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Text Selection Tool for Your Summer Planning!

Hello teachers of English!  It's summer, and I imagine that, like me, you're considering various new and old book titles to bring to your students this year.  There's a lot to consider with each choice, including a push from new Common Core assessments to increase the complexity of the texts we use.  I want to share a tool I've just created for weighing the merits of a particular text, taking into account our specific groups of students and overall curriculum frameworks.

The tool is meant to help uncover the possible strengths and challenges for use of a particular text--not to quickly determine a yes or no answer.  I imagine using this tool by myself or with members of my teaching team to help engage in discussion around the use of the text.  I designed it for use with literary texts (fiction and nonfictional), but some of it could be applied to informational texts as well.

I created the visual tool using five domains for text selection, which emerged when I wrote a chapter on this topic in my forthcoming book, Whole Novels for the Whole Class: A Student Centered Approach, (due out in October).   A single book for a whole group creates a strong cultural experience for a classroom community, as well as myriad opportunities for academic growth.  These five domains are the things I consider carefully as I choose titles and consider where in the year they would be most useful.

For each domain, I've created a continuum. The idea is to assess the title along each continuum by drawing a dot and making any notes below. Though there are no hard and fast rules, in some domains, one side of the continuum is preferable to the other. For example, in Domain 1, Development, I'd say our texts should generally be developmentally meaningful to our students (though I can think of a few rare examples, in which I might depart from even this guideline). In Domain 2, Identification Level, however, both sides of the continuum are neutral.  Depending on the time of year or the interests and readiness levels of my students, I may choose a book that is more of a "mirror" experience for my students, or more of a "window" into the unfamiliar.  In this sense, the tool is really a chance to reflect and anticipate the opportunities and challenges around the meeting of your group of students and a text, at a particular time in the year.

This tool is brand new!  Feedback welcome! 

[Note: I am working on how to attach the file here. For now, email wholenovels@gmail.com if you want a copy of the tool in Word]

 

 

12 Comments

Marsha Ratzel commented on August 5, 2013 at 8:54am:

Great tool

Dear Ariel,

I'm always interested in seeing something like this....especially since I'm a science teacher struggling to figure out how to get more nonfiction trade books into my classroom.

I wasn't sure about a couple of things.

Domain 1 is about Developmental Level.  I'm not sure how I would answer these if I was looking at books about something like electricity.  Would I look for books that have age-appropriate illustrations and examples?  Domain 2 is about Identification Level.  Here I'm wondering if how I"d adapt this is to look at the application of the concept to things that are interesting to my age of students.  Is that right?

Domain 3....is really an important one.   For me and in my very unexpert-like reading eye, books are scarce that mirror our reading levels.  Usually they are either way too old (and written for high school/college level students) or for much younger children.  It's the Goldilocks problem....there aren't many books that target earth and physical science topics that are just right. (although I don't think if you teach life science this problem would be as severe).

Domain 4...this is the easiest area for us to show or prove.  Science curriculum correlation won't be enough....teachers should look beyond science and into engineering topics that tie back.  I think this will/could give us more possibilities....especially if you think about reading articles in magazines like Popular Science.

Domain 5.....at the risk of having you fall off your chair in amazement....do nonfiction books even have literary elements?  Would nonfiction books instead use text features?  I don't think that's really the author's craft as I've sort of understood it.  But maybe you could say a bit more.

Thanks for doing this...and I think there is a real need for people like me to find these tools to help.  What's most discouraging is the lack of trade books and even the lack of collections within our school libraries.  As budgets decreased, librarians tended (where I work) to keep up with their fiction collections and had to go lighter on nonfiction topics.  I'm not joking when I saw that the force & motion section in my school library has a book that shows a car's seat belt working like they do on airplanes.  The book is so old that it doesn't have retracting seat belts or shoulder harnesses....it's hard to get kids excited about science and associated topics when the books are copyrighted back to the 1960s.

Jessica Cuthbertson commented on August 5, 2013 at 10:11am:

Can't wait to try it!

Ariel,

I've lived in back-to-school denial long enough ;), time to get busy -- and I can't wait to try this tool. I'm also anxiously awaiting the book as our district is shifting from a workshop approach (we previously used only independent reading texts, short texts, etc. no whole class novels) to a balanced approach that includes some whole class texts along with short texts and independent reading selections. I'm passionate about the readers (vs. the texts) driving my instruction but also want to leverage the Common Core to support students to read and analyze increasingly complex texts...

