Thursday, May 14, 2015

Freytag will only take you so far...

Tried and Tested by Lori

Because I am a teacher, I own a certain level of nerdery that cannot be disputed and includes the following awkward notions.
  • An inherent love of school supplies. This one is fun supplies.
  • An irritating capacity for memorizing state standards and the various ways it has been tested throughout the years. This one is annoying, and here's why.
There is a certain standard that is responsible for uglying up all kinds of data in my current district. Allow me to share with you--straight from the 8th grade TEKS--my 2014-15 arch-nemesis from the reading strand, 8.6A:
  • Students are expected to analyze linear plot development (e.g., conflict, rising action, falling action, resolution, subplots) to determine whether and how conflicts are resolved.
This is Freytag. It will only take you so far (which is not very).
When many teachers look at this, they believe--understandably so--that if they teach with the good ol' Freytag model then students are getting the level of instruction required by the TEKS. Heck...look at this question from the 8th grade 2014 STAAR test.

Knowing how to plot out that story on the Freytag would absolutely answer that question. But take a look at the rest of the questions on that same test with the same coding (I'm telling you...nerdery all over the place).


These types of questions cannot be answered with the Freytag! What's a Curly girl to do?! I am loving my new approach with picture annotations! Let me show you how cool this is. First, students learn the fiction symbols from our GENRE BOOKMARKS, and here's how I teach it. 

Fiction is made up of:
Typically, the way a character interacts with his or her conflict indicates theme

For example, if a character is determined and confident and faces his problem head on, then perhaps we are learning the value of bravery. If a stubborn character experiences something that makes him or her reflective, then the themes about being open-minded and learning from experience begin to emerge.

But if kids aren't tracking this and making inferences as they read, the depth is lost on them. I believe we've done our children a disservice by teaching them that annotating means summarizing out to the side as you read. Curly friends, that's plot and we have to go deeper.

With this style of fiction annotations, students are trained to recognize and track three key elements of fiction and learn how those elements interact with one another to form a greater picture. 

The annotation examples below are from a re-test intervention that I've been teaching for the last two weeks. On our first day, I spent time asking students how they read and what they did while they read. Overwhelmingly, students told me that they had given up on annotating (summarizing as they go) because it never helped. After several days practicing our fiction annotations, I watched kids grow and learn to approach fiction with purpose and with a process to analyze linear plot development (e.g., conflict, rising action, falling action, resolution, sublots) to determine whether and how conflicts are resolved. (Again with the nerdery.)

Notice how the student has used her pictures to indicate the fiction element,
has underlined corresponding text, and has written a quick inference--not a summary.

I like how this student was simultaneously keeping track of the conflict
and the character's emotional response to it.

These picture annotations helped students see beyond the plot in an accessible and meaningful way. They left Freytag in the dust and are much better for it. 


  1. This is good stuff! Bought it and using it next year!

  2. Never thought about teaching fiction this way, but definitely going to try it next year! Thanks for sharing!!