I have recently started having my 4th and 5th grade reading students think about the types of details they are reading in Non-fiction texts. We have done a lot with coding a text and taking notes, but have not tackled what the types of details are within texts.
Sunday Cummins introduced this idea in a new way in her book Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content-Area Sources. I have also had conversations with her about this in some PD sessions of hers I have been in.
Types of text details may include:
You can probably find a few more types, but this list works with most texts.
I have to admit, I was hesitant to try this at first. I think it might have been that, this is something that can lead readers right into identifying a texts structure. There are some similarities between types of details and a texts structure. Over emphasizing the need to find a texts structure is something that I have grown to have a problem with. Many states and districts have chosen to address this within their state and local assessments. They have made the idea of identifying a texts structure something more important than it is, all in the name of addressing standards. When thinking about text structure I feel it should be used to help readers deepen their understanding of the texts meaning. It should not become a huge focus of itself, with lots of test questions requiring a reader to label a texts structure correctly. The end goal should not be that our readers have to identify a texts structure correctly, every time they read. We should not be assessing a readers ability level by identifying a texts structure correctly.
It is the thinking a reader does while considering a texts structure, that is the key. Much like the thinking a reader does when previewing a text. Yes, it is helpful to consider a texts structure when trying top open your mind and prepare for what you are reading or are about to read, but you can understand a text without identifying its structure. When we try to turn the thinking processes of reading into concrete testable items, reading is turned into something it is not, and it becomes something not very engaging.
Anyway, I really had to make myself open up to the idea of noticing the types of details as being helpful. I am so glad I did, however. I think the fact that I was doing some planning and teaching some lessons with Sunday, helped motivate me.
As I introduced students to noticing the types of details a writer uses, I did so focusing on making meaning and text understanding, not as a separate task. I often asked students to consider “what information, opinion, or idea the writer is trying to open our minds to in a particular sentence?” Considering types of details and a texts structure must always be linked back to making meaning and text understanding, not become a separate task readers supposedly do as they read. It is the act of slowing down enough as a reader to consider what a writer wants from the reader that is important.
Cummins, S. (2018). Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking, and Writing Across Content-Area Sources. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann.
My students started noticing and considering locations more often after I introduced this idea to them. Often times locations are very important to a texts understanding. Students have many ideas and have be exposed to information about many locations across the world they could be and should be making connections to and thus inferences about. They started noticing when the writer was describing something as fact or opinion more consistently. They began slowing down to consider a historical connection they had heard. I taught them to layer this with the the information the author just told them. This helps them add a depth to their understanding. Students were understanding more and engaging more with the texts after I introduced the idea of types of details to them. They naturally started discussing the structure of the text, or structures I should say. A text is often written in multiple structures, depending on what the writer is trying to say or share. I then asked them to consider what the texts structure might be, like they are asked to do on an assessment. We completed the meaning work first.
By the way you can fairly accurately figure out a texts structure by looking at headings and the layout of a text or other text features, while skimming it. I have seen students asked to find a texts structure in this way before. While doing this however they are not considering what the writer wants them to understand, they are not adding depth to their thinking and building upon what they know. Students usually miss the real meaning of the text when doing this, but often get the structure question right on a assessment.
I could see falling into the same trap with types of text details. Keep the focus of reading instruction, on meaning. When students are engaged in the meaning of the text and not initially reading to find an answer for a text question they understand more.
In her book Sunday goes on to discuss how comparing details between 2-3 texts over the same topic is very useful.
Check out Sunday’s Blog. Link is on the right side of this page.
What are your thoughts? Keep Reflecting! Troy