Blogs about Reading
The Common Core Classroom
Emily Stewart, M.Ed.
Guest blogger Emily Stewart, M.Ed., is a third grade teacher at Murch Elementary, a public school in Washington, DC.
During the 2012-2013 school year, Emily will be sharing the real-world strategies, challenges, and successes of implementing ELA Common Core standards in her classroom.
One of the goals the writers of The Common Core Standards had in mind was to build natural collaboration and discussion strategies within students, helping to prepare them for higher levels of education and collaboration in the workforce. In our Common Core classrooms today, students are being asked to incorporate multiple strategies, complex texts, and evidence-based responses. When faced with this overwhelming task, we must put many building blocks in place for our kiddos to be successful.
Buddy Talk — a best practice — benefits everyone in the classroom. Of course we know buddy talking is important, but in the Common Core classroom, Buddy talking is IMPERATIVE. Peer explanations give students an active role in learning and create an entirely new level of scaffolding for students, which we as adults don't quite fit into. It enables students to take their thinking and articulate it into words, which allows their brains to build and make connections that would typically not occur. Furthermore, the listening component of buddy talking allows students to hear the thinking of their peers, which helps them to clarify their own thoughts.
Teachers can utilize buddy talking in many ways, every day: formative assessments, simultaneous engagement, closing a lesson, discussion of vocabulary, breaking down of concepts by students, and connecting with prior knowledge. However, the prime purpose for buddy talking is to provide students with another opportunity to connect with the new learning in order to make it their own.
Let's Break it Down!
There are 5 steps that will help to ensure that effective buddy talking is occurring in your classroom:
Plan — When planning your lesson, plan specific times when buddy talking will be imperative to student understanding. Write questions ahead of time to ensure that they are higher level, and not formed "off the cuff." Also, make sure that your questions build on one another, which lends to ideal scaffolding opportunities. Write questions on post-its and place them in the text to indicate where questions should be asked. In guided reading, I have my own copy of the text we are reading, which has the questions written in it before we read. This way I remember what questions I asked at certain points in a novel discussion, and will have them for the next time I'm teaching the novel.
Pose — When posing the question, make sure you have strategically paired up your students with other students who can initiate thoughtful conversations. Your ESL learners should be paired with a student with an average vocabulary. Your higher students should be paired with higher leveled thinkers, and your average students can be paired with average to high-average thinkers. Have students sit criss-cross, knee to knee, so they can see eye to eye. Also give students indicators of who's talking first. I like to have students pick whether they would like to be Partner Peanut Butter or Partner Jelly, Partner Rain or Partner Boot, etc. Then you tell them who's talking first.
Wait — Students must have an adequate amount of wait time after you ask the initial buddy talk question. The average teacher waits 3 seconds for a student answer, however most students need 10-15 seconds, or more, to formulate an answer. The higher leveled questions that we should be asking to align with the Common Core sometimes incorporate two or more components, which will require adequate wait time for students. During this wait time, repeat the question, as well as provide supporting questions and scaffolds where appropriate.
Monitor & Feedback — Students should take turns talking. Explicit buddy talking that is intended to lead to a deeper understanding should include opportunities for students to listen to each other's thoughts. The teacher, should also be listening to students as they are responding, to check for understanding. Monitoring conversations will also help teachers to provide feedback, clarify misunderstandings, and ensure that all students are appropriately engaged. Monitoring will also enable teachers the opportunity to identify students whose thinking will benefit the entire group. I try to choose 2-3 students who have mastered the intended understanding, included key vocabulary, and made higher leveled connections that other students might not have made on their own.
Write — In the final steps of buddy talking, students should have an opportunity to solidify their understanding by piecing together their original thoughts, as well as thoughts they heard throughout the buddy talking session. Writing can serve as a formative assessment for the teacher to identify students who have built the connections and learning intended.
One last thing you can do to help students be successful buddy talkers throughout the year is to set up an environment so students have access to a natural buddy. My students sit facing another student, which allows a natural pairing. I also have control over the seating chart, so their buddy can be changed based on the needs of students.
