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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)

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.

Questions about the process?  Contact us at core4all@gmail.com

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Today, as I sit down to write this post, it is February 5th, 2012, the day when the mighty Giants of New York are battling the ever-so-successful New England Patriots to see who will be crowned the champions of the National Football League.   It is amazing to see, hear and feel the energy that encompasses this culminating game.  TV, radio and the Internet are filled with expert-analysis shows, never-ending news about Brady and Manning and million dollar ads.  Even during my daughter’s high school dance competition this morning, the PA announcer shouted:

Who’s for the Giants? Who’s for the Patriots?

During a break, he even played the Chicago Bear’s 1985 SB Shuffle.  That brought back some fond memories. I shake my head in wonderment, asking myself why so much energy is focused around not only this sporting event, but the other sports from basketball, baseball to hockey.  Imagine if this much energy was focused on teaching our students and teacher preparation.  Just imagine.

I was interviewing potential teaching candidates recently, hoping to get a pulse on undergraduate teacher preparation curriculum. One thing that struck me was the inability for these future teachers to articulate the current discussions in education.  I expected these students to talk about the newly adopted CCSS, professional learning communities, common formative assessments, and response to intervention.  Or at a minimum have a theoretical foundation in differentiated instruction and formative assessment. I wanted to hear them discuss effective, instructional strategies from Hattie and Marzano.  The theme of these interviews was the candidates expressing how energetic and enthusiastic they are. These are great attributes, especially in a new teacher. However, what current skills are they bringing to the profession to help build a 21st century learner?

I have worrisome impressions they are entering a profession without any idea of the true demands and initiatives of what effective teaching is today.

If we are to improve student learning, it is not enough for our new teachers to be trained by their new employers.  It is imperative that teacher training regarding current research begins in teacher preparation courses.  I believe imbedding these five aspects in teacher training programs can make a positive impact on education.

5 aspects to emphasize on in teacher training programs

Common Core State Standards
Learning how to use the Common Core as the vehicle to drive 21st century curriculum will provide students with the necessary skills to be ready for the next level in school.

Professional Learning Communities
Today, building team autonomy is extremely important as we focus our efforts on collectively improving student learning through regularly scheduled meetings around student data.

Common Formative Assessments
Common Formative Assessments give teams an opportunity to measure student data and monitor student progress.  Discussions on instructional methodologies takes place in the PLCs when student data is analyzed.

Differentiated Instruction
What happens when a student or a group of students does not develop proficiency in relation to a set-standard?  What can the teacher do in the classroom to help the student attain proficiency?  How do we, as teachers, vary our instruction and/or content to create the best learning environment possible?

Response to Intervention
What happens if a student continues to struggle in the classroom, even after the teacher has differentiated instruction in the classroom?  What systems are in place for students to get tutorial assistance to attain the skills in the curriculum?  How are students monitored and assessed to ensure skill development?

Focusing on these five aspects will make a difference in our students and help them become 21st century learners.  I want to hire teachers that possess these fundamental skills in teaching our students to be successful life-long learners.

—–

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Congratulations to Professional Learning Teams who are becoming acquainted with the Common Core State Standards!  As you unwrap priority standards, develop curriculum, and select instructional strategies, you will also assess your students’ progress.  Two questions to guide effective and useful classroom assessment are:

  • How can we accurately measure what our students know and are able to do?
  • How should we modify instruction to optimize student performance?

Classroom Assessments, both formative and summative, consist of selected response, constructed response, and performance assessments.  When your PLT delves into constructing classroom assessments, begin with selected response using multiple choice items.   Although multiple choice items can be tricky to write, your PLT can quickly and effectively gather a great deal of data on student progress.   Correctly constructed multiple choice test items reflect the skills and concepts of the Common Core State Standards.

Planning the Assessment

  1. Refer to the analysis of your priority standard by utilizing your SACI template.
  2. Use the unwrapped standard to guide the creation of the assessment.
  3. Make sure that the skills and concepts are the focus of the assessment.
  4. Also keep in mind the level of Bloom’s Taxonomy inherent in the standard.  Your assessment should reflect the same cognitive level that was utilized during instruction.
  5. Keep in mind:  Tests, don’t trick!

Selecting a passage

  1. Topic: The reading passage should be a topic similar to textual readings the students have been doing in class insuring that students are equipped with necessary background knowledge.
  2. Complexity: The reading passage should also display complexity comparable to reading materials used during instruction.  Lexile both your instructional as well as your assessment materials using the Lexile Analyzer. The Lexile Analyzer is an easy way to determine the difficulty of both instructional materials as well as assessment materials.  http://www.lexile.com/analyzer/
  3. Remember, your assessment measures the skills and concepts of the standard.  It should not be a test of reading comprehension. 

Crafting the Question Stems

Generate skill based question stems to use both during classroom instruction as well as during assessment.  These stems plus the corresponding answer choices should be clearly written at an appropriate reading level.  Both academic and content vocabulary should be familiar to the students.  Stems and answer choices should be free of unintentional clues.  Examples of question stems follow:

Main Idea:

  • The main argument the author makes about _____ is . . .
  • The passage primarily emphasizes . . .

Supporting Detail:

  • The passage clearly indicates . . .
  • Details in the passage suggest . . .

Inference:

  • The passage (or author) implies . . .
  • The reader can infer that . . .

Tone or attitude:

  • The tone of the passage is . . .
  • The writer’s overall feeling toward                                                                is . . .

Drawing Conclusions:

  • This passage is probably taken from (source) . . .
  • With which of the following statements would the author agree?

Meaning of Vocabulary

  • As used in the passage, the word                                              means which of the following?
  • As used in this line or paragraph, the phrase or word most nearly means . . .

Answer options

  1. Provide 4 answer options (1 right answer, 1 option that is close to correct and could reflect a misconception, and 2 options that are distracters).
  2. Answer choices should make sense and be plausible.
  3. Answer choices should be uniform in length and grammar.
  4. Avoid using confusing phrases such as “None of the above” and  “All of the above”.

Format of the Test

  1. The priority standard should be written at the top of the assessment.  Students have a right to know what skills are being assessed.
  2. Font should be readable and uniform throughout the test.
  3. Any charts, graphs, or other visuals should be clearly labeled and easy to see.
  4. Passage lines should be accurately numbered if students must refer to a line of text.
  5. If a passage is on one page and the items on another, make sure these pages face each other rather than duplicated on the front and back of a single sheet.

Peer Review

  1. Once the PLT has created the assessment, it’s time for peer review.
  2. Ask each member of the team to carefully “take” the assessment.  Look for features that might mislead your students such as:  typos, confusing vocabulary, questions and stems that just don’t make sense, or  misleading wording.
  3. Revise  accordingly, keeping in mind the twofold purpose of assessment:
  • How can we accurately measure what our students know and are able to do?
  • How should we modify instruction to optimize student performance?

Administer Assessment & Collect Data

  1. Now it’s time to administer your assessment to your students.
  2. As you score the assessment, compile the data on a measurement system such as Mastery Manager.
  3.  With your PLT, examine the data to analyze both student performance as well as the strengths and flaws of the assessment. The data will indicate the effectiveness of your instruction as well as the strengths and flaws of the test items.

Revise!  

Use the data to revise the Selected Response Assessment.

Congratulations!  If your PLT follows these easy steps you will create a multiple choice assessment that accurately measures student performance and can guide the modification of future instruction!

—–

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Any questions? Email us at core4all@gmail.com

 

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.

Please share our content with your colleagues and follow us on Twitter @core4all.

As an instructional coach, one of the most common concerns I hear from teachers is the lack of student motivation. Students are not interested in the material, are disengaged, disruptive, and lacking initiative. The Common Core State Standards are rigorous standards with higher levels of texts at each grade level than the present standards in most cases. If my students are not motivated now – what is going to happen when the curriculum becomes more challenging?

Make student engagement a daily component of lesson planning

Here are the daily strategies to keep learners focused and engaged in learning adapted from The Highly Engaged Classroom (Marzano, Pickering & Heflebower, 2011).

Positive student-teacher relationships

Students are more invested in the learning process when they have a positive relationship with their teacher.  Struggling students tend to work hard for teachers they like and underperform when they do not have a positive relationship with their teacher. I am not giving students a free pass and putting the entire burden of motivation on the teacher but ask yourself these questions:

Am I doing everything I can to get to know all of my students and let them know I care about them as individuals?

 How can I gather positive information about students?

 How can I show interest and concern today?

Provide lots of SPECIFIC verbal feedback

Positive is best but any feedback that is specific gives students the information they need to improve and as a result encourages them. When a teacher takes the time to say, “That summary is excellent because you have really made tremendous improvement using your paraphrasing strategies!” shows students you really are paying attention to all of the details of their learning and they feel KNOWN as individuals. It also shows you are also working very hard to make sure they learn and students always respect that.

