Archive for the ‘English Language Arts’ Category

Preparing for the Reading and Writing STAAR the Smart Way

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Janet Hester, Secondary ELAR Specialist

Begin at the Beginning: The STAAR-Prep Dilemma

What do we do when students enter our classrooms lacking confidence and fluency in writing? For many schools and districts in Texas, the attempted answer to this skills deficit has been to drill students on writing the STAAR tasks over and over again. Twenty-six lines, over and over. And in the same manner, practice multiple choice reading and writing packets over and over again. Test-prep passage and multiple choice bubbles, over and over.

We know that such practice does not raise confidence and fluency in writing and reading. Students might improve in jumping through a very specific hoops when they are challenged to write 26 lines of expository text repeatedly, but their versatility as writers and their confidence and joy in writing will have be the price they pay for this act. In the same manner, when we curtail our engaging reading instruction for packet work, we may stunt our students’ growth. Traditional STAAR prep has led to slightly more prepared, but very burnt-out students.

We all know this. But, without these traditional practices, we are sometimes stuck on how to create a transference of skills on test day.

Transitioning to STAAR: The Test as Genre Unit

When we begin to prepare students for STAAR reading and writing tasks, we should not throw out all the good work that has come before in instruction, much of which has been presented through a reading and writing workshop model for many Region 13 teachers.

3The Test as Genre Unit is a tried-and-true method of preparing students for standardized tests while building on what has already transpired in classrooms. It is a riff played on the Genre Study Unit through which many schools deliver ELAR instruction. If your curriculum is grouped in units by genre, instruction was delivered as a genre study. Students read and wrote fiction pieces in one unit of study. Students read and wrote persuasive pieces in another unit of study. Most definitely, students read and wrote expository texts in the expository unit. 

Katie Wood Ray in Study Driven details a Genre Study Unit cycle:

Stage Description
Gather Texts The teacher, sometimes along with students, gathers examples of the kind of writing students will do.
Setting the Stage Students are told they will be expected to finish a piece(s) of writing that shows the influence of the study.
Immersion The teacher and students spend time reading and getting to know the texts they’ll study. They make notes of things they notice and about how the texts are written. They think about the process writers use to craft texts like the ones they are studying.
Close Study The class revisits the texts and frames their talk with the question, “What did we notice about how these texts are written?” The teacher and students work together to use specific language to say what they know about writing from this close study, developing curriculum as they go. The teacher, through modeling, takes a strong lead in helping students envision using what they are learning in their own writing.
Writing Under the Influence Students (and often the teacher) finish pieces of writing that show (in specific ways) the influence of the study.

(Wood Ray, 2006, p. 111)

4In our schools, this cycle might look a little different. Teachers might weave the different stages of the cycle together so they take place simultaneously. Due to scheduling in some middle school classes, students might also experience the different stages in separate reading and writing classes. However, most students will have experienced this sequence of reading in a genre and then emulating craft moves they learned to write in that genre.

When students have been immersed in reading and writing in different genres throughout the year and the STAAR test is drawing near, they are ready to begin a Test as Genre unit. A Test as Genre unit follows the same methodology as other genre units. Students immerse themselves in the genre of the test, reading passages from released tests as well as reading and discussing the types of multiple–choice questions they will have to answer. Students explore the writing tests’ tasks and prompts. As a result, they slowly begin to build a rapport with the standardized test. In this case, familiarity breeds confidence. Randy Bomer, the director of the Heart of Texas Writing Project, describes his process:

“I like to throw a huge pile of tests onto a table and invite students to browse through them and see what they notice in them. I want them to see tests not as something fearsome that controls their fate but as a dime a dozen, common as can be, which they are. I want to position the students as powerful, intelligent analyzers of these kinds of texts.” (Bomer, 2011, p. 285)

After this close study, students write passages and questions that imitate the released tests they studied following the Katie Wood Ray cycle from above. Students study writing prompts and write their own. When students have been reading like writers all year in other genre inquiry units, the Test as Genre is a logical next move in preparation for the test. They have been reading like writers all year in other genre inquiry units, reading like poets, reading like op–ed journalists, reading like short-story writers. Now, in the Test as Genre unit, they read like test makers, practicing the reader and writer moves they have been honing all year (Atwell, 2002; Bomer, 2004; Bomer, 2011; Fletcher & Portalupi, 2001; Serafini; Taylor, 2008). Region 13 will hold a full-day, just-in-time workshop on implementing this type of unit on February 29, 2016.

