Monday, December 12, 2011

Making Connections

Recently I put together a 2-page summary of information on current initiatives that are directly affecting literacy. The administrators to whom I presented the information appreciated seeing everything in one place. I thought you might as well.

We have had several blog entries that discuss and elaborate on the new standards. With the new standards come new assessments and some adjustments to the current assessments (MCAS) particularly with regard to writing. If you have not already put the MCAS transition framework page on your "favorites", you may want to do so The chart shows that as early as next spring (2013), modes of writing emphasized in the 2011 Massachusetts English Language Arts and Literacy Framework will be considered for testing. The page tells us that districts will be notified regarding which modes will be tested at the start of the school year.

PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career , is providing a content framework booklet that outlines the year-long expectations for grade levels from grade 3 through 11. This suite of tools presents 4 areas for consideration for each grade level: a narrative summary of the critical standards for the grade level; a model content chart - suggested integration of standards throughout the school year; very complete explanations of all key terms and concepts; and progression charts for writing and speaking and listening standards. These are especially helpful as they show the standards side-by-side with the previous year and highlight what the current grade-level expectations are. This document is available for download at PARCC has other tools in development and opportunities for educators from each member-state to participate in the development of future test items. Educators who have worked on preparing MCAS items will tell you that this is a very enlightening and helpful way to participate in test development. If you are responsible for implementation in your district, you may want to take advantage of Webinars that are archived at the site.

The next generation of assessments promises to provide curriculum-embedded performance assessments (CEPA). This is a concept that the Massachusetts model curriculum units project is using as part of the development of its units. In each curricular area - science, social studies, math, and literacy - the model unit provides a performance assessment that integrates a number of standards. Every unit has been asked to include the relevant literacy standards. This has helped to raise everyone's understanding of the literacy demands in each core discipline as acknowledged by our new literacy framework. Please check the Department's website regularly because as soon as some of the units have been properly vetted, they will be available to all for piloting or use in the classroom. In addition, the Department will solicit a second round of educators to develop even more of these units. Being part of this project really helps you to understand the requirements of the new standards while using those standards to plan an engaging and rigorous content-based unit.

Two important initiatives that affect and influence all of our work with students are the Massachusetts Tiered System of Support (MTSS) and World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA). The MTSS information is available at in an interactive format. You may see the organization of all components in a chart and when you "click" on each component, it is explained and linked to the Conditions of School Effectiveness (CSE), its philosophical underpinnings. In addition, both the MTSS initiative and the Model Curriculum Units Project have taken Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into consideration. You may find more information about UDL at Please note that on March 13, 2012, MTSS will be introduced at a statewide meeting. I will provide more details when I have them.

The WIDA initiative is in the process of being adopted by Massachusetts. It will replace our current resources, materials, and assessments for use with English Language Learners (ELs). You may get a sense of the new materials and the concepts behind them at Until Massachusetts is a full-fledged member, we will not have access to all the online materials. However, the WIDA materials address all curricular areas and provide far more support to educators than the current system. Stay tuned for more in this area very soon.

Finally, as many of you know, Massachusetts, along with many other states, will be adopting a new educator evaluation system. The regulations have been developed and adopted. The timeline is ambitious with early adoption districts and Level 4 districts working already with the state on the pilot activities. In the southeast region, Wareham and Mashpee are early adoption districts. We hope they will be able to provide us with important information about this initiative as time goes on. In the meantime, you may access the available information at The new system incorporates student growth data. Some of you may be regular readers of Laura Tilton's SouthEast Educational Data (SEED) blog at If so, you have a good idea of what the growth model entails. If not, you may wish to follow Laura's entries as well. Laura is our Southeast DSAC Data Specialist.

There are a number of important initiatives in development or recently developed that either directly or indirectly influence our literacy work with students. Changes are in the works and many will particularly influence our work with the new standards. I hope this entry has provided some useful information as well as some opportunities to pursue the particular information that may be of greatest interest or most need.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Little More on Assessments

Regarding the PARCC naterials, district and school leaders will find a wealth of information in the content frameworks documents (There is one for Math as well.). You may also wish to watch and listen to the recent archived webinar. On the PARCC site, under the Implementation heading, there is a Common Core Implementation Workbook that may be downloaded and used as a guide for ensuring that the district is on track for adopting the standards. It is based on the delivery philosophy and is designed to help you manage the transition to the new standards and assessments. In addition, there are older archived webinars there that may provide useful information for other members of the district and school communities.

Please continue to check our website as well. Note that while the MCAS blueprint will remain unchanged, starting with the 2012-2013 test cycle, all modes of writing will be included in the written portions of each test - specific modes to be tested will be announced at the start of the school year (Grade 10 writing will not change.). The best advice is to begin paying attention to the writing types and purposes of the new standards. The opinion (W.1) and explanation (W.2) standards are based upon writing in response to texts. These are critical practices associated with the new standards. Incorporating them into classroom practice will not only prepare students for future assessments and the future in general, but will more than adequately prepare them for this year's assessment as well.

