Literacy Tip #35 Ideas for Teaching Challenging Literature & Questions for Close Reading

Are you entertaining ideas about how to teach challenging literature with your students? Here are a few links about how various teachers’ beliefs and ideas about how and why children can enter into Shakespeare’s world from the Folger Library. See here, and here about how older and younger students can collaborate with Shakespeare. Another teacher describing how young students can enter into Shakespeare’s world. Here is a further discussion of some ways to use technology to engage all students. And a last example of how a teacher involves English as Additional Language students into an exploration of Shakespeare’s language. There are many other suggestions from teachers on the Folger Library videos that could be adapted in other ways in the class with other kinds of literature. Take a look!

Perhaps you are reflecting back on this year and thinking ahead to next year and some different things you want to do to guide students as they read. You might want to take at this list of questions I wrote out to share with you, Guided Questions for Close Reading, taken from Nancy Boyles’ article, “Closing in on Close Reading” from Education Leadership from the Dec. 2012-Jan. 2013 issue.

The school year is ending. I hope what you’ve found on the blog has opened up some new ideas for your teaching this year.

 

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Literacy Tip #34 Different Sides of Learning: Assessments & Social Emotional Growth

Last week several people responded¬† to the post about the MAP test, so I thought I’d do a follow-up post on two new tests that are currently being developed. These tests, unlike the MAP test, are purposefully designed to align with the Common Core. Last week, Catherine Brown sent an article which talks about these two new tests. One is called the Partnership for the Readiness for College and Careers. See their organization link here. The other is the one I mentioned last week in the blog post is called the Smarter Balanced Assessment, with their site located here. You may want to read more about them in depth here in this article, “Coming Soon a New Generation of Assessments.” For both of these, students take the assessments on a computer, and can get the results back within two weeks.

The PARCC assessments will require “complex, multipart tasks…In language arts this will involve electronic searches, credible sources and developing written arguments supported by evidence from the sources.” The assessment will also require students to understand and analyze texts across disciplines. Here is a link to a page from the PARCC assessment, item task prototype. Tasks might be short, medium or extended in length, and might even involve a simulation. The PARCC will provide a diagnostic assessment to help teachers tailor and target instructions for students throughout the school year.¬† The PARCC will also include a speaking and listening assessment. Other related resources are located here.

The Smarter Balance assessment seeks to balance summative, formative and interim assessments. You can read about sample items from the test here. The test involves a performance task and a computer test that involves both selected responses and constructed responses. Interim assessments can be tailored to local curriculum. A digital library and other resources such as model lessons, formative tools, and instructional resources will be available to teachers to help assist their students’ learning. Other related publications and resources are located here.

When I asked Russell Daw about the Smarter Balanced test, he explained to me¬† that¬† “NWEA is not sitting idle.¬† They pioneered computer-adaptive tests for schools, and as far as I know, they are the ONLY organization currently offering an assessment aligned to the Common Core.¬† And they‚Äôre writing new items ‚Äì and new types of items ‚Äì to better align with the Common Core.¬† In fact, they just released an improved Common Core version of their test, which we‚Äôll use in the fall.¬† You can read here about the new item types that have been added.”

Exploring a different side of education and improving the quality of student learning, in this TED TALK about the importance of nurturing a “climate of possibility” Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley | Video on TED.com. You may have watched his talk earlier about how creativity in schools can be squashed, but this talk takes a bit of a different angle on the topic. In this talk,¬†as before, he explains the importance of individualizing teaching and learning and the importance of nurturing students’ curiosity and individuality. Also, he talks about the importance of investing in supporting teachers with professional development, and relying on the schools to use discretion about what works for the people at their particular school. While he values data, he warns about mechanistic conceptions of education–the idea that education can be improved by better data. “Education,” he says “is not a mechanical system.” It is a human system. We need to think about the conditions under which people thrive, and those they don’t. He suggests that schools create a climate of possibility in schools, that they personalize education and have a broad and diverse curriculum.

