Lesson design Common Core


The March 2012 Educational Leadership publication popped through my mail chute and I was thrilled to read its title:  READING ~The Core Skill~.  As an English teacher and reading specialist, I have always believed that reading is the essence, the core, of all learning, in all grades, in all disciplines.   This issue of Educational Leadership features numerous articles discussing aspects of reading research and practice for 21st Century teachers and learners.  As I pondered the ideas presented by literacy experts such as Tim Shanahan, Nancy Fry, and Richard Allington, one major question came to mind:

How can Professional Learning Teams, busy with the day-to-day schedule of planning, teaching, grading, and team meetings, effectively merge the Common Core’s emphasis on text complexity with skill instruction that equips students to comprehend and analyze these complex texts?

Let’s examine what the Common Core writes about text complexity.  According to the Common Core,

One of the key requirements of the Common Core State Standards for Reading is that all students must be able to comprehend texts of steadily increasing complexity as they progress through school.  By the time they complete the core, students must be able to read and comprehend independently and proficiently the kinds of complex texts commonly found in college and careers.

Anchor Standard 10 Grades 6-12:  Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

In Grades 6 – 12, this Anchor Standard for Reading is tailored for each content area of English Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects.

My initial question then divided into three prongs as I contemplated how Professional Learning Teams can determine text complexity while planning curriculum.

  • What exactly is text complexity?
  • How can my PLT accurately measure text complexity for our content area?
  • How will my PLT select materials that enable students to climb the staircase of text complexity?

What exactly is text complexity? 

The Standards Model of Text Complexity consists of an equilateral triangle divided into three obtuse triangles comprised of Qualitative, Quantitative, and Reader and Task.  Following is a summary of each obtuse triangle.

Features of qualitative include:

Level of Meaning for literary text or Purpose for informational text: The text with a single level of meaning and straightforward purpose would be easier to comprehend than a text with multiple levels and a purpose that must be inferred.

Structure:
Is the structure simple and chronological?  Or is the structure more complex?  Do graphics clearly contribute to the meaning of the text?  Or, do graphics demand the reader’s interpretation?

Language Conventions & Clarity:
Is the language literal or figurative?  Is the language contemporary or archaic?

Knowledge Demands:
Does the text rely on everyday life experiences or content specific knowledge?

Qualitative characteristics refer to the quality of the text and are the most challenging to ascertain.  The PLT must combine qualitative components with professional judgment when assessing the qualitative measure of a text.

Qualitative Components = Quality of a text

Features of quantitative include: 

  • Word length and frequency of words
  • Sentence length

Quantitative Components = Computable features of a text

Features of Reader and Task

  • Background knowledge
  • Motivation
  • Students’ reading proficiency

Reader and Task  = Student plus text

How can my PLT accurately measure text complexity for our content area?

For many years, my staff development partner and I introduced teachers to readability formulae such as Frye and Raygor, based on word length, syllable count, and sentence length.  After completing a series of steps counting both the words and the sentences, the results were plotted on a graph that purported the “readability” (grade level range) of a text.  There are clearly limitations to the readability formulae, for text complexity cannot be simply ascertained by numerical operation.

Rather, the PLT should utilize the lexile analyzer to compute the complexity of a text. Common Core refers to text complexity grade bands and corresponding lexile ranges for each grade band.

Text Complexity Grade Band

Lexile Ranges

6 – 8

995-1155

9  – 10

1080 – 1305

11 – CCR

1215 – 1355

How will my PLT select materials that enable students to climb the staircase of text complexity? 
  • Refer to CCSS Appendix B for text exemplars.  Theses exemplars are by no means a national reading list, but rather suggested texts that satisfy the components of the triangle of Text Complexity.
  • Compare and contrast texts selected by your PLT to text exemplars to determine similarities and differences.
  • Systematically analyze text by measuring qualitative and quantitative characteristics as well as ascertaining the reading skills of your students.

Summary

As you can see, text complexity is truly a muti-faceted issue as educators work to prepare students for college and career readiness.  By understanding the components of text complexity and working with your PLT to select appropriate texts, your team will be on its way to helping students comprehend and analyze complex texts.

Stand by for a future blog:  Strategies to enable students to skillfully read and comprehend increasingly complex texts.

(picture from lexile.com)

Students Aware of Standards

What does College and Career Ready Really Mean?

