When reading, have you ever read a few sentences, paragraphs, or pages and stopped realizing that while you did read every word, you have no idea of what you just read? I imagine the problem is worse for those that lack prior knowledge, skills, interest,and attention spans – people much like my students.
Just Try-It Tuesday: Text Coding: I am sure there are many factors that cause us to “zone out” – but for our students I have noticed that a lot of times when I assigned any reading to them, they had no problems decoding the words – but they didn’t have any purpose to what they were doing. In fact – the only reason they were reading the words is because I asked them to; they were being passively compliant. Once I noticed this, I began to try some simple strategies designed to get readers to be a little more intentional while they read. I wanted them to have something going on upstairs while reading. In order to encourage more engaged reading, I simply gave students a purpose for reading the text by asking them to read with a pencil in-hand and code the text.
Text Coding isn’t anything new, high-tech, or innovative; in fact, many of you may even do versions of this. Dr. Forget’s MAX Teaching refers to this strategy as INSERT notes. Text coding is simply a method of annotating text that follows a certain code. A general example may look like:
Directions: As you read, write at least 1 symbol for each paragraph.
Even a simple code like this will help some readers approach the text more actively than they would have without any direction. Now they at least they are forced into thinking; a tiny voice in their heads is bugging them while they read: “Do you agree? disagree?” As their teacher, I want to be that annoying voice in their heads while they are reading: “What do you think of that? What questions do you have?”
I was never able to really get inside their head while they were reading, but asking students to code the text helped me see their thinking in a way. I could look over their shoulders and determine which students were understanding the main points, which students were lost completely, and which parts of the text were giving the class problems. When the reading was done, I now had a little data to inform the next part of my instruction. Students have also already committed to writing making it easier to start a discussion.
“John, I see you have a ?ed in paragraph 3, what is your question?
“Eric, you put a star in the first paragraph, why?”
Another reason I like this is that it really puts most of the burden of learning on the students. As a new teacher, I would often ask students to read I immediately followed that assignment up with some whole class questioning – met with that awkward silence and maybe a few cricket chirps. So, I did what any well-intentioned teacher would do; I summarized for them exactly what they were supposed to have read. I did all the work; they conned me into it. They knew if they didn’t do the work of reading and understanding that I would do it for them. They were used to that.
I was finally able to use text coding to trick THEM into doing the work. All they had to do was write a few symbols. That wasn’t the important part. It was the discussion and activities afterwards that were meaningful. They already committed their thinking to the paper; now they had to do the explaining – not me.
The easiest way to do this is have students actually mark on the text. Sometimes this is impossible, if you are using a text book. In this case, you can use sticky notes, or simply have students write on notebook paper and log the page and paragraph number for each entry.
There are plenty of variations of text coding that can work for any subject area or topic. Here are a few examples in various subject areas. The important thing to note is the adaptability of the strategy. Before assigning a text for students to read, ask yourself “what conversations do I want my students to have in their heads with the text?” Then design a code that forces students to have that conversation with the text.
Themes of Biology
P – problem
H – hypothesis
T – test
A – analysis of results
D – draw conclusions
C – control
E – experiment
DV – dependent variable
IV – independent variable
S – constant (remains the Same)
Themes of Geography
L – Location
H – Place – Human Geography
P – Place – Physical Geography
E – Human/Env. Int
M – Movement
R – Region
? – I don’t understand this.
M – melody
A – accompaniment
O – ostinato
C – climax
P – phrase
RA: Rising Action
FA: Falling Action
Just Try-It Challenge: Find a reading passage you plan to use in the near future and develop a code that will give students a real purpose to read the text. Follow the reading with carefully planned discussion where students use explain their code to their peers and whole class.
You should have a few pre-planned “destinations” for these discussions that are dictated by your learning target. But, you will often be pleasantly surprised at what your students will pick up on their own.
If you create your own code, please share it with me, or include it in the comments below.