The Rigor of Informational Text
The new Common Core standards require more “rigor”. So what does rigor really mean? Could it mean we expect our students to learn at higher levels? How do you assess a high level understanding of informational text?
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts emphasizes the importance of students reading informational text. They should be able to describe, analyze, compare, and evaluate various types of text. Informational text is found in content area subjects like science, health, and social studies; it is found on the cafeteria menu, and a biography of the current president. Exposing students to this type of text occurs daily as part of the natural routine of the school day. With the term “rigor” a part of the CCSS discussion, a teacher might wonder how to plan more rigorous instruction and assess student understanding.
A classroom designed for the rigor of the CCSS standards in informational text is filled with various types of materials from books to magazines and Web sites described in this article. Students access these materials throughout the day. Teachers assess their understanding both formally and informally in the course of a lesson, a weekly test, or at the end of a unit. In this article, we will explore ways to assess students and review strategies that can be easily applied in the classroom. Suggested informational text Web sites will be listed to save as a Favorite for students to access. Videos of classroom teachers will help bring this topic to life.
How does a teacher include assessment as a part of his or her daily routine? In the video “Analyzing Texts: Overview of a Lesson Series”, watch a 5th grade teacher who has a diverse class: eight are ELL and 16 speak another language other than English at home. In this five minute video, get a glimpse of a lesson that focuses on discussing, analyzing, and writing about informational text. Watch the video twice. The first time focus on the actions of the teacher. The second time, focus your attention on the students. Reflect on what you saw, how the students responded and how the teacher included assessment as a natural part of the lesson.
To learn more about formative assessments, read the article “What Are Formative Assessments and Why Should We Use Them?” by Judith Dodge. This article describes how to use formative assessments to help you differentiate instruction and improve student achievement. The author also addresses the connection of formative assessment and RTI. In the article “The Best Value in Formative Assessment”, includes questions that students can ask themselves to assess their own learning. Some of the questions include the following:
- What are my strengths relative to the standards?
- What have I seen myself improve at?
- Where are my areas of weakness?
Teachers could use the questions included in the article, add some of their own and create a checklist for their students. If teachers completed the checklist as well, then both the learner and the supporter (teacher) could share and compare their assessment thoughts. This type of activity could help students take more interest and ownership in their learning.
Informational Text Resources
Did you know that Texas is known for its roses? Thomas Edison’s favorite invention was the phonograph. "Mary had a little lamb" were the first words that he recorded on the phonograph and he was amazed when he heard the machine play them back to him. Can you imagine that people have been drinking Coca Cola since 1886? These facts and more are found at America’s Library, hosted by the Library of Congress. Students can read short stories about American history, the states, and famous people.
At the National Geographic Kids Web site, students will find stories about animals, nature, science, space, and history. The photography section includes NG Kids My Shot photos taken by children. Students must have parent permission to sign up and then upload photos. As a class, students can rate their favorite photos from the page and write descriptions to create their own informational text.
A fellow educator, Mr. Nussbaum, has compiled a Web site with biographies for kids. From Galileo to Bill Gates to Pablo Picasso, the site contains over 50 biographies. Included on the site are primary resources, photos or advertisements related to the person, puzzles, videos, and games.
Two engaging science Web sites to present to students: Weather Wiz Kids and Kids.gov for Science. Weather Wiz Kids is interactive and covers topics such as thunder, hurricanes, wind, climate, and clouds. The Kids.gov site for science states that it is a “safe place to learn and play.” There are videos, science fair project ideas, life science, space, inventors and scientists. Teachers should preview this Web site as it contains links to additional Web sites like the Smithsonian Education's Science and Nature Page and Yellowstone National Park Just for Kids.
Teachers use both formal and informal assessments throughout the course of the day to gauge student learning and how they are accessing the curriculum. In the video Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading, find out more about progress monitoring and how to design assessments that accurately reflect where students are and how teachers can move them forward. Watch this video and think about how the practices might be incorporated into instructional planning. Assessment should be organic – regular feedback and check-ins should naturally flow within a lesson.
There are links to many examples of formative assessment on the West Virginia Department of Education Web site. Among the many types of assessment listed, teachers may be very familiar with the Learning Log. Not only should students write down what they are learning, but also how they are learning. Encourage students to reflect on the processes they use to make decisions. Teachers should regularly read these reflections to check on how students are making connections in what they read to their world. Writing comments and questions to students in the logs can encourage deeper thinking.
Another strategy on Virginia Department of Education Web site is the Appointment Clock. Students schedule appointments with their peers at the quarter hour, the half hour, and the 45-minute mark. The teacher begins the lesson and provides information to move students to higher-order thinking. The teacher determines the stopping point and asks students to meet with their quarter hour appointment to discuss their thinking. The teacher could create questions, or students could have a ban of questions to choose from. Consider having students create the bank of questions. The teacher should walk around and listen to the conversations taking place between partners, noting any misconceptions or misunderstandings. Consider this process throughout the lesson.
As we think about rigor, informational text and assessment, teachers can use various strategies during the lesson to support high levels of student learning. A classroom filled with informational text accessible through books, magazines, charts, and Web sites will motivate student interest. Finally, engaging students to be a part of the assessment process helps them to invest in their own learning.Stephanie Hamilton
English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Informational Text » Grade 3, 4, and 5
Key Ideas and Details
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.3 Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.3 Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.3 Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.
§110.14. English Language Arts and Reading, Grade 3, Beginning with School Year 2009-2010.
(12) Reading/Comprehension of Informational Text/Culture and History. Students analyze, make inferences and draw conclusions about the author's purpose in cultural, historical, and contemporary contexts and provide evidence from the text to support their understanding. Students are expected to identify the topic and locate the author's stated purposes in writing the text.
(13) Reading/Comprehension of Informational Text/Expository Text. Students analyze, make inferences and draw conclusions about expository text and provide evidence from text to support their understanding.
Analyzing Texts: Overview of a Lesson Series
What Are Formative Assessments and Why Should We Use Them
The Best Value in Formative Assessment
National Geographic Kids
Biographies for kids
Weather Wiz Kids
Kids.gov for Science
Smithsonian Education's Science and Nature Page
Yellowstone National Park Just for Kids
Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading
Examples of formative assessment
Developing Essential Questions