Tag Archives: Common Core

ELA, Common Core, and Summer Plans

It is officially summer!  In Iowa that means that the temperature and humidity are creeping up!

What are you planning for this summer?

I am fortunate to have been accepted into the June Writing Institute and the July Reading Institute @TCRWP (Teachers College Reading and Writing Project) at Columbia University in New York City.  As Eva Gabor said in Green Acres, “New York is the place for me!” (You will recognize me as I will probably look and act more like Eddie Albert!)

So what will my focus be for those two weeks (and beyond)?

1) Read:   I will be continuing to read the new Units of Study by Lucy Calkins and all the authors at #TCRWP.  They are phenomenal.  I am already rereading parts because they are so well crafted. Other books are downloaded on my iPad including The One and Only Ivan and Teach Like a Pirate (#educoach twitter chat book study beginning July 10 at 9 pm CST).

2) Write:  I will, of course, tweet from #TCRWP. I believe that one day with Lucy Calkins in January was the source either four or five blogs. I cannot even imagine how much I will have to share after 10 days with Lucy and the #tcrwp tweeps on their home turf!   

And then there is this other little thing called #teacherswrite.  It begins on June 24th and the goal is to write and share every day. As @azajacks said last week, “I am putting my money where my mouth is!”  Time, or lack thereof, cannot be an excuse. In order to continue to grow as a teacher of writing, I need to write more.  (Intrigued?  Information about #teacherswrite can be found here http://www.katemessner.com/teachers-write/ ) Check it out yourself!

3) Continue to grow my technology skills!  I have a love/hate relationship with technology as I have used/owned my own personal technology for more than half my life.  When it goes well, it is a blissful honeymoon.  But when the computer exercises its control, my frustration level rises faster than the temperature!

I need to explore more tools to help teachers increase their efficiency and effectiveness.  I think I was one of the last people to know about Read and Write (Google extension that requires Google Chrome, Google Docs, etc.) and its quick conversion of spoken words to text. Eliminating the need for a scribe sounds both efficient and effective to me!!! Three or four tools that are VERY user friendly are exactly what I need to use well before I share with teachers!

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And in the interest of full disclosure, the three items on this list came from a blog I follow at http://chartchums.wordpress.com/ that was posted on June 17th.  Check it out!  Their explanations were much more eloquent than mine.  (And borrowing ideas matched my fortune cookie: “Imitation is a sincere form of flattery.”) Their blog and book are fabulous. Both have totally expanded my view of how “charts” can make learning “visible” for students.  Their charts are a perfect match for gradual release of responsibility that results in student independence!

What are you going to plan to do this summer to improve your knowledge of ELA?

 And the Common Core? 

Record your plans below!  Let’s encourage each other to meet our goals!

Common Core ELA Resources*

A LinkedIn question from ASCD that landed in my mailbox at 4:02 a.m. today asked members to “Share the name of ONE state or district that appears to offer the best Common Core resources.”  The parameters of this task – limiting myself to ONE – seemed quite daunting. It was way too early to respond on such a nice sunny, summer day!  So about four hours later, let me offer my best answers for today and you can see if you agree!

1. Building background knowledge:

2. Specific passages for use with students:

3. Building leadership capacity – teachers/administrators:

4. Planning for instruction: 

5. Student writing examples that demonstrate the demands of the core:

Did you notice that many of my favorite resources fit more than one category above?  I wonder if that is why they have become a favorite?  

Which of these resources are you familiar with?

Which ones would you have on your list(s)?

Please comment below if you would like to know “why” a particular site is included here!

There are many great resources available including many blogs by teachers and professional development providers that I follow in a text box on the right column.  The links above are the resources I continue to return to when I want to check my own understanding!

Smarter Balanced Item Quality Review

Questions continue to be voiced in the media and academic realms about the assessments that will determine whether students are “proficient” on the new Common Core Standards.  

Do you recognize the experts listed below?

Do you trust their input? 


