I have run into so many folks who are spending an inordinate amount of time “unpacking the Common Core Standards.” When I ask them what they mean by that, they say something like, “Well, you know, unpacking the standards!” Like, duh! While I think that unpacking the standards (I’m still not super sure what that means – it’s one of those education-ese kind of things we say, I think) is important, I am concerned that we’re not taking the right things out of the suitcase and putting the right things back in.
Let me explain…
When we’re figuring out what a standard means and what impact it needs to have on my teaching, I think we ought to start by asking these simple questions:
- What is the language of the standard? What is it asking my students to DO?
- What level of thinking is the standard requiring of the kids? Is it a knowledge level task or a creation or evaluating task? (Referring to Bloom’s Taxonomy)
- What academic language from the standard is critical for my students to know? What should I teach? What should I tell?
- What does this standard assume my students already know how to do?
- Is this standard best taught on its own or in conjunction with other standards right away?
- Will teaching this standard require students to receive direct teaching (teach, model, practice, apply) or are they ready to go to the guided practice part right now?
- What materials do I currently have in place to teach this? What materials will need adjusting? What materials will I need to create/seek out in teaching this standard?
- What does the “mastery” of this standard look like? What will it look like when kids have mastered this standard?
You see, I’m really kind of worried that we will spend our time in committees and groups of teachers analyzing the standards for other people when the real learning for teachers comes from doing it for myself. That’s what these questions are about – asking MYSELF what I know, what I need to know, what my students know and what they need to know – – it’s about tailoring our work with the Common Core to MY students and YOUR students.
So whether you’re packing, unpacking or re-packing the standards, take a look at them in light of the above questions – they will allow you to truly tailor and differentiate instruction right away. No cookie-cutter approach to teaching the standards is going to lead to mastery. Careful studying, planning, tailoring, implementation and assessing are going to create a very simple pathway for Common Core mastery…and I, for one, can’t wait!
So we’re back to the question: how can I improve schools as we head into 2013?
The other question is: WHERE ON EARTH DID 2012 GO? I wish I could answer that one for ya, but I’ll stick to the improving schools question – I’ll have a higher likelihood of actually answering something!
Actually, the answer to the “how can we improve our school?” question is pretty simple: Look at your data.
I know, I know…it’s my JOB to tell you to look at the data. But I don’t want you to just look at it. I want you to TALK about it. Maybe even in a way that you haven’t before.
Here’s what it might sound like if I were sitting next to you at your next grade level team meeting:
“Ok guys…I have one big question I want to ask you and we’re going to spend at least 1 hour discussing and charting what we know. Here’s the question: How do we KNOW that we were successful in 2012?
The follow up question to that is ‘what EVIDENCE do we have (well beyond a gut check or feeling) that we did things well?'”
What I find is that we are so busy talking about WHAT we did, that we often forget to even discuss WHAT HAPPENED because of what we did. And here’s the big hitch in the whole thing: If what you were doing was working, the scores would reflect it.
You see, here’s a thought I have a lot: Teachers who are well prepped, are excellent deliverers and use their data every day to help them bob and weave through their teaching day are ALWAYS looking at what THEY can do to improve the scores. (Notice I didn’t say “improve the teaching” – inherent in “improving the scores” is altering the teaching in some way).
What I also know is that teachers who are struggling to get the scores that are expected of them or the kids bob and weave and are looking at the KIDS and the factors that are completely unrelated to their own performance. Excuses, excuses, excuses!
So, when you’re asking the question How do we KNOW that we were successful in 2012, we’re really focusing on several things:
- Our performance as teachers (and this IS the thing that we have most control over!)
- The data (we can’t answer the “how do we KNOW” part without referring to and using the data)
- Taking responsibility (we are not waiting for ‘the test’ or ‘the benchmark’ to evaluate how well we did, we are focusing on all of the other data that we have – which is PLENTY for reflection)
One of the things that I’m most passionate about is that we avoid “romancing the problem” (focusing on the same thing over and over and over and over again without making real moves to change it) and that we ask the right questions that lead to real alterations in our teaching that lead to real results. This question gets you right on the path to action and lets you leave pining for “what should be” behind. (And, oh lordy, we need to leave that behind!)
So, I encourage you to bring this question to your next staff meeting, PLC, coaching interaction, classroom debriefing or administrative meeting and see if it doesn’t propel your conversation to a different level by focusing on what we KNOW, not what we THINK.
How do we KNOW that we were successful in 2012?
Go strong into 2013 guys…we’ve got this!!!!
I have to break it to you now, the “Three R’s” need to be replaced with this: read write learn. And here are 5 quick-take-away reasons why:
- The ultimate test of reading skill is whether students are gaining knowledge and information, this demonstrates the read write think idea! It’s critically important that they’re able to WRITE about what they’ve read as a vehicle for explaining and connecting to what they’ve learned! Our reading skills tests tell us whether kids have the necessary underlying skills, but the big comprehension of text and the taking in of important and relevant information will be witnessed in their writing.
- Students need to be reading the RIGHT material. I see so many kids getting points on Accelerated Reader programs and they’re really excited about what they’re reading (which is important!). But the problem is, the text is rarely challenging enough and, ultimately, there is little connecting to the knowledge that kids should be taking with them after reading the text. Big, important comprehension isn’t measured by silent reading and quick-tests alone!
