous is ubiquitous.  While  this is an accurate and true statement it is the perfect example of why having students use vocabulary or spelling words in a sentence is not an effective learning strategy.  However, the question is whether or not the word ubiquitous rises to the level of being classified as academic vocabulary that should be taught by direct instruction by content area teachers.  I would argue that it does not.

Granted when you meet a person and he or she uses the word ubiquitous in general conversation, your first impression is that the person is well-educated.  I know that because it happened to me.  I remember exactly where I was when I when I first heard the word ubiquitous.  My husband and I were eating lunch at Hometown Emporium in Exeter, California, when a friend approached him and said, “My friend, you are ubiquitous.”  I was impressed with this friend, and we spent the next five minutes discussing his choice vocabulary word – and that was my introduction both to the word and the friend.

WHAT  VOCABULARY DESERVES DIRECT INSTRUCTION?

Only Tier 2 words are targeted for direct instruction by all content area teachers.  Is ubiquitous merely a showy, ostentatious Tier 3 word, or is it truly an academic necessity Tier 2 word? Based on the work of Isabel Beck, who categorizes academic words as Tier 1,2 or 3 level, I would classify ubiquitous as a Tier 3 word.  It is not a common or Tier 1 word like pencil or high use word like the.  It does not have different meanings in different content areas like Tier 2 words:  table, key, or expression.

STRATEGY FOR DIRECT INSTRUCTION OF  VOCABULARY

To give you an example of a ubiquitous Tier 2 word, let’s put the word table on the table.  To do that I’ll create a table to demonstrate how it is used in different content areas.

CONCLUSION

Even though Common Core standards are only adopted nation-wide for language arts and mathematics, language arts standards are particularly ubiquitous.  To make a point, I would argue that Common Core standards in English Language Arts are even MORE CORE, more ubiquitous, if you were,  than in mathematics because students have to read, write, speak, and listen even to master the core mathematics standards.

Common Core standards are ubiquitous in the United States.  Again, I would argue that the major shift of teaching academic vocabulary may be the most ubiquitous of the six major shifts in language arts standards.  Words are important.  They represent the expression of all we think and do.  Words are ubiquitous.

University Park Inn & Suites

Lodging, like rental housing, in university towns are in much demand during part of the year.  Sometimes you can be picky and sometimes you just can’t.  Our travel was paid for out of a federal grant, so we get good rates for nice hotels, but that doesn’t mean that we necessarily choose the locations that are the most expensive hotel in town.

This is one of those that I would consider to be somewhere in the middle.  You are not going to walk in and be blown away by the elegance, but on the other hand, it is an inviting and  pleasant place to spend a week  learning with friends.

Several amenities make this a comfortable place.  The most obvious is the even bigger sign for the restaurant, Caffé Italia.  The food was great, reasonable, and twins, Karen and Christy, took care of us the whole time.

It literally was just a step away.

Another major advantage was the nice setting outdoors.  The pool was clean and inviting, though most of us never actually got into the pool.

The evenings were the perfect temperature, let me clarify, about 80 degrees.  Bugs were scarce, and there was always an assortment of food and beverages.  Ok in all fairness, snacks and drinks were not included in the price of the hotel even though a help-yourself breakfast was included.

During the day, when we were all leaving or gone to class, the pool area was pretty subdued.  Again in all fairness, I was gone in the afternoon when the pool area might be the most popular.

As you walked the perimeter of the pool, the grounds were quite inviting.

If you faced the back of the complex and looked right, there was a conference room which we never used.  We had all our informal meetings around the pool, and our formal meetings were at U.C. Davis, which was a 15 minute walk from the Inn.

Just beyond the conference area was the back gate, and across the street from that was an entrance to the bike path, which I will write about at another time.  In Davis the University Bike Path is quite a famous feature, and is well used.

The rooms were spacious and comfortable.  A couple of women said the bed was too hard.  The bed felt comfortable to me.   I had a nice suite, but the weather was too nice to invite people to stay inside.

What was nice about the bedroom was that you could open the door and have a breeze go all the way through the room.  It added a lot of light as well.  The rooms were pretty dark.  the refrigerator was not packed with expensive cheeses and other items for purchase.  Several people brought home leftover dinner or breakfast so that was handy.

I spent most of my room time in the office area, and much of that with the door open as long as it was light outside.  You know, blogging and such, but I didn’t want to miss any parties.

The bathroom was adequate, not fancy.  It was nice that it had a bathtub, and the sink was outside of the bathroom itself, so more than one person could stay there and be comfortable.

All in all I would recommend this site.  There is one thing about Davis that you can’t escape no matter how much you pay for a room, and that is the train.  the whistles blow late at night and early in the morning, so if you like trains, you are in the right town.  If not, well…