This article on creating a balanced literacy text set is Part 16 of WIDA’s Essential Actions Series. Click here to read the first article in the series.
I remember being issued a massive textbook for every class in high school. That massive textbook was our entire text set. We often started the year on the first page, and, as the year progressed, we moved through the book with increasing speed to cover the material.
The resources and texts used by teachers are like ingredients in a kitchen for chefs. The right combination of ingredients produces a mouth-watering meal; the right combination of texts breaths life into an abstract topic.
Action 13 found in WIDA’s Essential Actions: A Handbook for Implementing WIDA’s Framework for English Language Development Standards (Gottlieb, 2013) encourages teachers to integrate language domains – reading, writing, speaking, listening, and visually creating – to ensure that ELs learn content while growing their language skills.
This requires the use of a text set, defined as a collection of readings, images, and videos connected to a single topic. The text set provides an authentic context for students to read, write, speak, and think. The knowledge gained from watching videos and reading texts becomes the seeds students till in their writing – the ammo they fire in debates.
The research that supports integrating language domains is below:
- Acquiring language is a long-term process that requires the use of the four language domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing (Anstrom et al., 2010; Francis, Lesaux, Kieffer, & Rivera, 2006; Cummins,1981; Gibbons, 2002).
- A comprehensive literacy program should be developed to foster students’ academic language. Such a program would promote orally sharing opinions, justifying answers, and asking questions from a text they have read or a video they have viewed. Writing should be in response to a reading or a discussion. Programs with these features would contribute to ELs’ literacy development because they integrate all the language domains (August & Shanahan, 2006).
Text Set Example
So what does a quality, modern text set example look like? What are the steps and ELL strategies involved in creating an inclusive, targeted text set for your students?
Let’s examine a case study of one of my English classes and walk through the process.
1. Identify a Topic
We’ll use a topic we’ve already introduced – the unit on ecosystems I tied into Mr. Arno’s 7th grade science glass. While Mr. Arno described the concept of ecosystems during science class, I had students focus on one particular ecosystem – coral reefs – when they attended English class.
2. Examine Limited-Length Texts like Videos & Infographics
A text set should start off as textless as possible. It should start with observations, questions, & discussion . We’ll ramp up to print-heavy resources later as we dive deeper into the unit.
First, I had ELs Think-Pair-Share with a partner to express what they thought they already knew about coral reefs. After they talked, I explained that they’d watch a short video about the topic and were to focus only on the details that explained why coral reefs are important.
I used a video by the Natural History Museum called, coincidentally, “Why are coral reefs important?” as the first text students encountered in the text set. Since humans are primarily visual learners, the video provided a perfect introductory scaffold that laid a foundation for ELs to learn about the topic. After watching the clip and taking notes on the significance of this ecosystem, students discussed in groups to share their notes. Do you notice how this social talk sandwiches an academic text?
I then provided this infographic from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the second resource in the text set. I guided students through a close reading of the infographic because, even though it’s not an article or book excerpt, it is still a text. As we read, I had them take notes of things they thought were important.
Once we finished reading the infographic, I had them do a Quick Write to synthesize the new knowledge. I like using an infographic right after watching videos because infographics provide both text and images to help students access content. The combination of images and limited-length texts offer a low-risk reading experience, which prepares them for the next step: reading a full-length article on coral reefs.
3. Examine an Anchor Text
I gave students a copy of “This Scientist Aims to Save the World’s Coral Reefs” on Google Docs. Students used a process called Visible Reading – a process of interacting with the text to develop comprehension (re-reading, Google Translating unfamiliar words, Google Imaging, annotating sentences, rewriting the sentence following a noun-verb-detail format).
Below is an image from Yinou’s annotated text. She translated unfamiliar vocabulary and annotated the sentences in her own words.
4. Engage in Experiences
As students were reading and watching videos about coral reefs, they encountered the concept of coral bleaching. Mr. Arno suggested that we conduct an experiment to help the students internalize the concept of acidity and how it can affect marine ecosystems. Mr. Arno also wanted to teach students how to conduct a lab and write a lab report, so the acidity experiment was a highly relevant context for the ecosystem unit. Students would understand coral bleaching by conducting a hands-no lab experiment and write a lab report to practice writing like scientists.
After completing their experiment in Mr. Arno’s science class, students engaged in a Harkness Discussion in my English class where they discussed if they thought the solution from the article above was effective based on the lab experiment. They used their findings from the acidity lab to support and defend their own claims while challenging those of their peers.
Weaving an experience into the text set like this helps students internalize concepts and make the topic more concrete. Experiences are like pieces of fabric that can be later weaved into academic writing and oral presentations.
5. Identify an Appropriate Assessment
Each resource in the text set gradually built ELs’ understanding of coral reefs as it simultaneously developed their literacy and thinking skills. Students then had to demonstrate the depth and sophistication of their understanding.
There are many ways to create an engaging assessment that requires ELs to draw from their body of knowledge. Because of my English-teacher background, I believe in the value of asking students to produce an extended piece of writing. I have students propose a writing assignment that interests them related to the central topic, and I support them through the process of writing by analyzing mentor texts.
However, other forms of summative assessment such as planning and performing a skit, creating an awareness campaign as a form of service learning, holding a formal debate, or creating a physical product are also valuable. I strongly encourage that we shift the assessment style from the traditional paper and pen approach to students creating something with the knowledge they learned. This will be much more engaging and will more effectively develop their critical thinking skills.
If you like using free, cloud-based software, you should consider having students create videos using Adobe Spark, infographics with Piktochart, and professional-grade presentations with Buncee. You can house these electronic products with SeeSaw or Smore Pages. I’ll write about how to integrate technology with ELs in a few months.
An effective text set actually helps lead students to the modern definition of literacy, which is best illustrated in the diagram below from Kristin Ziemke (Smith, 2016). The days of “read from page 1 in your textbooks” are over.
By teaching with text sets comprised of traditional and new forms of digital texts, we can prepare ELs for both college and careers in an electronic future.
The next two articles will analyze the final actions in WIDA’s Essential Actions Handbook, which encourage ELL teachers to collaborate with content teachers. While these articles might be the end of this series, they’re by no means the least important. If anything, understanding collaboration is among the most crucial elements of promoting EL achievement.
August, D., & Shanahan, T. (Eds.). (2006). Developing reading and writing in second language learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Anstrom, K., DiCerbo, P., Butler, F., Katz, A., Millet, J., & Rivera, C. (2010). A review of the literature on academic English: Implications for K–12 English language learners. Arlington, VA: e George Washington University Center for Equity and Excellence in Education.
Cummins, J. (1981). e cross-lingual dimensions of language pro ciency: Implications for bilingual education and the optimal age issue. TESOL Quarterly, 14, 175–185.
Francis, D. J., Lesaux, N., Kieffer, M., & Rivera, H. (2006). Research-based recommendations for instruction and academic interventions. Houston, TX: Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics at the University of Houston for the Center on Instruction.
Gibbons, P. (2002). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning: Teaching second language learners in the mainstream classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Gottlieb, M. (2013). Essential Actions: A Handbook for Implementing WIDA’s Framework for English Language Development Standards. Madison: Board of Regents of the U of Wisconsin System.
Smith, M. [missymom15]. (2016, December 2). My new mentor-techie, @kristinZiemke! Truly enjoyed listening to you today. #wearewayne #amplifylearningforkids [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/missymom15/status/804808601789296640