What is Teaching with Text Sets?

NOTE: This was originally published on "The Classroom Bookshelf" blog on October 1, 2012.

We wrote Teaching with Text Sets because we have witnessed the power of children’s literature to engage students, inspire deep content exploration, and differentiate instruction. We’ve also seen the potential for digital multimodal texts, like the kinds we regularly include in our Classroom Bookshelf blog entries, to transform K-8 classrooms. Over the years, the teachers with whom we work at Lesley University have expressed the desire to teach using multimodal, multigenre text sets, but feel that they lack the resources, time, support, as well as the strategies that we have developed over the years. Thus, this book is an outgrowth of our work as classroom teachers and teacher educators.

What is a text set? 

A multimodal, multigenre text set is a versatile teaching tool for the classroom. By multigenre, we mean all traditional genres of literature, as well as purpose-driven types of writing, from blog entries to recipes. By multimodal, we mean texts that vary in modality - visual texts, such as video, photographs, visual art, and primary source documents; audio recordings such as music, podcasts, and radio broadcasts; and digital texts that are multimodal in their construction. Text sets are related by content (topic, theme, essential question) or by genre.

Why Teaching with Text Sets now?

As teachers, we have always viewed ourselves as curriculum designers. We believe we are at a crossroads in American public education, when teachers should be empowered to take the lead, creating and shaping curriculum that they know works for the students they teach.

In our state, alongside the teachers with whom we work, we are grappling with changes suggested by our state's adoption of the Common Core State Standards. We are excited about the Common Core’s emphasis on higher order thinking skills, the integration of content, and the use of authentic texts, and we want to help shape the conversation about using texts of all genres in developmentally appropriate contexts. We believe texts need to be considered for a variety of reasons before using them in class, and do not want to limit the discourse to "text complexity" alone. We also want to move past the dichotomy between fiction and informational text, to a more nuanced exploration of how all genres can be used simultaneously. 

What does Teaching with Text Sets do?

Our book is divided into three parts, showing you how to teach with multimodal, multigenre text sets and giving you the concrete tools you need to do so. Part I discusses our specific process of creating and organizing text sets within a unit of study. Part II demonstrates text sets in action, sharing our work in two classrooms. Part III provides you with more examples of what text sets look like and the teaching possibilities those text sets can suggest. It is our hope that readers can use the resources in Part III, including a comprehensive list of digital multimodal resources for different content areas, to start using text sets in their own classrooms.

The portion of the book that excites us the most is that dedicated to our unique models for organizing texts for instruction, found in chapter four. These visual models are examples of how texts can be carefully positioned in conversation with one another to foster rich and specific intellectual inquiry in classrooms. The models can be used alone or in combination to structure your use of texts in a unit of study.

Below, you will see two examples of our instructional models, the Duet and the Solar System, put to use with several new children’s books. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will recognize the strategies of positioning texts in conversation with one another that we frequently use in our "Teaching Invitations" section of the blog. We employ these and other models regularly in our blog entries without specifically naming them. 

Duet Model

Our Duet Model is a pairing of texts and can serve as an initiation to the process of comparing and contrasting related information in two different texts. Texts may be content related or may serve as two distinct examples of writing in a particular genre. We choose the Duet Model when we: want to introduce a focused comparison of and contrast of content and/or genre; when we find two texts that are ideally matched for this purpose; and often, when we want to model writing decisions authors make regarding genres and structures.

Duet Model: Social Studies

For example, during this presidential election campaign, in order to explore the concept of political partnerships, we might choose to pair in a Duet Model two recent picture books that address the ups and downs of the friendship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Those Rebels, John & Tom
Written by Barbara Kerley and Illustrated by Edwards Fotheringham
Published by Scholastic Press in 2012
ISBN: 978-0-545-22268-6

Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the True Story of an American Feud.
Written by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain and Illustrated by Larry Day
Published by Dutton Children’s Books in 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-47903-1