Following up on the idea of personalizing education, in her article “Is Social-Emotional Learning a Luxury?” Vicki Zakrzewski from Berkeley’s Greater Good organization, talks about why the teacher’s relationship with students, and social emotional learning is so important to students’ success. Here is an excerpt from her article:

In a series of studies, scientists (including the GGSC’s Dacher Keltner) have found that people from higher social classes show lower levels of generosity, are less interested in connecting with other people, and are worse at reading others’ emotions. (We published an overview of this line of research on Greater Good just last week.)

The studies also suggest that people of high socioeconomic status are more prone to unethical behavior, due to their more favorable attitudes toward greed. This is particularly alarming when considering that many of our future doctors, lawyers, policymakers, corporate executives, and government leaders spend their formative years in affluence.

Fortunately, science is helping us understand that none of these outcomes are inevitable—that it’s possible to teach empathy, compassion, and kindness. Even in the studies on socioeconomic status, researchers have found they could boost rich people’s empathy and generosity simply by having them imagine being on a lower rung of the social ladder.

So what can schools do to shape all their students’ social-emotional skills for the better? For starters, administrators can check out the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) newly-released list that identifies 23 of the most effective preschool and elementary SEL programs (a list of middle and high school programs will be released in 2013).

 

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Literacy Tip #33 MAP vs. Smarter Balance, Lexile Levels, Becoming Stress Resillient

MAP test and SMARTER BALANCED test:

This week the grade seven humanities team took the MAP test. As teachers, we had mixed opinions about the test, and its content. We noticed how it is a very different kind of test than the TC Quick reading test. What they measure as readers and what they value as important differs. I decided to read up a bit more on the test and found some interesting discussion of the test.

Education Weekly explains that Seattle teachers were protesting the MAP test because it “did not align well with standards and took up too much time on the school computers. Also, since teachers didn’t know what the test covered, they believed it shouldn’t have been used as part of performance review.”

The March 30 Seattle Times article “Educators Debate the Validity of the Map Test” reports on the controversy the test is creating for the public in Seattle. Teachers “don‚Äôt trust the results, saying many students don‚Äôt take the exams seriously and, at least for high school, the tests‚Äô margin of error is as great as the number of points students are expected to gain from one testing period to another. They also say many questions focus on low-level skills, such as the names of poetry-rhyming schemes.”

One of the concerns about the MAP test in the Seattle area is that it’s being used to rate teachers on the progress their students make on the test, something the test was never intended to measure.

The Seattle Times article suggests teachers “think hard about what we want kids to learn, how we‚Äôre measuring that, and whether we‚Äôre getting the information we need to help teachers do the very best jobs they can.‚Äù This seems like wise advice. What do we really think reading and writing is? What needs to be measured? What test best reflects this?

There is a new test that has appeared, called Smarter Balanced, and some feel is an improvement over the MAP. The MAP is a 40 year old test, created by administrators who didn’t like the standardized tests at the time. Linda Shaw of the Seattle Times in the March 30 article mentioned above explains that those who created the test were researchers and testing directors who “wrote questions for what they knew their school districts were teaching and they made sure the results could be available within days.” Students in St. Charles County are taking the Smarter Balanced test instead of the MAP this year. Students also use a computer to take this test. The St. Charles County Suburban Journal describes the difference like this, “On the MAP test, students read excerpts and compared and contrasted on their own. When taking the new assessment, students may have to read on their own, listen to an excerpt, discuss with a¬†partner¬†and then come back to their computer test and write an essay about their own conclusions.” This seems a bit more aligned with the actual reading and writing context that occurs in a classroom, but I don’t know what what the content of the test is on the Smarter Balanced test. If you had a perceptive partner for discussion, you might be able to write a more thoughtful response than if you had a partner who was a poor reader and didn’t know much or care much about the topic or who wasn’t invested in the conversation. Nevertheless, it might be worth looking into the test more to see if it is an improvement over the MAP. The reading content on the MAP doesn’t use contemporary literature. I wonder if the Smarter Balanced test does.

