When we get in the car to drive somewhere unknown, one of the first things that we do is turn on our navigation system to guide us. When we make meaning of texts, whether it be musical, artistic, or literary, we also need navigation to assist with the meaning-making processes. A navigational system serves as a symbolic representation for the ways we move through texts to consider the medium, modes, genre, perspective, point of view, structure, and composer's purpose.
What started as GPSP (genre, point of view/perspective, structure, and purpose) has now evolved into a much deeper practice, one that acknowledges the social, cultural, and psychological facets of meaning making and communicating. It recognizes that "text" cannot be perceived as a single entity. Text is "an articulation of a discourse" (Pahl & Roswell, 2012). Texts can be constructed in many forms that utilize a wide range of modes, genres, purposes, and structures.
When we analyze a text, it is important to start with the composer. Who is she or he? From where? With what life experiences? What cultural identities? What social identities? What mediums does this musician, author, or artist typically communicate through? What modes does this composer utilize? Learning about the person who composed the text assists us in recognizing biases, understanding the perspective through which information is being shared, and considering why the text was composed. All of this matters in order to draw conclusions about the purpose or message of a text.
Medium is the method in which we choose to communicate or express our ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. Medium refers to the final dissemination, or output of modes that have been coordinated and arranged to communicate a message. For example, paintings, sketches, collages, digital movies, digital presentations, essays, and speeches are all mediums. Each medium utilizes diverse modes, in order to communicate a larger message. The medium a composer chooses to communicate through impacts the modes we can expect to make meaning of. We can get children anticipating what modes we can expect based on the medium. Below are a few of the many mediums that our children interact with:
Taken from the work of Kress (2010), mode refers to the channel of communication for a single unit of meaning. Each mode is a channel of communication and/or meaning making and is valued differently across social and cultural contexts. Examples of modes include color, font, positioning, sizing, and gestures, to name a few. Composers make deliberate decisions when they send messages, tell stories, or share information. The medium in which a composer is channeling the text through impacts the selected modes. This is important because children can make predictions about the modes we can expect within particular mediums. For example, if you are examining a photograph, we know we will want to pay close attention to spacing, sizing, and maybe gaze. If we are making meaning of a poem, we will want to pay attention to line breaks, the use of or lack of rhyme, and visual shape. It is important for our children to consider all of this and build semiotic awareness, or an awareness of the signs and symbols used to make meaning and communicate.
Thinking about Modes
Artistic, musical, and literary genres are composed of elements and characteristics that shape the genre. We can flip through radio stations, notice the musical patterns, and determine the genre privileged on a specific station. Making these characteristics explicit for children is imperative. In the classroom, it is important to consider the characteristics present in the texts explored in class. This provides children a frame of reference to organize details from a particular text. Further, children can use their understanding of genre to make meaning of texts and to compose texts. "The most powerful way to teach any genre is to adopt a reading-writing approach, as both students and teachers must read the genre to write the genre and the skills just described will be developed much more effectively if a dual approach to poetry is adopted” (Concannon-Gibney, 2018, p. 431).
In class, we utilized a genre wall. After every literary text that we read, we decided what genre it was based on the characteristics that were present. An example of this wall is below.
The use of "narrative nonfiction" can be substituted for literary nonfiction, biographical texts, or any other phrase you may choose. Additionally, some ay choose to use "Argumentative Texts" in place of "Persuasive." The point is that genre is something we can and should be talking about every day with every text we touch.
When a text is composed, the author, artist, or musician makes structural decisions. The structure is the way the text is organized. In order to completely understand a text, we have to think about the macrostructure and microstructures. Macrostructure refers to the larger structure of the text. We zoom out and think about how the entire piece is organized. The microstructures are the smaller structures within a text. This could be a paragraph, section, or any other small portion of the text. Considering text structure at the macro and micro level assists with the consideration of the author's purpose.
The purpose is the main reason or intent for composing a text. It is the why. In literary texts, an author’s purpose is reflected in the way an author writes about a topic or story. It is reflected in the choice of genre, point of view, structure, and language used. It is reflected in the way the author crafts the text. We use our knowledge of genre, point of view, perspective, and structure to draw conclusions about the purpose.
In a literacy-rich classroom, children are making meaning of a range of texts every day. Each time opens an opportunity to explore and discuss the crafting of the text. Not only does this take children through crucial meaning-making processes, but it also allows them to transfer such processes and crafting techniques to their own compositions.
