Faith that Works

Teaching middle schoolers how to live and practice their faith

So I write this from a super fancy hotel in Las Vegas, which may seem a bit counter intuitive for a religion blog, but I am at a conference on differentiated instruction, and as usual, a community of people committed to best practices in teaching is bringing out all sorts of new and interesting ideas.  Today I am focusing on close reading, and later in the week I will post some ideas for interactive journaling with prayer journals.

To start off, what is close reading?  With the adoption of Common Core State Standards and all of their vocabulary and hoopla, it’s a term that gets thrown around at professional development and in English classrooms all over the country.  Basically, when you do a close reading, you read a text multiple times for several different purposes.  It’s a great way to help students tackle difficult texts.  One of the workshops I was in today gave six features of close reading, and the very first is to choose small chunks of text and help students keep track of the text by dividing and numbering paragraphs.

And that’s when the heavens opened and inspiration shone down on me.  I’ve wanted to include the Catechism of the Catholic Church more in my religion classes, but worried about some of my struggling readers and their comprehension of the complex wording of the CCCBut the Catechism is already broken into small numbered chunks!  It’s the perfect text to close read with students!

To start I am going to print selections from the Catechism on paper myself, so that I can adjust text size, margins and spacing to make the text easier for students to annotate.  The two topics I am going to focus on in the fall are end of life issues (with my eighth graders) and abortion (with my seventh graders).  The first time we read through the selection, we will circle words that are unfamiliar.  Using a combination of my help and help from the dictionary, we will decode unfamiliar words.  The second time we read through the text, students will work to summarize each few sentences in 10 words or less.  I will model the first, work with the students on the second, and then have them work in pairs for the rest of the selection. The third time we read the selections we will look for reasons for the Catholic Church’s position of the issue we are reading about (end of life issues/abortion).  Students will highlight reasons in color to make them easy to see.

In past years I have simply presented the Church’s position to the students, which had obvious drawbacks- less student engagement, fewer facts available during class discussions etc.  By putting the actual text of the Catechism in the students’ hands, they will have the knowledge they need for class discussions and assignments, and I will also meet the standards for informational text required by the Common Core.

I can see all sorts of other times close reading with the CCC will enrich our religion class discussions, but this is where I’m going to start.  I also want to teach students how to look up information in the Catechism for themselves, but with only 10 copies in my classroom, I can’t let them write in the books.  I am really excited to teach these lessons- I will check back in after we have completed them with photos, exemplars, student reflections, as well as my own.

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