Today at a collaboration meeting with my amazing and inspiring colleagues, I pulled them into my determining importance conundrum. What is it? How do we teach it? How do we know if kids are actually determining importance or "determining interest"? We had a great discussion, and it lead me to a new way of looking at determining importance! I think I now have a plan for teaching it...
Our discussion centered around all the ways people determine importance. All of them were ones that we've talked about before on PT and are written in Reading with Meaning and others. But we came up with a good way to separate two important components.
What I realized about my teaching, was that I wasn't making it clear to kids that there are two kinds of importance: the kind that comes from the author and the kind that comes from the reader. I was being muddled and vague as we had discussions about how our schema affect importance and the conventions affects importance. But when you think about it-- a reader's schema and questions often CONTRADICT the conventions. You might find the answer to your question and determine a small little detail to be important, while the author highlights a chapter or section on something you don't find important at all.
What we realized is that we must teach determining importance in two parts: determining what's important to the author in fiction and nonfiction AND determining what's important to the reader in fiction and nonfiction.
I know this probably won't seem like any kind of breakthrough to anyone else. It's nothing new, I know. But when I teach a strategy, I have to have kind of a visual picture of it in my head. Like, for inferring, I can picture schema + text evidence = inference. And for envisioning, I can explain it with sensory schema (sight, sound, hearing, smell, and feel) combined with an author's description, makes a sensory images. For questioning, it makes sense for kids to understand what kinds of questions come before, during, and after reading. Likewise, with determining importance, I now can picture a T-Chart in my mind, with "What the author thinks is important" on one side and "What the reader thinks is important" on the other. It doesn't feel as willy nilly today, as it did yesterday- and THAT'S progress!
And because I was so inspired, and because I am a total dork, I made this ode to determining importance:
Check it out for more specific details on how the author's importance and the reader's importance manifest themselves in fiction and nonfiction.
I used the song, Seasons of Love, in the background. The lyrics seemed to match my thinking about how we determine importance based on our schema:
525,600 minutes/ 525,000 moments so dear/ 525,600 minutes/How do you measure, measure a year?/In daylights/ in sunsets /in midnights /in cups of coffee?/ in inches /in miles /in laughter/ in strife?/In 525, 600 minutes/ how do you measure a year in the life?/ How about love?
struggling with determining importance, because that's what I'm teaching right now in Reading and Writing. I've never thought of it in the way you blogged, but it makes so much sense. We all determine what is important based on our schema, interests, questions, etc. What is important for the writer to get across, may not be as important to us, because we may be reading for a different purpose. Thank you for clarifying that! I love your glogster thing...how do you have time to do all of that?! I literally come home and do school work almost until bed and I have no idea where all of my time goes, but it does not go to doing cool things like you do!
It is so interesting that you chose Seasons of Love! You're right, it fits really well with determining importance. But I also just taught my kids this song and we created movements for it. Even apart, we're on the same wavelength!
Sometimes things work out just perfect. Isn't it like that sometimes in the classroom--just the perfect book for something even when it wasn't planned in advance. It was like that for me tonight when I read your blog. I am just beginning this with my class. It all makes sense now. We, the reader, can have such differing views of what is important in the text. Why couldn't I figure this one out on my own?
I'm with Buggy--how do you find the time to be so creative with your glog?
Greetings! Thank you so much for the great idea and resource for determining importance. I really never organized determining importance in that way. What a great visual and I love the song choice!! Do you do reading workshop with your students?
I have a great book that I use to to teach my students about schema, visualizing, inferring, questioning, etc. It is called Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor. This book has great concrete examples to teach these strategies to students. I found it a life saver for me!!
Hi Fonzie! yes, I do reader's workshop. I just got that book too!!! It's AWESOME! For people who don't have it, she doesn't do a whole lot of rehashing what every strategy is, she spends each short chapter looking for ways to concretely introduce the strategy. Like for determining importance (I tried this), she takes 5 things out of her purse and has the kids determine which would be the most important for her to put in her pocket if she were going jogging. For inferring, she brings in an old slipper and they infer about what kind of person would wear it. There's a list of quotes at the end of every chapter that speak to the strategy. Does anyone else have it?
as I bonked myself at my temple! That is it. . .important to the reader and to the author. . .both! Thank you! How did I ever miss that?! We are working on that strategy. I can't wait to use this on Monday!
Currently, we are reading non-fiction. We are using 3 sticky notes to mark what we have found important. On Monday, we will use two different colors to "up the lesson". . .one for reader and one for author.
Bookmuncher, your blogs and glogsters are just wonderful! The visual presentation of your glogs are excellent. I will be definitely checking out all of your posts each day. Thank you for all your sharing! You would be a great, outstanding, awesome teaching partner!
