Supporting Text-based Discussions at Korematsu Discovery Academy
At Korematsu Discovery Academy in Oakland Unified School District, veteran Mills Teacher Scholar Michelle Cascio is addressing the new content demands of the Common Core by examining how her fifth graders develop strategies to respond to literature articulately.
Michelle’s students build meaning collaboratively in weekly literature circles, a complex activity that asks students to discuss critical thinking questions using appropriate textual evidence to support their ideas. To encourage academic discussion and develop writing skills, students must reach consensus and craft a coherent group answer to each question using properly cited textual support to back their claims.
In the beginning of the year, Michelle wondered, “How do reading groups prepare students to answer text-based and critical thinking questions?” At her Mills Teacher Scholars inquiry sessions Michelle and her colleagues looked at her student work, watched video recordings of the reading groups, and analyzed survey data of her students’ perceptions of their performance. They discovered that there was strong evidence that rigorous preparation for the academic discussion led students to produce more thoughtful responses to the literature. She adjusted her teaching to ensure that her students had both content and language preparation so that they could fully engage in their literature circles.
“I insert mini lessons before literature circles to provide a skill-focus as well as a short check-in around the norms we have set around small-group work. These two practices keep the academic rigor up as well as maximize positive social interactions.”
After practicing these skills throughout the year, Michelle’s students know how to engage in academic discussion to generate ideas and they use phrases like “convince me” and “tell me more” to push their partners’ thinking. Students also understand what contributes to well-formulated answers, though they need support putting all of the pieces together independently.
Michelle’s inquiry affirms her belief that her students can rise to the rigorous Common Core standards. “Taking the time during Mills Teacher Scholars on-site meetings to look at data, I have learned that my students are, for the most part, capable of meeting the learning goal.”