Thursday, December 16, 2010

Introducing the New Standards

Recently my work has involved introducing groups of educators to our new Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Whether I am working with groups of Teachers, Reading Specialists, or Central Office Administrators, everyone is beginning the process of learning the standards and deciding how to implement them into already existing curriculum work.

The new standards present end-of-year expectations at each grade level that match the cross-diciplinary literacy expectations that are required for students to be ready for college and the workforce. For each literacy area, there are "college and career ready" anchor standards. The Standards are divided into sections: Reading Standards for Literature K-5, Reading Standards for Informational Text K-5, Foundational Sills K-5, Writing Standards K-5, Speaking and Listening Standards K-5, Language Standards K-5; then the same areas are addressed for 6-12; finally, the Standards for literacy in the content areas are addressed. Every section is preceeded by the Anchor Standards - the ultimate goals.

The document is set up so that it may be read across the grades to see the progression of a standard or down the grade level to see what the outcome expectations are for every section in that grade. In addition, the grade levels before and after are on either side, so that a first grade teacher can easily see what the outcome expectations are for K and where students will be headed in second grade.

The document has many additional side bars and inserts that provide a wealth of information. Appendix A of the document provides the research and philosophical underpinnings of the standards project. Appendix B offers many texts for consideration and to demonstrate not only the range of reading at a grade level but the increase of text complexity through the grades. Appendix C is a compilation of actual student writing with annotations to match the Standards and to provide exemplars.

Currently the Board of Education has reviewed the recommendations for additions: Pre-K standards, teaching common abbreviations in grade 2, cursive writing in grades 3 and 4, and literary analysis associated with particular genre in reading and writing. They have also considered the public comment provided by an online survey and they are expected to vote on these additions next week. To view any of the parts of the Standards document that I mentioned, please visit On that web page you will be able to see the latest updates with regard to the Standards and any tools that may be developed to assist schools and districts as the Standards become our new Frameworks.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Content Literacy

As part of the work of District Literacy Action Planning, we honor the expertise of our content colleagues. Though years ago we used to speak of reading and writing across the curriculum, we now take a more informed stance that recognizes the unique literacy challenges connected with each discipline.

There are very specific ways of reading informational texts. When students understand the strategies involved in efficiently reading information, even the youngest ones will fully comprehend those texts. Students who have not been explicitly taught to recognize the information in features such as graphs, photo captions, and diagrams, may pay little or no attention to them. As a result they miss vital information. Writing in the content disciplines is even more specific and involves several types, specific to each content area. For instance, taking notes for science observations is different from writing a persuasive argument or even a research report. In addition, every genre in literature requires a skill set related mainly to it, for example, knowledge of stanzas in poetry and knowledge of stage directions in drama.

For our elementary teachers, it is imperative that they begin these instructions early and that instruction is aligned throughout the grades to support the most efficient and proficient reading, writing, speaking, and listening in each and every content discipline. With the increased emphasis in our new standards on reading and writing informational text, it is important that schools and districts provide opportunities for teachers to align their work and to audit current practices and materials, including classroom and school libraries, to support rich learning in content literacy.

Friday, October 8, 2010

District Literacy Action Planning

One of the big projects that the Office of Literacy and many of our districts in the southeast region have been developing lately is the District Literacy Action Plan. It is a rigorous and rewarding process. The district forms a team of truly representative staff members. The team meets about ten times to participate in a brief but thorough self-study and the courageous conversations that will lead to a narrow set of measurable and actionable goals. The goals are intended to be accomplished within several months to a year. This is not "your typical three-to-five-year strategic plan".

Using a process developed by the Office of Literacy and one of its partners, Public Consulting Group, districts define literacy, assess the current conditions K - 12, and set goals in four major, interrelated areas. The four areas are assessment and data use, standards-based curriculum, tiered instruction, and family and community involvement. A goal map outlines the resources and time needed to accomplish that goal. The process is designed to integrate the aligned plan with every existing district initiative. The literacy vision matches the district's vision and those expressed by each of its schools. It is because the plan matches existing goals and initiatives, that it immediately lives and requires action.

The District Literacy Action Team not only shepherds the development of the plan but the members of the team assume the responsibility for checking-in periodically to monitor the progress needed to accomplish its goals. In addition, they create a Public Service Announcement that provides a message alerting everyone in the community to the importance of literacy learning to every student's life and to the responsibility that we all have in supporting the education of all of our students.

The goal that supports community and family involvement can be especially challenging. It requires a mindset of partnership rather than invitation. One of the books that I recommend is Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships by Henderson, Mapp, Johnson, and Davies. The book makes the case for partnerships, reports on those places that have made partnerships work, and provides many tools and resources to help schools start to develop the relationships needed for true partnerships with families and the community.

November is Family Literacy Month. You may want to think about some activities that will begin or forge even stronger partnerships with families around literacy. Visit our resource page at for partnership ideas and ways to help you get the word out that successful literacy development depends on collaboration. All learning is served on the literacy plate!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Responding to Text

Recently I have been asked about responding to the open response items on the ELA MCAS. Scoring of MCAS open response has not changed. Some teachers advise students to restate the question as they start to respond and some have heard that a point is lost when this is done. Rather than subtract a point for restating the question, that statement is simply discounted (no points lost). The major misunderstanding that I encounter regarding response to text is the idea that it is a writing exercise as opposed to a comprehension question.

Responding to text requires 4 important cognitive activities:

  • Closely reading the selection, understanding what it is about and sometimes why it is written.

  • Analyzing the question: What am I being asked?

  • Organizing thinking: What do I think the answer is; express that thinking.

  • Support that thinking with ideas from the text; provide evidence.

Items are scored holistically; was the question answered concisely and precisely with the appropriate evidence cited? The answer may be expressed as sentences, bullets, or any way that serves good expression of the answer. Form does not matter; conventions do not matter unless the lack or overuse of them interfere with the understanding of what was written.

We have developed an instructional routine to support proficient response to text: Coaching to Proficiency. I hope this information is helpful.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Welcome to the Literacy Plate!

This is your resource for literacy - reading, writing, listening, speaking, and thinking in the southeast region of Massachusetts. For the past six years I have been assigned to this region by the Office of Literacy at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE). My job was to assist schools and districts that were receiving our state and federal grant funding. In the last year, that work was expanded to include all of the districts in the region under the umbrella of the Southeast District and School Assistance Center (DSAC).

For the past several years, the Office of Literacy has been working with schools and districts to assist in content area learning. More and more we realized that literacy and math demands were limiting the time our teachers had to work with students at the early grades on science and social studies topics. At the same time, our secondary content teachers were often struggling with the dual demands of teaching content to students and remediating literacy skills needed to access the content.

Along came two very important ideas:

  • researcher David Pearson's point that literacy provides the tools for learning all content

  • researcher Julie Meltzer's point that "Literacy is the plate." upon which all learning is served.

We have made these ideas central to our work when creating and delivering professional development and in facilitating the work of districts in aligning and focusing literacy learning through the creation of a District Literacy Action Plan. Everyone these days is busier than ever. I hope this resource will provide valuable information in a timely manner.

As we begin to adopt the new state standards in ELA and implement the projects associated with our Race to the Top (RTTT) initiative, I encourage you to check this blog for updates, resources, and lessons learned. Please contact me at any time if I may answer questions or to provide suggestions for topics on any facet of literacy. Please use the "subscribe" box to the right to sign up to get new posts via email. No spam, I promise!