The children in our school system will be required to make meaning and communicate in a variety of modes, in both local and global contexts (Kress, 2010; Serafini, 2014). If we as literacy educators acknowledge that meaning making and communicating are more than psychological tasks that take place within a fixed system of signs, then we are left with the question of how to provide children with the thinking patterns to engage in these meaning-making and communicative practices.
Here's a file folder version to support children in thinking about author's craft every time they touch a text.
Concannon-Gibney, T. (2018). Immersing first graders in poetry: A genre study approach. The Reading Teacher, 72, 431-443.
Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. London, UK: Routledge.
Pahl, K. and Rowsell, J. (2012). Literacy and education (2nd ed.). London: Sage.
Serafini, F. (2014). Reading the visual: An introduction to teaching multimodal literacy. New York: Teachers College Press.
We pick up a book to satisfy curiosities, submerge ourselves into another world, feel better, or just experience reading. While many hours of research have been conducted, multiple instructional models developed, and countless theories constructed regarding best practices in reading instruction, many children are still falling short of state and national expectations. We know that assessments, in general, have a long way to go in order to be just and inclusive of all children. But, this just means that we have to work even harder to ensure that ALL children have access to teaching and learning that affords them opportunities to fall in love with literacy and language.
Explicit instruction and opportunities to explore the cognitive and metacognitive processes and social practices should be at the core of instruction. If so, it is likely that reading skills, word strategies, and vocabulary development will naturally occur during literacy and language experiences. Utilizing an authentic approach may mean that teaching in isolation will become a thing of the past. Surface-level experiences with recall comprehension questions do not build proficient, analytical readers, ones who can utilize a critical eye to read the world around them and understand the way texts position them as citizens in the world.
Therefore, we must go deeper to get children to a point of independence in critical thinking, meaning making, and communicating. This will ensure that they have the tools to independently complete the tasks we place in front of them and to engage in the thinking process and social behaviors the world beyond the classroom demands.
In schools, expect students to analyze characters, synthesize information to build summaries, and draw conclusions from complex texts. Therefore, we must provide them with the appropriate tools and experiences to successfully engage in these processes.
Educators know that meaning is not constructed or negotiated by merely reading the words on the page, and because there are many facets to reading, we struggle in determining where to put our energy. But, we have an ethical responsibility to put our energy into our children, placing them before state assessments, district demands, and textbook initiatives.
For decades, research has continued highlighting the connection between explicit comprehension instruction and proficient readers (Baker & Brown, 1984; Dorn & Scoffos, 2005; Duke & Pearson, 2002; Keene & Zimmerman, 2007).
To assist with explicit meaning-making instruction, I utilize the acronym WRPACIS.
For those who have NOT spent a significant amount of time in my classroom, this acronym may seem like some tedious strategy to get children to write down their thinking as they read, or it may seem like another bookmark that kills the joy in reading. But, this is actually the opposite of that. This acronym was created to provide a strategy that privileges more than the psychological facets of meaning making, recognizing that meaning making is social, cultural, and psychological. The bookmark is a tool that gives all children access to the language that engages them in the processes of proficient readers. WRAPCIS is a toolbox with a repertoire of tools for children to utilize as they make meaning. With explicit instruction, modeling, and relevant literacy and language experiences, these processes become fluent, natural processes that occur when a child reads, ones that children don’t have to write down or share orally.
Written annotations can, however, give us insight into the thinking that is taking place in children's minds. If we are going to ask children to annotate, we must use their annotations to guide our instruction. To assist with monitoring children's progress in utilizing a range of comprehension processes with diverse and increasingly complex texts, I have created a rubric to formatively assess comprehension. I hope this can be a useful tool for you, too.
This blog series takes you through these processes. The hope is that teachers reading this can think about how they can make these processes explicit for the children they serve through modeling and coaching. As we model these processes with diverse texts and across a range of contexts, it affords children opportunities to observe and mirror the kinds of thinking needed to comprehend more complex texts and read them with a critical eye.
Baker, L., & Brown, A. L. (1984). Metacognitive skills and reading. In P.D. Pearson, R., Barr, M.L. Kamil &P.B. Mosenthal (Eds.). Handbook of reading research (Vol. 1, pp. 353-394). New York: Longman.