While reading “The Early College Challenge” in the American Educator (Fall 2011) I was struck by the “what if” questions proposed by authors Rosenbaum and Becker.  They suggest placing college course learning opportunities on the high school campus to ensure high school students are better prepared for college learning.  However, these recommendations strike me as an avoidance of the many complex issues of public high school responsibilities.

This perplexing article asks: “What if, instead of hoping poorly prepared students will catch up in college, we supported them in taking rigorous courses – even college-level courses – before they graduate from high school?”  The authors suggest:

  • high schools use a “package-deal curriculum”.
  • high schools keep students on track by closely monitoring student progress and giving them guidance.
  • high schools explicitly teach study skills.
  • high school teachers plan backwards from college so students become college ready.

The conundrum lies in the question:  Aren’t high schools doing all this?  And if not, is it funding issues that limit the public schools capabilities?  Or is it influences entirely outside of school which limit student success?

As a parent of two college freshmen, one female and one male, (as well as being a high school English teacher/Reading specialist) I may have a unique voice on the issue.  Were my children adequately prepared in high school for the college classroom?  Will they be career ready?  I say yes, though in ways that fit their unique capabilities.

Here’s a holistic look at their reading abilities: my son does not like to read, though he can read adequately he does not yet compare texts or discuss author’s voice and purpose at dinner-table discussions with ease or assurance – he scored a 21 on ACT Reading; my daughter loves to read – though a diagnosed dyslexic with an IEP in high school, she read every required text by following along with audio.  She also read every book in the school library that was on audio tape, as well dozens more from the public library. She can compare texts and discuss author’s voice and purpose with ease and acuity at dinner-table discussions – she scored a 31 on ACT Reading.   He passed the university’s English Competency exam, she did not. She fought the university on taking a 090 developmental course prior to English 101, and won.  Her scores are higher in English 101 than his.  (Note, however, that they have different instructors – both adjuncts.)

So what does it mean to be college ready? Passing scores on all assessments or just some? What assessments should be mandatory for college course enrollment?  Who designs these assessments?  Are they standard across universities?  What skills do these assessments measure?  How will K-12 know what universities know about the Common Core?

As a user of the SACI lesson plan method I now feel prepared to tell my students:

  • here is a Common Core standard you will master by doing these lessons.
  • here are the Common Core standards you must master in order to approach college coursework.

Did my son and daughter master each of the Common Core State Standards?  I do not know as implementation is fledgling at best. And therein lies the dilemma.  How will a high school diploma signify mastery of the standards?

As K-12 educators across the nation read, learn and write about addressing 21st century skills, we must determine how to join together with university professionals to share expectations and understandings of academic readiness and ensure that students receive assessments at standard exit and entrance points that are valid, reliable, and built on similar expectations linked to the CCSS.  Let’s leave college courses to the university and focus on high school student’s mastery of high school skills and standards.

Finland, Rosenbaum and Becker write, with a population of 5.4 million living within 130 thousand square miles, prepares their homogeneous population well.  Yes, we know. Our task as educators in this country is daunting; how can the heterogeneous United States, population 312 million living within 4 million square miles, do the same?


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What exactly are data-driven decisions?

I am a little worried that the word “data” might be getting a bad and undeserved rap. Let me state up front that I am an advocate of data-driven decisions and no, I am not a left-brained mathematical mind. In fact, I am quite the opposite and once upon a time never imagined that the word “data” would EVER enter my vocabulary as a teacher.

So why am I a convert? Because I know how powerful teaching and learning becomes when teachers use student data to make immediate plans and changes to their instruction.  I will define data-driven decisions as simply using assessment information/student work to respond to student needs. Yes, there are numbers involved and sometimes even large tables in green, yellow and red that at first seem intimidating. Especially if we aren’t used to looking at students in this way! In addition, doing this collaboratively is a mindset shift.
Go ahead and test my hypothesis the next time you have student data to analyze in your professional learning communities.

Hypothesis

If teacher-teams analyze common formative assessment results in a collaborative frame of mind with the intent to reflect and plan instruction, then the overall individual teacher workload will decrease and teacher creativity and student learning will increase.