Using the Region 13 Elementary and Secondary Playbooks as Part of the Test as Genre Unit

In the weeks leading up the tests, not only are students analyzing passages and multiple choice questions from both the reading and writing tests; they should also be honing in on the specific expository writing craft they will need to write a satisfactory essay on the day of the test.

5With respect to the STAAR expository writing tasks, the Region 13 Product Store now sells two products that will help the accomplished and the novice teacher alike. The Elementary and Secondary Expository Playbooks offer immediate tools and strategies for a Grade 4 and English I teacher.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The Elementary Expository Playbook breaks down the five components of STAAR expository writing: Focus, Organization, Idea Development, Progression, and Language and Conventions.

For each component, the playbook provides a chapter outlining

  • the fundamentals of what each component means in the context of the STAAR expository task;
  • two published mentor informational texts that powerfully demonstrate the chapter’s component (for example, a mentor text that employs a strong problem/solution organizational structure in the Organization chapter);
  • four STAAR expository students essays to demonstrate strong and developing examples of that writing component; and
  • several plays, or instructional strategies, to use to improve that writing component in student writing. All plays begin with the writer in mind and inspire confidence and transfer of skills on test day.

Often, teachers do not have the time to find specific mentor texts to demonstrate the skills they wish their students to emulate. The Playbook saves so much time, in that published mentor texts, strong student examples, and weaker student examples are already there, organized under specific instructional targets with helpful teacher commentary.

6The Secondary Playbook follows the same pattern of including content, mentor texts, and student essays that align to the English I expository task. Grade 7 writing teachers will definitely find support for the Test as Genre unit in either playbook.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            When preparing students for STAAR, we must instill a cheerful attitude that builds upon the skills students certainly have. Asset-based instruction reminds students of all their world knowledge and invites the students to bring this knowledge into the standardized writing and reading tasks.

For more information about the Playbooks and implementing a Test as Genre Unit, contact:

Janet Hester
Secondary ELAR Specialist
janet.hester@esc13.txed.net

Laura Lee Stroud
Elementary ELAR Specialist
lauralee.stroud@esc13.txed.net

Sources:

Atwell, N. (2002). Lessons that change writers. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Bomer, R. (2004). Strong enough for tests and life. College Board Review, 41-43.
Bomer, R. (2011). Building adolescent literacy in today’s English classrooms. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Fletcher, R., & Portalupi, J. (2001). Writing workshop: The essential guide. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Serafini, F. (n.d.). Standardized tests as a genre. Retrieved from www.frankserafini.com: http://www.frankserafini.com/classroom-resources/standardized-tests-as-a.pdf
Taylor, M. M. (2008, Spring/Summer). Changing the culture of “test prep”: Reclaiming writing workshop. Language Arts Journal of Michigan, 23-34.
Wood Ray, K. (2006). Study driven: A framework for planning units of study in the writing workshop. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Content in this article addresses T-TESS Planning dimension 1.3 – Knowledge of Students and Instruction dimension 2.2 – Content Knowledge and Expertise.

Teaching Science in the Early Childhood Classroom

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Aliza Rivera, Early Childhood Specialist

I can remember when the idea of teaching science to a room full of 4 year-olds terrified me. My fear often led to science activities that were either “safe,” not messy, or often underdeveloped. Students tended to overlook my science center and it was not utilized enough by my young students. I can even recall a memory where I encouraged my students to look, but not touch. Sound familiar? You are not the only one.

Leo F. Buscaglia states, “It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” For the longest time I was in denial of the idea that young children already come to school with an innate sense of natural curiosity about the world and how it works. I had to work on my ability to understand the different ways that young children play. I often had to stop what I was doing, listen to what my students were saying and reflect on their subsequent actions through the different play opportunities planned throughout the day. By doing this, I came to understand and conquer my fear of teaching science. I found that my fear was based on a personal struggle of not understanding how play activities connected with content knowledge and how they could come to support young children’s learning of science naturally through play.

Realizing that science is everywhere and that it can be integrated into the curriculum in a variety of ways, I began to develop a deeper understanding of essential scientific ideas rather than a superficial acquaintance of isolated facts. I embraced the opportunity in allowing my young students with sufficient time to develop a deeper understanding for the world around them.  When I began to allow more time for my students to explore, it provided me with the opportunity to observe the capacity to which the play became more complex.  When I engaged in play with my students, I began to understand the opportunities in which to question the understanding of my student’s thinking patterns and to acknowledge the different content areas they were experiencing.  When my students demonstrated to me a variety of skills that could be seen universally across content areas, then I introduced additional materials that supported my student’s’ natural sense of inquiry.

