Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Home by Toni Morrison

Knopf, 160 pages

Reviewed by Sharon Crowley

Most readers have authors' names, not just book titles, on their reading lists. Anticipating a new work by a favorite writer is one of the finest pleasures a reader enjoys, and when that writer is prolific and rarely disappointing, anticipation of the next book is that much greater. Toni Morrison has yet to prove undeserving of my high hopes, and while her tenth novel, Home, isn’t as linguistically grand or meaty as her master works, it reaffirms my resolve to read whatever she writes.

Home starts with Frank Money, a drifting, emotionally wounded 24-year-old Korean War veteran restrained in a psych ward for an offense he can’t remember. He’s been back in the United States for a year and he’s plagued by who he has become after surviving a war that killed his two closest friends. He’s lost his girlfriend, apartment, job, and in spite of his surname, the little money he possessed, and he's often overcome by uncontrollable rage. His skin color may not have mattered much in Korea, but Frank is quickly reminded that it’s what matters most in segregated America and he finds no societal welcome-home mat for black soldiers. Since his return Frank has avoided his hometown of Lotus, Georgia, but a letter from an unknown woman implores him to come home to save his adored sister Cee from an unidentified danger. He’s told to come fast, that she’ll be dead if he doesn’t. The request pulls Frank out of his detached daze and he heads south with the help of kind strangers and the weight of memories he can barely carry.

No one will envy Frank’s experience of home. His family fled their Texas home when he was four after hooded men told them and other African American families they had 24 hours to go or die. They settled in Lotus, a place Frank despised, and there’s no knowing if he could have ever grown fond of the town given how he arrived. His parents worked nonstop and then died young, leaving Frank and Cee in the care of grandparents who responded to their own hard lives by embracing cruelty. Cee sought solace in a boy who used her for a car and Frank escaped to the Army with his best friends. Now, twenty years after the first time he was forced from his home, Frank is running again, this time from himself and what he’s done.

Home addresses Morrison’s familiar themes—loss, redemption, memory, identity, and coming home. More brutal than beautiful, Home is abrupt and unembellished. Readers accustomed to Morrison’s gorgeous indulgence and slow build-up to emotional plateaus may not like Home’s brevity and the matter-of-fact delivery of shattering character revelations, but her storytelling reflects Frank’s predicament. It’s now or never for Frank. His sister’s life depends on him and he needs her crisis to force him to claw his way out of his own. By begrudgingly going home Frank takes the first tentative step toward moving beyond mere physical survival, and Home reminds us that what and how we survive are as unique as our experiences of home.

Sharon Crowley works in K-12 marketing at the Great Books Foundation.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Shared Inquiry™: An Opening Note for New Leaders

Many of us start with a degree of self-consciousness when we first lead discussion. We wonder whether participants will understand and respond to our focus question and whether we will understand their responses; we worry about whether we will easily think of follow-up questions and whether we will be able to keep discussion focused on the problem of meaning we have raised. Leading is not an easy task and it requires practice. But while there is no substitute for experience, there are things you can do to establish good conditions for thoughtful discussion.

The first thing you can do is to educate your students about shared inquiry. In advance, they must read the selection twice and think carefully about it. Trying to understand what is not immediately evident in writing requires effort, patience, and the exercise of imagination; a student's quick "It's boring" is often simply an excuse for not wanting to work at the interpretive process.

Faced with bad reading habits, you have to use discussion time to engage your participants in the selection by reading it aloud and providing good note taking strategies, for example. If students are not helped to go through the looking glass to discover that what is at first hard can become manageable through persistence they are unlikely to ever learn to read in a meaningful way.

Stress that your participants have to observe the five guidelines of shared inquiry. The guidelines are there to make discussion a learning opportunity for you and for your group, to help you make the best possible use of your discussion time. They act as a fence, confining discussion to what everyone has read and, for a brief period, keeping out all distractions.

Your participants must also learn to approach discussion in a spirit of open-mindedness. Discussion should be an opportunity to broaden one's own perceptions of a story by sharing thoughts and listening to new ides. It is not a time for participants to hoard insights, either because they are trying to compete with other members of the group or because they are afraid to offer a tentative opinion. In shared inquiry, we can build solid interpretations even from views that are half thought through or inadequately expressed.

