Supporting Students in a time of Core Standards: English Language Arts Grades 9-12 by Sarah Brown Wessling with Danielle Lillge and Crystal VanKooten is a 2011release from NCTE. The authors created a text that demonstrates how to incorporate the Common Core Standards while remaining student-centered.
The text is presented in three sections. The first provides an overview of the Common Core State Standards which illustrates the key shifts needed to move from previous standards to the CCSS. The second section takes readers into classrooms to explore lessons that embody a student-centered approach to English instruction that integrates the ELA strands. The final section focuses on building instruction from and with CCSS with individual, collaborative, and advocacy perspectives.
Throughout the book Wessling maintains a rigorous, student-centered focus that integrates the ELA strands of the CCSS. The author suggests using themes to approach literacy in order to accomplish the goals of the CCSS without fragmenting instruction into skill-based lessons. She provided thoughtful content and many examples of application with room for teachers to create and implement their own instructional application.
|Student focused shifts:||Instructional Shifts:|
Sarah Brown Wessling’s Journey
In the text, the author shares her journey from teaching a singular novel with an emphasis on plot to a theme based approach. Layering the instructional design created ongoing opportunities for writing and speaking.
She identified her own key shifts as she moved from teaching recall to interpretation:
“I had not only learned to teach thematically, but I had also learned how to design a recursiveness in text selection that mirrored and honored the kind of recursiveness we practiced as writers, thinkers, viewers, and readers.” (23)
Examples: She moved from teaching The Odyssey to teaching the theme of journeys, or from Macbeth to a theme of perspectives.
She created “entry questions and exit questions” to help students explore the how and why of a text.
Examples of Essential Questions from the Quest Unit:
Examples of thinking and learning practices included in the book:
Writing tasks described in the text:
Favorite quotes from the book:
“…we’ve created the capacity for students to construct their own learning….” (29)
“This teacher’s conversation mirrors the crux of what we know about literacy: it is recursive, complex, and most authentic when integrated.” (72)
“Creating the “reservoir” of knowledge may be teacher-directed, but how students find their way is decidedly determined by the writer.” (74)
“But the issue of pressing import may be less about what materials we have than what we do or better yet what we ask students to do.” (98)
“…how we think and talk about learning speaks volumes about what we value.” (38)
I enjoyed this book. It provided ideas for application and affirmation that instruction can, and should, remain student-centered in this time of core standards. I would recommend this book for all high school English teachers.
This year is my first year as a literacy coach, and I must say, I am enjoying the change. The job is challenging; and I’m enjoying solving different kinds of problems than I did when I was in the classroom. Luckily, my coaching position includes teaching a reading intervention group three times a week, so I get to have that all-important kid contact. It keeps my foot in the teaching stream while allowing me the majority of my time to work with the teachers in my school.
I expected this year to be challenging. I expected it to be humbling. And I expected to learn.
What I didn’t expect was the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far.
The biggest part of my job is to listen.
I listen as teachers work through their professional learning needs. I listen as they reflect on the work they want to do with their students and what is getting in the way. I listen as they celebrate growth and discovery. I listen as they think out loud about new approaches to their content. I am a sounding board when they have a new idea.
Of course, I ask questions. I probe. I ponder alongside them.
When it is appropriate, I offer suggestions for ways we can work together to solve problems.
But most of all?
I’m all ears.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Illinois Reading Recovery and Comprehensive Literacy Conference. Though I missed the third day keynote by Nell Duke because of a three hour commute due to snow, the keynotes on the first two days reminded me of the power of learning together with a group.
Both Linda Dorn and Peter Johnston talked about best practices in literacy instruction and embedded in their presentations were opportunities to talk to those around me about the ideas in their speeches. Known in elementary circles as “turn-and-talks”, this time provides learners the opportunity to share their new thinking and learning with others in the learning community. At a conference like this, time to talk with other from my district helps solidify my thinking and gives me the chance to deepen my thinking by listening to that of others. I was reminded of how much I like it when I find I’ve interpreted something differently from my neighbor and we are able to talk about the differences and come to common understanding.
Teachers of children and teenagers should not discount the power of the turn and talk. Done well, and after practicing to make sure the students talk about the learning taking place, these several minutes can help to cement learning for each of the students in the room.