Tracking Progress Visually

I have found one of the most motivating strategies is to have students track their own progress. This is something often used at the elementary level but seems to dissipate as students age. Adolescents respond very well to tracking their own progress in a visual manner and many students are visual learners so this strategy really resonates with them. Most students respond very positively to monitoring their own growth on learning targets. It is a great tool for students used in tandem with providing specific feedback.

Demonstrating “Intensity and Enthusiasm”

In our data-driven culture, which I encourage, we must remember that teaching is a “feeling” profession.  We already discussed the importance of building relationships but another key component of engaging students is showing our own enthusiasm for teaching and learning. Our feelings about what skills and concepts we are teaching play a very large role in how students will respond.  Find areas in the curriculum that you can show extreme enthusiasm about. Share personal stories and make as many connections as you can to bring the material to life.

We all share a common goal; student learning.  We want our students to do well and succeed.  A combination of a skills-based curriculum around the Common Core and a focused attention in providing an environment through positive relationships and motivation will help our students be more engaged learners.

 For those of you who attended the Rising Student Achievement Conference in St.Charles, IL in December, we have attached our PowerPoint presentation here.

Core 4 All would like to thank all of you who have been reading our posts and have participated in our staff development training sessions and workshops.  We have really enjoyed meeting and working with so many great educators.  Your students are lucky to have such dedicated professionals as yourselves.

If you haven’t done so yet, please get a copy of our eBook titled Implementing the Common Core. It will provide you with a framework to building curriculum around the Common Core.

Finally, we want to wish everyone a very happy and healthy holiday season.  2011 showed us that collectively, we can make a difference in preparing our students to be the leaders of tomorrow.  We are looking forward to an even better 2012.  Have a Happy New Year.

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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Questions? Contact us at questions@core4all.com

Can you believe it’s already November? I am sure you are all eager for a Thanksgiving feast with family and friends, turkey, stuffing, leftovers, and Parent Conferences!

If your school district is like mine, parents eagerly attend conferences not only to listen to reports of their child’s academic progress, but also to raise questions regarding the future direction of their child’s education. In my suburban school district, the Common Core State Standards have created quite a buzz. In fact, the administrators have already held three parent meetings to introduce these Standards and to discuss how the Common Core will impact student learning.

As a dual-role participant – both educator and parent – I have avidly listened to administrator presentations as well as to parent queries and have compiled a FAQ sheet you can share with parents who pose questions about the Common Core.

Please accept 10 FAQs for Parents about the Common Core State Standards as an appetizer to your Thanksgiving feast!

1. Who are the authors of the Common Core State Standards?

Led by the National Governor’s Association for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, a competent and diverse group of parents, teachers, school administrators, educational researchers, and content experts collaborated to write the standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. The standards were released to the public in June 2010.

2. Why are the Common Core State Standards important to our children?

As 21st Century citizens, our students will need to collaborate and compete in our global society. Schools must prepare them for college and career readiness, and these clear, consistent K-12 standards promise to enable students to achieve their academic potential. The CCSS will raise the achievement bar so education in the United States is on par with the best educational systems in the world. Cognitive strategies and skills will be uniform across the nation. As one mother commented at a parent meeting,

I moved around a lot as a child. Because of my moving, I never really mastered the division of fractions because I missed that unit of instruction. Under the CCSS, what every child knows and is able to do will be uniform in every grade, in every math class, and in every state.

3. How many states have adopted these standards?

As of November 15, 2011, all of the states except for Minnesota, Texas, Alaska, Virginia, and Nebraska have adopted the standards.

4. How are the English Language Arts standards organized?

The English Language Arts Standards are divided into College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for the Language Arts strands of Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening, and Language. Each spoke has anchor standards which become increasingly more complex from kindergarten through grade 12. Within the reading standards, there is a major emphasis on reading informational text; being able to cite textual evidence and compare/contrast different author’s viewpoints.

5. How do the Reading and Writing Standards expand in grades 6-12?

In grades 6 – 12 the Reading and Writing Standards are integrated with the curricular areas of History/Social Studies and Science and Technical Studies. The authors of the Common Core State Standards realize that in order for our students to be career and college ready, it is imperative for them to demonstrate strong literacy skills in a variety of academic disciplines.

6. How are the Mathematic Standards organized?

The Mathematic Standards include Standards for Mathematical Practice and Standards for Mathematical Content. The Practice Standards comprise “processes and proficiencies” that are cornerstones of mathematical education and increase in complexity from kindergarten through grade 12. Components of the Content Standards, also developed K through 12, include geometry, operations and algebraic thinking, and measurement and data.

7. Will a National Curriculum be mandated?

No, there will not be a National Curriculum, only shared, nation-wide standards. Schools and districts will determine curricula that is not only best for their students but is also based on the Common Core. However, teachers will have the opportunity to collaborate on powerful lessons with teachers across the nation.

8. What will testing be like?

Assessment of the CCSS will probably look different than what your state is now using. This next generation of testing will provide students, parents, and educators a clear understanding of student mastery of knowledge and skills. Currently two consortia are working to develop the future common assessment: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Individual states can join either or both consortia. These National Assessments will initially be administered in 2014. Administrators in my district believe the assessments will be technologically administered and scored.

9. What will be some of the major changes we parents will see?

• Reading: The CCSS emphasize increasing complexity of text and reading for information in all curricular disciplines. A paradigm shift will occur from kindergarten through seventh grade. In kindergarten classrooms, student will read 50% literary texts and 50% informational materials. By seventh grade, students will read 30% literary texts and 70% informational materials. The reading of complex texts will be emphasized in all curricular disciplines.

• Writing: Specific writing types will include argument, narrative, and informational/explanatory writing. The reading-writing connection will be strengthened as students utilize textual evidence to form claims and construct arguments. Writing skills will also be integrated into all curricular disciplines.

• Mathematics: Mathematical concepts will be introduced to children in earlier grades. Instruction will focus on both fluency as well as the conceptual understanding of practice and content standards.

10. You’ve discussed 21st Century Skills, but haven’t mentioned technology. What will be the role of technology?

Technology will be of paramount importance for the 21st century student who will learn to employ “technology and digital media strategically and capably.” Students must be prepared to effectively utilize perpetually developing technology to enhance all aspects of their learning.

We are thankful for you, our Core 4 All subscribers! Enjoy your Thanksgiving feast as well as the valuable time you spend with your students’ parents during conferences.

Also, a shout-out to the great teachers at Thomas Jefferson Junior High for a great staff development training session on the Core 4 All SACI framework. Great job unwrapping, unpacking and dissecting standards.  Looking forward to our next training.

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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.

Everyone wants to work on a productive and collegial team.  In fact, I would argue that the people whom you are surrounded by everyday and the quality of those interactions play a critical role in determining professional happiness, job satisfaction and motivation to work for results.  All successful teams have effective leaders.  That means that the team leader plays a vital role in producing and sustaining an effective team.

So team leaders, how will you guarantee that your team is productive?

Listen

Teams will not be effective unless the leader truly listens to members. Does the leader know the team members hopes for the team, their fears and anxieties? It is important that team leaders not only listen but respond to their team in a way that communicates that their thoughts, concerns and ideas have been heard. It is also important that members feel that their concerns will either be taken into consideration, or if necessary, put on hold for now. This is done through pausing, paraphrasing back, inquiring for clarification, taking notes on the spot and following up verbally or in writing.

Redirect to Short Term and Long Term Goals

We know that listening is the foundation that guarantees communication and builds trust. We know that it is the responsibility of the team leader to make sure everyone feels heard and respected. That being said, nothing derails teams and frustrates hard working members more than “venting sessions”.  It is the team leader’s challenge to maintain an atmosphere of communication WHILE keeping team members on track and moving efficiently toward the task at hand. A leader needs to learn the art of redirecting. This is accomplished  by using the listening strategies above and then directly bringing the team back the short term goals as well the connection to the long term or ultimate destination. Make sure that short term goals get accomplished regularly and with visible results. Other strategies include setting clear agendas for all meetings and work days, keeping long term goals visually represented showcase how short term goals are steps on the path to meeting the larger long term vision.

All teams have successful leaders.

Model Positivity

Is there any other way of saying this again? People want to be around positive, confident and upbeat people. That is the reality. No one wants to work with or follow negative, harsh or uptight leaders. It stresses everyone out and diminishes productivity. Even if you, as a leader, are having a bad day you need to “put on your game face” remain firm, encouraging and LEAD.  When the team sees the leader losing it – you can be sure they will too.  Leaders, if you need support, find other leaders with whom you can share concerns and challenges. But when leading your team stay focused and positive.

Team leaders, are you clear on where you are going today, tomorrow and for the rest of the year? If not, no one else will be either.

