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The Common Core: Start Planning As a Team–NOW!

45 states and 3 territories have joined the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative.  Whether you agree with this approach to education or not, chances are it is coming to your school.  Middle school teachers who work with colleagues on a team have several distinct advantages in addressing the CCSS over those teachers who work in isolation:

  • The literacy standards are for every subject area; teams can develop a systematic approach across the curriculum to ensure their students master the standards through multiple practices in a variety of contexts.
  • Team teachers who meet regularly in common planning time can easily exchange ideas and strategies.
  • Team teachers can monitor the progress of their students in meeting the standards across curriculum areas; interventions can be quickly implemented when needed.
  • Team teachers can identify major skill gaps that affect many students and use flexible scheduling and grouping to craft focused and intense learning experiences that address those gaps.

What should teams do?

Here are 2 steps to get started:

  1. Familiarize yourselves with what the actual document (http://www.corestandards.org/) says.  At the very least, take a look at the anchor standards and self-assess how well you are already addressing them in your classes.  Be honest–now is not the time to say “Oh yeah, we do that.” when in reality it only happens once in a blue moon.  Make a list of practices, processes, lessons, and/or units you feel address these key standards.  When meeting about the Common Core, it is better to be prepared with specifics than to talk off the cuff. Specifics help us all be more articulate and less defensive.   The anchor standards for literacy and math are listed at the end of the post.
  2. Watch videos together like the one below that show teachers who have been piloting the Common Core Standards.  Have a conversation afterwards about what you observed: What surprised you? What validated what you already do? What do you need more information about?  What should your next steps be as you develop a team plan for helping your students meet these standards?

Collaboration is key to a sensible approach to integrating the Common Core into our teaching.

Anchor Standards for English/ Language Arts and Literacy standards for history/social studies, science and technical subjects:

Key Ideas and Details

1. 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.

2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure
4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.*

8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Writing

Text Types and Purposes*

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing

4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing

10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a

single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration

1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Language

Conventions of Standard English

1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Knowledge of Language

3. Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

6. Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression. grammar, usage, and mechanics

 

Standards for Mathematical Practice (content is by grade level):

1.   Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

2.   Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

3.   Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

4.   Model with mathematics.

5.  Use appropriate tools strategically.

6.   Attend to precision.

7.   Look for and make use of structure.

8.   Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Tackle the Common Core Literacy Standards–Together!

Every teacher on an interdisciplinary team would be delighted if all of the students read well.  It would make teaching many lessons a little easier–not having to worry about who can read the assigned text and who can’t. Therefore  a common goal of a team has to be to find ways to improve reading comprehension of all of the students.  How fortuitous! Anchor standard # 1 of the Common Core reads, “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.”

Savvy teams, like the mythical Sagadahoc team pictured here, know that by working together teachers working togetherthey increase the likelihood that their students will master skills and internalize new information.  The team would check the grade level indicators for Reading anchor standard # 1 in both language arts and the content areas.  They would find these benchmarks:

Language Arts: Students must be able to “determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course

of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.”

Social Studies: Students must be able to “determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.”

Science & other technical subjects: Students must be able to “determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

An aha moment! Whatever class students are in they need to be able to “determine the central ideas” of informational text. Perhaps, the team muses, there is a way to create a common lesson or two that addresses this particular learning target of determining the central idea. Then the teachers could follow-up with additional content-specific lessons (the social studies teacher might employ primary sources and the science teacher would use scientific text, etc).

Someone on the team is probably more familiar with the Common Core than the others and might suggest looking at the other standards for connections.

Team memeber thinking about connections between Reading and Speaking and Listening Standards.Sagadahoc team pulls up the Thinking and Listening Common Core Standards and finds,

Comprehension and Collaboration

1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners,

building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

A bolt out of the blue hits them all at once–ADVISORY!

Team of teachers working

Advisory is the perfect place to help students develop excellent listening skills that help them determine the central idea of a presentation or video. Next they could use those central ideas to  participate in varied conversations where they build on others’ ideas and express their own clearly and persuasively.

The team decides they need authentic listening experiences if they hope to engage their students in any serious way.  Their school subscribes to Film Clips for Character Education so they decide to investigate the website. The Resources page includes clips suggested by educators.  There they find two clips–one from the Rachel Maddow show and another from YouTube that relate to sportsmanship.