The group of 27 second graders were learning to think about subtraction in different ways. Some were experimenting with counting up; others were trying to get the answer by counting down. With partners or small groups they were actively engaged. I saw pairs at the white board making tally marks while another pair counted on a number line. Still another set counted down on the 100 chart. Others thought to use the yardstick or multiple rulers hitched together. However they did it, there was positive energy and higher level thinking at work. The teacher skirted the room guiding when and where necessary, making on the spot assessments while beaming with pride at the students’ accomplishments.
In a fifth grade class room, students were reading “Thank You, Mam” by Langston Hughes. The teacher signaled that it was now time to write their ideas, questions, whatever thoughts they had. Next they were invited to talk in small groups about their ideas. Clarification took place as one group decided that the characters were not playing a game, which was one reader’s misconception. Through their talking, students were able to understand the story plot and characters. Note taking and talking about the text were unfamiliar ways to process the reading, nonetheless, students were responding. Such a brave teacher to experiment with unfamiliar strategies.
The fourth graders were engaged in the reading of various picture books to pursue their study of conflict. What an excellent way to expose them to a variety of good literature and to direct them back to the text. The young teacher experimented with a different way to have the partner groups share their learning with others. Instead of each group presenting to the whole class of 21 students she split them into two smaller groups. The presentations went smoothly and held the attention of the smaller audience, giving the teacher a chance to make a quick assessment. She saw that students need more practice in order for the concept of conflict to take hold. The young teacher has quickly and smartly informed her instruction for upcoming lessons.
She’s at one table checking on a student, then she bounces to another table and another. Change of scene goes almost unnoticed. Swiftly and seamlessly all the students move to their assigned seats on the carpet for a review of vocabulary. All students will have a turn to get up, find a word and put it in the pocket chart. Now she’s on her feet again leading the children to follow her with their eyes. She holds up a word card and together they say the word. Forty minutes of total engagement in a busy kindergarten classroom. This budding young teacher brims with enthusiasm and pride at what these young learners can do.
Cartoons and grammar lessons? What’s the connection? A smart way to grab the attention of eighth graders who are learning how to use commas. This creative teacher presented a dull subject in an entertaining way that engaged students and enabled them to learn correct comma usage. Her passion for teaching and learning resound in the smile we hear in her words. She wants to light the passion for learning that she feels in the students she teaches.
A bell rings. All eyes are on her, ready to listen. She models. They practice regrouping numbers to deepen the concept of place value. With partners or in small groups the students explain to each other how they separated numbers. She visits all groups as they share ideas and learn with and from each other. Now I hear, “Thumbs up if you understand, thumbs down if you need more examples.” A quick look around the room provides an assessment that will allow her to continue instruction that will meet the students where they are.
What do these six unnamed teachers have in common? These talented young ladies are student teaching interns who are practicing their craft at Walsh School in Chicago. As a Field Instructor for Michigan State University, I have the good fortune to observe this talent pool grow and learn alongside experienced teachers. After watching the six lessons described above, I am encouraged at the prospect that these teachers might soon be engaging students in a Chicago Public School classroom of their own. Chicago students need teachers like them to make a difference in their educations.
I read the Tribune story in Sunday’s issue about CPS truancy. Based on this information, help me understand how teachers can be held responsible for the test scores of students who have missed not only a month of school in one year but a whole year of school in accumulated absences by fifth grade. It is a wonder that children being raised in the circumstances described in the article can make it to school ever much less function there academically once they arrive. It is not the school system that is leaving them behind. But it is the school and the teachers that will take the flak for their failure. I hope the Tribune editorial writers will remember this article the next time they see fit to oppose rewarding teachers for hard work whether it is in the form of increased pay and benefits or protection of retirement guarantees.
November is in full swing now, and with it the annual ramp up to the holidays. From the commercials on TV and the already-present holiday decor in retailers, one would think Christmas and Hanukkah are just days away. Luckily, for those of us who participate in holiday gift-giving, we still have more than a month to get our acts together.
But think of this…. what if, instead of braving throngs of folks wielding giant paper shopping bags, you settled in to a favorite chair with a cup of tea or coffee, and thought about the special people in your life and captured your gratitude for them on paper….
A poem perhaps…. or a story….. or an anecdote about a special time you shared.
And what if, after taking the time to make it just right, you framed it up or bound it in a small book and THAT became your gift?
A gift of the heart, not the pocket book.
My Confessions on Teaching Writing
By Jenifer Reichardt, IWP
Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am passionate about writing. I love writing. I love reading writing. I love teaching writing. Often I get sighs and eye rolls when I say this. But it is true. I guess this love of writing came about when I was a shy, withdrawn child in school. Afraid to speak my mind in front of others, I could do it freely in the written form.