Finally, your students must learn to weigh their opinions, and those of their fellow classmates, against the evidence in the selection. When they begin to express in their own words what they think the author was trying to say, and can point to evidence to support their views, you will know that real interpretation, the act of thinking through and individualizing an author's meaning, is taking place.

What about your responsibilities as the leader? Of course, there is equal need on your part for strong preparation, the avoidance of quick judgments, an open-mindedness towards disparate ideas, and the insistence on evidence in support of opinions. But, in addition, there must be the desire to push towards resolution because you care about your basic question. By asking questions about what you want to know and by demonstrating your interest in pursuing answers, you will provide your participants with a model of reflective thinking and of what it requires, genuine curiosity about a problem, the flexibility of mind to consider the problem from many different angles, and the willingness to question, probe, reevaluate, and sometimes change the way one looks at things.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Getting Students to Talk to Each Other

Question from the Classroom

My students always direct their answers to me during discussion. How can I get them to talk more to each other and get a real discussion going?

When first starting your Junior Great Books program, it's natural that students will respond to your questions just as they do in the regular classroom setting. That is, you ask a question and they direct their answers to you. They don't know what a good Shared Inquiry™ discussion looks or feels like. Just as you might have to change gears from your usual teaching habits when acting as a discussion leader, your students have to change gears too. You can help them become good participants by explaining to them what makes a good discussion, by modeling good follow-up skills for them, and by encouraging them to interact more.

Before each discussion, remind your students that they are free to add to each other's ideas, to agree and disagree, and even to ask questions of each other. Preface the discussion activity with comments like: "Joe, if you agree or disagree with one of Whitney's ideas, you can just say so. Sarah, if Hector says something and you want him to explain further or show you where he got the idea, just turn to him and ask him your question."

Besides telling your students that they are free to interact, you can show them that you want more interaction through your follow-up questions. For example, once a student has give you an answer, ask other participants whether they agree or disagree with that answer. Ask them if they understand the answer or if they see evidence for it: "Does Jason's answer make sense to you, Madison? Jason, can you explain to Madison what you were trying to say? Ray, can you help Jason find evidence for his answer?" Asking these kind of questions helps make an individual's answer the property of the group, the answer out on the floor for the whole group to consider.

After your discussion, praise the group for the times they did interact and let them know that you hope they do more of it the next time. Once students do interact and see that it is something you encourage in discussion, they will start working together as a group. Remember that the other Junior Great Books program activities, especially Prereading, Directed Notes, and Vocabulary, also provide opportunities for students to practice the same skills they use in Shared Inquiry discussion. These activities give students specific interpretive issues to talk about and help them become more comfortable with examining ideas as a group.

Sharing their opinions with their peers, considering others' viewpoints, debating issues, and asking lots of their own follow-up questions is what makes Junior Great Books so much fun for students. With that kind of interaction, you can be sure that they have really improved their listening and critical-thinking skills. Teaching students to become good Shared Inquiry participants is a process that might take some time, but soon you'll be commenting on how difficult it is to get them to stop talking to each other about the stories and the issues they raise.

Monday, October 22, 2012

New Webinar Announced: Modeling Close Reading with Students for Social Studies

Register for Modeling Close Reading

Learn how to help students get the most out of reading primary documents by taking this timely and convenient webinar:
Modeling Close Reading with Students for Social Studies 
Date: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Time: 3–4:30 p.m., Central Time
Course fee: $50
Modeling Close Reading with Students for Social Studies is a webinar that middle and high school teachers can attend to help students read for comprehension of primary documents. In the webinar, teachers will learn how to:
  • Improve students’ reading and thinking
  • Identify students’ needs and learn strategies to meet them
  • Work through concrete steps that help students manage difficult texts
  • Learn questioning methods to improve students’ comprehension and critical thinking.
System requirements
PC-based attendees: Windows 7, Vista, XP, or 2003 Server
Macintosh-based attendees: Mac OSX 10.5 or newer
Space is limited, so reserve your webinar seat now! After registering, you will receive an invoice. You will find your unique webinar URL and passcode on this invoice. On the date and time of your webinar this information will be required to join the webinar.

Shared Inquiry™ is a trademark of the Great Books Foundation.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Upcoming Webinars: Helping students think about what they read.

Register for a Great Books webinar

Please join us for an interactive webinar experience.