“Item Quality Review Panel convened on May 20–21—The Item Quality Review Panel convened in Las Vegas to discuss three critical aspects of the item development process: quality criteria, item specifications, and archetypes. The panel members (listed below) who represent content expertise and expertise in services to underrepresented students met as a whole group to discuss the design of the Smarter Balanced assessment and the goals of the Field Test item development. Then, in content-specific groups, the panel members, Smarter Balanced staff and work group representatives, and contractor staff discussed key areas of focus and made recommendations to improve item development.

Dr. P. David Pearson
Dr. Donald Deshler
Dr. Douglas Hartman
Edward Bosso
Dr. Elfrieda Hiebert
Dr. Guadalupe Valdes
Dr. Sandra Murphy
Dr. Alan Schoenfeld
Dr. Bill McCallum
Estelle Woodbury
Dr. Francis (Skip) Fennell
Dr. Guillermo Solano-Flores
Dr. Jason Zimba
Dr. Karen Fuson
Dr. Patrick Callahan
Steve Leinwand”


This information was released in the Smarter Balanced Weekly Update #118, 2013-06-07.

Maximize Your Time!


Several items in yesterday’s ASCD SmartBrief (June 4, 2013) caught my eye.  But the one that captured both my mind and my heart was the pdf available titled “Multiply Your Minutes” in  a preview from Great Habits, Great Readers:  A Practical Guide for K-4 Reading in the Light of Common Core by Paul Bambrick.  My first read was while waiting for an appointment to meet with a curriculum coordinator.  (With my iPad in hand, I even shared some sections immediately.) My second read was to consider which co-workers would get an email link.  My third read was after a co-worker commented on “I like the part about. . .”; I had to reread to find that “evidence.”  I wanted to make sure that we both had a common understanding and that my enthusiasm had not been misplaced.  Then I sent the link to another circle of co-workers.  My morning drive to work was spent rehearsing a title for this blog entry that I just had to write. And then before I began writing, gasp! I read the pdf AGAIN!

Time is one of our most precious commodities in school.  As a teacher and administrator, I was often cavalier when I would use the excuse, “I just don’t have time,”  so I did not have to change what I was doing.  It was a well-worn excuse!  But in my role as a literacy specialist, I see time as a critical factor that  with “better management” has the potential  to lead to increased student learning.  I find it incredibly hard to listen to conversations about how longer school days will improve learning when the day that we have just does not seem to always be used wisely.  Is this important?  Doug Fisher spends time on “Routines for the First 20 Days” and Daily 5 is all about the “routines” that need to be taught in order to allow students to become both independent and productive.

So what was so illuminating?  The 3 pdf sections available for preview are perfect for end of year reflections as well as August resolutions to “Maximize Time!” and increase student learning! (and to “tide you over” until your book arrives!) Check out these three GEMS!

1. “Core Idea: You can’t add more hours to the week, but you can add more hours of instruction; just build tighter routines.”

2. “Core Idea: Time lost to systems is time lost for learning.”

3. And the amount of instructional time gained if transition time was reduced from 4.5 minutes to just 30 seconds because of explicit instruction and practice.

use of time

Ten school days!  Wow! Have you timed your transitions lately? Maybe you are at 2.5 minutes. You could still gain five days in a year!

What routines do you teach your students in order to maximize your time?  What routines SHOULD you teach?

What are you thinking of changing for next year?

Please add your ideas below!

Not all “Close Reads” are Equal!

I am fascinated by the discussion level that continues around “Close Reading” which is just a “part” of the text in Reading Anchor Standard 1.  (Specifically two words out of 31 that actually say, “Read closely.”)   You can read what Grant Wiggins posted about Close Reads here.

Tim Shanahan has several posts about close reads.  This one, “A Time for Humility,” posted after the IRA  conference on April 23, 2013, is particularly enlightening as Shanahan shares that there is no “one perfect model” for close reads.