So it both saddens me and angers me when I hear teachers complain about teaching writing. Popular complaints are that their students can’t write well, they don’t enjoy it, and they always ask how long the assignment has to be. In addition, they bemoan the fact their students’ grammar is horrific and how grading writing takes too much time. Finally, there is ever popular complaint about the need for a writing curriculum.
If you have students who hate to write and are bad at it, look at what you are doing first. Don’t blame the student. How are you teaching writing? Be reflective. What are you doing right? What can you improve?
Basic Fundamentals about Writing
All children are born with the innate desire to write. Visit a preschool classroom and you will see students scribbling away on their paper. They are writing just like they have seen their parents, teachers, and older siblings do. If a student hates to write at the elementary or high school level, chances are it is because of how they were taught to write.
All children have a need to communicate. How many times have we asked students to stop talking? Writing is taking the need to communicate and putting it in a permanent form. As teachers, we need to capitalize on this desire.
Student writers need to be given the opportunity to explore their craft. This means allowing students to focus on word choice, voice, and organization without the fear of being chastised for incorrect spelling or grammar.
Grammar and writing are two separate subjects. I seriously doubt that any Newberry or Pulitzer Prize winning author ever sat down to pen a piece of writing and thought about the grammar first. They thought about their ideas. They thought about their story. They thought about their characters. Think about yourself as a writer. Ideas come first. Grammar comes last. Please don’t get me wrong, grammar is important. Frankly, my head always spins when I see a lot written as one word. But the teaching of grammar should be embedded in a writing lesson and it should be addressed at the editing phase of the writing process.
Editing and revision are two separate parts of writing. Editing is cleaning up the grammar. Revision is cleaning up the ideas.
A teacher must model good writing. If you aren’t comfortable sharing your writing, share an author’s writing. Students will meet your expectations if you model what you are looking for them to do. And, modeling takes time. One shot isn’t going to hack it. Visit a kindergarten classroom. The teacher certainly didn’t model how to write a letter “k” or the number “5” once and expect totally mastery. Some students will get it right away and others will not. It is the same with writing. Model writing expectations continually. Create shared writing pieces. Then allow students to write independently. The results will amaze you.
When should you grade writing? I used to grade everything that my students wrote. What a colossal mistake. First of all, the work load was huge. Second of all, it stifles a student’s growth in writing. Instead of exploring new writing techniques, a student focuses on writing to get a good grade.
Two years ago, I made the decision not to formally grade any writing for the first trimester. As I did need to have grades for Language Arts, I gave grades for participation in the writing process. Instead of grading writing, I focused on the writing process and worked on instilling the confidence and the love of writing in each of my students. The results were amazing. The writing was amazing. But most importantly my students loved writing. They loved playing with words and spontaneously revising their writing when a new idea hit them. When I did start grading their writing during the second trimester, I graded only one trait at a time. By the third trimester, I used a 6-trait rubric with my students.
Finally, forget about a writing curriculum. I know that this is messy. But a canned writing program will not get the results you want. The writing will be basic and stilted. It will not prepare students for college and their career. In college and in their careers, students will be asked to communicate their ideas through writing. They will be expected to do this in a clear and concise way, while also showing their own voice. This can only be done if a student has been exposed to the writing workshop model—a model that focuses on teaching students the elements of writing while letting them choose their topics. And, as an added bonus, you will no longer have to read 28 papers on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!
Get trained in teaching writing. The National Writing Project has state sites. These sites offer professional development in teaching writing. Each summer, the Illinois Writing Project offers summer workshops. http://www.illinoiswritingproject.com/illinoiswritingproject.com/Home.html Or, take a graduate class in writing. University of Wisconsin-Stout has an excellent on-line class on the 6-traits of writing. http://www.uwstout.edu/soe/profdev/traits.cfm
Finally, have your students write every day and have fun!
Text Complexity, Oh My!
Jenifer Reichardt, IWP
When the Common Core State Standards came on the scene a few years ago, teachers grabbed onto sound bites such as the fact that Lexile levels would be increased. Head on over to www.lexile.com and you will find a chart that supports this point. Prior to the CCSS, students in grades 4-5 were expected to read in the Lexile range of 645-845. Under the CCSS, students in these grade levels will now be expected to read in the Lexile range of 740-1010. This translates into a 90-155 point jump. Daunting to say the least.
