By Andrew Miller
I remember some of the writing prompts I used to gives students as well as ones that were given to students in assessments from the state. They often looked something like this:
Imagine you were given all the funds and resources needed to go on a trip of your choice. Write a persuasive letter to your parents to convince them you should be allowed to go on this trip. Use evidence to support your ideas.
This isn’t a bad assignment necessarily, and, in fact, it could prove to be a great scaffold if I were teaching students persuasive or argumentative writing. However, we are all in the process of adopting rigorous standards and curriculum, and the rigor of this assignment, as it stands, may not cut it. Our students deserve to be appropriately challenged with the curriculum. Our students can do better, and one way we can challenge students to read the text more closely and write from their critical analysis is through text-dependent questions.
Text-dependent questions, as the name implies, require that students read the text in order to answer the questions. There is no “faking” an answer. Such questions require students to dig deep into text in a variety of ways. Some text-dependent questions might be more surface level, while others may require analysis. Here are some tips teachers should consider as they craft text-dependent questions.
- Scaffold the Level and Type of Questions: While you might be tempted to immediately demand high-level analysis questions, consider using a scaffolded process: begin with simple comprehension questions, then move on to questions that require inference skills, and finally build up to deep-analysis questions. This will help students gain the necessary knowledge to answer the more challenging text-dependent questions. It will also help students gain confidence, which will encourage them to persist when more challenging questions are posed. These scaffolds can also allow you to assess for gaps in reading skills and plan lessons accordingly.
- Know What the Text Does Well: What does the text that you selected do well? Is it a poem that really brings to light the power of metaphor? Is it an article that shows a strong argument? Is it a novel that really highlights character development? Knowing what the text does well can help you pick and craft the best questions for student learning. It will also allow you to align the text-dependent questions to standards more clearly in both literary and informational learning targets.
- Use Questions for Both Formative and Summative Assessments: Remember these text-dependent questions can serve as either formative or summative assessments. In your planning, you should begin with the end in mind and determine what you truly want to summatively assess. You can also choose to spiral assess a reading standard or skill to ensure retention and allow you to differentiate if needed. Also, remember to be flexible. While questions may be planned as a summative assessment, you have the power as the teacher to adjust and shift them to serve as a formative assessment if you notice your students need more instruction.
Great resources include the Literacy Design Collaborative, which specializes in full literacy modules for all grade levels that include text-dependent writing assignments. Also, Achieve the Core has many resources related to the Common Core State Standards, including materials on text-dependent questions and professional learning modules to use with teachers.
Andrew Miller is the author of the ASCD Arias publication Freedom to Fail: How do I foster risk-taking and innovation in my classroom?, which is available for preorder now. He is on the national faculty for the Buck Institute for Education, an organization specializing in 21st century project-based learning. Miller is also an ASCD Faculty member, providing expertise in a variety of professional development needs, and a regular blogger for Edutopia. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.