To access the PARCC materials visit http://www.parcconline/parcc-content-frameworks . Find the latest information for Massachusetts at .

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Challenges of Assessments

Please note: In my September 7, 2011 entry I mistakenly used the term perspective when I meant prospective in speaking about students who plan to attend college. Thank you to the reader that brought it to my attention. I am pleased to have such attentive and intelligent readers. Also, some URLs included in the texts will work as links, however, when they don't, please copy them into your browser to access the sites.

New Generation Assessments
Today I attended a webinar provided by Education Week ( The topic was an update on the work of the two consortia assigned to provide member-states with the next generation of assessments, those based on our shared Common Core State Standards. The two consortia are SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SMARTER Balanced) and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). Massachusetts belongs to PARCC. Though assessments are being developed by both consortia, it is interesting to note that they collaborate on the calibration of the tests so that either will be able to represent an equitable and substantive evaluation of the knowledge and skills called for in the common standards.

For the past two years I have worked with districts specifically focused on developing an appropriate assessment framework as part of an overall local literacy plan. An assessment framework provides the information the district needs to be able to ensure that it is providing all of its students with achievement at every grade level and in every discipline. It includes grade-level, school-wide, and district-wide assessments, in addition to the formal and informal assessments that teachers use day in and day out to adjust instruction and differentiate attention to students. Until now, an assessment framework usually has included a balance of norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests. The norm-referenced tests provided general information about student progress in areas such as listening comprehension, reading comprehension, decoding skills, vocabulary development, and fluency as compared to the population of students at grade/age level across the country. The criterion-referenced tests assess what has been learned with the expectations based on the standards for the grade level. The combination of these two types of assessments provides a range of information about student progress. By design, all of the assessments should serve instructional planning and learning without over-assessing students.

Assessments are about to significantly change. The new standards require a very different approach to grade level learning and require a level of integration that has not been stipulated in the past. With these new standards, we are challenged with developing, adopting, and/or adapting assessments so that they are aligned with the standards while still answering the questions we need answered about our work with students. In addition, results of assessments provide families, school committees, and the public with information about our successes with students. MCAS has put an increased emphasis on criterion-referenced information. PARCC does the same.

PARCC is charged with providing assessments at every grade level from 3 through 8 and for high school that will evaluate student performance in relation to the standards and certify whether or not the students are either on track or ready for college and career. In addition, they were asked by the U S Department of Education to construct the assessments in such a way as to allow states to be able to use the results to track student growth as we currently do with MCAS. Additionally, PARCC is developing a diagnostic and a formative assessment at each grade level. The diagnostic (still criterion-referenced) may be used at the start of a school year to see where students are with relation to standards. It and the formative assessment may be used any time during the year, prior to the end of the year, to judge whether or not students are progressing on track prior to taking the summative assessment.

The summative assessment will have two parts - a performance-based activity that may be accomplished over a short time period and a computer-based evaluation. The computer-based evaluation will provide the student with items based on student responses so each test will be individualized as students move through the items. In addition, PARCC is developing a way to test the Speaking and Listening (S/L) Standards.

Using the Model Content Frameworks from PARCC
PARCC expects educators from the member states to begin using the document this spring. They will solicit feedback during the summer and make refinements if necessary. In the meantime, the Model Content Frameworks are expected to help inform district and school choices in curriculum, instruction, and assessment; to increase educator understanding of and engagement with the common standards; assist all of us in evaluating resources and materials; provide awareness of the need for a balance of texts and integration of instructional activities; and provide the impetus for grade-level and vertical conversations addressing the use of the standards. Eventually they hope to produce model instructional units, a more refined text complexity tool, a working group of educator leaders to work on developing items; and item and task prototypes.

In the meantime, I encourage all of you to access the materials at . District and school leaders will find a wealth of information in the content frameworks documents (There is a math document, as well.). You may also wish to watch and listen to the archived webinars. Under the Implementation heading, there is a Common Core Implementation Workbook that may be downloaded and used as a guide for ensuring that the district is on track for adopting the standards. It is based on the delivery philosophy and is designed to help you manage the transition to the new standards and assessments. In addition, there are older archived webinars there that may be useful as you continue the transition work with all members of the district and school communities.

Continue to check our website regularly at . Begin to work now with the three types of writing called for in the new standards. Writing in the MCAS scheduled for 2012-2013 school year will ask students to use all the types of writing in the written items (short responses, open responses, and long compositions). Any work you do with students in writing opinion/argument and explanation that involves responding to more than one text will prepare them for future assessments, the future in general, and this year's MCAS assessment, as well.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Balance Literary and Informational Texts

As I continue to study and collaborate with teachers on implementation of the new standards, I recognize the connections among the major shifts more and more. Obviously, close reading and writing from sources (content of the last post) are easily linked.