Scaffold Information

Just like we scaffold new information for students we need to think how team members might need scaffolded support. Many new change initiatives bring along new knowledge and new skill sets for teachers. Teams have strengths and weaknesses and team leaders need to know when and how to scaffold in order to reach their goals. Support the team by providing information that will be absorbed at the team’s level and slowly advance in complexity, while decreasing support, as teachers feel more comfortable with new skills.  Team leaders are often teacher leaders or administrators that may be a “step ahead” of many faculty members through training opportunities. They must share their knowledge and skills to move the team forward without overwhelming people. Find the” high-yield place” where gaps in knowledge and opportunities for growth collide to produce results.

Train Yourself

It is the leader’s responsibility to stay informed and current on changes that are taking place in education. If you are lacking knowledge or skills, attend a conference, sign up a Google Alerts, subscribe to national leadership organizations such as Lead and Learn or ASCD or just pick up a book. Leaders don’t have all the answers but they need to be informed on areas of change that are impacting teachers. Team members need to feel comfortable that the leaders have the essential knowledge to support them in change. There are more resources than ever out there for educators to improve their knowledge and skills so don’t wait for someone to train you. Train yourself.

By focusing on these five tips, you will provide your team with a positive direction that will improve results.

Implementng the Common Core has helped many educators across the United States revamp curriculum around the Common Core State Standards.  Through the SACI design framework, courses have been restructured around 21st century skills that will better prepare our students for their post-secondary opportunities.  If you are interested in this resource, click here.  You can also download the first two chapters of Implementnig the Common Core for free.

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Students Aware of Standards

Everyone’s saying “Common Core”… and using the standards in different ways.  I’ve been reading, hearing and thinking about the various belief sets springing from CCSS interpretation.   For instance, a Professional Learning Team within a school decides which Common Core standards their department will address.  Or, a publisher highlights which standards their curriculum will address.  But, how will we ensure students have progressed through each standard?  How will we implement and assess this incredibly complex and thorough document?  Lesson plans using the SACI template are one way to prove which and how well the Common Core Standards are being met in your classroom.

How many standards to include in a unit?

Educators all around the country have differing opinions on executing standards-based curriculum. Some feel the Common Core is meant to be utilized one standard at a time: work on the skill delineated by the standard, assess, achieve, then move to the next standard.  Others believe that students should not move on until skill proficiency is met in the specified standard being assessed.  Still others think that only short, abbreviated texts should be used for skill practice.  These approaches provide us with some questions to ponder:

How many standards can be addressed at one time during a unit of study?

How in depth, and of what length, should text be in order to assess adequate knowledge of a standard?

How does a teacher ensure that students are reading text of sufficient complexity, quality and range for their grade level?

Amidst these varied questions I was heartened to read, in NEAToday’s Summer 2011 issue, policy expert Barbara Kapinus’ snippet (p.23) that stated

Rather than reading drills, we’ll ask students to apply reading skills in a broader, ‘real world’ context.

Instead of asking kids to stand in one spot and throw basketballs into a hoop over and over, we’re getting them to play…. and

Gone are the days of summary book reports.  Students will analyze the story rather than rehash the plot.

What I like about these comments is the support they lend to my belief that skills can be learned through both strong nonfiction or fiction texts.  I believe content should be good and rich.  The goal in my classroom is to focus on more than one standard at a time through unabridged text. Work on reading skills through meaningful context is a great way to prepare students for postsecondary opportunities.

As a Reading specialist my belief is that core subjects can successfully focus on skills when balanced with specialized texts.  The old cry was:  all content teachers are teachers of reading.  The new cry must be:  all content teachers are teachers of skills needed to read within our content.  I believe that all Common Core skills are addressable through well designed units which flow around quality texts.

How will I know my lesson plan is designed to develop student skills in a Common Core Standard? 

I pre and post assess using a formative assessment that purposely delineates the standards in which my students need to be proficient.  Here is an example of my unit plan for Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck. First I preassessed student ability on the standards predetermined by my PLT as necessary for incoming freshmen. (Click here if you’d like to see a partial view of the formative assessment I devised.) Then I taught the novel, with all activities and discussions revolving around these same standards.  The unit ends when students take the post-assessment and show mastery at an 80% minimum.

Productive lesson planning

My lesson planning is productive and directly related to the Common Core because my assessment becomes the template for all my lessons.  An unmastered standard can easily be addressed over and over because of text length.  In this way, students continue practicing skills until they do attain proficiency.  Each lesson throughout a text study, is pivotal for ensuring students are competent at the skill demanded. Lessons are easily differentiated as student abilities are noted through class work and either built upon or revisited.

Core 4 All believes that standards drive curriculum, yet it takes rich content, intricate lesson plans, and detailed assessments in order to ensure standards are met.

 

 

As I write this post in my office, a cup of coffee sits patiently at my side waiting to be sipped, the sun shines through my front window, warming my back and in the background, the sound of the TV, echoing the remembrance that will never be erased from my mind.  It is hard to believe that ten years have already passed, my daughters only 6 and 3 at the time, were too young to comprehend the nature of the devastating acts that left the world speechless and stunned.  My heart goes out to the families whose lives have been changed forever, from the parents who lost their children, to the spouses who lost their significant others, to the children who lost their parents and to everyone who lost a relative or friend.

But as we do, we fight; fight to rebuild the greatest country in the world.
But what keeps us going?
Why do we refuse to surrender?
What makes us so resilient and how can we pass our resiliency to our next generation of leaders?

The importance of questioning

We must teach our children the value of questioning, and not take things at face value.  As we read, listen and watch, I urge you to model questioning and discuss with your students and children this valuable tool.  As we want our children to be critical thinkers, it is through questioning that will improve this skill.  To hold authentic discussions, there must be a balance of statements and questions.  It is okay to ask why and let our youth develop their answers.

The importance of making connections

Last night, my good friend and I had a conversation about why as a society, in general, do we accept information as the truth, whether it is in print, radio or TV? He answered that it comes to the always-on-the-go mentality.  We are taking kids from one practice to another, eating in the car, not having time to sit as a family.  In schools, we race through our curriculum because we have to get to a certain point in the text before the big test.  For our children’s sake, we must slow down and help make connections with the past so that history does not repeat itself.  As educators, it is time to stop cramming content and start building connections and help our youth develop a deeper understanding of who we are and where we are going.

The importance of entrepreneurialism

As educators, we generally play it safe.  Here is my curriculum and I will teach it.  I take staff development to increase my salary.  But, what are we doing to break the mold of 20th century teaching?  I will bet that if you are reading this post, you are only a small percentage of teachers that want to improve your instructional skills. I commend you for that.  To improve ourselves as educators, it is vital to pick up the latest educational research book, read various educational blogs and follow educators on Twitter and other social media outlets.  But, I challenge you to take it to the next level and create, build, develop tools that will help your students learn.  Become an entrepreneur. Open your mind and take the initiative. I have and it is exhilarating.

The world continues to change at a rapid pace. How we learned in the classroom should not be the primary method to teach our youth today.  If we are to prepare our students to be questioners, influencers, thinkers, and leaders of tomorrow, we must retrain ourselves on the fly.  We owe it our children to help them attain the skills to build a stronger United States of America.

I think I have to rewarm my coffee, it’s too cold.

You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

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n. process  pl. proc·ess·es
A series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result

There is no magic bullet in education. No one right answer or solution that will meet the needs of all schools and all children. Schools are complicated and highly contextual. There is never going to be one right perfect program that will benefit everyone.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that some highly researched programs can greatly benefit students. BUT, no one program will ever be successful without highly functioning teams of professional educators working consistently to bring meaning to those programs into a constantly evolving system.

We are fortunate to have such trailblazing leaders and researchers in education like Marzano, Hattie, Reeves, DuFour, Danielson and Fullan. But, these leaders have not unlocked magical secrets that will lead to success for everyone; instead, they have provided us with fantastic tools to make better schools. It is up to us, in our buildings, to take it to the next level. To make the jump from research to action and make positive, albeit imperfect, things happen.

Moving from research to action

We must create processes and  put into action.

It will not be a pre-packaged program. Effective processes lead to highly efficient teams. As one department in our school explains very eloquently, “Our ultimate goal is to create a highly functioning team”.  I think that really sums it up best if you are looking for simplicity. A highly functioning team of educators focused on student learning will make a positive impact on student achievement.

A highly functioning team relies on multiple processes to keep their work focused and organized.

I’m sure many of you may even be beginning new processes right now as the school year begins. Our high school is implementing a new freshman curriculum. This project alone relied on multiple processes to unfold and the implementation of the curriculum relies on all faculties learning and using the professional learning team process. It is challenging but it will lead us to the goal of highly functioning and focused teams which exist to improve student learning.

