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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Reading and Analyzing Texts

INTERROGATING SOURCES

The previous unit focused on creating class investigations as a way of teaching history and social studies based on disciplinary literacy. This unit looks at the practices for reading and analyzing texts within class investigations. Here, the key stance toward sources is to interrogate them, ask questions, and consider what’s to be learned from them. Since people create sources in another time and place, students need to interrogate such sources in order to more fully understand them. This kind of reading moves beyond basic comprehension of what the text actually says and considers what the author is trying to accomplish with the text.

Video and Reflection: Revisit Reading and Responding Like a Historian as an example of interrogating sources in the classroom. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: How do you and your students use texts in your classroom? To what extent do you and your students interrogate texts, and to what extent do you use them for information?
  • Watch the video: As you watch, consider how Mr. Votto is using historical texts in his classroom.
  • Reflect: How might the ideas about interrogating texts from this video be incorporated into your own teaching? What changes might you need to make in your classroom to shift toward interrogating texts?

USING TEXTS AS EVIDENCE

Begin by considering the purposes of using texts within investigations. While there are numerous purposes for the use of text in history and social studies classrooms, they are described here specifically as potential evidence in the process of addressing essential questions and developing and evaluating historical claims.
Not all texts are written the same way. Some texts pose arguments (e.g., a political campaign speech); others do not (e.g., a tax record). Some describe a cause and effect while others compare and contrast concepts. One task of teachers who incorporate disciplinary literacy practices into their classroom is to assist students in thinking about how the text is structured and how this structure is and is not helpful in exploring the essential question. Teachers will need to support students to think about the original meaning of texts and how they provide evidence for the investigation at hand.

Video and Reflection: Watch Identifying Evidence from Multiple Sources as an example of using texts as evidence in the classroom. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: Think about to what extent you and your colleagues use texts as evidence in making arguments. What questions or concerns do you have about working with texts as evidence in arguments?
  • Watch the video: As you watch, notice how Ms. Gore uses texts as evidence in her classroom. What does she do to help students use texts as evidence?
  • Reflect: How might the ideas about using texts as evidence from this video be incorporated into your own teaching?

PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SOURCES

In selecting sources for students to use, it is important to consider how well these sources provide evidence for claims that answer the essential question of the investigation. But some sources might be more useful than others when it comes to answering the essential question. Consider the types of sources common to the discipline of history: primary sources and secondary sources.

Primary sources are the “raw materials” for constructing interpretations about events in the past. These sources were created by people who experienced the events during a certain time period under study and who have direct knowledge of what was occurring at the time. Primary sources can be artifacts, documents, or recordings and can take the form of newspaper articles, diaries, speeches, and housing records. While this course focuses on literacy with written texts, other documents such as images, photos, and prints can also be used as primary sources since they too were created by people who lived at the time under study or participated in the events that they comment on. There are numerous ways to find primary sources that can be used within classroom historical investigations. (Unit 8 has support for this.)

Explore: Read Primary Sources: What Are They? [PDF] for a detailed exploration of primary sources. You may also want to review the primary sources used in the Rosa Parks Inquiry you viewed in Unit 5.

Secondary sources are interpretations by individuals about past events. Examples of these include historians’ monographs or a newspaper article written about an event years after the event occurred. Unlike primary sources that are the “raw materials” for constructing interpretations, secondary sources are themselves interpretations of what happened in the past. In a way, secondary sources reveal that historians have conversations about what happened in the past. Different authors can come to different conclusions or interpretations based on their reading of evidence or their personal discovery of new evidence. Similar to primary sources, secondary sources can be used as evidence to create and substantiate others’ historical claims. They can be critiqued based on who the author is and the context in which the text was written.
Explore: Read Secondary Sources: What Are They? [PDF] for a detailed exploration of secondary sources and Rosa Parks: Interpretations [PDF] to see examples of secondary sources used in the investigation of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955–1956.

Reflect: What type of information do secondary sources provide? How does this information differ from that provided by the primary sources? How might these secondary sources inform students’ claims in response to the essential question?

COGNITIVE APPRENTICESHIP

The reading and writing practices that follow (sourcing, contextualization, close reading, and corroboration) promote student analysis of sources. Even though these practices are delineated here in a discrete fashion, it is important to consider that such strategies are not usually separated in the minds of historians. Rather, historians employ and integrate these ways of thinking. In order to effectively teach students how to think like experts who work to solve complex cognitive tasks, however, the processes are addressed in a slightly decomposed manner. When teachers identify the processes of cognitive tasks, they help make those invisible processes visible to students. In order for students to understand the cognitive practices a teacher uses, the teacher must be able to explain and illustrate such processes.
In order to foster students’ skills, it’s important to enact methods that support students in learning the nature of expert practice. The basic notion of apprenticeship is to show the apprentice how to do a task and help the apprentice do it. In order to make their thinking visible, teachers need to both model their thinking through tangible processes and explain their thinking aloud to students.

