DeCypher: Tools to Support Literary Discussion

Discussion tools to support students to develop, revise, and reframe personal and collective connections to a text
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About This Strategy

The classic definition of the word "decipher" is a verb meaning to “convert a text written in code, or a coded signal into normal language". The Hip-Hop definition of decypher, the same word but with the culturally appropriate spelling, is also a verb meaning to analyze, understand, and discuss the lyrics of the new, popular, and lyrically stuffed songs.  In the Decypher strategy, teachers will develop central and guiding questions for a long-term common reading of a text. This strategy will allow students to develop, revise and reframe their personal and collective connections to the text. Additionally, these central questions will provide entry points to developing critical language and literacy competency.  Ultimately, this strategy is an open gateway for students to share their authentic voices, thoughts, and perspectives on a text’s topic along with the appropriate academically focused discussions.

Implementation Steps

  1. Select a Common Text for your curriculum that has leverage, endurance, time relevance, and grade level readiness. For an example of a text selection spreadsheet click, look in the resources section.

    • Review appropriate standards and identify the specific skills and competencies necessary for mastery of the standard.. 

    • Review literary terms and concepts present in the text. 

    • Pair standards and literary terms/concepts for discussion focus.

  2. Begin the learning session by providing students with the text, literary term or concept (i.e. theme, figurative language) definition , and focus questions for discussion. Share with students that this learning target or question will be revisited later in the discussion.

    • Teachers might frame a learning session by first sharing the focus question. For instance, in Romeo & Juliet, “ How does Shakespeare use foreshadowing (literary term/figurative language standards) to develop suspense(literary term/plot element standards) in  “Romeo and Juliet”? 

    • Teachers can also give students personal guiding questions for their annotations 

      • What are you thinking, feeling, reacting to, connecting to, or not connecting to? 

    • Teachers might also frame the session by modelling or providing the appropriate steps of thinking to demonstrate mastery

  3. Read and annotate the text; pay attention to what you are thinking, feeling, reacting to, connecting to. Also pay attention to what you don’t connect to. Teachers can provide an annotations reference sheet, like the one linked in the resources section.

  4. Provide a moment for students to stop and jot a synopsis of the reading and finalize their responses. Have students quickly  share out their 1-2 sentence synopsis and ensure all students update their discussion tracker, an example is in the Decypher Guided Notes document in the resources section,  to ensure everyone is entering discussion with a basic and factual understanding of the text. 

  5. Open a discussion to share out responses to the annotations in step 3. Teachers can say, “Now that we agree on what this text was about, the floor is open to share your thoughts, feelings, reactions and connections to the text? “ 

    • Teachers should be listening actively for commonalities in student responses to guide the discussion. Some commonalities may be repeated ideas, pages, or reactions to the text 

    • Teachers should prepare entry questions to provide access points for students who are reluctant to speak. For example, teachers could call on a specific student and ask “ [student], we haven’t heard from you yet, what are you thinking about at this moment?”

    • Teachers could facilitate this conversation in small groups or whole group discussion and can ask simple questions like, “Do any of you agree or disagree? Why?” and/or probing questions to gauge understanding and interpretations of the text like, “ What in the text made you feel/think/react this way?” or “Why did you make an annotation here?

  6. Shift the discussion towards the learning objectives of the session. Teachers should say, “Thank you all for sharing your thoughts, feelings, reactions and connections. Now let’s shift our focus to think about some of the annotations you made. Today's learning target is…” Teachers should guide students through a discussion that allows students to attempt mastery of the skills and competencies identified in the learning objective. 

    • Teachers could do this by asking a series of prompts aligned to the steps of thinking. 

    • Teachers should anticipate and  monitor where students might misapply the steps of thinking to text leading to misunderstandings or misinterpretations.  Additionally, teachers should ensure students are tracking the discussion using a note-taking method like Mapping, Cornell, Outline, or Charting. For examples of note-taking methods the link in the resource section.  

  7. Close the discussion by asking the same questions from Step 5. 

    • ​​​​​​​What are you thinking, feeling, reacting to, or connecting to NOW? 

    • How is that different from the beginning? 

    • What parts of your thinking did NOT change? 

    • Additionally, teachers should direct students to reflect on patterns and trends noticed across the class, and how they changed. 

EL Modification

For students who are learning English, the skill of deciphering is essential to their language attainment and success in your classroom. This strategy allows EL students a chance to be a thought leader in their classroom because of their need to think deeper and longer about a text and their need for discussion. In this strategy, EL students will still need academic and social emotional support to be thought leaders during a DeCypher learning session. Teachers should be prepared to create resources to support their students. 

Modifications:

  1. Create more opportunities for EL Students to practice and execute this strategy. 

    • Teachers could have frequent EL student small groups to execute this strategy and support literacy achievement. 

    • Teachers could also use this strategy with EL students before whole group discussions to preview and pre-plant information, so that EL students can experience success within the whole-group discussion.

  2. Assign reading and annotations as pre-work for EL Students so they have more time to learn through discussion with their peers. This consideration also gives students more time to closely read and annotate the text, which will support rich conversation. 

  3. Center EL Voices in discussion. As the facilitator, teachers can center EL student voices by allowing those students to have first or last word during discussion. Teachers might use a Save the Last Word For Me Protocol, like the one in the resource section. 

  4. Assign students discussion roles such as timekeeper, notetaker, announcer, etc. to support EL students who may not be ready to engage in the discussion, but are ready to listen and learn. 

