The CCSS categories for both literary and informational reading are:
- Key Ideas and Details — What is the meaning across the whole text?
- Craft and Structure — How does the author create meaning across the text?
- Integrate Knowledge and Ideas — Compare how authors create meaning in different texts?
Most importantly, the CCSS expect that students look for more than one idea or theme, backing their ideas up with evidence stated and inferred across the text(s). Conversations are key — in journals, in class discussions, in book clubs, with partners. Students start with understanding what the text says, then move to how the author crafted the text for us to glean that meaning, and finally compare one text to another to discern the patterns of themes and perspectives across texts to become engaged and critical readers. For informational texts, nonfiction, students must not be just gathering facts, but rather thinking about the meaning, assumptions, biases, and reasoning presented by the author through the details and the structure of the text. Students look for the perspective of the truth the text presents, sorting out and evaluating the author’s claims and reasoning to form one’s own opinions. The CCSS expect us to read to think.
What does reading to understand nonfiction look like?
Key Ideas and details — What does the text say and infer? What is the text about?
1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Focus: Read closely to understand exactly what the text says and infers. Read enough of the text to get the main idea, then recite or retell what the main idea is. Soon the details will need to be categorized, sorted for understanding the big idea.
2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Focus: As readers continue, we ask the same question as we did our stories, “What is this article starting to be about?” Our gist strategy from ReadWriteThink helps us develop the central idea of nonfiction texts. We then support our ideas with the details. The strategy helps students focus on the big idea and discover vocabulary that succinctly explains the ideas as they work through their retelling and sorting of information for Standard 1. This standard moves us through the text, understanding how one part of the text adds to the next. Students need to look for different ideas, not just one. In nonfiction of a complex nature, cause/effect, sequence, problem/solution include big ideas that lead to understanding a topic. Everything returns to the evidence within the text as the reader moves through it, which leads to Standard 3.
3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
Focus: Return to the parts of the text to analyze ideas, relationships, events, people: How does the evidence (cause/effect, sequence, problem/solution) connect?
Craft and Structure — How did the author, through language and structure choices, promote a point of view?
4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Focus: After and while determining the big ideas, begin to determine how the author’s use of words and phrases, images and media, create the point of views about the topics? Which words are most important? How do these words and phrases affect our understanding of the author’s point of view? How do they create a tone?
5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
Focus: While analyzing the language, consider the structure of the text — through paragraphs and sections — how does the way the information is presented (building on the language) affect our understanding of the author’s perspective? How does each part work to build this perspective?
6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
Focus: What perspectives are presented throughout the text? How does the author’s style help us understand the perspective(s)? How does each part support or move us from one perspective to another? How do choices in words, tone of language, and the way the text is structured help us to understand the author’s point of view?
The evidence moves us through the standards, from language (4) to structure (5) to analyzing the point of view (6).
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas — Analyze different texts for content information, validity of argument and claims, compare how texts develop the content and claims.
7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Focus: Compare articles, digital information, audio, video, primary texts on the same topic to evaluate how the information is presented and reasoned.
8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
Focus: Analyze how the author persuaded you: evaluate claims and reasoning, logic and supportive evidence. Look for logic, relevance, and validity. Follow the author’s claims to evaluate their validity.
9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
Focus: Compare how the authors persuaded you: evaluate claims and reasoning, logic and supportive evidence. Look for logic, relevance, and validity. Follow the authors’ claims to evaluate the validity of the information.
How do I prepare for reading and teaching nonfiction?
The CCSS obviously moves us away from a listing of facts and into the domain of thinking critically: we read to understand concepts, generalize ideas, and analyze arguments. Students need to be matched with readable texts, and they need strategies for asking thoughtful questions that go beyond the 5ws and move into generalization, perspective, and author’s choice in language and text structure. Readers will need to compare arguments, analyzing the logic, validity, and relevance of claims. They will need to look for the ideas, the details of which will support their analysis.
This year our classroom magazine is Scholastic Scope, which supports the CCSS and provides articles of nonfiction that present arguments for students to analyze. Resources are provided for more reading to compare the content and arguments. The Reading and Writing Project provides a list of digital texts for science, pop culture, and social studies. And I have discovered ProCon.org, with pro/con arguments of forty-three themed ideas, including resources for teachers.
As we move into nonfiction, I’ll add more to this reflection. For now, what framework do you use to develop critical thinking and analysis of nonfiction?