Preparing for End-of-Year Writing Reflections

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREAs we approach spring (OK, technically it’s here, but really?), it’s a good time to start thinking about how our students will reflect on their writing progress since the beginning of the school year.

Assuming you have used a consistent rubric all year, such as the one shown in this TLC blog, students will have ample feedback on what they’ve written from month to month.

Now—or soon—it’s time to give them time to look over their major writing assignments, make notes on the feedback, and set goals for next year. If your school does not already use some form of writing portfolios, I recommend giving every student a manila file folder in ELA class, where they can store these major writing assignments (with accumulated drafts and the rubrics stapled on top, of course), then the ELA teacher can pass the folders up to the teacher(s) in the next grade.

Following is a simple template that students can use to record their reflections (The boxes are small, just for illustration; click on End-of-year Writing Reflections Sheet to download the Word version):

DIRECTIONS: Look at the writing in your folder and list your strengths and areas in need of improvement from EARLY and LATER in the year. Then set your writing goals for next year.

My writing STRENGTHS: My writing AREAS IN NEED OF IMPROVEMENT:
EARLY (Sept/Oct)
LATER (May/June)

Here are my WRITING GOALS FOR NEXT YEAR:

For more information on writing rubrics, check out the TLC “Writing Rubrics” page.

Posted in ELA Common Core Standards, Rubrics, TLC Website Resources, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

FREE WORKSHOP: “Our Students Are Struggling: Now What?”

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREI will present “Our Students Are Struggling: Now What?at the Eatontown Barnes & Noble in the Monmouth Mall on Tuesday, April 14, from 6:00-7:30pm. There is no charge, and participants will earn professional development hours. To sign up, please click here.

Many students are not on grade-level when it comes to literacy. This interactive session demonstrates how to use data, the Common Core Standards, PARCC practice test items, and other helpful resources to bridge these gaps.   Participants will walk away with a systematic approach that they can implement immediately.

OBJECTIVES: We will answer the following key questions in order to strengthen instruction and improve student achievement:

  1. What data do you have? What should you do if the data is not aligned with the CCS?
  2. Once you have CCS proficiency data, what should you do?
  3. How and why should we unpack the CCS?
  4. Once we’ve unpacked the CCS, what should we do?
  5. What will this process probably cause us to do?

This workshop is based upon my latest book, Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action. Copies of that and my first book, The Literacy Cookbook: A Practical Guide to Effective Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Instruction, will be available for sale that evening.

If you are unable to attend this workshop and would like to see it at your school, please feel free to contact me at sarahtantillo@literacycookbook.com

Posted in Analyzing the Common Core Standards, Assessment(s), ELA Common Core Standards, Literacy and the Common Core BOOK, Presentations, Professional Development, Reading, Reading Informational Text, Reading Literature, Resources, The Literacy Cookbook BOOK, Using Data | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PARCC Prep: Preparing for the May ELA Assessments

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREEven though some of us are still in the throes of March PARCC assessments, it’s not too soon to start thinking about how to prepare students for the May assessments, and the good news is that it looks like they will actually be easier.

Based on the PARCC EOY (End-of-Year) Online Practice Tests, the May assessments will focus on reading comprehension. There are no writing tasks on the EOY practice tests.

Therefore, I would recommend focusing on the rigorous Common Core-aligned reading comprehension questions you normally ask your students in the course of effective teaching.

One way to ensure that your students are prepared for these questions is to identify again the PARCC verbiage in the practice tests and weave that verbiage into your Do Nows, classwork, homework, and class discussions (I previously blogged about this approach here). For example: “What is the meaning of ‘_____’ as it is used in paragraph ___ in the passage?” Most of the follow-up questions (“Part B” questions) ask some variation on “Which sentence from the passage best supports the answer to Part A?” In other words: “What is the evidence that supports your response/argument?” In class discussions, we must be vigilant about pushing students to provide evidence to support their responses. NOTE: This is not just a “test prep” thing. This level of rigor is fundamental to meeting and exceeding the Common Core Standards.

