For me, the problem became apparent even before the Common Core came to town. One day as several colleagues and I analyzed the results of a 9th-grade critical reading assessment, we noticed that students had done poorly on “inferring main idea,” and we were trying to figure out how to re-teach this skill.
“How do you teach main idea when you’re reading a novel?” someone said.
“Read more nonfiction,” someone else responded. We laughed, but it was true. We began to revise the curriculum. In every subject, we set out to identify more short nonfiction passages that would provide background knowledge leading up to the reading of other texts. We also designed projects that put more emphasis on nonfiction, such as the Nonfiction Book Talk Project, the DBQ Approach, and the Research Paper (PS: These are all described in detail in The Literacy Cookbook).
We also recognized that we couldn’t completely abandon fiction, so we had to teach students how to figure out what was important when reading literature. At first, I tried simply asking them to “list the five most important things in chapter six,” but when Terrell raised his hand and said, “Miss Tantillo, how are we supposed to know what’s important?” I realized that although experienced readers have a heuristic for determining what is important when reading fiction, many students do not. So I invented the “What’s Important? Organizer,” which appears below and on the TLC “Analyzing Literature” page, along with a completed model.
What’s Important? ORGANIZER—CHAPTER #_____
DIRECTIONS: Use COMPLETE SENTENCES to answer all five questions. You may either PARAPHRASE or PROVIDE QUOTES to support your assertions, but either way, you MUST GIVE PAGE NUMBERS to indicate where the evidence can be found. Refer to the model to ensure that you are doing this properly. Give AT LEAST TWO PIECES OF EVIDENCE PER QUESTION.
1. DECISIONS WITH PURPOSE: What major decisions do the characters make, and why?
2. CONFLICTS/OBSTACLES/CHALLENGES: What conflicts, obstacles, or challenges do the characters face, and how do they deal with them?
3. LESSONS/INSIGHTS/MESSAGES: What lessons do any of the characters learn? What do WE learn?
4. CAUSES AND EFFECTS: What events/actions have major effects on characters? How do the characters react?
5. PATTERNS: What patterns from either this passage or the rest of the book do you notice in this passage?
*This entry is adapted from a chapter in The Literacy Cookbook, which is available HERE.