As you are likely already aware, currently, there are a number of education debates in the US. If you would like to see an interesting info graph showing maps and the key players in these debates, take a look at Education Weekly’s page here.

FINDING A BOOK FOR YOUR LEXILE LEVEL

Do you want to find a book for the lexile level a student is at? You can do that here at this site.

The end of the year can be stressful. What are ways to be stress resilient?

Listen to this talk at the University of California at San Francisco
The New Science of Stress and Stress, Dr. Elisa Epel.

Would you like to experiment more with how to help young people deal with stress? See here.

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Literacy Tip #32 Poetry Atlas, Literature: an Exploration of Possibilities, & Non-fiction Reading Links

Poems about Place

Poetry Atlas is a link to Google Map where poems about place are mapped with a pin to the place the poem is about and a link to that place. Several years back I thought about this idea, but never acted on it, and now I discover someone is doing it! The map includes famous poems, as well as those by others.

Literature as an opportunity to explore possibilities:

Judith Langer talks about the importance of what she calls envisonment in literature. A teacher’s work is to help children build meaning– how to help give students ways to make meaning from the text. Giving students opportunities to challenge their interpretations and deepen them is important so that their envisionments can grow. One way to construct reality, she explains, is the objective logical approach. Another way is a subjective approach. Schools stress the objective reality. When reading literature, readers go inside a book and are participating in a subjective reality. In life, Langer suggests, we need to be able to use both. Literature enables people to “explore horizons of possibilities,” the untold part of the story always exists, and turning these parts around in our heads encourages us to see alternate ways of thinking. What literature presents is a double open endedness. As people discuss literature, layers of understanding develop. At the center of what we do in class, Langer suggests, is to ask students to explore these horizons of possibilities so that students have ownership and richer understandings of the literature. This process nurtures the creative thinking that we need in our world.¬† Part 2 of Langer’s talk.

Links to on-line non-fiction reading sources:

A link from Jim Burke’s website to a variety of websites for reading including images, journals, non-fiction, multi-media texts, speeches, information.

 

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Literacy Tip #31 Peer Comment Tips and More on Poetry

Peer response, a video made by students to help coach students about some things students might not want to do when meeting with a partner to give peer response.

Here is a link showing a process of students leading a classroom discussion on student essays. Students think pair share, and then offer various view points on the writing piece. You can watch the process on the link.

This is the last day of April, and the last day of National Poetry Month. Did anyone take the NaPoMo challenge of writing a poem a day? I wanted to take one more opportunity of making a posting about poetry.

Why poetry? “Poetry at its best calls forth our deep being. It dares us to break free from the safe strategies of the cautious mind; it calls to us, like the wild geese, as Mary Oliver would say, from an open sky. It is a magical art, and always has been — a making of language spells designed to open our eyes, open our doors and welcome us into a bigger world, one of possibilities we may never have dared to dream of…Poetry is a way of rescuing the world from oblivion by the practice of attention. It is our attention that honors and gives value to living things, that gives them their proper name and particularity; that retrieves them from the obscurity of the general. Poems that galvanize my attention shake me awake.”– Roger Houseden, Huffington Post

If you’d like to hear high school students reading some poems, look at this link at skip to about an hour in: Student Poetry Workshop at the White House. Michelle Obama speaks about the importance of poetry and self-expression. Billy Collins talks about finding your voice as a writer. “To find your voice you need to read many other writers. Your voice lies in other people’s poetry. To find your voice, you need to read deeply. Poetry honors your interiority–what’s inside, but to find how to express that you have to look outside… In your reading you’re searching for poets that make you want to write like them. Poetry is a place to have fun with language, to play, where the language enjoys itself, and fills you with joy and pleasure.”