These observable skills included:

  • exploring objects, materials, and events
  • asking questions
  • making observations
  • engaging in simple investigations
  • describing (including shape, size, number), comparing, sorting, classifying and ordering
  • recording observations by using words, pictures, charts and graphs
  • working collaboratively with others
  • sharing and discussing ideas
  • listening to new perspectives (Hamlin & Wisneski, 2012)

Teachers, just like myself, who utilized inquiry and science in the early childhood classroom came to the realization that it built a natural pathway that allowed them to understand and value the thinking processes of the young learner. In doing so, they used their students’ thinking processes as learning experiences in helping guide their students to uncover explanations that were closer to a scientific idea than simply learning through isolated facts (Hamlin & Wisneski, 2012)  Developing inquiry in an early childhood classroom can transform a class from a collection of individuals into a community of learners that openly share their interpretations of the natural world around them (Worth & Grollman, 2003). Research has shown that such learning experiences can help children reform and refine their theories and explanations—to learn how to think through their ideas, to take risks and ask additional questions, and to reconsider their ideas on the basis of others’ views (Vygotsky, 1962).

Science is part of our everyday lives. How can teachers use play as opportunities to engage young learners in scientific inquiry? The key is in the types of experiences teachers create for young learners and how well they support children during play. Fostering a young child’s natural sense of inquiry is essentially building a strong foundation for the ongoing development of many cognitive skills across content areas (Worth & Grollman, 2003).

Sources:

Hamlin, M., & Wisneski, D. B. (2012, May). Supporting the Scientific Thinking and Inquiry of Toddlers and Preschoolers through Play. Young Children, 67(3), 82-88.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1986). Thought and Language. Cambridge, M.A.: The MIT Press.

Worth, Karen & Grollman, Sharon. (2003). Worms, shadows, and whirlpools: Science in the early childhood classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

An Appeal to Instructional Leaders Everywhere

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Judy Butler, Educational Specialist: Dyslexia & Related Disorders

What Research has to Say About Reading Instruction, Fourth Edition, edited by S. Jay Samuels and Alan E. Farstrup, copyright 2011 provides insight into how we could more effectively build reading curricula. To be sure, developing and teaching curricula that integrate the most complex brain processes a child will ever have to engage in is not for sissy educators (if there are such beings)…and neither is reading through these research studies; however, embracing even one of these research methods is sure to raise the effectiveness of our reading instruction.

There is one chapter in particular that points out one of the most commonly neglected components of reading curriculums and yet if included, could reap the most dramatic impact upon overall reading proficiency. What chapter is it? Chapter 4: Reading Fluency What It Is and What It Is Not, written by Timothy N. Rasinski and S. Jay Samuels.

Unfortunately, reading fluency instruction has become the neglected component of reading curricula. The authors report, “The oral reading studies included as part of the U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that nearly half of all fourth grade students had not achieved levels of fluency for their grade levels and that these students also demonstrated lower levels of overall reading achievement (Daane et al., 2005 Pinnell et al., 1995).”

What is happening in our primary grades that produces such poor fluency levels in 4th grade? Often we have not devoted the needed time and intensity of instruction to allow students to master or become automatic at the sound/symbol level or the word level of reading. We haven’t laid the foundational ground to build automaticity or effortless word reading. We have been content to develop accurate, but slow readers.

We also approached the issue of poor fluency by believing that increasing reading rate with passages would cause good comprehension. This route has resulted in the development of fluency instruction programs that focus primarily on increasing reading speed, with little attention given to prosody (phrasing, intonation, and expression) or comprehension.

Accuracy plus rate does not equal fluency. Low levels of fluency typically mean lower levels of overall reading achievement. We are neglecting to prepare our students for the ever-increasing demands of text complexity and text volume as they advance from grade to grade to post-secondary education.

Rasinski and Samuels presented a more informed model of developing fluency that can lead to overall reading proficiency:

Phonics↔Automaticity—Prosody↔Comprehension

(Word Recognition)  (Fluency)

Automaticity is not just reading words accurately, but also reading them effortlessly so that cognitive resources are free to process meaning. Prosody, the melodic features of oral language (phrasing, intonation, expression) is that part of fluency which connects fluency to comprehension.

