Monday, February 25, 2013

Curriculum Units Presentation

Curriculum Units Presentation

These presentations were mentioned in the Commissioner's Weekly Update.  Please follow the link to sign up!

What’s New in Curriculum? Exploring Two Model Curriculum Units

These presentations will provide an overview of the Model Curriculum Units project, the curriculum design model used, highlights of the units developed K-12, and a deeper dive into two publicly released Model Units in literacy and mathematics. The two units are examples that illustrate shifts in the new ELA and mathematics standards. Participants will examine the units for evidence of the shifts and alignment to the new standards. Participants are encouraged to attend this event in teams. 
Target Audience: Literacy and mathematics curriculum teams including coordinators, coaches, specialists and department heads

Region: Southeast
Date: March 12, 2013
Time: 9:00 AM -1:00 PM

Region: Northeast
Date: March 19, 2013 (snow date, March 20, 2013)
Time: 9:00 AM – 1:00 pm

Region: Berkshires
Date: March 21, 2013
Time: 12:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Region: Pioneer Valley
Date: March 22, 2013
Time: 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Region: Central MA
Date: March 27, 2013
Time: 8:30 AM - 12:00 PM

Post for the week of February 25, 2013

Post for the week of February 25, 2013

Get ready, everyone.  March 4, 2013 is National Grammar Day!  Enjoy this fun link that celebrates the event.

Also see this great piece on teaching grammar in the age of the Common Core.

It seems to me that grammar instruction is now more spread out than it was in the past.  For example, here are the standards for grades 9-10:

1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
a. Use parallel structure.*
b. Use various types of phrases (noun, verb, adjectival, adverbial, participial, prepositional, absolute) and clauses (independent, dependent; noun, relative, adverbial) to convey specific meanings and add variety and interest to writing or presentations.
2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
a. Use a semicolon (and perhaps a conjunctive adverb) to link two or more closely related independent clauses.
b. Use a colon to introduce a list or quotation.
c. Spell correctly. 

And here they are for grades 11-12:

1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
a. Apply the understanding that usage is a matter of convention, can change over time, and is sometimes contested.
b. Resolve issues of complex or contested usage, consulting references (e.g., Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, Garner’s Modern American Usage) as needed.
2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing
a. Observe hyphenation conventions.
b. Spell correctly.

People are often shocked when they see how few grammar standards there are at the older grades, especially considering how much time high school English teachers tend to spend on grammar. 

At first, seeing how few standards there are for grammar in high school seems like terrific news!  All this content has been moved to the lower grades!  Not so fast . . .

On page 41 of the MA standards, there's a chart that explains why we need to keep reinforcing grammar:

The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) in Language standards 1–3, are particularly likely to require

continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.

So, even though a term appears in the lower grades does not mean students have mastered it as texts get harder.  For example, subject-verb agreement and subject-antecedent agreement first appear in grade 3, but we know students will need help with it as what they read and write become more sophisticated.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Post for the week of February 18, 2013

Post for the week of February 18, 2013

Happy February break!  Read a book for fun!  Here's my most recent read.  This hefty book of informational text is wonderfully crafted and relevant to education.

There are a lot of literacy events coming up soon:

The MRA (Massachusetts Reading Association) Annual Conference is April 4 and 5 in Quincy.

The annual NEATE (New England Association of Teachers of English) event will not be held this year as the group prepares for NCTE in Boston on November 21-24, 2013.

Just two weeks from now is the RIWP (Rhode Island Writing Project) conference in Providence, RI.

If you're interested in travelling this summer, here are events for English teachers at the Smithsonian and all over the country through the National Endowment for the Humanities.

And, here, just for fun, is an article from the New York Times about teaching literacy and vocabulary in physical education curricula.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Post for the week of February 11, 2013

Post for the week of February 11, 2013

Lately I've been reading about "balanced literacy," a term in the field that means different things to different people.  It seems like an approach that is closely linked to the Common Core: student-centered, rigorous instruction that demands students to think critically about reading, writing, speaking, and listening. 

I've also been re-thinking Atul Gawande's excellent book, The Checklist Manifesto.  In it, he posits that checklists, simple lists to remind us, instantly improve our work by reminding us of what's important.