Shift 1 calls for a 50% balance of literary and informational texts in the PK-5 classrooms. Primary and elementary teachers are asked to be deliberate in planning instruction around a balance of informational and literary reading and writing. Historically these grades have relied mostly on literature and narrative texts to teach skills in decoding, understanding, and metacognition.

However, our young learners need to build a foundation of knowledge about the physical and cultural world, in addition to learning about skills and literature's enduring themes. Informational texts in the elementary grades may be connected to the literature and to topics and standards of the science, social studies, math, art, music, health and physical education curricula. Even in the early grades, students can learn about the differences in learning to read and write, speak, listen, and use language in each of the disciplines.

The standards start to come alive as you look at Appendix B. Exemplars of grade level spans are presented in K-5 as literary and informational. In the K-1 and 2-3 spans, texts are further divided into read-aloud texts and the ones that students may be expected to read themselves. The books presented are meant to reflect the level of complexity that will be needed to challenge students to be better prepared throughout the grades and at graduation. In the 6-8, 9-10, and 11-CCR (college and career ready) spans, there are informational and literary texts listed for the English language arts, and additionally texts for history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. So, the case is made that while every student's literacy relies on every teacher that the student meets the English language arts teacher has a responsibility to incorporate both literature and information into the planning of lessons.

In addition the performance-based assessments that are associated with the texts in Appendix B provide a window into future expectations for linking the reading of related texts in order to understand various perspectives and write from sources to explain research or support a position. Massachusetts is a partner in the PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) Consortium. They have been working with member states to develop a framework for curricular mapping that will demonstrate how the standards are integrated and may be used to prepare students for assessments based on the new standards. They anticipate releasing the content frameworks next month.

Check out the progress of PARCC and the Model Content Frameworks at Download a copy of Appendix B at

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Close Reading – Writing from Sources – New Literacy Challenges

Years ago The Ford Motor Company had a tagline that went like this, “At Ford, safety is Job 1.” In my school we said, “At (our school), learning is Job 1.” In our new Framework for ELA and Literacy, R.CCR.1 is Job 1; this first reading standard is close reading of text and this standard intersects directly with W.CCR.1 & 2, informational writing, or more accurately, writing from sources. This reading-writing connection may really be our new “Job 1”.

What is Close reading?
There are instructional/learning activities connected with close reading of text. These may or may not be understood by the simple statement, “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly [emphasis added]…” There are very specific steps involved in the close reading of texts. Let’s consider the big ideas.

When students arrive at Harvard, they are admonished to have or develop a way of marking text as they read. As Harvey and Daniels say, “Leave tracks of your thinking.” (p. 93). The first type of instructional activity involves teaching each student to read the text and mark it up – mark the text itself or write notes that can be placed at particular places in the text with comments that record thinking/learning, questions, and surprises. When we read with a pencil/highlighter in hand, we understand that reading requires thinking.

After students have had a chance to grapple with and initially mark the text, the teacher reads the text aloud. While reading aloud, the teacher may also think aloud with some emphasis and connected queries. The teacher may point out and teach students to notice patterns – repetitions, contradictions, and similarities. After a second reading the teacher, will facilitate an opportunity for students to generate their own questions (R.CCR.1) in anticipation of a facilitated and structured instructional conversation. Details specific to the language and organization of the selection are highlighted; no generic questions or prompts are used. The standard continues, “…cite textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.” The standards are clear in supporting purposeful reading in order to present ideas through speaking and writing and in insisting that these ideas come explicitly from the texts.

Therefore, the next phase of the lesson involves the kinds of formal and informal classroom conversations that help students clarify thinking and help teachers prevent the persistence of misconceptions. Research highlights Instructional Conversations, Accountable Talk, and Questioning the Author (QtA) as structures that facilitate rigorous classroom discourse (Duke, 2011). Questions and statements must reflect only what is stated or inferred by the text. Once students are confident with discussion skills, the teacher may set up small groups of students that collaborate and that bring insights back to the whole group. Students need time to reflect on the answers to their own questions as well as ideas that resonate with them for various reasons. What comes next is the reading-writing connection.

What is Writing from Sources?
The standards state,” Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts [emphasis added] …” and, “Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information…” Informational writing as called for in these standards is not the business-as-usual persuasive essay. While there are many types of persuasive texts, for example, brochures, letters to the Editor, blogs etc., to address this first standard, students are required to have read/heard/studied and understood several pieces of text. Understood here means analyzed and synthesized information. This relates directly back to the exercise of close reading that requires thinking, questioning, and discussion of more than one text on the same topic or idea.

The second writing standard similarly calls for “…analysis of content”. Although a recipe, directions, sequence of steps in an experiment may be considered informational forms of writing, they are what the standards refer to as subgenres (see footnote on p. 23 of the Curriculum Framework). The explanatory writing called for by the second writing standard requires examination (close reading) of more than one text. The writing standards refer to “…a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences”. These are considerations that inform every opportunity for writing that students are given.