Do you want a poetry friendly classroom? How could a student, a class, a whole school take off on a poem, a poet, a collection of poems. Award-winning poet and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen shares tips about how to make the classroom poetry friendly. Here are some of his ideas:

1. Write out a poem very large on paper and have students put post it notes on the poem. Students can write back and forth to each other.
2. Read poems to the class just before the end of the day or before a break.
3. Stage a poetry swap.
4. Instant poetry show. Each group looks at poems from books. Then have the students perform it in a variety of ways. See suggestions here.
5. Have students make posters with poems. on them and put them around the school.
6. Poems can be platforms for other kinds of work.
7. Have students keep a poetry notebook where they write down interesting lines, sections, words from books, or from anywhere they see them.
8. Ask questions about the poem you don’t know the answer to, or make comparisons to other pieces of literature or other experiences.
9. Are there “secret strings”–a pattern that connects one piece of literature to another?
10. Turn poems in a book into a show. Can you make poems on a theme or a show on a theme using some new poems students write, along with poems already published.
11. Parent and student poetry performance evening.
12. Put children’s poetry books along with other books on the shelves.
13. Pool answers of what you see people saying, thinking, doing, seeing, hearing at a particular situation, and use them as resources to write poems.

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Literacy Tip #30 Exploring Perspectives on Rubrics

Creating a good rubric is challenging. Madeline Marcotte in her article, “Building a Better Mouse Trap: The Rubric Debate” gives a thoughtful overview of the pros and cons about rubrics and outlines some features of good rubrics.

Criteria for a good rubric in Chicago Public schools  adapted from Herman, Aschbacher and Winters (1992), Arter (1990), and ISBE (1994):

Does the rubric relate to the outcome(s) being measured? Does it address anything extraneous? […] Does it cover important dimensions of student performance? Do the criteria reflect current conceptions of excellence in the field? […] Are the dimensions and scales well defined? […] Is there a clear basis for assigning scores at each scale point? […] Can different scorers consistently apply the rubric? […] Can students and parents understand the rubric? […] Is the rubric developmentally appropriate? […] Can the rubric be applied to a variety of tasks? […] Is the rubric fair and free from bias? Does it reflect teachable skills or does it address variables over which students and educators have no control, such as the student’s culture, gender or home resources? […] Is the rubric useful, feasible, manageable and practical? […] Will it provide the kind of information you need and can use effectively?

Giselle Martin-Kneip in her article, “Standards, Feedback, And Diversified Assessment: Addressing Equity Issues At the Classroom Level,” lists a number of criteria that she values. Among them are these two: “Is the assessment responsive to what we know about how [students] learn?” and “Does the assessment help students become the kinds of [citizens] we want them to be?”

Barbara Moskal in her article, “Scoring Rubrics: What, When, and How?” insists that rubrics should be non-judgmental: “Each score category should be defined using description of the work rather than judgments about the work.” For example, “sentence structure follows current conventions” would be better than “sentence structure is good.”

From Educational Leadership:¬†Special Topic / What’s Wrong‚Äîand What’s Right‚Äîwith Rubrics,¬†W. James Popham.¬†”Rubrics have the potential to make enormous contributions to instructional quality‚Äîbut first we have to correct the flaws that make many rubrics almost worthless…What are rubrics, and where did they come from? What is an educationally appropriate role for rubrics? Why do so many current rubrics fail to live up to their promise as guides for both teachers and students? What should we do to make rubrics better?” says Mr. Popham

So what are the things we should keep in mind when making a rubric?

“The more quickly we abandon both task-specific and excessively general rubrics, the more likely we will come up with rubrics that actually enhance instruction. In addition, for routine use, relatively short rubrics must be the rule. If we want teachers to focus their instructional attention on the evaluative criteria embedded in rubrics, rarely should a rubric exceed one or two pages. With any rubric intended for classroom use, a sheaf of papers held by a staple should be regarded as an enemy.”

