Talking, Typing, Teaching:
Helping Students Overcome Challenging Texts
Rebeca B. Delgado | Commonplace Entry #2
I recently had this
conversation with my
best friend from high
It made me sad to
think that his English
teacher did not give
the students the
confidence and tools
to engage in the
My friend’s plight with Paradise Lost made me wonder what his teacher could have
done to make the story accessible.
Looking over Beach and Wiggins, I found that:
talking about the text,
creating interesting forms of writing responses,
& clearly explaining how you want the students to understand the literature
are all valuable ways in assisting students with challenging texts.
Beach (2012) explains that one of the most integral roles that an English teacher plays is
that of a discussion starter. Getting students to talk about the text helps them to
externalize their thoughts or questions and demonstrate understanding.
Dialogic discussions, as mentioned by Beach (2012), contribute to ensuring that
students do not fall into limiting I-R-E discussions that offer only closed questions
(questions with only one answer) that the teacher facilitates. However, having
students talk to one another about the text and ensuring them that literary analysis
supports many understandings and interpretations will encourage students to look at
the text with new perspectives. According to Wiggins & McTighe (2005), it is
important that teachers explain to students that the study of literature is not finite
and that “learning is an unending quest for findings”.
Another fear that many students share from junior high to university is the dreaded essay.
But what if teachers considered other methods of writing responses?
Beach (2012) explains that students can become engaged with newfound writing
activities through reading and creating comic books. One such work that is optimal
for study in a high school setting is Art Spiegelman’s MAUS (1986).
Students may also construct narratives in response to texts by writing their own drama
scripts (Beach, 2012). These works could expand upon the text or simply be a creative
writing activity on their own. This writing can help students view the core elements of the
story in new light as they work to adapt the plot into another format.
As previously mentioned, being clear about what students are supposed to
understand from a text is helpful in dismantling dense works.
Beach (2012) discusses the importance of evaluating students’ work through
formative assessments that give students consistent feedback about their progress
and results. Another form is the “feed-up” formative assessment that asks students
to “continually clarify their purposes and expectations for what they want to
accomplish” (Beach, p. 237).
Another important element to consider as an English teacher is the likelihood of
students’ encountering hurdles in the reading. Wiggins (2012) explains that this
“awareness of predictable misunderstandings” will help teachers better prepare
lessons that cater to the “rough spots” so that students are effectively guided through
A way to achieve clarity in explaining expectations for reading and writing to students
is to use rubrics (Wiggins, 2012). Rubrics provide a visual breakdown of the exact
criteria that the teacher expects the student to meet. As Wiggins (2012) writes, rubrics
help to explain that understanding is “a matter of degree on a continuum” and
answers key assessment questions that students may have.
In reconsidering my friend’s story after
completing the readings from the past
three weeks, I have found that there are
many tools and activities that his teacher
could have utilized to better prepare the
class for Paradise Lost.
By teaching with clear goals, getting
students to talk about the text & write in
creative formats, teachers can better help
their students overcome dense and
intimidating texts with confidence and
• Beach, R., Thein, A. H., & Webb, A. (2012).
Teaching to exceed the English language arts
Common Core State Standards: A literacy
practices approach for 6-12 classrooms. New
York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
• Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005).
Understanding by design (expanded 2nd ed.).
Alexandria, VA: Merrill Education/ASCD.