One common question from ELA teachers thinking about concepts-based teaching and learning is whether they should focus on the concepts or the skills.  To think about that a little more compare these two approaches for designing text-dependent questions:

Approach #1

Start by figuring out the big idea of the text.  Push yourself to think about the complexity of that idea.  Discuss with others and make sure the idea you come up with is true to the text and the sophistication of the author’s thinking.  Then create questions that scaffold students towards understanding that big idea.

Approach #2

Start by thinking about which standards you need to teach through this text.  Design question to match those standards throughout the text.  Make sure that your questions are aligned to the standard.

Approach #2 is always how I approached designing text-dependent.  Then a few months ago, I went to an amazing training from Student Achievement Partners that used Approach #1, and it got me thinking:  what is the purpose of the skills embedded in the standards if not help students uncover the big idea that the author is communicating?


Here’s the trick though: most experts when they are trying to understand the complexity of a big idea that an author presents use the thinking is demanded by standards (at least by the CCSS for Literacy).  To truly understand the big idea of a text, a reader needs to think about evidence the author uses, the structure of the text, and how it relates to other texts.  Seeking the big idea requires the skills.

In the end, it’s really a balance of both approaches that get us to the ultimate goal.  So here’s the challenge: whatever approach you have been using, try the reverse.  Let us know how it goes and check out some sample lessons from Student Achievement Partners.