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“What would you do with your pet frog?” The importance of text dependent questions in meeting the Common Core ELA Standards

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Barry Saide has been in education for 14 years and currently teaches fifth grade in Bernards Township, New Jersey. Prior, he taught second and third grade. Saide is on the NJ state board affiliate of ASCD, was a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader, and is the Co-Director for NJASCD’s North Region. He has written over 30 articles on leadership for various ASCD online publications and for Education Week. He is a member of the New Jersey Department of Education’s Educator Leader Cadre and presents on instructional shifts within education with the advent of the CCSS. He is a member of the Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council.

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<span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>I had to laugh.<span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”times=”” roman”,”serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:windowtext”=””>
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<span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>I was at a table with a group of educators from around the country, looking at questions about the text, except,…the questions really weren’t about the text. <span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”times=”” roman”,”serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:windowtext”=””>

<span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>I was sitting in a room of fellow English teachers – each of us there to learn what we could do to help our students meet the Common Core ELA/Literacy standards. We were viewing a slide of text-dependent questions versus non-text dependent questions. Text-dependent questions can only be answered by referring back to the text (a skill required by the Common Core). In some text-dependent answers, evidence must be cited to support a claim, argument, or analysis. (achievethecore.org) Questions that are not text-dependent can be answered without citing the text, and in most cases, without even reading the text. <span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”times=”” roman”,”serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:windowtext”=””>

<span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>How can someone answer a text-based question without having read the text? Here are some examples shared by Silas Kulkarni, of Student Achievement Partners, at a recent Core Advocates training I attended:<span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”,”serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:windowtext”=””>

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In “Casey at the Bat,” Casey strikes out. Describe a time when you failed at something.

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In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King discusses nonviolent protest. Discuss, in writing, a time when you wanted to fight against something that you felt was unfair.

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In “The Gettysburg Address” Lincoln says the nation is dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Why is equality an important value to promote?<span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>
Students could write very thoughtful, thorough answers to these questions without ever having picked up Casey At the Bat,Letters From a Birmingham Jail, or The Gettysburg Address. Seeing the difference between these text-dependent questions and non-text-dependent questions reminded me of some mistakes I made in my early years of teaching. Did a second grade student really need to know what it was like to have a frog or toad in order to read Frog and Toad? Did knowing about a marsh ecosystem enable them to better comprehend why Frog and Toad are friends? <span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;=”” font-family:”times=”” roman”,”serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;=”” color:windowtext”=””>

<span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>I wasted a lot of time in the early part of my teaching career planning front-loaded text lessons that lacked cohesion to the actual reading we were going to do. This took time away from what research shows best supports student reading growth — having them actually read the text. My focus should have been on designing lessons where the balance of my instruction would occur while students were interacting with text, not on finding out student background knowledge prior to them actually seeing the reading. This is why as Silas shared about text-dependent questions vs. non-examples of text-dependent questions, I was able to laugh about my early foibles as a reading teacher with Laura Mayer, an instructional coach and author from North Carolina, who was in the session with me:

<span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>Laura, myself, and the other educators in the room laughed because we related to what Silas was sharing with us. The research shows that if we spend more time matching quality text, of various genres, to students at their independent, instructional, and frustration levels, students will achieve gains in reading when our questions help demonstrate whether students have comprehended and learned from what they’ve read. Students will not achieve gains if we correctly match text, but do not pair the lesson with scaffolded questions based on the text itself. <span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”times=”” roman”,”serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:windowtext”=””>

<span “mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”arial”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;color:black”=””>Moving forward, based on my experience at Core Advocacy Training, if you catch me introducing a text to my students and asking them for copious amounts of background knowledge, ask me where frogs live or what I would do if I had a pet frog. I’ll understand what you really mean, laugh, and adjust my instruction to what Silas taught us
— because it’s not about the frogs, it’s about the reading.
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