Tag Archives: Common Core

Are my students reading enough?

A common question from teachers is:  Are my students reading enough?  How much should my students be reading across the school day as we implement the Common Core?

“Volume of Reading” was the subject of my last blog post where I posed a question about how much text a second grader should be reading daily in order to “accelerate learning” to meet the demands of the Common Core.  This question began with information presented by Lucy Calkins in Chicago, January 25, 2013 titled Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement and sponsored by Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

“Real learning requires an honest assessment of current reality.  The best teachers understand this and, consequently, they are never completely satisfied.” This quote comes from High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching by Jim Knight (p. 9), a book I am reading for our Wednesday night (9 pm CST) #educoach Twitter chat.

A simple course of action might be:

  1.  Honestly assess current reality of “Volume of Reading”
  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

But just how would one go about completing step 1) honestly assessing the current reality of Volume of Reading?  Beginning mid-year in grade 1, teachers could consider using the process outlined below.

Use current assessment data to choose ONE student from each of the following three categories:  a high, medium and struggling reader.  The struggling reader for this data activity should not be a student identified as a student with an IEP or a student who does not have English as their first language.

Pick a day this week that seems to have a fairly normal schedule of activities (without special assemblies, field trips, etc.)  On this one day, collect the text read by those students.

What could that look like?  Give each of the three children their own color of arrow post its.  Tell them you are conducting an experiment and they are going to help you.

When the day begins, meet with those three students and give them their post its.  Ask them to mark their starting and ending points when reading with the post its.  Give them a hand signal as a “special prompt’ to remind them to mark their reading.  Put a special basket or tub next to their desk or work area for them to place their books after tagged with the arrows.

Collect beginning and ending arrows for these students for text “read” during the day. If your students are reading text online, you will have to devise a recording system that is “doable” on your devices, browser, and documents (transferring to Word would be advantageous because “word count” could automatically give you total words read).

At the end of the day, count the words read and add up the totals by the individual students according to the scheduled activity.

Your list / data chart might look something like:

Reading – Student 1 ____ words; Student 2 _____ words; Student 3 _____ words

Science – Student 1 _____ words; Student 2 _____ words; Student 3 _____ words

Initial questions for your data:

  • How many total words did Students 1, 2, and 3 read?
  • Were there any surprises in the data?
  • When did the big “chunks” of reading occur?
  • Was this honestly a “typical” day of reading for your class?
  • How accurate do you believe that the students were in recording their “start” and “stop” points?
  • (Additional questions will come from your data)

Please note that I did not say this would be easy!  Data collection is often messy and time-consuming. And why three levels?  If you are differentiating instruction and/or using leveled books, it is possible that the number of words read will vary due to different texts or assignments with text over the course of the day. And also note that this is my idea based on previous “counts” encouraged by Richard Allington as we look at students accumulated reading across every day.  I did NOT say or imply that Lucy Calkins said to collect this data.

What’s next?

Move on to step 2. Review schedule / organizational framework for minutes that can be re-purposed for “Volume of Reading”

How could this information guide your instruction? What could / would you do differently after collecting this data?

Volume of Reading? How much is “enough”?

How much reading should a second grader be doing daily? (both in and out of school)

  • a. 1 leveled book
  • b. 1 leveled book and 1 book of choice
  • c. 1 leveled book and content reading across the day
  • d. I don’t know
  • e. None of the above


Second graders are often reading Magic Tree House books.

Do these look familiar?



Amount and Type of Reading

Wide reading will help students grow their vocabulary, develop stamina, increase background knowledge, and improve fluency. One controversial recommendation from the Common Core says that students need to read more informational text. The Common Core State Standards follow the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) recommendations for informational text ratios:  50 percent in elementary school, 55 percent in middle school, and 70 percent in high school. (Across the ENTIRE day for ALL students!) Texts can be chosen to align with state social studies and science standards or to address topics that students find interesting.  A wide variety of texts can be found online at sites like:   Text Project, Readworks or Reading A-Z.  You will have to decide how those texts also meet the “text complexity” requirements of CCR Anchor Standard 10.  Your public library,  school, or AEA media specialist will be able to provide information about how to find interesting articles online.  Your district may subscribe to national databases that will allow you to download articles. In many cases, these databases also include a complexity score by grade level (which is one part of “text complexity”).  In Iowa, these databases are available through AEA Online.