Who are the experts?  Is there a “formula” or a plan that works for every story?  No, NO, NO! Close reads are dependent on the complexity of the texts, the skills of the students and the goal of the specific lessons.

When a reader begins with the text, the meaning has to be aligned with the author’s words and craft.  How do students understand that?  Some students may get all that in the “first read” and therefore not need a second or a close read.  But if the second grade students can only provide a “topic” when questioned about a page they have read, a “second read” may be necessary for instruction/modeling of main idea whether explicitly shared by the author or implicit in the text.

Will a single close read work for all students?  Probably not!  That is the “ART” of teaching,  a teacher that can propose a learning target, provide a model and the resources and then begin to check for understanding to specifically meet the needs of all students.

In the waning days or weeks of the 2013 school year, I would encourage teachers to continue to challenge students.  Ask your classes when they felt that they were “stretched” in their learning this year. Likewise, ask them when they felt like they were “coasting” and they didn’t need to put out a great deal of effort.  Consider students’ input and “Try something different” in your implementation of the Core.  A lot of other bloggers and authors have written about the value of  high expectations.  With scaffolding and some collaborative practice, many student CAN be successful!

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What is close reading?

To begin at the beginning, this began with Reading Anchor Standard #1.

Then when considering text for use in close reading demonstrations or for student practice, two posts that cover this ground are:

What should be the content or purpose of “close reads?”

Based on what you now “KNOW” about “Close Reading,” what will you do differently BEFORE this school year ends?

Please add your responses below!

Common Core: “Close Reads” are not the final goal!

Common Core Reading Anchor Standard (K-12) says:

“R.CCR.1:   Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.”

What am I going to do?  Read closely

Why?  To determine what the author says both explicitly (the words in the text) and to make logical inferences when the author wants me to think beyond the written words

That is an explanation/interpretation of JUST the beginning of Reading Standard # 1!

The last part says, “Cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.”  So I think this means that I will use the textual evidence whenever I am writing or speaking to support those inferences or conclusions drawn from the text.  Darn.  That means that my conclusions have to be based on the text; I cannot just “dream them up out of thin air.”

Complicated?  Absolutely!


Close reading is what I am going to do! It is probably going to mean that I am re-reading part of a paragraph or page of text to check my understanding.  And if I can cite specific words or phrases in the text, my conclusion or inference is probably fairly accurate.

Will my thinking match the author’s perfectly?  I doubt it!  But that’s okay.  The goal of close reading is to have “increased understanding” because I have read the text closely.

These two tweets from the Michigan Reading Association on Sunday, March 10, 2013, on the topic of “close reading” caught my eye.

@hmjensen31:  Close reading may be a necessary, but insufficient type of reading. Cannot stop there. Serafini #mra13″

“@yaloveblog  Student says close reading helps organize her thoughts. #mra13

What do those two tweets say explicitly? And what inferences can you make as the reader? What is your end goal for “close reading”? (Please add your thoughts below!)

How do I choose text for Close Reading?

I have heard this question multiple times in the last month.  I do not remember being asked, “What text should I use for a Read Aloud?”  or “What text should I use for a Think Aloud?”   Maybe it happened and my memory is faulty, but I just don’t remember those questions in the past.

Suddenly, text seems to matter.  And many teachers are very concerned about using the “right text” for instruction.


From the World of Common Sense:

1. Consider what your students are currently reading and what they need to be reading to meet R.CCR.10 Text Complexity and Range of Reading

2. Aim for text that  is complex and will be a “stretch” for the students

3. Check your class data – What is a procedure, skill, or strategy that students need to be using more consistently?

4. What are your writing goals?  What mentor texts are you using?

5. How can you combine reading, writing, speaking and listening and language standards so the students can “practice” using a variety of language arts skills on a very rich and relevant task that is worthy of class time?

