Monday, April 29, 2013

Post for the week of April 29, 2013

Post for the week of April 29, 2013

Now on to greater exploration of this document

For this week, number 3: balance of literary and informational text vs. solely literature. 

First, think about the bulk of the reading you do for your work.  It's packed with information, right?  And you know how to read to get the information you need to do your job, right?

To be prepared for college or a career, students need a lot of non-fiction (or informational text structures) under their belts.  They need significant practice at reading, annotating, discussing, and writing structures other than narrative (stories, plot-driven, character-driven texts).

Many high school students leave school equating "reading" with novels from English class.  We need to make sure the students are more well rounded in their reading. 

To achieve this practice, we need to encourage more reading of informational texts.  In K-5, students may have just one teacher for all subjects, so that teacher can create an even balance of literary and informational texts using content from social studies and science.

In grades 6-12, it's the duty of all educators to achieve this balance.  This statement means that even non-English teachers are expected to teach reading and writing standards: see pages 71-79 of the Frameworks. 

For 6-12 English teachers, lots of seminal American texts are required reading now.  Think about speeches, essays, and other government documents.

ALL TEACHERS should get comfortable with the literary and informational offerings of Appendix B.  It is full of lists of great texts at the required Lexile levels.

So, the next time you teach a poem, short story, play, or novel, think "how can I work informational text into this unit of study?"  Or "how can I build a unit around a new informational text?"  If we all work together, we can make this balance a reality. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Two Important Announcements

Two important announcements were issued recently.

1.  PARCC has released its Draft Accommodations Manual, which has information about accommodations for English language learners and for students with disabilities, as well as information on UDL aspects of the computer assessments.  PARCC is asking for feedback on the draft by May 13. The manual and related materials are now live on the PARCC website at  Please check it out!

2.  The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in partnership with the Pioneer Valley Readiness Center, the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative, and the Collaborative for Educational Services, will present a series of free webinars on curriculum alignment and mapping during the month of May.

 To register, please go to the links below:

May 13, History and Social Science: 10-11 (elementary) and 1-2 (secondary), History and Social Science

May 21, English Language Arts and Literacy: 10-11 (elementary) and 1-2 (secondary)

May 29, Mathematics: 10-11 (elementary) and 1-2 (secondary)

If you have any questions about these events, please let me know at  Thanks!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Post for the week of April 22, 2013

Post for the week of April 22, 2013

Welcome back to school, everyone!

I'd like to continue looking at this document that I got from this source.  It's helped me understand the Common Core changes a lot.

#2 says that "texts worthy of close attention" are in, whereas "reading any 'ol text" is out. 

This is how I interpret this idea: think more intelligently about the texts I teach. 

Am I teaching them to get through them, or are they worthy of study?  Frequently, secondary teachers teach for coverage, but we should be helping our students meet the standards, not cranking though books. 

How do we know if a text is "worthy of study?"  Is it in Appendix B?  Does it meet the new Lexile levels?  Why has your district decided to put this book at this grade level?

Are the passages I am reading worthy of a close look, or could I find better models elsewhere?  Some books demonstrate such a high level of language use that they scream to be read closely, but others do not.  Make sure you know why you picked a passage. 

Is there any reasoning to my text selection (built around a unit or an idea), or am I just grabbing something from the book closet?  Sometimes we feel stuck with the books we have, but there are lots of other texts out there--particularly poetry and informational text--on the Web or from libraries.

In short, this suggestions gives us a lot to think about in terms of picking our texts. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Post for the week of April 15, 2013

Post for the week of April 15, 2013

Happy April vacation, everyone!  Just a quick note for this week.  Next week, I'll continue looking at the What's In/What's Out document. 

The DESE is offering a Webinar series on District Determined Measures (DDM). 

Here is Part I of the Webinar, and here is the schedule for the remainder of the events. 

Please let me know if you have any questions, and I can look into the answers.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Post for the week of April 8, 2013

Post for the week of April 8, 2013

I'd like to spend some time looking at this What's In/What's Out document.  While its look at the Common Core themes might be too simplistic, it does give us ideas to ponder in a quick format.

1.  Daily encounters with complex text vs. leveled texts (only).

The writers of the Common Core are calling for all teachers (not just ELA!) to demand more reading.  While we can't necessarily control how much students read outside of class, we can increase the amount and quality of student reading in school.  Practice at reading consistently demanding texts will help students tackle demanding college and career reading.

So check what you're having your kids read and how often.  You can use the new Lexile levels to see if it's appropriately challenging or if it belongs at a different grade level.

Leveled readers are out because they set the bar too low for struggling readers.  Our job as educators is to learn how to properly structure reading supports so that all students can access the texts we read.  Some might need an audio version, some might need previewed vocabulary or a few images, and many will need to re-read.  These supports help all readers get where we need them to go.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Post for the week of April 1, 2013

Post for the week of April 1, 2013

Last week, I wrote a bit about curriculum mapping.  This week, I'd like to think about the most critical components.

Once your district or school or group has decided to make a curriculum map, you need to answer as many questions as you can to clarify the task.  A map can be as simple or as complex as you want, but the goal is usability for everyone.

What factors about a map will never change?  Time is a constant, but you can decide how your map will be organized.  Do you want your map organized by quarter? Unit? Month? Week?

The standards are also a constant.  While all the standards HAVE to be taught and assessed, you can decide the arrangement.  Make sure you're including grade level standards, not just anchor standards.

Assessments are a crucial element of a curriculum map.  How do you know if students are completing the map if you don't include some formative and summative assessments?  I would argue that you have to go deeper than just midterms and finals.  What other benchmarks will your district have?

In ELA you will have both texts and skills, but I would assert that the skills should be prioritized over the texts.  Teaching is about building the students' skills, not getting through books and remembering facts about them.

Essential questions are a popular element of a map, but make sure all shareholders know what the purpose of the essential questions are and how they will be used.

In short, the process of writing a curriculum is a task that takes a lot of time, effort, and thought.  It's a process that should not be accomplished alone. 

Once you start writing a map, you may realize that your district or school has a lot to do before the process can properly start (establish common assessments and study the standards in depth, for example).  But think of how great it will feel when everyone makes his/her curriculum transparent and the standards are in action!