4C’s Collaborative Comprehension Activity

Image by Anna Demianenko from UnsplashThe past week has found me presenting to both pre-service teachers (three times!) and to fellow faculty (just once), and with each audience I shared the same activity: the 4Cs for Collaborative Comprehension.

Adapted from Ritchhart, Church,, and Morrison’s Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners, my spin on this particular lesson invites students to collaborate using a Google doc as a space to engage in shared reading of a particular text. As they note in their book, “[T]he 4C’s routine allows for a rich and fairly complete discussion of a text nonetheless, each step can be used as a standalone discussion,” and “[a]s students become familiar with the routine and expectations, it can act as a protocol to structure student-directed discussions of the text” (144). 

There are a number of reasons for why this particular reading, writing, and thinking strategy is well-suited for an adaptation using Google Docs:

  • We know that reading is a social experience and, unfortunately, we also know that students are not likely to read – at least with a deep level of comprehension – their homework. While this activity does not solve all the reading problems that students may have – and they most certainly should still be reading outside of class – this does emulate the types of thinking that good readers will use while engaged with the text.
  • We know that writing, too, is also a social experience and can have many purposes. With this activity, writing is a tool for thinking, and asking students to write both individually and collaboratively allows them to see one another’s thinking unfold, in real time, and in a low-stakes environment.
  • We know that thinking – and, in this sense, I mean thinking like a disciplinary expert – is a skill that must be modeled, rehearsed, and assessed. In order to help students understand the ways in which we might approach the text, we need to make the actions that we undertake explicit and clear.
  • Finally, as a way to incorporate technology in a purposeful manner, I taught this as a lesson that was designed for a collaborative group work session that students would engage in during class time. That said, once students become familiar with the routine, they could likely engage in some aspect of this protocol outside of class time and come prepared with their writing done in the Google Doc.

Thus, the idea behind the activity is to have students engage in a shared reading, document their initial thinking – in this case, by connecting to the text, challenging the text, identifying key concepts from the text, and recognizing how the text is asking you, as a reader, to change – and develop a consensus about the most important takeaways from their shared reading. And, they do so using the collaborative technology of Google Docs.

As you’ll see in the instructions embedded in the document, each group will make a copy of this initial template. What’s important to note is that you – as the instructor – could make any modifications to the thinking that you want students to do. Though I like “the 4Cs” as a nice, alliterative phrase to describe what students are doing, you could certainly invite them to do any number of other learning tasks such as interpret, examine, or evaluate.

I begin the activity by ensuring that each student in the group, typically groups of four, has a role. I talk through the different tasks with them, give them a moment as a group to decide who wants to do what during the reading, and then I ask, “Who’s my connector in each group? Who’s the challenger?” Who’s identifying key concepts?” and, finally, “Who’s thinking about changes?” Depending on the particular class, as well as the reading that I am asking them to do, I may do a little bit more of a discussion about the text in order to prime the pump. However, the main goal here is that students jump in to the reading activity with their particular lens (connect, challenge, key concept, change) in mind.

Additionally, before sending them into the reading task, I ensure that at least one person in the group is comfortable making a new version of the Google Doc template and then sharing that new version with their group mates. Thus, each group has their own copy of the 4Cs activity and are then able to write ideas in their squares while they are reading. If it is a group that I feel would benefit from the task, I may also suggest to them that they find relevant sentences or phrases from the article and copy/paste them in to the Google Doc, with appropriate quotation marks. They can then use these segments of the text to make further connections, invite other challenges, identify key concepts, or indicate where the author is encouraging the reader to change.

Then, it is time to have everyone begin reading. As they read, I set a timer for a modest amount of time (usually about 5 to 7 minutes with an article such as the one linked here: “A Month Without Sugar“).  As they read, I encourage them individually to take notes in their group’s Google Doc. Then, after they have had sufficient time to read, I invite them to continue the “silent” conversation in the Google Doc. Once it appears that most students are done with the reading as well as with their writing in Google Docs, I invite them to engage in a face-to-face conversation with one another around the table.

Depending on my goals for the particular reading and how this activity fits into the scope of our overall course of study, I may have students offer comments upon one another’s documents, I may have the groups write a summary, or I may have individuals summarize the main ideas from both their reading and the small group discussion. There are many possibilities for formative assessment, depending on whether the article is being used mainly for getting their thinking started, or inviting them to delve much deeper into a topic we have been studying for a long time.

