The Jens

The Jens
jen b & Jen P

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What a college- and career-ready student looks like

So at some point in the CCSS webinar from two weeks ago, the presenters said that page 7 of the introduction was one of the most important pages in the document. This page describes what college- and career-ready students can do.

The seven descriptors are:
·         They demonstrate independence.
·         They build strong content knowledge.
·         They respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
·         They comprehend as well as critique.
·         They value evidence.
·         They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
·         They come to understand other perspectives and cultures. 

The common thread running through all of these descriptions is that students use evidence. 

A couple of comments here. First, I love that everything comes down to evidence, but I realize that this is a going to be a huge challenge. We’re going to have to slow down, read carefully, listen closely, and always go back to the text for answers. Students can’t just respond with “I think…” and not have evidence to support their opinions. Also, the evidence they provide will have to come from the text, not some movie the text reminded them of.

Second, this portrait of a college- and career-ready student fits with what we read in College and Career Ready and College Knowledge. (A good summary is here.) So everything we’ve been focusing on works together and affirms the changes we’ve been making in our curriculum to better prepare students for post-secondary success. 

I think I will use the description of a college- and career-ready student as a mid-year self-assessment piece with students. Does this describe you? What can you do? Where do you need to improve? Show me where you have done this in my class this year. What do we need to do to make sure you can do all that is in these descriptions?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Back to writing boot camp

So I saw this tweet from the amazing Jim Burke:

Thanks to all those at #NCTE12 who have talked to me about the voice feedback technique illustrated here:…

First, I don't know how that guy has time to do all that he does -- teaches, writes, presents, thinks big thoughts all time...

Second, I am hopeful this might actually save time. I'm guessing it will take some time to set up initially (getting all the kids' emails into my contacts sounds tedious) and some practice so that I'm not recording dead air. But since I HATE writing comments that kids many times won't actually read anyway, I'd like to try this.

I like the way he has built in accountability for listening to the comments by having students create a to do list for revisions.

I'm curious about reading only the revisions using the track changes feature in Word. Will I really be able to limit myself to only reading the changes and will those make sense in isolation?

Two concerns. First, I hate the sound of my voice on recordings. And the paranoid part of me is a little worried about sending students recordings that they could potentially remix into something other than what I intended.

I will definitely give this a try, though.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Balanced. Smarter.

Clearly I am lagging far, far behind Jen P, who has provided lots of fodder for thought in the past few entries.
Rolling out a new set of standards to a district full of assessment-and-change-weary teachers is a fairly monumental task. Luckily, the CCSS are worthy of attainment and focus, in my opinion, on all the right things.

First, one response to prior post: I'm strongly in favor of ELA teachers increasing expository reading toward perhaps that 50-50 balance suggested by the webinar peeps.This is for a couple reasons:
1. Even if that is the goal, many ELA teachers will not reach it because investment in literature is strong and long.
2. We know that 100% of reading in college-level English classes (as well as all the rest of their courses) is expository, so how are we effectively preparing them for those courses if we're 80% literature, 20% expository?

One thing important to implementation, but still in development by the Smarter Balanced Consortium is the assessment piece. Here's where they've released some sample questions:

Of all the performance items released, I believe only one was based on a literature-based prompt, rather than an informational-based prompt (for whatever that's worth).

We have a year-and-a-half before we need to be basing all curriculum on CCSS, with first official CCSS assessment taking place for the first time in the spring of 2015:

At the start of the 2014-15 school year, the interim assessment item bank will be fully accessible to schools and teachers. In addition, teachers will have access to a digital library of formative assessment strategies and practices, including instructional best practices and professional development on assessment literacy.  The end-of-year summative assessment will start in spring 2015.

Smarter Balanced is basing all assessment upon the following claims:

Overall Claim for Grades 3–8
“Students can demonstrate progress toward college and career readiness in English language arts and literacy.”
Overall Claim for Grade 11
“Students can demonstrate college and career readiness in English language arts and literacy.”

