Family Dinner, The Olympics, and Anchor Texts


In some sessions I recently led at a literacy conference, I shared about the importance of using anchor texts and anchor experiences as we scaffold high level reading and writing with our students.  During my last conference I met a wonderful teacher who approached me after one session to get more clarification on anchor texts. I explained that an anchor text read-aloud provides a common experience for all students (regardless of reading level) and can be referred to many times throughout the year to teach or reinforce a skill or strategy.  In other words, this text provides a common reference point for the whole class, regardless of what students are reading or writing independently.

Since that conversation, I have thought a lot about anchor texts and anchor experiences. I shared my thoughts this past week with a group of colleagues who have been meeting this summer to discuss Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman. (By the way, I highly recommend this book for anyone trying to understand the Common Core State Standards for ELA). One of my very wise colleagues used a life analogy that highlights the importance of anchor experiences. She said [I’m paraphrasing], “You know how there are times when your family members all seem to be running in different directions? Everyone has their own agenda, and family members see each other mostly in passing. You realize what you need is a family dinner. Everyone sits down together, shares a meal and conversation, and you come back together as a family, not a group of individuals. That is an anchoring experience.

I think this is a great metaphor for what we are trying to accomplish when we bring our students together around a common text, an anchor text. When we have this shared experience, we build a community, our conversations around text become richer, our thoughts become deeper. The day after my book discussion an interesting thing happened as I was waiting in line at the post office. The postal clerk was excitedly talking to a customer about something she had seen on the Olympics the night before. I knew exactly what she was talking about, so when I approached the counter, I added to the discussion, as did a couple of other customers who had also watched the night before. Immediately we were able to take our conversation beyond the level of summarizing the event to the level of analyzing it and enjoying it. All because we had a shared experience. As the week has progressed, I have noticed that everywhere I go people are talking about the Olympics. This is one of the reasons I love the Olympics so much. For two weeks our country comes together and supports our amazing athletes. The Olympics provides that anchor experience which allows us to do this.

As you are beginning your new school year or preparing to begin, I encourage you to think about the anchor experiences you will provide for your students. I hope you will consider your read-alouds among these experiences and use these texts as a way to bring together all of the readers in your classroom. Think of it as important as bringing your family together around the dinner table. Think of it as effective as the Olympics for bringing a country together.

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