How much reading should a second grader be doing daily? (both in and out of school)

  • a. 1 leveled book
  • b. 1 leveled book and 1 book of choice
  • c. 1 leveled book and content reading across the day
  • d. I don’t know
  • e. None of the above

And the answer is, . . . drum roll, please . . .  *

According to Lucy Calkins, a second grader reading approximately 100 words per minute needs to be reading the equivalence of  TWO Magic Tree House books EVERY day in order to be reading enough print and encountering enough vocabulary words to be on track to meet the grade level standards and accelerate learning to meet the promise of the  Common Core at the end of second grade.

The answer is e. None of the above   (2nd grade – TWO Magic Tree House books every day!)

How are your students doing?  Are they on track?  How can you incorporate more reading “across the day” for your students in order to “accelerate” their learning?  What questions do you have about this amount of text for second graders?

(*Presentation titled Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Student Achievement, Lucy Calkins, 01/25/2013. Chicago, IL: New York Teachers College: TRWP.)

Common Core: A Promise? A Failure?

The choice is yours.  Is the glass half full?  Half empty?


Photo credit: Jim_sama (Creative Commons)

Last week Lucy Calkins said to a room full of educators, “We are at the intersection of promise, opportunity and public education.”*  That view allows you to see the “gold” in the Common Core.  

In many cases, the Common Core is a wake-up call.  How will YOU respond to the instructional challenge?

If you embrace the instructional design of the English Language Arts  Core and look for the “good” within, you can see that the ELA  K-12 Anchor Standards contain the promise of success for students that will accelerate student learning through the progression of grade level standards.  The Common Core provides the “what” for students across the U.S.(for students in those states who have adopted the Core) and leaves the “how” totally up to teachers, principals, school districts and state departments of education.

If you believe the instructional design of the Core ELA Anchor Standards is “half empty,” you may think that nonfiction is now more important than literature.  Or you may think that there is a specific list of books for students to read. It is also possible that you believe the Common Core is equally as bad or even worse than No Child Left Behind.

Your beliefs shape your actions and your attitude towards the ELA Common Core. A deep understanding and knowledge of the Common Core can lead to decisions that will benefit the students in your sphere of influence.

Where does your information about the Common Core come from?  Do you choose to consult those teachers and researchers who have deeply studied the Common Core and who have actually dug into the work of implementation?  Or because the Common Core will involve change, do you choose to find only those “naysayers” who list all the “blemishes and imperfections” of the Core? Or have you taken a third stance as you sit on the fence contemplating both sides of the Common Core coin? (Or have you made a different choice?)

What you believe will shape your attitude and affect your students if you live in a state that has adopted the Common Core.

If we continue to maintain the status quo, without change, here is the impact based on historical trends shared by Lucy Calkins:

  • “From a group of 100 ninth graders, only 19 will graduate from college. More students will go to prison than those who will graduate from college.
  •  Information growth from 1997 to 2002 was as great as the rest of all the previous years of civilization.
  •  In the U.S. 85% of the jobs used to require basic literacy skills so the 15% of high school students who had debate club and AP classes were often only those college bound students. Employers are currently asking for employees with high levels of literacy – up to  85% of the jobs will require higher literacy skills. That is what the Common Core is calling for – up to 85% of all the students to have the opportunity for debate club and AP classes.
  • Students need a good school that has a cohesive approach to quality literacy. It is no longer “okay” to have an isolated, quality teacher at one or two grade levels.”*

(*Presentation titled Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Student Achievement, Lucy Calkins, 01/25/2013. Chicago, IL: New York Teachers College: TRWP.)

The choice is yours.  Do you choose to believe that the instructional design of the ELA Common Core is a “promise for accelerating achievement?”  Or do you choose to believe it is a failure?  What does your decision say about you and your outlook on life?  What are the implications for your students?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

NEED More Information?

