We all know that the Common Core has initiated a shift in how we are teaching literacy and writing to students from kindergarten all the way through high school (and arguably in college as, in theory, when students go to college after several years of being accountable for Common Core standards, college professors will be able to spend less time "catching students up" and more time on rigorous, college-level instruction).
As mentioned in this blog column previously, there are some basic attributes that the writers of the Common Core assert that students who are college and career ready will demonstrate: independence; building strong content knowledge; response to varying demands of audience, task, purpose and discipline; comprehend as well as critique; value evidence; use technology and digital media strategically; understand other perspectives and cultures (Common Core ELA document page 7).
For the purpose of today's blog, I'd like to focus on two of these areas: independence and valuing evidence.
Why Independence Matters
I have mentioned previously that I teach in an inner city school. I did my student teaching there and have taught there ever since. Aside from a bit of subbing in other districts (some very similar to mine and some very wealthy by comparision), this is what I know. It is where my frame of reference is.
What I have learned over the years is how little independence many of these children have. It is actually quite scary. Why? Because in a year or two, my students will be in middle school. They will not have one class, they will have six. Every year that I have taught 5th grade, I have worried tremendously about their ability to be successful the following year when they don't have just one teacher but have multiple subjects with multiple teachers and have to juggle those classes with little support.
Thus, independence is something I strive to build in my students that I didn't always do when I first started teaching. The Common Core really pushes this and I am grateful. According to the Common Core documents, students must be able to comprehend and evaluate text with little to no scaffolding.
Wait, huh?? I can't help them?? No, you can't. At least not forever. Sometimes I feel like my students can't do anything unless it is spoon-fed to them. This isn't because their previous teachers just did everything for them--it is more because they have never been taught how to be independent. The time couldn't come sooner than kindergarten. (I know middle school and high school teachers are probably cheering as I say that.)
Why Valuing Evidence Matters
It is all about the evidence, isn't it? "Prove it" and "How do you know?" are two things I must say at least twelve times per day in my 4th/5th grade classroom. I am also teaching my student teacher to say that to her groups. I literally want the children to understand that if they can't find proof for their claim, it is just an unsubstantiated opinion. In other words, it lacks power. It doesn't hold any credence if you can't prove it.
This is true in literacy but definitely also holds true with math! How do you know? How do you know? How do you know? (And imagine 29 10-11 year olds rolling their eyes and wishing my broken record would give it a rest already.) Yet, they have learned that it means nothing if you can't tell me how you figured it out. Context clues, a key word, a definition, whatever it is, that evidence matters more to me than the right answer. Why? Because with their evidence, I can easily follow their thinking and see where they may have gotten mixed up (not hard to do with some of the texts my young friends read). I can better help them sort out and make meaning if I can follow their thought pattern.
Alright, so how do I accomplish this? There isn't any time!
Believe me, I feel your time crunch, I do! Especially this year teaching a split classroom. My solution most recently has been Task Cards for Partner Reading. This hits both skills at once--it allows my students to be independent readers and thinkers (with a tad bit of scaffolding since they have a partner) and pushes them to find that evidence. It is the best of both worlds!
Below is a sample of a 4th grade strategic level task card (this accompanies a Reading Street leveled reader). There is a focus question and then students take turns reading. They do one story over two days so if you were Partner A first, the next day you will be Partner B. The most important part of this process to me is the discussion. Some of the questions are lower level but some of them really require my students to go back and find that evidence. They LOVE doing these cards and since we have started using them, their comprehension has gone up pretty significantly.
There are tons of resources out there for teaching science. Here’s a look at a few real winners.
PhET, a project of the University of Colorado at Boulder, offers an online repository of simulations for many different physical phenomena. The simulations were created an uploaded by fellow teachers. Teachers can search based on the topic, the type of simulation and by grade level. There’s also a language search function. Many of the simulations have been translated into dozens of languages, making this a great resource for science teachers around the world.
Scientists and naturalists throughout the centuries have kept field books, records of their discoveries and explorations. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has made a digital collection of field books and related materials available online. The central purpose of the Field Book Project is to create a digital catalog of these materials; most of the materials are not scanned or available online. However, many fascinating historic field books, photographs and slides are available on the website. It’s a great way to teach about the history of science, as well as exposing students to some wonderful scientific material.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science has teamed up with the National Science Foundation to create Kinetic City, a great repository of science experiments and games. Most of the games are targeted toward an elementary school audience, though middle school students would find some of them engrossing as well. The games and the site are easy to navigate, and students would find them easy and engaging to use.
