Sunday, July 28, 2013

Teaching With the Common Core Standards - Book Club - Chapter 8 - Technology and the Common Core Standards

This chapter was one I identified with a great deal. While I wouldn't say that I am a technology wizard, I'm certainly not a techno-phobe. I feel quite comfortable with using technology and have used it in my classroom in a variety of ways. Other teachers I know use it with even greater alacrity and I am amazed at the things they create and share with their classrooms and others. Many of the resources that are listed in this chapter - and there are a good amount - I have had personal experience using and others I have seen or heard others use.

The chapter's authors, Erica C. Boling and Christina Spiezio, bring out the point in the opening lines the fact that literacy goes beyond just the ability to read and write, it now encompasses the ability use these skills while navigating the technology rich world of the 21st century. One of the concerns voiced is that there is a wide gap between the skills that most students traditionally learn in their schools and the skills and knowledge that they will need in higher education, modern workplaces, and even within their own communities.

While there is not a specific standard for technology within the Common Core Standards it is implied that 21st century students to be college and career ready will be literate in a variety of technologies. References to digital media and technology are scattered liberally throughout the ELA standards. Differentiation is made between learn "from" and learning "with" technology and, while both are important, it is felt that learning "with" technology that has been "reflected and embraced" (pg. 154) by the standards. This is showcased by the "call for students to be able to critically analyze and produce various types of media." (pg. 154) Because students are expected to present what they find and create it integrates the speaking and listening standards within the ELA standards. Furthermore this technology literacy is not relegated solely to the ELA standards, but is expected throughout other content areas.

Several classroom vignettes showing the use of technology within ELA classes as well as other subjects are given. The technology showcased in the vignettes are:
VoiceThread ( - a way of capturing stories digitally
Glogster ( - a place for creating interactive online posters
Wikispaces ( - which, while used for a variety of other reasons, can be used as a safe and password protected place for students to publish writing and share work with others online
Voki ( - another online digital recording program which allows a student to create a cartoon character that resembles them (which will "speak" for the student) then record a podcast - in this case responses to class readings - for others to listen to
Google Earth ( - an online interactive satellite globe which was used to allow students to take "virtual" field trips
Creation of student produced videos - the use of a Flip (small, easy to use) video camera was mentioned as well as using Windows Movie Maker to edit the short science videos

Two pages of resources are shared that deal with help in using these technologies and resources where teachers can find out about more technology to use in the classroom. The authors conclude by reiterating the vital importance of embedding the use of technology throughout all content areas to create digitally literate students who will be prepared to interact and succeed in an increasingly digital and technological world.

As a teacher I have used several of the resources mentioned, though some such as video podcasting and the use of a wiki have been ways of disseminating information to students rather than having students actively participate. However, after reading this chapter I am eager to try even more with my students actively involved.

Questions for this chapter can be found in the comment section. Please use the 'reply' function to respond. I can't wait to hear all of your thoughts! Links to the previous chapters' discussions can be found here:

Be sure to check back next Monday, August 5th, when 2 Brainy Apples hosts a discussion about
Chapter 9 - Assessment

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Teaching With the Common Core Standards - Book Club - Summary - Chapter 5 - Writing Standards

This chapter, authored by Steve Graham, focuses on the Common Core State Standards for Writing. He begins by giving some context to the current state of writing instruction in most schools, concluding that in order to meet the CCSS writing instruction must drastically change for most schools.
The Writing Standards make two broad assumptions:
1) Students will master described skills within the school year. 
2) Students' writing will increase in sophistication and their application of learned skills will increase as they master these skills. 

The standards are centered around four applications of skills in writing:
1) Text Types and Purposes - This includes writing for numerous purposes.
2) Production and Distribution of Writing - This includes creating and sharing text that is well-organized and appropriate to the assigned task by using planning, revising, editing, and collaboration.
3) Research to Build and Present Knowledge - This includes "using writing to recall, organize, analyze, interpret, and build knowledge about a topic..." (p. 88).
4) Range of Writing - This includes differing text task lengths to encourage learning across other disciplines such as science, and social studies, as well as varying audiences.
Graham does note that this are also depended upon the ability of students to record their ideas in a variety of ways including handwriting and electronic means as well as being able to using spelling and grammar correctly, form sentences correctly, and make appropriate word choices to convey meaning.

