Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fall into Professional Learning

Now that the new school year is in swing, I wanted to point out a few opportunities for educators to increase their professional knowledge.

 On Saturday, October 18th, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is hosting its 87th biannual Reunion Weekend. If you are unaware of what this entails, it is a day jam packed with over 125 FREE K-8 professional development workshops. The lineup and schedule of presenters typically is released a few days prior to the 18th, however this day never ceases to disappoint. Senior Project staff, including Lucy Calkins and TCRWP staff developers will all present on this day on a plethora of topics, such as:

"argument writing, embedding historical fiction in nonfiction text sets, opinion writing for very young writers, managing workshop instruction, aligning instruction to the CCSS, using performance assessments and curriculum maps to ratchet up the level of teaching, state-of-the-art test prep, phonics, guided reading and more.”
Additionally, this year the key speaker will be David Booth, profession Emeritus in Education at the University of Toronto and author of such professional books such as, Reading Doesn’t Matter Anymore, The Literacy Principle, Guiding the Reading Process, and Even Hockey Players Read.

If you have never experienced a TC Reunion weekend, it is important to check the website leading up to the 18th for the lineup of PDs, a map of where they the different speakers will be throughout Columbia University. Additionally, a pair of sneakers is recommended as it is important to hustle between sessions in order to find a seat.
(Teaser: This is a biannual event - the spring reunion will be held on Saturday, March 28th and will feature key note speaker Patricia Polacco!!)

At the end of October, the Massachusetts Department of Education Office of Curriculum & Instruction will be hosting its annual C&I Curriculum Summit:  Initiative Integration: Putting the Pieces Together. This is an opportunity for district and school leaders to

“continue making strides implementing major statewide initiatives to enhance the achievement of our students: educator evaluation, implementation of the 2011 Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, the transition to next generation assessments, and RETELL.”

The goal is this two day summit is to provider leaders in education with the tools and knowledge to continue to strengthen their knowledge of implementation of different initiatives, while gaining a broader understanding of how they integrate with each other.

This summit is held on Monday, October 27th and repeated on Tuesday, October 28th in order to reach as many potential school and district leaders as possible. Information and Registration information can be found at:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Opening the Door on Close Reading

Last week in my blog I spoke about close reading. As promised, this week I wanted to provide educators with three resources as a reference point as they begin thinking about close reading in the classroom.

 Achieve the Core is a great place to start. What I love about this website is that it is full of FREE content designed to help educators implement the Common Core standards. The creators of Achieve the Core have developed a plethora of featured close reading lessons, offering free access for educators. For example, in third grade, there is a close reading of Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. The lesson includes extensive guidance, questions and even a mini-assessment for teachers to follow and use in their classrooms. Achieve the Core does not only offer ELA close reading lessons, but also has social studies and history lessons located on this website.

Speaking of history and social studies teachers, The University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s ARCH (Assessment Resource Center for History) has lessons and resources for teachers to access based on readings from six eras of U.S. history. In addition to created lessons, this site offers teachers performance tasks (including rubrics) and samples of student work for teachers to access and refer to when implementing within their own curriculum.

Finally, there are numerous books out there on the strategy of close reading. One book I have seen on the desks at people throughout the office is the book, Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts. In this book Lehman and Roberts refer to close reading as reading a text through a lens for a purpose. The book is organized by these “lenses” in which students can focus their reading. They include text evidence, word choice, structure, point of view, reading across texts and for independence. This resource is jam packed with information and provides student examples from the classroom. If you were to purchase one book about close reading, you would not be disappointed with this choice.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Close Reading.... Have you Heard of It??

It seems as though educators cannot escape the buzz word “close reading”. How many times have you heard coaches, administrators or even fellow colleagues use this term already this year. I too, have to admit that I am a gluten for close reading and often refer to it when I am out in the field. The term has been used so much that it even prompted Dave Stuart Jr. of  “Teach the Core” to comically write an Obituary to Close Reading to only come back a day later and publish a new post, Moving Forward with Close Reading. However, Stuart’s point in killing off close reading, was not to murder the concept, but rather address the important and lingering question surrounding it, what in fact does close reading mean and why are we constantly talking about it?

