Teacher Scholar Voices

Everybody Has A Job To Do!: Text Evidence TK-5

Teacher Scholar Voices

At Roosevelt Elementary in San Leandro, teacher scholars used their inquiry work to examine student learning in response to Common Core-focused instructional shifts. In this Q+A, teacher scholar leader Kenny Moy discusses what a cluster of Roosevelt teachers learned about teaching elementary students to support their ideas with textual evidence. 

Q: What did you and your Roosevelt colleagues notice about how your students were engaging in supporting their ideas with text evidence? 

One of the things that we noticed was that finding evidence in the text is not an automatic behavior. It is a learned behavior that must be explicitly taught. Teachers found that students needed considerable scaffolding. Some needed help with vocabulary, sequencing, or understanding the difference between good and poor answers. Many needed reminders to go back and reread. The general feeling was that teaching students to find evidence in text is a complex and long-term process.

In order to understand how students were accessing the text, most of the teachers had students underline or highlight information. This practice was considered successful and engaging for most kids. However, some students at all grade levels were able to express their thinking better verbally than in written form. To get a complete picture of kids’ skills required teachers to both look at student work and talk to the students about their thinking.

Q: What is one example of how the inquiry process helped you to better understand your focal student’s learning in this area?

As I looked at students’ written responses to questions that required text evidence, I noticed that one of my English Language Learner focal students was quite far off in some of his answers, as if he didn’t understand what was being asked. I wondered if perhaps he hadn’t read the material or hadn’t been able to decode successfully, so I had him reread the text passage out loud to me. He read it with reasonably good accuracy and fluency. But when I asked him to explain his answers to the comprehension questions, he looked for sentences in the text that contained some of the words in the question and basically parroted the sentences back to me without any understanding. As I worked with him more, I realized that he often did not understand what the questions were asking in the first place. The strategy I had taught my class of rereading and underlining was not really working for him in the way I had intended. From that point on, when I had the time, I would check in with him as he was beginning an assignment to talk about the meaning of the comprehension questions.

Q: What implications do these new understandings about this CCSS competency have for classroom instruction? 

[callout template=”default” border_top= “10px #83ab3f solid” border_bottom=”10px #83ab3f solid” font_style=”italic”]“You can’t just toss out a random lesson every once in a while about finding evidence and expect it to make any difference.”  [/callout]

I think that all of the teachers who worked with students on finding evidence in text came to the conclusion that it is a difficult skill to pick up, and that there are many levels of understanding. An emerging student may be able to find simple factual evidence from a story whereas an advanced student may be able to consolidate evidence from multiple sections of the text to draw complex inferences. So the topic of finding evidence in text applies to all grades. However, as it so often happens in teaching, the variability of students requires that the teacher address disparate levels within their own class. This takes time and thought, so the teacher needs to plan systematically, be specific and explicit in their teaching, and ensure that they regularly assess students’ understanding, both written and verbal.  You can’t just toss out a random lesson every once in a while about finding evidence and expect it to make any difference.

Q: Were there any realizations for you and your colleagues about vertical alignment to build this skill over time and throughout all grades?

One of the teachers stated that finding evidence in text needs to start in Pre-K.  Since younger students read (or listen to) texts that are simpler than older students, the evidence that they find in text is also simpler. So the lessons that the Kindergarten teacher introduces will not be the same as the fifth-grade teacher. However comprehension skills do spiral up over time just as an ice cream cone grows in circumference from a single point. We found that the younger grades listened to stories and often explained verbally what they knew. The second and third graders read short passages and responded to targeted comprehension questions. The older students read novels and wrote pieces pertaining to inferential questions. Everybody has a job to do!