Using Systems Tools to Analyze Non-Fiction Text

Kara Fusco, a sixth grade Language Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies teacher at Woodmere Middle School on Long Island in New York, facilitated a webinar entitled “Using Systems Tools to Analyze Non-Fiction Text.” Woodmere Middle School uses the Columbia University Teachers College curriculum as the basis of their Language Arts program. The unit featured in the webinar combined non-fiction text with the narrative non-fiction book A Long Walk to Water, set in the South Sudan between 1985-2009. The book describes the plight of the Lost Boys of the Sudan and the need for all people to have access to clean water. The ability to cite textual evidence and develop a claim based on evidence is a key outcome of the Teachers College curriculum from the early grades through the middle school.  In the webinar Ms. Fusco clearly illustrated how use of three systems thinking tools, the behavior-over-time graph, connection circle and ladder of inference, improved her students’ ability to generate theme-based claims.  LongWalkWebinar participants were particularly appreciative of the way Kara carefully articulated the sequence and details of the unit prepared by Kara and the team of teachers with whom she works.

Ms. Fusco knows that when students have access to the tools and habits of systems thinking they can organize their thoughts and think more critically about the texts they are reading. Students used a ladder of inference to analyze the characters’ actions, beliefs and cultures and then developed a theme-based conclusion. They used behavior-over-time graphs to cite specific evidence for how characters are changing throughout the course of the story.  Finally, students used a connection circle, which Kara shared, “really made students’ thinking visible and led to insightful conclusions.”  For example, a student explained how Salva, one of the main narrators in A Long Walk to Water, used his growing leadership skill to increase his innovation for finding solutions to the hardships that faced his people in the South Sudan.

From this unit on non-fiction text, students were able to apply the same systems tools to learn more about teen activism in relationship to one of the following issues: girls’ education, world environment, child labor or animal abandonment.  Kara noted that she sees students spontaneously using the tools with a sophisticated level of independence. Ms. Fusco concluded by saying that, “Systems thinking has improved my teaching because I can help students think more abstractly and go back to the text, which is a critical part of my teaching.”


Click to view the webinar recording.

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