Reading a text closely has always lived within education. The shift to the 2011 Massachusetts Frameworks (also known as the Common Core State Standards) revitalized the concept and brought the strategy into the forefront of our thinking. Hopefully you are not as geeky as I and carry multiple copies of the frameworks in your car, have them in your work bag and even on the bedside table, but for anyone familiar with the 2011 MA  ELA Frameworks (CCSS),  you will see idea of close reading referred to on the majority of pages. I challenge you to look! In fact turn to the Anchor Standards page and sure enough under Key Ideas and Details. Look what happens to be the first anchor standard listed:

Key Ideas and Details
1.     Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

To belabor the point, college level professors and educators have commented that the lack of extracting the author’s message and attending to details in a text has proven to show their weaknesses as incoming freshmen.  Scholes  and Katz went on to comment on the lack of readiness they see in incoming college freshmen as,

“I think that the new high school graduates I see (and sophomores with no previous lit classes) most lack close reading skills. Often they have generic concepts and occasionally they have some historical knowledge, though perhaps not as much as they should. I find that they are most inclined to substitute what they generally think a text should be saying for what it actually says, and lack a way to explore the intricacies and interests of the words on the page. Sometimes the historical knowledge and generic concepts actually become problems when students use them as tools for making texts say and do what students think they should, generalizing that all novels do X or poems do Y. Usually the result is that they want to read every text as saying something extremely familiar that they might agree with. I see them struggling the most to read the way texts differ from their views, to find what is specific about the language, address, assumptions etc.” (Tamar Katz, pers. com., 17 September 2001)

As educators forge ahead a need exists for students to analyze information from texts. Extracting information means that students need to remove their personal background experience in order to read critically and determine the author’s central message. This thinking comes with a mind shift for educators. As a previous elementary school teacher, early in my career I taught and stressed students to make text to self-connections. I realized this allowed for students to stray from the author’s purpose. Rather, they spent time grasping for any connection they could make with their own life, which pulled them further and further away. In actuality the idea of close reading is to use that text, read it once, twice, as many times as you need to with the goal of strengthening a students overall comprehension.

So how do we do this? What are some good resources? Next week I will explore some books and online tools to help educators tackle this very much living and breathing strategy and concept.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Massachusetts Focus Academy 2014

It’s that time of year again, there is a slight chill in the air, fall is right around the corner and the Massachusetts Focus Academy is ready for a new year, with new courses and applicants.

What is the Massachusetts Focus Academy?

The Massachusetts FOCUS Academy (MFA) offers courses that provide participants with skills, knowledge, and instructional strategies to improve outcomes for all students, including those with disabilities, in safe and supportive inclusive environments. Courses are taught primarily online. (See individual course descriptions for details.) Courses may be taken for PDPs or graduate credits.

What courses are being offered?

Below is a list of courses being offered. Click on the links for more information.

Who can register for these courses?

These courses are offered and available to administrators, classroom teachers, related service providers currently working in schools and cohorts of educators who work together.

How do I apply?

1.    Participants MUST enroll through their district administrator. This means that participants should contact their superintendent office and ask to speak with the individual in designated to enroll educators.
2.   Fill out the required forms and provide them to the district administrator (see Required Forms).
3.   The District administrator will email all completed enrollment form
4.   Sections are filled on a first-come first-served basis, so districts are encouraged to reach out to their educators and return enrollment forms as soon as possible.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Lisa DiVasta, DSAC Statewide Professional Development Coordinator at lisa.divasta@dsacma.org or call at 781.878.6056 x 142

Tuesday, September 2, 2014



Last week PARCC announced that they will be shortening the English Language Arts/Literacy End of the Year Test administered this year. This revision is a result of the PARCC field testing done last spring. How is this change going to affect you? Here is the nitty gritty of the change.

PARCC will reduce the number of reading passages and test questions. In grades 3-5, PARCC is dropping two sets of reading passages and 13 test questions. For grades 6-11, one reading passage and 4 test questions will be dropped. These changes will not affect the range of standards being measured through this test, rather it reduces the number of test questions used to measure a certain standard. At this point, it is unclear if this will impact the testing time, which has been a concern for test administrators. There may be more revisions as PARCC continues to analyze the data collected from the field test.

One final note, many people have inquired about websites and resources available for students to use in preparation for the PARCC test. The PARCC released items is one great place to start. Here you can have students see how the questions are structured and practice skills such as "drag and drop". In addition, Ohio (a state in the PARCC consortium) has compiled a Pearltree, that organizes an extensive list of online interactive activities. This list is a great place for educators to look through to better understand the technology tools and lingo used within the PARCC test. Additionally, this list provides multiple resources and information for teachers to provide exposure and experience for their students.