In my experience training reading teachers, most teachers have not received previous professional development in how to listen to a student’s oral reading and rate the quality of their prosody using such a tool as the NAEP Prosody Rating Scale. Many of them have never been taught that fluency work should begin at a student’s instructional or independent reading level, meaning that the student should be able to read at least 91% or more of the words accurately. Additionally, very few of them have been exposed to the Hasbrouck and Tindal Fluency Norms and have not been informed of how to interpret which students truly need a reading fluency intervention.

In Chapter 4, Rasinski and Samuels cite several research studies that suggest that reading fluency is important beyond the primary grades and needs to be taught in upper elementary, middle school, and high school. Rasinski and Samuels suggest “instructional methods that aim to improve students’ word recognition automaticity and, at the same time their prosody–in both oral and silent reading.” They suggest an acronym, MAPPS, as a guide for working on fluency with students. Below is a summary of the acronym guide.

Modeling Fluent Reading for Students: Direct students’ attention to the way you read. Provide negative examples as well (not often), but discuss what interfered with listening and comprehending.

Assisted Reading for Support: choral reading, echo reading, paired reading, audio-assisted reading, captioned reading

Practice Reading Wide and Deep: wide reading offers experience with large volumes and genres of text; deep takes place when a student rereads text several times over to master deeper levels of content. Additionally, instructional routines using repeated reading built around Reader’s Theater, poetry, song, or some combination of performances result in increased overall reading proficiency and remarkable gains in rate. Rate is an outcome of good fluency instruction; it is not the aim of such instruction.

Phrasing of Words in Meaningful Groups: groups of words are phrased or chunked and read with prosody to reflect the phrasing. Students are given visual cues to reflect how words are parsed (scooping beneath words to reflect phrasing is a strategy used within the Wilson Reading System). Students can practice reading the marked text repeatedly until they can honor the phrase boundaries. Additional repeated reading can be added where the student has an opportunity to practice fluency, perhaps scooping and penciling their own phrase boundaries, or practicing with phrase boundaries deleted. A second approach mentioned is having students practice meaningful short phrases or sentences containing prepositions and high frequency words.

Synergy to Make the Whole Greater than the Sum: As important as each of these elements are, a teacher’s ability to combine them will create synergistic results!

I have witnessed, as a teacher and as a trainer of teachers, that including this component of fluency instruction, using protocols such as MAPPS, can remarkably improve students’ overall reading proficiency. The research reviewed in Rasinski’s and Samuel’s Chapter 4 yields strong support for examining our convictions and perhaps modifying our ELAR Curriculums to make fluency instruction the “hot topic” it should be.

For teacher professional development or resources, contact Judy Butler, ESC Education Specialist, Dyslexia, judy.butler@esc13.txed.net

References:

Daane, M. C. et al. (October 2005). The Nation’s Report Card: Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud: NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, DC. Retrieved 2/17/2016. http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/studies/2006469.pdf

Hasbrouck, J. & Tindal, G. A. (2006). 2006 Hasbrouck & Tindal Oral Reading Fluency Data. Oral reading fluency norms: A valuable assessment tool for reading teachers. The Reading Teacher. 59(7), 636-644. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0BzzNHPHS_N38eDdxd3I4bHFZUG8

Pinnell, G. S., Pikulski, J. J., Wixson, K.K., Campbell, J. R., Gough, P. B., and Beatty, A. S. (1995). Listening to children read aloud. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, DC.

Samuels, S. J. and Farstrup, A. E. (2011). Reading Fluency What It Is and What It Is Not. What Research has to Say about Reading Instruction, 4th Edition. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association.

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2002 Oral Reading Study. Updated 26 October, 2005. Retrieved 2/17/16. https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/ors/scale.aspx

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 2

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Author:  Lori Reemts – Education Specialist: Elementary Generalist

 

Part 1 of this series focused on laying the foundation and seeking common language when referring to integration. There are as many ways to connect and integrate ideas as there are ideas themselves.  By defining differences between Curriculum Integration, which can be found described on documents and the like, and Instructional Integration, which can be artfully woven into the course of learning over time, we are able to identify what we can control and how that influences student success in our classroom. This series focuses on these choices: Instructional Integration.

As promised, this installment continues the conversation and begins the process of identifying key points of intersection within the curriculum by exploring two key ideas: Direct Connection and Purposeful Awareness.

There are times when different subject areas align with one another through TEKS that are directly linked. Meaningful links may be found in a direct relationship between two concepts, such as money in Math with the economics in Social Studies.  A direct connection might also be found within the language or concept of the Student Expectations themselves. Consider the 3rd Grade standards below.

