Unit Design


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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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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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

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

Ten different strands in education were featured.  They were:

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

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

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

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

PLC Monthly Calendar

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

Blank Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to ponder as educators:

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

Teacher Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homework

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

Questions or issues that you would like us to tackle? Email us at  support@core4all.com.

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

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

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