Here are a few resources to look at if you'd like more information on buddy talking:
In the end, however it's phrased: Buddy Talk, Think-Pair-Share, Accountable Talk, Classroom Chat, Turn and Talk, and many others, we just need to get our kiddos talking! Any opportunity for students to make connections with new learning is critical and essential to student understanding in the Common Core Classroom. BUILD those connections, CHALLENGE that thinking, and give students the tools to DISCUSS!
It's funny to be a teacher! When everyone else thinks of the "New Year" starting January 1st, teachers are getting ready to start their "third quarter."" Usually about our "half-time" (aka: Winter Vacation) I enjoy reflecting on our year so far, and how I can tweak my instruction to streamline our focus. So after the presents have been opened, traditions enjoyed, and champagne and poppers cleaned up, it's always a good opportunity to sit back, and begin deciding where instruction needs to be strengthened.
I am looking forward to sharing a three-part series focused on an instrumental shift in the Common Core: answering questions grounded in the text. What I am noticing in my students' responses is a lack of "proof" that supports their answers. We are just getting into an in-depth unit on inferring and character analysis. I enjoy pairing these two, back to back, because there is an abundant amount to discover about characters, theme, and plot development through evidence that the author provides. However, I typically find, that unless explicitly taught, even my above grade level readers have a hard time finding the evidence, understanding how it connects to their schema, and then processing it into a constructed response. So hopefully the next bits of information will give you some ideas of teaching your students how to make fictional inferences.
We, as educators, understand that schema is all of the knowledge we have, organized and connected to itself in our brains. We begin lessons with it, use it to ground our students' understanding, and help students to connect to new learning, we call it: prior knowledge. However, where we typically fall short, is teaching kiddos what schema is, and how they can use it in their own learning. A student's understanding of how his brain categorizes information is a new awakening for most of my third graders. So you can bet that when I'm teaching my kiddos how to infer, they are going to struggle, because half the battle of learning how to make an inference is the understanding of, WHY we understand.
One of the first lessons I teach in third grade is about schema. We open the filing cabinet and pull out file folders and discuss how our brain organizes information in a similar fashion. Following that, we discuss how life experiences, school, reading, our families, and interests help build a larger cabinet the longer we are alive. This discussion helps students to see how their connections and familiarities to things in life, stems from their schema and experiences. For example, when I taught in Arizona, many of my students didn't have a ton of schema about snow, or the beach, but could go on for days about cacti and scorpions in their backyard. Whereas, in Washington DC my students have trekked through inches of powder, just to get to school, and opened up newly caught crabs off the bay in Maryland, but hardly know anything about the desert. This is their schema … TEACH THEM THAT!
Finding the Evidence
When students are reading, everything looks the same. The font's the same size and color, the text is endless, and finding evidence can be like looking for a needle in a haystack ….especially to a below grade level reader. So our job is to give our students strategies to FIND the evidence. Here are a few I have come across over the years, and find to be very helpful for my students.
Reading with a "Pen in Hand"
(Preface: I am not claiming this strategy — this is all Mike Schmoker!)
Imagine you're at a staff meeting, your principal hands you this FABULOUS article that you can't wait to dig into! The first thing you do is grab a pen, pencil, highlighter, or anything that will help you extract important info that you want to remember! So why, when we give students a text, do we go out of our way to make sure there aren't any pens around to write in the books. Schmoker explains, that we, as educators, keep this very influential strategy from students, and it is IMPERATIVE that they use a writing tool when they are extracting information from text! I know, I know … you HATE it when students write in their books! But take a moment and think about what must be going through a student's mind when he has to extract information, and everything looks the same! How are students going find, decipher, and eliminate information without a tool to help? I understand that copying the text, or dealing with writing in novels is sometimes not an option, but Post-its™ and pencils work just as well!
A couple weeks ago, my students and I were reading a Washington Post article on Kepler 22B, a planet that has a few similarities to Earth. I knew that finding similarities and differences would be tricky, given the level of text and comparing paired with contrasting. So I just quickly discussed, prior to the read, that when we find a similarity to Earth, we write an "S" and when we find a difference we can mark a "D." Do I need to tell you how easy it was for my students to write their compare-and-contrast constructed response? (That's probably one of those pesky rhetorical questions!) I know this example was related to an informational text, but it can work the same with a literary novel! Students just need to know HOW to label their evidence, and they'll go at it like gangbusters! Let's imagine you're teaching kiddos elements of a story, you can easily provide codes such as:
S — Setting
T — Talking Characters
O — Oops! A Problem!
