"There's a reason why compare and contrast is one of the top research-based strategies across any curriculum area. Think about it. Anytime you want to teach something, you want to talk about what it is and what it isn't. And that's what starts to get that conversation going."
Why compare and contrast? In episode 3 of the POPCAST, co-hosts Jeff Anderson and Travis Leech discuss what the Invitation to Compare and Contrast looks like in the middle school classroom and how it reinforces and deepens student understanding of the Focus Phrase. Plus, practical advice on searching for and creating your own rich mentor sentences.
Listen here or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Meet Jeff and Travis
For over thirty years, Jeff Anderson has inspired writers and teachers of grades K-8 with the power and joy of the writing and grammar. He has written eight books for Stenhouse Publishers. He also writes middle-grade novels. Travis Leech is currently a middle school instructional coach in Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, TX. He has thirteen years of experience in education, including teaching middle school English Language Arts and as a gifted and talented specialist. Follow Jeff and Travis on Twitter.
Read the transcript
Travis: 00:00 Welcome to POPCast-
Jeff: 00:00 A Patterns of Power podcast.
Travis: 00:09 We're, we're discussing grammar in the context of the reading and writing connections.
Jeff: 00:14 I'm Jeff Anderson.
Travis: 00:15 And I'm Travis Leech and we're today's hosts-
Jeff: 00:19 Of episode three, step two of the Patterns of Power Process.
Travis: 00:24 Today, we're going to be talking about the invitation to compare and contrast-
Jeff: 00:29 Middle school edition. So the first question is why compare and contrast, Travis?
Travis: 00:42 Jeff, we do the invitation to compare and contrast because this is a great step to highlight the pattern that we are focusing on. It's a great way to deepen understanding for students about the pattern, and it's going to build their confidence as we begin to ask them in future invitations to apply this pattern in their writing.
Jeff: 01:09 So it's kind of all about seeing another example, right?
Travis: 01:12 It is. It is.
Jeff: 01:14 Because to see a pattern, sometimes we have to see one more. That's why the second sentence, that's the invitation, is so similar to the original because in that way, we deepen that understanding like you were talking about.
Travis: 01:29 Yes. In the invitation to notice it's possible that students really keyed in on our focus phrase and the pattern that we are looking to highlight. But it's also possible that we may have left that up in the air. So this invitation to compare and contrast is where we revisit the focus phrase and we through conversation, build student understanding of that focus phrase and the pattern that is showing up in both sentences.
Jeff: 02:00 Because we know that when we talk about something, it raises our conscious level of awareness of what writers do to create meaning. And that helps us as both readers and writers. So this 10 minute session is about comparing and contrasting.
Travis: 02:14 And here's how we do it. We start with the original sentence that we used in our invitation to notice. In this case, we are looking at Jason Reynolds' sentence from his book Ghost. And that sentence is, "Mr. Charles can barely hear a thing, which is why he's always yelling at everybody and everybody's always yelling at him." In this case, this is a sentence that we have created that follows a similar pattern, but you are also welcome to find another rich sentence in literature and bring that in as a sentence to compare and contrast.
Jeff: 02:56 Depending on the complexity of the skill you want to probably have something that's really close. So it's a lot easier a lot of times to write something really close than to find something really close. But if that happens and you see something really close, then go for it. But don't feel like you have to.
Travis: 03:12 So our sentence for comparing and contrasting in this lesson is, "Mrs. Clark can barely read her computer, which is why she's always telling everybody to increase the font size." Again, that sentence is, "Mrs. Clark can barely read her computer, which is why she's always telling everybody to increase the font size."
Travis: 03:41 Now for us, as teachers, after we show these two sentences, display them in some way for the students to see we ask the question, how are these sentences alike and how are these sentences different? And again, we offer wait time for students to think. If we want to scaffold some students' thinking time, we allow them to write their thinking down. We ask them to discuss in small groups or with partners. And then we bring that to whole group and have students compare and contrast the two sentences.
