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Objective: Students will be able to identify what constitutes a strong inference in order to make evidence-based inferences from informational texts.

Core Decisions of Lesson Design

During each of our literacy lessons we will focus on building students’ inference skills. We will concentrate on what constitutes a strong inference and how to determine the validity of an inference. Students will be expected to back up their inferences with evidence from the sources provided.

The content of each of our lessons will vary based on students’ previous learning in the classroom. For Maja’s lesson, she will be focusing on the topic of Japanese internment as an extension of her social studies lesson. Building on their prior knowledge, students will be expected to draw inferences from pictures and short primary source passages about what life was like in the Japanese internment camps and why the Japanese were relocated. In Imaan’s lesson, she will be focusing on expanding students’ understanding of WWI and the conditions of the soldiers by examining and drawing inferences from a first-hand account from the warfront with the support of pictures and a poem composed by a soldier. In Dana’s lesson, she will be focusing on expanding her students’ knowledge about slavery and the Underground Railroad, as the students in her class will soon be reading Two Tickets to Freedom, a true story about William and Ellen Craft’s escape from slavery. Students will draw inferences about what it was like to travel on the Underground Railroad from a primary source document composed by a runaway slave.

The lesson will begin with a short passage about event in the instructor’s life that will hopefully make the process of inferring more accessible to students who have been struggling with it. Students will be asked to infer events from the text based on specific evidence within the text and their prior knowledge. To give the students a measure of independence and a tool for self and peer assessment, the inference probability scale will be used to determine the strength of each inference. This way, the scale becomes the final authority while the teacher becomes a partner in the text exploration process. Furthermore, during this part of the lesson, the instructor will model how she wants students to make and support their inferences using the same structure as the graphic organizer students will later receive.

Since the dynamics in each classroom will vary significantly, a single management strategy is ineffective. For some of the classes, group work is disruptive and unlikely to be productive. [In Dana’s class, she will use a mixture of whole-group and small group work.] For others, it provides a low-stress alternative to whole-class sharing. In both cases, discussion between students, whether closely supervised by the teacher or not, will be the main teaching strategy.

After introducing the concept of inferring and analyzing inferences with a simple passage, the students will be presented with documents that will make up the main part of the lesson. Maja, Imaan, and Dana will be using documents related to topics covered in their social studies classes, which is expected to give students more chances to make connections and inferences. Maja will also include images, as her students have extensive experience making inferences from pictures. The teacher will read the text out loud, making a complex primary source piece more accessible to the students (Fountas and Pinnell, 1996, p. 22), and then give the students a chance to reread and make their inferences both independently and as a group, with a particular emphasis on citing the evidence. Then, the whole group will discuss the inferences and rate them on the probability scale. The hope is that the scaffolding provided in the first part of the lesson will lead to a deeper, more meaningful discussion in the second half.

As a culminating activity, the students will be given exit slips where they will report the most interesting inference from lesson and why it resonated with them.

Currently, our classes are all working on using evidence from a text to make inferences or provide details to support a claim. However, from our observations it seems students often struggle to find strong evidence to support their claims and tend to draw trivial conclusions from what they read. Therefore, to further the students’ understanding of using the text to make inferences, we decided to strengthen their understanding of what makes a good inference through the use of a rating scale, based on the probability of an inference being true. By evaluating and discussing different inferences, we hope to help our students realize what comprises a great inference and how they can begin to make such inferences from their reading. Furthermore, by giving students the tools to “self-assess and self-adjust their performance effectively,” we hope they will be able to make better inferences (Wiggins, 1998, p. 13).

In this particular lesson, we chose to make inferences about topics that are currently being covered in each of our classes so that the students are already familiar with the subject. We feel that this will help them to make inferences since they are already likely to have ideas about what it must have been like to be in each of the situations we will be discussing. Furthermore, we feel that drawing these types of inferences will lead to a more personal approach to the historical events.

According to the common core, by the end of fourth grade students should be able to “[r]efer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.1) and to “[e]xplain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.3). By the end of fifth grade, students should be able to “[q]uote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.1) and “[e]xplain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.3).

Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (1996). Guided reading: Good first teaching for all children. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Stead, T. (2006). Reality Checks: Teaching Reading Comprehension with Nonfiction K-5. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.
Jones, J. L. A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans & the US Constitution. Retrieved from: http://amhistory.si.edu/perfectunion/experience/index.html
Wiggins, G. (1998). Educative assessment: Designing assessments to inform and improve student performance. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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