Using these two clips as the “text”,  the teams craft several advisory groups sessions where students will focus on listening closely, determining the central ideas, and then using evidence from the clips to help them express their ideas clearly.

In the non-threatening atmosphere of advisory where there are no grades, students can practice extracting the big ideas from a video and using specific information or evidence from the video to back up an opinion or idea they express in ensuing conversations with their peers.

Later, in classes, the teachers will refer back to these experiences as concrete models of what students need to be doing as they read printed or digital text. “Remember when we discussed sportsmanship in advisory and we asked you to use specific information from the two video clips rather than relying on just your own experiences?  That is what we are going to do today with the primary source documents from the Salem Witch Trials.  We are going to read closely and identify evidence in the document that will help us understand the beliefs of this era.”

As middle grades teams you have the advantage that you can work together to help your students master the Common Core and other state standards. You also realize that knowledge is connected and  by looking for those connections you can create authentic and powerful learning experiences for your students. Use the proven characteristics of middle level philosophy such as collaboration through teaming and integration of subjects, ideas, and skills to tame the Common Core!

Lewis & Clarke Dine at the White House: Middle School Students Engage In Research

Teachers report  they are being discouraged from doing interdisciplinary units because of the Common Core. That’s just wrong-headed thinking!  Recently.  I was at Eastport – South Manor Junior-Senior High School on Long Island and talked with Ken Hanlon, a social studies teacher.  He shared with me details about an interdisciplinary unit his team developed that focuses on the Lewis and Clarke expedition.  The culminating activity is dinner at the White House with President Thomas Jefferson.  Students assume roles and each brings a guest.  Their charge is to discuss the flora and fauna they discovered along their route to the Pacific as well as to speak in detail about the Native Americans they met. Students use primary source material to do their research. Excerpts similar to the one below are available online:

June 28, 1804
William Clark

(They repair the perogue, clean out the boat, sun their powder and woolens, examine their goods, weigh the specific gravity of the two rivers, speculate on the headwaters of the Kansas, and write about the decline of the Kansas Indians)

… I am told they are a fierce & warlike people, being badly Supplied with fire arms, become easily conquered by the Aiauway & Saukees who are better furnished with those materials of War, This Nation is now out in the Plains hunting the Buffalow…the high lands come to the river Kansas on the upper Side at about a mile, full in views, and a butifull place for a fort, good landing-place, the waters of the Kansas is verry disigreeably tasted to me.

http://tinyurl.com/77q97w2

Ken described  the students’ enthusiasm for this project which didn’t surprise me. The unit provides just the right mix of academic rigor with active learning to engage and intrigue young adolescents.

We didn’t talk about the Common Core but as I flew home I reflected on my day and thought about this unit. An interdisciplinary unit such as Ken’s one on Lewis and Clarke provides teams a great opportunity to work together to help students master the Common Core standards.  Immediately these anchor standards came to mind:

Reading primary source material is certainly a way to address Reading for Key Ideas and Details

 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.

Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

 

There are multiple opportunities in an interdisciplinary unit to address Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 

Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.*

Interdisciplinary units usually include research and the development of a product to demonstrate learning.  That work most certainly addresses the standards related to Research to Build and Present Knowledge

 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Collaborating  to address the complex array of Common Core literacy standards just makes sense. Historically, interdisciplinary units  are known to engage young adolescents at high levels.  When students are involved in positive and meaningful learning experiences, achievement will increase.

My thanks to Ken Hanlon for allowing me to share this idea with my readers.


Teams, Social Media, & The Common Core Writing Standards

The literacy standards of the Common Core apply across the curriculum. Simply put, students should be reading, writing, speaking and listening, and improving their vocabulary in all subject areas. Teams should collaborate to systematically address the CC literacy standards in ways that build on students’ interests, best learning method, and their current skill levels.  Using the phenomenon of social media is one approach teams might consider.  The following ideas come from a webinar presented by Barbara Greenstone, a Maine statewide technology integrator for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI).  The entire webinar is archived and can be listened to (free) in its entirety at http://maine121.org/webcasts-2/archives/.