Buggy- your time goes to being a first year teacher; my time goes into fooling around.
Honestly though, I've started planning my literacy and science/social studies (can't manage math though) more by the month. I never keep anything the same, but I've plotted everything, and then I just tweak the teaching points. It leaves me with more time. Having the gaping hole where grad school was leaves me more time too. Plus- Writing's my hobby and glogging is like writing, but more ARTSY! Which is also a hobby. And I'm trying harder to do things I like (even if they are still connected with teaching!! Is that cheating??)
Bookmuncher i have been working on determining importance right now in reader's workshop and i am having a hard time figuring it out since it's my first time teaching it. I saw your glog and understand it better now. Thank You for sharing!
I just got the book yesterday--thanks to you guys recommending it. It is wonderful. I was so excited to get a book that is such an easy read and has wonderful, practical ideas. I especially like the way the posters are designed and build upon the previous ones.
I had to run to school early today to make some for today's RW!
Determining Importance is a strategy that is new to me, so I was interested to read your blog. I must admit that I am a bit baffled by "determining importance".
I've always taught my sixth graders that every word is precious to an author and has importance. Writing may be included to describe, so the reader can get a visual picture. The writing might be there to develop the characters. The author may include information to develop the plot, too. All words have importance to the story or else they are not included. Sometimes there will be a random and strange moment or object that is discussed and often that will be symbolism or be related to theme. Yet every word and every bit of material is important depending on what you want to get out of the reading.
What is important to the reader is their purpose for reading. Sometimes we can miss some description and it will not ruin our understanding of the plot, but it will interfere with getting a clear picture of the scene in our mind. So, if it is important to the reader to visualize, they need to carefully read the description of the settings.
If the reader's purpose understand the character and how their personality attributes will impact the events of the plot, then the reader has to carefully think about what the character say and does.
Does determining importance mean that there are unimportant parts written in a story or nonfiction piece?
Yet every word and every bit of material is important depending on what you want to get out of the reading.
What is important to the reader is their purpose for reading.Sometimes we can miss some description and it will not ruin our understanding of the plot, but it will interfere with getting a clear picture of the scene in our mind. So, if it is important to the reader to visualize, they need to carefully read the description of the settings.
If the reader's purpose understand the character and how their personality attributes will impact the events of the plot, then the reader has to carefully think about what the character say and does.
I think we're on the same wavelength-- in your post above, you also seem to think that some parts are important based on what information the reader is looking for (nonfiction) or what elements of the story in a sixth grade case the reader is attuned to (fiction). But I don't really think that our brains are ever really able to take in every part of any text. Every time I read Charlotte's Web I seem to notice something different. Like this last time I read it, (the fourth time) I noticed so many author's craft decisions that I hadn't before. Before I had only been listening to the plot and noticing the character development. Understanding those freed me up to notice more writing craft moves. Other books happen the opposite way for me.
But on the other hand, aren't there things that are important to the author? Symbolism is something that I think would go on the "what's important to the author" side of the chart that I hadn't thought of. Anytime symbolism comes up, a reader needs to take notice (if they find it, that is) because it's the author attempting to speak through the words to send a message. And it's intentional.
That's why I think determining importance is so hard to teach and understand. At some point, a reader does need to make decisions on what they will take with them. I think that kids mostly are left to do this on their own most of the time.
You make a good point about writers. Isn't our job as writers to make every word count? I don't think that writers decide consciously that some words will mean more than others. I think that a writers job is to make sure that every word is there for a reason- has a job- has energy. But then you put your piece out into the world and stand back-- it's the reader who has to make sense of it. And I don't think readers can make sense of it all at once. I think they must read for a reason, read it in parts, bring their schema to it in a way that helps some parts stick and some not.
Your post made me synthesize! I never really thought about it from the writer's side before.
I guess I still do not quite understand this strategy. How do you assess that students are able to determine importance? What types of questions are asked?
In my mind you would pull out a paragraph and ask the reader what the significance of the paragraph is to the story. Is the paragraph there to develop character or is there a symbol representing part of the author's message or theme?
Am I on the right track? Is this what determining importance is?
I appreciate you pushing my thinking. I haven't really got it figured out.
Would a question that tests determining importance possibly ask for the theme? Because to infer the theme, a reader has to find an idea that is woven throughout the entire text. They have to weigh ideas against each other. Also, when given a large text, wouldn't finding the problem and solution (but mostly the problem) be determining importance? Because my kids have a hard time sometimes when they read a chapter book determining what the main problem is- picking it out from all the other small details. Main idea is determining importance too, isn't it?