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.
As you restructure curriculum around the Common Core, remember to focus your attention on student learning.  For more information, check out AllThingsPLC, by Solution Tree.
Core 4 All, LLC is celebrating its first anniversary!  A big thank you for those of you who have followed us via Twitter, Facebook and WordPress.
Also, we hope  those of you who have bought Implementing the Common Core have been able to develop great units of study around skills and standards. We would love to hear how things are going.

Ready………..Set………..Go!

Another school year is upon us.  I hope you have recharged your batteries and are ready to shape the leaders of tomorrow.  Since the inception of Core 4 All in 2010, we have dedicated our mission to helping you not only see the value in the Common Core State Standards and how it can increase student achievement, but also provide you with a framework to develop curriculum at the classroom, department and school levels.  But how do we as educators take the next step and truly implement the Common Core and make it the driving force in curriculum?

Change

I am fortunate to work for a principal who values change. Change to improve student achievement.  Change to help teachers teach better.  Change to help administrators lead better.  Two months ago she handed out two books for us to read over the summer as we work towards building a professional learning community: Getting Started, by Eaker, DuFour and DuFour, and The Collaborative Administrator, published by Solution Tree.  Each of these books provided me with a better grasp of creating professional learning teams for my own department.  But, she recently handed us a third book, Change is Good…You Go First, by Mac Anderson and Tom Feltenstein, that has inspired me to reflect upon how I lead my staff.  It is a quick read, but packed with information.  As the authors write,

…this book is about ideas to inspire, to motivate, and to
encourage…

Forget for Success

Forget for Success is a chapter that has stuck with me.  This chapter is a synthesis of a book with the same title by Eric Harvey and Steve Ventura.  They talk about how our brains are like closets and over time they fill up.  How true! As educators, we like to accumulate stuff; old lesson plans, supplemental materials, overheads.  How many file cabinets do you have that are filled with stuff that you haven’t used in years?  “You never know if I need this down the road”, is the teacher battle cry.  This year, it is time to throw away those lesson plans on yellow-tinted paper. No you will not need anything from your 3 1/2 floppy discs and you are not going to show any transparencies.

Here is my rule of thumb: If you haven’t used it in 2 years, get rid of it!

In order for the Common Core to make the positive impact on student achievement, we must clean out the file cabinets.  Better yet, not only clean out the cabinets, downsize as well.  A 21st century educator does not have old, out-dated materials. A 21st educator focuses on skills, measures those skills with sound assessments, engages students with relevant content, and uses instructional activities that promote achievement.

An Interview With A Principal

As a mentioned, I have a great boss.  So, I wanted to pick her brain about change.  Change does not come easy, working with over 200 staff members in a suburban high school setting.  But she knows that we all can do better.  Both our students and staff have the capacity to improve.  It is through systemic change that this can come to realization.  So I asked her some questions.

What’s the most important factor a principal should consider when trying to make school-wide change?

The most important thing to consider is what kind of impact the change is going to have on the students.  Change needs to benefit learning, teaching and the school community.  Time is the second most important factor. You cannot expect to make rapid change in a school. The faster you go, the less likely the change will be lasting.

What’s the most common mistake a principal makes trying to initiate a school-wide change?

One of the biggest mistakes is trying to go too fast.  It takes a considerable amount of time to research what is best, to inform staff and students to get them to understand and embrace the change, and it takes time to implement change effectively.  Pushing change from the “top down” is also a common mistake.  Telling people what changes to they need to make without their input is a huge mistake.  They need to “discover” what needs to change and have a part in making the changes.

Any last words of advice for principals who want to initiate change?

Make sure you have key players involved in making change.  Get the administrative staff to understand the need for change, and get teacher leaders involved right from the start with planning and brainstorming the changes. Set some non-negotiables in terms of student and teacher learning, but then step back and let others create the changes to fit their ideas as well as your ideas in terms of what is best for the students and the school as a whole.  Have a timeline in mind, but do not hold fast and hard to that timeline. If it takes longer than you thought (and it will), be patient!  Expect some roadblocks to be in the way, and help others get over those hurdles. Celebrate successes along the way and reward people for their hard work and diligence.  Be prepared to provide training for any new initiative, and make sure that training is an effective use of teacher time. The longer you take to plan and create the changes, the more lasting they will be.

I thank Dr. Audrey Haugan for her time.  Over the last two years, our school has been involved with a major change in restructuring curriculum around standards and skills.  We have experienced growing pains over these last two years, but have also seen great gains in teacher-leadership and collaboration.   These are exciting times in education.  With positive change, we can help develop our leaders of tomorrow.

Homework assignment (I hear the groans already):

What will you do to help make change happen this school year ?

How is your school making change?

Share our blog with your colleagues.

Core 4 All wishes you a great 2011-2012 school year.

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My Mistake

The Core 4 All team has written insightful and powerful ideas over the last year.  If you are a regular Core 4 All reader, you may recall I had set a goal for myself (January 29th 2011 post) to restructure my own lesson plans in order to specifically focus on skill development within the reading of literature in order that I might better equip my students for junior year English.  Yes, I did complete SACI templates for our next two novels.  Yes, the templates looked GOOD.  YES, my students did know exactly what skills they were expected to learn.  However, I completely fell down on the job of rigorously and systematically using a 4-point rubric in order to compile and share data with my students in order that they could – in the words of my colleague’s post of April 2, 2011 – “take ownership of the problem and become accountable for changing.”  I did not succeed in revisiting the skill with students who did not meet proficiency.

My New Plan

I wrote a new SACI template for my summer school, credit recovery class of nineteen students who failed a semester or two of either English III or English IV this past school year.  I chose 4 Common Core Standards.   Click here to see the complete SACI template with the entire Common Core Standard delineated.  In brief they include:

Two Writing Standards:

#10 – Research to Build and Present Knowledge (grades 11-12)
#1 & b – Text Types and Purposes (grades 11-12)

One Language Standard:

#6 Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (grades 11-12)

One Reading Standard:

#2 Key Ideas and Details (grades 11-12)

My Pre-Assessments

Here are two examples of my approach to ensuring students possess the above mentioned skills.  The data I collected through assessments to share with my students, focus on Writing Standard #1 & b and Language Standard #6.

The first pre-assessment to measure CCS #1 & b was to write a letter to the editor of a magazine commenting on their recently published article.  Students were instructed to quote two pieces of evidence to support their stated opinion (claim) about the article’s subject.  The piece was read during class.  Locating and utilizing quotes within the letter would prove they could supply relevant evidence with proper citation.

Students were given a rubric as well as 45 minutes of computer lab typing time.

Here is the breakdown of how the students scored based on the 4-point rubric:

2 students scored in challenge category.
5 students scored in proficient category.
7 students scored in developing category.
5 students scored in beginning category.

The second pre-assessment was a multiple-choice quiz utilizing words made up of 72 Latin roots.   We would focus on learning morphology in order to increase their vocabulary knowledge.  Our school instituted a “Freshmen Vocabulary Project” over the last year, studying 4 Latin or Greek roots per week given in four content classes (English, Social Science, Math and Science).  I am utilizing this same program delivered through power point slides and practice activities.  We learn seven roots per day, take notes, reinforce learning through a variety of activities, and complete  comprehension-checks every morning.  Our class goal was 90% mastery by the end of the semester – which is 12 days in summer school time.  The rubric contained the following measures:

Challenge: Correctly identify all 72 roots.
Proficient: Correctly identify 62-71 roots.
Developing: Correctly identify 58-61 roots.
Beginning: Correctly identify 43-57 roots.
Not meeting: Correctly identify less than 43 roots.

The pre-assessment results?

Challenge level: 0 students
Proficient level: 0 students
Developing level: 4 students
Beginning level:  2 students
Not meeting: 13 students

Student Shock

Low scores!  I shared the data above with my students.  They looked at their individual scores, then compared them to the whole class.  I believe they were shocked to see their scores cast in the light of “Challenge” “Proficient” “Developing” and “Beginning”.   They know I expect them to all be “Proficient” by the end of the semester.  And, they know there will be a post-test on both these measures as part of the final exam.  I can see them working diligently on lessons which focus on finding and gathering support, as well as our root study.  Students have received a clear picture and therefore know exactly what is expected of them.

Teacher Shock

Time!  It takes time to plan, outline and set up the assessment with a rubric for each standard.  It takes time to collect and chart the data. It takes time to show and explain it students.  But, most importantly, it takes time to ensure the same skill is revisited in a similar fashion within the next unit in order to ensure all students achieve the skill.  My students will be writing letters to the editor as we finish Fahrenheit 451 and yet again when we finish Bartleby the Scrivener.   Most important will be the final data to see if all students succeed in reaching “Proficiency.”

—–

The data will reveal all when it comes in at the end of the semester.  These two skills-based lessons have worked so well that I can envision a binder full of Core 4 All SACI templates, perhaps placed in order by CCSS number and standard type, through which I can be assured students are meeting the skills my content area course is required to teach.