From Alfie Kohn: “The Trouble with Rubrics”, ENGLISH JOURNAL, March 2006 — vol. 95, no. 4

“Studies have shown that too much attention to the quality of one‚Äôs performance is associated with more superficial thinking, less interest in whatever one is doing, less perseverance in the face of failure, and a tendency to attribute the outcome to innate ability and other factors thought to be beyond one‚Äôs control.[7]¬† To that extent, more detailed and frequent evaluations of a student‚Äôs accomplishments may be downright counterproductive.”

“What all this means is that improving the design of rubrics, or inventing our own, won‚Äôt solve the problem because the problem is inherent to the very idea of rubrics and the goals they serve. ¬† This is a theme sounded by Maja Wilson in her extraordinary new book,¬†Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment.[9]¬† In boiling ‚Äúa messy process down to 4-6 rows of nice, neat, organized little boxes,‚Äù she argues, assessment is ‚Äústripped of the complexity that breathes life into good writing.‚Äù ¬†High scores on a list of criteria for excellence in essay writing do not mean that the essay is any good because quality is more than the sum of its rubricized parts.¬† To think about quality, Wilson argues, ‚Äúwe need to look to the piece of writing itself to suggest its own evaluative criteria‚Äù ‚Äì a truly radical and provocative suggestion.

What’s our reason for trying to evaluate the quality of students’ efforts?  It matters whether the objective is to (1) rank kids against one another, (2) provide an extrinsic inducement for them to try harder, or (3) offer feedback that will help them become more adept at, and excited about, what they’re doing.  Devising more efficient rating techniques – and imparting a scientific luster to those ratings – may make it even easier to avoid asking this question.  In any case, it’s certainly not going to shift our rationale away from (1) or (2) and toward (3).

Neither we nor our assessment strategies can be simultaneously devoted to helping all students improve and to sorting them into winners and losers.  That’s why we have to do more than reconsider rubrics.  We have to reassess the whole enterprise of assessment, the goal being to make sure it’s consistent with the reason we decided to go into teaching in the first place.

“This essay uses the mode of questioning to create a dialogue about the
discursive, rhetorical, and even physical postures that educators and scholars might embrace when re-imagining everyday practices of teaching, learning, and research to be open to unexpected trajectories. Questions are woven together with descriptive vignettes of films, excerpts from research studies, personal narratives, and reflective analyses that invoke texts from a wide range of scholarly traditions in order to propose unknowing as a stance through which to engage more fully with and be responsive to a changing world.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Unknowing is proffered as a stance and a lens through which to practices associated with educational practice and research to be more open to new ways of knowing. Rather than offering definitive recommendations, this essay concludes with an invitation for the broader educational community, and especially institutions of education, to reclaim an ethos of inquiry and possibility in the daily
acts of seeing, being, becoming, belonging, and storying through which knowing and knowledge are enacted.”

 

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Literacy Tip # 29 Professional Development Retreats for Educators: Courage to Teach

I was going to make a posting about rubrics this week, but after reading again on the Center for Courage and Renewal website, I began thinking more about what Parker J. Palmer calls, teaching from the inside out, and what that might look like in the classroom–something we often do when teaching reading and writing because literature gets us to think and talk about the big and perplexing questions of life, which is one of the reasons I love teaching reading and writing–I love exploring those questions with students!

Parker J. Palmer has worked with the Fetzer Institute¬†and founded the Center for Courage and Renewal.¬†The Center “encourages personal and professional renewal through supporting retreats and programs that offer the time and space to slow down and reflect on life and work.” (see link here.) Palmer offers a perspective on teacher professional development, one that¬†works with helping teachers learn to teach from the inside out–how to take the inner teacher seriously. The retreats are called Courage to Teach, but is also the title of¬†a book. Both¬†support teachers on their journey of professional and personal growth.