Claim #1 – Reading
“Students can read closely and analytically to comprehend a range of increasingly complex literary and informational texts.”
Claim #2 – Writing
“Students can produce effective and well-grounded writing for a range of purposes and audiences.”
Claim #3 – Speaking and Listening
“Students can employ effective speaking and listening skills for a range of purposes and audiences.”
Claim #4 – Research/Inquiry
“Students can engage in research and inquiry to investigate topics, and to analyze, integrate, and present information.”

Now, how they will authentically assess these claims will be interesting to see being developed. Based on what they've released so far, I think they still have a ways to go, though some of the questions are interesting and show promise--especially in the introduction of interactive resources that can be implemented when the test is administered online.

So, while Smarter Balanced is working on that, I'm pretty sure we'll all be busy enough getting ready for them.

The 30-70 split

This past week I participated in a CCSS webinar produced by Schools Moving Up that provided a helpful discussion of Reading Anchor Standard 1. The focus of the webinar was the shared responsibility for literacy development, and page 5 of the Introduction again shows the importance of ELA, social studies, and science working together to improve students’ literacy skills, by providing a breakdown of what types of reading and writing need to occur over a student’s day. By 12th grade, 30% of the reading should be literary and 70% should be informational. For writing, 40% should be persuasive, 40% should be explanatory, and 20% should be narrative.

At one point during the webinar, the presenters indicated that within an English class, 50% of the reading should be literary and 50% should be informative. I had not heard that breakdown before, nor had I seen any reference to a specific breakdown of types of reading and writing within English alone – so I am a little confused there. I was able to ask the presenters about this after the webinar, but honestly, their answer left me wanting more. They said that because the reading standards are divided equally between literature and informational texts, equal time must be devoted to each. They went on to say that because social studies and science may not be ready yet for the reading standards and because 70% of a student’s overall reading should be informational, English teachers may have to devote more time initally to informational texts until social studies and science are ready to fully take on the standards.

Honestly, this really concerns me. Right now my English class is probably the opposite of what it should be, according to the comments above. I probably teach closer to 80% literature and 20% informative texts. The informative texts I use are closely tied to the literature we’re reading in class together. While I have moved to providing more informational texts in my College and Career Readiness class, without this additional period, I would have to dramatically change the way I teach English.

I’m not sure what to think about all this…

If in social studies and science students are reading strictly informational texts, then to balance and reach the 30-70 split between literature and informational texts, English teachers should be spending over 80% of the time reading literature. But this is basically what I’m doing and I need another period to work in the informational text reading that I feel students need to be successful in their college classes.

In the College and Career Readiness class, we’ve used the Article of the Week assignment from Kelly Gallagher, as well as assignments based on the CSU Expository Reading and Writing curriculum and assignments based on an AP Literature and Composition training I took through the Bay Area Writing Project. These assignments are closer to what students receive in their college composition and rhetoric class – but are also more like what they are asked to do in their philosophy, anthropology, and sociology classes, for example.

According to the CCSS standards, social studies and science teachers will help in getting students ready for the demands of those kinds of classes in college, but is what I am doing in English enough? If I am preparing students for the first transfer-level composition class, I should be doing far more informational reading, I think. And if I were teaching back at a regular high school, I’d have to do that all in my single English period…
~Jen P



Ready for College? Or Career?

Last year Jen and I spent time looking at reports on students’ readiness for college – in part, because we were curious as to how our students stacked up to the rest of our district’s students on the CSU EAP test. More on that in a later post, but here’s what we found about students’ readiness in general:

Only about 30 percent of last year’s California high school graduates who took the ACT college entrance exam tested proficient in all subject areas.
The state’s best subject was English – 72 percent of students were considered ready for college freshman classes. In science, however, only 34 percent were deemed ready for higher education.
“In California, about half of entering freshmen at Cal State University need to take remedial courses in English, and about 40 percent have to do so in math," said Hans Johnson, policy fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California
According to The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2011, aproximately 28% of all 2011 ACT-tested high school graduates did not meet any of the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, meaning they were not prepared academically for first-year college courses in English Composition, College Algebra, Biology, and social sciences.