So...how do I go about getting an advance copy? ;)

Again, thanks for the tool -- I'll let you know how it goes once my team tries it!

Ariel Sacks Ariel Sacks commented on August 5, 2013 at 11:39am:

Great to get feedback!

So, I'm thrilled to get your responses to this! 

Jessica, though I don't have advanced copies yet, I can definitely send you some chapters. I'll email you.

Marsha, your questions make a lot of sense.  I really designed this tool around the thought process I use to select novels for the whole class. When I posted this, I thought that several of the domains could be relevant to selecting non fiction, but your questions are making me think that the purpose and process is quite different, and therefore a different tool would make sense for non fiction.  Non fiction is such a huge category, though. There are some non fiction titles that fit into my ELA curriculum and are literary.  But your example of choosing texts about electricity really made me think about a new, similar tool for non fiction.

I do think that Domain 1 would still work for informational texts, though it would be somewhat less important than in literary texts.  Is the book geared toward my age group, basically?  I am thinking of a book I have about managing stress for teens versus a more adult book on the same topic.

I love your comments on Domain 4, and I think some of the connections can be interdisciplinary.  This year, students found several points of connection between literature we were reading and what they were studying in science, which seemed to open up an exciting new world to me! For example, the nature vs. nurture debate came up in relation to our novel study, just as students were studying genetics in scence.

Domain 5: I'm still on my chair! Right, no literary elements when the text is not structured around a narrative.  Text features and other ideas around how the text is structured would make sense.  An example of a structural element that might not be a text feature is if every section begins with a hook (a question to readers, a short anecdote, etc.). This is not related to your content, but to how the author presents it.  On the other hand, how helpful is that to notice in the science classroom?

What questions about texts come up that would be more helpful to examine in a science or social studies classroom? For example, after reading levels, you might have a domain that is about Depth. How in depth does the text explore the topic?

 

Marsha Ratzel commented on August 5, 2013 at 3:40pm:

What about these ideas????

You're the bomb Ariel and I love everything you have to say.  Are you sure that you don't want to move to KS...lots of blue skies, clean air and room to move around....and teach at my school.  Oh the things we could do!!!

I think if I was looking at a science book....I'd really need to examine the supplemental visuals.  Especially in the K12 environment it can really be all about the pictures.  Soemtimes if you can't read the text, you can look at the pictures and read the captions.  If those are well done, then you can go back and actually tackle the text....and understand it!!!!  If you are talking about a book in electronic format, I'd definitely want key vocabulary words hyperlinked to science content videos.  So when I'm reading about Newton's laws, I could see a little content piece (1-2 minutes) that would visually illustrate/animate the idea.  Or if I was reading about a mole in chemistry that I could go to some kind of simulation to help me understand how much a mole is(does anyone really understand a written definition of this???)

If I was doing social studies, I'd still want visuals but more like primary documents----pictures of people or artifacts, maps and documents. I just did ancient civilizations a few years ago and really it's also an art history class if you have a good musuem near you.  So I'd want my book to link to tours of specific, relevant galleries that contain artifacts from that time period.  For example, I found out that certain kinds of ceramic glazes would have had to come from xyz which would mean that this civilization would have had to trade with them which then means that they had to be able to sail across the oceans and navigate.  It would make the book much more alive and relevant and helpful to the kids. Have you seen those primary document readers that superimposes text over handwriting so the kids can see the primary document but can also read them.  Soemtimes documents even have read-aloud components so that kids can hear the words to help them understand.  I'm sure a SS teacher will tell you much more than I imagine...but I'd want this kind of help if I was teaching SS again.

Let's keep trading ideas.  I learn so much from you and hope you'll help me improve my teaching practices.

Bill Ivey commented on August 5, 2013 at 4:04pm:

thank you for sharing

I'm trying to look at this tool in light of how I normally pick books, both to see how it would help me and whether there's anything I do that isn't there. First and foremost, I think you do a great job of making concrete the thought processes that many of us use, or should be. You've got me thinking that I need to be paying more attention to specific literary elements rather than just an overall "How well is it written?" kind of question, and I appreciate that a great deal.

I think the one thing I do that may or may not be implicit in Domain 4 is to look at the theme more broadly in terms of my school's overall mission (essentially, a feminist vision promoting voice, enabling kids to be their own best selves, and facilitating a global perspective) as well as how they serve the specific unit we are doing (kids design their own units in my class).