But take some time to delve into the world of text complexity and you will find that the news is better than it first seems. For the past decade, teachers have been held to choosing literature based on a quantitative measure. Using a myriad of measurement systems such as Flesch-Kincaid, Fountas and Pinell, as well as, Lexile Levels teachers choose books for students. Excited by the ease of finding an appropriate book for each of our students, we soon forgot about the other dimensions of text complexity—qualitative, along with the reader themselves. How many of us have informed a student that they couldn’t read a particular book because it was too easy or too hard?
The Common Core State Standards outline the dimensions of text complexity. To be sure, analyzing a text based on its quantitative measures is helpful. But as readers, writers, and educators we must also analyze the text in two other dimensions.
First, a text must also be analyzed on it qualitative dimensions. This is measured by an engaged reader. Qualitative dimensions include the levels of meaning found in a text and the purpose of the text. It also includes the structure of the text, as well as, the type of language the writer uses. Finally, it includes the background knowledge of the reader. Think about The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. On the surface, this is a lovely story about a china rabbit traveling from owner to owner. But the themes of love, sacrifice, acceptance, and personal growth make this novel much more complex than its 700 Lexile rating. Take a look at Word After Word After Word by Patricia Patricia MacLachlan. This book has a lexile rating of 450. But the addition of poetry and the characters’ struggles make this a richly complex novel.
The final dimension of text complexity is the reader and task. As teachers, we must never underestimate the motivation of the reader. If a reader is motivated, they are willing to tackle a tougher piece of text. How many thousands of readers in grades 3-5 have successfully tackled the Harry Potter Series with a Lexile range of 880-940? Further, a student who has a vast background knowledge in a particular subject such as WWII, will also be able to successfully comprehend complex text on the subject.
Want to explore more on the topic of text complexity? Read Text Complexity: Raising Rigor In Reading by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp.
In my next post, I will explore how text complexity will improve student writing.
For the past few years, I have felt as if I am ready to really tackle the task of writing about SOMETHING. Mostly, I think about articles for professional journals discussing my learning as a teacher of middle school language arts, though sometimes I think I have a young adult novel lurking around in my brain. I’ve undergone a transformation in the way I approach reading and writing instruction in my seventh grade classroom, and I’ve paid more attention to the environment and culture the students and I create together. I’m pretty sure that these topics would form the majority of what I might write about.
I sit down at my computer with ideas swirling around in my head. Sometimes, they are almost fully formed ideas, ready to move from brain to fingertips. Sometimes, they are ethereal wisps, trying to find a solid foundation on which to grow. Each time I try to approach the job of getting these thoughts onto the screen, though, my internal censor rears its ugly head.
“Who do you think you are? Why would anyone care what you have to say?”
It rings through my brain like a refrain… increasing my doubt with each repetition. And I, foolishly, begin to try to answer those questions. Who DO I think I am? Am I really doing anything differently? Have I thought about my profession and my craft in a new or different way? Who DOES care about what I have to say? How can my experiences help inform someone else in their journey?
Listen… the internal censor is NOT your friend. I have learned this the hard way. I’ve let her talk me out of writing almost everything except for two short articles for California English and posts for this blog as well as my personal blog. Even when I write my IWP posts, I am constantly questioning whether my writing is any good or whether anyone will ever read what I am writing.
What I’m learning to do is ignore that voice in my head. I can’t let that voice of doubt keep me from saying the things I want to say or exploring ideas in writing. I know, through the past few years of writing through the doubts, that I tend to clarify my thinking while writing. The process of finding the just right words to express my feelings or my ideas helps me understand them in a much deeper way than if I chose not to write them.
I’m not there yet. That censor shuts me down far more often than I shut her down, but I am making progress. I’m curious… how do you shut down YOUR internal censor?
As we sit in our classrooms and begin to delve into the CCSS, do you ever wonder how they appear to someone like P. David Pearson? Although he called it, “The best game in town.” He set out to explain a perception of his to the educators gathered for the Fall Reading Leadership Institute at National-Louis University in Skokie. While examining something as big as the CCSS, I appreciate when the examiner begins with the history that brought us to where we are now. I also thought this was an interesting way to gather everyone together on the same page. Although most of us in the room lived through the history, it does for us what we hope to achieve with our students; build on our background knowledge, while clarifying any misconceptions we might have.
