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3 Team Actions to Address Common Core Literacy Standards

Take advantage of common planning time  to support one another as you address Common Core or state literacy standards in all of your classrooms.

Teachers planning in Sierra Leone

Teachers planning in Sierra Leone

Three actions you can take as a team to better help your students become proficient readers and writers in the middle grades:

1. Compile a list of what your students actually read and write in your various classes. Categorize them:

  • Reading (materials your students actually read, not what you read to them)
  1. Literary
  2. Informational
  • Writing
  1. Argument
  2. Narrative (Convey an Experience)
  3. Informative/Explanatory
  4. Other (i.e. poetry)

Look at the entire mix and determine if your students’ reading and writing assignments fall within the Common Core guidelines.

Reading

Common Core Reading45 % Literary                    55% Informational

Remember, you should be considering all of the reading your students do, not just those texts in language arts class!

Writing

Common Core writing35% Argument

35% Narrative

30% Informative/Explanatory

Remember to think about all classes, not just language arts.  Writing is everyone’s responsibility.

With this information at your fingertips, the team will be better prepared to have conversations with administrators and parents about the ways you are addressing the Common Core. Also, knowing what each other is teaching lends itself to collaboration. Provide students with multiple practices in different contexts to build their proficiency levels in literacy.

2. Talk about inferences–don’t assume everyone on the team has the same knowledge. Make sure everyone on the team understands what they are and how they apply to each subject area’s reading assignments.

Good readers readily make inferences. Others need explicit instruction and practice to apply this skill in their reading.

Good readers readily make inferences. Others need explicit instruction and practice to apply this skill in their reading.

 

Some useful links:

 

3. Have students practice citing textual evidence in all classes. The lesson may or may not to end up as a piece of writing. Small group work, class discussions, 4 Corners, and other oral strategies provide opportunities for students to practice this skill.   Remember to ask, “Would you please show me the details in the text that support what you just said.”

Here’s a video of a direct teaching lesson focused on citing text. https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/teaching-about-textual-evidence

 

laptops4Students explain their project to a visitor.

Collaborating as a team to coordinate and reinforce learning benefits all students.

 

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Citing Evidence–A Strategy Everyone Can Use

Common Core literacy standards include:

  • Reading — Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Writing — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

By coordinating their efforts, a team can provide a variety of contexts for students to practice the skill of citing evidence in both discussions and writing.  Finding strategies that work across the disciplines is the first step.  Here’s one that Abby Svenson, fifth grade teacher at Harpswell Community School in Maine, uses with her students.

  • Students respond to a prompt.
  • The teacher chooses 3 responses —   good, better, and excellent.
  • Students identify the positive aspects of each response.
  • Then students make concrete suggestions to make the responses even stronger.
  • The teacher creates a visual summarizing the ideas for students to reference when revising their own work.

The image below shows the visual that Abby constructed.

Abby Svenson Post-It

Notice…

  1. 3 columns
  2. The responses are in the center.
  3. Response #1 is the weakest and #3 is the strongest.
  4. Identified positives are in the left column.
  5. Suggestions for making responses stronger by citing additional evidence are on the right.

This particular example is a literature lesson.  Imagine the social studies teacher following up with a similar exercise based on a video, and the science teacher adapting the process to fit his needs.  As students become familiar and confident with the process, they can focus more and more on the content. Multiple practices and varied contexts builds competence and confidence.

This strategy could become digital by using a wiki or Google Drive. The advantage of using a digital tool is, of course, that the examples are available 24/7 to students working on assignments.

Learning to cite evidence to support a stance or make an important point is not beyond any student. Modeling, multiple practices, and having students work together will provide the scaffolding necessary to build these skills. When teachers collaborate to plan a systematic approach across the curriculum, students benefit.

New Twist On Canned Goods Drive!

A sculpture of Pooh Bear made out of canned goods and jars of peanut butter

Pooh Bear

During the recent NELMS conference, the elevated walkway between the Westin Hotel and the Rhode Island Convention Center  was populated with whimsical sculptures of critters, earth moving vehicles, and angry birds. The sculptures, created out of canned goods, were part of a project to support the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

  Canned goods sculptute of a bulldozer

Teams could adapt this event for their own service learning projects. Often schools have canned food drives.  Why not have each homeroom or each team design sculptures out of the cans they collect and open the exhibit to the community for viewing as part of the plan to build awareness of the issue?  Or, the designs could be part of a project – based unit focusing on a driving question such as What is the long-term impact of hunger and starvation on a society? Part of the exhibition could include information and/or solutions the students have discovered through their research.

Several Common Core anchor standards could certainly be addressed in such a unit:

  • Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  •  Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
  • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  •  Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

More importantly, students would be delving into a long-standing and relevant issue that affects every state and country. Think about taking your annual canned food drive to a new level!

  • Help your community
  • Build students understanding of a real-world problem
  • Involve students in seeking long-term solutions

Canned goods sculpture of a lobster in a pot.

Poster of categories in the Rhode Island project

Free Literacy Strategies Resource

Many middle schools have a mandate to incorporate literacy strategies across their curriculum.  Quite often there is no professional development to go along with this mandate, and many middle grades teachers have no background in literacy acquisition.  Hence a huge disconnect occurs between the mandate and reality.

Middle grades teams have an advantage in that they can choose to use some of the their common planning time to work together to figure out how to approach literacy in the content areas.  They recognize that this type of planning is critical to the success of their students because:

  • The middle grades curriculum and now the Common Core Standards require that students read and write more complex material.
  • Many reading/writing skills are common across the curriculum and providing students multiple guided experiences in a variety of contexts will improve their skills.
  • It is impossible for one teacher to provide all-inclusive instruction and practice in the myriad of reading and writing skills that young adolescents need. (Spencer,J. (2010) Teaming Rocks! Collaborate in Powerful Ways to Ensure Student Success. Westerville, OH: NMSA.)

