Month: March 2017
Common Core Standards are rigorously robust. Each standard is so layered, that there are many things a student needs to master in order to be proficient with the standard. As a result, there are a multitude of ways to assess student proficiency for each standard. When looking for ways to teach the standards, it is important that teachers know how to break the standard down, turn it into learning targets, and assess it in every way possible to ensure proficiency.
Consider the picture above. In order to adequately teach a standard, a teacher must first understand the purpose of the terms and the roles they play. Here I have created an example breaking down an ELA Common Core Standard:
RL.9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
The Learning Targets
- I will be able to determine a central idea of a text.
- I will be able to analyze the development of a central idea over the course of the text.
- I will be able to analyze how a central idea emerges over the course of the text.
- I will be able to analyze how a central idea is shaped over the course of the text.
- I will be able to analyze how a central idea is refined by specific details in the text.
- I will be able to provide an objective summary of the text.
The Question Stems
- What is the central idea of the text?
- What is the main idea?
- Which of the following events support the development of the central idea over the course of the text?
- Cite textual evidence to support development of the theme over the text.
- What key details from the text shape and refine the central idea over the course of the text?
- Write an objective summary of the text?
- Which of the following is an objective summary of the text?
- Analyze the central idea and its development ove rthe course of the text.
In order to adequately teach this standard, it is important that there are several learning activities tailored to each individual target. Furthermore, formative assessments must be as varied as the learning targets. If you are looking for ways to expand your resources, try Googling Common Core ELA Question Stems. What you will find is that there are several places where you can download question stems for each standard, at each grade level. Remember, it is not until you teach AND assess students on all parts of the standard that you truly understand their level of mastery.
Understanding that students may not have the skills they are “supposed” to have to navigate grade-level text is difficult on both students and teachers. For this reason, I always spent the beginning of the school year teaching my students reading strategies and comprehension skills that we would implement for the rest of the year. Instead of starting with a novel, we read short stories and informational text together. During the first month of school, I used the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model almost daily so that I had a better understanding of where my students were. I also wanted to make sure that they clearly understood the expectations.
A typical reading activity would look like the example below. For the purposes of the example, let’s say that we were reading a 5 paragraph essay.
Reading the Text
I Do: Using the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model, I would model reading comprehension of the first paragraph with a think-aloud. We would discuss what I read, my understanding, and their understanding.
We Do it Together: As a class, we would read the next 2-3 paragraphs. I would ask students what they were thinking as we read. Our discussion included understanding the text and how we arrived at the understanding.
You Do it Together: Students read with a partner and repeated the process. At this point, students had watched me model, and they had practiced the skill with feedback and guidance.
You Do It Alone: Lastly, I would have students finish reading the last paragraph or 2 on their own. We would discuss the passage as a whole.
I Do: Once I believed that students understood the passage, I would model answering the first question. In doing this, I would break down the question to model comprehension of what was being asked. Next, I evaluated my options. In choosing my answer, I was sure to show where I believed the text supported my answer. Afterwards, we would discuss my choice. Before I shared the correct answer, I would ask students if they thought I was correct or incorrect. Why or why not?
We Do It Together: After modeling the application of comprehension, it was time to include students. We worked on the next 2 questions together, repeating the process, but with the students’ input. I made sure to ask clarifying questions as opposed to giving the answer.
You Do It Together: From there, I had students do the next 1 or 2 questions with a partner. We then shared out our answers and discussed them. I found this to be most beneficial to students because it taught them how to analyze questions and support their answers with information from the text.
You Do It Alone: In my opinion, this was the most important part of the model because if students could not apply the skill on their own, the activity had not been as fruitful as I had hoped. Educators have to remember that it is easy for students to hide in plain site when there are whole-class activities. However, working alone reveals all secrets. Therefore, I had students work independently to finish the questions. Once everyone finished, we discussed each answer together in the same way we had done with the others.
The Big Picture
Teaching reading comprehension through modeling and guided practice proved to be invaluable to all parties involved. Once students mastered skills to help them independently comprehend text, I was able to cover more content and expose them to more information that would help them, not only in my class, but in all other classes.
In a never-ending testing environment, formative assessments can be overwhelming. District-mandated assessments PLUS classroom assessments are a recipe for student shutdowns. But don’t fear, try any of these methods to spruce up your classroom formative assessments. Students love the games, and teachers can use the information to drive instruction.
- Quizlet Live: Quizlet Live randomly places students in groups, assigns a mascot, and requires students to work together to answer questions.
- Plickers: I recently showed this to teachers during a professional development and they were blown away. Afterwards, many teachers tried it immediately and the feedback was tremendously positive. Plickers stores information by student and uses technology to accept student answers. Each student is assigned a specific code card, so teachers can track students’ individual progress as well as the class. Plickers is great for accumulating data to drive instruction.
- Kahoot!: I’ve seen this used a lot at the middle school level. Students can play using their Chromebooks or personal electronic devices. It’s like an interactive survey with instant results. It also ranks students, creating friendly competition.
- Quizziz: Quizziz sends questions to the student’s device and allows them to answer at their own pace. The faster they answer, the more points they earn. There are also options to assign quizzes with a deadline, or quizzes can be done as a class.
As a secondary curriculum coach, I have been in dozens of classrooms and done hundreds of observations. There is no one way to be a great teacher. That said, a master classroom isn’t a specific set-up of students and chairs, or board configuration and posted lesson plans. Instead, a master classroom has engagement, not compliance. Students drive their own learning; the teacher is merely the guide. Interaction is consistent and encouraged. Questions and discussion are welcomed. Modeling is used to increase student comprehension. Students lead their learning through exploration and problem-solving, only using the teacher as a last resort.
In a Master Classroom, students are not being bribed to learn. They want to learn because the content is relevant. The teacher has created an environment that inspires creativity and diversity. When all of these things are happening, a Master Classroom is in play.
Do you have a Master Classroom?
Today’s teachers are facing an uphill battle. With students coming in less and less prepared, climbing expectations of teachers have reached, what can feel like, an impossible level. Limited resources and ineffective professional development only further compound teacher frustration, resulting in rapid burn-out and high teacher turnover.
As a former 10th grade ELA teacher, I too, felt this frustration. The mounting obligations often left me drained. At times, I considered a career change because I felt so defeated. Eventually, I realized that I was working entirely too hard. In order to accomplish all that had been set before me, I needed to change my processes and procedures. I needed to re-evaluate what I was doing so that I could find enjoyment again in what I loved. In time, I was able to find ways to circumvent many pitfalls and creatively compensate for missing resources, all while achieving positive results. I turned my classroom into a place of non-stop student-led learning.
Now, as a Secondary Curriculum Coach, I have grown even more. Working in the curriculum department and assisting secondary ELA teachers has proven beneficial to my craft. The ideas flow like water, and I am more than happy to share with my teachers because the outcome is amazing. When teachers feel encouraged and supported, they become rejuvenated, and the sky is the limit. That rejuvenation leads to master classrooms where teachers are energized and students reach their full potential.
It is my hope that this blog will help more teachers find the support and resources they need to create their own Master Classroom.