Strategy 3.11: Help Students Move Beyond the Text. As a culmination of a unit, lesson, or theme, teachers plan tasks that serve to move students back to the text or content to reexamine, reconnect, and rethink the major ideas or concepts. Students have the chance to gain deeper understanding of the content by representing the text in new and different ways.
The walls of many classrooms are filled with posters, drawings, and writings that students have created after studying a particular piece of literature, historical era or figure, scientific concept, or thematic unit incorporating several subject areas. The best examples of student work done at the end of a carefully planned sequence of tasks in the sheltered content classroom exhibit several characteristics. First, the task allows students to take ownership of the material and create meaning for themselves. A good end-of-study task builds on the strengths of different class members by giving them, over time, the chance to express themselves through an array of formats: poetically, dramatically, musically, or artistically.
A good “beyond-the-text” task forces students to go back to the text to clarify and question and to reread it with a different purpose in mind. In this way, such a task gives second-language learners the chance to refocus on the overall meaning of the text (Walqui, 2000). Many excellent beyond-the-text tasks require students to transform one genre into another: a scientific text turned into a TV news item; a historical narrative turned into a live debate; a short story turned into an “open mind” task that displays, with graphics and phrases, the main conflicts a character is facing, from that character’s point of view (Figure 3.8).
Teachers may find that a combination of individual and group responses to content works best. At times, the best approach may be for each student to create a poem or graphic of the content; other lessons may more naturally call for a group-constructed product. If the purpose of the task is to solidify a particular concept, then the teacher may ask groups to create a “team word web” showing their joint understanding of how the content fits together. In any case, if the task is a group task, the teacher needs to ensure that all members contribute equally to reach shared and joint accountability for the end product. For example, each student uses a different colored marker to write his part of a conversation or dialogue or is responsible for a different section of a storyboard. Constructing a rubric with students beforehand that specifies the features of a good text (e.g., story section or dialogue) and providing models from previous classes give students clear parameters for performance expectations (Walqui-VanLier, 1991).
A quick tour of the sheltered content classrooms in one school hallway shows that the teachers ask their students to respond to texts with a variety of creative beyond-the-text tasks. In the social studies class, students have just finished studying the Renaissance. In groups, they are preparing to question classmates who will sit on the “hot seat” in front of the class. Students have volunteered to sit on the hot seat and assume the personae of da Vinci, Sir Thomas More, Cervantes, Machiavelli, and Shakespeare. The groups have been asked to design hard questions that will force the students in the hot seats to live in the shoes of the historical figure. Hot seat students have been asked to prepare themselves to answer the questions as a Renaissance person would respond, with appropriate viewpoints, attitudes, and ideas.
One wall of the language arts classroom is covered with student-created journey maps for John Steinbeck’s novel, The Pearl (Penguin, 1993). Each map shows “trigger events,” or events chosen by the student as being most important. Displays of key learnings make clear what happened or what was learned as a result of the trigger events. Finally, each map contains detours or dead ends—events in the story that seem to have caused problems. Each paper uses a combination of words, phrases, symbols, colors, and pictures to explain what the student learned. The borders of each map are filled with symbols that demonstrate the students’ understandings of The Pearl.