Data Analysis and Short Term Planning

1. What can we infer in general from your data?
2. How will each class approach the topic during the following week?
3. Which students need enrichment within the classroom?
4. Which students need intervention supports within the classroom?
5. Which students need solidifying in the concepts?
6. How will we group students in order to meet their needs?
7. What resources do we need for enrichment, interventions and solidification? Which team members will collect the various resources?
8. What will my lesson plans for the next week look like based on this data?
9. How will we formatively assess during the week to make sure we are on the right track?
10. How will we keep all students engaged?
11. Do we have any questions for a particular teacher?

Click here to view graphic organizer to help analyze and plan.

Now, think about this…

What will instruction look like in the different classrooms?

What will be the similarities between the classes? What will be the differences?

Did teachers have autonomy in answering these questions?

Do teachers need to be creative and innovative in solving this instructional puzzle?

How will teachers sharing the load of educating ALL students lessen the individual load?

Did you have any fun?

The answers to these questions will provide the team with information they need to plan effective and timely differentiated instruction until the next assessment.

Please let us know what you gathered during this process.

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These three short sentences, read just a day ago, hit me like a thunderbolt.

It doesn’t have to be epic. The intention to be epic gets  in the way of doing work.  I know this, because I’ve tried to be epic.

Professional blogger Ev Bogue, startled me into rethinking the sweeping plans and goals I keep setting for myself as a teacher – yet never quite reach.  Due to an increasing familiarity and understanding of the new Common Core State Standards, and due to participation on a professional learning team (PLT) I’ve acknowledged over the past year that I sorely need to renew the focus of my lesson planning in order to strengthen classroom instruction:  particularly in my senior elective English class.

This semester course attracts students with wildly varied reading and writing skills.  Yet due to the nature of the course, it is possible that students who seem to get away with doing too little, yet pass, are those who are most in need of remediation.

How do I strengthen the course requirements in order to do a better job of reaching these students?

I’d been thinking it would have to be an epic undertaking. But now, because of working with the CCSS, as well as PLT work, I realize the epic work is done.  A focus on renewing instruction in this particular class should be easy for me to begin. Here’s how:

Renewed Lessons

#1   Students self-select independent reading texts in this course.  Use the CCSS Appendix A – sections entitled “Why Text Complexity Matters” and “College, Careers, and Citizenship:  Steady or Increasing Complexity of Texts and Tasks” as an informational piece on the first days of the new semester.  Let students read, analyze and discuss what researchers have found regarding levels of vocabulary difficulty and how college course reading expectations differ from those of our high schools.

#2   Students generally choose contemporary young adult, high interest, best-selling novels.  Use the CCSS Appendix B text exemplars to inform students of expectations for high school graduates reading capabilities.  Require students to choose text in a more thoughtful and direct way, perhaps including analysis of reading level and engaging them in analysis of text complexity.

#3   Students write short reader responses.  Use the CCR Anchor Standards for Writing to tighten up response expectations, including making these timed argument, informative, or explanatory pieces with clear expectations as described in a thorough rubric.

#4   Students share all book selections with the class.  Use the CCR Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening to tighten up classroom expectations regarding the information currently shared in a Socratic format, including research and presentation of authors as well as story line.

Renewal of instruction does not have to be “epic”.  I need to do two things: focus instruction on the standards, and share with students the established expectations of our state and district in order to strengthen and refocus their learning.

It is hard to believe that one-half of the school year is already behind us.  We hope that you have taken an opportunity to restructure your lessons and units around the SACI framework.  We have enjoyed hearing from you on the successes you have experienced in your classrooms.  Please continue to share with us your positive experiences.  You can contact us at core4all@gmail.com

We wish you continued success for the remainder of the 2011-2012 school year.

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Feeling overwhelmed by acronyms? Or are they getting easier for you too?   PLT’s within our PLC work together in order to commonly assess using the CCSS.  Thanksgiving is past and as we head rapidly towards the end of first semester, I’ve got a handle on what that sentence means.  How about you?  The CCSS make sense – all students, all teachers, all states using the same language with which to teach and assess academic performance.

SACI has become the acronym for the metacognitive step in my own lesson planning.  The more I use it, the easier it becomes to understand exactly what skills my students don’t have, yet must acquire in order to grow intellectually.

Core4All post on August 27, 2011:  “It’s a process, not a program. When thinking about how to improve student learning follow this simple process.

  1. Determine the desired result.
  2. Decide what steps need to be put into place to achieve that result.
  3. Follow the steps.