I think with a nonfiction passage, it is easier. I think those are the questions that say, "What was this passage written to do?" And what is the main idea? But there would be conventions there to help.
Very interesting thoughts on determining importance. I think it's important to also consider the experiences that readers/children bring to the text. Not all readers understand stories in the same way, no matter how many times the stories has been read or reread by the same person. Personal experiences shape readers' literary experiences; therefore, personal experiences must be taken into account as teachers interpret how readers understand literary text. I think that's where you can see where students will determine what is important to them as readers and perhaps can be messages/themes the author may be trying to convey. Reading for information from the text to answer questions implies that there is only a one-answer approach to interpret meaning. Asking questions, making inferences, determining importance, visualizing, and using prior knowledge all help to synthesize and evaluate information. I think all these thinking processes are interdependent and cannot necessarily be departmentalized. I agree, determining importance has many variables to it, so it is helpful if we are clear in our objectives when reading with students, "For what specific purpose are we reading the story?"
Once again you are right on the mark! I, like you, teach determining importance differently each year. I often use a three column chart of important information, interesting information & interesting to you. This is my attempt to differentiate between important and interesting information. I have taught author's perspective and reader's perspective in fiction but not author's importance and reader's importance in nonfiction. Thank you for pointing out this inadequacy! Right now I am noticing that my kids really are missing background knowledge. Bookmuncher-do you have strategies for building background knowledge? Any professional book suggestions? You always have such wonderful ideas, thanks for any help!
Hey Carolynn! I don't know- I taught all the stuff in this blog and I STILL don't feel like that know that strategy like the others. Is there any way you could outline the way that you teach what's important to the author vs. the reader in fiction? I think my kids got the nonfiction, but not really the fiction. For example, we had discussion on whether theme was under author, reader, or both. Of course, I helped muddy the water by engaging them in the debate. And we're still confused.
For the background knowledge- that sounds out of my realm. You mean that they lack basic content and concepts? Would that more fall into the category of vocabulary? To help them be more aware of the schema they have and the schema they lack, I have some debbie miller things I do with the file folder and post it notes. But the nitty gritty of actually "getting more smarter" - I'm not all that sure. We don't get to do a lot with content in the lower grades. Can you say more about this?
the read alouds that we do with the younger kids builds schema big time. My school does Core Knowledge, and right now we're studying the Civil War in 2nd grade. My kids had VERY little BK for slavery, the Civil War, etc. I am starting out with Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, and we are reading Civil War on Sunday with the CD together. Each reading session brings new awareness and lots of discussion. Bookmuncher, there's a part in Civil War on Sunday when Jack is cheering up an African American freedom fighter, a former slave, who is in a hospital. Jack tells him that someday his great great grandchildren will be doctors and teachers and senators, etc. I said to my kids "And they may even be president!" The kids were nodding their heads.
We teachers need to be building schema all day long, I think, and reading is an excellent vehicle.
That's really cool that your grade levels divide up the core knowledge that way. What a great base they will have! Is that separate from your social studies units and covered through interactive read aloud, or IS it your social studies? How many "concepts" do you have per year?
Social Studies and Science. Core's Second Grade curriculum is rigorous: The Constitution, War of 1812, Westward Expansion, Tall Tales, Civil War, Immigration, Ancient Greece, AND Asia. Then, insects, seasonal cycles, the Water Cycle, life cycles, simple machines, and magnetism! We alternate social studies and science units. Interspersed is poetry (My favorite is Christina Rossetti's "Hurt No Living Thing") and some works of literature like Charlotte's Web. the Magic Fish, Peter Pan, and Beauty and the Beast. It is all workable but challenging. I am so grateful that there are so many "just right" books for my kids on their level, and that there are picture books to read to them that cover important aspects of these topics.
I am impressed with the background knowledge that kids develop with this curriculum.
That IS a lot! But I can see how you'd have some very knowledgable kids graduating from your school by the end! I wonder how our school will do- we are switching from many topics to fewer- only three science concepts per year and three social studies. They want us to spend long 6 week in depth units. Is there any compromise between breadth and depth? It doesn't really seem like it!
I value schools that actually work together! Does this come from developing a pacing guide to the curriculum for science/social studies? I can see that the longer units of study give the kids time to develop concepts and actually USE them.
For example, what would first grade be doing? I guess the problem that I see in systems that test in the lower grades (first/second), that the kids wouldn't have the background in a multitude of skills.
Because the units are so long, they tie like-concepts together a bit. Science is already on its way, and social studies is just now under revision. I think first grade did Rocks and Soil (they were teaching types of soil I've never heard of and experimenting with how well they drained) and Plants and I don't know what the third one is. Second grade did butterflies (life cycles), balance and motion, and air and weather. I suppose you can see how those would actually cover multiple things, but still not as much as Mz L.'s school.