There are three important aspects of traditional apprenticeship: modeling, coaching, and fading (or promoting independence). When teaching reading, teachers can model strategies for students while thinking aloud about their mental processes. For example, this could take the form of talking aloud while annotating a document that is projected for students to see. Afterward, teachers can coach students while students perform the same task on their own. By prompting and constructively critiquing student performance, teachers can provide scaffolding for the students. As students become more proficient, the teacher can reduce their support by only giving tips and specific feedback. Taken together, these methods for illuminating and applying thinking processes can support students as they develop skills that may at first be foreign to them.

Video and Reflection: Watch Close Reading of a Primary Source as an example of a cognitive apprenticeship approach to instruction. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: What are your experiences with modeling strategies for students or coaching students in the use of those strategies? What is difficult and easy about modeling or coaching?
  • Watch the video: As you watch, notice how Ms. Pember models close reading. What do her students do while she models close reading?
  • Reflect: What reading strategy do you want your students to work on next in your classroom? What can you take away from this video about how to model the reading strategy for your students?

ANNOTATING TEXT

Annotating text, or marking pages with notes, is an excellent way for students to interact with a text, to become active readers, and to track their thinking. By annotating text, students can ask and answer questions of the source, make connections to ideas or other texts, and summarize critical points. However, not all annotations are equal: to be effective, they have to help the learner elaborate or organize the information. Linking certain annotations to specific reading strategies (e.g., circling the author and date) can make these strategies concrete since it provides students with “to-do” items. Finally, annotating texts is a form of pre-writing that supports the writing process.

Explore: Read Writing to Learn History: Annotations and Mini-Writes [PDF] for information on pre-writing strategies. The following handouts provide guidelines and samples for annotating documents and doing a mini-write.

Reflect: How might such handouts be useful for students? How might they be used to support students who are learning to annotate documents?

READING STRATEGIES

Sourcing

Each of the four reading strategies in history focuses on a certain way of thinking about the text as a way of interpreting what is read and judging the evidence provided for making claims. The first of these reading strategies is SourcingSourcing refers to the attribution of the text—who wrote it, when it was written, why it was written, where it was written. The first thing to do when sourcing a text is to look for who wrote the document and when, as this information is crucial to understanding the author’s meaning. Because texts are human creations, it is important to look at the source of each document in order to gain insight into the author’s perspective or stance and to consider the relevance of the text to the investigation.

When using this strategy, teachers model looking for the author and date as well as interpreting the text based on knowledge of the author, the type of text, word choices and phrases, and bias. This typically looks like (1) either stopping after reading a few sentences to interpret what was just read or (2) reading a large section and then going back through it to read smaller section carefully in order to make interpretations. Using this strategy, readers can question the usefulness of the source given the focus on the investigation and consider the author’s reliability.

Video and Reflection: Watch Citing Evidence from Primary Sources to Support Arguments to learn more about sourcing. You may want to take notes on the questions below.

  • Before you watch: Why might it be important to source a text in your everyday life? Why might it be important to source a text when studying history?
  • Watch the video: As you watch, notice where you see Mr. Votto or his students pay attention to the author, author’s purpose, kind of source, or date when it was created. What kinds of questions does Mr. Votto ask, or what kind of statements/explanations does he give to help the students source? How does attention to sourcing (attention to author, author’s purpose, kind of source, date) affect the conversation and students’ understanding of the text?
  • Reflect: How might the ideas about sourcing texts from this video be incorporated into your own teaching?
Contextualization

The second strategy for reading and analyzing historical text is ContextualizationContextualization refers to understanding the time and place in which a text was written in order to more fully comprehend its meaning. Since each source was written during a certain time and place, certain climates of opinion or social mores that were prevalent may have influenced the writing of the text. The Contextualization reading strategy can heavily rely upon the development of background knowledge.

When using this strategy, teachers model and support students’ reading through a text while interpreting the text based on knowledge of when and where the document was written, what else was occurring during this time, and what occasion(s) or audience(s) may have influenced the author. Using a timeline, video clips, and headnotes with information about the text and its context helps students develop background knowledge that support contextualization.

The Rosa Parks Inquiry you saw at Historical Thinking Matters includes good examples of these ideas. First, the front page of the investigation includes a video and timeline to provide students with necessary background knowledge to support their work with sources. Second, each source includes a headnote with contextual information to support reading.

Video and Reflection: Watch both Citing Evidence from Primary Sources to Support Arguments and Reading Like a Historian again to learn more about contextualizing. You may want to take notes on the following questions.

  • Before you watch: Why is it important to contextualize a text in your everyday life? Why is it important to contextualize a text in when studying history?
  • Watch the video Citing Evidence from Primary Sources to Support Arguments: As you watch, notice where you see Mr. Votto or his students pay attention to the date when a text was created, the place where a text was created, what else was going on at that time and place, how life was different then, or how people thought back then. What kinds of questions does Mr. Votto ask, or what kind of statements/explanations does he give to help the students contextualize? How does attention to contextualizing (attention to date, place, life back then, what else was going on) affect the conversation and students’ understanding of the text?

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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Credits

Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2015.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-906-4