Review the essential elements of a Shared Inquiry discussion or take your knowledge of the Shared Inquiry method a step further! Choose from three great options below.
Shared Inquiry Review 
Date: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Time: 3–4:30 p.m., Central Time
Course fee: $50
This course provides participants with a review of the essential elements of a Shared Inquiry™ discussion and the Great Books interpretive reading activities, that enable students at all levels to participate successfully. Teachers will solidify their understanding of their role as leader and how Shared Inquiry connects to state and district standards.
Reading Comprehension Strategies 
Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Time: 3–4:30 p.m., Central Time
Course fee: $50
This intermediate-level course will help you increase the impact of Shared Inquiry on students’ reading comprehension by integrating reading strategies such as rereading, making inferences, and asking questions. The instructor’s modeling will open up ways for you to use these strategies with your students.
The Power of Student Questions 
Date: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Time: 3–4:30 p.m., Central Time
Course fee: $50
This intermediate-level course will help you teach students how to pose better questions, identify different kinds of questions, and focus on the questions that will best help them build their understanding of the selection. You will learn how to stimulate students’ initial curiosity about a specific text and guide them to become active partners in inquiry.

We hope you can join us!

Shared Inquiry™ is a trademark of the Great Books Foundation.

web bottom bar

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

More than Literature: Informational and Nonfiction Texts in Primary Grades

by Sharon Crowley

Implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) brings many shifts to elementary classrooms, and one of them is the increased emphasis on informational and nonfiction texts. I’m sure it isn’t news to educators that the language arts standards call for elementary curricular materials with a mix of 50 percent literary and 50 percent informational texts. Predictably, there are mixed reactions to the CCSS mandate. I’ve read articles and educational blog posts indicating that some people perceive the shift as a disregard for the importance of stories and poetry on children’s development. While others have responded with a sigh of relief, citing the reasons why it’s important to provide expository and nonfiction texts in early grades. No matter where your personal opinion falls, I’m certain we agree that being able to critically read informational texts is an essential skill.

The National Forum on Information Literacy defines information literacy “as the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use that information for the issue or problem at hand.” Sadly, some 44 million Americans can’t extract information from text in many circumstances. That estimate, from a 2004 presentation by University of Michigan professor Nell K. Duke, is likely higher today. Like all illiteracy statistics, the figure is disturbing. While there’s never one reason for such a statistic, mandating access to nonfiction and informational texts in elementary grades is a step toward lowering it. Although Great Books K–12 programs emphasize developing reading and critical thinking skills by working with high-quality literature, we don’t perceive the new 50/50 requirement as a challenge to the importance of fiction. We recognize that students need to read a large variety of texts to learn strategies for content reading in the upper grades—this will help them grow into more literate adults—and any mandate increasing time spent reading in the classroom is a positive.

But it isn't enough to provide access to nonfiction and informational texts; quality is equally important. Students need texts that have descriptive details, an enthusiastic voice, clear organization, and an appealing design. How do teachers decide which books to provide their students? How can they quickly discern which are high-quality texts? We created our new Junior Great Books® Nonfiction Libraries for grades 3–5 to make the choices easier. Each library contains 30 titles selected by Foundation editors, including science and social studies books, as well as Common Core informational exemplar texts. Using the same high standards for choosing selections for Great Books programs, Foundation editors selected texts that are engaging, age-appropriate, and substantial. Our nonfiction libraries will help teachers dig deeply into topics like science, social studies, and history. Titles such as “Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs!,” The Cloud Book,” and “Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forests of New Guinea,” are ideal for independent science reading. Each library comes with a teacher’s guide with optional activities for student response and sharing, its own bin, and stickers for each book to keep the library organized.

Quality materials are an essential component to meeting the demands of CCSS. Teachers have enough work to do without the additional burden of searching for suitable texts. Let us help you implement CCSS in your classroom with nonfiction libraries that meet the high standards Great Books teachers have come to expect. Our new Junior Great Books Nonfiction Libraries will be available in late October.

Sharon Crowley works in K-12 marketing at the Great Books Foundation. She's celebrating Banned Book Week by rereading her favorite often challenged book "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Great Books Roundhouse

WhyvilleWhyville Logo

Great Books Roundhouse™

Great Books Roundhouse combines
great literature and the Shared Inquiry™
method of learning in the virtual world
of Whyville. Treat your computer-savvy middle school students to a one-of-a-kind virtual learning experience.