This week's tech tip is a simple, yet incredibly practical tool to help teachers or students broadcast presentations to any platform. This tool is called Presentation.io and it is effective because of its ease of use and that it works on iOS, Android, Windows and Mac operating systems without having to go through a lot of configuration hassles.
In my Mac Advanced class this week, students are presenting their slideshows and photo books using Presentation.io. This tool was very helpful because it allowed each student to share his or her presentation and get feedback at the same time. Participants in the class could add comments to the slides as they were delivered as well as have the ability to gather feedback as well. Both the presenters and the audience in my Mac class were able to make individual and shared notes during and after the presentation.
Users can sign up for free at http://presentation.io and there is an upgrade price of $14 a month if users want to keep their presentation for more than 48 hours, so presenters and their audiences can review the presentation, comments and notes.
One of the biggest pushes with the Common Core State Standards is for students to be assessed using Performance Based Assessments (PBA).
A good definition for a PBA: a performance-based assessment is employed to measure students' academic achievement by evaluating their performance in a hands-on task. (Courtesy: education.com)
Why Performance Based Assessments?
For me, one of the biggest reasons why the shift toward PBAs is beneficial is for students who struggle with traditional multiple-choice (read: multiple guess) standardized tests. With the PBAs, students get credit for their process, their thinking and finally, their answer.
Picture this: four walls, a few windows, tables/desks and chairs strewn about for a classroom of 25-32 students. The walls are decorated with pictures, student work and anchor charts. 2/3 of this classroom of children are showing dramatic progress in both reading and math. Their test scores are rising and they pass their tests with relative ease. Perhaps these children have support at home which helps them get ahead, perhaps they are gifted, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
The other 1/3 of this class? They are English Language Learners, they are children of poverty, they are at-risk for multiple reasons. Perhaps these children have parents who are illiterate or are working 2-3 jobs to make ends meet and don't have the ability to give their children the support the other children have at home. Those children have their teacher and themselves. The odds can be stacked against those children.
How PBAs and the Common Core help
With Performance Based Assessments, every child benefits. Every child has the ability to learn with the new (more condensed) Common Core standards when the assessments provide points for the work the child does. How often have you graded a test where the child did all the work correctly but they circled the wrong multiple choice answer? I know I have. With a traditional standardized test, that little bubble they filled in is the only thing scored. The work the child does in the booklet is never even looked at.
With the PBAs, this becomes much less of a problem when the assessment provides scoring for the child's process, the work they show and the answer they give.
The Smarter Balanced Assessments that are being designed around the Common Core Standards will use these types of assessments in order to truly allow teachers, students and parents to know and understand where students are and where there are gaps in their conceptual understanding.
Want more information? Check out the Smarter Balanced Consortium website and the PARCC websites for examples of what the future of standardized testing when based upon the Common Core will look like.
Teaching kids to read is only part of the job. Teaching kids to love to read, and to do it often, is a completely different story. Luckily, there are a number of sites out there dedicated to creating lifelong readers, and to encouraging students to engage with what they’re reading.
Goodreads.com might be a site that you use in your personal life, but it’s got great implications in the secondary classroom as well. On this social networking site dedicated to books, readers can review and recommend their favorites. While it’s not set up specifically for use in schools, many teachers are using it to enrich their classroom instruction. Teachers can create private groups, accessible only to members, for discussion. Although the discussions aren’t visible unless you’re part of the group, you can see some examples of how these teachers are using Goodreads as part of their classrooms. The site’s terms of service require that users be 13 or above, with a parent or guardian’s permission for any user under 18.
For kids who are a bit too young for Goodreads, or for teachers who are looking for a little more control, try BiblioNasium. Teachers can set up book lists for their classroom, while students can create their own book lists of their favorite titles. Kids can track their reading, while teachers can track the reading level of the books their students are reading. Reading logs can be sent by email rather than handed in on paper. Challenges can be used to encourage kids to read even more.
Read A Route’s Idita-Read is an annual reading challenge that mirrors Alaska’s Iditarod dogsled race. Students track their reading and input their reading minutes into the website. Each minute counts as one mile along the Iditarod course, with a goal of each student reading 998 minutes over a period of up to 52 days. Along the way, the students can track their progress using a map of the Iditarod course. Unlike Goodreads and BiblioNasium, this one isn’t free. There’s a fee based on the number of students participating, coming out to approximately $1 per student or less for groups of 19 students or more, with discounts based on the number of students. For groups of 1-18, the fee ranges from $1.88-$1.01 per student. There’s a handy calculator on their website, where you can see how much it will cost for your students to participate.