Jeff: 04:21 And there's a reason why comparing contrast is one of the top research-based strategies across any curriculum area. Think about it. Anytime you want to teach something, you want to talk about what it is and what it isn't. And that's what starts to get that conversation going.
Travis: 04:37 So within this 10 minutes space, we are going to hear students as they are sharing their comparisons and contrasts with the sentences, we are going to affirm their thinking. We are going to make sure we draw back to that focus phrase. At least at the beginning and end, but we can also bring it back throughout as we're sharing our noticings.
Jeff: 05:03 And you know, one thing that I forgot to say about the focus phrase in last week's episode was that you get the kids to repeat it with you. It's written on the board, it's written above some examples, but you get the kids to repeat the focus phrase with you a couple of times, so that it becomes automatically part of their thinking. That's why we use that "I voice" because we're neuro-linguistically programming ourselves that we use this. Not, "Good writers, do it." Or, "Effective writers do it." No. "I use the comma which to add detail."
Travis: 05:37 And then they see the comma which being added and the purpose behind it is to use detail.
Jeff: 05:44 W-H-I-C-H. Just in case.
Travis: 05:47 And then how the author is crafting their sentence, using this pattern effectively. Something that we want to also make note of here within the lesson is underneath each of the invitations is a power note. This is a great space for you just to help clarify your thinking and focus around the behind the scenes. Pulling back the curtain a little bit to see, in this case, we look at relative pronouns and highlight what they are and examples of relative pronouns. So that, what, whatever, which, whichever who, whoever whom whomever, and who's really helped to introduce a clause here, but we're staying away from abstract labels in this stage and really throughout the process. But this is really to help you have some more confidence as you get into this step with students.
Jeff: 06:47 To compare contrast can be another opportunity to get into identifying rather than having conversations. So just remember conversation, not identification.
Travis: 06:58 Jeff, that's a great point. Now that we've highlighted the process for the invitation to compare and contrast, we're going to talk a little bit about some of the pitfalls that you might run into and just some tips that we can offer on how to work through those.
Jeff: 07:13 The first one, I think about what you already talked about that forgetting to keep adding that focus phrase. "I use the comma which to add detail." Because that's its function, that's its purpose. We talk a lot about author's craft and author's purpose and the Patterns of Power: Inviting Adolescents into the Conventions of Language. And I want to highlight that again, how important it is throughout the seven days that you keep coming back to that conversation of why authors made the choice they made and that kids feel safe enough to add what they think.
Jeff: 07:45 This kind of brings us back to this idea of vulnerability. How do we respond? How do we allow other kids to respond in our classroom? And how safe does it feel to try out your thinking and take risks? Because where risks happen, thinking happens. And the Patterns of Power Process is really a thinking process about how we see what the patterns of power are in our language that we can shape meaning with and make beauty, but also make connections with our readers and our writers.
Travis: 08:17 I think another pitfall that teachers may think about or do some forward-thinking of the, "What if?" What if students still don't completely understand the pattern after we go through this invitation to compare and contrast? What would you say about that, Jeff?
Jeff: 08:34 Well, they don't have to yet. I mean, depending on its complexity, they may or may not get it, but they're starting to get it and they're going to get to see it. Like we saw it yesterday, we seeing it today and we're going to get tomorrow when we're going to try it out in the imitation. But what's beautiful is you need to trust the process. Just like the writing process. You trust the Patterns of Power Process, that if you put these things in, they unfold in certain ways, we're supporting them the whole way. We saw one sentence in the invitation to notice. We see two sentences in the invitation to compare and contrast.
Jeff: 09:09 We continually have conversation, which is raising our conscious level of awareness of the moves writers make to create meaning, which is bolstering them both as readers and writers. And because of that, we've actually tapped into something called the reticular activating system. That's RAS, reticular activating system. And it's the same thing. When your friend has a red Ford F-150 pickup truck. Then you're going to see that red Ford F150 pickup truck everywhere you go on the highway on the road, but it's not your friend's car, but you notice it because it's your friend's car or a family member's car.