Here are the resources you will need to create a PARCC Prep Reading Questions Table:

NOTE: Make sure you scroll down to the proper form of the practice tests—i.e., online “EOY” (End-of-Year) versions.

Type the appropriate information in this table:

Question # Question Stem Standard(s)
6th grade example: 1 A: What does the word ___ mean as it is used in the sentence?

B: Which sentence from the passage best supports the answer from Part A?

RL1, RL4, L6

To download a file containing this table, click PARCC Prep Analysis of Reading Questions TABLE.

Check out the TLC “PARCC Prep” page for additional resources, including links to Websites with useful passages and questions.

Posted in Analyzing the Common Core Standards, Assessment(s), ELA Common Core Standards, Evidence, Explanation, PARCC, Questioning, Reading, Reading Informational Text, Reading Literature, Resources, Test Prep, Text Selection, TLC Website Resources, Vocabulary in Context | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PARCC Administration Logistical Tips

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREAs we approach the PARCC Assessment starting line, many schools are conducting dry runs with practice tests to troubleshoot in advance. Based on research and discussions in the field, here are some tips that may be helpful when you administer the real thing.

HIGHLIGHTING:
Per my earlier post which warned about the dysfunctional highlighting feature (i.e., the problem of highlighting not carrying forward from one page to another), the PARCC “customer service” folks claim that they “hope to have this problem solved in time for the actual tests.” In case they don’t, it might be a good idea to direct your students to read and HIGHLIGHT THE FIRST TEXT ONLY ON THE FIRST PAGE, then answer the questions on that page, then click forward to the next page and answer those questions, etc., until they get to the next text, at which point they should do all of the highlighting for that text again ON ONE PAGE. Students can click backwards to the highlighted text to pull out their key ideas for their T-chart (or in the case of Research Writing, “three-chart”) after answering the questions.

SCRAP PAPER:

  • Students should absolutely be given blank scrap paper on which to take notes and do pre-writing. For field-tested suggestions about how to pre-write for Narrative Writing, Literary Analysis, or Research Writing, check out the TLC “PARCC Prep” page and additional PARCC-related posts on this TLC Blog.
  • Teach students to jot only the first few words of quotes they might use as evidence/explanation instead of wasting time writing full sentences. They can refer back to those first few words and decide if they want to use the whole quote or paraphrase it.
  • For future data analysis, I would also recommend that you direct students to put their name on the scrap paper, collect it, and save it in a file for posterity. When the PARCC results come back, you can compare the results with how effectively students pre-wrote.

POST-ITS:
Students are not supposed to talk at all while taking the PARCC Assessments. However, they may encounter legitimate technical difficulties and need to alert an adult. I recommend giving them Post-its to use as a signal that they have a technical problem.

If you have any other suggestions to share, please chime in. We are all in this together!

Cheers,
ST

Posted in Assessment(s), Compare and Contrast, Literary Analysis Writing, Narrative Writing, PARCC, Research Writing, Resources, Test Prep, TLC Website Resources, Using Data | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Another Helpful Resource for Finding Appropriate Texts!

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREThere’s a new Website in town to help teachers identify texts: Commonlit.org. Founder and CEO Michelle S. Brown explains in a MiddleWeb post today that she and 15 other Harvard Ed grad students teamed up to solve a common problem that teachers face: how to find free news articles, poems, or short stories that could be appropriately paired with novels.

Although still in its infancy, this Website offers a promising approach: organizing texts by theme and sorting them further with essential questions and Lexile levels. Teachers developing PARCC prep materials or writing curriculum with essential questions will undoubtedly appreciate the logic of this approach.

Check it out!

PS–if you do not already follow MiddleWeb Smartbrief, now would be a good time to sign up. Though it targets teachers of grades 4-8, many of its resources are relevant to other grades.

Posted in Assessment(s), Curriculum, ELA Common Core Standards, Essential Questions, Grant Wiggins, Lesson-planning, Literary Analysis Writing, MiddleWeb, Nonfiction, Novels, PARCC, Professional Development, Reading, Reading Informational Text, Reading Literature, Research Writing, Resources, Test Prep, Text Selection, Themes, Unit-planning, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

UPCOMING PRESENTATION: “Our Students Are Struggling: Now What?”