Team Collaboration on Writing Standards of the Common Core

1. Become very familiar with the standards as a team

Use the anchor standards to focus your conversations and planning. Below are the anchor writing standards. Notice the words in bold print; there is ample variety of purpose and genre to be adapted to any curriculum area.

Text Types and Purposes

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing

4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing

10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a

single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

2. Explore Social Media as a way to motivate students to write in a variety of formats!

Students love using social media away from school. Using it in school provides authentic audiences for a variety of writing purposes. Students know that others besides their teacher is going to be reading what they have to say. Suddenly, spelling, syntax, grammar, and organization have real purpose–no one, including young adolescents, wants to appear to be the fool in front of others. Here are a couple of suggestions from Barbara Greenstone’s webinar:

Blogs: Think about the standards that could be addressed through blogging:

  • Write arguments to support claims
  • Write informative/explanatory texts
  • Produce clear and coherent writing
  • Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others
  • Write routinely

Create a common rubric for blogs that are used across the curriculum and send the message that good writing is important in all disciplines. In Language Arts students might choose a favorite interest to blog about while in science they might be blogging on energy use. Barbara suggests giving  these tools a try:

Twitter: 140 characters to deliver a clear, succinct, and cogent message!  Challenge students to use precise vocabulary in well written sentences that exhibit evidence to backup the main idea of the sentence.

  • In Language Arts, they assume the persona of a character in a play or novel. They will have to read closely to capture the essence of the character’s personality, attitudes, and beliefs.
  • In Social Studies, Ben Franklin or Harriet Tubman or Alexander the Great or Liliʻuokalani come alive through Twitter to comment on contemporary events.  The Tweets must be substantive and accurate.
  • In Math, students summarize a math concept or give a real life application.
  • In Science, they assume the role of a white blood cell that has just spied an invading bacterium–what is the plan of action?

Publishing Research Projects online; At any given moment, thousands of middle grades students are involved in a research project somewhere in the country. The Common Core writing standards clearly address this type of endeavor:

  • Write informative/explanatory texts
  • Write arguments to support claims
  • Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
  • Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

A team that develops a systematic approach to research spanning the year and content areas will be effective in helping their students meet these standards.  There are a lot of research projects online — the good, bad, and the ugly — to have students review as they begin to develop criteria for exemplary work. Publishing them online will once again provide authentic audiences who will give feedback to the students when their information is not accurate or their arguments not soundly developed.  Here are some possibilities for finding models of research writing and places to publish student work:

Analyze, evaluate, support, evidence, reflect, organize, develop, examine are all words that appear multiple times in the Common Core.  Most of these will be found in the upper level of Bloom’s Taxonomy and require abstract thinking.  We all know many of our students are still concrete thinkers and thus will require a lot of scaffolding as they work to meet the standards. Middle grades teams, working together, are in the unique situation to build that scaffolding in a systematic way for each child in multiple contexts across the curriculum.  Writing for social media is one excellent strategy to weave into a team’s unified approach to addressing the Common Core in a sane and an effective manner.

Word Cloud: Anchor Standards for Writing in Common Core

Word Cloud: Anchor Standards for Writing in Common Core

Remember to check out Barbara Greenstone’s Entire Webinar (archived) on Writing and Social Media

(March 15 Archive)

Working on the Common Core –Together!

The vast majority of states have bought into the Common Core State Standards Initiative which means teachers will be expected to address them in their classrooms.  At first glance the CC seems to be just about English/Language Arts and Mathematics. “Phew!” may be what other content teachers are thinking—but not so fast!!!!

The Standards insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening,
and language be a shared responsibility within the school…The grades
6–12 standards are divided into two sections, one for ELA and the other for
history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. This division reflects the
unique, time-honored place of ELA teachers in developing students’ literacy
skills while at the same time recognizing that teachers in other areas must have a role in this development as well. (CCSS)

Everyone shares the responsibility for the literacy standards of the Common Core.  What a wonderful opportunity to teach in an interdisciplinary manner!   Let me give you an example…

The CC (in literacy) has anchor standards as well as grade level expectations. Two of the anchor standards in writing are

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant
and sufficient evidence.
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately
through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

So…students must learn how to identify and use evidence from different sources other than just their own experiences to back up an argument or conclusion they have drawn, and they have to write clearly.  Look at the language in these anchor standards–relevant and sufficient evidence, convey complex ideas, effective selection, organization, and analysis.