 

Science

Earth and Space. The student knows that Earth consists of natural resources and its surface is constantly changing.  The student is expected to:

3.7b       investigate rapid changes in the Earth’s surface such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and landslides

3.7c        identify and compare different landforms, including mountains, hills, valleys, and plains

 

Social Studies

Geography. The student understands how humans adapt to variations in the physical environment.   The student is expected to:

3.4c        describe the effects of physical processes such as volcanoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes in shaping the landscape

3.4a        describe and explain variations in the physical environment, including climate, landforms, natural resources, and natural hazards

 

Direct (Explicit) Support

As a third grade teacher looking at any one content area it may be easy to miss. However, a third grade teacher looking across content areas should be able to identify two direct connections within the above sets of TEKS.  In third grade, students investigate rapid changes to the Earth’s surface (Science) and the effects these changes have (Social Studies).  These do not need to be separate and isolated ideas, nor should they be.  Looking at the other pair of standards listed, another direct connection between studying landforms in Science and landforms in Social Studies is easily identified.  These are connections found no further than the TEKS themselves and points of intersection that teachers can use not only to save themselves the time spent in isolated planning, but also to make authentic and meaningful content  connections in a way that benefits all learners.

 

Purposeful Awareness

While not as overtly apparent as Direct Support, the use of Purposeful Awareness is key in applying knowledge and skills to new and novel situations.  These transferrable skills are the very things we seek to build in our students so that they continue to grow and learn throughout their lives while being productive and contributing citizens in the process.  Furthermore, it is precisely this type of thinking that STAAR requires as well.  This type of thinking is more difficult to “teach”, as it must be consistently modeled and practiced using a myriad of examples and scenarios. The beauty of employing Purposeful Awareness lies in the world of possibilities and potential connections that exist within students’ minds. There is no reason that the teacher need be the expert in the room as the goal is to expand student thinking beyond what may be easily apparent or written on a worksheet.  Purposeful Awareness may often come through the use of vocabulary in new contexts to strengthen the comprehension of the language.  Other areas such as big ideas, (i.e. human impact, conservation), relationships, and skills also provide breeding ground for cross-content connections.  Consider the following vocabulary words as examples.

 

Interdependence

– A standard concept and vocabulary term in Science, this term can apply in other contexts with very little change to the working definition.  To understand the concept is to be able to apply it to new and novel situations.

– Language Arts:  interdependent characters, parts of speech, cause/effect relationships

– Social Studies: global economics, countries, opposing sides of conflict, money

– Math: sides of an equation, factors/multiples

 

Consumer

– Basic definition in science: an animal that cannot produce its own food and eats plants and other animals (as opposed to a producer–which makes its own food)

– Basic definition in Social Studies: A consumer is a person who buys and uses goods and services. A producer is a person who makes goods or provides services.

– “to consume”

 

There are obvious differences when applying these example concepts in different content areas but the core meaning remains the same.  It is the context which changes. Too often we label concepts as “terms” to be used in a particular class or within a particular scheduled part of the day.  Although we have the best of vocabulary intentions, we may inadvertently silo language in such a way that students are not readily and easily applying concepts across areas. A student identifying a word as a “science word” may easily not be able to transfer the actual comprehension of that word/concept when viewing it in a new context.  Whether units occur during the same grading period or not, using Purposeful Awareness keeps these connections alive, albeit in smaller chunks than stand-alone units.  When working in the social studies context of “consumer,” for example, we need to purposefully connect back (or forward) and point out the similarity to other areas.

 

Well-placed questions and quick tie-ins are another way to utilize Purposeful Awareness. Consider the following example. As a teacher you may be introducing the accomplishments and contributions of various citizens in Social Studies. This is actually a standard in all levels of Social Studies. One such person may be Robert Fulton, credited with inventing the first operational steamboat. This invention opened the waters of the Mississippi, which in turn had great impact on the U.S. economy and growth of the day.  During instruction, the teacher may ask questions such as those that follow.

 

  • What type of landform is the Mississippi River? River
  • Is it salt or fresh water? Fresh
  • What landform is created when it meets the ocean? Delta
  • What Earth processes are at play and shape the earth? Weathering, erosion, deposition

 

The kinds of questions enable the student to concentrate on the Social Studies message at hand, while simultaneously connecting it with concepts from science. This is done in a low-intrusive manner requiring nothing more than planned questions to tie things together. Often the best approach to these connections is simply to plan to ask the students how things may connect to one another.  Something as basic as “How does this ______ in our current unit connect with _______, our previous unit?” can be very effective in forcing students to think beyond what is in front of them and to remember previous concepts in the process.  There is always a connection to be made.

