Friday, July 27, 2012

New Thoughts on How to Use the Standards - Writing

Writing has taken center stage in the new standards. When you study the PARCC Model Curriculum Frameworks ( or the documents they have put out for Publishers, you see very clearly the relationship of reading, writing, and discourse to the expectations for success in our new standards-based classrooms.

Look at the anchor standards for writing. When planning, choose from among the first three standards to provide students with the reason to write. Part of thinking about that reason is to imagine and plan for the audience that will read the argument, explanation, or narrative. Students should be writing like a reader and testing their written thoughts through that lens as they write. It will be easier to do so, when the audience is someone other than the teacher. Researchers tell us that providing authentic reasons and audiences for student writing enhances engagement and motivation (Duke & Bennett-Armistead, 2003; Irwin, Meltzer, Mickler, Phillips, & Dean, 2009).

Next, integrate one or more of the grade-appropriate standards from among 4 - 6. Use these to decide which of the elements of the process of writing you will be teaching. Process is subsumed under the more important considerations of purpose and audience. Process is not the reason for writing anymore than fluency is the reason for reading. The elements of process support writing comprehension. We have in the recent past been focused on process, sometimes to the detriment of purpose.

Match the elements that you have chosen to research, standards 7 - 9. Look at the PARCC model - research goes hand-in-hand with that reading-writing connection - always. The implication here is that writing calls for the reading, listening, studying, and/or exploration of several texts (used in the broadest sense). Even writing a narrative calls for exploration of either the style/format of several mentor texts, or the subject matter of several like texts.

Students should not be asked to write merely on the basis of a single prompt, such as, "Tell about a hero in your life." Students may be asked to do this after they have read/explored a number of written depictions of heroes but not without that support. This is another way in which the rigor of the classroom experience has been elevated by these standards.

The goal is Standard 10. It presumes that many experiences with writing, for many reasons, every day will lead to flexibility and grade-appropriate maturity as a writer. The call for routine writing for many purposes and in many situations puts writing to learn, as well as to demonstrate learning, at the heart of classroom instruction.

Though the standards separate three main reasons to write, the mature writer flexibly uses all three in many situations. Consider a famous speech or written treatise such as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address or Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, each contains argument supported by explanation and anecdote. Mature writers incorporate all three purposes seamlessly into their writings and make choices based on the audience they imagine will read or listen to the work. Our high school students should be able to write that way, gradually demonstrating a flexible understanding of how the purposes interact and support one another.   

Duke, N., & Bennett-Armistead, S. (2003). Reading & writing informational text in the primary grades: Research-based practices. New York. Scholastic.
Irwin, J., Meltzer, J., Meckler, M., Phillips, M., Dean, N. (2009). Meeting the challenge of adolescent literacy: Practical ideas for literacy leaders. Newark, DE. IRA.

Monday, July 9, 2012

New Thoughts for How to Use the Standards

The Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy that incorporates the Common Core State Standards presents an entirely different way of looking at and using standards from what we have had in the past. As we move into this year of full implementation of the standards it is important to be clear regarding how teachers should use the standards, what structures best support teacher professional development, and what the true implications of the new standards mean for instructional practices and resource decisions.

Let's look at these three big ideas in chunks. Standards are learning goals, not descriptions of instructional routines (though the close reading standard comes close), not strategies for teaching or learning, and none stands alone. The standards build upon one another and call for integration within the strand - reading, writing, speaking and listening, language, and foundational skills - and across the strands - reading, speaking and listening, and writing - consistently work together and are dependent upon one another for learning as well as for demonstrating what has been learned.

How to Use the Standards: Reading
The ten anchor standards set goals for reading comprehension of informational text, literature, and content. Standard 1 - close reading and Standard 10 - reading proficiently and independently move across the year throughout all reading work in every grade and content. Close reading calls for choosing important and rich texts. This factor cannot be stressed enough. Every text is not worthy of a close read but every unit should be planned around a text worthy of the time and attention necessary for a close read and half the time that text must be informational - in every literacy (ELA/reading) class at every grade level.

If you have your Framework available, please turn to p. 13. Under Key Ideas and Details, write beside Standards 1-3, "Use for first read". For the close reading text that you have chosen, students will read to determine what is in the text, what central ideas or themes and how events or characters develop over time within the text, citing evidence from the text. Under Craft and Structure, mark Standards 4 - 6, "Use for second read." After discussion (Speaking and Listening Standard 1), students may be asked to go back into the chosen text to interpret, analyze, and/or judge it based on word/phrase meanings, structure, relationships, and/or author's point of view, purpose, or style. Under Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, mark Standards 7 - 9, "Use for third read." Again, after opportunities for discussion (S/L.1), students may return to the text for further analysis. This time gathering additional evidence to support analysis and investigating additional texts for comparisons or additional knowledge on a particular topic.

If you have studied the PARCC Model Content Frameworks, then you will recognize the clear references to reading connected to writing - marking the text, taking notes, analysis and synthesis, connected to speaking and listening - discussion and evidence-gathering, connected to research - finding additional texts "presented in diverse media and formats". At this point, students may be ready to present their conclusions either in writing or some other presentation format, either as an argument or an explanation with sufficient and relevant evidence that comes directly from the main text as well as the supporting texts. An alternative demonstration would use entirely new texts and discussions to demonstrate the use of all content and skills learned to analyze/synthesize information and support it with evidence independently and proficiently.

The expectation is that all of this work will be done using challenging texts. Those challenging texts will involve Lexile levels starting in Grade 2 (see Appendix A) that are higher than those we have previously associated with the grade levels. That means that K teachers and first grade teachers have two very important factors to consider: students need information and higher expectations for learning to read, participate in academic conversations, and write will result in greater success. Teachers who have used readability assessments in the past may or may not have realized their limitations. They did not take the knowledge of the reader into consideration and they were not normed for reliability. In addition the plan for accessing reading levels - independent, instructional, and frustration - from 1946, was invented and never proven by research to be a true measurement - no norms for reliability and/or validity.

That said, teachers will have students at all levels of decoding/fluency strengths and all levels of knowledge of nature and the world. The implication is at least the recognition that there will be a period of adjustment that will require that all teachers help students to step up to the challenges. At best, the implications include a reorganization of learning expectations and outcomes so that knowledge acquisition is equal to basic reading development in the earliest grades. In addition, there will need to be many candid conversations among educators and an understanding that everyone has a critical role to play in the success of all students.  Teachers will need to learn how to scaffold those challenging texts without reading them to students or telling them what the texts say. Redefining the roles of educators and students at all grade levels and in all content disciplines is a large part of our work for the next year.

Next time: How to Use the Writing Standards

References and Resources:
Shanahan, T. (2011, August 11). Rejecting instructional level theory. Retrieved from
Shanahan, T. (2011, October 13). Are we going to lower the fences or teach kids to climb. Reading Today Online. Retrieved from
Shanahan, T. (2009, August 21). The problem with guided reading. Retrieved from
Shanahan, T. (1983). The informal reading inventory and the instructional level: The study that never took place. In L. Gentile, M. L. Kamil, & J. Blanchard (Eds.), Reading research revisited,(pp. 577–580). Columbus, OH: Merrill.