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREI am pleased to report that I will present a workshop on “Our Students Are Struggling: Now What?” at the NJ Charter Schools Annual Conference on March 30, 2015 at Bally’s in Atlantic City. For registration details, click here.

Many students are not on grade-level when it comes to literacy. This interactive session demonstrates how to use data, the Common Core Standards, PARCC practice test items, and other helpful resources to bridge these gaps.   Participants will walk away with a systematic approach that they can implement immediately.

OBJECTIVES: We will answer the following key questions in order to strengthen instruction and improve student achievement:

  1. What data do you have? What should you do if the data is not aligned with the CCS?
  2. Once you have CCS proficiency data, what should you do?
  3. How and why should we unpack the CCS?
  4. Once we’ve unpacked the CCS, what should we do?
  5. What will this process probably cause us to do?

If you are not able to attend this conference and would like to see this workshop at your school, please feel free to contact me at sarahtantillo@literacycookbook.com

Posted in Analyzing the Common Core Standards, ELA Common Core Standards, Literacy and the Common Core BOOK, PARCC, Presentations, Professional Development, Reading Informational Text, Resources, RPM Objectives, Test Prep, TLC Website Resources, Trajectory Analysis, Using Data | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PARCC Technical Glitch: Highlighting Problems #PARCC

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREI just received an Email from a teacher alerting me to a problem with the highlighting functionality on the ELA PARCC Online Practice Test. If you highlight something on one page, when you click forward to the next two questions, you cannot see what you highlighted. Ditto with the note-taking feature.

I confirmed this with a few different grades, then called PARCC to ask if they were aware of the problem. I don’t know if it will happen on the actual assessments, but obviously it might. And in the meantime, it’s a problem for anyone taking the practice tests.

The PARCC “customer service” rep refused to answer my question because I am not “a school or a district.” When I pointed out that I was trying to HELP them, he still would not answer. When I pointed out that he would probably get at least 500 phone calls today because of this, he was unmoved.

Check it out for yourself. If the highlighting that a student does on one page does not carry over, this will make it more challenging for students to capture ideas for their writing.

If you’d like to call them—if you’re “a school or a district”—the number is 888-493-9888. Maybe if they hear from enough people, they will actually solve the problem.

Thanks to Susan Chenelle for the heads up!

 

 

Posted in PARCC | Tagged | 5 Comments

Recommended Reading: TEACH LIKE A CHAMPION 2.0

TEACH LIKE A CAHMPION 2.0One impediment to change in any situation or field is that we tend to hesitate to believe in things we haven’t seen with our own eyes. Sometimes when you want to solve a problem, the solution doesn’t exist. But sometimes it does and you just haven’t seen it yet. For example, maybe you still believe achievement gaps aren’t closeable.

To this point, Doug Lemov’s TEACH LIKE A CHAMPION 2.0 makes this argument: “We are not suffering from a lack of solutions so much as our failure to learn from teachers who have generated insight and put their ideas to work.” Achievement gaps are closeable, and this book, a follow-up to his 2010 bestseller, TEACH LIKE A CHAMPION (which I wrote about here), describes 62 techniques that have been demonstrated to help.

This new version is not merely some lightly-ruffled second edition. Doug and his colleagues have spent the past four years vigilantly researching what he calls “champion teachers,” looking for additional clues about what makes them successful. For instance, he has added a whole new section on checking for understanding and how to build a “culture of error”—an environment in which it’s safe to be wrong. As he rightly points out, “If your goal is to find and address the mistakes your students make, your task is far more difficult if your students seek to hide their errors from you.” So he explains how to solve that problem. He has also expanded the original technique called “Ratio” into several chapters that focus on how to strengthen student engagement and rigor (what he calls “participation ratio” and “thinking ratio”)—by building ratio with questioning, writing, and discussions.