An excellent resource for teams to use is a free download from the Internet! The Content Area Literacy Guide is from the CCSSO’s Adolescent Literacy Kit. You can find simply by googling “Content Area Literacy Guide”, and you will be directed to a downloadable PDF file. For a quick look, go to tiny.cc/literacystrategies  — there are over 20 strategies.

The Guide provides a description of each strategy and suggestions for how it might be used in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. These strategies are certainly applicable in other content areas as well.

For example, one strategy is Cue Questions Based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Below you see examples of questions on two of the Taxonomy’s levels.

Here are suggestions from the Guide for using these cue questions in the content areas:


Check out this useful resource and work together to incorporate some of these strategies into your instruction.  Be sure to start small–one strategy at a time!

  • Choose one that will work for everyone.
  • Decide who will do the initial introductory instruction.
  • Brainstorm ideas on how to model and use this strategy in your different classes.
  • Plan out when the other teachers will use the strategy and reinforce it in their instructional plans.
  • Reflect as a team on how well the strategy is working:
  1. How has it been used?
  2. What is the students’ reaction? What problems, if any, are they having applying the strategy to their work?
  3. How might the team tweak the strategy to make it more effective?
  4. To what degree is the strategy improving the students’ understanding of their work?

Silent Sustained Reading as a Team Strategy

Silent Sustained Reading time should be a part of every team’s schedule! Everyone benefits when students have time to choose texts they wish to read, whether they be fiction, informational, print or digital!

  •  Providing time for students to read in school helps them develop the habit of reading for pleasure. Widely read students have more background knowledge than those who do not.  Marzano in Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement states “…the research literature supports one compelling fact: what students already know about the content is one of the strongest indicators of how well they learn new information relative to the content.(p.1)  Background knowledge correlates with academic achievement in all subjects, therefore it makes sense for a team to carve out time for silent sustained reading.
  • Reading leads to a wider vocabulary. A large written vocabulary is a huge indicator future academic success (Marzano).
  • Reading rate and fluency increase the more students read.  They need these skills to be well developed as they face more and more complex texts as they move up the grades.

Twenty minutes of independent reading three or four times a week is a fairly simple practice to implement. Robert Marzano in Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement summarizes the important characteristics of an effective SSR program:

  • Programs are continuous over several years.
  • Students have easy access to materials (classroom libraries, friendly well-staffed library).
  • Students are encouraged to read material that interests them.
  • The environment is relaxed and conducive to personal reading.
  • Students receive encouragement and positive feedback about the topics they choose to read about.
  • There is staff training that relates to the purpose and philosophy of SSR.
  • Students do not see SSR as just another class where they will be tested or have to show improvement.  SSR time needs to be non-threatening.
  • Students do need to interact with the text and with each other (sharing and discussing what they are reading).
  •  SSR needs to occur at least 2 times a week.

Team teachers need to model the behaviors and attitudes they wish to see in students: reading during SSR (not correcting papers!), sharing interesting books or articles or websites with students, and listening to students talk about their reading.

When researching SSR on the web, many sites pop up loaded with Thou Shall Not Do’s for students.  My suggestion is to create the feeling of a intellectually-fun book club atmosphere that includes using Web 2.0 tools for discussing what students are reading:

Team Androscoggin SSR Guidleines

Our SSR Motto: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr. Seuss

  1. Choose texts that you are really interested in reading!  During SSR, we all will be totally engrossed in our self-selected text or sharing  something cool from our reading!
  2. When you want to share something with another reader, please be respectful of others who need it relatively quiet in order to concentrate.  Move to the conference area of the room and use soft voices.
  3. Use headphones when listening to an audio book.
  4. Do share with everyone a great “read”! Ask for a reader’ circle or post to our SSR wiki.  If it’s from the web, include the URL.
  5. Sometimes partner up with a pal and read the same text so you can talk about as you go along.  You might partner up with a favorite adult outside of school.
  6. If you finish with a book and are willing to allow others to borrow it, please leave it in the classroom library.
  7. Remember we all agreed at class meeting that everyone would either post to the wiki at least once a week or share out loud during Friday’s Reader’s Circle.
  8. Be brave and post a review online!

It is important that the team collaborate in the organization and management of SSR.  Students figure out very quickly which teachers are not committed to the program, and SSR will disintegrate pretty fast.

Below are some sites where students can either look for book reviews written by other students  or write their own and submit them for publication on the web.

URL’s for sharing book reviews

Be sure to check these sites yourself before sharing with students.

http://eduscapes.com/tap/topic87.htm   Lots of sites to find reviews & submit reviews

http://www.buildingrainbows.com/home.php Book reviews and discussions

http://flamingnet.com/  Young adult books reviewed by young adult readers

http://www.classicalcharter.com/ForKids/BookReviews.html  Book reviews from the students at Classical Charter School in Appleton, Wisconsin

If one Googles “student book reviews”  lots of possibilities come up, especially school websites full of student recommendations for good books

Resources for Teachers

Powerpoint of the basics of SSR: www.liberty.k12.mo.us/ms/LMC/SSR/SSR.ppt

Ideas for organizing & managing: http://www.smallschoolsproject.org/index.asp?siteloc=tool&section=sustain

SSR & the unmotivated reader: http://www.hotchalk.com/mydesk/index.php/component/content/article/148-language-arts-blog-by-theresa-hinkle/849-ssr-and-the-unmotivated-reader

General overview: http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr038.shtml

A must read on the research controversy: http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/whatsnu_nrp-ssr.html

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