R — Attempts to Resolve the Problem
Y — Yes, the Problem is Solved!
Something as simple as having students draw a star where they might find evidence of an action that shows a character being vain, or brave when you teach character traits, will help students to extract information, and draw their eye to it later in order to use it in their constructed response.
The Inferring Begins!
So now comes the fun part! We have to teach our students to pair the schema with the evidence. Let me give you an example. There's a book called The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg. The book provides a GREAT way to teach how to make inferences. The gist of the story is this: there is a man, and he represents winter. The man visits a farm, and as he's visiting there are clues in the story: the thermometer mercury drops to the bottom, when he blows on his soup there is a rush of cold air, etc. This is the evidence. Where we must connect students' schema is their understanding that cold air is a sign of winter, a thermometer dropping means that it's getting colder. This is their schema.
In younger grades, picture clues can draw inferences better than anything! The characters' faces, body language, and actions are all clues — for example, are the people/animals in the picture running from a situation (scary/danger), or are they coming towards the event (happy/intriguing). You can use pictures to begin inferring in upper grades as well. Pictures such as those in Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick help to pose questions, draw upon schema, and extract evidence from text. If you have ever read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, there are incredible pictures to use to draw inferences. The key is to pull evidence by asking the beginning questions, and then leading to deeper Bloom's-based questions. How do you know? What tells you he represents winter? Explain why he doesn't represent fall or snow? My favorite two words to use with my kiddos are: PROVE IT! It's a challenge! Find the information, highlight it, dig deep in that text!
Asking questions that are grounded in evidence and expecting that your students answer questions that way, is a best practice. Hold your students to this expectation and challenge them to TRULY understand their schema and the way inferring connects with it in literary text.
I don't know about you, but implementing the Common Core has become an exciting new challenge! I am having to think about text in a whole new way.
Typically, with the old state standards, I was able to use a shared read and elevate the thinking level based on the tasks and the Bloom's questions that I challenged my kiddos with. However, the old days of a mediocre, shared read are long gone, and we are challenged to incorporate the higher leveled tasks and questions, but also pair them with a complex text to elevate the rigor and critical thinking skills in our classroom. This requires more complex preparation, but I'm finding it to be highly beneficial for my students, and absolutely worth it!
In choosing a complex text, I started with our reading scores from last year, and tried to decipher where my students struggled the most. For me, that was informational text. So I find myself navigating towards informational text when teaching our reading strategies. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of fiction texts that prove to be incredibly challenging for our kids, but I find that with my higher leveled read alouds, and the text I choose for guided reading, I am able to manage a balance.
So I have narrowed down a "short list," if you will, of the different ways I choose challenging text for my kids.
Language — Can I identify approximately five, meaty, Tier 2 words that "travel well" across curriculum areas? Does the language have enough academic language built in?
Bloom's Taxonomy and Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK) — Does it lend itself to higher level thinking tasks, and scaffolding questions for lower academic learners? Below, I've listed a few Bloom's and Webb's DOK resources. (Note: Bloom's Levels were altered in 2001, and have Evaluation and Synthesis flip flopped, because it has been proven that Synthesizing is actually a higher thinking task than Evaluation.)
- Bloom's Verb Chart & Definitions
- Bloom's Question Stems
- Webb's DOK Verb Chart & Definitions
- Webb's DOK Question Stems
Length & Level — Is the length sufficient to teach text structure, include nonfiction text features, or able to be taught over the course of days with multiple reading strategies? What's the Lexile Level?
Familiarity to the students — After a couple reads, can the text become familiar to students, to enable the teaching of new reading strategies?
It definitely takes time to wade through the different texts, but remember there are some resources out there! These are a few that I tend to navigate to, especially when I want to cross my social studies and science curriculum into our reading time.