- True learning takes place when students are able to simultaneously decode, comprehend, think about and CONNECT what they’re learning to other relevant topics and previous readings. In other words – get TALKING about what they’ve read, what they’re reading and what they want to learn more about in future text.
- Writing about what you’ve read requires re-writing and editing. And during re-writing and editing of writing, it’s common to GO BACK INTO THE TEXT! Study after study has shown that re-reading text is critical for comprehension. Sooooo…the simple task of editing our writing and going back in the text that inspired the writing is strengthening comprehension. Two bird with one stone, I would say!
- Ultimately, we need to extend our students’ current understanding of what comprehension really is and that it goes beyond ‘answering some questions after I read’. In fact, comprehension of reading needs to include regular and habitual reading, writing, discussing, revising of ideas and written response, rereading, discussing some more…well, you get the point. Answering a few “who, what, where, when, why” questions is critical to begin with and to establish simple retell, but it won’t take kids all the way into deep comprehension. And deep comprehension is critical for our students’ success.
Before you go…consider this quote from my favorite researcher. 🙂
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
So, it’s that time of year when I start to look at what I want my 2013 to look like…and my one major goal is to really to boost my expert-level knowledge by exponentially improving my educational reading library. All done in one click on Amazon – ha!
Here’s what dictionary.com says about what an “expert” is – and BOY do I want to continue to be one!
I WILL BE a person with special skill. I WILL BE a person with special knowledge in a particular field. I WILL receive the highest rating in my field. I WILL BE all of these things, BUT I have to do it through practice and training – – – and I’m starting 2013 by getting PUMPED UP on these resources by true experts in our field! (Most importantly, I’m continuing to practice what I preach – – -and I’m excited about it!)
Executive Intelligence: What All Great Leaders Have
Effective Supervision: Supporting the Art and Science of Teaching
Robert J. Marzano, et al
The SAGE Handbook of Educational Leadership: Advances in Theory, Research, and Practice
Fenwick W. English
Making the Grade: Reinventing America’s Schools
Tony Wagner, Thomas Vander Ark
Leaders of Learning: How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement
Richard DuFour, Robert J. Marzano
Just checking to see if you were paying attention.…!
“Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience.”
– Denis Waitley
Text reading and comprehension – woo hoo! How exciting! Can’t wait to talk about it!! Yay!
I am kind of a wild gal – I like a good adventure and I don’t like the ho hum-ness of living a boring life. BUT one of the things that I’ve had to learn since I began my traveling life 10 years ago is ROUTINE and DISCIPLINE.
Yuck! These things sound horrid and so so boring, don’t they? (I’m nodding my head “yes” even as I type this!)
But the reality is, routine and discipline pave the way for having the ability for freedom and handling tasks that aren’t ho hum and boring! And that’s a good thing.
This is true for teaching kids to read, too! The routine and the discipline of reading tasks is directly related to our students’ ability to have some “fun” with reading. When they have the routine and discipline of reading tasks/skills down pat, then the party begins…they can read what they want to, when they want to and how they want to. No limits.
One of the ways that we need to develop independent readers (or what I’m calling “free readers” these days!) is to teach them to attack the text in a way that will benefit comprehension. Yes, I said “benefit comprehension” – because that’s what reading is all about: gaining meaning. Independent comprehension is completely and entirely dependent on your students’ ability to attack the text with comprehension at the forefront.
So here are a few ROUTINES that you need to be PRACTICING REGULARLY so that the skills become AUTOMATIC at independently comprehending text they read:
- Identify the Core Understandings and Key Ideas of the Text: Identify for kids WHAT you want them to learn from the text – – this teaches them to have expectations of the text and think, “Hmmm…what do I want to learn?” Note: This does NOT mean that kids are wildly setting unrealistic expectations of what they want to learn from the text – they have to use clues to make some expectations of text and it should make sense in light of the title, text structure, etc.
- Start Small to Build Confidence: Focus on a particularly challenging chunk of the text or a piece of the text that holds a lot of meaning and start there. Think about it – when you read, are you reading everything perfectly and completely? Or are you digging into particular pieces of the text that you can get a ton of meaning from? We need to model for kids that they need to be aware of the pieces of text that carry a lot of meaning – and TO SPEND TIME THERE. Help kids realize which parts are worthy of their analysis and dissection!
- Tackle Tough Sections Head-On: Model and teach kids to look ahead at the text and identify rich, challenging parts of the text right away. Teaching kids to manage tough sections is CRITICAL so that they don’t shy away and get intimidated and then quit the text before they’ve gathered all the meaning!
- Create Coherent Sequences of Text Dependent Questions: The questions that we ask must be text-dependent – this means that students have to have read the text to be able to answer them. (Think about it – if kids are really creative and very verbal, is it possible that they could answer some of your questions just by listening in to what other people are discussing about the text? Without even reading the text? I bet so!) This doesn’t mean that we just say, “Support your answer with examples from the text” after every question, but it does mean that we craft the questions so that they go from simpler, recall-like questions and move to more analysis and extension-type questions – this is what “coherent sequences of questions” means!
These 4-steps are a big key to kids becoming independent. And independent readers pass reading tests. And independent readers who pass reading tests tend to like to read. And independent readers who pass reading tests and like to read, more often than not, pass the state test. And kids who pass reading tests, like to read, ace the state test, tend to go to college or big after-high-school jobs.
Am I right?