Social studies is going to hopefully go in a bit of a more linear fashion. Every unit will be historical in 2nd-5th grade and the other strands (economics standards, geography, etc.) will be pulled into the history of the time. 2nd will start in 2nd marking period with native americans and history of native americans in our state. Then it will go on from there. So as you can see, the problem is that yes- it's mroe in depth. But what about some of the concepts Mz. L talks about? If we did those, we'd really have to crunch ourselves to fit up to present day.
I loved, in the past, spending six weeks on the planets, for example. However, now I feel like the kids are gaining incredible amounts of foundation AND connections. For example, the cycle thing with insects/seasons/water and then the historical events of the 1800's in America. I truly learn new things every day about Dolley Madison, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony (to name a few outstanding women!), etc. We also learn about battles and generals machines and "cool" guy stuff, as well. I hate rushing through units though. The good thing is that all the topics spiral. They'll have the Constitution and Asia again in 4th, machines and Civil War in 5th, etc.
First Grade Core is also extensive: I think rocks, clouds, the moon (a personal favorite), space, mountains/volcanoes, Ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures, Christopher Columbus, the Revolution, etc.
The key is somehow threading reading and writing throughout it all, so you have more depth and time during the day.
I am tempted by the three or four concept model, Bookmuncher.
the spiraling DEFINITELY helps! That's something that the everyday math curriculum did and now we've moved to one that does not spiral and it is so stupid that it blows my mind. Kids need to revisit math concepts a lot within a year. For science and social studies, I think revisiting concepts within their elementary career is a similar, meaningful experience.
BookMuncher, you took my thoughts on this one! We, too, have a Math program that teaches a new math skill every day. There is no time for the kids to develop meaningfully and actually understand the concepts because we are constantly introducing a new skill. Sure, we do go back and review addition/subtraction facts but that is about all the skills that are revisited.
I'd better stop right now or I could go on for hours venting about the pressures put on first graders to learn so much in 180 days.
Would it be possible for you to post a revised edition of year plan now that it is the end of the year? I loved how you set up your plan for the year at the start and I know from your blog that you made changes during the year. If you kept track of these changes, I'd love to see what the plan looks like for what you actually ended up doing. Thanks so much!
I'm just jumping in here on the spiraling math (not a math teacher). My teaching partner adds in a daily math warm up that spirals the concepts for our grade level. Her math program also focuses on one skill and does not review, so her warm up gets their brain into math mode and then she teaches her lesson. Do you have math warm ups?
I know this is an old post, but I just started rereading it and was really enjoying our depth of conversation. I wanted to reply to your questions.
For fiction, I think that if I were teaching determining importance and attempting to assess it, I would have already read and discussed the book and determined what everyone thought was the theme. My questions would be short passages from the book and I would ask if the passage were: description, theme or character development. The student would then circle their choice and explain why. Is this determing importance or simply sorting for comprehension?
For nonfiction, that seems easy to me. What is important to the writer is providing anything that helps the reader understand the information and providing information in multiple ways. For the reader the importance is finding the piece of information that helps them to understand what the writer is trying to convey. If the book is about how eggs hatch then the reader would either write down the facts about how they hatch (main idea) thus explaining that they have determined importance.
Ah-ha! I guess everyone determines what is important in their own way based on their interpretation of text and their need for understanding. Even in nonfiction, if the reader already knows the information, they would not determine the information to be important. I think my confusion with this reading strategy is simple the label "determining importance" because I still always think "everything is important".
I still feel puzzled, but thank you for letting me join in on your post and sort my thoughts.
I just wanted to jump in here and say that I'd love to have you post more often here with your thoughts. I teach sixth and it's hard to find posts from the point of view of an intermediate level teacher. I always find your posts helpful so keep posting please!
I'm going to jump in for minute too! I just want to say that I'll be looking for posts from both of you. I'll teach 5th graders in the fall and like to hear what other intermediate teachers are doing. Carolynn, I liked your idea of using a 3-column chart for determining importance.
I've been away from ProTeacher for quite some time and am just now realizing how much I've missed it here. Please keep posting! I am interested in your ideas and opinions.
BTW, Carolynn, a couple of years ago, I remember "talking" with a Carolynn who taught social studies. Would that have been you?
For those of you teaching intermediate grades, have you read Atwell's "The Reading Zone" yet? I read it a few weeks ago and plan to reread it again this summer. It was so powerful for me--made me realize that I have not done enough to help students learn to delve into a book--and that I sometimes too often break up their "reading zone" by asking them to perform a reading-related task. Anyhoo--if anyone has read it, I would love to dialogue about it over the next weeks/months.