These are not skills the average seventh grader possesses; they are going to need to see lots of models, have opportunities for multiple practices, and receive descriptive feedback on what specific steps they need to take next to work toward mastery.  The science or social studies teacher cannot expect that just asking students to write an piece analyzing data they have collected will produce good results. They need to teach the process of writing such a piece.  That’s where her language arts colleague will be a big help–language arts teachers are all about writing process!

Here’s a scenario that popped into my head after reading a post on Middle Talk by Charlie Lindgren (retired K-12 Science Coordinator from Massachusetts) related to a workshop he attended at Harvard University about teaching with the fossil record. Charlie’s enthusiasm for all things science just billows out from his posts, and I always check out the sites he recommends even though I have a very shallow background in science. This time he posted fascinating photographs of fossils, and I imagined a combined science – language arts mini unit in writing that focused on drawing conclusions, using specific evidence, and writing with clarity.  Here are the steps I envision:

1. Combine the language arts & science classes
2. The science teacher does a Think Aloud describing what she notices about the fossil Compsognathus Solenhofen

  • Picture of fossil of a Compsognathus(?) Solenhofen's head

including…

  • size of the head using the coin as a scale
  • teeth

3. She invites the students to add their observations as she charts the observations.

4, The language arts teacher takes over to model how to take these observations and use them as evidence when responding to the prompt, “What conclusions can you draw from the fossil about this dinosaur’s appearance, behavior, and habitat?”  Using a Google Docs document that will be available for everyone to refer back to, he thinks aloud as he starts to type. His text is projected on the screen with a LCD projector. He stresses using the observations as evidence to back up his conclusions. For example when he writes that it was a carnivore he uses specific information about the size and shape of its teeth.

5. About half way through his writing he invites the students to help him.  They get into a discussion of its probable size based on length of its head.

6. He finishes his think aloud by doing some rearranging of sentences so the organization makes more sense and ends with a spelling and grammar check.

7. The next day the classes meet together again.  This time the students are paired up and asked to make observations about another fossil.

Picture of a Solnhofen Pterosaur fossil

Solnhofen Pterosaur

8. After 10 minutes or so, the pairs share their information with the classes.  Everyone can revise their list of observations as they listen to the report outs.

9. Individually the students respond to a prompt similar to the one their language arts teacher modeled the day before, “What conclusions can you draw about this dinosaur’s appearance, behavior, and habitat from this fossil?”  The students have a rubric for constructed responses they can refer to, and they also have the teacher’s model. They use Google docs so that their teachers can give them descriptive feedback on what is well done and what specific issues need to be addressed.

10. The science and language arts teachers divide up the class lists and each provides descriptive feedback to the students on their writing.

11. The students are given the opportunity to revise and edit and then the teachers assess the finished products using the rubric.  No letter or number grades are given, just the rating from the rubric–still developing, meets the standard, etc. The pieces go into the students’ writing portfolios that have selections from all of their classes.

The science teacher is pleased she was able to address specific content information about the fossil record, provide practice in the skill of observation, and offer direct instruction in writing in science.  The language arts teacher is satisfied because his students practiced using evidence in building a case.  When they do a similar lesson using literature or informational text, he will be able to make connections between finding evidence visually with identifying specific language in text. He is doubly pleased that students are writing in another class besides Language Arts!  The social studies teacher is intrigued.  He recently came across a site called Image Detective and is wondering if he can’t use the same process and rubric as students make inferences about historical events by exploring old photographs.

A picture of the Image Detective website

Image Detective

This scenario is meant only as an exploration of  the possibilities in addressing the Common Core, not as a lesson to be copied as is and implemented. I know that my readers can improve on it a hundred fold.

It is really important to remember that students will need multiple practices in varied contexts if they are to successfully meet these rigorous standards. However,  by working collaboratively, middle grades teachers can ensure their students tame the Common Core.

Charlie Lindgren’s fossil site: http://www.scienceofsand.info/sand/lessons/harvard.htm

Charlie also has a fantastic site on sands of the world: http://www.scienceofsand.info/   Who knew that sand was so varied and interesting!

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