“The question we most commonly ask is the “what” question‚Äîwhat subjects shall we teach? When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the “how” question‚Äîwhat methods and techniques are required to teach well? Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the “why” question‚Äîfor what purpose and to what ends do we teach? But seldom, if ever, do we ask the “who” question‚Äîwho is the self that teaches? How does the quality of my selfhood form‚Äîor deform‚Äîthe way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? How can educational institutions sustain and deepen the selfhood from which good teaching comes?” ¬†–Parker J. Palmer

You can watch videos of Parker Palmer and various teachers who have participated in these retreats here.

Courage to Teach retreats include:

  • Activities and exercises to help with engaged listening, attention, pace
  • Protocols for reflection and connection in the adult community in schools.
  • Research that documents relational trust and social emotional learning as essential to increased teacher efficacy as well as student achievement.
  • Connections to¬†programs fostering increased democratic engagement at both the student and adult community level.

Here you can look at the retreat program schedule.

One retreat participant said:¬†“Almost all professional development opportunities are other-directed, looking at the skills that someone else has developed. COURAGE TO TEACH¬Æ helped me understand that one of the most powerful things I can do to improve is to spend time going inside. There is enormous power, creativity, imagination, insight, perspective‚Ķ all those things that I can bring to a class lesson. In trusting myself, I get the most true and authentic outcome with students.”¬†(Middle school teacher, 26-years’ experience)

Another excerpt from the article Center for Courage and Renewal¬†site: For over a century pubic education in the United States has been dominated by the “factory model.” Standardization and uniformity of so-called “measurable outcomes” are the assumed hallmarks of good schools. But the work of human formation is much more akin to farming or gardening than it is to manufacturing. The manufacturer starts with “raw material” and adds value to it though a controlled and predictable process. But the farmer‚Äîwho works not with raw material but with living organisms‚Äîmust start all over each year through an eternal return of the seasons, and must embrace the fact that not everything that happens in that cycle is under his or her control: the rains may not come, or the hail may wipe out the crops.

Seasonal themes invite a different “way in” to education and professional development. The seasonal metaphors rid us of the hubris that we can control human growth. And they help us understand how interdependent we are with all the life forces around us‚Äîan understanding that can help us grow into the kind of teachers who choose to spend a whole lifetime cultivating the young. A few lines from the poem,¬†Seven of Pentacles, by Marge Piercy‚Äîa poem we use in formation retreats‚Äîspeak to the way things grow in the natural world:

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half a tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.

(Marcy and Rick Jackson, Section IV from¬†Stories of the COURAGE TO TEACH¬Æ: Honoring the Teacher’s Heart, by Sam Intrator, Foreward by Parker J. Palmer, Jossey-Bass Publishers, ¬© 2002)
In this video Parker Palmer talks about the relationships between individualism and institutions and inner work that can renew us–worth listening to!

Another book by Parker Palmer that may be of interest:

The Heart of Higher Education proposes an approach to teaching and learning that honors the whole human being—mind, heart, and spirit—an essential integration if we hope to address the complex issues of our time. The book offers a rich interplay of analysis, theory, and proposals for action from two educators and writers who have contributed to developing the field of integrative education over the past few decades.

“Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc call for a renewal of our commitment to inspiring deeper thinking and educating the whole person. This book should and will inspire debate about our larger purpose, about how we can go beyond the traditional silos in which we work for the sake of individual and institutional transformation.”
—Anthony Marx, president, College

“What should be at the center of our teaching and our students’ learning? Palmer and Zajonc take up this simple but daunting question and provide the most solid ground yet on which to hold a conversation about the heart of our enterprise. They reimagine higher education in a way commensurate with the magnitude of our problems and offer us practical paths toward implementation. Integrative education is the most important reformation of higher learning since the rise of the modern university. This book can help us achieve it.”
—Anthony Lising Antonio, associate professor of education and associate director, Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research, Stanford University

Palmer and Zajonc have issued a compelling call for change and renewal in higher education. They show us how colleges and universities can be transformed by taking a more integrated approach to teaching and learning that focuses on the inner lives of their students and faculty.
” —Alexander and Helen Astin, Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA

Reviews above are from Amazon

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