K-5 Curriculum Newsletter

March 2016 - Volume 1, Issue 6

Text-Dependent Questions

The Common Core emphasizes using evidence from texts to present careful analyses, well-defended claims, and clear information. Rather than asking students questions they can answer solely from their prior knowledge and experience, the standards call for students to answer questions that depend on their having read the texts with care (corestandards.org).

According to achievethecore.org, "A text-dependent question specifically asks a question that can only be answered by referring explicitly back to the text being read. It does not rely on any particular background information extraneous to the text, nor depend on students having other experiences or knowledge; instead it privileges the text itself and what students can extract from what is before them." Many times we find ourselves asking questions that require students to go “outside of the text,” and rely on background knowledge and personal feelings. This is a great way to facilitate conversation, but it takes away from focusing on the specific text being read. If students are able to construct a viable answer without ever really reading the text in the first place, we need to reevaluate the questions we’re asking. Typical text-dependent questions ask students to perform one or more of the following tasks:

  • Analyze paragraphs on a sentence-by-sentence basis and sentences on a word-by-word basis to determine the role played by individual paragraphs, sentences, phrases, or words

  • Investigate how meaning can be altered by changing key words and why an author may have chosen one word over another

  • Probe each argument in persuasive text, each idea in informational text, each key detail in literary text, and observe how these build to a whole

  • Examine how shifts in the direction of an argument or explanation are achieved and the impact of those shifts

  • Question why authors choose to begin and end when they do

  • Note and assess patterns of writing and what they achieve

  • Consider what the text leaves uncertain or unstated

Text-dependent questions can be infused into our instruction across all content areas. With some guiding points, we can construct text-dependent questions that can be used in conjunction with some of our most outdated resources. Achievethecore.org provides a step-by-step process for developing quality text-dependent questions:

  1. Identify the Core Understandings and Key Ideas of the Text

  2. Start Small to Build Confidence (The opening questions should be ones that help orient students to the text)

  3. Target Vocabulary and Text Structure

  4. Tackle Tough Sections Head-on (Find the sections of the text that will present the greatest difficulty and craft questions that support students in mastering these sections)

  5. Create Coherent Sequences of Text-dependent Questions (Text-dependent questions should follow a coherent sequence to ensure that students stay focused on the text, so that they come to a gradual understanding of its meaning.)

  6. Identify the Standards That Are Being Addressed

Getting Started with Text-Dependent Questions

Click here for a list of sentence-starters to assist with developing text-dependent questions.

Evaluating Text-Dependent Questions

Click here to access a document to be used for evaluating the quality of text-decedent questions.

The Power of Introverts

Below is a TED talk presented by Susan Cain on "the power of introverts." Whether or not you've seen it before, I encourage you to invest the time and view the video. Ms. Cain, a self-proclaimed introvert, discusses a particular mindset which might be overlooked in today's culture of project-based learning and student-centered classrooms. It's imperative to remember that some of our students, including the brightest and most inquisitive, need time to process and synthesize information within their own minds, before engaging in group discussion (I speak from experience).
Susan Cain: The power of introverts

Procedures Versus Understanding

"All instruction must foster students' ability to think, reason, and solve problems. Being able to compute answers without also understanding the underlying mathematics is an insufficient and shallow goal for students' mathematics learning. It builds the erroneous notion for students that learning math is all about learning procedures, rather than making sense of ideas. The expertise we should seek to develop in our students is much broader and embraces understanding (Burns, 2014)."

In the quote above, Marilyn Burns does a great job making sense of why we are spending so much time presenting the same skill multiple ways within our Go Math text series. The fact of the matter is simply memorizing a computational procedure to solve a math problem is no longer sufficient. Yes, students need to know the "how-to" of division, but equally important is being able to understand what exactly is division (dividing something into equal groups).

Consider for a second the notion that two odd numbers, when added together, will always equal an even number. This is a good rule to remember when memorizing math facts, but what would our students say if we asked why this is always the case? Ponder the following student response: "When you take an odd number of things and put them in pairs, there will always be one extra without a partner. But when you put two odd numbers of things in pairs, each of them will have one extra without a partner. These two extras can always be paired, so there won't be an extra anymore."

It should be clear the difference between the student that knows the "what," and the student that knows the "why." Ultimately, we should be cognizant of what our students understand; not merely what they can do.

Notes from Mr. Scotto

Happy Spring!

When is the last time you gave your assessments an overview for:

  • alignment?
  • rigor?
  • precision?
  • bias?
  • and/or scoring?

These are all essential elements of Assessment Design & Implementation that must be addressed before an assessment is given. For more information, please contact a member of the Curriculum Department or visit http://www.csai-online.org/node/1997.

Joseph Bond

District Supervisor of Elementary Education