Making Sense Out Of Text

Last week at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Richard Messina uttered a throw away line about reading.  I’m not sure that it was intended to be deep or meaningful, but, for me, it was.  Richard mentioned how this kind of reading was all around us, and it was hard to read:


When teaching literacy, we often try to build readers’ focus and stamina for long texts.  However, the kind of literacy that is needed to read (and understand) these signs is a way more necessary skill in day-to-day living, than critically reading a book, a chapter, or even a page of text.  Yet, I wonder how often we teach this brand of critical literacy?

In Andrea Masserella’s class we’ve been experimenting with One Tweet Stories.  Students have been reading them and trying to figure out what’s being said.  What idea(s) is the author presenting to the audience?  What is s/he able to say with the information that is present AND the information that is left out?

Take a look at some of these examples and see what the students had to say:

Jackie Collins

She smiled, he smiled back, it was lust at first sight, but then she discovered he was married, too bad it couldn’t go anywhere.


Ian Rankin

I opened the door to our flat and you were standing there, cleaver raised. Somehow you’d found out about the photos. My jaw hit the floor.


We didn’t force any type of reading roles on students.  They responded to the One Tweet Stories with their groups, and their conversations lead them to critically interact with the texts.  It actually looked a lot like this:

“The Four Resource model (Luke and Freebody, 1990, 1999) provides a framework for understanding texts more fully.  It outlines the roles of code user, meaning maker, text user and text analyzer.  Although critical literacy is most aligned with text analyzer, students use the other roles in order to inform their critical stance.  For example, when examining a website, students take the role of text analyzer and may ask, ‘Why is this particular photo included on the webpage, and what version of reality does it present?’

In order to fully address the critical literacy question, students need to access the other roles: as code user (e.g., What are the features and organization of a website? What is the size and position of the photograph?), as a meaning maker (e.g., What message does the website present? How does the photograph make me feel?), and as a text user (e.g., Who would use this website? Why would they use it?).  The roles are not intended to be sequential or developmental; that is, teachers should not begin with code user in isolation and work toward text analyzer.  In fact, when students participate as text analyzers, they are often more authentically and purposefully engaged in other ares of understanding.”

Students simultaneously used a variety of skills.  They read texts that demanded critical literacy and they deeply engaged with those texts.  Talk about meaningful reading rooted in real-world skills!

If you’re interested in this kind of reading, I invite you to keep en eye out for #TwitterFiction Festival 2015 and maybe even participate with your class.  Or… take a walk and find some signs that are hard to understand.

*Sign photo by SmartSign


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