- Time 4 Kids
- Nat Geo for Kids
- Read Works
- Super Teacher Worksheets (Different grade Levels lends itself to differentiation)
Just remember … you are having the opportunity to truly change the way our kids think about and connect to text. Embrace the opportunity to enjoy in-depth discussions and allow learners to listen to each other in order to tap into that critical thinker in all of our students!
By now, it's probably not a surprise that there are two different assessments that states are adopting for their Common Core state test. Many of the comparison studies have proven that the previous state assessments tested students at levels 1 and 2 of the DOK (depth of knowledge). After disaggregating the test-released items for the Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments, studies have shown the levels of released questions have elevated to the higher tiers: 3 and 4. The findings seemed to indicate the Common Core assessments will move needed instruction away from the "teach to the test," and instead will require teachers to promote the "college-ready" and real-life application skills of reasoning, inquiry and evaluation needed for deeper understanding.
More than anything, I am very interested in how long it will take to truly transition our kids into the Common Core State Standards. In DC Public Schools, we began transitioning to the CCSS two years ago in ELA, and this past year in math. But the transition period, with the overlapping and omission of standards, might take longer than we think it will. So the question remains: will our students be prepared for the increased rigor, required by the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments?
This summer, I have decided to pour over the test-released items in ELA and math, released from Smarter Balanced and PARCC and task analyze each one. Then, I can pair it with the Common Core standard it is supposed to assess, trying to understand how that integration can take place in my classroom.I think this will help with conceptual teaching of each standard, and help to organize the best way to pre-assess my kiddos next year.
Hopefully you will find some time to dig through these prototypes, and find some innovative ideas for integrating the Common Core Standards into your curriculum. Getting a jumpstart on the types of questions students will be asked and how they differ from the previous ones will help drive our pre-assessments and how we conceptually look at teaching each of these standards in the years to come! Happy summer!
Last weekend I broke out my beach towel for the first time this year … it felt oh so incredible! I LOVE the smell of summer! Growing up in Southern California, I truly relish the summer sun, knowing that our two months off fly by. Every year, as I am taking down bulletin boards and filing my piles of papers away, I always have one thought: "this is the summer I will organize myself ahead of time, and plan like there's no tomorrow!" Anybody else have those thoughts (thumbs up)? I feel like organizing for the next year is two-fold. With the Common Core, sharpening my concept of what the shifts of the CCSS are and how they need to look to students is key. Also, organizing techniques and strategies for making sure content ideas are at my fingertips is a must. Here are some ways I challenge myself each summer to refine my teacher skills and organize my piles:
Sharpening Those Common Core Skills
Imagine it's the second week of summer break and you sit down and type "Common Core State Standards" into Google. A plethora of articles, curriculum units, boards on Pinterest and the latest curriculum to align pop up all over the place! It can easily leave you wanting to push that little "X" in the right hand corner, grab your flip-flops and enjoy the summer sun. So here I am, your Common Core Blogging Superwoman to save the day! I have narrowed down some of my favorite CCSS resources that will leave you searching less, and having more time for snowcones!
Achieve the Core
This site is from one of the top researchers who helped develop the Common Core Standards. This year I discovered some modules that helped me look at some of the shifts of the Common Core in ELA and Math. It also includes an in-depth look at how the standards are different from our previous state standards. Additionally, it includes tips for parents and the community on how they can support students as the CCSS rolls out at our schools.
** Just a thought … you can easily use this information to present at a Parent Education Night at your own school, teaching your parents and community how the CCSS will change instruction, and the thinking behind it! **
New York was one of the first states to publish online information about the CCSS shifts as well as professional development support. Many teachers are familiar with their site. I also like the videos featuring David Coleman, one of the writers of the Common Core. His ideas about how the Common Core looks give me a new perspective and is really challenging me in how I am looking at refining instruction in my own classroom.
Enough said. ASCD is one of the leading researchers and publishers of educational journals. Their writing is forward thinking, thoughtful and purpose-driven. My mom pointed me towards their journals at the beginning of my career, and I never looked back. Here you will find various resources and articles to read poolside!
