by Carol-Ricker-Wilson, Education Officer, EQAO
Before working with EQAO, Carol Ricker-Wilson was an English/Literacy Consultant for the Toronto District School Board and former course director at York University’s Faculty of Education.
"As an EQAO education officer, I am involved in every aspect of the assessment cycle, from development, administration, scoring to the final reporting of results. During the scoring phase, I work closely with educators from across the province on the language component of the Grade 3 and Grade 6 assessments, and on the Grade 10 Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT)."
These assessments require students to demonstrate three reading skills: reading for explicit information, or reading on the lines; making inferences, or
reading between the lines; and making connections, or reading beyond the lines. A key observation gained from examining student responses, and scoring data related to all three assessments is that students struggle particularly with the skill of making relevant and specific connections between what they read and their own ideas. But this skill, which requires students to infer, interpret, analyze, evaluate and integrate information, is essential to full reading comprehension and critical thinking.
connections questions assess students’ ability to integrate knowledge from
outside a reading selection with information provided by the selection. Where does this knowledge come from? Certainly from personal knowledge and experience, but also from the subject, or content areas, of the
Ontario Curriculum. For example, from science, students gain an understanding of such concepts as “habitat” (Grade 4) and “sustainable ecosystems” (Grade 9). From social studies, they acquire knowledge of First Nations life and history (Grade 6). From physical and health education (Grades 1–8), they learn about the value of regular exercise.
"It’s important to note that EQAO does not assess students on their content-area knowledge per se. EQAO’s assessments are informed by and aligned with the Ontario Curriculum expectations up to the appropriate grade level of the assessment. Consequently, for both reading selections and writing prompts, EQAO assessments draw on the knowledge base students are developing from the Ontario Curriculum. See EQAO’s Curriculum Connections in Language: Reading and Writing and OSSLT Curriculum Connections for examples of this alignment. In addition, assessments draw from common experiences, such as writing an announcement about a fun fair or explaining the value of learning a second language.
Citing Colleen Buddy in Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader’s Workshop (1997), authors Keene and Zimmermann identify three types of reading connections: text-to-self connections, text-to-text connections and text-to-world connections.
In these types of connections, the text acts as a springboard for students to articulate a personal experience with a subject or issue. A typical text-to-self connection might begin with the phrase “This reminds me of a time when I . . .” While such connections can deepen engagement with the subject of a reading text, they can also encourage students to extend ideas or move away from a text itself. Scorers of EQAO assessments have observed such drift. They have additionally observed that students attempt text-to-self connections when not prompted to provide them. For example, on the 2012 primary (Grade 3) assessment, after reading the poem “That Was Summer,” students were prompted to “Describe how the speaker feels about summer. Use details from the text to support your answer.” A partially correct answer looked like this:
“I think the speaker feels happy about summer. I am happy about summer, too.”
The first sentence indicates that the student understood a main idea of the poem, but the response lacks details from the poem and fails to connect any details from the poem to the student’s personal experience of summer. In short, adequate textual evidence in this text-to-self connection is missing.
In this type of reading connection, students draw on knowledge from one text to better understand another. Prompted with “What is the relation between these texts?” a student might begin by responding
“The article explained what a virus is, and the film about the first smallpox inoculations showed what a virus can do to the body and to a whole city. I now know that . . .”
While EQAO questions do not ask for text-to-text connections, in Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, educational researcher Robert Marzano stresses the importance of such connections. Marzano found that identifying similarities and differences between texts is a high-yield learning strategy that greatly benefits students across all grade and subject levels. And it helps build content-area knowledge.
Text-to-world connections require students to apply their knowledge and experience to a text. Let’s look at three examples of how EQAO connections draw on and invite students to use their content-area, or academic, knowledge.
Example 1 comes from a 2011 Grade 3 open-response reading prompt for the reading selection “An Underwater Apartment Building”and is an example of a thorough response.
The students’ own relevant ideas (as per EQAO openresponse reading rubric) could have been drawn from prior knowledge about human communities from the social studies curriculum and/or habitats and animal communities based on previous learning from the science curriculum. The student directly connected the title to the several purposes of a community and provided sufficient and relevant support from the text to draw a conclusion. The student integrated knowledge from outside the reading with the text itself.
EQAO short- and long-writing prompts also might direct students to draw upon and apply their knowledge about a subject. In example 2, a 2011 Grade 6 writing prompt asked students to imagine themselves as explorers.
There were many ways of responding to this question (e.g., describing the adventure of trekking to the cave, the cave itself or what was found in it). Students could draw on—or make connections to—their viewing and reading knowledge of the adventure-story genre and its elements, based on knowledge from the language curriculum. For content, they could highlight the work of explorers, studied in the social studies curriculum. The question also invited students to use their knowledge of early civilizations, drawn from social studies. But whatever their approach, in order to provide content with relevant and sufficient detail, students benefitted if they had internalized these questions: “What do I know about adventure stories? What do I know about ancient civilizations? Where did I learn this? Ah—I can write about discovering Aboriginal-Canadian or Mayan objects. So where I set my story is also important.” See the 2011 scoring guide for the range of responses to this question.
In example 3, a 2012 OSSLT open-response reading prompt for a dialogue about rap artist Roland Pemberton’s appointment as Edmonton Poet Laureate asked “Why is Pemberton’s appointment newsworthy?” Students benefitted if they applied their understanding of journalism and the role of newspapers in society, knowledge drawn from the media studies strand of the Grades 1–8 language and Grades 9–12 English curricula.
The student combines relevant information from the text with a personal understanding of what makes for newsworthiness. Again, the student integrated knowledge from outside the reading with the text itself. See the 2012 scoring guide for the range of responses to this question.
Ultimately, the larger the student’s prior knowledge base, and the more he or she is taught to activate it, the more likely it is that he or she will be able to make substantial text-to-world connections. And research indicates that reading extensively provides students with the vocabulary, concepts and knowledge base (Cunningham and Stanovich, 1998) to do so. Additionally, reading extensively offers vicarious experiences, such as riding a horse or visiting Ottawa, to students who have not had these opportunities.
Useful questions that students should internalize during and after reading—or viewing—in order to make textto- world connections are “What is this text about? What do I already know about the subject? How does that help me understand what I’m reading? What knowledge do I have that relates to the questions I’m being asked about this reading?”
A key concern for scorers of EQAO assessments is that students sometimes neglect or forget their content-area knowledge base when they are attempting to relate a text to “their own ideas”—even though drawing on this knowledge could help them provide more robust responses. But this is not simply an “EQAO” skill. It is a cross-curricular skill that is crucial for academic success at all levels. Additionally, this process leads to a more engaged experience in which students develop deeper understanding and enjoyment of texts, which is one of the fundamental purposes of literacy.
The author wishes to thank Joanne Reid, OSSLT program manager, and Lorraine Giroux, School Support and Outreach team education officer, for their contributions.
Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1998). What reading does for the mind. American Educator, 22(1–2), 8–15.
Marzano, R. J. (2004). Building background knowledge for academic achievement: Research on what works in schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J. & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Keene, E. O. & Zimmermann S. (1997). Mosaic of thought: Teaching comprehension in a reader’s workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat (Producer). (2006, October 25). Reciprocal teaching. In Effective Instruction in Reading Comprehension [Webcast]. Retrieved from
Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. (2010, September). Integrated curriculum: Increasing relevance while maintaining accountability (What Works? Research into Practice: Research Monograph 28). Retrieved from