The Challenges
My point here is that reading and writing are deliberately connected in our new ELA and Literacy Framework. As we begin to explore the instructional implications, it makes sense to examine where those opportunities for connections already exist in our curricula. It may make sense to ask where we can provide those connections if they do not currently exist. In addition, we may want to ask how often close reading actually occurs in our classrooms. If we realize that we need more emphasis or professional collaboration in order to increase emphasis on close reading, how will we support teachers in making that transition? We may also want to begin thinking about the implications for writing as students learn to express ideas through analysis and synthesis of multiple texts.

This is the area of professional development that I am interested in and working on now. I hope to be able to work directly with some of you that are our Regional DSAC districts in this very important area. As I develop materials I hope to make them available to all our districts through the DSAC and through our ESE website. In the meantime, I hope I have encouraged you to look even more closely at our new standards, given you some food for thought, and supported your understanding of the implications for teaching and learning that our new Curriculum Framework provides.

Duke, N. K. (2011). Informational reading and writing and connections to the Common Core. Presentation for Massachusetts Literacy Partnership. Marlboro, MA.
Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Rothenberg, C. (2008). Content-area conversations: How to plan discussion-based lessons for diverse language learners. Alexandria, VA. ASCD.
Graham, S., and Hebert, M. A. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York
Harvey, S. & Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension and collaboration: Inquiry circles in action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Kain, P. (1998). How to do a close reading: For the writing center at Harvard University. Retrieved from on 09/17/2011.
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (2011). Massachusetts curriculum framework for English language arts and literacy grades pre-Kindergarten to 12 incorporating the common core state standards for English language arts and literacyin history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Malden, MA.
Mason, G. (2011). My tips for close reading of texts. Retrieved from on 09/17/2011.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Year, New Standards, New Opportunities!

Happy New Year to All! Many summer days and some September days have been spent working with teams of teachers and administrators on getting to know our new Framework and the standards it includes. Some educators have followed the process for the past two years and some have seen the Framework for the first time on the first day of school this year. Whatever your experience, the work of understanding and using the new standards has begun.

How should the school or district begin? It may be helpful to consider the main shifts that may be needed in teaching and learning. Common Core Standards author, David Coleman, tells us there are six important shifts to consider. They are balancing informational and literary texts in grades Pre-K through 5, building content knowledge in grades 6 through 12, the staircase of text complexity through the grades, emphasis on text-based evidence in reading, speaking, and writing, writing from sources, and development of academic vocabulary.

Balance Informational and Literary Texts in Pre-K-5
Many of our early elementary classrooms have far more literary texts available than informational texts. An opportunity exists to examine the number and complexity of existing texts and begin to plan for additional texts that support the developmant of knowledge about the world. Our Pre-K and K teachers know how much our young learners love finding out about Nature and the way things work. However, the extraordinary emphasis of the last ten years on increasing math and literacy basic skills has unintentionally led to the loss of time for and emphasis on science and social studies. At the elementary level, it may be enjoyable for teacher teams to develop coherence between literary and informational texts, reclaiming the opportunity for the teacher to be that facilitator of world knowledge. They may wish to explore the suggestions for informational reading in Appendix B, matching some of them to the existing science and social studies curriculum.

Build Content Knowledge 6-12
The Framework emphasizes a shared responsibility for student literacy development. Content teachers will want to pay close attention to types of text, for instance demonstrating the differences inherent in primary and secondary sources for the students. They will want to be explicit with students about how and when differeent types of texts are used, will want to share the expertise they have developed through years of study and experience, and will want to emphasize the use of evidence when reading, speaking, and writing. Eighth grade NAEP scores have been flat and falling for forty years. Only those students who have the stamina and understanding to deal with primary sources and synthesize information from more than one source have succeeded. According to the Common Core Standards authors, our students need experience with a variety of complex texts and the content-related literacy expertise of their teachers in each discipline to achieve better results.

Staircase Complexity
The authors tell us that research shows that we have underestimated the complexity and volume of college-level and technical (those used in careers) texts. In addition, one of the underlying assumptions of the Common Core Standards authors was that we have over-corrected for struggling learners. The suggestion is to read less (in volume), but more complex texts closely. The implications are that work with certain texts will slow down, will consider portions of the text in a close reading that includes re-reading, teacher read-alouds, guiding questions, rigorous discourse, responsive writing, and access for all students. This may be a difficult, even frustrating, exercise at times, but the authors have determined that it is the only way all of our students will be adequately prepared upon graduation from high school. The idea of increased text complexity will certainly be a challenge for teachers and students but David Coleman calls it a civil rights issue. Teachers may wish to work at grade level and across grades using the Appendix B selections to try out some of the ideas of the staircase complexity.

