With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the research validating the need for children to read, read more, and read again, I have been doing some teacher soul-searching in recent years. I am in the midst of a series of blog posts regarding my experiences in helping and supporting high school ELA students embrace complex texts.
I have adapted Kelly Gallagher’s complex text approach to the demographics of our students as well as my own strengths and weaknesses as an educator. The first step in the process is to Access and/or Build Background Knowledge. The next step, as Gallagher identifies, is First-Draft Reading. As in the writing process, we ask our students to pre-plan, craft a rough draft, edit, revise, and complete a final draft for publishing, it is just as important for ELA teachers to demand something similar while reading.
As Gallagher proposes, and I advocate for because I have witnessed its efficacy, 2nd Draft Reading is quintessential in comprehending and applying the depths of complex texts. This is a fun and engaging level of embracing complex texts.
When I was coaching football and basketball, I would utilize practice drills or ‘games’ that would stealthily include conditioning. Rather than lining players up on a line, asking them to sprint to one end of the floor, and repeat, I would do my best to ‘hide’ the conditioning in drills athletes found to be fun or competitive. The same concept holds true in 2nd Draft Reading. Students don’t need to necessarily read the entire text again (although that might be ideal, time is certainly a constraint), they do need to dive into the text to retrieve deeper meaning and understanding using some of the following strategies.
- Search for Figurative Language and/or Literary Devices: This can be done in multiple ways. I encourage you to utilize your creativity in asking students to find figurative language and/or literary devices (use of metaphor, simile, personification, symbolism etc.) in portions of the text they have completed reading. I always have students record page numbers of where they find the examples. This way, when writing a reflection or for simple class discussion, students have a reference point for defending their claims.
- Multi-Layered Time Lines: I love this activity. The multi-layered time line is a living organism throughout reading a complex text. We don’t begin this activity until well into the text or at its completion. The multiple layers can include just about anything you or your students desire to track. For example, one layer may be the events of the plot. Another layer may then be a specific character who influenced or was influenced by the event. A third layer then might show how the event was contributing to a conflict or its resolution. Identifying a minor character’s contribution to the event may be a fourth layer. As you can see, the list of possible layers is long and can go in several directions. Again, I have students record page numbers of where they find the examples providing a reference point for defending their claims..
- Character Charts w/ Multiple Categories: Character charts are effective in understanding human nature and comprehending beyond the surface of the text. As with the multi-layered time lines, character charts can have many different layers as well. Categories might include all or a few of these: strength of character, weakness of character, role in conflict(s), defining moment, symbol representing character, physical description, relationship to main character, connection to reader, and the list goes on.
- Tracking Emerging Themes and Tracking Emerging Conflicts: While these two concepts are two separate searches, the process is nearly the same. So, I will be writing about these two as one, but please note these are two different 2nd draft reading techniques. Identifying theme or conflict in literature is not always simple. There are implied messages and inferences where readers must learn to read between the lines, beyond the surface. After beginning a complex text, we might spend a portion of a class period discussing themes and conflicts that might be emerging. I ask students to form theme statements and conflict statements, simply a sentence or two identifying an emerging theme or conflict. Then, as we continue reading, students are asked to track that theme or conflict. As a class, we will come back to the emerging theme chart or the emerging conflict chart once or twice a week to reflect on how the reading has either further developed an identified theme/conflict or has completely dissolved what was initially thought of as an emerging theme/conflict. Maybe it pans out, maybe it doesn’t. Great tool to discovery. However it plays out, students are to record page numbers and even passages to help support their claim of a developing theme.
- What Does the Text NOT Tell Us?: I usually T-Chart this. On one side of the T-Chart I have students write down everything we know about the reading. On the other side of the T-Chart, I ask students to brainstorm what details the author doesn’t give us. Then, I ask them to analyze those details we are not privy to and try to wrap their minds around the author’s purpose of leaving this information out.
- Analyzing Plot, Structure, Setting, and Character w/ Graphic Organizers: I have a tendency to create my own graphic organizers; my mind is always adapting to the needs of my students, day-to-day and year-to-year. Also, as I read about what other educators are doing, I borrow (steal) their stuff too that I might apply in my classroom 🙂 I love the idea of using a completely different, foreign if you will, platform to analyze literature. For example, I have used a graphic organizer in the form of a fishing boat to analyze character (the character is in the boat and ‘catches’ stuff (strengths, weaknesses, minor characters, conflicts, etc.) to put in his/her boat. I have used the concept of a snow globe to analyze setting. There are multiple graphic organizers that can be created for a plethora of topics.
We can create similar activities with different names or different focus points. To avoid predictability and over indulgence, we must remember to use all of these judiciously. I highly recommend Gallagher’s book, Deeper Reading, for further exploration on embracing complex texts. I know, firsthand, using these strategies have increased reading interest, comprehension, understanding, relevancy, and real-life application of complex texts.