Dorn, L. J. & Soffos, C. (2005). Teaching for deep comprehension: A reading workshop approach. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Duke, N.K. & Pearson, D. (2002). “Effective Practices for Developing Reading Comprehension.” In A.E. Farstrup & S.J. Samuels (Eds.). What Research Has To Say About Reading Instruction (3rd ed., pp. 205–242). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Keene, E. O., & Zimmermann, S. (2007). Mosaic of thought: Teaching comprehension in a reader’s workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Exploring Names Through Picture Books
A little over two years ago, I sat on the couch and intensely watched Janis: Little Girl Blue, the documentary of Janis Joplin’s life. At the conclusion, I said to my brother, “If I ever have a little girl, I am naming her Joplin.”
Joplin, of course, represented one of the most revered musicians in the world, but she was so much more than that. She moved forward a cultural revolution in the 1960s, leaving behind a community that shunned her for her belief in racial equality. Joplin represented strength, passion, independence, pioneer, and advocate. All of these are traits that I could only hope would one day describe my daughter.
Names carry stories, hopes, dreams, and histories. These are important and should be celebrated in the classroom. As educators, we can encourage children to explore their stories and share them in the learning community. These stories provide us a little more insight into who our children are, the histories they carry with them, the hopes hidden in them, and so much more.
Exploring Our Names Through Picture Books
The Name Jar shares the story of a young girl, Unhei, who has just moved from Korea. The students in her school struggle to correctly pronounce her name, making her adjustment even more difficult. After going as the "no-name" girl for a while, a special friend does an act of kindness that reminds her how special her name really is. Unhei is given a name stamp by her grandmother before leaving Korea, something that ends up bringing her and a classmate closer.
Response: As a follow-up activity, have the students stamp their names vertically down the page. By each letter, write an adjective that starts with each of the letters. Hang the acrostic poems up in the classroom, giving the children time to read them and get to know their classmates.
Figure 1 Adjective Name Acrostic Poem
Isabella tries on the many identities of brave and extraordinary women that she looks up to. In the end, she learns the most important lesson from these women... be yourself!
Response: Have the students write about someone they look up to, someone who has influenced their lives, or why it is important to always be yourself.
Yoon, whose name means "shining wisdom," enjoys speaking and writing in her native language, Korean. She gets frustrated at school and no longer wants to be Yoon, ready to let go of her Korean identity. She feels like an outsider to her American classmates until something changed in her.
Response: After reading the book, research the meaning of your name and discuss whether you think that meaning is a good fit or not.
Moe and Mo share the same name and live in the same community. Their life experiences are both similar and different. This book reminds us that our name is only a part of our identity. But, there are many other facets, and it is not just similarities that allow us to connect with identities.
Response: How do Mo and Moe's story remind us that our cultural, religious, and/or political differences can bring us together rather than divide us?
Sangoel, a refugee from Sudan, has to leave everything he knows behind after his father is killed in war. The one thing he is able to bring with him is his name that has been handed down to him from his father. On top of being in an unfamiliar environment, he struggles with the mispronunciation of his name until he comes up with a creative way to teach his peers how to say it.
Response: After reading My Name is Sangoel, draw a symbol to help others remember the pronunciation of your name. Discuss the importance of correctly pronouncing others' names.
Baraka begins his life perceiving his disability as something negative that holds him and his family back. But as his story plays out, the reader finds it hard not to look past this disability and see all of the blessings that he brings to others' lives.
Response: Consider Baraka's given name, Muthini, which means suffering. Why is Baraka a better name for him?
Bilal and his sister move to new a school, and their Muslim religion is not accepted by their peers. Bilal starts to think that hiding his Muslim identity is better than being bullied like his sister. Another person on campus notices this identity struggle and gives Bilal a book that makes him rethink abandoning his name and religious identity.
Response: Think about what inclusion means. As a class, brainstorm words that are related to inclusion. Using a few of those words, write a short essay on the importance of making people feel included and a part of the school community.
After moving from Taiwan to San Francisco, Na-Li, replaces her Chinese name with Hannah. This book shares the story of Hannah's adjustment while her family waits on their green cards.
Response: How do our names share unique stories about us? If you moved to a new location, would you change your name to match the culture of your new home or keep your name? Explain why.
Hussein, whose name has been passed down to all of the men in his family, is forced to give it up when an army arrives, giving him a new identity card with the name "Henry" on it. Hussein is forced to take on this new name, leaving behind his that carried so much meaning and so many memories.
