| By Char Shryock, Education Leadership Consultant |
“The more knowledge students have about the world, the better their reading comprehension is. The better they read, the better able they are to access more complex and compelling reading material and build more knowledge to become even better readers. Reading ability and building knowledge are mutually supportive.”
That’s the view of Susan Pimentel, the lead author of the College and Career Readiness Standards for ELA, which she shared in her May 3, 2023, Education Week opinion piece on how to address low NAEP history and civics scores.
Her statement demonstrates the importance of immersing students in a literacy-rich learning environment while also ensuring they learn how to read. Providing opportunities to work with intentionally curated text sets across all subject areas is how students build knowledge and grow their working vocabulary.
So, how can you harness the power of text sets in your classroom? First, identify the role you need the text set to play in student learning. Text sets can serve as the “expert in the room,” spark inquiry, be a co-teacher, or be a role model.
1. Enlist Texts as Your Subject-Matter Experts
If you’re choosing a text to serve as an “expert in the room,” begin by looking for a text that builds background knowledge, provides explicit definitions or explanations of key vocabulary in context, or illustrates foundational skills or techniques that students will need when they access higher complexity texts on a similar topic or subject. Use additional texts in the set to invite students to apply their knowledge and vocabulary while continuing to build expertise.
By building expertise using text sets, you can help students grow academic knowledge, access real-world experiences, and expand their working vocabularies. Students will benefit from text-dependent questions that point them toward key information, essential vocabulary, or foundational knowledge and skills.
Text sets can include literary text and informational text, along with data sets, music, art, or video. You can use the topic or standards search within Gale In Context as a tool to identify texts.
2. Spark Student Curiosity with Texts
If you’re looking for a text to spark student inquiry, select texts that present a novel perspective, challenge, or problem to be solved. Gale In Context includes access to journal articles, literary texts, and pictures. Use the search filters to find the right texts to include in your inquiry text set.
Let students generate the questions to drive their inquiry by starting with a statement, a picture, a data set, or bars of music from the text. Teach students to search within Gale to co-create a text set to build on their inquiry. You can use the Right Question Institute QFT protocol, or encourage them to wonder and ask questions. These questions become the starting point for individual or class research and problem-solving.
3. Use Texts to Reinforce Key Topics
When the text acts as your co-teacher, you can use it to reinforce the core knowledge and skills students have learned. Select texts that students can access as resources when they need clarification, more examples, or are looking to apply what they are learning to a real-world problem or novel situation.
Intentionally link text sets within a unit plan starting with a text that helps them make connections to prior knowledge, then a series of texts that build new knowledge, and finally one or two texts that push them to find ways to connect their new knowledge with the real world. This frees you up to ask text-dependent questions that can push students to build conceptual understanding, think analytically, synthesize information across texts, and provide scaffolds to help all students access the text.
4. Model a Concept through Texts
Finally, a text set can be a role model or a set of “anchor texts” that support students as they work toward mastery.
Find texts that help students see how to read/write like a scientist or a mathematician, play jazz, or paint with perspective. These texts are an important tool in supporting reading, listening, speaking, and writing across content areas and growing a student’s ability to be an adaptable reader and writer. Students can build skills if they are provided with a set of text-dependent questions that help them zero in on syntax, procedures, techniques, and style.
Ready to use texts to support learning in new ways? Here are some questions to help you unleash the power of text sets in your classroom:
- What are your students reading this week?
- How do your current instructional resources provide students with regular access to a broad range of texts to build knowledge?
- How can you use your Gale resources in new ways to connect students to texts?
- If you’re using Gale In Context: For Educators, how can you use the shared folder function and annotation tools to intentionally and collaboratively build text sets?
- What professional learning have you done or will you need to do to support the creation of text sets across content areas?
- At what point in your lesson-planning process do you stop to reflect on the necessary background knowledge/experiences students need to access the core text(s) they will read?
- How can you use authentic texts to engage students in discourse? Analytical thinking? Making connections? Find a goal that fits your learning objectives.