The SACI template encourages me through its structure to easily connect my instruction to achievement.

A REFRESHER

First: T-Chart analysis is done on a CCSS.

Second:  skills from T-chart are matched to Bloom’s taxonomy.

Third:  write a specific PfL statement (Purpose for Learning)to share with students

Fourth:  choose and write an assessment – like a quick, student friendly 4-point rubric.

Finally:  plan the learning vehicle – use a good solid, research-based instructional strategy.  Don’t just use it once, use it repeatedly until students walk in asking “are we Flow Reading and Questioning today?”

RUN AWAY FROM STUDENT “LISTENING”

I’ve found success using a combo of SACI instructional strategies:  “Cues and Questions” combined with “In-class practice (guided to independent).  Implementing the Common Core suggests that it is the integration of proven instructional strategies which allows “students to produce positive results and to improve their academic proficiency” (29).  Read Will Thalheimer’s work from 2003 entitled The learning benefits of questions (www.work-learning.com).  This meta-analysis supports repeated and constant questioning.  Thalheimer writes “The empirical evidence is overwhelming.  Questions are one of the most powerful tools for building learning environments and promoting successful performance.”  I’ve been combining daily questioning during in-class reading and find it keeps students “doing” instead of just “listening.”

RUN TOWARD STUDENT “DOING”

Here is a simple yet effective way to handle text, with students “DOING” the work daily.  The bonus is by the end of the unit I have a formative assessment for all students in my class written within my text – chapter by chapter, and symbols for student participation/knowledge on a 4 pt. rubric.

First:  I annotate my own text by developing questions, writing them in the margin.  Then using my “flow” style of reading we delve into our text – fiction or nonfiction – “flow” works well.  I ask students to voluntarily jump in and read aloud as quickly as they are able, reading at most a paragraph sized portion, then giving up the floor to another voice.  My current rule is “6 voices read between your voice and you reading again”.  This rule allows most everyone to feel they had the opportunity to jump in and read.  A bonus for “DOING” is an extra credit point per paragraph read.  Once students practice and get the hang of just jumping in to read aloud, no name calling by the teacher, no interruptions accept “questioning”, the chapter flies.

Students are now actively doing and while they “do” I annotate my text further with reader’s names and problems they encounter in the text.  For example, the photo above shows pages where students misread “khakis”, “accordion”, and “Hmongs”.   I circle words students mispronounce, and because I mark reader’s names in my margin, I know exactly who was having difficulty. I mention as many circled words as possible during questioning, asking students to turn to that page and paragraph of text.   On page 8 you can see I had one question ready in my margin about personification and ten words circled that students mispronounced or skipped.  I turned “khakis” into a question:  “Look back to page 8, first full paragraph and tell me – What was Lupe pulling up as he jumped over the curb to take off down an alley?”

text title Vocab Context Question Factual Question Inferential Question Student Generated Question
Kathy  + +  ≠ +
Jeremy + + +   +

My rubric (see chart) – is a simple class list in a text box of three columns in which I mark correctly or incorrectly answered questions.  I ensure all students are called on by using a homemade card deck -index cards with student names – from which I randomly draw.

Students complete chapters or sections (however your content text is arranged) for homework and return with questions of their own in which to begin the next class.

Give SACI a try and let us know how usable it is in your PLT’s work with the CCSS.

P.S.  CCSS for this series of lessons were grades 9-10 Reading Informational Text 1 and 4 (page 40)

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Halloween evening my colleagues and I embarked on the three-hour car ride from Chicago to Indianapolis to take part in Solution Tree’s 2011 Author Speak, a three-day event featuring 99 authors in the field of education.  I took away some valuable nuggets to share with my staff as we continue guiding our students towards their post-secondary opportunities.

Ten different strands in education were featured.  They were:

  • 21 Century Skills
  • Assessment
  • Instruction
  • Leadership
  • Literacy
  • Principals
  • Professional Learning Communities
  • Response to Intervention
  • School Improvement
  • Special Populations

Being able to listen to the likes of Robert Marzano, Douglas Reeves, Rick DuFour, Anthony Muhammad under one roof for one event was outstanding. I congratulate Jeffrey Jones, President and CEO of Solution Tree, and his team for orchestrating such a world-class event.

I wanted to focus on one nugget I took away from Author Speak 2011: the connection of PLCs, Differentiated Instruction, and Common Formative Assessments.