Response: After reading My Name Was Hussein, write about some of the memories that your name carries with you. How would you respond if someone gave you an identity card with a new name and expected you to begin going by that identity?
Jorge's story is shared as he attempts to balance fitting in in a new country, while holding on to his memories and traditions from his home country. This bilingual, poetry book illustrates the many tensions that children feel when moving to a new place.
Response: Using My Name is Jorge on Both Sides of the River, write a poem about your name and what it means to you.
After being made fun for writing her name in Japanese, Yoko becomes self-conscious and decides she no longer wants to attend school. With the support of her mother, teacher, and a few peers, Yoko learns that cultural differences can't get in the way of strong friendships.
Response: After reading Yoko Writes Her Name discuss how font, like color, spacing, and sizing, all carry meaning. Allow the children to use a computer to type their names in a font that represents them somehow. When the children have finished, have them share their fonts with their peers and explain why they chose the font they chose.
Exploring Names in Math
1. Read a name book to your children and discuss how the main character's name and identity are connected.
2.Minilesson: Place value addition or traditional algorithm
3 Model: Find the value of the main character's name, using the “Value of Words” activity sheet.
4. Together: Find the value of your name with the children.
5. Children: Have the children find the value of their names, using the same template.
•Allow students to use the sticky note letters to create their names.
•Below each letter, have them write the value.
•On the grid paper, have the children add each letter together to find the total value of their names.
6. Students will then find a partner and find the value of their names combined.
7. Repeat this with sets of partners/groups until you have found the value of all the names in the class together.
8. Discussion: What happened to the value when we combined our names? In any community, our value increases when we work together, look out for one another, and appreciate the differences that make up our community. We are better together.
The Autobiography of My Name
Every name has a story. This multi-genre project explores names by writing across the genres. Here is a short summary of this project. A more in-depth explanation will follow in a later blog.
1. Read aloud Alma and How She Got Her Name and share a small story behind your name.
2. Listen to the following Story Corps:
3. Explore how to conduct an interview and explain that children will be interviewing their family on the story behind their names. Go over the Name Interview with the children and give them some time to conduct this interview and dig up the many stories their names carry.
4. As the week goes on, read Book: My Autobiography to the students. As you read, have the children think about what their names' autobiographies would be.
5. When the children bring back their interviews, give them each a few minutes to share some interesting ideas they learned about their names.
6. Using the interview responses, the children will create a Multi-genre, Multi-form Name Book Autobiography:
Your identity is your most valuable possession. Protect it.
Figure 1 Identity X-Rays Adapted from Cultural X-Rays (Short, 2009)
The identities that we carry with us matter more than ever. They decide the spaces we are and are not allowed to enter. They decide which borders we can cross and which we cannot. They are a predictor of college graduation, incarceration, and even health later in life. Identities matter. As educators, we have an ethical responsibility to make sure that our classrooms include, respect, and give voice to the many identities that enter them.
Children bring into classrooms lived experiences, meaning-making and communicative practices, sets of skills, and customs that assist them in making sense of the social world. Unfortunately, our education system perceives these assets children bring in as deficits (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005). It is no secret that this neglect of our children’s cultural, social, and emotional assets is no longer holding up in non-White, linguistically-diverse, and low-socioeconomic classrooms. Most upsetting is the detrimental effects the literacy practices being pushed off on children in schools have on the learning and developing identities of the children our system serves (Delpit & Dowdy, 2008; Gay, 2010; Lee, 2000).
When we enter the classroom this new school year, students and educators will bring with them diverse cultural groups, lived experiences, values, languages, dispositions, and social contexts. These may or may not align with those privileged in schools. This is important to consider because we cannot expect children from diverse backgrounds to be motivated to engage in learning from perspectives and lived experiences that do not connect with their own.
As Gay (2002) put it, “When academic knowledge and skills are situated within the lived experiences and frames of reference of students, they are more personally meaningful” (p. 106). As a result, children will be interested in and absorb the learning more completely. In other words, when children can connect to the experiences, history, and people presented in the teaching and learning, motivation to engage in them will increase.
If we want to begin connecting with, learning from, and authentically interacting with the children that enter our classrooms, we have to explore the many identities they bring with them. If not, we cannot build on them. We have to set conditions early in the year to get to know our children beyond a surface level and continue that curiosity about them throughout the year, as they grow, change, and expand their perspectives.