 

This process takes time. A solid knowledge of the TEKS, or a consistent referral to them, remains, as always, the starting point.  While everyone has the ability to see connections, some people may seem to see them more quickly or more easily.  While we desperately seek these points of intersection, it seems we have somehow trained ourselves not to.  Of the two techniques listed here, begin with seeking Direct Support within the standards themselves.  From there, be comfortable opening your mind to what may be less obvious.  The more this is practiced the easier it becomes.  Don’t be afraid to bring your students into this thinking journey with you. It can actually be quite fun when taken together!

 

The next installment will focus on the area of skill building.  All of the core content areas, health and technology standards include similar skills.  When we view these as a whole, in addition to the student and the learning day, we are able to better capitalize on the intent of the standards while fostering deep and critical thinking for ourselves and our students.

Score Point 2: The “Evolution” from Somewhat Effective to Basic

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Author: Susan Diaz, Secondary Literacy Education Specialist

This past week, I presented a workshop on expository writing in which I used the scoring guides released by T.E.A. to do anchoring and range-finding with participants.  After combing through several of the score point 2 essays, one of my participants had an epiphany:  “These 2’s aren’t very good!  Why are they scoring so high?!”  Another participant pointed out to her that on the STAAR a 2 is considered a “Basic” writing performance, so her observation was quite accurate: while a 2 on TAKS was deemed “Somewhat Effective” and passing, a 2 on STAAR is something completely different. There is no gate-keeper essay on STAAR, meaning scoring a 1 or 2 doesn’t mean the student will automatically fail, but considering the weight of writing on the test (52% of the overall score), and if the goal is to truly make students college and career ready, a 2 isn’t what we should aim for.

 

Let’s look at an excerpt of the Score Point 2 STAAR EOC Rubric for English I Expository Writing, under “Development of Ideas.”The essay reflects little or no thoughtfulness. The writer’s response to the prompt is sometimes formulaic. The writer develops the essay in a manner that demonstrates only a limited understanding of the expository writing task.The rubric highlights two important issues to consider for STAAR expository writing: thoughtfulness and formulas.  In Elizabeth Rorschach’s article “The Five-Paragraph Theme Redux,” she argues that “standardized writing exams encourage teachers to focus on format and correctness, with little concern for content.”  I whole-heartedly agree with her!  Down with the test!  It’s ruining writing!  Down with the, WAIT!  What did that rubric say?  Thoughtfulness (i.e., “content”) = good.  Formula (i.e., “format”) = bad.  After repeatedly looking at the released essays from this past year’s English I EOC, I realized that kids were being rewarded for original ideas and for creative yet appropriate organizational structures.  Often when we are confronted with high-stakes writing tests, we fall back on formulas as tried and true ways of assisting our struggling students.  As Rorschach states, when we focus first on prefabricated text structures (formulas), we limit our students’ thinking.  Instead of finding text structures that fit their ideas, students force ideas to fit within the structures.  Most importantly, Rorschach warns us, “When teachers’ attention is focused on structure…they cease to be real readers who need to be engaged by interesting ideas.”  So, first, let us value our students’ ideas by becoming real readers or real listeners.  And, then, let us assist our students in finding their own ways to organize their fresh ideas into original packages.

 

Source

“The Five-Paragraph Theme Redux,” Elizabeth Rorschach, accessed October 1, 2012, http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/1287.

Setting up Systems: Shifting from Discipline to Procedures

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Stephanie Heinchon, Literacy Specialist

 

The start of the 2012-2013 school year is around the corner!  This is the time of year when we begin to think about our classroom rules and to develop our classroom management plan.   But what if, instead, we shift our thinking from discipline to procedures?  Harry Wong says, “The number one problem in the classroom is not discipline: it is the lack of procedures and routines.”

 

Discipline

Procedures

  • Discipline concerns how students behave.
  • Discipline has penalties and rewards.
  • Procedures concern how things are done.
  • Procedures have no penalties or rewards.

 

Behavior problems often result because the students do not know the procedures or they haven’t been explicitly ‘trained’ to follow procedures.  As we begin our year, we have to launch the systems we want in place for the remainder of the school year, such as centers and reading/writing workshop.  These systems have procedures we expect students to follow the entire year.  When “training” students on procedures, we can follow the gradual release of responsibility, or the I DO, WE DO, YOU DO model.