Doug Fisher (2012) reminds us that we do want to choose “short, worthy texts” (p. 108) when planning for close reading.  The use of a short piece of text allows the teacher to have time for modeling the skill, strategy or procedure before turning it over to students to practice in a gradual release of responsibility framework.  That modeling is going to include rereading with a specific purpose in mind.  The focus lesson needs to be explicit and include the actions that students will eventually be expected to use.  One goal is to have the students use the skill, strategy, or procedure as soon as possible  in the context of their own reading.  Doug  is crystal clear in explaining that close reading does not happen to every page in any book nor only with short pieces of text.  Balance of text (genre, length, and complexity)  is always a consideration in selection for instruction because close reading is about really “understanding what the author is saying and then comparing that with our own experiences and beliefs” (p.108).

The key points to remember for close reading according to Doug Fisher (2012) are:   “rereading, reading with a pencil, noticing things that are confusing, discussing the text with others, and responding to text-dependent questions” (p. 108).

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D.(2012). Text complexity: Raising rigor in reading. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

However, do keep your eye on the “prize.” If the goal is that students will independently “close read” text, then the teacher cannot always be providing the “short” text, the directions and the text-dependent questions.  In the world of “gradual release of responsibility” and “common sense” another goal would be for students to be “close reading” their independent reading texts and texts for other courses outside the realm of ELA.  Consider how you would scaffold instruction to build towards multiple goals for close reading.  What can and should that instruction look like?

What text have you used?  Did it work as you expected?  What text will you plan to use next?

Common Core: Are you allowed to make “connections” in a close reading?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Why do I need to know about close reading?

College and Career Ready Anchor Standard 1 in Reading (K-12) says:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

So I need to know about close reading because it is in the first standard for the Common Core’s  K-12 English Language Arts (ELA) and 6-12 ELA for History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects.

The kids in my classes do that all the time, so what’s the big deal?

Students are soon going to be tested on pilots for Smarter Balanced Assessments and “someone” needs to know that the students have learned how to do this close reading stuff.


How do I teach this “close reading”? How do I know what I should or should not ask the students? 

The process suggested by Dr. Timothy Shanahan in his July 12, 2012 blog found here (reposted Aug. 3, 2017): (please do check it out for yourself – verifying the accuracy of a source)

“For a first reading, you want to ask questions that ensure that the students understand and think about the major ideas in the story or article. That means you limit your questions to big ideas or you query information that you think the students might be confused by. 

On the second reading, you want to ask questions that require students to analyze how the text works: why the author made certain choices and what the implications of those decisions would be in terms of meaning or tone.

On the third reading, the issue is how does this text connect to your life and your views, critical analysis of quality and value, and how the text connects to other texts.” 

A power point is included on that blog post that allows you to dig deeper into both the meaning of this standard as well as see a demonstration of a close reading lesson.

Back to the title:  Are you allowed to make “connections” in a close reading?  Dr. Shanahan suggested in his lesson plan format that you begin with the text, what the words say, then move to the structure or specific words, and finally with the third reading of the same text move on to connections.  Specifically, he said, “. . . how does this text connect to your life and your views, critical analysis of quality and value, and how the text connects to other texts.”  Those would be text to self and text to text connections.  (In the third reading of the same story or part of the story!)


First of all, consider the source.  How reliable was that expert?  Not sure?  Then go to Dr. Shanahan’s blog and ask him about “what you heard.”  He is very approachable.  Why Dr. Shanahan?  Dr. Shanahan was one of the authors of the ELA section of the Common Core.

Need a  second opinion?

Check out “Connections Under Fire” posted by Burkins and Yaris on April 6, 20112.  Their video tells us that not all connections lead the reader to higher levels of comprehension.  When connections go awry, students head down the wrong path.  That happens to students when they read a passage about a soccer match and their own background knowledge (not the words in the text) interfere with their understanding.  That video explains that connections beginning in the print of the text that lead to evaluation and synthesis are valued.

What isn’t valued?  Getting ready to read a story about a dog and asking students if they, or their families, have had dogs as pets.  Now the student is focused on “old Shep” and has a hard time paying attention to the dog in the story.  After all, “dogs” and “pets” would both be familiar vocabulary for most school-aged students.