For more information about Lucy Calkin’s work at New York Teachers College click here.

For a link to the book, Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement click here(Scroll down on the Heinemann link and you can read the Introduction, and Chapters 1 and 2 for free!)

Getting Started with the Common Core

Where should we start with the Common Core? It depends on your current status!  But if you are looking for a place to start, consider these ideas.  The resources that I can gather from my Twitter PLN amaze me.  Here’s an excerpted list from  a post that is my favorite thus far this week.   Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris have the details at Engage (A Reading Today blog).

“Stretching into a New Year 

  • Stretch 1: Plan lessons that address more than one standard.
  • Stretch 2: Select texts that give students a lot to think about.
  • Stretch 3: Make your modeling messier.
  • Stretch 4: Watch and listen more. Talk less.
  • Stretch 5: Foster problem-solving rather than dependence.”

Burkins and Yaris have many resources on their blog that will give you “food for thought” about all things Common Core. I wrote about something similar to Stretch 4 in a previous post, “Silence is golden.” Stretch 5 is the  one that I wonder about a lot.  In the interest of “helping,” are we inadvertently creating dependent students?

Intrigued?  Check out this International Reading Association Blog at Reading Today Online for the details straight from Burkins and Yaris!

Which stretch will increase the learning for your students? Where will you begin stretching?

Common Core Must Reads

When you consider CCR.RI.1 how do you decide what evidence is most relevant, accurate, and informative?  Does it need to parallel or mirror your own existing thoughts so you can cheer, “Good job!” when you get to the end?

Or does the evidence get you to stop and think?  Perhaps reread?  Talk to a friend?  Write a blog? Does it ever make you wonder what you really “know?”

There are many wonderful blogs on a variety of topics.  The two blogs that have increased my level of understanding of the Common Core English Language Arts Anchor Standards with files of evidence of learning are:

(drum roll, please . . .)

1. Burkins and Yaris Think Tank for 21st Century Literacy


or in Twitterdom @burkinsandyaris

Go to the second button “Our Favorites” and pull down the menu to see such choices as:

  • Article Archive
  • Assessments
  • Close Reading
  • Common Core Resources
  • Common Core Work in the States


Climbing the Staircase of Complexity (Parts 1 and 2) might be a blog post of special interest to you!  Wander around a bit to see what’s available!

2. Teaching the Core


or in Twitterdom @davestuartjr

Dave Stuart Jr. will help your brain cells grow when you read his blogs about all 32 English Language Arts CCR Anchor Standards.  The header for his blog is posted below.  Time spent with all of the CCSS posts will be an incredibly good use of your time.  As you read them, please do think about your own applications of the CCR Standards ESPECIALLY if you are a high school ELA teacher.  If you work in an elementary or middle school, think about how you truly do help create that staircase of learning so students can meet the end goal – College and / or Career Ready!


What did you learn from reading these blogs?  Please “Leave a Reply” below!

Teacher? Coach? Both?

What is the role of a teacher?  Is it solely to be a teacher?  A coach?  Or both?

I believe that a responsive student-centered learning classroom requires the teacher to be part coach and part teacher in the role of lead learner in the classroom.  That combination of roles is necessary for students to meet the requirements of the Common Core!

Where can I find evidence to support this?


1) Reading Recovery

When a child doesn’t know a word, the Reading Recovery teacher does NOT tell the student the word.  She/he works with the student to figure out what the student knows and can try.  The quote that I remember hearing when I observed a “behind the glass session” was something like:  “A word told today is a word told tomorrow, is a word told the next day, and the next day!”

Why is this important?  Telling doesn’t work because the student isn’t engaged in the cognitive work!   (Saying the same thing over and over or louder and louder is often NOT effective!)


2) John HattieVisible Learning for Teachers:  Maximizing Impact on Learning

According to researcher John Hattie, the average effect size of feedback is 0.79.  That is twice the average effect of all the school effects and is also in the top ten influences on student achievement so it is very important. However, Hattie’s synthesis of over 900 studies also pointed out that “not all feedback is equal.”