  5. Create scaffolded note-catchers that include helpful references such as, an annotation key, guiding questions, discussion sentence stems

  6. Allow students to preview their responses with a peer, para, or teacher if they would like  

Special Education Modification

For students with disabilities, the skill of deciphering is essential to their success in your classroom. This strategy allows students with disabilities  a chance to be a thought leader in their classroom because of their need to think deeper and longer about a text and their need for discussion. In this strategy, students with disabilities, particularly those with processing, speaking, or emotional needs,  will still need academic and social emotional support to be thought leaders during a DeCypher learning session. Teachers should be prepared to create resources to support their students.  

Modifications:

  1. Create more opportunities for students with disabilities to practice and execute this strategy. 

    • Teachers could have regular student small groups to execute this strategy with practice texts with the goal of improving  literacy achievement. 

    • Teachers could also use this strategy with students in small groups to prepare and practice for a whole class or large group discussion 

  2. Assign reading and annotations as pre-work for students so they have more time to learn through discussion with their peers. This consideration also gives students more time to closely read and annotate the text, which will support rich conversation. 

    • Teachers should share reading and annotation guiding questions with the school's SPED department for appropriate alignment for accommodations and modifications 

  3. Center student voices in the discussion. As the facilitator, teachers can center  student voices by allowing those students to have first or last word during discussion. Teachers might use a Save the Last Word For Me Protocol, linked in the resource section 

  4. Assign students discussion roles such as timekeeper, notetaker, announcer, etc. based on their specific skills.

  5. Create scaffolded note-catchers that include helpful references such as an annotation key, guiding questions, or discussion sentence stems. Teachers could offer students accountable language sentence stems which are linked in the resource section. 

  6. Allow students to preview their responses with a peer, para, or teacher if they would like, to ensure confidence, clarity, and cohesion. 

  7. Students who struggle with information processing and retention will need additional support and scaffolding to engage in the discussion. To meet the needs of students who struggle with processing, teachers can create unique ways for students to follow the discussion through note-taking, recitation, and recall. One way teachers can do this effectively is using BetterLesson’s Visual Notetaking for Information Processing Strategy as a parallel to DeCypher.

  8. Students with auditory speaking or confidence of voice struggles will need supports since this strategy is framed around discussion. To support students with these needs Teachers can and should give students opportunities to preview their answers with a peer or teacher. Even further, teachers can and should give praise and affirmations for students who engage in discussion in spite of their limitations. Teachers could also  provide support and scaffolding in a variety of ways such as: preferred seating, visual cues, sequencing questions ( first, second, then, last), or  a heads up when something important is said. For more examples see the link to "Help for Kids…”  in the resource section

  9. For students who need extra social and emotional support, teachers should consider how they model and maintain social and emotional regulation in their learning space. Some ways teachers can do this is to connect the idea that emotions influence behaviors, set the tone at the start of the learning session, and/or provide a space for students to calm down and re-engage. For more examples, see the emotional regulation tips in the resource section. 

DeCypher for Distance Learning

Discussion in a traditional learning environment is challenging enough; to execute in a distance learning environment, the challenge is amplified. This strategy, however, will provide teachers and students with critical entry points to new learning, some sense of normalcy, and an opportunity to build personal relationships. While distance learning calls teachers to be creative and innovative in their practice, the Decypher strategy should answer some of that call. 

Implementation Steps:

  1. Teachers should facilitate this strategy in a way that prevents students from avoiding talking over or at the same time as their peers. One way to do this is to create a speaker list in the chat, or on a collaborative Google Doc. 

  2. Teachers already know to avoid excessive repetition of ideas in a traditional model and one way to do this is in distance learning is to track the ideas as they are presented in discussion in a way that all students can see like screen sharing or collaborative documents 

  3. Non verbal reactions are an extremely important part of any discussion, in most video conferencing platforms users have an option to share reactions. For example on Zoom users can use emojis to share reactions. 

  4. Teachers should consider their expectations for visibility, i.e. cameras on or off. Teachers should consider the pros & cons, socio-emotional implications, and local policies. See the article in the resource section for more information.

Related Lessons

 

  • This strategy can be used with my With the Fire on High Discussion of Theme and Aesthetic Impact lesson because...the decypher strategy supports students to make connections to the complex text, which then supports them in understanding and making meaning of more abstract literary elements.

  • This strategy can be used with my Favorite Album Discussion lesson because...the decypher strategy supports students in sharing and revising their thinking.

Culturally Responsive Learning Alignment

In application, the art of deciphering in Hip-Hop is the practice of listening, reading and studying lyrics to understand the deeper meanings and themes represented in the music. This skill was passed inherently across the Hip Hop community through discussion because new, popular, and lyrically stuffed songs have always been a hot topic for conversation. The messages, presentations, styles and forms are extremely vast and as a result, can create open doors to learning and community building with a discussion where people are welcome to share their thoughts, feelings, connections, and reactions to a song, album, or artist. Those same doors open up access to academic content. It then is the responsibility as a facilitator and motivator to illustrate to students that the skills that they already use to talk about what they like and enjoy can support them in the learning process and even in their careers. The ability to decipher and articulate your findings and opinions within Hip-Hop have led to the creation of entire sectors of industry. The content inside Hip Hop lyrics sparks interest like wildfire, so much so that today, there are editorial and media outlets dedicated to deconstructing lyrics. In the articles, websites, and podcasts linked in the resource section, teachers can see how the skills practiced in this strategy are transferable between the culture of hip hop and the classroom.