The RLI is led by Camille Blachowicz, Donna Ogle and Deborah Gurvitz, three extraordinary educators who have helped pave the way we think about vocabulary, comprehension, literacy and our work in the classroom, in more ways than I can count. I knew that what I was about to hear was important in the field of literacy. Dr. Pearson’s historic view began in the 1960’s, as most of “the good stuff does”, Dr. Pearson pointed out. What did we learn in the era of the 1960’s and ’70’s that still resonates today? Schema theory, building background knowledge and the renaissance of Louise Rosenblatt going into the 1980’s. In the 1990’s we began to “dig it out” as Dr. Pearson calls it. He went on to say, “It was all about the deconstruction of text, where text, reader and content intersect.” He was talking here about the basic building blocks of comprehension, yet he took it one step further.
Dr. Pearson stretched us all just a little bit more with his famous moving diagram which I watched him preform at the IRA in May. The diagram begins as the text goes into the readers head, connects (or not) and then creates new knowledge, which can be recalled and used later to build more prior knowledge (or not). He also talks about all of the knowledge it takes to read, understand and keep the stream of comprehension flowing as the reader continues to add more and more juggling balls. The balls of memory, vocabulary, inference, idiom and structure to name a few. Seeing this diagram again meant I was able rely on prior knowledge, thus process it faster, at a higher level, relying on my memory from the first experience seeing it and the conversations I had with colleagues afterward as I described it again. “You begin with a text base, with your knowledge base to get to the new knowledge,” Dr. Pearson began. “Assimilation and accommodation feeds back into the memory. Once in the memory, the reader can then rely on that knowledge to make sense of new text and new understandings. Text and knowledge base come together to create the text base which leads to the situation model, connects to the experience inside the head, then creates experience and then out into the world.” You can tell he enjoys this moving diagram as he laughs and tries to speed it up each time he recites the process. To me it’s like a comprehension dance that takes place inside the reader’s head! In connection with the CCSS, his point is, it’s impossible to stop the dance from happening and part of the dance connects to what the reader already knows. Dr. Pearson’s perception of what the CCSS is telling us is clear. I am troubled because he is not the first extremely experienced educator to point out this perception. Is the CCSS really asking us to stop making connections?
Once we were nice and stretched in our thinking and Dr. Pearson was out of breath from reciting as quickly as he could, he connected the same concepts for us using the language of the NAEP and the CCSS. As he “read across multiple sources”, we could better understand the meanings because we were used to the language of the NAEP. He then went on to demonstrate the comprehension dance with an excerpt from Hatchett. He showed us how a reader deconstructs the text to build a text base in their head while reading. This activity made me wonder what the dance looks like in a writer’s head when writing about reading versus writing about a personal, well known experience such as a memory. The entire presentation made me think deeper about the reciprocity of reading and writing and making connections.
So, I began to wonder, how does the comprehension dance look during our busy school day? Do we need a different model of Guided Reading? Is that the only place comprehension lives? Can we begin to offer students a wide range of non-fiction texts to include science and social studies curriculum topics, during a guided reading or guided writing lesson? A quote from Dr. Pearson which made so much sense to me as a science major and someone who seems to always work with the unmotivated, “Don’t let literacy become the bully of science and social studies.” If students are expected to “Write to Text” they have to comprehend what they read, read across text and make connections in order to write a cohesive piece worth reading.
What does the deconstruction look like and what are the additional supports we use in our mind as we read non fiction facts in science and social studies? Surely the CCSS could not suggest students avoid connections to life. What would Dewey have to say about that?
If the CCSS are to ready our students’ for college and beyond, we must not let literacy be the bully of our other subjects. As David Coleman pointed out in a video on www.engageny.com,…” we ask citizens to read and gather information for multiple sources all of the time.”. “That is how we make our election decisions.”
What can we do as teachers and coaches to help support students’ as they reconstruct the information in writing? Although rhetorical in an article, these questions make interesting fodder for conversations at staff meetings, while looking at student writing samples through a CCSS looking glass. Can we teach across text in reading and writing and can we avoid making connections?
So while you delve into the CCSS, aligning them to your daily lesson plans, stop and think for a moment about what is going on in the minds of the students’ as they begin to read and write according to the standards. P. David Peason’s hope is that the CCSS would be a living document that we could evolve over time as we begin to apply it. As we deepen our professional comprehension of what it really says and means, as we construct, deconstruct and plan around the standards. As we realize what Dewey stated years ago,“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. Right now, it’s the best game in town!”