The only other thing that occurs to me is our second student-designed unit from this past year, where they picked a read-aloud book but tired of it within days and moved to recall it and start a new book partway through. I know this tool is for initial selection, and designed to minimize the chances of a book just not working out - but is there a provision in your class for ongoing evaluation of how is book is working out?

Thanks again for sharing this, and - most especially - congratulations on the book! You're exactly the kind of teacher we need publishing, and I know (secondhand) what a tremendous level of effort and stamina it takes. I'm so happy for the profession, and for you! :-)

Cindi Rigsbee commented on August 5, 2013 at 4:33pm:

Thanks!

Ariel,

I'll be sharing this tool with the teachers at my school! I want to thank you ahead of time (prior to the book release) for your book. ELA teachers in my middle school have lamented feeling almost "guilty" about the whole class novel, during these days of literature circles, leveled book clubs, etc. But there is so much value to taking that journey together and learning from each other along the way. Thanks so much!

Marsha Ratzel commented on August 6, 2013 at 8:10am:

Sharing

And dare I add....offering a tool and then seeing how it fits your circumstances.  Cindi....would your teachers use this as a beginning and then make it meet their needs?

Wonder what would happen if lots of people did that and then shared back how they customized it to their school?  That would be cool.

Kyle Snow commented on August 6, 2013 at 5:01pm:

Love whole class books!

Thanks for sharing your approach Ariel. I teach middle school reading and have spent a lot of time thinking about how to continue to teach single books to my whole class rather than always breaking the class into small groups based on reading level. Your statement, "A single book for a whole group creates a strong cultural experience for a classroom community, as well as myriad opportunities for academic growth." perfectly sums up how I feel. I've gotten to the point where I split the year about 50/50 between whole class and small group readings. I really like your text selection strategy. I usually start with theme as my primary goal for the whole class books and work to find books that are accessible and offer opportunities for working towards proficiency in the common core. I'm looking forward to seeking out your book in October. Cheers!

Ariel Sacks Ariel Sacks commented on August 7, 2013 at 7:20pm:

Permission to teach whole class novels

Cindi, thank you for this comment!  I totally get why there was such a movement against whole class novels, because the tradition was so teacher-centered.  Reader's workshop has done so much to get great books in kids' hands and get teachers away from interpreting literature FOR students.  But I believe whole class novel studies can be very student-driven experience. That's what I hope comes across in my book. I'm so excited to share it!  Thank you!

Ariel Sacks Ariel Sacks commented on August 7, 2013 at 7:36pm:

Student selection of whole class texts

Bill, great comments. I think connections to school mission woud be very appropriate to add into the description of Domain 4. I do think I consider mission alignment (though somewhat indirectly--mainly because my own teaching philosophy is already aligned with my school's mission) when I select texts. 

Really interesting question about students selecting novels for the class.  I have sometimes taken students' suggestions, and have also had classes vote to abandon a whole class novel half way through. 

What about adapting the tool slightly to bring students into the selection process? I'd love to have students be involved in selecting for the whole class (they do select for themselves and often for book clubs), but my criteria for these selections is frankly different from theirs.  However, once they gain some experience in the whole novel program, I think they could begin to think about a lot of these factors... hmm...

 

 

Bill Ivey commented on August 7, 2013 at 7:48pm:

Great idea, to adapt the tool for students!

As you do so... I could see some sort of scaffolding process, bringing kids into the process progressively. Some domains would be really easy for them to seize on, others more difficult, I would think.

I totally relate to you about mission alignment. I think it's especially true for me because, through my blogging, I've exposed the feminist roots of our mission and helped bring them out and make them an explicit part of who we are and what we do. Empowering student voice, in the present and beyond, drives 99.9% of the decisions I make as I go through a given day.

Thanks for the positive feedback! :-)

Mark Anderson commented on August 11, 2013 at 9:18pm:

Historical context and place in literature?

Ariel, great tool! Thank you for putting it out there and sharing with other teachers.

There's another domain that I would add to this list: Literary Context. What is the contribution of the text to literarture? How does this text relate to the historical epoch in which it was written?

I would also modify Domain 2 in that I would consider how the texts I am selecting are developing and building students' knowledge, such as by considering what they are learning or have learned in other content areas. I therefore might change my Domain 2 heading to "Connection to Knowledge." 

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