Text-Based Evidence
This may be the most critical area for professional development and professional collaboration. As teachers we appreciate our responsibility for providing all learners with the confidence to take the risks needed to learn. The standards ask us to add or renew the discipline needed to teach our students to depend only on the precise evidence that is available in the text, and to do so from the earliest grades. Only after examination of what is specific to the text, can we make those connections to individual experiences. To that end, questions will be very focused on the text being read, to the exclusion of generic questions such as, "What is the main idea?". Text-based evidence is required for close reading, discourse, and writing in the new standards. Teachers may want to practice preparing lessons together using some of the exemplars available in Appendix B.

Writing from Sources
Analyzing texts and synthesizing ideas from a number of texts, are important and challenging skills. These are life-long competencies, the very thing we ask voters and jurors to do. When a group of college professors got together to examine the writing of high school seniors who were perspective college students, they found that 95% of the writing was narrative and 95% was not considered college-ready. As a result, students may submit writing to the Ready or Not Writing site where a college English professor will review it and provide advice.
Informational writing requires precision, accuracy, and clarity.

Academic Vocabulary
Academic vocabulary provides the opportunity for students to competently use the terms that have meanings across content disciplines. This is particularly important because the nuanced use of these terms is required for technical work, for college study, and for navigating through our complicated, global society. Teachers will be asked to be very strategic in the choices they make for instruction and for how they provide opportunities for student use of the terms. Knowing a word means knowing what it is in various contexts, what it is not, and what ideas are related to it. This may be another opportunity for teams of teachers to work on a shared vocabulary development to support student achievement.

While last year was the time to understand the history, causes, and organization of the new standards, this year is a time for experimentation and an opportunity to refocus some of our materials and instructional routines. District and school leaders may want to provide time for grade level groups and cross-level teams to consult and plan together for the necessary changes. Any lessons designed now to focus on the rigor and shifts required by the new standards will prepare students for achievement in future study, in current statewide assessment, and in life. So, dig in, make plans, and enjoy the sense of renewal that our new Framework provides.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review the PARCC Draft Model Content Frameworks for Assessment

I am writing about a limited-time offer. I hope you will join colleagues across the state and in our partner states to critique the initial work of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) Consortium.

As you know, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted the 2011 Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for Mathematics and the 2011 Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy, both of which incorporate the Common Core State Standards. This summer copies of these Massachusetts frameworks were sent to all public school districts in the Commonwealth so that educators will have them available for planning curriculum during the coming year.

We are asking for your assistance in reviewing drafts of new additional resources for curriculum alignment developed by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) Consortium, which consists of Massachusetts and 23 other states that have joined together for the primary purpose of creating new assessments based on the Common Core State Standards.

Drafts of the PARCC Consortium’s guidance documents, called "model content frameworks" for English language arts/literacy and mathematics, are now available for public review. The intent of the model content frameworks is to identify the big ideas in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for each grade level and to help determine the focus for various PARCC assessments being developed by the consortium. The frameworks are being created through a collaborative process that includes state experts and members of the team that wrote the Common Core State Standards.
For more information or to view the drafts of the model content frameworks and comment on them in an online survey, visit:

The public review period, which lasts until August 17, allows for feedback from a wide group of stakeholders, including Pre-k-12 educators, curriculum and assessment experts, and post secondary faculty. Responses will strengthen the final versions of PARCC’s content framework documents, which will be published in fall, 2011.

Share this information with any colleagues that you think may be interested and thank you, in advance, for taking the time to participate in this important project.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Massachusetts New Literacies Institute

Geetings from the New Literacies Institute! This is the second year we have conducted the Institute; last year's Teacher Leaders have returned as this year's Content Team. They have planned the entire Institute and are presenting sessions that are taking us all to the next level. This is a perfect model for educational professional development. If you have colleagues at the Institute, please ask them to share the learning with you when we all return to school.

By the way, this Institute won an award for Massachusetts from the 21st Century Partnership. Kudos to all involved!

We are at the Microsoft New England Research and Development(NERD)Center. Microsoft supports innovative teaching and learning. Check out

Stay tuned.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Our New Framework - Final Version

It has been much too long since I have written. Spring and summer used to be a time for winding down. They are not that way anymore!

The final copyedited version of our English Language Arts and Literacy Framework is printed and available on our web page at Keep in mind that it is our Framework, a singular frame like that of a building on which to create the rich conversations, explorations of text, opportunities to communicate, and to build knowledge that only literacy is able to so thoroughly support. Thomas Friedman spoke of standards as a platform upon which creativity and innovation build.

It is tempting to dive right in to the standards that most affect our own personal work. However, as you begin, or continue, the exploration of the new Framework I urge you to spend some time with the ancillary pieces of the work. Like any other informational text, it is filled with philosophy, advice, research underpinnings, and connections to all areas of our work.

