The CCSS and KWL: Reading to Learn and Confirm

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“If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants” (Isaac Newton, 1676).

A close reading of the College and Career Readiness anchor standards and the grade level CCSS reveal the integrated nature of real reading comprehension among the domains: key ideas, text structure, integration of knowledge & ideas, and text complexity. Many are asking how are we to achieve these new standards? I reply that we must stand on the shoulders of giants to see beyond where we have been and chart the path to where we are going.

The standards are deeper and richer than most state standards of the past. In reality, they expect readers to be critical thinkers, asking and answering unwritten questions of the text in order to analyze what the text says explicitly and implicitly. Even more than that, the standards expect readers to automatically and consistently cite textual evidence to support their analysis. And even more dramatic, the standards expect readers to analyze the relationship of text structure to the author’s message or purpose and maybe…even connect that structure in an analysis or comparison between texts and to accomplish this kind of thinking with (developmentally) complex text.

On whose shoulders can we stand to achieve such lofty goals?

If you are an educator at any grade level, you are probably familiar with the K-W-L chart (Ogle, 1986). This instructional model addresses before, during, and after reading strategies that build reading persistence and result in a higher rate of reading retention. The idea is that before reading, good readers question themselves to access prior knowledge and establish a foundation on which they can build knowledge about the subject or topic at hand. The “K” stands for “what we know” and metacognitvely allows for access of background knowledge. The “W” stands for “what we want to find out” to establish reading purpose for the “during” reading process. Finally, the “L” or “what I learned” is the “after” reading step that promotes reading reflection. Good readers, the theory goes, consider what they knew before reading, recognize gaps in knowledge and finally, consider what was read or learned in relation to what they already knew or hoped to learn.

Ogle’s work with KWL is widely cited as a by researchers and practitioners alike (Gallagher, 2004; Harvey, 1998; Johnson & Freedman, 2005; Misulis, 2009; Pressley, 2006). Not only has KWL stood the test of time and proven to be effective far beyond the elementary grade levels but it has also proven to ladder-up thinking about reading and its relationship to research and writing. Carr and Ogle (1987) built on the original K-W-L process just one year after its first publication. The resultant K-W-L+ “extends the learning process…by making a semantic map or graphic organizer of the key information” (Blachowicz & Ogle, 2001, p.111). Ogle (2009) continues to extend the use of KWL by exploring and providing examples of how KWL and the development of an I-chart (Hoffman, 1992) can move the reading experience beyond a single text and into fields of research and exploration.

As we move into the era of Common Core Literacy Standards, the development of content literacy strategies have become even more important than in the past. Before CCSS, ELA teachers were primarily responsible for knowing and teaching reading strategies; however, in the era of shared responsibility for literacy and learning, content teachers will need to adopt and adapt methods for scaffolding readers’ engagement and learning with content text. No longer can lecture in the social sciences and labs in the physical sciences be the primary means of teaching and learning. In a recorded speech, David Coleman (2010) himself chastised science teachers who claim science is a hands on study supporting his criticism by stating that practicing scientists read 80% of the time (EdSector YouTube Video). His point is clear: students must become independent readers who pose multiple types of questions or hypotheses and conduct secondary as well as primary research to explore and explain using multiple means of inquiry based in primary, secondary and even tertiary sources.

So, what does this mean for K-W-L?

Building on the work of literacy giants like Donna Ogle, Egan (1999) published a graphic organizer that emphasized the difference between “knowing” and “thinking I know,” a distinction that has proved important in vocabulary building. Students are more inclined to learn new information when they recognize a knowledge base is questionable and in today’s world, subject to change. Her organizer features columns for “definitely know” and “think I know” as well as a code for verifying accuracy. Two additional columns store questions and resources.

Australian literacy specialist Tony Stead, too, has stood on the shoulders of giants in developing the RAN Chart: Reading and Analyzing Nonfiction. Different than Ogle’s simple KWL chart, Stead’s chart has five columns: What I Think I Know; Confirmed; Misconceptions; New Information; Wonderings. Although Stead’s structure moves readers (teachers and students) closer to the demands of the Common Core Literacy Standards, it falls short–probably because the template was built before the standards were published.

Reading to Learn and Confirm

The expectations of the CCSS demand that readers, unprompted by teachers, be able to identify what they learned and support that learning with clear citations from the text. This implies that learners as readers may find that some of their assumptions were wrong or that some of their positions have been swayed by the arguments of the text. Moreover, the CCSS demand that readers look beyond the superficial or literal implications of a text and explore what questions or implications are nuanced by the text. With this in mind, let me share with you a thinking organizer that emphasizes the recursive nature of analytic reading: juxtaposing background knowledge and new information by means of individual reflection that motivates additional reading as research.

Reading to Learn and ConfirmThis organizer is different from the K-W-L in that questions are not the purpose purpose for reading but the result of reading. If I am reading on topic about which I know little, how can I presume to know what questions I have? Rather, the text information itself in relationship to growing background knowledge is the source of questions. Using this organizer, the reader poses statements about what they “think” they know. While they read, they may add to that column as connections are made, but what is equally or more important is the recursive movement across the chart as the reader learner notes details that confirm thinking or corrects what at the outset was thought to be “true.” The documentation of these details and inferences are an essential part of College and Career Readiness Standards as well as the corresponding grade level CCSS as reader learners move through the grades.

As a good reader learner takes note of new information, explicitly stated or implied by the text, the reader reflects on the learning and poses questions that have been evoked by the information presented in the text. In the final column, the reader learner considers what resources may be used to search for answers. And the process starts again. Because “Reading to Learn and Confirm” moves beyond the literal and nudges the reader for deeper thought, this organizer can become a scaffold for writing.


Blachowicz, C., & Ogle, D. (2001). Reading Comprehension: Strategies for Independent Learners. New York, NY: Guildford Press.

Coleman, D. (2010, Mar 12). 2:57. Retrieved from

Egan, M. (1999). Reflections on effective use of graphic organizers. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. p. 641-645.

Gallagher, K. (2004). Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Harvey, S. (1998). Nonfiction Matters: Reading, Writing, and Research in Grades 3-8. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Johnson, H., & Freedman, L. (2005). Content Area Literature Circles. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

Ogle, D.M. (2009). Creating contexts for inquiry: From KWL to PRC2. Knowledge Quest,38(1). p. 56-61.

Ogle, D.M. (1986). K-W-L: A teaching model that develops active reading of expository text. Reading Teacher, 39. p. 564-570.

Pressley, M. (2006). Reading Instruction that Works. New York, NY: Guildord Press.

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