Jeff: 09:43 Well, the same thing happens here. Because of these two days of conversation about these moves that writers make, we're calling our conscious level of attention to it. So we're going to see it when we read, we're going to see it and hear it in our lives or when we're in science and social studies class. And that gets us to bring forth all this beautiful stuff. It's like, you don't have to make this happen. It just naturally happens to the reticular activation system. And that's what allows us to build on these things.
Jeff: 10:12 So trust the process, allow it to unfold over time. They will get it. And we have lots of people who are trying this out and they do get it. Now, can you add another compare contrast? Sure. Can you do something else different? Can you make sure that when you go to invitation to imitate that you scaffold the version and you write one as a class first and they get to write with a partner or a group first? Sure. But know that it's going to happen in the order in which we've laid these lessons down for you.
Travis: 10:41 Yeah. We really want you to understand here students haven't tried it out yet. They haven't applied it as writers yet. So they're going to have the opportunity to do that. And the scaffolding that we're going to talk about, the opportunities that you have based on your gauge of the class after this process, I think you're going to find really helpful to building student confidence from across the spectrum of the students that are in your classroom.
Jeff: 11:09 I just want to make sure we talk about the hidden gem of the invitation to compare and contrast.
Travis: 11:16 Yeah.
Jeff: 11:17 In last week's episode, we talked about parallelism. Well maybe they noticed that it said everybody's twice or yelling twice the day before, or maybe they didn't. But now they're going to see everybody and let's see... We'll do just the which phrase, "Which is why he's always yelling at everybody. And everybody's always yelling at him." And then comparison, "Which is why she's always telling everybody to increase their font size." Now what they may notice that they didn't telling on both sides, but they used yelling on both sides. And because of that noticing, then they're going to talk about which one do they like better? Why do they like it better? What purpose does that serve the author?
Jeff: 12:03 And just hear how balanced the sounds, because it came from Jason Reynolds. "Which is why he's always yelling at everybody. And everybody's always yelling at him." It just comes out so smoothly and it's fine. This next one's fine. But it doesn't do that same thing. It's, "Which is why she's always telling everybody to increase their font size." It works. It's a which phrase, but boy, that little parallelism of that. And, and then telling those two things, using that, "... yelling at everybody, and everybody's always yelling at him. Which is why he's always yelling at everybody. And everybody's always yelling at him."
Jeff: 12:40 The hidden gem is you get to have these kinds of deeper conversations once the scaffold is there and they start seeing. And again, the worst thing that happens is they're seeing two correct sentences, which they can learn something from. But there's the power of the contrast. The contrast, the difference will sometimes highlight the move that you wanted to make.
Travis: 13:02 And the empowering nature of this also is when students ask, "Is this okay?" You can come back right to them and say, "I don't know, you tell me. Is this okay?" We're having that conversation right now of, "Is this okay that the writer did this?"
Jeff: 13:15 "What do you think? And why?" Because it's author's purpose and craft. It's not about being right and wrong. It's about meaning and effect. Let's say that with me in your head, it's not about right or wrong. It's about a meaning-making [crosstalk 00:13:32]. See, there you go. It's about meaning making. What is it about?
Travis: 13:38 The meaning and effect.
Jeff: 13:40 There you go, Buster.
Travis: 13:47 Well, we're getting to about that time, where we are-
Jeff: 13:51 Going to thank our sponsor, stenhouse.com. That's
Travis: 13:54 S-T-E-N-H-O-U-S-E dot com.
Jeff: 13:57 We appreciate their generosity and you can also find a copy of today's lesson that we're talking about at stenhouse.com on the page for Patterns of Power: Inviting Adolescent Writers into the Conventions of Language. Six through eight.
Travis: 14:15 This is also going to be linked in the show notes, as well as if you have a copy of this book, you can find this lesson as lesson 6.4.
Jeff: 14:24 Page 170.
Travis: 14:28 Comma which: a relative pronoun clause.
Jeff: 14:31 So come back and see us next week, where we'll be talking about the invitation to imitate. How do you learn every natural process of language? You do it through imitation. And that's what we'll be talking about in episode four.
Travis: 14:47 Looking forward to chatting with you soon.