 A record number of high school juniors took the California State University readiness test last spring, and a record number were deemed college-ready in math and English. But, despite some improvement over the past six years, the percentage of juniors who tested prepared for a four-year college remained stubbornly low: only 22 percent who took the English exam and 15 percent who took the math exam. For Hispanic and African American students, it’s only 12 percent college-ready in English and 5 percent in math.

So why am I bringing up these stats about college readiness? Because page 4 of the Introduction to the CCSS begins with this explanation: The CCR standards anchor the document and define general, cross-disciplinary literacy expectations that must be met for students to be prepared to enter college and workforce training programs ready to succeed.

I think the way the CCSS has set up these standards is rather nice. The anchor standards are the same, K-12, and they provide a broad description for what students should be able to do. Then, the grade level standards, and for high school, the additional literacy standards for history/social studies and science/technical subjects, spell out the specific skills and understandings.
I also like how the CCSS explicitly states that the standards do not mandate how or what to teach – the goals are clearly stated, but how we get there is up to us.
Just as on page 3, the shared responsibility for students’ literacy is made explicitly clear. This makes perfect sense to me as we see students struggle with the reading for their college classes. We have to teach them to become active readers, to annotate, to take notes on the reading and then review those notes. When some of our students are overwhelmed by the reading in their community college social science and science classes, I worry about how they’ll do if/when they transfer to the university. Even though most of our students are deemed proficient or advanced readers, and they take both high school and college English classes, every year we hear from grads who’ve moved on to the university that the amount of reading and text complexity is far beyond what they’ve been used to. So I welcome the opportunity to work with social studies and science teachers to improve students’ literacy skills. 
I’m curious to see what kinds of tests will be developed to assess these skills and understandings. I haven’t yet had the time to explore the Smarter Balanced or PARRC websites.
~Jen P

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Blogging my way through the CCSS

From the CCSS Introduction, p.3

The Standards set requirements not only for English language arts (ELA) but also for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Just as students must learn to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively in a variety of content areas, so too must the Standards specify the literacy skills and understandings required for college and career readiness in multiple disciplines. Literacy standards for grade 6 and above are predicated on teachers of ELA, history/social studies, science, and technical subjects using their content area expertise to help students meet the particular challenges of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in their respective fields. It is important to note that the 6–12 literacy standards in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are not meant to replace content standards in those areas but rather to supplement them. States may incorporate these standards into their standards for those subjects or adopt them as content area literacy standards.

As a natural outgrowth of meeting the charge to define college and career readiness, the Standards also lay out a vision of what it means to be a literate person in the twenty-first century. Indeed, the skills and understandings students are expected to demonstrate have wide applicability outside the classroom or workplace. Students who meet the Standards readily undertake the close, attentive reading that is at the heart of understanding and enjoying complex works of literature. They habitually perform the critical reading necessary to pick carefully through the staggering amount of information available today in print and digitally. They actively seek the wide, deep, and thoughtful engagement with high-quality literary and informational texts that builds knowledge, enlarges experience, and broadens worldviews. They reflexively demonstrate the cogent reasoning and use of evidence that is essential to both private deliberation and responsible citizenship in a democratic republic. In short, students who meet the Standards develop the skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening that are the foundation for any creative and purposeful expression in language.

My initial thoughts: Wow! This is an ambitious undertaking!  This vision of a literate person is far beyond where many people are now, beyond what currently passes for literate. What might society look like if we actually achieved a population that actively seeks the wide, deep, and thoughtful engagement with high-quality literary and informational texts that builds knowledge, enlarges experience, and broadens worldviews? How would our political debates change if everyone could reflexively demonstrate the cogent reasoning and use of evidence?