Have you discovered Live Binders? I know that as teachers, having tangible file folders at our fingertips is ingrained in us, similar to the need for having endless amounts of post-its and sharpies on hand. However, Live Binders is SUCH a great resource for organizing your files online! I adore using Pinterest, but it doesn't organize your resources within a board, and I am not really a fan of having a zillion boards on everything under the sun. Scanning documents or saving those ideas from Pinterest to "the cloud" can really help you stay sane and remember all of the different resources you've collected over the summer. You can share documents, too, for that nifty collaboration thing our administrators are always talking about!
** Just a thought … if you have been moved to a new grade level, or are seeking a new position out of the classroom, Live Binders would help you organize your files online, so you don't have to store specific grade level materials, or teaching files that you just can't bear to throw away! **
Formative Assessments, organized by Common Core standards, at my fingertips? YES, PLEASE! Mastery Connect has premade formative assessments to help you with your lesson planning. Pre-testing, as you well know, helps to guide our instruction and differentiate instruction for our kiddos. On the Mastery Connect website, you can upload all of your students and track their data, too — which would be a great resource for re-teaching, parent conferences, and speaking to specific standards and skills on report card comments.
We know our kiddos need to stay motivated and sharp over the summer, so why shouldn't we?!? Take some time by the pool to sharpen your skills and organize all of your brilliant ideas, so your life might be just a tad bit easier next year. Happy planning!
There are many pressing issues we face in schools today — one of the biggest is student engagement. We have to change with our ever-changing society. Students in the 21st century are communicating with cell phones, iPods, G-chat, social networks, video games, Skype, webcams, flip cameras, and self-published web pages; e-mail is just a small component of our students' communication toolkit.
Marc Prensky calls today's kids "digital natives." In 2002, Prensky wrote, "today's students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors. These differences go farther and deeper than most educators suspect or realize." He suggests that "different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures. It is very likely that our students' brains have physically changed — and are different from ours — as a result of how they grew up. But whether or not this is literally true, we can say with certainty that their thinking patterns have changed."
While our students' thinking patterns are changing, we are not. Teachers and instructors are remaining stagnant in their practices because it is difficult to recreate the wheel year after year. Prensky suggests that the single most serious issue facing today's teachers is that they do not speak "digital." The language that teachers are using in today's classrooms is outdated and old fashioned, and creates an instructional gap between 21st century content and students. So how do we mesh tradition and new technology to do what's BEST for our students? How can technology leaders help staff overcome the shackles of tradition?
The Common Core Standards have embedded technology within, challenging teachers to pair content standards with technology as they teach. Last year, I had the opportunity to complete my Master's in Educational Technology. The focus of technology within the Common Core is comfortable to me because of the opportunities and instruction I have had. However, many teachers don't feel as relaxed, because educational technology is an unknown and the path to fully implement it is blurry.
The goal is to remember that it's not always the teacher's hands that need to be utilizing the technology. Planning technology within lessons is the first step. Thinking outside of the worksheet, and focusing on student engagement is a next step — remembering that troubleshooting doesn't always need to come from the teacher, but that our kiddos are perfectly capable of working with technology, and in some instances can teach us a thing or two!
How the technology is incorporated, whether it is in the instruction or the student product of learning is dependent on the teacher and the standard. In third grade, our text features standard was elevated within the Common Core to include online search tools:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.5: Use text features and search tools (e.g., key words, sidebars, hyperlinks) to locate information relevant to a given topic efficiently.
This standard would utilize technology within the instruction, possibly involving web quests or research reports. One of my favorite technology tools is Delicious. This free bookmarking tool allows a teacher to create a "home site" linking other websites that have been preselected for students. This gives teachers more control over the use of technology, allowing safer searching online. Think: If you type Saturn into Google, what are the chances that a students would get a car website in their search results? Delicious helps teachers to eliminate these types of searching mishaps for students, enabling more appropriate and relevant online access.
If you're looking to incorporate the technology into student products, Joanne Meier, a fellow Reading Rocket blogger has some GREAT resources, but Mapping Media to the Curriculum particularly intrigued me.
As we're heading into summer and you're looking for ways to refine your knowledge and lesson planning of the Common Core … get connected! Here are a couple of resources I have found helpful. Some help teachers connect with other teachers to find support and troubleshoot questions. Others can help teachers take baby steps to utilizing technology with the Common Core Standards!