Over the past few weeks, I have noticed an increased amount of presence of news articles and advertising around the Common Core State Standards.  States who have adopted the CCSS are currently figuring out how to best implement these new standards.  It is a daunting task; to restructure curriculum around a new set of rigorous standards and skills that will be assessed K-12 by 2014.  States are providing educators with opportunities to review these rigorous standards.  Hopefully, our teaching professionals will have the opportunity to provide valuable feedback on the implementation of the CCSS. I have also seen an increase in education companies marketing new and improved texts and resources around the Common Core.  Education companies  and publishers are also providing workshops for teachers and selling resources on ways to embed the CCSS into existing curriculum.

Where does Core 4 All fit into the grand scheme of things?

For those of you new to our site, here is a little history about Core 4 All. We are four educators, three currently in the field and one who is recently retired.  We have designed a framework to help teachers create curriculum around the Common Core.  It involves a four-step process  (SACI) that provides teachers a systematic approach to design units of study that will give students a deeper understanding of the skills being learned.  Core 4 All believes it is the standard that drives curriculum, not the content.  We use the SACI process as we continue to restructure our units of study and we have witnessed an improvement of student skills based on formative assessments we created around the skills being learned.

Core 4 All provides professional development for educators.  Depending on your district’s needs, Core 4 All will design a workshop tailored to the desired outcomes of your district.  Please contact us (core4all@gmail.com) if you are interested in professional development.

The SACI process can be found in our e-book, Implementing the Common Core(2010).  Implementing the Common Core provides educators with:

Background knowledge of the Common Core State Standards initiative

Benefits of standards-based curriculum around the Common Core

Step-by-step process of creating units of study around the SACI process

SACI unit design template

Each district around this country is working towards meeting the needs of its students to prepare them for college and career.  It is a process that begins pre-K and continues throughout elementary, middle and high school.  Core 4 All understands that each schools’ needs are different.   We do not believe in a national curriculum.  We do believe in a standards-based approach around the Common Core, tied to content that will help students with their post-secondary endeavors.

These are exciting times in education.  Core 4 All’s SACI process will make curriculum come alive.

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Susan and I would like to thank all of you who came out last Friday and participated in our Common Core workshop.  The energy in the room was outstanding.  We hope you were able to come away with a better understanding of designing your units of study around our SACI template.  Creating curriculum around skills and standards is powerful, especially in combination with developing common assessments that measure the proficiency of the skills and standards being learned. If you would like a copy of our presentation please email us at core4all@gmail.com.

Since our inception in August of 2010, we currently have:
58 subscribers to our blog
94 followers on Twitter
5,080 hits on the blog site

Even though our work has consumed us during the evening hours and weekends, we have found it to be very rewarding, by meeting new people, sharing information and spreading the word on standards-based curriculum around the Common Core. This is an exciting time to make change in education. The Common Core State Standards and a new accountability system will bring both opportunity and challenges for us all.

At this point, we are asking for your feedback regarding your progress towards improvement of curriculum, assessment and instruction through a standards-based approach.

Click here to take survey

This will be our last blog for the school year! Thanks to everyone who has engaged with us on this journey of educational change and the CCSS!

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I truly believe that in order for our children to be the leaders of tomorrow, we need to move to a standards-based curriculum.  Why do I make this statement?  We have all the pieces in place to make a positive impact on student learning and yet, as a whole, our educational system is not as connected as it should be.  Let’s look at what we have.

Common Core State Standards

The core of teaching and learning must come from these standards.  If you haven’t read our posts since August, I encourage you  to do so.  It provides justification why curriculum around the Common Core will better prepare our students for college and career.  The posts also give educators ideas on how to implement a standards-based curriculum.  If you do not have the time to read all our posts, we have synthesized that information in our free e-book titled Overview of SACI.  E-mail us at core4all@gmail.com and we’ll send you a pdf of the book that you can copy and share with your colleagues.

Years of research by knowledgeable educators

We have of vast amount of information that can help us improve teaching and learning.  The work  of Robert Marzano and his What Works in Schools has transformed our way of educational thinking.  Douglas Reeves and his Leadership and Learning Center has provided us with a wealth of knowledge in the areas of accountability, assessment, school improvement and standards.  John Hattie and his Visible Learning Lab  has been successful in researching instructional strategies that can make a positive impact in classrooms.  Rick DuFour’s work on professional learning communities has provided schools with a framework for a “culture of
collaboration”. There are countless other outstanding researchers that we have read that have given Core 4 All the tools to help educators build a solid curriculum.

Collaboration

Today, information can be shared quickly all around the world.  The days of teachers closing their classroom doors and keeping their curriculum to themselves is over.  In order for a systematic improvement of student learning to occur, educators must build curriculum together around standards, create common assessments, analyze those assessments to guide their instruction and equally focus on teaching and learning. Technology can also help with collaboration as there is a plethora of ways to share ideas via blogs, Twitter, Google Docs and array of other avenues.

Next steps

We will soon be entering the sacred summer vacation.  Yes, we need the time to re-energize ourselves during this time, but it is also a prime opportunity to improve
ourselves as educators.  I encourage you to read the work of Marzano, Reeves, Hattie, and DuFour.  Core 4 All has dedicated its mission to provide educators with the resources to improve not only the learning of students, but also for teachers.

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Recently I was recommended the book How Remarkable Women Lead: A Breakthrough Model for Work and Life by Barsh, Cranston and Lewis. In the midst of lots of negativity in education, I constantly feel the need to “reframe” and counteract with positive thoughts and plans. I refuse to, and mentally and physically cannot, go down that negative-thinking and defeatist path. Barsh, Cranston and Lewis provide examples of leaders who, by engaging and speaking up, demonstrate that individuals CAN make a difference in any milieu.

Engaging is where it all comes together – when you cross an invisible line from being a person to whom things happen to becoming a person that makes things happen. It literally means breaking the bounds that circumscribe your career and your life. Making the commitment to do so is one of the best things you will ever do for yourself. It takes courage. It takes a willingness to fight for what you want, even though you may, be fighting your own resistance and fear. It releases unbelievable energy.
(Barsh, Cranston & Lewis, 2009)

Think about a wish or a goal you have for your class, department or school. How can you make it happen?

Engage

Engage with yourself and start taking steps to make things happen. Talk to colleagues and talk to your supervisors. Rally support and begin working towards your goal. You have the power within your system to begin the path toward improving the education of students in your school. This means you accept direct professional responsibility and are not waiting to be told what to do. You take the lead and make things happen and as a result all students will benefit. 

Speak Up

With engagement comes speaking up. Have you ever sat in school improvement meetings silently listening to others but not wanting to speak your mind? Why is that? There are many reasons why people don’t speak up. Some reasons include fear, shyness, resentment, insecurity, and politics. Speaking up professionally and respectfully is crucial if you want your voice to be heard. Cranston, Barsh and Lewis put it best “…you have to speak up to be counted” (2009). Try this. Next time you are in a meeting and you have a thought about the topic being discussed, state it out loud.

When I first became an instructional coach, my principal gave me the classic Dr. Seuss book Horton Hears a Who! She understands the need to listen. She wanted to emphasize to me the simple message that all voices need to be heard for change to be successful and meaningful. Maybe you don’t have a problem speaking up! If that is the case, maybe it is time for you to bring out the voices in others around you. If colleagues are sitting silently – ask them what they think even if it is awkward. Sometimes this will take the group in a completely different and perhaps better direction.

In order to release positive energy into your school – engage, speak–up and listen.

If you are new to our blog posts, Welcome!  Please visit our Core 4 All website.

Last month, Al’s article on RtI for ELLs was published on Reading Rockets. Take a look.

Finally, Al and Susan will be presenting at the North Cook Intermediate Service Center in Des Plaines, Illinois on Friday, May 6 from 12-3pm.  The title of the presentation is An Introduction to Implementing the Common Core as a Vehicle to Drive 21st Century Curriculum.  If you are in the area, please sign up for the workshop.  We will be going through the process of creating units of study around the Common Core State Standards.

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Old Way

We have all been there; a stack of essays that need to be graded in front of us and a red, green or purple pen (yes, I said red).  We sit at the kitchen table or in the office with a cup of coffee, tea, or a favorite beverage.  We adjust the stack of papers one last time, take a deep breath and begin to correct.  We correct and mark misspelled words, poor punctuation and capitalization. We comment on organization, content and voice, and at the end of it all, we score the paper based on our trusted rubric that has 5 or 6 clear-cut categories (Voice, Organization, Mechanics, Word choice, Fluency, to name a few). We then return the papers and rubrics expecting our students to be able to read the colorful mess full of corrections and comments, decipher the rubric, and revise the paper.  Did I paint a clear picture?