In talking with the pre-service teachers as well as with my fellow faculty members, a number of interesting extensions and adaptations came to light:

  • The activity could be redesigned with different levels of Bloom’s taxonomy or cognitive tasks in mind for the 4Cs, it could be used for different genres of reading material, or it could be reconfigured around entirely different articles for each group that they could then bring to a larger, whole class discussion.
  • The activity could also be done out of class, inviting students to thoughtfully read and annotate the article as well as to write their brief response, then coming prepared to class and ready for discussion.
  • The activity could also be done with entirely different kinds of texts including images, paintings, charts, videos, or other forms of media as the basis for response.

Again, the main purpose of this activity is to invite all students to read actively – with a particular perspective in mind – and to bring that perspective to their shared conversation about the text.

Yes, this is an activity that could work perfectly fine with pencil and paper. Still, as many of the pre-service teachers and faculty with whom I worked this week have noted, engaging in this activity with the use of Google Docs allows them to see one another’s thinking unfold in process.

It is a very visual reminder of the fact that we all come to a text with a slightly different perspective and yet can still glean meaning from the text when engaged in substantive conversation.

Update, 4/15/17: Minor editing for a typo


Image by Anna Demianenko from Unsplash

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Marginal Syllabus Conversation – February 22, 2017 at 6:00 PM EST

Image by Hans from Pixabay
Image by Hans from Pixabay

Tomorrow, Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 6:00 PM EST, join my colleague and co-author, Dawn Reed, and me as we participate in an “Annotation Flash Mob” on the preface for our book, Research Writing Rewired. We’ve been invited to participate in this opportunity through Dawn’s collaborations with the Marginal Syllabus Project.

The Marginal Syllabus team is part of the larger Hypothes.is Syllabi Project, which “leverages web annotation to collect primary source documents by theme and organize communal conversation of those documents.”

Here is a bit more from the Marginal Syllabus’s “About” page:

The Marginal Syllabus seeks to advance educator professional development about education in/equity through the use of participatory learning technologies. We are a dynamic, multi-stakeholder collaboration among:

Hypothesis, a non-profit organization building an open platform for discussion on the web

Aurora Public Schools in Aurora, CO, and in particular educators and administrators associated with the LEADing Techquity research-practice partnership

Researchers and teacher educators from the University of Colorado Denver School of Education and Human Development in Denver, CO

While this group will work together for one hour tomorrow night, I am looking forward to seeing how the conversations Dawn and I had while writing will come alive with the Hypothes.is annotations of other educators.

All educators are welcome to participate, and we recommend that you sign up for Hypothes.is ahead of time, and install the Google Chrome browser extension.

From their blog, it also seems that the conversations might keep going on, and I am interested in seeing how that unfolds over the days and weeks to come.


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Updates from Our Book: Argument in the Real World

Image courtesy of Heinemann
Image courtesy of Heinemann

As a writer — both in the sense that I am a blogger and the author of texts for teachers — I am well aware of the fact that writing is never really “done,” it is just “due.” I am thankful that I have the opportunity to keep writing, keep sharing, keep updating. It is as important now as it has ever been.

When my colleague and co-author, Kristen Turner, and I were putting the finishing touches on our book, Argument in the Real World, last summer, we knew that the world would be experiencing digital arguments in many ways across the closing months of the US 2016 election cycle. However, we had no idea that “fake news” or “alternative facts” would become part of the Orwellian discourse. Over the past few months, the incredible team at Heinemann has been sharing a number of posts and videos related to the book:

They also helped us refine the MINDFUL poster:

How to teach students to be MINDFUL readers and writers of social media.
How to teach students to be MINDFUL readers and writers of social media.

Finally, here is a video in which I demonstrate how students can remix existing news content to analyze the implicit arguments presented in the news.

As teachers continue to work with their students to overcome the many challenges we continue to face with media literacy, we will continue to update the book’s wiki page and share more ideas. My hope is that this collection of resources is a good place to begin those difficult lessons and conversations.


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Conversation about Connected Reading on LitBit Podcast

Connected Reading Model
Connected Reading Model

Many thanks to Brooke Cunningham, creator of the LitBit podcast and a doctoral student in the University of Tennessee PhD in young adult literature program, for inviting Kristen Turner and me to share our thoughts on Connected Reading with her listeners. Please listen to and share the episode!

Conversation with NCTE Colleagues for Digital Learning Day

As we near Digital Learning Day 2016, coming up this Wednesday, I was fortunate enough to be invited by NCTE to speak with Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick and my colleagues Bill Bass, Franki Sibberson, and Kristen Turner.

Though I am grateful that we are turning our national attention to digital learning on this day, I still have some reservations about DLDay, first expressed in 2013. I remind my colleagues that digital learning is about more than just what Doug Belshaw calls “elegant consumption.” We need to be even more mindful of this fact now that the standardized assessments created by SBAC and PARCC are being used widely.

