Monday, December 31, 2012

Post for the week of December 31, 2012

Post for the week of December 31, 2012

Happy 2013, everyone!  Have a happy and healthy new year!

I came across this resource recently, and I wanted to share it with you.  It's a form that helps teachers and schools analyze the texts they are using in their classrooms. 

Following the guidelines of the Common Core might cause some changes in texts.  I like this template because it asks all the right questions in the same place: Lexile level, genre, how the text will be used, which standards are being targeted by using the text, appropriate vocabulary to use, connections to other content areas, etc.

It would take a good chunk of time to fill this form out, but I bet it would bring to light some concerns we are dealing with in terms of texts we are using.  The new year is a great time to go through the book closet and see what you own that's not being used.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Post for the week of December 17, 2012

Post for the week of December 17, 2012

The blog is taking next week off for Winter Break.  Have a relaxing vacation, teachers!  You really, really deserve it, especially after such a difficult month for all of us.  Time to reflect and refresh!  Read a book for enjoyment!

The Common Core and PARCC require a great shift for the types of writing teachers traditionally teach.  There is less of an emphasis on the following ideas: narrative, personal response to literature, opinion without support, isolated prompts.  There is more of an emphasis on the following ideas: argument, textual evidence, research, writing to texts.

I am growing concerned that we are being too limiting in our idea of what "argument writing" is.  It is certainly not just PRO vs. CON.  It teachers are turning "argument" into "PRO vs. CON, pick a position, and write a five-paragraph essay about it," we might be moving in the wrong direction.  Shallow lists of reasons are rarely engaging for an audience.  Changing the types of writing we do will require us to learn some new skills and ideas about writing.

As a popular book is titled, "Everything's an Argument."  From an editorial in a newspaper to a magazine advertisement for cereal to a political campaign, "argument" is everywhere!

Here's a great site from UNC Chapel Hill that explores argument and how if your essay doesn't have one, it's not an essay!  Underlining a sentence does not make it a thesis!

There are many different modes of discourse.  I think of them as gears writers use while driving their essays.  Think about how many of these modes can happen in one essay: narrative, description, argument, compare/contrast, cause and effect, definition, synthesis, analysis, and on and on.

Now's the time to embrace some new ideas and add some new "argument" essays to your bag of tricks. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Post for the Week of December 10, 2012

Post for the Week of December 10, 2012

How much should secondary students be reading?  Traditionally, middle and high school teachers have had long lists of novels and plays to read, sometimes up to twelve or more.  The teachers feel they have to "cover" these books, sometimes dragging students through texts.

Look at this chart below, from PARCC.  It gives us suggestions on book choices and quantity.

Sample Model Content Framework Chart

The Model Content Frameworks permit educators the flexibility to shape the content within the modules in any way that suit their desired purposes and even re-order the modules themselves. Because the knowledge and skills embedded across the four modules address all the standards for a given grade level, the order in which the four modules may be used is not critical. What changes from module to module is the focus and emphasis on the types of texts read and written about; what remains constant across all four modules is the cultivation of students’ literacy skills in preparation for college and career readiness as well as the future PARCC assessments.[2]

This chart notes a sequence for ELA texts (notice that science, math, social studies, and other subject that require extensive reading aren't included here--remember the 70/30 split across a grade level!).  The chart shows FOUR major works ("extended texts").  Just four!  And TWO of them are informational texts!

This change represents a major shift for us under the Common Core and PARCC.  Putting a serious amount of time into picking these four major texts is important (use Appendix B for books with already-approved lexile levels).  Of course, you can still teach minor and shorter texts, but it would be most effective if the shorter texts connected to the major work.  Quality over quality is the goal: as long as we meet the standards, it doesn't matter which high-quality texts we use.

Charts like these from PARCC are also helpful because they indicate ways to re-organize what we do; for example, completing four research projects a year is something that will really change ELA classrooms. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Post for the week of December 3, 2012

Post for the week of December 3, 2012

The Common Core only works if we all work together.

This is a mantra I keep repeating to myself. When teachers say that the students come unprepared for the level of work required at that grade level, I think this problem can only be solved by all teachers, Pre-K-16, working together.

The complexity of literacy skills required at each level can only be accomplished if everyone does his/her part to maintain rigor and relevance at his/her grade level.

At third grade, one standard (RI 1) is

Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

At 11-12 grade, the same standard is

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

How do we get from one to the other? We have to team vertically. There are six (grades 4-10) years between these two goals! A lot has to happen during those years to make it happen, and we're all responsible.
To move from this 3rd grade standard to this 11-12 grade standard, a lot has to happen:
  • increased text complexity
  • instruction in Academic Language to be able to understand the new expectation
  • LOTS of reading practice
  • assignments that require analysis, not just retelling the plot
  • instruction in ways to find, understand, and apply textual evidence

Here are some tools to help:
This document traces the changes in the Frameworks.  If your district is in the midst of aligning, this document can help.
And this document is the new PARCC ELA Framework (August 2012).  It conveniently shows you the changes between grade levels as you work.
Sit with your literacy team and see how every year's assignments get more rigorous to meet the standards.  In a few years, you'll be seeing results at your grade level!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Post for the week of November 26, 2012

Post for the week of November 26, 2012

The MCAS Transition is an issue close to all of us.  Please take a look at this information from our Assessment folks here at DESE.  Feel free to email me at if you have any other questions!

Regarding MCAS Changes in Grades 4 and 7 in Writing

Students taking the Composition assessment will NOT be writing in response to text on the 2013 or 2014 ELA Composition assessment. (It’s true that the previous transition chart said they would be. But that is not the case.) It remains the case that students at grades 4 and grade 7 may be asked to respond to any of the modes (narrative, expository, or opinion/persuasive) listed in the new framework, and that we are not identifying that mode in advance of the Composition assessment. (More on that below.)

Please note that the Grade 10 Composition assessment will continue to focus on literary analysis.

The testing experience for students taking ELA MCAS will be very similar in 2013 and 2014 to what it’s been in years previous. The shifts, to the extent that they will be manifest on MCAS, will be virtually imperceptible to most students—as teachers will be able to see when we release the 2013 test items.

This is not to say that the new standards won’t change anything at all in ELA. In keeping with the emphasis of the new framework on the importance of exposing students to informational texts across all grade levels—and to fostering literacy explicitly in Science and History/Social Science—the character of what were formerly viewed as “non-fiction” passages will be tend to become more “informational” over the course of this transition period.

Our Reading Comprehension assessments will continue to test students’ comprehension through items that assess explicit comprehension and inference-making; recognition of author’s purposes and craft/technique (in grade level appropriate ways); vocabulary and conventions (in grade level appropriate ways), and require students to support answers on open-response items with support drawn from the passage. This is what we’ve always done.

At Grades 4, 7, and 10, as you know, students are also be required to take the MCAS Composition assessment (i.e., “long comp”). We have posted an updated transition chart for ELA here.  It contains information about the changes we’re making in keeping with the new framework. Please note that nothing about the Grade 10 test will be changing. As the competency determination assessment, that test is remaining as it’s been since the program’s inception, and the Grade 10 Composition will continue to assess literary analysis.

At Grades 4 & 7, as the transition chart notes, we are maintaining the position than the writing prompt may involve any of the three modes of writing listed in the new standards. The Department will not be posting sample prompts or student work beyond what’s already on the website from previous years. The scoring guides and the scoring process will remain the same.

Whether the mode is being assessed narrative, expository, or opinion (at G4)/persuasive (at G7), the expectation will remain that students will develop responses based on the own views and experiences. Scoring will remain focused on 1) how well they develop their ideas (i.e., topic development) and 2) the command of conventions they demonstrate in their writing (i.e., English conventions). Students will not be scored on how well they “write to the mode.” No additional criteria will be added to scoring process.

The overarching point here, as noted generally, is that the students’ writing experience this year will be vastly more similar to than different from the experiences of students in previous years.

We have followed all of the established MCAS procedures in developing item and writing prompts for the 2013 and 2014 tests. All of our Composition prompts (like all of our other MCAS test items) have been reviewed and approved for use by the teachers on our grade level Assessment Development Committees; that is, they have been deemed by Massachusetts public school educators at that grade level to be prompts that students at that grade level will be able to respond to effectively. The prompts have also been field tested to validate those judgments. Again, this is in keeping with long-established MCAS development procedures.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Post for the week of November 19, 2012

Post for the week of November 19, 2012

I just got back from the NCTE National Convention in Las Vegas.  It's in Boston next year, so save your money for all the books from the exhibitors!

This year, you can browse all the materials from the conference online!  Visit and search for any topic you want.
For example, here is 100 Ways to Teach Shakespeare in Middle and High School. Very practical and timely!  Shakespeare and "Foundational American Documents" are the only texts mentioned specifically in the new Frameworks.
You can also go to Twitter and search #NCTE12 for all the tweets from the conference with links to materials and references.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Post for the week of November 12, 2012

Post for the week of November 12, 2012

The Common Core State Standards provide us with new levels of text complexity.  On this site, the authors provide us with suggested texts for the high school grade levels:

What do you notice about this list?

  • The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1592)
  • “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1817)
  • “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe (1845)
  • “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry (1906)
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
  • The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1975)

  • “Speech to the Second Virginia Convention” by Patrick Henry (1775)
  • “Farewell Address” by George Washington (1796)
  • “Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln (1863)
  • “State of the Union Address” by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1941)
  • “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964)
  • “Hope, Despair and Memory” by Elie Wiesel (1997)
  • “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats (1820)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1848)
  • “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson (1890)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
  • A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959)
  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)
  • Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776)
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
  • “Society and Solitude” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1857)
  • “The Fallacy of Success” by G. K. Chesterton (1909)
  • Black Boy by Richard Wright (1945)
  • “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell (1946)
  • “Take the Tortillas Out of Your Poetry” by Rudolfo Anaya (1995)

Someone I was with recently noticed that the suggested texts don't align with a particular "curriculum:" they are a mixture of World Literature, American Literature, and British Literature.

This mixing leads me to believe that the student outcomes articulated about the Common Core can be reached with ANY text, so the traditional plan of studying literature in the old categories no longer exists!  This realization might be a shock to the system, but it actually is freeing because teachers have more choices. 

In short, enjoy teaching the texts you know, experiment with new texts, and keep the rigor high.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Post for the week of November 5, 2012

Post for the week of November 5, 2012

I've been doing some work on informational text (used to be called "nonfiction") and why it's important that we change to reading more of it.  The Common Core really creates a shift in terms of how much information text students should be reading at all levels.

Since assessment drives everything (in good ways and in bad), how much informational text is on our assessments?  This is what I figured out when I looked at it recently.

MCAS—at least 50%
AP English50% (AP Language—11th grade)
SAT Subject Tests—95%
PARCC Sample Items—about 50%
NECAP—11th grade is 50%
I would conclude that the push for informational text will help students on current assessments and make them more prepared for college and career!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Post for the week of October 29, 2012

Post for the week of October 29, 2012

Hope everyone made it through Sandy safely!

Let me introduce you to the Writing Standards in Action project!

For this project, the DESE collected writing samples from around the Commonwealth and then compared them with the new writing standards to develop a way to show how student writing meets the standards.

As a teacher, I frequently wondered "what does good student writing look like at this grade?"  Now we know!

There are even unmarked samples, so you and your teams can look at the student writing together and draw your own conclusions.

Check it out!  Right now, only grade 5 is ready, but much more is to come. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Post for the week of October 22, 2012

Post for the week of October 22, 2012

Now that all the data is out from the spring 2012 administration of MCAS, it's time to analyze the results.  While I think it's possible to over-read the MCAS results (because it's just one to three days over the course of a whole school year, for which you probably have many other formative and summative assessments), it's still very useful to discuss questions students excelled at or missed or left blank.

I'm finding that it's easier than ever to find the data I need.  Under "school/district profiles," there's a lot of free and detailed information to read for each school.

Now, you don't need an EDW (Educator Data Warehouse) login to see much of the information a school would need to look at their students' performance and work on improvement.

For example, I've put together a sheet that's helping me to take apart every MCAS exam, question by question.  I find that when I have all the info on one sheet, it's saves me the time and frustration of moving from document to document and looking up codes.

On the sheet, I have

Exam (for example, 4th grade ELA)
Question (cut and pasted out)
Standard the question addresses (under the "assessment" tab, link in the left hand column, "item by item")
Where the standard is in the green book (in case you want to go back to it)
The state's percentage correct
The school's percentage correct
The difference (+ means better than the average, whereas - means below the average)
And the percent of students who left this question blank

Using this outline, I can get a good sense of student performance on every single question.

If you'd like this document, a one-page Word file, drop me an email at

Monday, October 15, 2012

Post for the week of October 15, 2012

Post for the week of October 15, 2012

Gary Hayes’s Social Media Count

This weekend, I went to a conference sponsored by the National Writing Project, and I heard about this great site—Gary Hayes’sSocial Media Count.  When you go to the link, the clock starts running, and you get a sense of how many of the following events happened since you’ve been on the site:

«  Likes and Comments on Facebook
«  Apple and Android App Downloads
«  Blog Posts Published
«  Tweets sent on Twitter
«  Videos watched on YouTube
«  Google+ Buttons Pressed
«  Photos Uploaded to Facebook
«  Emails Sent
«  And More!

For example, within ten seconds, over 300,000 likes and comments have been made on Facebook!

I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate how important teaching digital literacy is for our learners.  Students are interacting with the world using reading, writing, speaking, and listening in ways we never could have predicted twenty years ago.  The need for instruction on social media and visual media (videos and advertisements) grows more urgent every day. 

Just think of how the need for these new standards (these are from SL grades 11-12) is evident on the site:

1. Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
a. Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.
b. Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.
c. Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.
d. Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information
2.  Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data
3.  Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

In short, the skills emphasized in the Common Core are applicable to both academic life and real life.  Our students are capable of interacting with their worlds so fluidly.  Let’s catch up to them!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Post for the week of October 8, 2012

Post for the week of October 8, 2012

This week, I'm going to share two resources from the DESE Web site that teachers and schools can use to learn more about their data and the new Frameworks. 

First, the DESE Web site has a searchable database of the standards.  You can use it to search the standards by keywords.  This might be useful if you're having a vertical teaming meeting on poetry, for instance.  You can search the standards by "poetry" and then export the results into different formats (Word and Excel).  Having the right standards on the same page can really help facilitate a good discussion about teaching and learning.

Next, many people know about the "School/District Profiles" tab at the top of the DESE Web site, but they might not know how useful it is.

Under the "assessments" tab, there are a lot of useful resources--MCAS performance at each performance level vs. the state (advanced, proficient, needs improvement, warning/failing), annual comparisons (how MCAS achievement has changed over the past few years), and item by item MCAS results (print the test to see which items your students did well on) are just a few of the available options.  Teachers can easily look at their most recent data without access to a more sophisticated database. 

If you read this blog, make sure you check out our data blog too!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Post for the week of October 2, 2012

Post for the week of October 2, 2012

As people start to analyze their MCAS results, here's a document that might help.  Figuring out what standard an items refers to takes some time, but it's worth it!  See below.

For example, item #9 on the 2012 Grade 3 Reading test was L.3.04.  This is what it means:

L = Language Anchor Standard
3 = Vocabulary Acqusition and Use
04 = Standard 4

4.     Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning word and phrases based on grade 3 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
a.     Use sentence-level context as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
b.     Determine the meaning of the new word formed when a known affix is added to a known word (e.g., agreeable/disagreeable, comfortable/uncomfortable, care/careless, heat/preheat).
c.     Use a known root word as a clue to the meaning of an unknown word with the same root (e.g., company, companion).
d.             Use glossaries or beginning dictionaries, both print and digital, to determine or clarify the precise meaning of key words and phrases.

See below for how to figure out the middle number in other items.

Cracking The Code in Item Analysis: What does the middle number (cluster) mean?

Each standard code consists of three components separated by periods (e.g., R.1.03):
R, W, or L
Reading, Writing, or Language anchor standard
1, 2, 3, or 4
Cluster (e.g., Key Ideas and Details is cluster 1 for Reading
Standard number

Page 13                       Reading Pre-K to 5 (1-4)
1.      Key Ideas and Details
2.      Craft and Structure
3.      Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
4.      Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

Pages 20-21                 Foundational Reading Skills Pre-K to 5 (1-4)
1.      Print Concepts
2.      Phonological Awareness
3.      Phonics and Word Recognition
4.      Fluency

Page 23                       Writing Pre-K to 5 (1-4)
1.      Text Type and Purposes
2.      Production and Distribution of Writing
3.      Research to Build and Present Knowledge
4.      Range of Writing

Page 29                       Speaking and Listening Pre-K to 5 (1-2)
1.      Comprehension and Collaboration
2.      Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

Page 33                       Language Pre-K to 5 (1-3)
1.      Conventions of Standard English
2.      Knowledge of Language
3.      Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

Page 47                       Reading 6-12 (1-4)
1.      Key Ideas and Details
2.      Craft and Structure
3.      Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
4.      Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

Page 53                       Writing 6-12 (1-4)
1.      Text Type and Purposes
2.      Production and Distribution of Writing
3.      Research to Build and Present Knowledge
4.      Range of Writing

Page 60                       Speaking and Listening (1-2)
1.      Comprehension and Collaboration
2.      Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

Page 64                       Language (1-3)
1.      Conventions of Standard English
2.      Knowledge of Language
3.      Vocabulary Acquisition and Use


Page 73                       Reading in the Content Area (1-4)
1.      Key Ideas and Details
2.      Craft and Structure
3.      Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
4.      Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

Page 76                       Writing in the Content Area (1-4)
1.      Text Type and Purposes
2.      Production and Distribution of Writing
3.      Research to Build and Present Knowledge
4.      Range of Writing

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Post for the week of September 24, 2012

Post for the week of September 24, 2012

This week, the DESE released this document to help schools and districts continue their efforts to implement the new Frameworks:

At this point, districts and schools should be well into their efforts to make sure everyone's on board with the new standards.  This document pulls together the most up-to-date information out there. 

Let me walk you through the highlights:

PARCC has made their Web site more interactive, so you can search through the new version (2.0, from August 2012) of the Model Curriculum Frameworks.

PARCC Prototype Items (the first draft of what could potentially be new testing) are up on its Web site. 

There are 24 K-16 educators participating in the PARCC Educator Leader Fellows program who will be giving presentations on PARCC around the state. 

A rubric for evaluating units and lesson for their alignment with the Common Core is forthcoming.

Information on text sets, student writing samples, and new PD courses are coming. 

On EDWIN (an online resource for Race to the Top districts) will have Model Curriculum Units and Maps soon. 

And much more!  Please check out this link for all these helpful resources!

If you have a question, don't hesitate to ask.  Email me at

Monday, September 17, 2012

Post for the week of September 17, 2012

Post for the week of September 17, 2012

Recently, I was confronted with a few standards from the new Common Core that gave me pause:

Reading Informational 11-12 grade band #8

Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).

Reading Informational 11-12 grade band #9

Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features

Wow!  So, are ELA teachers supposed to be teaching what traditionally used to be social studies material?  Check out this "Common Core Myths" document:

Myth: English teachers will be asked to teach science and social studies reading materials.
Fact: With the Common Core ELA Standards, English teachers will still teach their students literature as well as literary non-fiction. However, because college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature, these standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write, and research across the curriculum, including in history and science. These goals can be achieved by ensuring that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas.

Myth: The Standards don’t have enough emphasis on fiction/literature.
Fact: The Standards require certain critical content for all students, including: classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s Founding Documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare. Appropriately, the remaining crucial decisions about what content should be taught are left to state and local determination. In addition to content coverage, the Standards require that students systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Researching the background of this standard really made me think about my own strengths and limitations as an educator.  I need to beef up my background knowledge on texts (the seminal US texts) I haven't taught in the past to provide students with a well-rounded view of literacy.  When we raise the rigor for students, sometimes we have to raise it for ourselves.

I'd encourage all of us to give a close read of the standards and focus on something with which we're not entirely comfortable.  Don't be surprised; dig in!  What seems intimidating at first may hold great possibility!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Post for the week of September 10, 2012

Post for the week of September 10, 2012

One big issue that has come up with the Common Core is the idea of text complexity.  Text complexity refers to the difficulty of the texts students are reading. 

Currently, students are under-prepared for the reading they have to do in college and career: it's too long, dense, complex, etc.  If we build a "staircase of complexity" (providing appropriately challenging reading for students K-12), they will be better prepared for what they will face. 

The promotion of a discussion of "text complexity" does NOT mean Moby Dick should be taught in 7th grade.  It DOES mean that we need to be more deliberate in our text choices.  Leveling texts is out; the new thinking is that teachers should scaffold their instruction so that ALL students (ELL students, those below the grade level reading, etc.) can have access to complex texts and rigorous instruction.

For more information on text complexity, see the following sources: ( allows you to enter a book and see the lexile level and how it matches current Common Core lexile levels) (lexile grade bands for the Common Core) (a list of books that meet the lexile levels) (Appendix A, where lexiles are discussed) (Appendix B, lists of grade-level appropriate texts)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Post for the week of September 3, 2012

Post for the week of September 3, 2012

For those who are now back to school, welcome back!  Best wishes for a great school year!

Argument vs. Persuasion

A lot has been made in the Common Core commentary about the distinction between argument and persuasion.  (<-----Click on the link to get more info.)

I've always been a bit taken back about the press this issue is getting.  I've always taught "argument" using Aristotle's triangle.

ETHOS --- The credibility of the speaker.  Mitt Romney uses an ethical appeal when he says he can fix the economy because he has business experience. 

PATHOS--Emotional appeal.  When the speaker told a touching story about her puppy, the people in the crowd were moved to tears and immediately funded the new animal shelter.

LOGOS--Logical appeal.  Barack Obama used polls and statistics to support his claim that he created new jobs. 

I think the new emphasis on "argument" as logic and not emotions comes from the way teachers have traditionally framed assignments on "argument:" "Write an essay convincing your parents to let you buy a car . . . "  When students use a too familiar audience, they tend to use mostly emotional appeals and not logical ones.

Try changing assignments around.  Write a piece for one audience.  Then change the audience and see what changes you have to make to the appeals.  Convince your parents of something.  Then convince the mayor.  What might you say differently and why?

Instead of ignoring or de-emphasizing emotional appeals, I think we should be teaching a more well-rounded view of argument using more than one type of appeal.  The Common Core and PARCC demand it!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Post for the week of August 27, 2012

Post for the week of August 27, 2012

I just read this great article, titled "Two Common Core Blunders to Avoid--and How to do It" (thanks to Darren Burris for tweeting it--look for him on Twitter).

This post makes some great points.  Don't miss-read the 70/30 split as the English teacher's problem--a whole school need to get involved to promote informational text appropriately. 

I would suggest that school leaders collect and start to analyze how much reading is taking place in all courses.  Once you have that data, start to re-plan what is read and when and why and how.

We have to work together to make the literacy goals of the Common Core visible in our schools.

Monday, August 20, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: PARCC's Drafted Testing Items Online Today

BREAKING NEWS: PARCC's Drafted Testing Items Online Today

PARCC released sample testing items online today for public comment!  There are questions, notes, and rubrics.  Check it out! 

There's also a place to sign up for email updates so you can stay on top of this news!

Post for the week of August 20, 2012

Post for the week of August 20, 2012

If part of your "back to school" process is refreshing yourself or your school or district on the Common Core State Standards, here's a list of a few links (only four links, and the reading is short!) that might help.  The links are about the shifts that are important to know.

I put this list together on which is a great site for me.  It's a place to make a list of links and then share the list.  This site helps me avoid lots of cutting and pasting of links when I want to share them.

Please feel free to send me feedback in the comments area or at  Thanks!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Post for the week of August 13, 2012

I've been writing about annotation, so I thought I'd take some time and write about practical applications.

What is annotation? Annotation means taking notes when you read, either on the work itself or on post-its or on a separate sheet of paper

Why annotate?

1. It makes you pay attention and stay awake.
2. It encourages you to ask questions while you read and understand new ideas.
3. It helps you to have something to say in class.
4. It helps you remember ideas for quizzes.
5. It saves you a lot of time when you have to write a paper on a book.

Post-It Note Annotation Activity (one approach to active reading)

Please provide at least one post-it note for every five pages (or more or fewer, depending upon the activity and the student).  Students who prove they read very well without stopping for "strategies" shouldn't stop!

Information on the post it:
1)  A page number (so you know what page you were on when you have to move the post-it)
2)  A symbol (a little picture)
3)  A comment (a few words or a sentence)

Exclamation Point—Something that surprised you
Smile—Something that made you laugh
Question mark—Something that confused you
Star—Something you thought was important
Forward Arrow—Something that seems like foreshadowing
Backwards Arrow—Something that seems like a flashback
Clock—Shows a tense shift (goes from past to present, for example)
Skull and Bones—Something bad happens!
V—Means there’s a vocabulary word here that you need to look up

Also Google “annotations on Web pages” for some good free digital options!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Post for the week of August 6, 2012

Post for the week of August 6, 2012

The Joys of Summer Vacation

One aspect of ELA teaching that is emphasized by the Common Core is the reading and writing connection.  Deemphasize open writing prompts with no reference to a text.  Instead of "what did you do on your summer vacation?" find a writing passage about a summer vacation and ask students to 1) summarize the main ideas and 2) compare and contrast his/her summer vacation to the passage.  Then the assignment becomes both writing AND reading practice!  Instead of narrative, turn the assignment to argument.

Here's one book for younger students:

Here's an essay for high school students:


Another important aspect of comprehension that will have to change because of Common Core is improved teaching of annotation and note-taking strategies.  Taking a more active role in reading promotes comprehension.  While it's great to read for fun (this week is a great time to read poolside!), school reading should take place sitting up in a chair with a pen or pencil in hand.

Here's a cool lesson from The New York Times:

I have also found that if you collect a student's "notes," he/she will write anything on a page to make it look like he/she took "good notes."  What are "good notes" anyway?  Ever see a book completely highlighted?  That shows a lack of comprehension.

I would argue that you can get a sense of a student's note-taking abilities by assigning writing that the student could complete with the help of his/her notes.  Or have a one-on-one "reading conference," where students talk with you about what they annotated and why.

It's not the notes that matter; it's the attention and focus accorded to the task while reading.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Post for the week of July 30, 2012

Post for the week of July 30, 2012

One of my colleagues has recently been spending time delving into page nine of the new frameworks deeply.

On page nine, the writers stress the “capacities of the literate individual” (some people are calling them the “CLIs”).  While the math frameworks have the eight math practices for overall guidance, maybe page nine is an equivalent statement for ELA teachers. 

This page explores the idea of what makes students College and Career Ready (the "RCC" in "PARCC").  What do we want students to know and be able to do when they graduate from high school?  What do “literate” people do?

 1.  They demonstrate independence.
 Literate individuals can tackle texts by themselves and will keep tackling for the rest of their lives. 

2.  They build strong content knowledge.
Literate individuals have good questions and work hard to research to find the answers.   

3.  They respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
Literate individuals are flexible, shifting as their rhetorical elements shift.

4.  They comprehend as well as critique.
(I think the order could be switched here—comprehend first, then evaluate!)

5.  They value evidence.
Literate individuals have backup to support their ideas.       

6.  They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
Literate individuals are digital natives BUT they can still use paper and pencil when required.

7.  They come to understand other perspectives and cultures.
Literate individuals don’t necessarily agree with everyone’s argument, but they can understand it and work with it respectfully.

Page nine gives us a lot to think about!  If we share these values, we should share them with students!

Email me your ideas about the CLIs at