Background

The course that I teach, Spanish for Heritage Speakers, is a course designed for newly arrived Latino student into the country.  Our main objective is to improve student literacy skills in Spanish.  I have a wide range of abilities from students who struggle with reading and writing in their native language to those that are very literate. It has traditionally been a course that is driven by a variety of fictional readings from a textbook, short stories, novels, and poems. Since the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, I am currently revamping the curriculum and my units of study around specific skills that are important for students to be able to do.  Instead of moving through the traditional content on the textbook, I have chosen content that matches the skills being learned.  In addition to using various readings from the text, I have also pulled content off the Internet and other sources to include current and relevant topics.  During this school year, the students have shown proficiency in the follow major Common Core skills:

-Citing strong and thorough evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text

-Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient

-Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence

-Demonstrate command of the conventions of the Spanish language, including capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing

New Way

We just finished a unit on writing summarizes, a difficult concept for many of my students.  During the unit, we practiced writing summaries many times, during class-time and for homework.  I modeled summary writing, we assessed examples or poorly and well-written summaries and we wrote summarizes together.  We read short stories and articles and summarized the contents in chunks.  Students worked individually, with partners and in groups.  I assessed their skills by reading their summaries outside of class-time and by walking around the classroom as they were working alone and in groups, making quick spot checks. 

The Key

We tend to grade everything in an essay, from grammar, punctuation, spelling, organization, and content.  But, this is time-consuming and in reality the students are truly not focused enough to soak in all the errors they have made at once in the various categories.  Instead, the key to grading writing is to focus in on one particular skill your students are working on. In this case, my final assessment will show my students’ ability to write a summary based on a new piece of work they have not seen.  This is the only way to truly gauge student proficiency of a particular skill.  So as we are moving along the unit, students are practicing this skill through a variety of ways in and out of class with the end result to become proficient in writing an efficient summary of a piece of text. 

I am not advocating for the abandonment of essays with multi-dimensional scoring rubrics. There is a place for them in the curriculum, perhaps once per quarter.  I am asking that we focus our writing assignments to the skill being learned.  Only then can students focus in on the skill being mastered.

By subscribing to our blog, you will receive our free e-book titled Overview of SACI. SACI (Standards, Assessments, Curriculum, Instruction) is our unit design process to create units of study around the Common Core State Standards.

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Implementing the Common Core

We hope to think that most everyone by now has probably seen if not read and perhaps even analyzed the CCSS as a first step to curriculum restructuring. If you haven’t, why not?  You have probably also noticed the higher level of these standards compared to what students are presently doing in their schools. One look at the student exemplar models in Appendix C and the quality and level of sophistication is a little intimidating. Some teachers may be asking themselves…

How do we get our students to a higher level of expectations?

The Common Core State Standards have obviously set high expectations for students of the United States and it is our job to help our students become proficient in these standards.

Setting high expectations is one thing but we must think about. So, how can we support high expectations in our classrooms and schools?

8 ideas to support high expectations

1.  Clarity and Purpose
As stated time and again, determining clear learning outcomes per grade level and course team and sharing those outcomes with students is vital as students move towards proficiency.  Mike Schmoker’s brand new book Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning is a must read.  He discusses the foundational elements of curriculum and instruction that schools need to focus on first before implementing new initiatives.

2. Use of Instructional Strategies to Build Skills
The CCSS clearly indicate that some skills students will be working on may need appropriate scaffolding.  School or district-wide literacy strategies highlight the importance of literacy and the need for all students to access the curriculum regardless of learning level or language level.

3.  Feedback
Formative, immediate and ongoing feedback on how students are doing against a standard is one of the highest-yield strategies a teacher can use (Hattie, 2009).

4.  Student-teacher relationships
When teachers take the time to build trusting, productive relationships with students, student performance increases.  Students need to know you care and want them to succeed.  There is no time to play the role of  “Gotcha Police”.

5. Engaging Content
Students need to be challenged with fiction and non-fiction texts that engage them in their world and are relevant to their lives.

6. Parent Support
If parents understand and support the curriculum at home, students will perform better. This isn’t always possible but every effort that can be made to include parents in their child’s education will improve their ability to learn.

7. Professional Development
The most effective types of professional development include job-embedded observation, micro teaching, video feedback and practice with peers and mentors (Hattie, 2009). The adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the focus on literacy is a great impetus to revamp professional development practices.

8.  Professional Learning Teams and Common Formative Assessments
Teachers need to rally around the expectations and work toward common goals. Common formative assessment data gives interdependent professionals the tools they need to make sound classroom and school-wide instructional decisions that will improve student learning.

These are truly turbulent times in education.  Education has been on the front page for months now.  The country is expressing its opinions about the tenure process, merit pay, and college readiness.  It is unfortunate that quality teachers, who care so much for their students, are being put on the defense.

We ask that we all come together and agree that setting high expectations for students and ourselves will make for a better future for all of us.  There has been too much finger-pointing lately, blaming one another for not preparing our students well enough to succeed.  Let’s put the fingers away and create a system that ensures the success of the greatest resource of ours – our children.

Please share our blog with your colleagues, parents, friends and neighbors.

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I swore to myself that I would never start a sentence off this way, but I am. Being in education for 21 years…. I can’t continue. I worked with a colleague that began just that way. Hearing the phrase “Being a social scientist for 35 years…” gave us the clue that a five-minute pontification was about to commence with really no end point. So I will just get on with my message.

I have experienced a plethora of school and district initiatives since I began in 1990. I am sure this is just a partial list:

4-MAT Lesson Design
Reading Across the Curriculum
Writing Across the Curriculum
Quality Classroom Assessment
Read to Learn/Learn to Read
Dr. Tim Shanahan’s Model of Reading
Understanding by Design
Constructivism
Classroom Instruction that Works
Cooperative Learning
Differentiated Instruction
Problem-Based Learning

What’s the point?

The point I want to make is that each of these initiatives was intended to improve our teaching. I was involved in a conversation not too long ago with a couple of veteran teachers. We were compiling this list of initiatives that have gone through our district. “What ever happened to these initiatives?” was a comment made by one of my colleagues. “We talk about it at an institute, maybe have a few in-services and then we’re done.” And this made me wonder. Is this a common thought in the minds of most teachers? Do teachers feel that these are just drive-by initiatives? In one year and out the next?

We’ve missed the point

When an educational initiative comes to us, the expectation is that we learn it, through professional development, through discussions, through collaboration, through reading additional resources. We then begin to incorporate it into our units and lessons. In order for us to fully prepare our students through their educational experiences, it is important for us to move out of our teaching comfort zone and learn new techniques, read the latest research, and implement them into classroom practice where it best matches the standards/skills being learned.

Newest initiative

Those of you that have been reading this blog post know that we are advocates for the Common Core State Standards. It is not meant to be a new flavor of the month, but rather the vehicle that will drive our new, revamped, revitalized 21st century curriculum. Implementing the Common Core and using the SACI unit design template will help build relevant and engaging units of study. The Common Core will improve student achievement. How am I confident? It is through the data that I have collected through my formative assessments. The Common Core has provided me and my staff with useful student information where we can make informed decisions about student achievement. We use this data to drive our curricular decisions. Our curriculum is not static, but rather fluid and flexible .

None of what we learn through our institutes and professional development is meant to be a passing fad. It is to help us become better educators which in turn will help us build the leaders of tomorrow.

—–

I would like to give a shout-out to all my new friends I met in Chicago at the National Conversations on English Learner Education sponsored by the US Department of Education.  It was great to meet all of you! I hope we can keep in touch.  I have begun a group on Michelle Rhee’s site StudentsFirst.  The listserv group is called… you guessed it: Common Core.  We can use this group as a way to network and share ideas.

Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog (top right side of Home page) so you can get the newest posts via email.

Need to contact us? core4all@gmail.com

 

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The last four months have not only recharged, but significantly reshaped this teacher’s view of lesson planning.  How?  Happenstance and collegial banter about a desire to write books and share literacy strategies with the teaching community plopped her right into the arms of Core 4 All and one of the coolest e-booksfor teachers on the market today.

This teacher’s awesome plan

Analyzing and using the SACI template has shown me how to rethink my lesson planning, on both the unit level and the day-to-day level.  A rebuilt unit plan was my goal for the start of “The Next 100 Days”.  Yes, I did know the text title upfront that my students were going to read.  Yes, the SACI model recommends that teachers first choose and complete a “T-chart Analysis” of the Common Core Standards to be taught, secondly design assessments and finally, choose appropriate reading materials.  However, because my students had already purchased their text last summer and it is part of the required course curriculum, I did design this unit knowing the text to be read.

The big change 

I put the novel aside while analyzing the skills my students should master this unit.  I forgot the novel while designing my assessments.  So now my lessons are built on a firm foundation of skills as delineated by the Common Core State Standards.  My lessons are no longer simply a variety of engaging activities to take us through a novel, but are lessons specifically tied to skills my students have been told to master in order to successfully complete the final assessment.