Try some activities as a class or invite students to explore Roundhouse on their own.
In Whyville students can:
  • Read and post questions and comments about outstanding literature
  • Participate in online discussions
  • Engage in other fun and creative activities
In Whyville teachers can:
  • Supplement students’ work in reading and language arts
  • Coordinate live discussions with other classrooms
  • Use Whyville tools to set up and monitor their students’ Whyville activities
  • Connect and share with like-minded colleagues
Visit Great Books Roundhouse now! Log in and bring your students the benefits of Great Books in a virtual world.
Great Books FoundationGreat Books Roundhouse and Shared Inquiry
are trademarks of the Great Books Foundation.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Great Books Webinars

Take your knowledge of the Shared Inquiry™ method a step further! Choose from three great options below.
Reading Comprehension Strategies
Date: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Time: 3–4:30 p.m., CDT
Course fee: $50
This webinar will help you increase the impact of Shared Inquiry™ on students’ reading comprehension by integrating reading strategies such as rereading, making inferences, and asking questions.
The Power of Student Questions
Date: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Time: 3–4:30 p.m., CDT
Course fee: $50
This webinar will help you teach students how to pose better questions, identify different kinds of questions, and focus on the questions that will best help them build their understanding of the selection.
Review: Shared Inquiry Discussion
Date: Saturday, September 29, 2012
Time: 10–11:30 a.m., CDT
Course fee: $50
This webinar provides participants with a review of the essential elements of a Shared Inquiry™ discussion and the Great Books interpretive reading activities that enable

students at all levels to participate successfully.
System requirements
PC-based attendees: Windows 7, Vista, XP, or 2003 Server
Macintosh-based attendees: Mac OSX 10.5 or newer
Space is limited, so reserve your webinar seat now! After registering, you will receive an invoice. You will find your unique webinar URL and passcode on this invoice. On the date and time of your webinar this information will be required to join the webinar.
Shared Inquiry™ is a trademark of the Great Books Foundation.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Great Books for What? Continuities and Challenges to the Canon

Ronne Hartfield  
Shimer College Commencement Address
May 6, 2007

My warmest greetings and congratulations to you, the Shimer graduating class of 2007,
and to those parents, friends, and teachers who have supported and sustained youthrough the years with books, computers, IPods, endless cups of coffee, and advicesought and unsought, useful and less so, though mostly worth pondering at least.

My thanks to you, dear colleagues, for such a generous introduction. When I considerthe professional journey that you just summarized, I am sometimes left to ponder its many surprising and unanticipated digressions. Since that culminating moment over a half century ago (can it really have been that long?) when I, like you students before me this afternoon, was completing arguably the most significant chapter of my education, myyears in the College of the University of Chicago, I have never ceased to value andrespect that time of deep immersion in the great ideas of western civilization. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s wonderful phrase, the arc of my education has been long, but it bends toward rightness.

It is of that rightness that I want to speak this afternoon--not the rightness of my ownpath, but of the one which lies before you, in a time that seems infinitely more complex thanthe one I approached with such eagerness in 1955, in a world that seems more fraught with terror than with optimism, in an America that holds at once more possibility and more vulnerability than my classmates and I could ever have imagined.
With all of our nation's acknowledged and unacknowledged shortcomings and failures,our mid-twentieth century America still defined itself as the world's greatest nation and much of the world agreed. Our generation had an agenda, a set of plans to address what wasn't working, and at the threshold of unprecedented scientific and technological advances, we were perhaps insufferably confident about our ability to solve whatever challenges lay ahead.Our social scientists were developing new understandings of culture, and we were rewriting earlier histories to create newer, truer and more inclusive ones. Our artists,writers, and musicians, were creating radically new images, abstract expressionism replacing impressionism and realism, disjunct harmonies replacing the smooth sureties of the past.

By the time we matured in 1976, two hundred years after the founding of this country, after Vietnam, after terrifying and tragic political assassinations, our confidence was shakier, but we were still assured by visible successes. Though still woefullyinadequate, we saw gradual advances in Civil Rights, impelled by Black demands that America hold true to its earliest principles; we saw movements for women's rights that while some may only recall them humorously as the bra burning years, they were serious and committed protests leading to the radically increasing presence of women in graduate education and in the workplace. Withal, we still held, albeit tenuously, to the early assurance that America's Great Idea, this Grand Experiment for freedom and Democracy, could be a beacon for a more promising future for the rest of the world.

