Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Drawing Conclusions with Neanderthals and Cotton Candy Grapes

I've already mentioned newsela and what an amazing resource it is.  I've been sharing it with everyone I can - teachers at all grade levels, other coaches, my wife, everyone!  Some are more interested than others, but I have yet to hear anyone give a "yeah, but..." response.  Actually I take that back - I did get one "yeah, but it's only for grades 3 and up," to which I responded, "yeah, but a teacher could certainly use an appropriate article at lower grades to model reading strategies and provide scaffolding for students to understand a more complex article.  Plus, many of the articles go down to the high-600 low-700 Lexile range, which is part of the grade 2 Lexile band range."  Booyah!  Take that "yeah, but!"

Anyways, I wanted to provide some additional resources that would help teachers thoughtfully incorporate newsela into their reading instruction.  I'm afraid that teachers will set up a class, give the code to their students, and then just say, "Okay, have at it!" This is too powerful a resource to waste on independent reading for fun or as a sponge activity.  So, I developed a series of lessons to teach a very difficult skill - drawing conclusions - using articles from newsela.

It begins with an article on Neanderthals using bone tools instead of simple stone tools.  We're able to draw certain conclusions using evidence from the text:

  • Neanderthals must have been much smarter than most people think
  • The tools found at this site were actually made from bone, not just sticks or stones
  • The fragments found at the sites were used as actual tools and weren't just leftovers from a prehistoric meal
I guide students through a close reading of the article, paying special attention to the top-heavy organization of news articles, the various heading, the high-quality photo and caption, and the headline.  As we read, I model piecing together evidence to draw one of the three conclusions above, and I ask students to scan the text to find additional statements that support the conclusion.  We have a healthy discussion about why that evidence is relevant or not, and we discuss how conclusions that have very little evidence or that rely solely on other information (background knowledge or "I heard once that...") are not valid.

Then, students register for their newsela accounts (if they haven't done so already) and begin reading a pretty awesome article about a geneticist who has been cross-breeding grapes and selling them at insane mark-ups to farmers.  Students then practice drawing conclusions with this article, and a revelation becomes apparent - these sixth graders have no idea how to draw their own conclusions.  They can support conclusions that have already been made, but they can't do it on their own during independent reading!

So we use this guided practice exercise as a starting point and a diagnostic assessment.  The original one-day lesson is evolving into a multi-day series of lessons using 8 articles from newsela to practice this important skill.  I hand-pick high interest, relevant articles and the students will practice identifying evidence and drawing conclusions using a gradual release of scaffolding that begins with evidence and conclusions on sentence strips and ends with students drawing conclusions completely independently.

We have yet to get to step 2, but the groundwork as been laid and the teachers whose classrooms I've gone into are committed and excited to work with the resource.  The hope is that they see the awesome potential of the site and will commit to not just saying, "Read some cool articles and take the 4 question quiz."

We'll see, I guess!
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