??? Is “close reading” only about teachers asking students questions?  When, where and why are students encouraged to generate their own questions?  ???

Check out the links and make an informed decision. . . for your students!

When, Where, and How should you use “connections” when reading text?

Guarantee Quality Reading: Every Day, Every Child

In the last week, I have asked

Successful reading  does not happen in a vacuum.  How do you know that each precious moment is spent on the “right things”?  How do you know that you have high-quality reading instruction?  How can you make reading time more effective for “Every Child, Every Day” within your daily schedule?

Today my media specialist colleague, Kristin Steingreaber, reminded me of a March, 2012 ASCD article where Richard Allington and Rachel Gabriel advocated for six elements of reading instruction in this Educational Leadership article  titled, “Every Child, Every Day.”  This was the issue that was labeled as “Reading: The Core Skill.”

They said, . . . “educators often make decisions about instruction that compromise or supplant the kind of experiences all children need to become engaged, successful readers. This is especially true for struggling readers, who are much less likely than their peers to participate in the kinds of high-quality instructional activities that would ensure that they learn to read.”*

What do educators need to do today and every day (11 months later)?

Here are the four items that focus very specifically on reading:

1. “Every child reads something he or she chooses.

2. Every child reads something he or she understands.

3. Every child talks with peers about reading and writing.

4. Every child listens to a fluent adult read aloud.” *


Are all four of those elements a part of your reading workshop every day, for every child?

If not, why not?

Remember that all four are research-based strategies that have been proven beneficial for all students!

What are you waiting for?

 Allington, Richard L. and Gabriel, Rachael E.   “Every Child, Every Day.”  March 2012 | Volume 69 | Number 6.  Reading: The Core Skill Pages 10-15

Finding Minutes for Reading


This is the 4th post in a series that began after hearing Lucy Calkins in Chicago on January 25th.  The ideas expressed in this post are not from Lucy’s presentation but instead come from work with teachers in my area.

Recapping the Series:

  • Common Core:  A Promise?  A Failure?
  • Volume of Reading?  How much is “enough”?
  • Are my students reading enough?  This post introduced a course of action to consider the current status of reading in your classroom that included:
  1.  Honestly assess current reality of “Volume of Reading” (looking at three readers)
  2.  Review schedule / organizational framework for minutes that can be re-purposed for “Volume of Reading”
  3. Set a goal
  4.  Implement the plan with additional re-purposed time
  5. Set measurement times to collect formative data to determine whether “on course” to achieve the target

And today’s call to action:  2. Review schedule/organizational/instructional framework for minutes that can be re-purposed for “Volume of Reading.”

In this post, I am asking you as the teacher to reflect on both your efficiency and effectiveness as a teacher.  What is working?  What is not?  How do you know?  should be constant questions circling through your brain as you search through your day for minutes that you can re-purpose for increased student reading.  Do note that not all of these will necessarily apply to you and your classroom.  If you are not interested in change, please go read something else.  This post is specifically designed to make you consider time utilization across the many facets of your day!

Mathematically, why does this matter?  I am going to include a second grade comparison for each item listed below.  I will be assuming an average second grader reading approximately 100 words per minute.  So if “5 minutes are found” that will allow the student to read approximately 500 more words.  There is a possibility that if “20 minutes are found” across the day, the student could read 2000 more words and be more likely to be on target to meet the promise of the Common Core English Language Arts Anchor Standards!

