Teachers for Teachers | Students Explain Inverse Evidence
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Students Explain Inverse Evidence

Recently a fifth grade class was discussing Standard 2 of the CCSS: Determine central ideas or themes of a text. After a highly engaging turn and talk, one partnership shared, “The themes that have inverse evidence are the most difficult to support.” We were unclear on what they meant so we probed further, “Say more. Can you give an example?” “You know when the author wants to send a message but he does it by having the characters do the opposite of the message – so it is inverse evidence. Like in Each Kindness. The message or theme is be kind, but the main character wasn’t kind –in fact the book is about not being kind when you have the chance. The author does not want us to be mean; she wants us to be kind but sends that message by having the character not be kind. It is really hard to cite evidence in these kind of books.” Over the next few weeks the class began finding other texts that do the same thing:

Hundred Dresses
Empty Pot

We had never thought about text structure in this way before, but now we are noticing it everywhere and thinking about how to help our students cite “inverse” evidence. Here are some strategies our students came up with after we studied it for some time:

Strategy 1: Phrase your thesis in a way that allows you to use the inverse evidence
Strategy 2: Set up the evidence in a way that explains that what you will be providing as evidence is the opposite of the theme but connect it to the negative outcome, which will then support the message
Strategy 3: Organize the response to explain that the evidence cited will be examples of characters not acting in a manner that supports the theme and then explain why the author chose to structure his writing in this way

Here is an example of how they tried these strategies with Each Kindness:

The message or theme in this text is about being kind. Jacqueline Woodson wrote this book to push kids to think more about how they treat each other. She wants us to remember that each decision we make about how we treat another person can make an impact. (Example of strategy 1) We have the choice of what that impact will be. In this story, the characters chose not to show kindness to a new classmate and this had a negative impact on her. (Example of strategy 2)

In the beginning of the story, Maya, the new classmate, smiles at the main character, Chloe. Chloe chose not to be kind when she didn’t smile back and moved her chair away from her. Later, Maya invited the other kids to play jacks, cards, and pick up sticks, but no one would play with her. Maya played alone while the other kids whispered about her.Not only did Maya’s classmates ignore her offers to play, they made fun of the way she dressed and what she ate, “Every day, we whispered about Maya, laughing at her clothes, her shoes, the strange food she brought for lunch.” They even directly teased her, “I have a new name for her, Never New. Everything she has is from a secondhand store.”

Jacqueline Woodson showed her readers the importance of kindness by creating a story that demonstrates what happens when you are not kind. By experiencing the feelings of Maya and the regret of Chloe we understand that we need to be aware of the power of being kind. (Example of strategy 3)

The CCSS wants our readers to not only be thinking about themes and central ideas, but also to think deeply about how the author purposely shapes a text to enhance the development of a theme (Standards 5 and 6). Our readers are noticing that text structure impacts how they cite specific textual evidence when writing. Before the CCSS our students listed three examples to support the theme but the CCSS are pushing them to use these examples to support the conclusions they are drawing from the text. These students realized that if they have to relate the evidence back to the thesis statement then it is more difficult to write it if the author provides “inverse evidence.” When our readers are noticing, questioning and thinking at this level we know they are engaged in the process of learning even if they haven’t figured it out yet. These conversations help us see how reading like a writer not only improves the craft of our writing it improves our comprehension and response to reading.

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