Step One 

The goal for my classes this year is success with the Common Core’s Reading Standards for Literature – grade 10 – #10 (CCSS 38).  “read and comprehend literature…at the high-end of the grades 9-10 complexity band independently and proficiently.”  In order to accomplish this I know we must read and read and read some more.  Therefore the skills students need to acquire must arise from their experiences with the written story – both fictional and nonfictional.

Step Two

I completed the SACI Design Template in order to better understand how to achieve increased skill growth in areas with which my students struggle greatly – understanding how a writer finds and puts ideas to paper, locating evidence in a text in order to draw conclusions, and drawing inferences in order to understand messages below the surface.  The SACI Design Template shows specifics on the three Common Core Standards selected for this unit of learning.

The Core 4 All SACI Unit Design Template provides teachers with a systematic approach to creating great units of study, focusing on the Common Core State Standards.  In fact, this template can be used with any skills-based standards (College Readiness, ISTE, ACTFL).

Bottom Line

This particular English teacher took it upon herself to make a change in how she teaches.  This change is happening right now. She did not wait until the beginning of the next school year.  She did not wait until all of her daily lesson plans and activities for the unit were neatly copied and packaged in the Xerox box. She did not wait for a national policy to be implemented. This teacher had the courage to realize that her current system of teaching/learning could be improved.  Even though she is a veteran teacher who has loads of experience working with all students, from learning disabled to gifted, she continues to improve her craft as an educator, preparing her students for their post-secondary experiences.

If you have a story to share or a question to ask  Core 4 All, please comment or drop us an email at core4all@gmail.com.

Please continue to share this blog with your colleagues. The positive feedback we receive continues to energize us.

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You probably have somewhere in the vicinity of 100 days remaining until the final school bells ring and summer vacation begins.  I’m sure many of us are asking ourselves, “Where did the first semester go?”  In a blink of an eye, we have already completed one-half of the school year.

Reflect and Task

Before we move forward and focus on these next 100 days, let’s reflect on what your students learned this past semester.  Take out a pen and paper and create a three-column table. I’ll wait. Title the first column Standards/Skills, the second column Content Curriculum, and the third Pre/Post Assessment Results. Focusing on column one, write down the major skills/standards students were expected to master during the first semester.  In column two, write down the content that was taught during the skill building.  Finally, in column three, write down the percentages of your pre-assessment and post-assessment results based on student proficiency of skills learned.  The link below will open the table of my first semester results:

Semester One Skills and Proficiency Table

There were other minor skills taught during the semester, but the table shows the three major standards I focused on this semester in my class.  The first number in the last column of the table represents the percent of students that were already proficient in the skill prior to instruction and the second number represents the percent of students proficient after instruction. (Note: The post-assessment material on the final exam was brand new text that students read for the first time.)

What I learned

Based on this data, I can see that I need to revise my method of teaching how to write an argument since only 50% of my students were able to master all components of an argument paper (bright side;  none of my students were able to develop an argument essay before instruction). In addition, we’ll spend more time practicing theme and central idea, a difficult concept for my students and continue working on making inferences.  The bottom line is that I have hard evidence of what my students are able to do. This will help me guide my instruction for semester two.

Moving Forward

It is vital to focus around the skills we want our students to master.  When we concentrate on content and instructional activities, skills and standards take a back seat.  Try this:

Choose a standard from the Common Core State Standards.

Create an assessment that will measure proficiency of this standard.

Add content curriculum that is relevant and engaging.

Incorporate proven instructional strategies that will help build the skills.

Implementing the Common Core will guide you through the SACI process of unit design focusing on standards.

It is only by re-shifting our focus around standards that will better prepare our students to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Do you want an overview of our SACI unit design process? Email us at core4all@gmail.com and we’ll send you the pdf of Overview of SACI.

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Written by Susan Savage

The Common Core State Standards are more than a document. They are a new way of thinking, a substantial mindset shift, a vehicle to move our students to bigger and better things. The document in itself is meaningless unless teachers implement the standards-based approach to teaching with fidelity.

How do you ensure that real change is happening and that students will begin to perform better?

It takes more than a document. One of my current obsessions, in my role as instructional coach working on a large curriculum restructuring project, is getting everyone to come to consensus on standards. I want to have a nice, neat, school-wide document that clearly states our priority standards per quarter and that the various disciplines align, supporting one another.  As you can imagine this takes some doing. But upon some reflection, I realize that it really isn’t about the document (although, come hell or high water we WILL get one done)!  A document is a piece of paper that is meaningless unless authentic change happens at the same time.

So what does that look like?
What could be more important than the “document”?

Here is a list of what I see happening at our high school that means more than a document.

1. Teachers talking about and analyzing standards together.
2. A growing comfort with data and using data to make instructional decisions.
3. Questioning previous practices and discussing more effective ways to assess and instruct.
4. Teams of administrators working with sending schools.
5. Teachers reading books on teacher leadership, literacy, assessment and differentiation.
6. Collaborative scoring.
7. Meaningful discussions about teaching and learning in the hallways, faculty offices and cafeteria.
8. Interdisciplinary professional learning teams setting school wide goals.
9. A desire and commitment to observing each other teach.
10. A constant student focus.

So as we toil away at creating the “document”, we must remember that like any journey the real work is happening along the way.

Success is not a place at which one arrives but rather the spirit which one undertakes and continues the journey.
Alex Noble

Feel free to contact us (core4all@gmail.com).  If you would like a free copy of our ebook, Overview of SACI, please email us and we’ll send a pdf copy your way.

As we begin the new year, we can’t help but be excited about the connections we have made during our first four months of existence. After the creation of Core 4 All, we began connecting with educators, edupreneurs and bloggers throughout the United States. Each one has something in common: A passion for what they believe in and a calling to share their ideas with others. Communicating with each one of our new friends have rejuvenated us in pursuing our dream to improve student achievement.

Walter McKenzie
We connected with Walter McKenzie through ASCD EDge. Walter is a passionate educator from Virginia whose interests are in 21st century learning. His blog on Mavericks, Martyrs, and Canaries, asked for a call to action among educators all across this country. He called on each one of us to be a ripple in the ocean. Each ripple would then cause a “tidal transformation” in education. We agree with Walter. Each one of us can make a difference and improve the state of education. Will you jump in and add a ripple to the cause?

Scott Messinger
We connected with Scott and his colleague Andy Hlavka because we wanted to know about their wonderful site Common Curriculum. Common Curriculum helps publishers and school districts publish their curriculum online and connect to the teachers that use it. Publishers use their platform to create and sell electronic editions of their curriculum. School districts, charter school networks, and after-school groups use their platform to distribute their instructional materials to teachers. They can also create curriculum maps and scope and sequences. Curriculum creators can align their resources to the Common Core standards and allow teachers to search for resources that are aligned to them. Take a look at their site. It is amazing.

Stephanie Fortson
Stephanie works as a social media partner with the PTA. She is a strong supporter of the Common Core State Standards. She is working with parents to better educate them on how the Common Core will better prepare our students for their post-secondary opportunities. One of Stephanie’s goals is to make parents aware that the Common Core is not just a national level agenda, but will affect each child locally. We need to ensure that parents are made aware of the great changes that are taking place.

Everett Bogue
Everett is a very successful blogger. He is a minimalist. If you don’t know what that means, check out his web site Far Beyond The Stars and one of his books The Art of Being a Minimalist. He taught us to write from the soul. He advised us to show a passion for what we believe in. We cannot thank him enough for his wisdom.

As we begin the new year, let us each look for ways to connect with people beyond the four walls of our classroom, school or district. The Common Core State Standards create a solid platform for teachers to connect and share ideas, speak the same common language and support one another locally and nationally. Implementing the Common Core will guide you in creating great units of study around the Common Core State Standards. Don’t wait for state policy to dictate the implementation of the Common Core. Revamp your curriculum using Implementing the Common Core.

The holiday season is a time for rest, renewal and reflection but a new year is here. A time for positive renewal and action plans. What is your plan for 2011?

Written by Susan Savage | Follow Core 4 All on Twitter

It’s that time of year again when everyone winds down a little bit to enjoy the holiday season with family and friends and rest from the demands of our daily work as educators.
One of my favorite movies of all time is the seasonal and timeless It’s a Wonderful Life. The positive messages of dreams, goals, hard work, relationships and the power of collective action are truly inspiring. As everyone knows, the grand finale of It’s a Wonderful Life demonstrates the power of collective action. George Bailey is saved from economic ruin and personal despair because everyone in the community contributes just a little bit to a larger cause. I always find that scene incredibly moving and trust me I’ve seen that scene a lot!