Connect with Other Educators!
Connect Your Kiddos!
It drives me CrAzY each year when kids enter into third grade, and it becomes clear that we have to review previous content to get them up to speed. It is such a loss of valuable learning time! If I have to spend so much time reviewing content from the prior grade, for me it begs the question: "Do I have a different definition of mastery than other teachers?" If students have two months off, should they really be that far behind if they have truly "mastered" the content? Just food for thought.
I am always looking for innovative ideas to get my kiddos engaged with content over the summer. With the new complexity of the Common Core Standards, we need to provide resources for parents in order for them understand the kinds of questions they should be asking their kids throughout the summer. Providing novel recommendations, journal prompts and reading games/task cards will help parents fill up some academic time with their kids, while keeping learning informal and fun!
Here are some fun summer learning recommendations for parents, paired with a Common Core strategy or shift:
Community Events and Discussions (Vocabulary Acquisition and Use)
Find book festivals, author talks, fairs and the like, happening in your neck of the woods. So many of these events are free to children, and offer different perspectives and opinions for students to ponder and write about. Experiential learning is absolutely a MUST during summer vacation, so take advantage of museum visits, craft fairs and local day trips (such as hiking), to get kids engaged and to broaden their schema! After the experience, parents will have endless amounts of topics to discuss with their child. Ask your child's opinion, have them justify their responses and encourage your child to ask reciprocal questions as part of the conversation. These are great ways to help students express feelings and ideas through writing poetry, as well as bringing in expository and descriptive writing, too!
Review It! (Defending an Opinion)
After visiting new places, have your kids compile reviews of their adventures in a scrapbook! From the new sandwich shop on the corner to their favorite ice cream store on their beach vacation, kids can record their thoughts and experiences. Help your students to connect Common Core strategies to experiences in their everyday life. As a teacher, expose your students to a few reviews before they head off for summer break. They will give them some schema to build on, and a foundation to understand how reviews are written. Parents can give their kids a 3-ring binder, some inexpensive scrapbook paper and a camera to take pictures of various hot spots. They can collect menus, trinkets, ticket stubs, favorite museum tour maps, autographs, hiking trail maps, etc. which will add to their scrapbook, and help them be specific in their reviews of places visited. Writing opinion pieces and justifying their conclusions is one of the paradigm shifts in the complexity of the Common Core. Why not go wild, and help your child create a blog to post their reviews! Kids can share the blog with family and close friends and encourage them to share comments.
Organize Book Clubs and Ask Questions (Finding Evidence Grounded in Text)
Partner up with some parents who have kids in the same grades as yours and organize a book club! Have students decide on a book (you may have to possibly read it ahead of time) and have the kids write questions to prepare for their book club each week. Students can organize and keep a calendar that breaks the book down into weekly sections, and write questions for each other every week. If someone goes on vacation, skip a week or use FaceTime (iPhone) or Skype to hold a World Wide Book Club! You can also use a list of pre-created Bloom's Questions, which are organized by levels to ensure that "meaty" questions are being asked! Here's another example of Bloom's questions.
Using technology and social media (such as a blog) helps to bring journaling to life and offer a novel technique for journal writing. I also enjoy sharing summer journal ideas that kiddos can write about, and compare their responses with those of students from the year before.
The goal in providing parents summer activities for their child is to make sure they are affordable, engaging and connected to content in a meaningful way for kids! Think OUTSIDE of the worksheet box, and enjoy putting together comprehensive summer learning activities that will change the way kids look at learning in the summer!
I just LOVE teaching poetry! I try diligently to incorporate it throughout the year at various times for general exposure, and specifically to help my kiddos see that our reading strategies can be used across a wide variety of texts. The writers of the Common Core started including poetry in the majority of the reading standards, so students would have many opportunities to read, decipher and distinguish poetry that they enjoy … or don't! Poetry can be a very useful tool when helping students understand and compare text. After state testing, I find that students enjoy some in-depth work within the poetry genre — especially rating poems and understanding their thoughts about various poetry.