And then, one year into the new millennium, the world we knew came to an end, and an unanticipated era was harshly ushered in on September 11. 2001, by those life-changing events that we refer to with awe and in appropriately harsh and truncated language, as 9/11. And, students, the ineradicably horrifying images of the twin towers of the World Trade Center under attack, disintegrating before the eyes of the whole world, remain the most powerful symbols available to us that our America, indeed the world that we had thought futilely that we knew, would not, could not ever be the same again. Thetragedy of 9/11 and its timing as a defining event coincided oddly, even eerily, with the new millennium. At the very onset of the twentieth-first century, America as a nation has been faced with realities that, although simmering for decades before, have now come forcibly to the very front of our consciousness, demanding profound redefining, reshaping, reevaluating, replanning. And you, Shimer graduates, have the humbling task of taking your place among those whose minds and skills will be called upon to assume these awesome responsibilities.

The good news is that none of this is unimaginable. We need to remember that American history, in all of its bloodiness and arrogance, is nonetheless characterized by resilience and triumph over obstacles. Your histories and mine are honored in the title of Stephen Ambrose's great document of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition that openedAmerica's path to the northwest, limned in his accurate term "Undaunted Courage."Now let me talk for a moment about why Shimer College has provided you marvelouslywith the fundaments you will need in order take your places, if not as grandscale moversand shakers, if not as "deciders," certainly as definers and shapers, of what willinevitably be this new millennial world. My confidence in you is rooted in the fact that your Shimer education has given you at least three tools for the work you are poised to engage:

FIRST: In exploring the Great Ideas that reside in the great texts of the western world, you have learned the importance of serious inquiry. In studying the archive of what might be the most significant body of classical knowledge available to us, that collective of thought and experience that has withstood the test of time; you have lived closely with the minds of writers and thinkers who were about transformation as well as formation. You have also learned that all texts must be open to reexamination in new circumstances and reinterpretation with new and wider lens, that all canons are amenable to augmentation. It is gratifying to note that your curriculum here at Shimer now comprises works by Hannah Arendt and W.E.B. DuBois, among others whose ideashave contributed measurably to present dialogues. 

SECOND: Through serious struggle with serious thought, you have learned the value ofauthentic attention. Your knowledge and insights into a past which you did not inhabitenable a thoughtful informed set of responses to issues in the world where you will now reside. If you are familiar with the classical debates between Hamilton and Jefferson, between Woodrow Wilson and Robert LaFollette, you cannot approach complex predicaments superficially, nor can you be glibly contemptuous of alternative views. Within the complexities inherent in decisions for or against a war, or when or when notto call an end to military occupation, the insights of Thucydides or Euripides should notbe overlooked.  

THIRD: With a Shimer education, you have learned to approach current ethical and moral problems from a rich context of reflection, with a permanent resource for approaching timeless questions inherent in all human experience: How does a moral person make wise choices in the midst of a society that has no consensus on such issues? How and on what basis can anyone decide when human life begins and when it should end? How and with what information does one accept scientific advances that challenge former sureties, the artificial fertilization of embryos, the use of embryonic tissue forpharmacological purposes, or at the far end of contemporary challenges, whether or not to consider human cloning, for any purposes conceivable. The spiritual struggles of St. Augustine, or those to be found in philosophical inquiries from other traditions, such as the Tao te Ching, enrich the conversation with scientific questions posed by Galileo or Linnaeus.

So. Finally. As F. Champion Ward, then Dean of the Hutchins College, once confirmed, citizens are liberated not from but through a knowledge of history, noting that those whowould move the world must first be given a place to stand. What I want to leave youwith here is an abiding respect for the learnings provided in what you will come to look upon and speak of as your Shimer years, with a commitment to take your places as leaders in any disciplines or professional fields where you choose to invest your energies.You have been given a place to stand. 