Freire (1998) posed the question, “Why not establish an ‘intimate’ connection between knowledge considered basic to any school curriculum and knowledge that is the fruit of the lived experience of these students as individuals?” (p. 36). This “intimate connection” requires a reconsideration of the way we build on the identities in our classrooms and use our children’s assets to inform the teaching and learning. In order to do that, we must get to know these identities beyond a surface level.
So what theoretical ideas ground identity-based curricula? I turn to the work of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (Gay, 2010; Ladson-Billings, 2009; Lee, 1997), Cultural Modeling (Lee, 2001), Funds of Knowledge (Gonzales, Moll, & Amanti, 2005), Funds of Identity (Estaban-Guitart & Moll, 2014; Estaban-Guitart, 2016) and Biography-Driven Instruction (Herrera, 2010). All of which are grounded in the beliefs that:
This past spring, I taught a graduate literacy course, Making the Literacy Connection: Language to Reading, and we explored ways of tapping into our children's Funds of Identity. Using Esteban-Guitart and Moll's (2014) five major types of Funds of Identity, we compiled an Identity Inventory that could be used with students of all ages. The questions position us as educators to get to know our students beyond a surface level and to begin setting conditions in our classrooms so children see their lives reflected in the teaching and learning. Since then, I have edited, added, and thought more deeply about this as a tool. I hope that this inventory can be a starting point for you to think about the types of questions you might ask to get to know students and their families.
Exploring Students' Scripts Through Visual Autobiographies
Each of use carries with us “a database of stored emotional memories that influence the way we think, feel, and behave,” which are known as “scripts” (Jennings, 2015, p. 60). Getting to know the scripts our children bring into the classroom with them is crucial if we want to build a community where they see their lives reflected. The following multimodal literacy and language experience opens a space to explore our many scripts and identities.
Figure 2 Sample of a Visual Autobiography.
Digital resources to create a digital visual autobiography:
Tatum (2000) noted that identity is complex, shaped by historical, social, political, and cultural contexts. She further acknowledged that the answer to the question, “Who am I?” is one that “depends in large part on who the world around me says I am” (p. 9). Some of our identities we choose, some we are born into, and others are given to us without our permission. This experience positions us to think about the many "masks" we wear.
Figure 3 Identity Masks from the Assembly of Expanded Perspectives on Learning Conference
Notice, understand, and influence patterns in our local and global communities.
Be curious and explore inquiries.
Embrace uncertainties and act with courage.
Simple Rules are lived out in our social worlds as we engage and negotiate our many identities. They frame the conditions we set and are a reminder that there is no fixed, or calculated plan, to reach desirable patterns. Rather, we have to notice patterns, understand their implications, and influence these patterns, in order to be adaptive and responsive to the patterns emerging around us.
Patterson, L., Holladay, R., & Eoyang, G. (2013). Radical rules for school: Adaptive action for complex change. Circle Pines, MN: Human Systems Dynamics Institute.
Writing from a personal perspective has been hard for me lately. I’d sit down with 10,000 thoughts and my journal, but nothing would come out.
The next day, I tried it again in a different context. I sat down on the couch with 10,000 thoughts and a blank Word document open and stared.
I stared at the blank pages until Joplin woke up from a nap with her hands raised in the air or until I realized that I was only going to get five hours of sleep if I went to bed right at that moment.
Today was different, though.
Today, there was a sense of
to sit down and write.
Today, there was a sense of
to sit down and write.
This urgency came from my belief that the children in our world need to be equipped with the voice to speak up for injustices and inequalities.
This urgency came from my faith that the children in our world will build the courage to take risks.
And most important, this urgency came from my hope that children in our world get to explore ideas that challenge their beliefs and have access to the tools and thinking patterns to make this world a better place.
Because MORE THAN EVER, we need citizens like this. Our world needs strong citizens that believe in democracy, where the voices, identities, and power are shared equally among everyone in the community.
Used with Permission from Human Systems Dynamics
Without all of this, there is no telling what world we will send our children into. I hope this blog can be a space that initiates a serious conversation about democratic classrooms in the 21st century, the Simple Rules we follow, and the conditions we set to reach shared identity, voice, and power.
Holladay, R. (2017, May). Generative Engagement: Description of Generative Engagement [Blog post]. Retrieved from: http://www.hsdinstitute.org/resources/blog-generative-engagement-leverage-dynamics.html