I love that college and career readiness are part of the name of the standards and that this is the ultimate goal, but boy, we sure have a lot to do to get all students to reach that goal. And I love the emphasis placed on using high quality literary and informational texts that build knowledge, and demonstrating cogent reasoning and the use of evidence. Thinking about how this changes my daily practice is a little daunting.

Okay, rather than get bogged down in the enormity of that, I’ll focus on the top paragraph…

What I particularly like is that the CCSS share the burden (opportunity?) of teaching literacy skills –it isn’t just the responsibility of English/Language Arts teachers. The CCSS explicitly state that social studies, science, and technical subjects all are required to help students learn to read and write.

I’m guessing that a few social studies and science teachers will grumble about how teaching reading and writing skills belongs in English and not their disciplines; others may feel unprepared to teach reading and writing. And I completely understand the complaint or question of “how will I get it all done?!” But I think that’s where the opportunity is – we now have a clear target of what students should be doing and we have (at least) three disciplines working together to make sure students can hit that target. Teachers from all three disciplines can work together to devise close reading strategies or writing templates. A common vocabulary can be used to describe both the writing process and elements of a particular type of writing. Having everyone focus on the same goals for reading and the same types of writing should make it easier for both teachers and students.

Communication and time to think/plan/implement/reflect together amongst the three disciplines will be crucial. I think it would be a real mistake to expect or encourage English teachers to take the lead in explaining the standards to social studies and science – all three disciplines should work through the standards together. I think it would be important to keep the three disciplines on the same page, rather than letting each group decide how to implement the standards:
·      After reading the standards and seeing how the ELA standards are connected to the literacy standards for social studies and science/technical subjects, where do our students need the most help? Close reading skills? Writing skills? That might be a starting point for implementation.
·      Setting a progression for the types of writing. Maybe English starts with inform-explain writing the first quarter and social studies and science pick it up the second quarter. Or everyone starts with inform-explain and then moves together to argument. Hey, how about a school-wide writing bootcamp!
·      Assessing writing together with a rubric shared by all three disciplines. Norming papers together would be fascinating and so helpful! I think this would be really eye-opening.
·      Determining a common vocabulary. Not that all teachers have to teach lock-step together, but it would be so helpful for students if we could all agree to the same terms so they wouldn’t have to call it a concession in one class and a counterargument in another, for example.

I’m excited by this opportunity for collaboration – much to learn, but not as daunting when I realize there will be many teachers working towards the same goal.
~Jen P

Getting into the Common Core Standards

So I’m spending some of my “free” time reading through the CCSS ELA standards. I downloaded   the standards when they were first published in 2010 and sort of skimmed through them because I wanted to see what the fuss was about. At that time, any possible implementation seemed so far off so I felt no need to read closely or figure them out. Promptly set them aside.

Summer 2011 gave me time to look at them more closely. Skimmed through the appendices and introduction, but did spend more time thinking about the grade level ELA standards. At that point, I was still looking at the standards in isolation; I hadn’t studied the anchor standards, nor had I spent much time looking at the grade level progression.

Working with Jen B, we focused primarily on the three types of writing (narrative, argument, and inform-explain). We changed our weekly schedule to include a double-block of English on Fridays, focusing on writing skills. We introduced each type of writing and had students produce one process piece for each type over 4-5 weeks, taking the first semester to introduce and practice all three types of writing.

This summer, Jen and I read Pathways to the Common Core, College Knowledge, and College and Career Ready, as well as a couple of other books on the Common Core standards and college readiness. These three texts were the ones that really shifted my thinking about how I could better prepare students for college and make a full transition to the CCSS.

Anyway, now I am going back to the CCSS and reading the Introduction slowly and carefully – exactly the kind of reading I want students to be doing as well. More thoughts on the CCSS standards soon.
~Jen P