I participated in a networking session on Response to Intervention, facilitated by Austin Buffum.  We were also honored to have Mike Mattos be part of the conversation as well. Mr. Mattos made a comment on differentiated instruction at the high school level and the difficultly of it having a student load of 100-150 students on a daily basis.  He keyed on several manageable aspects that we all can accomplish in our PLCs to help our students succeed.

PLC Monthly Calendar

Each PLC should create a monthly calendar. On that calendar the team should write down the dates in which the common pre assessment will be given, when the common post assessment will be given and when student results of these assessments will be analyzed in the PLC. This calendar will provide focus and direction for the PLC as they move throughout the unit of study.

Blank Day

In addition to the above mentioned dates, a blank day should also be added.  A blank day is a day during the unit of study in which the teachers would use to differentiate instruction based on the analysis of student data in the PLCs.  This particular day may be used for cooperative learning, expert groups, or focused sessions with students who are not grasping the skills. During this blank day, we can also provide an opportunity for students who have shown proficiency in the skill to work on enrichment activities and enhance their proficiency of the skills.

I encourage you and your PLC to plan the next unit of study around a calendar and focus on these steps:

  • What skill(s) do you want your students to be proficient in?
  • Create a pre and post assessment that measures those skills.
  • Negotiate on when those assessments will be administered and results analyzed.
  • Discuss student results and instructional strategies that worked and didn’t work.
  • Negotiate on the date of the blank day to reteach and/or provide enrichment on the skills and concepts being learned.
  • Celebrate student accomplishments at the end of the unit.

In Rick DuFour’s session on Raising the Bar, Closing the Achievement Gap, he
stressed that we must be masters of time, not victims of time. We have the power to make time valuable for us and our students.

Let’s focus our attention on those skills and concepts that will help our students be college and career ready.

If you attended Author Speak, we would love to know your impressions and thoughts of the conference.

John Wooden, six-time national collegiate basketball coach of the year, lead the UCLA Men’s Basketball team to ten National Championships during his coaching tenure.  He is only one of a few people who has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame both as a player and a coach.  Why do I bring up Coach Wooden?  Because of this quote:

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.

This quote is relevant as the themes of student achievement, 21st century learning and the Common Core State Standards continue filtering through our conversations and in the blogosphere.

Questions to ponder as educators:

  • How do we grow as professionals in a field that continues clinging to 20th century methodologies?
  • How do we reveal our deficiencies and become continual learners and collaborators?
  • How do we move away from our comfort zone and do things differently?
  • How do we collectively improve student skills and better prepare them for their futures?

Teacher Learning

I can confidently say that the majority of the school districts in the United States, in some form or another, have a mission statement around the improvement of student learning.  Yes, we want to improve learning, prepare our students to be successful individuals, help them become independent learners, but what have we done to help ourselves in that cause?  If we want to improve student learning, it requires teacher learning as well.

What is the last book or article you read dealing with current educational research and topics?  Do you have a favorite education blogger?  Which educators do you follow on Twitter?    Any good webinars you recommend?

The point I want to make is that we cannot only rely on our undergrad and graduate teacher training, or the one-day, drive-by workshops.  We can improve our teaching by:

  • regularly collaborating with our colleagues
  • discussing student data
  • sharing viewpoints about new research
  • revising curriculum around skills
  • becoming a teacher-leader
  • training your colleagues

If we want to improve student learning, it requires us to improve as well through continual reading, collaborating and processing.  We cannot solely rely on our years of experience teaching and expect to become better teachers.  Skill building is a process and it never stops.

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.

Homework

Share with us a link of an article, a blog post, or book that you read that made you stretch your thinking about teaching and learning.

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Since the release of Implementing the Common Core in December 2010, we have had great conversations with educators across the United States.  Schools and districts are using Implementing the Common Core as a framework to restructure curriculum around the Common Core.  We would like to extend an opportunity to you this week.   If you buy an e-book this week and type in C4A in the promo box at checkout, we will give you a $3 discount off the price of the book.  We feel this is a great deal.  If you are not sure, download the first two chapters of the book for free and see what you think.

Our job is not easy. We need the tools that will help us improve our craft as teachers.  Implementing the Common Core will provide you with a framework to revitalize your curriculum and focus on the skills that will prepare our students to be the leaders of tomorrow.

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