To that end, I decided to adapt the chart in the link above to resemble a checklist of sorts.  How many of these techniques or structures would you see in your own classroom?

Reading Workshop
Writing Workshop
Read Aloud
ð       Teacher has access to the text
ð       Teacher shares his/her thinking regarding strategies
ð       Teacher models fluent reading
Shared Writing
ð       Teacher uses the pen
ð       Teacher explicitly models the writing strategies and skills
Shared Reading
ð       Teacher and student have access to the text
ð       Teacher and students share thinking about reading strategies
Interactive Writing
ð       Teacher and students share the pen
ð       Teacher and students share their ideas about the writing process
Guided Reading
ð       Small, flexible groups with similar needs/interests
ð       Instructional level texts
ð       Teacher led
ð       Book chats with teacher guidance
Guided Writing
ð       Small, flexible groups with similar needs/interests
ð       Focus on modes of writing using different writing stratrgies
ð       Teacher led
Reading Conferences
ð       Teacher and student meet to assess and/or discuss progress, strategy use, and set reading goals
Writing Conferences
ð       Teacher and student meet to assess and/or discuss progress, skills, and set writing goals
Independent Daily Reading
ð       Student selects texts with teacher guidance based on interest and independent reading level
Independent Daily Writing
ð       Student and/or teacher chooses mode, purpose, and audience
Shared Learning
ð       A few children share their learning/strategies from the day
Shared Learning
ð       A few children share their learning/writing pieces from the day

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Curriculum Mapping Opportunity

New Series on Curriculum Alignment & Mapping:

ESE, in partnership with the Governor's Readiness Centers, has developed a new series on curriculum mapping as a core tool for communicating about and aligning curriculum and instruction across grades, subject areas, and schools. During the series, which includes two webinars, a two-day summer institute, and follow-up activities, participants will discuss the status of curriculum mapping in their districts, gain access to exemplary models and other support resources, and use guided planning time to take their curriculum planning to the next level. The series will launch with an introductory webinar scheduled in early March (Thursday, March 7 from 9-10 a.m. or 1-2 p.m., or Friday, March 8 from 1-2 p.m.). To register for the introductory webinar, go to

The complete series, which is funded by a Race to the Top grant, will include:

• Webinar 1: Introduction (March 7 and 8)

• Webinar 2: Mapping Common Core Shifts in ELA, Math, or History (May/June)

• Summer Institute: Guided Team Time (2-day regional institutes, June/July)

• Webinar 3: Sharing Examples (Fall 2013)

• Session at 6th Annual ESE Curriculum & Instruction Summit (Nov. 6 or 7, 2013)

• Wiki with examples and other resources

• Coaching Support

Curriculum mapping, webinars, institutes, and resources will be made available to all MA public school districts.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Post for the week of February 4, 2013

Post for the week of February 4, 2013

One of the key terms in the Common Core movement is "academic language" or "academic vocabulary."  But what is it?

I think the language needed to understand a content area is not "academic language" per se.  "Academic language" crosses content boundaries.  They're the words and concepts you need to know to work within an academic environment.  For example, alliteration is an important word in an English classroom, but not in history or science.  Cause and effect has the capacity to appear anywhere.

A great place to find "academic language" is appendix B.  This document lists texts that could be used to meet the CCSS for literacy in multiple disciplines.  Remember, there are literacy standards for math, social studies, and science.  Appendix B also features sample assignments, which, I would argue, are treasure-troves of academic language. 

For example, here are a few sample assignments:

Students compare George Washington’s Farewell Address to other foreign policy statements, such as the Monroe Doctrine, and analyze how both texts address similar themes and concepts regarding “entangling alliances.” [RI.9–10.9]

Students explain how the specific image of a soap bubble and other accompanying illustrations in Walter Wick’s A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder contribute to and clarify their understanding of bubbles and water. [RI.2.7]

List the concepts you have to know to be able to approach these questions:

contribute to

Some people would argue that these assignments are not real; they're meant for the teacher, not for the students.  They're not in "student-friendly" language.  But I feel otherwise.  If students can understand and break apart assignments like these, they will be in good shape for college and career readiness.