Friday, April 4, 2014

Read Closely

Standard 1 for reading requires us to teach students to "Read closely..."with all the attendant requisites and considerations. Standard 1 is a learning outcome for students, as are all of the standards. Standard 1 does not prescribe a specific set of steps to follow every time a person reads closely. Standard 1 begins with a verb (an action) and its modifier (an adverb) that tells us how that action is performed.

Now that teachers have digested the big shifts associated with the standards - build content knowledge, extract and employ evidence, and engage with complex texts and tasks, the questions I hear most often are regarding the instruction involved to teach students to read closely. So lets look at the ins and outs of reading closely.

What is it?
Reading closely is the purposeful reading and rereading of a particular text to mine evidence of as much information/meaning as possible from it. Complex, grade-level text is a requisite.  Text-dependent questions or prompts are requisite. Considerations include choosing engaging and authentic short texts and planning connections to other texts being examined or studied.

Why read closely (learn to read closely)?
Reading closely requires that the reader think about what the author is saying literally and what meaning the author is conveying. Regular practice with reading closely builds a habit of critical thinking that leads to thoughtful, critical analysis. Considerations include choices that are worthy of your time and attention as a teacher and as students who will spend considerable time and effort with the text. Students should understand that not every text is read closely. Only challenging texts are read closely.

How is it learned and taught?
Researchers working with practitioners - most notably Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey as well as Timothy Shanahan - have spent considerable time working with teachers and their students in order to provide information to the field. Standards 1 and 10 are always in play while the rest of the reading standards provide the various opportunities to develop the reasons for asking students to reread a text. Teachers must consider the text itself, the tasks that students will be asked to perform, and the particular purpose for choosing a text within the unit and/or the curriculum. Teachers are making the instructional decisions. Students are reading with a pencil. For each reading, they are marking the text to support the reason for the reading. The accumulation of the information gleaned is put to work for a final product or performance.

Who needs to read closely?
All students need to learn to read complex, grade-level text (Standard 10). It should go without saying that teachers will need to read and reread the texts that are chosen to be read closely. They will do so to consider which standards will dictate the text-dependent questions, how the students will annotate text for each read, and what kinds of student discourse will be used to support deeper learning of the text's meaning.

Requisites: short, worthy texts; text-dependent questions/prompts that reflect the standards; questions that build from the less to the more complex standards (Standards 2-9); several readings during one sitting; annotation of texts; opportunities for peer, academic discourse.

Considerations: students need to learn how to annotate text (Writing Standard 10); students need a structure for participating in discourse (Speaking and Listening Standard 1); students need to know what they are expected to do and why; texts that are authentic are more engaging; teachers will need to plan the differentiated strategies that will allow all students access to complex texts and the critical thinking involved.

Please look for help in the best places, not just anywhere. Some pretend experts are only adding to the confusion and frustration that some educators are experiencing. I highly recommend the following:

Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2012). Close reading in elementary schools. The Reading Teacher. V. 66 #3, pp. 179-188. Available at the IRA website if you are a member.
Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2013). Rigorous reading:5 access points for comprehending complex texts. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin. This book has a professional learning guide, videos, and power point slides available to go with it.
Shanahan, Timothy. This site carries the blog of Timothy Shanahan who provides a very balanced and common sense approach to all things Common Core. You can sign up for regular installments of his blog.
Video. This clip provides one good example of a class involved in reading an authentic text closely.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

PARCC Assessment and Instructional Implications

This week I attended a session presented by one of the PARCC Fellows from Massachusetts and one of the PARCC item developers, a retired Massachusetts educator. Though some information reinforced what I already know and use, there were moments of greater clarity and deeper understanding of how looking at the development of the assessments may inform our instructional choices. Why? The Consortium has reminded us that what it provides should be used as resources that demonstrate how it understands and uses the standards in its work.