Not only can these texts be used to explore multiple perspectives on the nature of the friendship between these two former presidents, you can also discuss the choices made by these authors as they crafted their narratives. Those Rebels, John & Tom focuses on the collaboration between these two men leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, while Worst of Friends traces the arc of their friendship concluding with their death on the same day. Equally fascinating, would be a discussion of the illustrations in these picture book works of nonfiction. Students will see that even very specific topics can be represented in very different ways by authors and artists. Here is a sample of how we refer to Duet Models in our book:



Solar System Model

In our Solar System Model, texts are selected around a particular content area or a genre. With the content or genre as the focus of the study, we seek out multigenre, multimodal texts that offer varying perspectives on the topic or serve as varying examples of the genre form. We select the Solar System Model when we: seek breadth and depth in our content coverage; are looking for great flexibility with text complexity and instructional grouping; and when we can devote more time to a longer unit of study. Here we’ll share two examples of texts arranged in Solar System models in different content areas:

Solar System Model: Language Arts

The recent publication of Homer’s Odyssey, adapted by Gillian Cross and illustrated by Neil Packer for Candlewick Press, got us thinking about all the ways that students in middle school language arts could explore this ancient tale through a variety of retellings and digital resources using the Solar System model. The Odyssey is larger than any single text, because the story has been told and retold through visual art, music, poetry, and fictional narrative for thousands of years; thus, we consider the idea of “The Odyssey” itself as the content to be explored. Some students can be reading full-length retellings of “The Odyssey,” such as Cross’s new work or Tracy Barrett’s King of Ithaka, told through the eyes of Telemachus, son of Odysseus. Other students could explore the back story with Paul Fleishman’s Dateline Troy, a retelling of “The Illiad.” Marcia Williams’s picture book can help ground everyone in a simpler version of the two ancient tales. Using the digital collections of the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum, students can examine visual interpretations of the Odyssey through the ages and explore how they shape their own current understandings. Finally, digital magazine and newspaper articles can further shape students’ understanding of the fusion of fact and fiction through an analysis of recent archeological research. Here's what the Solar System Model looks like:



The Odyssey.
Written by Gillian Cross and Illustrated by Neil Packer
Candlewick Press, 2012
ISBN 978-0-7636-4791-9

Barrett, T. (2010). King of Ithaka. New York: Henry Holt.

Fleishman, P. (2006). Dateline Troy. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Williams, M. (2006). The Illiad and the Odyssey. New York: Walker Books for Children.

British Museum, “The Odyssey” collection.

Representations of Odysseus in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Collection:

“Making Objects Speak” Podcasts About the Representations of Odysseus in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Collection

“Odyssey’s End? The Search for Ancient Ithaca,” Smithsonian Magazine

“Odysseus Lies Here?” Nicholas Kristof, Column and Video, The New York Times

Solar System Model: Science

A breathtaking new science picture book inspired the next example of a Solar System model. Jason Chin’s Island: A Story of the Galapagos traces the changing landscape and life on Galapagos Islands beginning with the “birth” of the island six million years ago. This title is a perfect fit for a Solar System Model focusing on evolution. For a content focused comparison, this title can be matched with two more nonfiction titles, Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution by Steve Jenkins and the more detailed Billions of Years, Amazing Changes: The Story of Evolution. Then, students can dig deeper, learning more about evolution and evolution on the Galapagos Islands by exploring the links in the comprehensive multimedia websites below. Human evolution is addressed in Catherine Thimmesh’s Lucy Long Ago and in resources provided by PBS, the Smithsonian Institution, and the American Museum of Natural History. Here is what the Solar System Model looks like:


Island: A Story of the Galapagos
Written and Illustrated by Jason Chin
Published in 2012 by Roaring Brook Press
ISBN: 978-1-59643-716-6

Jenkins, S. (2002). Life on earth: The story of evolution. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Pringle, L. (2011). Billions of years, Amazing changes: The story of evolution.
Ill. by S. Jenkins. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press

Thimmesh, C. (2009). Lucy long ago: Uncovering the mystery of where we came from. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Evolution, WGBH, PBS

Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, American Museum of Natural History

Human Evolution, The Smithsonian Institute

The Galapagos Islands, UNESCO Worldwide Heritage Center


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