 

Source: http://www.hcschools.org/literacy/site/gradrelease.html.

When introducing procedures and routines, the teacher must first model and teach the students what is expected, then allow the students to practice the procedures.  The first few weeks of school are an ideal time to launch these systems.  This does not mean we wait 21 days to begin instruction, but that we take 5 to 15 minutes a day to teach students exactly what we want them to do during centers and reading/writing workshop.

 

Let’s use literacy centers as an example.

 

Week 1: During the first week of launching centers, model the routines and procedures for one or two centers.  The goal is to build confidence in the students’ ability to work independently at those centers while building stamina.  The teacher is monitoring the students this week.

 

Week 2: During the second week of launching centers, introduce another center or two, modeling the expected routines and procedures.  Allow students to practice transitioning from center to center.  This week is an ideal time for the teacher to begin pulling students, one-on-one, for beginning of year assessments.

 

Week 3: During week three, introduce the last centers to the students, still allowing them time to practice and receive feedback from the teacher.  The expectation is that students know the procedures for transitioning from center to center independently and have built stamina to work independently for sustained amounts of time.  The teacher can now complete the one-on-one assessments and begin pulling small, flexible groups.

 

By week 4, we should have all the routines and procedures in place for centers and be able to pull small, flexible groups on a regular basis.

 

What if our only rule was:

FOLLOW ALL ROUTINES AND PROCEDURES!

 

References:

Wong, Harry K., & Rosemary T. Wong,  The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher (4th edition) Mountain View, California: Harry K. Wong Publications, 2009.

 

First 21 Days created by Children’s Learning Institute at the University of Texas at Houston & University of Texas System/Texas Education Agency.

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 1

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:  Lori Reemts, Elementary Generalist

 

There is a place where the learning process, fueled by pure motivation, engages everyone in the room and authentically integrates critical thinking with content concepts. This place operates beyond barriers, perceived or otherwise, and capitalizes on the efficient and effective use of talent and time.

Although this may sound unattainable to some, the reality is that this place can often be found within our own instructional choices.   Of course we, as professionals, operate within larger systems and, of course, these systems each have their own issues, but when it comes right down to it the largest influencer and indicator of student success is the classroom teacher. (Stronge,  2010)  While respect should be given to the realities of life and teaching in today’s world, it is imperative to acknowledge and appreciate that educators do not have a simple or easy task;  it benefits no one to dwell on daily challenges when our energies could better be spent upon enacting change in our own classrooms.  Educators everywhere collectively cry out for the path and the simple answer to integration.  The goal of this series is to focus on this desire and suggestions for steps toward accomplishing this as we journey to this place we so covet.

In this first installment, it may be an excellent time to try to define “integration” so that our conversations center on similar ideas and starting points.  Believe it or not there are many variations in how we use this word which are quite dependent upon the person using the term and in what context.  Obvious historical examples exist referring to actual student integration during the Civil Rights movement, but in this context we are referring to skills and concepts addressed  in our classrooms.  The term itself has been thrown around for a number of years and has recently regained momentum; unfortunately for some, it has become a symbolic “buzz word” without substance.

Humphreys (1981) offers a basic definition: “An integrated study is one which children broadly explore knowledge in various subjects related to certain aspects of their environment.”  That is a wonderful academic definition of integration but let’s get to the practicality of the concept. Curriculum itself is the relationship between three main components: the written curriculum, the taught curriculum, and the tested curriculum.   Ideally this triad operates in balance and responds to each of the other sections.  The written curriculum would be that which we find on our documents. Components such as scope and sequence, vertical alignment, and unit guides exist to help teachers identify and define the “what,” the student expectations.  While important, this written curriculum exists and is effective only when brought to life through the taught curriculum, or instruction. This speaks to the art of teaching. These are the two areas with which to begin the conversation.  As written curriculum is built from the state standards, it is dependent upon those standards. Content area standards do change and not at the same time.  Aligning and integrating them within a written curriculum, therefore, takes time and may be at a slower pace than the call for it would like it to be.  One must know and understand the separate content areas’ requirements in order to accomplish the task of integrating them effectively.  This is not to say it cannot be done, but the reality is that written curriculum, as dynamic and living a document as it may be, is not equipped to change on a daily basis when classroom teachers must make instructional choices and connections, nor could it and remain credible and consistent.  What, then, is a teacher to do?

