What is a Main Idea, anyway?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

     Let's be honest...
     How many of us have ever taught main idea as anything more than "Look at the first sentence of the paragraph."  That tells you what the paragraph is all about.

     Maybe I shouldn't admit that...  But it is true.

     That is actually how my 2nd grade teacher editions always instructed me, and it worked like a charm.  The thing is, the assessments that they created to "assess" that skill were created with that in mind.  Real books, however, do not always magically tell me what the main idea is in the first sentence.

     Perhaps I can admit that, because those days are gone.  I did a walk around our building let year during the non-fiction unit, and I noticed that the students were having a very hard time finding the main idea, or even determining what the topic was at times.  Was it because they weren't using text features as clues?  Were they not clear on what a main idea was, compared to supporting details?  Were the texts they were reading actually at their reading level?  Were they trying to find the main idea of an entire book, but the book didn't have a single main idea?  Could I come up with the main idea of a specific book with 100% certainty?

     The hamster wheel began to spin. I went to Twitter and the web and my teacher resource shelf and slowly retaught the idea to myself.  I was then able to help teachers add mini lessons in to target some of the deficits.  Learning is always occurring, even for the teachers (and in this case, myself).

     This year, I met with 2 teachers who wanted to discuss main idea one on one with me during independent plan time or after school.

     The first was +Virginia Burdett.  She is a 4th grade teacher, and wanted to give a main idea pre-assessment to her students after my Institute Day session.  We talked about the types of things we could assess for, and decided to go with a simple Boxes and Bullets type organizer and an article about teeth from Discovery.  We then met after school to sort the samples, as we did at the Institute session.  We actually had an open sort going of 5 or so categories.  Once we were done, we came up with some specific behaviors she could share with her students to move them along, based on both strengths and weaknesses.  This is the rubric/progression she then created with her class based on our analysis of the Common Core rubrics and the actual student work.

     +Lori Horne is another 4th grade teacher on her team.  She wanted to talk about main idea with her high achieving reading group.  We noticed that they do not always see the main idea when reading, even though they are fluent.  They tend to tell us EVERYTHING about the book. So we pulled out a new resource from Jennifer Serravallo called the Independent Reading Assessment.  It comes with actual texts and some questions that the students answer in writing DURING independent reading.  Lori and I met after her students had completed them and used Serravallo's rubric to compare her students' work to Serravallo's standard.

     We decided to use Serravallo's kit as the professional development that it is, and we used another text from her kit as a mentor text to build a similar progression/rubric with the students.  We figured that if  we could really show the students how to state a main idea at a 4th grade level, they might have a better awareness when they do it independently.  We planned a tuck in mini lesson, and I came back to observe.  Lori read an excerpt of the nonfiction trade book, and created a progression of main ideas with the students, going from approaching to exceptional.  To be honest, they are based on a Level P text complexity, so it is really at the beginning of 4th grade expectations.  But, based on student work both in her class and in Ginny's class, that is where they are.

     These two teachers then shared what they learned about their students and main idea with their team at our building meeting.  We are using our building meetings to discuss student work and sort it based on Common Core rubrics.  Ginny and Lori shared their thoughts with their team, and then this progression/rubric showed up in +Diann Milford's room!  

     I had the most thoughtful conversation with Diann after school about how she created the progression/ rubric with her class, but also how giving the information to her students in useable pieces to move them to the next step seemed very helpful to both her students and herself.  She described to me the evolution of her thinking as a teacher about scaffolding of ideas, not just main idea.  

     Can I just say WOW.




     These 4th grade teachers just blew me away.  I love that they all collaborated together, but their own teaching style is reflected in those charts.  They each also walked away with different take aways from the process that will undoubtedly help their students.  Thank you, +Lori Horne , +Virginia Burdett , and +Diann Milford, and all the rest of the teachers in my building, who give up their planning time, or time after school, to collaborate with their teams.  

Also, check out that Serravallo assessment kit!  Fantastic!

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