April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Common Core Approach: ‘Teaching with Text Sets’

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y now it’s old news that the Common Core State Standards have influenced a shift in the role of informational text in classroom instruction. It’s also clear that these standards don’t spell out how text should be taught; that important task has been left up to teachers and curriculum developers. Bridging this gap, Teaching with Text Sets (Shell Education, 2013), by Mary Ann Cappiello and Erika Thulin Dawes, offers a framework for developing content-rich, standards-based curriculum backed by the authors’ years of teaching experience and extensive knowledge of engaging, age-appropriate materials.

First off, the authors clarify what they mean by a “multimodal, multigenre text set.” Simply put, it’s a group of resources—print, audio, and visual—on a particular topic or theme presented in a variety of genres. Here genre is defined as “a form of writing that serves a socially recognizable purpose”—a designation that includes everything from tweets to recipes to articles to books.

Text sets support the goals of a unit of study, can be used in elementary through high school, and are compiled, ideally, by a team of teachers and a librarian. Librarians familiar with pathfinders might recognize a connection here, but there’s an important difference. As Mary Cappiello explains, “a text set is a classroom tool for a teacher to use strategically…it is not everything but the kitchen sink (though in the gathering and sifting phases it is) but rather an expert culling to structure a specific learning experience.” Students use the skills and strategies being taught to delve into content across the curriculum that grabs their attention (and meets state and local standards), honing their proficiency and knowledge along the way. The authors know this is demanding time-consuming work, but their enthusiasm is infectious, and they lighten the load by supplying detailed how-to’s and models.

In Part II, “Text Sets in Action,” the authors demonstrate the process of putting text sets to work by sharing the collaborative efforts of teachers in two different schools. In one, they detail the enhancement of an already successful but slightly outdated social studies unit on immigration, and the second takes readers through the design of a new unit on the solar system. Each example documents the tasks of collecting resource materials, organizing the texts for instruction, and using the texts with students in classroom instruction that supports inquiry and critical thinking. Sample planning charts, graphic organizers and worksheets, activities for students, and examples of student work are all available to use as a model or jumping off point. (A Digital Resource CD with printable files is included.) Four chapters offer additional resources with sample units on the Great Depression, immigration, space, and honeybees, while a text set for a unit on trees is included in an appendix. Tree units specific to Massachusetts and New York City are also available online.

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  1. Paul Zigan says:

    I am developing curriculum for the Glendora School District in regards to teaching Common Core in the high school history classes. Could you provide some further resources for my research, please?