We spend an ample amount of time discovering various poems! I enjoy giving students copies of the poems so they can highlight and write notes in the margins of the aspects they enjoy about each poem — rhyming words, alliteration, imagery, vocabulary, etc. I choose the poems at first, giving them a variety of poetry that utilizes different techniques. After students highlight or write notes, they must rate each poem (1, 3, or 5). Each student receives a poetry folder and a rating sheet, where they list poems they read, the name of the poet and their rating. One strategy I discovered was having students create a chart of two 1's, two 3's and two 5's. This helps students to see correlations between poems that they rate at each point level. We make it perfectly okay to NOT like a poem, but you must explain why!
I find that most kids can tell you what they do and don't like about a poem, but they don't have the vocabulary to name the specific technique. After a day or two immersing ourselves in various poems, we create an anchor chart with different techniques poets use, such as alliteration, repetition, onomatopoeia, rhyme, figurative language, imagery, robust vocabulary, etc. After we create this anchor chart, it is an expectation that when students respond to poetry that they use these terms when they critique poems. I also explicitly teach each term, so students have an abundant amount of examples to compare. I found this blog where the teacher used a poem to create a sense of wonder and collaboration, while critiquing the poem with deeper level thinking. This is what we look for when it comes to responding to poetry. Statements that begin with 'I wonder,' 'I enjoy,' 'I noticed,' and 'It creates in me' are all great ways to get students responding to poetry!
Poetry Anchor Chart: Structure
Poetry Anchor Chart: Vocabulary
I use Round Robin in my classroom quite a bit. It's a simple strategy that involves students moving around the classroom, working together to solve different questions/problems, read different texts, and discuss questions. In our poetry unit, I have different poems around the classroom and students move in their groups to each poem and rate it. They have a short discussion using the poetry vocabulary and techniques we have learned, rate the poem and then respond individually when they are back at their seats. I pass out this handy dandy Poetry Terms sheet. I enjoy making it into a bookmark, copying on cardstock and them laminating so students have it right there!
Bringing It Together
After immersing ourselves in poetry for a week or two, we continue to bring in longer, deeper thinking poems that challenge students to think outside the box, and break down poetry to discover its meaning or message. With many of our new Common Core standards, I try and bring in constructed writing opportunities with poetry as well! I also enjoy bringing in a poetry writing station, as this also opens up the creative, right-sided brain of my kiddos! Here's a list of 25 different types of poetry kids can take a stab at!
Poetry is a GREAT experience for students and their teacher — especially after so much of fiction and nonfiction throughout the year! Take time to immerse your class in a poetry unit that challenges their opinions and pushes their thinking to new discoveries!
Testing is over … so does that mean I don't have to teach anymore?!?!?
When the mints have been munched, and those newly sharpened testing pencils (as opposed to the nubs we usually find lying around) are now part of your classroom pencil collection, we know state testing has come and gone. We have spent the last eight months pulling our hair out to help each of our students master each standard, and now there's a silence in the air, begging the question … what do we teach for the next month and a half? Well, let's not kid ourselves, there's NEVER silence in a classroom!
The Next Level
The beauty of the Common Core Standards is they are always evolving. They move with our students! The Common Core Standards were not designed to teach specific skills, but rather incorporate critical thinking that can be utilized in a variety of different genres and tasks, and tackled through a variety of different strategies. As our students are making progress throughout the year, we can simply take their thinking to new levels, based on their progress thus far. So many of the same strategies we have taught throughout the year can still be utilized with a variety of more complex texts, including one of my favorites: poetry!
The latest poem my kiddos and I are tackling is "Dropping Keys" by Hafiz. If you have never read it, do yourself and your students a favor and read it together. The poem offers such a strong message about building each other up, and creates an opportunity for a great class discussion!
If you're looking for poems to read and study, here are several websites that can help:
Critical Thinking & Collaboration
I find that the weeks following state testing allows for ample time to have students work in collaborative groups on critical thinking projects. Some are smaller, isolated opportunities, and some are extended over multiple days.
Some of the strategies I use each year after testing include:
Marilyn Burns: Math and Literature Lessons
Logic puzzles: challenge students' deductive thinking skills
Funny puzzles and brainteasers
Figurative language: Idioms, metaphors, similes (especially in poetry)
Defend! Argue! Defend!
