Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time. This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.
Students have analyzed various criteria of what makes a text hard to read. They have taken notes to further their thinking. In order to synthesize these different ideas, students pull their notes into a summary of the various biographies they found through their research. This summary will help students determining which biography is just right for them to read as part of the research paper they will be writing.
I pull up the Determining Text Complexity Smart Notebook file (and here is Determining Text Complexity PDF version) on the Smartboard. We are focusing on the last slides for today's lesson. I review the instructions for the day and students follow along as I explain. Students take the notes they have completed for homework based on the criteria they have choosen and will write an objective summary of the text based on the passage from the biography.
I model what this will look like as I show them the next slide. This is an model for students to see. I turned my notes based on the biography I've been working with and turned it into a summary. This allows students to see a model so they can begin working on their own. I read the model and students listen along.
This is one of those lessons that students roll their eyes and say why do we need to know this? It happens with middle-schoolers more often than not when the objective and reasoning is not clear. So why do I teach this? I think it helps students understand themselves better as readers. Since one of my goals for the year is to have students learn who they are as readers, this forces them to think about that, but in a different way since they are working with non-fiction here. When they are then able to identify the complexity of a book, they can then begin to figure out how to understand that text better by making up for those areas that they struggle with.
Students will spend the rest of class turning their notes into summaries. They will take their ideas and the data they found to create summaries of the complexity of these biographies. Since reading can be very personal, the summaries will vary. The summaries are an objective way for students to determine which biography will be good enough for them to read.
They turn their notes and data into sentences to create a paragraph summary. This data was the criteria students used to determine what makes a text complex for them. Then students see how this applies to biographies they needed to bring in. Students write these summaries in their notebooks or using their own technology. I keep the model on the Smartboard so students can refer back to it as they write their own. The rest of class is devoted to students writing these summaries. They will have their biographies with them so they can refer back to them, along with the data they previously completed, as they write these summaries. Students end the summary by explaining why or why not this book is appropriate for them to read in full as they complete their research project. I keep up my example from earlier in the lesson and also refer to Text Complexity Student Example.
As students are working I circulate around the classroom to offer assistance when needed. This assistance may be to help find sources, as some students may struggle in finding biographies on their topic. Other students will need help to analyze their data and think about what it means. I remind students to think of the passage they read as a representation for the entire book. Would they read the rest based on this section? After they have looked at these paragraphs, the next step is to figure out which book would be best. Hopefully they are finding out which books would work and which books would not. If students decide that all the books they have are too difficult and the biographies are not right for them, I think try and have a conference with them. What areas are making these books too difficult for them? I think will work with them to see how we can overcome these areas, if it's possible. If not, then we will need to find new biographies.
As students move on to high school and eventually college, they will be continue to do research that is more demanding and more independent. Today's lesson allows students time to master the skill of determining the complexity of a source so when they continue to research in the future they will know if a source is too complex or not. They will not be able to use a source properly if it is over their heads. This skill will allow them to be stronger researchers.