After a busy semester, I am deeply immersed in my own professional reflection of change, curriculum and professional learning teams. I can’t help make the connection to the power of collective action and the changes that are occurring in our schools and country right now. Regardless of the imperfections in our public education system, we must look positively at changes as opportunities. It is the mindset we must cultivate if we want to move forward. Right now, we have a wonderful opportunity to create anew with the Common Core State Standards. To do this we must set aside our skepticism and weariness and focus intently on what we want for all of our students and then set forth to work uncompromisingly and collectively toward shared goals. If everyone makes a commitment to contribute just a little bit to this larger cause great things will happen- maybe even miracles.

If you are doing any planning over the break take a look at the SACI template and eBook Core4All: Implementing the Common Core. Try it out and let us know how it goes.
Just like George Bailey had his challenges, we have our challenges. But, in the midst of all that we must remember that we are standing in the middle of a wonderful opportunity, provided we all have “enough brains to climb aboard”!

Enjoy this holiday season and we will see you in 2011 for the best year yet!

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To contact us, e-mail us at core4all@gmail.com.

Written by Alan Matan and Susan Savage | Follow us on Twitter

Looking for passionate, talented, creative and dedicated teachers willing to take risks in improving their own learning to meet the needs of the 21st century student.  Is this you?

If so, please read on.  If not, I wish you the best of luck continuing your path of complacency, your status quo mentality and “this-is-how-I’ve-always-done-it philosophy”.

For those of us remaining, which I hope is the majority, let’s make a promise. Raise your right hand and say, “I, state your name, promise to prepare our students to be self-reliant, productive global citizens that can think, innovate, and be inspired to achieve.”

Good. Feels refreshing, right? Now we can get down to business.

A must tool for the 21st century teacher: Implementing the Common Core

We have been hard at work writing an e-book that focuses on helping teachers develop curriculum around the Common Core State Standards.  At the time this post was written, over 40 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, a rigorous set of skills that will better prepare our students to be the innovators and leaders of tomorrow.  If you haven’t taken the time to look at them, please click on Common Core hyperlink.

What is included in the e-book Implementing the Common Core?

Benefits of using the Common Core State Standards

  • Purpose of implementing the Common Core State Standards as a vehicle to drive new 21st century curriculum
  • In-depth unit design process around Common Core skills, focusing on:
    Common Core State Standards
    Common Formative Assessments
    Relevant Content Curriculum
    Research-based Instructional Strategies

Interested?  Click here.

We are confident that this e-book will provide you with a structured framework that will help you build engaging and relevant units of study.

Core 4 All is a grass-roots endeavor created by teachers for teachers who want to make a difference in the lives of our 21st century learners. Pass the message on.  We cannot wait for policy. Let us make the policy.

Since the roll out of the Common Core State Standards in June of 2010, over 40 states have adopted them.

Here is the Common Core State Standards mission statement:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

Experts in the field of education are weighing in on this topic, both positively and negatively, but it is the negative perception that seems to be winning out (for now).

Here are the negative perceptions out there:
The Common Core will lead to a national curriculum and a national assessment.
The Common Core will take over our children’s minds.
The Common Core will take over state control of education.
The Common Core will turn our educational system to that of the European-style socialism.
The Common Core lacks specific content.

My objective is to show you how the Common Core State Standards will better prepare our students for their futures, but why listen to me?

First, I am a parent of two daughters, on in high school and one in middle school.  I have been an educator for 21 years as a classroom teacher and currently as a school administrator.  I have not only reviewed the Common Core State Standards, but have revamped my curriculum around the Common Core and have guided my staff in revising five courses, moving from a content-driven curriculum to a skills-based curriculum.  Since our revisions, we have data to show that our students have learned specific skills that will help them succeed in school and in their future.

What are the benefits of the Common Core?

Moving from a content-based curriculum to a standards-based curriculum will provide students with the necessary tools to prepare them for post-secondary opportunities.

The Common Core State Standards, aligned with college and work expectations, focus on learning expectations and will improve the academic achievement of all students.

The benefits of the Common Core State Standards will positively impact both teachers and students alike.

The Common Core State Standards will provide students with the necessary skills to access higher education and to compete globally in the workforce.  The Common Core is a vehicle that will assist educators in creating quality and fair skills-based instruction for all students. The 21st century skills embedded in the Common Core will pave the way for students to think, reflect, analyze, influence, evaluate, and communicate.

The Common Core State Standards will enhance teacher collaboration.  When teachers across the nation use the same standards and common language, collaboration becomes more meaningful.  Professional development at conferences, professional organizations, and across networks will be more powerful than ever.  When teachers share best practice, students benefit.

The Common Core State Standards will provide more stability for the mobile student.  In order to close the achievement gap once and for all, educators need consistency with learning targets for each grade level.  Clear expectations across each county, state, and nation will help create constancy for students who move due to economic and personal reasons.

Let me provide a rebuttal to the negative statements from above:

The Common Core will lead to a national curriculum and a national assessment and will take over state control of education.
The Common Core is not a federal initiative. The states and local school districts will have the control over implementation and assessment of the Common Core.

The Common Core will take over our children’s minds.
Please review the Common Core and read its standards.  They are rigorous. I want them to take over my children’s minds because I know they will then be ready for the 21st century global workplace.

The Common Core will turn our educational system to that of the European-style socialism.
Once again, the Common Core is a set of skills that will better prepare our youth.  If we all understand what our children are expected to learn from kindergarten through 12th grade, we can help them succeed. A strong connection can be built between teacher, student, parent, school, community when we all have a shared knowledge of the skills being taught.

The Common Core lacks specific content.
We live in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips.  The Common Core is designed as a systematic roadmap to develop a set of important skills that will help students understand, analyze, apply, and synthesize content.  Yes, I understand content is important, but it has been the driving force for too long in education. Let’s use the Common Core as the driving force teaching skills in school and provide content that is necessary, relevant, engaging.

The Common Core State Standards will help our students become the thinkers, innovators, and leaders of not only the United States, but the world.

Feel free to share this with parents who may not understand how the Common Core will help our students in today’s world.

This past week 40 teachers and administrators in a large suburban high school made presentations to the faculty during the November Institute.  The message was simple, yet powerful:

How can we, as a community of educators, help prepare our students for the challenges they face after high school?

The team concentrated on four topics; the Culture of Poverty, Professional Learning Communities, specific reading strategies, and a common argument writing rubric.

Since 2002, student achievement has remained stagnant and there continues to be plenty room for improvement.  Instead of teaching the same curriculum, hoping that our students would magically understand the material, our principal and administrative team challenged our faculty to restructure our curriculum, moving towards a skills-based approach to better prepare our students for post-secondary opportunities.

So, what are we doing to improve student achievement?

1. Challenging the status quo

We refuse to teach the same way as we have been taught.  There is too much compelling educational research that supports a change in curricular methodology.  We understand that a skills-based approach will better prepare our students for the 21st century workplace.  We have read and implementing Robert Marzano’s What Works in Schools and John Hattie’s Visible Learning.  We see the importance of Tony Wagner’s essential skills in the Global Achievement Gap.  We are having the difficult conversations with our own colleagues regarding best practices in the classroom.

2. Creating a community of teacher learners and leaders

Receiving a degree in our content area may make us content experts, but it does not prepare us for the 21st century classroom.  We are committed to improving ourselves through a system of support through an embedded professional development community.  We have key staff members who are expert trainers in Cooperative Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and Problem-Based Learning. Teaching is more than content regurgitation.  We must focus on a set of agreed-upon skills we must teach our students to master.  It is the skills that drives the curriculum, not content.

3. A shared vision

What is the vision of your school?  Our vision is to improve student learning.  In order to have a common vision, we must also have common practices in place that all staff must be committed to doing.  As I said at the beginning, we had a teacher institute that focused on key pieces in the continued improvement of student learning.  These are non-negotiables that all teachers will implement.  For example, our staff has agreed to use four reading strategies with the freshman class; annotation, 2-column notes, concept mapping, and question-answer relationships. We have also agreed to use one rubric when assessing our freshman argument essays. Targeting a handful of strategies will help our freshmen remain focused.

Final thoughts

Student achievement will improve only until we reform our way of thinking, our way of planning, our way of assessing.  This work will be difficult for both teachers and students. As teachers, we live our lives going to school.  We put in countless hours of work trying to mold the minds of our students that are seated in front of us each day.  Reflect on how you have taught these last five, ten, twenty years.  There is no magic wand that will improve academic achievement.  We will only prepare our students for what lies ahead of them through a committed effort of our learning, reflecting, and our commitment to excellence.  Our students deserve the best.

Please pass on this message to colleagues who you feel want to be change agents in your school.  We do not need to wait for state or federal policies. Change can happen and will happen with dedicated edupreneurs.

Also, there are two important links on our WordPress blog site. The first is a link for a free subscription to our posts that are sent automatically to you.  Finally, there is a link to download our first two chapters of our ebook for free: Implementing the Common Core.

Our main web site is http://www.core4all.com and you can contact us at core4all@gmail.com.

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