Reflection: Rigor Analyzing JFK's Inaugural Address with DocsTeach - Section 2: DocsTeach Independent Text Exploration


Since the Common Core does require more informational text than most ELA teachers have ever integrated into their curriculum, I think a lot of teachers are looking for ways to do so that don't make their students bored to tears.  I must admit, I enjoyed fiction as a kid, though I've since grown to appreciate works of non-fiction.  I can appreciate the groans that sometimes accompany informational text in the classroom.  Despite my natural inclination toward fiction in high school, I realized quickly in college that MOST of what I was reading--even though I was an English major--was informational text.  Unfortunately, students that aren't USED to reading complex, rigorous, informational text often struggle with this task and hit a wall of sorts in college.  That's part of the reason that informational text is now emphasized with the Common Core Standards--the real world requires it!  All teachers want to help their students be successful in the future, and part of that is preparing them for the wide, wide world of complex informational texts that they'll encounter!

To successfully integrate informational text into your curriculum, I've found that you have to approach it with the same purpose with which you approach literature.  We read everything like "detectives" with Common Core so that we get to enjoy the text on ALL levels.  Informational text is no different.  Speeches can be VERY exciting, moving, and interesting for students to read!  However, if they have no idea about the context that the speech is written in, the joy behind that reading assignment is lost.  Oddly enough, a complete understanding of a complex informational text often requires the reading of MORE informational text, like you can see here.  My students had no idea what was going on during Kennedy's time, so the beauty and importance of his speech would have been ENTIRELY lost on them.  This activity gives them the pieces that they need prior to diving into a more complex text. 

Outside of giving students a purpose for reading informational text and the background that they need to do so, how a teacher approaches informational text (like all other pieces of text) makes a HUGE difference to its reception by students.  If you hate informational text, you simply CAN'T let your students know that.  You HAVE to be overly excited about it so that there is even a chance that they enjoy it.  Even 11th-graders are little sponges for teacher attitude, so I try to be really, really excited about everything in my classroom!  Plus, I try to incorporate some goofiness (in the form of pictures of a monkey if need be) into my approach with all texts.  Students respond to oddities, so if that's what it takes to get them to invest in analyzing complex text, so be it!  The other piece to my approach for this specific lesson was the platform that we used, DocsTeach.  This website is run by the National Archive and actually uses pictures of primary documents, which students seem more interested in than flat, boring transcripts.  Seeing JFK's editing marks, "Confidential" stamps, and pencil markings help to add interest and real-life relevance to these documents.  Additionally, the website has tons of pictures that are also attractive to students.

From a teacher's perspective, I like that I can use DocsTeach to create assignments specifically framed around Common Core skills, including activities that use sequence, weighing evidence, identifying details, and more.  They have many activities that are pre-built by other teachers as well, so it can be quite time saving.  Overall, I was very impressed with this platform and will be using it more next year!  Students also enjoyed the "real life" feel of the website's materials.  

Want more of an understanding of how this might work in your class?  Check out the video below!

  Keep Informational Text Engaging with DocsTeach
  Rigor: Keep Informational Text Engaging with DocsTeach
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Analyzing JFK's Inaugural Address with DocsTeach

Unit 10: A Brief Introduction to Post-Modernism
Lesson 4 of 5

Objective: SWBAT independently analyze JFK's Inaugural Address by integrating information gleaned from several informational texts to develop a deeper understanding of the historical context.

Big Idea: Get more meaning from JFK with a background that helps students realize that “wonders” or “terrors” of science literally mean life or death.

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