The Introduction consists of the first ten pages. Reading and studying it, you will understand why we have these standards rather than the ones that were developed during the regular five-year revision process that were due for release in 2009. You will be able to explain how and why Massachusetts added a very small number of unique standards to the Common Core State Standards. On the very first page (p. 3) you will find a desription of The Literate Person of the Tewnty-first Century, the goal of all of the work contained in the Framework and its standards.

The next pages point out key design considerations for the standards. It is worth noting what was intended by College and Career Ready Standards and knowing that the standards are grade-specific except for the grade bands at grades 9-10 and 11-12. The focus of the standards is the result, not the means. The standards represent a year-end floor, not a ceiling and as educators, we are asked to bring our considerable experience and expertise to the instructional process. The standards describe the what; we provide the how. One very important point is that the standards are integrated. As you get to know the standards within the four strands, you will see seminal ideas that repeat. Finding these connections will be important to teachers as they begin to work with the standards.

Research, use of various media, and shared responsibility for student literacy development are all big ideas that permeate the standards. Changes in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), provided impetus for the emphasis on increases in the use of informational text and increases in the volume and types of writing. Appendix A contains the complete history and explanation of the connections and how they informed development of the new standards. On page 6, the document clearly outlines what the standards do not address.

As you consider realignment of the curriculum, pages 7 and 8 describe the Massachusetts Guiding Principles, each of which begins, "An effective English language arts and literacy curriculum...". These ten principles demonstrate the ways that schools and districts may infuse the literacy curriculum with thinking, cultural heritage, informational texts and multimedia, oral language, writing for various purposes, high expectations for all students, appropriate skill instruction for reading and writing, knowledge building, common ground, and sustainable relationships with families and communities. Explicitly connect the principles to your district's literacy action plan and strategic plan, as well as to the threads that bind your pre-K through 12 curriculum.

The last page of the Introduction, presents the organization of the document. Be sure to take note of the last paragraph on the left side of the page. This is where the abbreviations used throughout the standards pages are explained. Each of the strands is highlighted as well as the sections. Certain key ideas, text complexity and language progression, for instance, that are found in the Pre-K - 5 section, are repeated in the Grade 6 - 12 section.

In an earlier blog, I reminded everyone to take time getting to know the Framework. As you can see, I am still encouraging that same approach. Get to know the entire document well. You will have many years to work with the standards. We expect every district to receive copies of the final printed version of the ELA and Math Frameworks for all teachers within another month. Remember that your DSAC Team and members of the Math and Literacy Offices are always ready to respond to your questions and concerns.

Next week I will be working with the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute in Cambridge. We have over 100 educators from grades 4 - 12 and higher education assembling to connect our new Framework with use of the Internet and the various digital tools that it prescribes. The week following next, I will be working with the educators across the state who decided to work on model curriculum units and curriculum-embedded performance assessments through the Race to the Top Grant Project. I plan to communicate about each of those projects here.

In the meantime, enjoy the weather, some relaxation time, and the new Framework, in which ever order you choose!

Friday, May 6, 2011

New Literacies in Action

Today (May 6, 2011) I am attending the New Literacies Institute 2010 Follow-Up Session #3. Teacher Teams that began work last summer at the week-long Institute, have brought lessons to share with the rest of the teams. They have also reported on the challenges and successes of using the Internet and digital tools to strengthen lessons and student learning.

In addition, some reported on the work that they have done with colleagues. They told us that often what catches on is what works in other classrooms. The "buzz" will bring other teachers asking for a tutorial on something that would support student learning in their classrooms. Several teachers reported the ability to differentiate learning for students using some of the tools. They pointed out how important it is to have time to collaborate with colleagues on a regular basis. That, coupled with the expectation that all teachers will update lessons with appropriate new literacies, would go a long way to improving the current curriculum in many places.

One team found that Edmodo is particularly useful. It is a place where students can have literature circle discussions online. Students can put documents on the site as well. Students can access the site from home or homes (in some cases). The site does not use email and is private and protected and, best of all, free. The teacher assesses student work and the expectation is that the students will use the protocols for discussion online that they have been taught in the classroom. There are parent protocols so that families may monitor student work as well. The teacher monitors the discussion; recieving an email every time there is a post. However, the teacher can shut the site off during vacations or when she is away.

According to the teachers, students had better discussions when they had the prompt ahead of time, reminding us that whatever your best practices are without digital tools, the same ideas infuse work with digital media. Additionally, some students who were often distracted and oof task during face-to-face discussions, provided very focussed and high-level entries online. Some teacher groups have established adult learning communities using the same tool with colleagues in the district and around the world. What an opportunity for professional collaboration!

Another Teacher demonstrated her use of Webquest. For the project each student needs a Google account. Students prepare 5 web pages based upon research of a specific content topic. They start with criteria and a rubric for content as well as for presentation. Students present their work when finished and must cite their resources. They are reminded to take audience into account when planning the content. One caution that was shared was that in the middle of the project, the site (Google) asked for a phone number. It may be Google's way of preventing spam accounts. However, students did not give phone numbers or any personal information and they were able to finish the projects. When we use new tools, we are sometimes subjected to surprises. However, if we want our students to take risks to enhance learning, we must model our own willingness to do so.