One of the essential strategies that is supposed to become innate to students within the Common Core is learning how to defend an opinion in a debate using evidence. I find using a complex text, especially one concerning a topic that hits close to students (e.g., video game violence, sports salaries, movie ratings, or seatbelts) helps students to use their schema and build their argument with fact-based text. From here, students can form opinions about a posed question, put together teams, and begin to research and defend their argument in a debate format. An Introduction to Classroom Debates is a great website to help organize your thinking about how a debate should run.
There are also many YouTube videos that can help students to understand the difference between arguing and debating.
There are endless numbers of ideas for instruction after state testing. The key is to remember that our job is to get our kids ready for their next grade, and within the Common Core, we can vertically align to prepare and scaffold our kiddos before they even get there!
Yes, the old Kool and the Gang song rings true — even for state testing! One of the things I feel very successful about as an upper grade teacher is my ability to kill test anxiety! Even though this doesn't have too much to do with Common Core tactics and struggles, I find that anything that lightens the testing mood always helps every classroom!
On our "Team" we always see testing as a celebration of Learning … because that's what it is! We have spent the last eight months working diligently to master everything in third grade and finally get to SHOW WHAT WE KNOW! I know state testing is very controversial in "teacherland." But that's neither here nor there, because the truth of the matter is that it's not going away, and our kiddos have to embrace it — so we should, too! Here are some ways we "test prep."
A long time ago, there was a boy in elementary school, and he was a nerd. All of the kids made huge fun of him, so he wanted to get back at them. When he grew up, he decided to write questions for state tests, in order to trick all those elementary students! So, all of those tricky questions — they're Fred! Yes, this is the story I tell my kiddos every year, and here's what they say:
"But that's not fair, Miss Stewart! It wasn't me who made fun of him!"
"He's not very nice, I bet he doesn't have many friends."
"Eww … I'm going to trick him back!"
They crack me up! I always keep up the story. Making sure to let them know that I have seen Fred's office, and although I haven't seen him, there has been a sketch done (in case we ever come across him). I usually just print a "nerd" photo from Google and put it on a poster like the one below. This way, when we find tricky questions, the kids have someone to blame it on and they can spot the tricks more easily!
Breakfast & Snacks
We make a big deal about what we eat for breakfast. Some of the best brain foods are oatmeal, cottage cheese, peanut butter toast, eggs and tuna sandwiches — yes, you heard me right! We sit around and everyone tells what they had for breakfast, even if it's just a school breakfast. The conversation puts an emphasis on eating right and the kids take it very seriously. We also organize snacks for testing. I often use SignUpGenius to have parents sign up for healthy snacks. Some of the best options are string cheese, yogurts, fruit, peanut butter (unless allergies, obviously), granola bars, etc. When I taught in a Title I school, I would buy boxes of graham crackers and bananas, which were cheap and still filling. I also sneak Jolly Ranchers® and mints to the kids throughout the test to help keep them awake.
I create a playlist on my iPod that gets the day started off on the right foot. It has upbeat songs like:
Celebration (Kool and the Gang)
You Make My Dreams Come True (Hall and Oates)
Poprocks and Coke (Green Day)
What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger (Kelly Clarkson)
Sweet Pea (Amos Lee)
I play the music until just before the test. It gets all of the kids pumped up and excited!
I print off little pictures that I give my kiddos each day to make them laugh and again, to lighten the mood so they know I'm not worried and believe in them wholeheartedly. Here are a couple of examples:
This was the first test strategy I ever tried. I have each of my kids decorate a poster with a Great Job saying and their name. We put these posters all around the classroom so everyone has a positive message just for them.
We also decorate huge pieces of butcher paper with positive messages and put them up over the classwork and posters on the wall that we are supposed to remove or take down for testing.
Bubble It Up!
Finally, we have root beer floats to celebrate all of our bubbling! It's exciting and fun, and always makes a great end to a great week!
There are all kinds of great testing strategies. I am ALWAYS looking for some to share, in case you have any in your bag of tricks. I created an Animoto video to share what all of these strategies look like when they come together in a giant testing celebration! Take a look at our Smashing the CAS! video.