At this stage of their reading lives (at the end of the third marking period), my sixth graders are pretty adept at tagging their reading thinking with meaningful sticky notes so that they can “write long” in their reading journals and then discuss their ideas with their classmates:
And, at this stage of their reading lives, I can honestly say that I love reading my kids’ journals; they are thoughtful and reflect the kind of honesty, curiosity, and open-heartedness that is so emblematic about this particular stage of their lives.
However, even as I celebrate all of the above, there is one area of our writing-about-reading-lives that is still cause for much vexation on the part of teacher and student alike:
Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
My kids get the idea of needing textual evidence to support their thinking when they are engaged in conversation about their books either with their book clubs or with me, but they struggle SO much when it comes time to insert these quotes and passages in their written responses. Often, even after many mini-lessons about how to do this, they simply stick the quote or passage at the end of a paragraph explaining their ideas with an awkward: “in the text/book it said….”. This week, we sat together on the reading rug and expressed our mutual frustration.
They said: “Why do we have to do this?” “I’ve already explained my theory, why can’t I just add my evidence at the end?” “Isn’t my thinking more important than the quote?”
I said: “You need to explain why you chose this quote or passage.” “You need to show how this quote or passage connects to your theory.” “You need to be able to write about your theories in the same clear way you talk about your theories.” “Also, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.1 – which you are expected to be able to do.”
They said: “Oh, okay…can you show us how again, but in a better way.
So, I returned to a common text we had read aloud, Alan Gratz’s Refugee. I thought about an idea we had all discussed, and found a quote that would support our thinking. Then I wrote about this idea in a way that would cite “textual evidence to support analysis” in the way I was hoping my students would, as well.
I took my response apart, sentence by sentence, working out my thinking and the purpose for each sentence, and came up with something framed and chartable for my students:
My kiddos spent a long time studying this chart and asking questions. It seemed to help that there was an explanation for each step of the writing process, more importantly, they made a connection between this written response and the way they spoke to each other about their books – their idea, where in the text this idea became clear, what the part was, and the context. Seeing it this way seemed to inspire a collective ah-ha.
This week, when my students will write about their reading, I will have these mini-charts ready for reference. Fingers crossed that our mutual vexation will be a thing of the past!