Both of these projects demonstrate the use of digital tools and the Internet for providing and communicating content learning. Who owns the learning? Who is doing the work? In these cases, students are creating products that not only demonstrate their own learning but create a legacy of that learning that can be shared with students who come after them.

The Massachusetts New Literacies Institute 2011 will continue the implementation of digitally-infused teaching and learning across the state. Our new English Language Arts Curriculum Framework is filled with references to use of digital tools and the Internet. The Framework encourages all kinds of research projects and use of a variety of sources for research as well as methods of presentation of learning. If you are interested in sending a team to the 2011 Institute, please access the flyer, New Literacies Institute 2011 Flyer, and respond according to the directions. Literacy is not added to the plate, it is the plate and the new literacies are delectable!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Events Associated with the New Frameworks

Last Monday, the Southeast Regional Readiness Center located at Bridgewater State University held the first in a series of sessions to assist with the introduction and implementation of the new Curriculum Frameworks in Math and Literacy. Each of six regions in the state will be hosting a similar opportunity.

Attendees represented Early Education and Care, Pre-K through 12 schools and districts, and Institutions of Higher Learning. The goal of the Readiness Centers is to bring members of these groups together on a regular basis to collaborate on the preparation of all of our young learners for effective participation in career and society. The first session presented an overview of the development and adoption of the Common Core State Standards and breakout sessions that presented the organization and content of the Literacy and Math Frameworks. In addition, participants learned what Massachusetts added to enhance the core standards in order to develop the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks in Math and Literacy.

One very interesting addition to the introduction section of the Literacy Framework is the set of Guiding Principles. They provide ten statements that describe the characteristics of "an effective English language arts curriculum". The Guiding Principles are an excellent place to begin work on the understanding and implementation of the new standards.

The document itself is informational text and is available in its pre-publication form (It is currently with the copy editors.) at It contains many charts and sidebars with lots of important and useful information. Also available at the website are the presentations made at the Readiness Center, including some activities that may help schools and districts introduce the documents to all staff and to families. The schedule of additional Readiness Center presentations are available there as well.

At the Department we continue to work on tools and mini-presentations that explain some of the newer concepts associated with the Framework. These include content literacy, text complexity, and developing a plan for district implementation. As we move into the next couple of months these tools will be introduced and disseminated throughout all regions.

Those of you who participated in the Race to the Top application and highlighted interest in curriculum work, may be part of a cohort of teachers who will be working on curriculum mapping and curriclum sample units with us this summer. Once they are developed, they will be available for all to use. It is an exciting time with many opportunities for participation in the implementation process. Keep your eye on the Curriculum and Instruction page (above) where eventually all the tools and documents will be available. When the Frameworks are published everyone will receive a copy, however, the appendices which contain lots of valuable information and tools as well, will be available at the website.

Stay tuned for information and news as it develops!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Vocabulary and Knowledge Development

Recently I have had the opportunity to work with several groups of educators in the southeast region. Over and over again the notion of what students know (or don't know) comes up in the conversations as a challenge to our work in the classroom. Teachers have discovered that they cannot assume that students arrive with knowledge of the world, even the world that surrounds them. For instance one teacher reported third graders who did not have the word for wreathe and another who only had five second graders who had been to the beach.

There are a number of things going on here. Some of our students have many experiences but for various reasons - few conversations outside of school or few conversations in English outside of school - they don't have the words for what they know or perhaps the precise term for what they know. In other cases, students lack experience with the world. They have not had opportunities to visit beaches (not just one), museums, or even local libraries, and they have not read (or been read to) about these ideas or experiences.

Knowledge is built in two important ways. We have knowledge of the world and knowledge of how things work. So when you are driving a car, you can only use your Navigation system sucessfully because your knowledge of the world provides the understanding of direction, how roadways work, where some places are in relation to others and so forth, and your knowledge of how things work allows you to drive the car and use the system to provide you with the directions needed.

Many of our students have a knowledge deficit. That fact informs our work with all our students. It provides challenges and opportunities. Our Governor and our Education Commissioner have identified a big goal for Massachusetts - close the achievement gap at third grade. Nell Duke, Joan Kelley, and others at Harvard have researched this idea and have recently published, Turning the page: Refocusing Massachusetts for reading success strategies for improving children's language and literacy development, birth to age 9 (June, 2010). You may retrieve the document at It makes the point that early experiences for our youngest learners set the stage for all future learning success and that those experiences must include good language and knowledge development.

