Investigative Reading, the 2012 Election, and My Freshmen: A True Story

By on March 11, 2013

I’m pretty passionate about teaching literacy skills. But it’s not just because of the warm, fuzzy feelings it gives me to know I’m impacting the learning of my students. If I’m gonna be real, one of the main reasons I’m so focused on having my students read widely and think critically about texts is so they grow up to be informed voters.

Wait. Back the bus up. Is civic engagement my real motivation? Yep, sure is.

Here’s why:

Our students are growing up in a world where access to infinite information is possible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We teachers are not the smartest ones in the room about all things anymore. We are not the keepers of knowledge and the deliverers of facts.

At least we shouldn’t be. We cannot come close to competing with Google. So what are we to do?

We must be able to give our students the tools to siphon through the constant onslaught of information coming at them, understand these messages, and make informed decisions about them, including, but not limited to, at the polls. And I want those decisions at the polls to be the same as mine. (Duh.)

All jokes aside, what matters is that we are helping to raise educated, discerning citizens.

Let’s rewind a few months back to the 2012 Election. A few of my colleagues and I decided we were going to hold a school-wide mock election so we could see how our site (students, parents, teachers, etc.) would vote compared to the rest of America. Leading up to the mock election, however, our students were charged with the task of reading through the voter’s handbook election guide, present to stakeholders in our community about the facts of their assigned proposition, and persuade these potential voters to cast their ballots in their preferred direction. My 9th grade English class took on my Investigative Reading challenge.

How I Did It:

  1. I grouped students into pods of 4-5, making sure to evenly disperse my most struggling readers with my middle-level and high-level readers.
  2. Each group had a different text, straight from the voter’s handbook. I purposefully chose the proposition pages that say what a “yes” vote means or what a “no” vote means. These pages are particularly biased and laden with super-charged persuasive language.
  3. Each student was given a graphic organizer similar to the one you see here. (Mine didn’t include the questions on the top of the page and had a few extra columns specific to the presentation the kids were giving at the culmination of the project.)
  4. I wrote six questions on the white board. They were questions that guided my students through the application of skills I wanted them to practice.
  5. Each group was given a die. Their job was to alternate readers around the group. Each reader was responsible for reading one chunk of text out loud while the rest of the group followed along. When they got to the end of the chunk, the reader rolled the die. Which ever number came up corresponded with a question that was on the board. Rolled a two? Answered question number 2 from the board.
  6. The reader answered the question by his/herself, unless s/he need assistance from other group members. Discussion led to consensus and the entire group wrote down the answer. They repeated this series of instructions until they got through the entire text.

Why This Lesson Worked (and can work for you, too, with very few adjustments):

  • The small group allowed students an opportunity for collaboration and meaningful discussion about text.
  • The die provided physical engagement, plus a structured, scaffolded way to guide students through the process of Investigative Reading. I knew that my students weren’t skilled enough yet to self-select the most meaningful question from a list. The die gave them a little help.
  • The graphic organizer held students accountable to themselves, their group, and me. It also gave me something to assess beyond observation.

Why I Loved It:
My overall objective with this project was to have my students become informed about what was happening in their community during the election. I wanted them to deeply understand the issues at hand and hopefully talk to the people they live with, maybe even convincing them to vote in a way they believed.

I could have done this by preparing a fancy-pants PowerPoint with graphics and animation, had my kids take notes, and then present to each other. But then who would have been doing the heavy lifting? Me. Who SHOULD be doing the heavy lifting? My students.

Instead, by giving my kids enough structure to keep them on task, while giving them the independence to grapple through a complicated text, I was able to act as the facilitator of learning, not the pontificator of facts. I was able to walk around and answer meaningful questions I’d hope ALL voters would ask of themselves. I was able to watch 14 and 15 year olds get hopeful, outraged, excited, and contemplative about real issues that affect our community. These kids deeply understood what they read. It wasn’t easy. But through practicing the skill of Investigative Reading, they mastered the content.

My Vote?
Success.

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Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

R1
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; and cite specific evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
R2
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
R3
Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
R4
Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
R6
Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
R8
Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
SL1
Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
SL3
Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
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