Doug addresses many important concerns that teachers have, whether they’ve been in the field for 20 minutes or 20 years. And his writing is crisp, clear, and humble. He knows this is hard work, and he’s doing everything he can to help. Last but definitely not least, in addition to refining his previous ideas and developing new ones, he includes 75 video clips.

So we can see things for ourselves.

Posted in Professional Development, Recommended Reading, Resources | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

PARCC End-of-Year (EOY) ELA Practice Tests Are Now Available!

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREIn case you do not subscribe to the PARCC Newsletter, this good news arrived today: We can now see what will likely be on the May assessments.

I took a quick look at the practice tests, and they are READING tests: just multiple-choice and drag-and-drop questions about literary and informational texts. No writing. My first impression was that there seem to be more questions about inferring main idea and author’s purpose than we’ve seen on the practice tests for the impending March Performance-Based Assessments (PBAs). But I could be wrong.

In a few weeks, I will post some more detailed thoughts and observations.

For the curious, here is the link (Look for “EOY” tests):

http://parcc.pearson.com/practice-tests/english/

Posted in Assessment(s), ELA Common Core Standards, PARCC, Professional Development, Reading, Reading Informational Text, Reading Literature, Resources, Test Prep | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PARCC Prep: Learning from Failure

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREOne of the schools I work with had a HUGE breakthrough yesterday, and as odd as it might sound, it came as a result of what might have looked like a colossal failure.

We’d designed some practice PARCC literary analysis tasks (complete with PARCC-aligned questions and writing prompts) and allocated time for students to take them during their tutorial sessions. We’d done some preparation and wanted to see how much more would be needed. This particular school has a large tutor corps, and students receive two hours of tutoring per day (1 hour of ELA, 1 hour of math). The plan was for a Teaching Assistant to send me three sample student essays from each grade that night so I could prepare a workshop on holistic scoring for the next morning. Then tutors would go over the essays with students in tutorial later that day.

But when I looked at the essays, it was clear to me that we could not even begin to talk about holistic scoring. Although a few students had written something reasonably coherent, it appeared that most were not even sure what question(s) to answer.

We needed to go back to Square One.

I met with the tutors and teachers at 7:00am and asked tutors what they had observed while students were working on their assessments [We had given tutors this PARCC Practice Checklist for that purpose]. As I’d suspected, most students did not turn the prompt into a question, did not take notes, and did not know how to organize their ideas. In some cases, they did not know how to infer theme, so they were stumped. Tutors reported: “My kids just stared at me. They didn’t know what to do, how to start the writing….”

Instead of modeling holistic scoring, we discussed the steps that would set students up to write something worth scoring. Tutors then implemented a new plan for the day, focusing on these key items:

1) Give students practice in turning the writing prompts into QUESTIONS.   If students don’t do this step, they will not ANSWER the question, and they could waste a lot of time and effort writing an essay that gets a low score (See this post for details).

2) Explain the importance of TAKING NOTES BASED ON THE QUESTION(S), and walk through what that should look like.  Taking notes actually SAVES TIME and HELPS YOU ORGANIZE YOUR ESSAY.  NOTE: If the question requires students to figure out the theme, review the “How to Infer Theme” organizer (See this post for details).

3) Review how the whole essay should be organized: with three body paragraphs/buckets ordered as CONTRAST, CONTRAST, COMPARE (See this post for details).

4) Have students reflect on these questions:
What part of this process is most challenging for them and why?
What did they do well?
What would they do differently if they could write their essay from scratch?

Ultimately, I think having students experience this dramatic failure was actually a good thing, because everyone’s sense of urgency is much higher as a result, and students received IMMEDIATE feedback and USEFUL TOOLS. They can now see how using the tools will make a difference.

The feeling at this school is not one of panic or dread about the PARCC tests, but more like this: We are practicing for a big game, and we will be ready. We’re not afraid of this challenge. We want to see how we will stack up against the competition.

Posted in Assessment(s), Compare and Contrast, ELA Common Core Standards, Literary Analysis Writing, PARCC, Professional Development, Resources, Test Prep, Themes, Thesis Statements, TLC Website Resources, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment