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!