The Great Books must not be misunderstood as the keepers and protectors of any outmoded status quo. Rather, they are the raw materials for reconsiderations of everything. They are a resource for leadership that is deeper and more useful than Forbes Magazine or the Wall Street Journal. Adam Smith may provide more understanding of the positive potentials of a humanistic capitalism than does the Director of the Federal Reserve. Shakespeare may provide military insight and moral direction not readily available in the televised reports from Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. Nineteenth century novels may illuminate the nearly invisible but intractable structures of social class and caste that impede affirmative action in education and the workplace. Plato can elucidate society's vague but persistent distrust of artistic freedom, and the demands torearrange our thinking made by quantum physics are less onerous if one has read Newton and Einstein first. You will be grateful - and so will the world - that you have actually read Darwin and can respond intelligently to concepts of intelligent design that exclude his seminal research. Popular books or videos that purport to expose The SECRET, with their too-simple recipes for living, should be open to informed questioning, and you need to be able to respond seriously to hackneyed questions about What Might Jesus Say.

Of course, God willing, you will be living well into this bare-begun century. And as you are livingon a sadly ailing planet, you will need all of your creativity and will to changewhat has constituted pretty comfortable ways of life. You will need to read many Great Books that have been heretofore omitted from the canon---books by Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Wole Soyinka, and books by writers from all over what used to be called the Third World. And you will read Great Books as yet unwritten, perhaps even one written by a Shimer graduate. You will need to open your minds and hearts toideas and experiences from what has been called the "Runaway World." And you will becalled upon to engage all of this with moral urgency and commitment---with not onlythe right stuff but with your best stuff, with grace and grit and gravitas. As one of my favorite poets, Gwendolyn Brooks, demands, know all of this, and go down the street anyway. Go down the streets of the world as it is given, respect histories already lived, and change them; make the old worlds better, make them new. My faith is in the Great Books, and in you.

Ronne Hartfield is an author, essayist, international museum consultant, and former executive director at the Art Institute of Chicago and Urban Gateways: The Center for Arts in Education. In 2004, Ms. Hartfield published Another Way Home: The Tangled Roots of Race in One Chicago Family to critical acclaim.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sufficient and Relevant Evidence, Part 2

By Linda Barrett

At the beginning of the school year, I wrote a blog post concerning the Common Core State Standards' focus on supporting ideas with evidence. That post stayed on mind as I worked in K-5 classrooms the past nine months and I found myself paying close attention to the way students develop the ability to use textual evidence to support their interpretations of texts.

I've always had a general sense of how students develop this skill, but this year I made a conscious effort to notice the following:
  • What I was doing to facilitate the use of evidence in my courses and demonstration lessons
  • How experienced Shared Inquiry leaders develop their students’ ability to use evidence
  • How students were using sufficient and relevant evidence in their written responses to interpretative questions about a text
My very informal observations left two distinct impressions. First, I see a distinct progression in the way students develop the ability to use text-based evidence to support their interpretations of text within and across the grades. And second, I realize that skilled and flexible teachers can use questioning to greatly strengthen students’ ability to use evidence. In this questioning stance, just as the Common Core standards demand, students do the thinking, while teachers use questions to stretch and scaffold.

The following chart illustrates the types of questions teachers can use to promote students' effective use of evidence.
Student Skills Improved Teacher Questions to Scaffold
Clearly articulate an idea about text.
  • Can you help me understand what that means?
  • Can you tell me more about that?
Recognize when ideas come from the text and when ideas come from outside the text.
  • Did that happen in our story?
  • What did you think when that happened in the story?
Identify the approximate place in the text where the idea originated.
  • Did you start thinking about that in the beginning, middle, or end of the story?
  • What did the character say or do that helped you decide that?
Cite specific quotes from the text to support an idea.
  • Which words helped you decide that?
Articulate the connection between relevant evidence and interpretation.
  • Can you help me understand how that supports your idea?
Explain the logic of their evidence.

  • Does that hold true throughout the text?
  • If you are saying that, how do you explain what happens here?
 Weigh the evidence for alternate interpretations.
  •  Is your interpretation as well- supported as this other possibility?
Write a well-supported argument for a particular interpretation

While much of this is intuitive, this progression and the recognition that students move through it in different ways and at different times, inform how we can strengthen students' use of evidence not only in Shared Inquiry but also in other contexts through the flexible and strategic use of questioning. In addition, it suggests that teachers can build the foundation for this skill in the earliest grades and continue to develop it by meeting each student where they are in that moment and guiding them toward the next level.

Linda Barrett is a Senior Training Consultant for the Great Books Foundation. She has a master's in education from Rutgers University, and a BA in geography and sociology from the the University of Leeds (UK). The training and classroom coaching she conducts in the Shared Inquiry method of learning provides teachers and students with support in recognizing and using “sufficient and relevant evidence.”