Students have rich and rigorous conversations which are dependent on a common text. Teachers insist that classroom experiences stay deeply connected to the text on the page and students develop habits for making evidentiary arguments both in conversation, as well as in writing to assess comprehension of a text.
A significant percentage of questions and tasks are text dependent. Aligned curriculum materials should include rigorous text-dependent questions that require students to demonstrate that they not only can follow the details of what is explicitly stated but also are able to make valid claims that square with all the evidence in the text. Text-dependent questions can be answered only by careful scrutiny of the text and specifically by referring to evidence from the text itself to support the response. They do not require information or evidence from outside the text or texts; they establish what follows and what does not follow from the text itself. Eighty to 90 percent of the Reading Standards in each grade require text-dependent analysis; accordingly, aligned curriculum materials should have a similar percentage of text-dependent questions. A text-dependent approach can and should be applied to building knowledge from multiple sources as well as making connections between texts and learned material, according to the principle that each source be read and understood carefully.
High-quality sequences of text-dependent questions elicit sustained attention to the specifics of the text and their impact. The sequence of questions should cultivate student mastery of the specific ideas and illuminating particulars of the text. High-quality text-dependent questions will often move beyond what is directly stated to require students to make nontrivial inferences based on evidence in the text. Questions aligned with Common Core State Standards should demand close attention to the text to answer fully. An effective set of questions might begin with relatively simple questions requiring attention to specific words, details, and arguments and then move on to explore the impact of those specifics on the text as a whole. Good questions will often linger over specific phrases and sentences to ensure careful comprehension. Effective question sequences will build on each other to ensure that students learn to stay focused on the text so they can learn fully from it.
Questions and tasks require the use of textual evidence, including supporting valid inferences from the text. The Common Core State Standards require students to become more adept at drawing evidence from the text and explaining that evidence orally and in writing. Aligned curriculum materials should include explicit models of a range of high-quality evidence based answers to questions — samples of proficient student responses — about specific texts from each grade. Questions should require students to demonstrate that they follow the details of what is explicitly stated and are able to make nontrivial inferences beyond what is explicitly stated in the text to what logically follows from the evidence in the text. Evidence will play a similarly crucial role in student writing, speaking, and listening, as an increasing command of evidence in texts is essential to making progress in reading as well as the other literacy strands.
Questions and tasks require careful comprehension of the text before asking for further connections, evaluation, or interpretation. The Common Core State Standards call for students to demonstrate a careful understanding of what they read before engaging their opinions, appraisals, or interpretations. Aligned materials should therefore require students to demonstrate that they have followed the details and logic of an author’s argument before they are asked to evaluate the thesis or compare the thesis to others. When engaging in critique, materials should require students to return to the text to check the quality and accuracy of their evaluations and interpretations. Students can and should make connections between texts, but this activity must not supersede the close examination of each specific text. Often, curricula surrounding texts leap too quickly into broad and wide open questions of interpretation before cultivating command of the details and specific ideas in the text. Productive connections and comparisons should bring students back to careful reading of specific texts.
Questions and tasks attend to analyzing the arguments and information at the heart of informational text in grades K–5 and literary nonfiction in grades 6–12. As previously stated, the Common Core State Standards emphasize the reading of more informational text in grades K–5 and more literary nonfiction in grades 6–12. This emphasis mirrors the Writing Standards that focus on students’ abilities to marshal an argument and write to inform or explain. The shift in both reading and writing constitutes a significant change from the traditional focus in ELA classrooms on narrative text or the narrative aspects of literary nonfiction (the characters and the story) toward more in-depth engagement with the informational and argumentative aspects of these texts. While the English teacher is not meant to be a content expert in an area covered by the text, curriculum materials should guide teachers and students to demonstrate careful understanding of the information developed in the text. For example, in a narrative with a great deal of science, teachers and students should be required to follow and comprehend the scientific information as presented by the text. Likewise, it is just as essential for teachers and students to follow the details of an argument and reasoning in literary nonfiction as it is for them to attend to issues of style.