Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Investigating a Text and Sounding Smart Doing It

It's been a while Education Universe,

Being a new daddy has cut into my blogging, but I did develop something from work I did last year and some reading that I have done that I think could be useful.  Over the last year or so, I have read and reread Social Studies can be SPECtacular, by Anthony Fitzpatrick.  The book focuses on identifying four simple themes from a text:

S for "Social"
P for "Political"
E for "Economic"
C for "Cultural"

Here in Illinois, our current social studies standards are organized in the following way:

14- Political Systems
15- Economics
16- History
17- Geography
18- Social Systems

You can see easily how the two align.  4 of my 5 standards are the themes that Fitzpatrick outlines.  The 5th, geography, I address separately in the 7th grade and throughout units that I teach as opportunity presents.

The reason I love this idea is because students by default will get more out of what they read if they are actively reading and searching for these themes.  The only thing that is needed is a tool or graphic organizer for students to work with as they read.  That's how the inSPECt process was born.  We are investigating, or inspecting, the text for these themes.  So essentially, we are looking for social, political, economic, and cultural themes (SPEC) in the text (hence the "in"and the "t" on the ends).

Fortunately I was able to come up with something that I rather like.  I started with color coding the text, looking for social, political, economic, and cultural themes in blue, red, green, and yellow, respectively:

From there, I took the themes from the text that I identified and put them into a very simple graphic organizer that was color-coded by theme too.  This way the evidence of what was read was gathered easily and could be analyzed and discussed quickly.

From there, I created a summary form that outlines the source and the evidence of themes collected.  The information is put into a pie chart to show the dominance of one theme or the harmony and balance found among several themes.  Regardless, it leads to a more sophisticated conversation about the text.  The last thing to do then is to discuss the findings in a brief summary, pointing out the themes as they appeared in the text.  Tying this type of activity to the common core standards, it is require students to cite evidence from the text as well as identify themes.  If we were to inspect more than one text on the same subject, could quickly point out discrepancies or the ways in which the author chooses what to focus on or highlight.

Lastly, the design of this template was thought of with the idea of making it electronic in the future.  A google docs live form can arrange information in the same way that this form does, producing the charts automatically.  There can be no doubt that this is much more in-depth of a reading activity than a simple worksheet to complete by scanning the text.

What is most appealing though is the discussion.  It can be rich.  It can be insightful and creative.  But most importantly, it gives students a chance to play historian by making their own conclusions.  There can be more than one right answer provided that the support from the text and evidence gathered is also there.  

I was observed doing this today in class, and I felt it went well.  The discussion was much better across the board.  I'm thinking about using this approach more, phasing out some of my lectures, and perhaps slowly taking a second look at flipping some of my content to allow for more text analysis.

I could really use some thoughts and feedback.  I work in a small school, and I'm the only person who teaches 7/8 social studies in the building.  That isolation sometimes works against the creative process and growing as a professional.  But that's why the Education Universe is here.

And as always Education Universe, you take care.

Mr. J.

1 comment:

  1. I've read the same book and love your spin on using it for analyzing the textbook. Do you find that your students are getting more out of the reading? One concern that I have is how long it would take some of my students. While it should take a little longer (as students read in more detail), do you find any more students struggling to complete this style of analysis?