Thursday, March 13, 2014

Start CCSS Now with These Ideas

How many changes in literacy instruction have happened over the years? Whole Language, Guided Reading, Daily Five and CRISS strategies along with many more have circulated through our professional development catalogs. What is the Common Core saying about it now. Is it guided reading and instructional level, or is it grade level text, whole group? My time at the CCSSO materials work group this week in Chicago left me with a lot of great ideas about where to start in the work of implementing the Common Core literacy standards. It starts, like with all things, with great teaching. How can I help teachers implement these strategies?

Text Dependent Questions
I'm not proud of this, but it's true; I got through high school without reading a book all the way through. I'm convinced now it was because of the lack of text dependent questions. If we really want students to grapple with more complex levels of texts, we have to ask them to interact with the text in ways that actually makes them read it! Sounds simple, I know. Look at the examples and non examples from the Council of Great City Schools below. Makes a world of difference. Join the Edmodo online community sponsored by the Council under Basil alignment study to learn more about writing text dependent questions yourself.

Guided Reading with Accountable Independent Reading (GRAIR)
Our teachers are learning how to address grade level standards with students who are above and below grade level. Our approach up until now for differentiation was accomplished by guided reading were students used "instructional level" texts to learn reading skills. The Common Core talks of complex texts for all students, so how we do help our weaker readers with these grade level skills? Authors David and Meredith Liben would suggest to use, "Both And..."  Their white paper outlines components of a literacy program, but my favorite part of the work is the appendix where a teacher can see an outline of things to do in the classroom to implement both a guided reading approach and a whole group grade level standards approach to instruction. Don't miss this part!

Be intentional about what is intended for independent reading and what is intended for grade level instruction. Independent level text has a place in a child's reading experience to help them build fluency. Scaffolds for grade level, complex texts must exist to provide all children with an opportunity to learn the core standards. Close reading is one great example of how to provide student multiple opportunities to interact with the same text to get at deeper levels of understanding. This is what we've missed in our guided reading literacy instruction in the past. Weaker readers were taught were lower levels texts, and therefore, were rarely/never exposed to more demanding types of interactions with the text. The gap just widens for them.

Fluency Practice
Remember that to build fluency, students should be able to read the text independently. Teacher guidance in helping student pick books they are interested in and that will be a good fit for their reading level is sometimes a challenge. There are tools out there to help navigate text complexity. CCSSO has a site to help.  For secondary classrooms especially, there is a lack of fluency materials for practice and progress monitoring. Check out the fluency packets for students in grades 4-12 on

Materials for the Common Core
No one resource or one publisher will be able to address all of the standards and instructional changes the Common Core demands, at least according to all the speakers at this week's CCSSO Instructional Materials work group meeting. Instructional changes can be made to help prepare students as we sort through the materials questions. I hope some of the above strategies/pedagogical shifts help. To skip the issue of quality instructional materials wouldn't be a fair representation of the conference, however.  So, I thought I'd link just two free online resources for curriculum that came up over and over again:

Core Knowledge:

It's also worth mentioning that SCASS is putting together text sets which are a series of books on the same topic to help students to make meaning from multiple texts, not just comprehend the texts as individual books. This helps get at more non-fiction (50% goal for elementary in the Core) but building knowledge from a series a non-fiction texts. Their work is still to come, but I'm anxious to have it released later this year.

English Language Arts instruction in the age of the Common Core is complex work. I have more questions than I do answers, but hope some of these notes have helped. Understanding the complexity of ELA is the work my district is embarking up now; more work to come.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Open Educational Resources (OER)

If it's free, can it be any good?

Bill Schmidt from Michigan State talks about the majority of teachers go to textbooks as their first resource a majority of the time. Then they go to supplemental resources. As we continue to move away from mass textbook adoptions in my district, questions arise about quality of open source materials.  Teachers feel overwhelmed in creating everything on their own. How do we know what we find online is of quality though?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are readily available and many states are individually tackling the issue of quality.  The CCSSO hopes that this work start to come together and states share the load, but in the meantime, there are a variety of places teachers can go to get a sense for quality open educational resources. In listen to these states talk about their work at today's conference, each would give caution to considering a few things before blindly accepting their evaluations and resources.

First step before evaluating any tool? "You have to first understand the Common Core," said one state of Washington representative. "None of this works if you don't understand what you are evaluating or looking for," notes Sandra Alberti (@salberti) from Student Achievement Partners. The work is not around the score, it's around knowing the tool you are using (what criteria is uses to determine quality), knowing the terms and focus of the tool (different groups may look at the same resource differently), and then trusting the scores given (inter-rater reliability that comes through common training). Here are some sights that have evaluated different open educational resources. Don't reinvent the wheel, but be a savvy consumer.

Two sites for tools to use to evaluate any OER

Sites that have searchable resources based on evaluation (note: criteria used in evaluation may differ) (Illinois) (Washington) (South Dakota)

I wrote this post from my learning at the CCSSO Instructional Materials work group held in Chicago on March 12, 2014. I represent the state of Iowa on this work group and hope to provide one district's perspective to common issues teachers face when implementing the Iowa Core.