Implications for our teaching, especially at the earliest grades, compel us to find out what our learners really know - build on that and fill in the kinds of gaps that will impede knowledge development. Give students lots of opportunities to use language. They do not own the understanding of a concept until they have used the word for it many, many times and done so appropriately. Therefore they need lots of guidance as they use words for concepts. They may learn from experiences like field trips, or virtual field trips - handling artifacts or viewing videos associated with ideas or places. They may also learn from deep examination of text - reading with an adult who is demonstrating the thinking that is required to read and understand deeply. They may learn from braod reading about a topic, the chance to become a mini-expert on something. By four years old, my little nephew was an expert on all kinds of heavy equipment. It was amazing to hear him use a term like excavator as naturally as he did ice cream. Of course, whenever I refer to reading I also mean having someone read to the learner.

None of these instructional activities is new, however, purposeful use of them with learners who may already have a knowledge deficit may require some new strategies in early education programs as well as in our primary grades. In Turning the Page, we are reminded again about the importance of building oral language, vocabualry, and concept development from the earliest years. These are the building blocks of all learning success and those who teach our youngest learners should be held in our greatest esteem. Thank you all for your dedication to your learners' ultimate successes!

Friday, January 21, 2011

New Literacies Tools

Some of you may be interested as I am in the "new literacies". Our new Curriculum Framework places a greater emphasis than ever before on student and teacher use of media and educational technologies. I have explored the use of "cool tools" with some of my colleagues. At first I was intrigued by all the possibilities. Then I began asking, so what? How do these tools lead to better instruction and more powerful learning? I have found some intriguing answers.

This week I was following up with a school district on a workshop that had been presented several months ago. I wanted to connect the learning from the first workshop to mine. I took all of the text from the Power Point slides from October and copied it into Wordle . Some of you may know and use Wordle. If not, Wordle takes a text, jumbles all the individual words, and makes those that have been used the most, large, bold, and colorful. I displayed the wordle from the first workshop and asked the participants to use the 5 - 6 largest words to write a 1 - 2 sentence summary of the content of the first workshop. It was amazing! The summaries instantly crystallized the essence of the work that had been done, setting the context for continuing the work. This was much more interesting than having me go over the highlights again. Try it with students as a way of accessing background on a new subject or as a way of summarizing a lesson or a unit. I am sure that you will invent even more ways to use Wordle and if you do, please share them.

Another tool that I have shared with teachers recently is e-Pals Global Community . Again, some of you may already be members, however, I especially like the idea of having classes with a particular population of English Learners correspond with a class whose students speak the same 2-3 languages. So, for instance a class with a population that speaks Portuguese and English can pair with a class in Portugal or Brazil where students are practicing the same languages. At the site, teachers put up a short description of their classes and which languages the students speak. No correspondence is sent until it is approved by the teacher. This project can be a class correspondence or teachers can set up individual secure accounts for their students. Any of us who have set up pen pals for our classes over the years know how motivating the experience can be, even for reluctant readers and writers.

Since we have been talking a lot about the new Curriculum Framework, I have created a wall at Wallwisher . This is a site where colleagues can post comments and questions on a particular subject. I invite you to visit and post a message. Please reply to the question posted on that wall.

So far, all of the tools that I have used have been free. They are resources for teachers and students and there are many more. In addition, WGBH provides lots of resources for teaching and learning. I hope you are taking full advantage of Teachers Domain and Annenberg Learning.

We have been told that our students are digital natives but I don't think any of us are complete strangers to the exciting and inviting world that the Internet and New Literacies present with every passing day.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Literacy Framework

In December the Boards of Education voted to accept the revised recommendations for additions to the Common Core Standards that were adopted in July. Once all of the recommendations were approved and voted on, the new document became our Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy.

While we now have all the pieces in place, those pieces must be integrated and the final form sent off to the copy editor for printing. Once the final version has been assembled, it will be available electronically at our ESE website. In his memo of December 10, 2010, Commissioner Chester outlines the history of the process, provides a summary of the public comment on the proposed additions, indicates other relevant additions such as a glossary, updated guiding principles, and updated author lists, and explains a process for moving from the current MCAS to an assessment using the new standards. At the end of the memo, he enclosed the then draft of the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy. You may access these documents at .

I have heard from several districts that they want to begin working on or planning for the implementation of the new Framework. In the Office of Literacy and Humanities we have begun working on tools to support Massachusetts' educators in learning about and implementing the new Framework. Our colleagues in the Math Office are doing similar work. We hope to have some tools ready by the end of January. Sometime in the summer we plan to bring groups of teachers and others together to work on models of curriclum guides and maps. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, I suggest you read Appendix A available at . In it you will find explanations of the research that informed development of the Common Core Standards, information on text complexity, and the ways that Lexile levels will be increased to meet the increasing demands of reading and writing in the 21st Century. I found much of it very interesting and enlightening and I think that eventually districts may want all teachers to have the background knowledge that Appendix A provides. I believe that it will be helpful in understanding how instruction will need to change in order to meet the expectations for student independence and proficiency that the new standards require.

This is truly an opportunity for all of us to work together on behalf of all of the students in the Commonwealth.