We turn to instructional integration.  This is where educators can capitalize on the information a written curriculum provides to them by seeking commonalities.  Learning does not occur on a bell schedule or subject shift during the day. Children and adults alike learn throughout the course of experiences rather than isolated skills or facts.  By embracing this continuous learning idea, even when operating on a much-needed school schedule, we can build transferrable skills in a more effective manner rather than feeling the need to “close out” Subject 1 in order to begin Subject 2.  These same real-life skills can be found within every content area as can almost endless content/concept connections. The key to locating these areas lies in working toward a core and solid understanding of what the most recent and required student expectations actually communicate.

Our next conversation will continue with this idea and explore how to use the required state standards and other information found within our written curriculum in order to effectively utilize and maximize the integration potential.

Humphreys, Alan, Thomas Post, and Arthur Ellis. Interdisciplinary Methods, A Thematic Approach. Santa Monica:

Goodyear, 1981.

Stronge, James. Effective Teachers = Student Achievement: What the Research Says. Larchmont: Eye on Education, 2010.

Text levels: Is it important to know the reading levels of middle school and high school students?

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Stephanie Heinchon, Literacy Specialist

 

When we think of reading levels, we visualize a group of young children at a horseshoe shaped table all reading the same book, learning to read.

As students reach middle school and high school we expect them to use reading as a tool for learning, or reading to learn.  But can all of our students decode, read and comprehend the text we place in front of them?  Is the text too easy, leaving some students bored and unchallenged?

 

As we reflect upon these questions, we begin to think about how to match middle school and high school students reading abilities to text levels.  Is there is a way to do this to ensure student success and engagement while obtaining content acquisition?

 

YES!!!!!  The Lexile Framework can help!!!!!!

 

A lexile measure provides a teacher about an individual’s reading ability or the difficulty of a text.  You obtain a student’s lexile level from a reading test or program. A lexile text measure is based on two strong predictors of how difficult a text is to comprehend: word frequency and sentence length. The idea behind The Lexile Framework for Reading is simple: if we know how well a student can read and how hard a specific text is to comprehend, we can predict how well that student will likely understand the text.   (Adapted from www.lexile.com. )

 

Lexile measures give educators the confidence to choose materials that can improve student reading skills and take the guesswork out of connecting readers with appropriate texts. By knowing a student’s lexile measure, educators can tell with a great deal of accuracy which books are appropriate for their student’s reading ability. The framework is also a great tool for differentiating reading materials and lessons. Teachers learning about lexiles will have the ability to help students become successful independent readers.

 

The Lexile Framework for Reading is a scientific approach to reading and text measurement.  To learn more about the Lexile Framework and its application in the classroom, join us for FA1223962 on October 26, 2012.

To view a six-minute animated video created for educators and parents, click here:  http://www.lexile.com/about-lexile/lexile-video/.

And still, outside of school, people wrote…

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Susan Diaz, Secondary Literary Specialist

In grad school, one of my professors assigned an article for us to read by Kathleen Blake Yancey, the former president of NCTE, entitled “Writing in the 21st Century.” (To read this article, go to http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Press/Yancey_final.pdf.)  I distinctly remember falling in love with this article for several reasons: her writing style is AMAZING, she succinctly summarizes a history of composition in a mere few paragraphs, she reminds readers of the social nature of writing, she asserts that technology has allowed everyone to become writers and that these writers who embrace technology “want to compose and do” for each other, a real and defined audience.

I would like to focus specifically on Yancey’s views on the role of audience and the social nature of writing that has become more prominent because of technology.  Everywhere we look, we see examples of students writing—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, text messages.  Deborah Brandt, professor emerita of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, calls this self-sponsored writing, “a writing that belongs to the writer, not to an institution” (Yancey 4).   In these platforms, our students mix text and media effortlessly and WILLINGLY in order “to share, to encourage dialogue, to participate” (Yancey 5).  Writers, and just as importantly, AUDIENCES are everywhere.  Our students dive into this digital environment yet they seem reluctant to write for us in the classroom.  We stick to the traditional model of literacy with pen and paper first, then the computer, and, finally, if at all, the networked computer.  We limit the power of the computer by only using it as a word processor.  We limit our students’ creativity and interest when we ignore how they “naturally” communicate through the writing.

Yancey ends her article with the idea that writing throughout history has mostly been for a public audience. “If this is so, we need to find a place for it both in our models of writing and in our teaching of writing.” (7). And this is exactly why our students write outside of school—because of an audience.  Shouldn’t we encourage this?

Source

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, Writing in the 21st Century. NCTE Web,  31 July 2012.