At any rate, please enjoy viewing this brief and timely conversation as much as I enjoyed participating in it.


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Hosting #engchat Next Week

This next Monday, Kristen Turner and I host #engchat for a conversation on Connected Reading. Here’s the announcement:

Recently, a friend of Kristen’s on Facebook posted a GIF that showed the evolution of a desk.  In 1980 the desk was covered with items: books, newspapers, magazines; a fax, phone, stapler and tape dispenser; a rolodex, clock, globe, calendar, and bulletin board; and a computer and phone.  One by one the items on the desk evolved – and disappeared, becoming an app on the computer – as a scrolling mast of years advanced.  By current day, only a computer full of apps and a Smartphone remained on the desk.

The GIF represents the possibilities of a digital world.  We can, if we choose to do so, conduct our professional and personal lives entirely on, with, and through devices, and a recent Pew study suggests that more and more teenagers and adults are making the choice to go digital.  What does this transformation mean?

As teachers of reading and writing, we recognize that our own desks – and those of our students – are markedly different than they were even just a decade ago.  We accept that, as the National Writing Project asserts, “digital is,” and we wonder how we can help adolescents to become critical readers in a world where they encounter short-, mid-, and long-form texts through their devices on a daily – and even hourly – basis.

For us, reading is not an isolating activity.  Digital tools allow individual readers to connect to a network of readers; texts of all kinds can be shared quickly and widely.  Digital tools also allow readers to share their reading experiences – before, during, and after – with others.  In a digital world, reading is visibly social.

In our book Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World, we describe a model of reading that takes into account the networked, social nature of reading today.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 9.39.36 PM

This model suggests that readers encounter texts in a variety of ways.  They may receive them from others, somewhat passively, or they may actively seek out new reading material by surfing without much intention, stumbling through sites with some intention, or searching with focused intention.

How do we help students develop their comprehension skills as they encounter and engage with Kindles and Nooks, RSS feeds and Twitter, hypertext fiction and digital textbooks?  How do we help them to read critically in a world where information flows constantly?  And perhaps most importantly, how do we help them to leverage the possibilities within a network of readers?

As we consider these questions, we look forward to the #engchat session on October 5, where we will discuss what it means to be Connected Readers.

In the mean time, you might be interested in reading this recent feature article in NCTE’s Council Chronicle: Teaching Teens—and Ourselves—to Be Mindful, Connected Readers.

See you Monday on #engchat!

Update on 10/27/15: Courtesy of Momchil Filev, the video creator, I have updated the link of the video to the original file available from BestReviews.com.


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Changing the Field, One Teacher at a Time

This past week, two thoughtful teachers shared their insight on some of the work I have done with my colleague Kristen Turner. Knowing that what we have written is making a difference in the lives of teachers is, quite simply, amazing. So, I offer my thanks to these two edubloggers here.

Inforgraphic created by Cris Turple based on my co-authored article, “No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait”

First, thanks to Cris Turple who shared this infographic based on my English Journal article with Kristen: No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait. In her blog post, Turple concludes that

“Digital literacy is a crucial component in modern literacy instruction and is necessary for today’s students to be productive members of a digital world. Teachers should focus on the skills related to digital literacy, not specific tools which will soon be obsolete in the ever changing world of technology.”

No surprise here: I agree with Turple completely on the idea that we focus on skills, not tools. Check out the rest of her website for a variety of resources related to TPACK, SAMR, Google Apps for Ed, and more.

Second, Jianna Taylor from the Oakland Writing Project (MI) offered a thoughtful review of our book, Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World — as well as a number of additional ideas and resources that she uses in her own classroom. I very much appreciate the way that Taylor read the book and jumped right in with connected reading practices in her classroom, primarily through the use of Notable PDF. She discusses how this tool is “one of my favorite and most used Chrome extensions both personally and professionally” and the ways that she will use it again this fall. Knowing that teachers like Taylor are willing to jump in and make these changes, turning on a dime, encourages me; often we get caught up in the educational bureaucracy, but she found an idea, tried it, and will refine it to make it better. If, as I often say, “education is the business of hope,” then Taylor makes me very hopeful indeed.

So, as I think about the ways in which my work with Kristen continues to circulate, I often reflect on a goal that she and I share when we are writing. As we collaborate, we always have goals in mind. Yes, we write because we enjoy it and because it leads to tenure and promotion within the university. However, there are other more important reasons.

We write about digital literacy so we can better coach our own children as readers and writers.

We write to help teachers understand the ways that technology affects literacy practices, and what that means for their students.

In short, we write everything with the goal of “changing the field.”

This week, it feels like the field changed just a little bit more. Thanks, Cris and Jianna for letting us know just how that happened for each of you.


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