Getting Informational Text into Action

Get It Done: Writing and Analyzing Informational Texts to Make Things Happen
By Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, Michael W. Smith, and James E. Fredricksen
(Heinemann, 2012 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Kevin Hodgson

I was fortunate to be in the audience at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project and listened as Wilhelm, Smith and Fredricksen wowed the crowd during a collaborative keynote address to a roomful of teachers. The three teacher/writers had just put out a collection of three books that explore connections to reading and writing. Get It Done is their resource on informational text. The others explore narrative texts and argumentative texts.

All three are nicely connected to the thrust of the Common Core, although the authors were clear that they began planning and writing long before the Common Core became public. (Still, you can imagine the thrill of the Heinemann editors when they realized that three books were being developed along three main threads of the Common Core.)

Get It Done is a treasure trove of helpful insights about why we need to care about the teaching of informational text, and it offers up strategies for not just teaching how to read and interpret these kinds of texts, but how to make them meaningful and useful to students.

The Get it Done mantra of the book’s title echoes to the fact that information that is processed and understood can be used in the world to do things, to make things happen, to create opportunities for action and understanding, to explain complicated ideas to others in meaningful ways. And the authors (Wilhelm seems to be the lead writer in this book) are right on the mark when they hint that educators just do not do enough to teach this kind of text to students, even though the real world (you know, that place outside of our classroom bubbles) is overflowing with informational text.

The authors are right on the mark when they hint that educators just do not do enough to teach this kind of text to students, even though the real world is overflowing with it.

I appreciated that the book begins by laying out the idea of “elements of informational text structures” as well as “the five kinds of knowledge” that inform our understanding of information and explanatory texts.  They also break out a series of actions that teachers can consider when working with students, from what they call Composing to Plan, to Composing to Practice, to Composing Rough and Final Drafts, to Composing to Transfer Meaning. These pedagogical and heuristic framing ideas set the stage for the authors to then dive down into a wide range of text formats:

  • Listing and Naming
  • Summarizing
  • Describing
  • Defining
  • Comparing/Contrasting
  •  Classifying
  • Exploring cause and effect
  • Explaining problems and solutions

I also found it insightful to read through the many “margin notes” that are in the book, as the authors – sometimes individually, sometimes collectively – add further insights to various topics of the main text. The margin notes also make explicit connections to the Common Core, and highlight areas where exemplar lesson plans and ideas are located. In fact, the three educators here bring in many examples of classroom practice, which I found to be valuable and enlightening.

Many of us need to do more with explicit teaching of informational text, and Get It Done is an excellent map of teaching strategies, rationale and understanding that can ease that transition to a more balanced use of texts that so many of us teachers (in Common Core states and otherwise) are going to have to make.

Kevin Hodgson is a sixth grade teacher in Southampton, Massachusetts, and is the technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Kevin blogs regularly at Kevin’s Meandering Mind and tweets more often than is healthy under his @dogtrax handle. He created the flowchart, possibly on a napkin at his favorite coffeehouse.

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1 Response

  1. 12/13/2012

    [...] I am lucky to be doing reviews of educational books for MiddleWeb, and the latest is a look at Get It Done, by Jeff Wilhelm, Michael Smith and James Fredericksen. The book dives into expository writing and strategies in a way that connects nicely to the new emphasis on these texts in the Common Core. I created the chart above as a way to think through some of the strategies that the book suggests, particularly around flowchart thinking and making lists. Read my review at MiddleWeb [...]

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