A. Talk less; Watch and listen more. Students read and write more!

You have a relationship with your students so conversations with students are critical.  Greet them at the door for personal messages that the entire class does not need to hear. Establish routines for efficient collection of information  such as lunch choices, changes in after school transportation or receipt of communications from home.  Shifting the focus for “Sharing” after 1st semester in first grade to focus on something that the student has read or written will enable all readers and writers to know that “literacy is the focus” in your classroom!  Who is doing the work in the classroom?  Is the teacher the “main talker”?  If you believe the person talking is doing the learning . . . what are the implications for your classroom? (5 minutes found at beginning of day and 5 minutes after lunch = 10 minutes or 1000 additional words read)

B. Shorten mini-lessons or focus lessons! 

Consider how many times across the day that you provide explicit instruction including modeling.  How long are each of those focus or mini-lessons?  If they are more than 10 minutes for first and second grade, shorten them.  If they are more than 15 minutes for all other grades, shorten them. Multiple shorter focus lessons are typically more effective if students are then immediately applying those actions in their own reading and writing.  Using a gradual release of responsibility model allows for more student reading and writing during a “guided instruction/productive group work” phase.  Consider using visual prompts that keep you on track with only the critical components as you strive for students to become independent readers and writers.   And remember that the mini-lesson or focus lesson does not always have to be “first” in the instruction.  Not sure about the effectiveness of your mini-lesson or focus lesson?  Video record your mini-lessons for one day and review later with a critical friend to discuss the content and length. (shortening 2 mini-lessons each day = 5 minutes found or 500 additional words read)

C.  Consider whole class instructional activities.

How long does whole class instruction last? How often during a day do you use whole class instruction?  By the end of the instruction, are 80% or more of the students successful which would indicate that your core instruction, in this case whole class instruction, is effective?  If not, consider including more partner work where students are reading or writing to/ or with a partner.  With this structure the teacher can check the understanding of even more students, saving precious moments for all. Students will also be able to spend more time reading and writing if they are not waiting for response time in a large group setting. (Students are reading more during instruction so 5 minutes found = 500 additional words read; each time whole class instruction is used!)

D. Reduce the number of worksheets.  Doug Fisher (Gradual Release of Responsibility) calls them “shut-up sheets.” Many worksheets are typically an “assessment” that is completed individually that addresses the question, “Do I know the answer the teacher/publisher wants?” (Honestly, name the last 5 worksheets that you filled out in real life!) If students are reading and writing A LOT, they should have text that invites deep discussion and even argumentation with the author or characters.  Students should have learned some content from the text which would be the ultimate goal from the Common Core English Language Arts Anchor Standards. (Continue for other accountability measures) ( 1 worksheet = 10 found minutes = 1000 additional words read x the number of worksheets across the day)

E. Stop round robin and popcorn reading immediately.  Most students do not follow along.  We know that because students tell us that it is wasted time while they count out their parts.  (Besides, it was not effective for us when we were in school either.)  Do not slow down the whole class to go at the pace of the slowest.  Round robin/popcorn reading is not an example of hearing good models of reading either.  For many students it is a very frustrating, cold read.  Instead, add in more partner work.  Read to someone / partner reading is a better structure that will maximize learning for both students working together, especially when the listener has to summarize the events before he or she begins reading!  Small individual accountability routines could include “pair-share” or “numbered heads together.” (20 minutes found / 2 readers = 10 minutes each student= 1000 additional words read)

F. General classroom management – Consider when all students are waiting in the hall in a line to go to the restroom, get a drink, etc. If you have 25 students and this takes 5 minutes, that is a total of  125 minutes of student time gone.  What would be a better structure?  Don’t forget to ask your students for input!  Involving them in decisions fosters independence.  Other considerations might include responding to some of these questions:  Do students have to wait to ask the teacher for specific tasks like sharpening a pencil or going to the library to get a resource. (Accountability – physical “passes” that are taken with them as the student completes the out of classroom task)  How can these tasks be handled efficiently and maximize both teacher and student time and energy? Consider the “flow” of classroom tasks and activities.  Is there a workshop model in place that allows students to move seamlessly from task to task? (10 minutes found across day = 1000 additional words read)

Pick one and get started.   Removing inefficient time barriers to reading is a critical task that teachers can undertake immediately that will result in increased time for reading for ALL students!

Where will you start?

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