What does that mean?  Effective coaches spend a lot of time “showing” how to do something and then getting out of the way to watch for application of the “something” that was taught.  Classrooms with more coaching and work done by the students may be the best indicator of success for classrooms implementing the Common Core.


Where can you find out more?

Last week’s posts by @burkinsandyaris on their blog “Think Tank for 21st Century Literacy” bring a laser focus to those teacher roles. They were also the source of inspiration for this post.  You can read all five yourself  on their Friday Weekend Round Up posted December 8th.  It included the different skills that a coach/teacher needs to employ for improved literacy for ALL students!

“Monday – The Coach and the Gradual Release of Responsibility (Part 1)

Tuesday – The Coach and the Gradual Release of Responsibility (Part 2): Coach as Demonstrator

Wednesday – The Coach and the Gradual Release of Responsibility (Part 3): Teacher as Spotter

Thursday – The Coach and the Gradual Release of Responsibility (Part 4): Coach as Consultant

Friday – Friday Favorite: Mindbending”


Check out all five posts.  As you reflect, consider where  your expertise lies .   .   .  

Are you a Coach?  

Are you a Demonstrator?  

Are you a Spotter?  

Are you a Consultant? 

Let me know how you weave those roles together!


Writing and the Common Core / Iowa Core

In preparation for providing professional development on the English Language Arts (ELA) Standards, I specifically studied the Writing Standards.  The more I read, the more I wondered about my own writing skills.

What’s the big deal?  Are your students currently able to write at a level consistent with the language of the Common Core as outlined in the following excerpt?

“Note on range and content of student writing

 For students, writing is a key means of asserting and defending claims, showing what they know about a subject, and conveying what they have experienced, imagined, thought, and felt. To be college- and career-ready writers, students must take task, purpose, and audience into careful consideration, choosing words, information, structures, and formats deliberately. They need to know how to combine elements of different kinds of writing—for example, to use narrative strategies within argument and explanation within narrative—to produce complex and nuanced writing. They need to be able to use technology strategically when creating, refining, and collaborating on writing and visual media. They have to become adept at gathering information, evaluating sources, and citing material accurately, reporting findings from their research and analysis of sources in a clear and cogent manner. They must have the flexibility, concentration, and fluency to produce high-quality first draft text under a tight deadline as well as the capacity to revisit and make improvements to a piece of writing over multiple drafts when circumstances encourage or require it.” (page 41 Common Core/page 54 Iowa Core)

Resources Available to Enhance Your Understanding of Writing:

  • ELA Core Anchor and Grade Level Standards (Iowa Core in my case)
  • Common Core Standards Appendix A
  • Common Core Standards Appendix C – Writing Samples
  • The seven book series:    Getting to the Core of  Writing: Essential Lessons for Every   (Kindergarten through Sixth Grade) Student.  Authors:  Richard Gentry, Jan McNeel and Vickie Wallace -Nesler.  The resources are aligned with the Common Core State Standards and are embedded with six traits quality writing.
  • Energize Research Reading and Writing:  Fresh Strategies to Spark Interest, Develop Independence, and Meet Key Common Core Standards, Grades 4-8 by Christopher Lehman. The book is designed to help students become critical thinkers.
  • The three book series:  So, What’s the Story?: Teaching Narrative to Understand Ourselves, Others, and the World (Exceeding the Common Core State Standards) by James Fredricksen, Jeffrey D Wilhelm and Michael Smith, Get it Done!: Writing and Analyzing Informational Texts to Make Things Happen (Exceeding the Common Core State Standards) by Jeffrey D Wilhelm, Michael Smith and James Fredricksen,  and Oh, Yeah?!: Putting Argument to Work Both in School and Out (Exceeding the Common Core State Standards) by Michael Smith, Jeffrey D Wilhelm and James Fredricksen
  • Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12: Supporting Claims with Relevant Evidence and Clear Reasoning  by George Hillocks, Jr.
  • Numerous other texts on my shelves including authors Jim Burke, Kelly Gallagher, and Lucy Calkins

Deconstucted standards available include:

See North Carolina’s deconstructed ELA standards with narratives and prompts HERE.