Some of the ideas that I found most interesting:
  • Many MCAS accommodations will be available as accessibility features for all students. Among the 14 listed for all students are highlight tool, pop-up glossary, spell checker, and headphones. A complete list and further clarifications may be found at This site provides the complete PARCC Accessibility Features and Accommodations Manual.
  • Instructional Implications: Teachers should be using all of the features as part of their plans for Universal Design (UDL)/Differentiated Instruction (DI) when writing unit and lesson plans. Students should have access to these as needed for a variety of learning, processing, and performing (assessment) situations.
  • Item Developers are required to consider the three global shifts represented by the standards as they prepare the items - Engage with Complex Texts - Extract & Employ Evidence - Build Knowledge.
  • Instructional Implications: Teachers and students should be working with evidence to support claims and answers to questions in the reading, discourse, and writing that is the daily work of every classroom. Further, not only should the texts used for building knowledge be complex at the grade level, but what students are asked to do with the knowledge and skills learned should be complex (challenging, performance-based tasks and assessments).
  • Item Developers are asked to use the language of the standards in the writing of assessment items.
  • Instructional Implications: Teachers and students must use the language of the standards in their daily encounters. Third graders must be able to recognize and understand what is meant when asked to, "Distinguish their own points of view from that of the author of a text." .  
  • Items are often structured in two parts with the second part having more than one answer.
  • Instructional Implications: Teachers should adjust the questioning they are currently employing to demonstrate that the same passage may be read several times for more than one reason, that there may be several points in a passage that support a particular claim, that students must persist in reading and thinking about the complex texts in ways that they may not be used to doing. Students will need lots of practice with reading and rereading, with academic discourse to amplify and explore ideas, with sufficient time to write and to save notes over time in order to connect ideas from one text to another.
  • PARCC has broken down the standards into parts and will report out the specific part that the item addresses. For instance, for Grade 3, Standard 1 in Reading Informational Text:
    • RI 1: Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
    • is divided into..."Provides questions and answers that show understanding of a text." (1) and "Provides explicit references to the text as the basis for the answers." (2)
  • Instructional Implications: Use the PARCC Evidence Tables to understand (unpack) the standards. They are available at:

    The session I attended gave me lots to think about and to share. I hope you are able to take some of this information and use it to help you more completely understand and use the standards - to slow down and proceed more deeply with the learning. Though the work is complex, the students are capable, and by working collaboratively we can adjust our instructional activities to more fully engage in the work, supporting all students as they achieve high quality learning.


        Tuesday, January 7, 2014

        Writing Standards in Action

        Look what's new!
        Writing Standards in
        Action Project has
        new additions!

        Text Types and Purposes

        Grade 3

        Grade 4

        Grade 5

        Grade 6

        Grade 7

        Grade 8
        Opinion/Argument View Opinion Argument Samples - Grade 5 View Opinion Argument Samples - Grade 6
        Inform/Explain View Inform/Explain Samples - Grade 3 View Inform/Explain Samples - Grade 4 View Inform/Explain Samples - Grade 5 View Inform/Explain Samples - Grade 7 View Inform/Explain Samples - Grade 8
        Narrate View Narrate Samples - Grade 3 View Narrate Samples - Grade 4 View Narrate Samples - Grade 5 View Narrate Samples - Grade 6 View Narrate Samples - Grade 7

        Recently additional examples of student writing from across Massachusetts have been added to the Writing Standards in Action page of our website - available at
        Each posting includes:
        • The student work with standards-based annotations matched to specific selections in the text
        • An unmarked copy of the student work
        • Background information on the assignment whenever that information is available.
        The Project posts new samples on an ongoing basis. Currently, additional samples and reviewers are being recruited. This is a great way to learn from your colleagues in other districts while delving more deeply into the 2011 standards and their implications for instruction.

        Join in

        Submit writing - New submissions for the Project are welcome.

        Reviewers needed - The Project seeks candidates with expertise in writing to review new submissions. Teams of reviewers meet roughly every six weeks for a full day to review the student work and annotate the samples. Reimbursement for travel expenses and substitute teachers is provided.

        Participants earn PDPs and gain working experience with the literacy standards. Panelists have found participation to be a valuable professional development opportunity.
        Contact David Buchanan (781) 338 – 6235.

        Please use the samples currently available to calibrate your work with students. Examining the samples and the annotations with colleagues is a perfect professional learning collaborative opportunity that can help you revise and adjust your current work with students where needed to more closely align it with the standards or to help assure you that your current work is well aligned.