See Kentucky’s deconstructed standards  HERE for ELA.

Added 12/2/2012 @ 3:21 pm CST http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2012/12/response_a_napkin_curriculum_for_writing.html?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed

My most important takeaway ~ All of these authors are talking about writing beyond task completion in school!!!

What resources are YOU using to improve teaching AND learning in writing?

Parent Resources for Common Core – ELA and Math

Wow!  More and more resources are available for teachers as they develop lessons to meet the requirements of  the Common Core.   Parents and community members who would like to view some Exemplar lessons for English Language Arts at grades 3, 7, and 8 can do so at this link.

Publications designed to explain the Common Core to parents are available for each grade level at the following links provided by the Council of the Great City Schools .

Parent Roadmaps for English Language Arts – Kindergarten through 8th Grade

Parent Roadmaps for Mathematics – Kindergarten through 8th Grade

How have you informed your parents of the changes required by the Common Core?  And your school community?  How could these resources help your communication processes?


PARCC – Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers

My last post was about Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC) because my home state of Iowa will be using these in the future.  That post  included a link to some sample assessment items as they will look online and additional released SBAC test items.  Today’s post  provides a brief glimpse into the sample assessments currently available from Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Item and Task prototypes can be found  for both English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics at http://www.parcconline.org/samples/item-task-prototypes

Representative Samples

Summative assessments for ELA are available at the following grade-level links.  Do click on the pdf’s below the task for additional information about teacher directions and the intent of the task.

Permissions are still pending so the entire task is NOT yet posted for any grade level. The link does describe the “type of assessment” that is included.

Grade 3  http://www.parcconline.org/samples/english-language-artsliteracy/grade-3-tecr-end-year-assessment

Grade 6  http://www.parcconline.org/samples/english-language-artsliteracy/grade-6-prose-constructed-response-narrative-writing-task

Grade 7  http://www.parcconline.org/samples/english-language-artsliteracy/grade-7-prose-constructed-response-research-simulation-task-0

Grade 10 http://www.parcconline.org/samples/english-language-artsliteracy/grade-10-prose-constructed-response%E2%80%94sample-1-literary-analysis

How could you use this information?

Discussions at your grade level could center around these questions:

Is this the text that your students are reading? Do you have common formative assessments at your grade level?

These samples could help you frame common tasks and instruction for reading, writing, and speaking!  Should you assess your students using these tasks?  ONLY, if you have provided instruction that would be aligned with the tasks! 🙂

Smarter Balanced Assessments

I just finished reading Maureen Devlin’s post about teachers taking assessments.  That is a practice that would benefit teachers of all grade levels and content areas.  Check out that post – Take the Test!  (And if you are on Twitter, you should be following her @lookforsun)

Smarter Balanced Assessments are available for preview!  Have YOU worked through any of the sample items or tasks?

Sample Items and Tasks

Accessing the Sample Items and Tasks

The sample items and performance tasks are compatible with desktop and laptop computers with the following Internet browsers:

•       Firefox 3.6 or newer

•       Internet Explorer 8 or newer

•       Chrome 18 or newer

•       Safari 4.1 or newer

In addition, Android and iPad tablets with 9.5 inch screens (10 inch class) or larger are supported with the following Internet browsers:

•       Chrome 18 or newer (Android)

•       Safari 4.1 or newer (iPad)

Explore sample items and performance tasks:

•       English language arts/literacy

•       Mathematics

•       Frequently asked questions (PDF)

(Thanks to Deb Hindman at the Iowa Department of Education for this information about SBAC!)

Do you want to see more than one passage? Additional SBAC Sample Items

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) has released sample items that teachers and districts can use as part of their preparation in the transition to SBAC related assessments.

What did you learn from  the sample tasks?  

If the assessment task asked the reader  to identify three key ideas, is it possible to highlight more than three and increase the likelihood of a correct answer?  

Were any of the answers questionable in your own mind?

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