 The next part of the chapter acknowledges that while there is theoretical and empirical support for having writing standards there are concerns including underestimating the abilities of some groups of students as well as vagueness in explanation of certain of the standards and expectations at each grade level. After expressing his concerns the author then recommends the use of "tested and expert evidence-based practices."

The CCSS in Writing for grades 3 - 5 state that students should be writing for three purposes: to inform, to persuade, and to entertain. They are to "write in a planful, thoughtful, reflective, and collaborative manner." They are also expected to write in support and analyses of other content areas. As the standards are set the basic standard does not vary from grade to grade, however the elements within that basic standard do change between grades. The book then shows in tables these similarities and differences. This applied across all four applications of writing that were listed above.  Additionally, several teaching vignettes are shared to demonstrate some of the practices the author suggests are effective in teaching writing to students in these intermediate grades.

Graham feels that Range of Writing is the that is weakest standard in terms of necessary specificity. It stands that students will do both short and more lengthy writing exercises across content areas but it lacks any real guidelines. He suggests that some of these pieces of writing would include student note taking, question creation, completion of graphic organizers, and summaries, as well as lengthier pieces where students "personalize, apply, and analyze" the things they read. He also states the importance of writing in the subjects of math, social studies, and science. Writing in these areas requires students to make decision about what information is important, what the consequences of actions are, and how to organize and present the information students find. Doing this forces students to deal in greater depth with the materials they are presented and therefore encourages greater comprehension and synthesis of the information.

Links to the previous chapters can be found here:

Monday, July 1, 2013

Teaching With the Common Core Standards - Book Club - Chapter 4 - Reading Standards: Foundational Skills

*Discussion topics/questions will be found in the comment portion of this post. Please feel free to add your thoughts or ask questions of your own.

I chose this chapter for a variety of reasons. My first several years as a teacher were spent teaching in the primary grades where it is expected that students will pick up what are considered "foundational" skills in Reading. The last few years I have spent in intermediate grades, so I have seen both ends of the spectrum. I have seen very young children grasp foundational skills quickly, older students who struggled with these same skills and everything in between. To start however we need to understand which skills are considered "foundational." These skills include: print concepts, phonological awareness, phonics/word recognition skills, and fluency. Often in the upper grades there is the preconceived notion that these skills have already been taught and therefore there is not a necessity to focus on them. Increasingly perception just isn't true. Far more intermediate students are struggling because - for whatever reason - they never mastered these skills. Just like a building collapses without a strong foundation, so too does comprehension collapse without these vital building blocks.

That then begs the question - What now? What can upper grade teachers do to help these struggling students gain the foundation they need to be successful readers, especially with the increased rigor brought about by the CCSS? Before we delve any deeper into that question, perhaps a quick review/summary of what these skills cover would be appropriate. 

Print concepts - Ability to recognize basic features and conventions of text including progression of text, i.e. left-right, top-bottom. Also encompasses recognition of all upper and lowercase letters and the fact that joining letters together in specific ways creates words and that spaces separate words.

Phonological awareness - Ability to recognize sounds (phonemes), syllables, and whole words in spoken language. 

Both of these skills are expected to be mastered by the end of a child's first grade year in school.

Phonics/Word recognition - Ability to apply word analysis skills - including phonics - to transfer words in print into the corresponding spoken words.

Fluency - Ability to accurately, with automaticity and prosody (expression).

So, now that we understand what the foundational skills mean, back to the question - What do we do to help students master them? The authors of this chapter focus mainly on helping students master the word recognition and fluency standards with their instructional suggestions.

Word Recognition

1) Focus on word patterns - a) Teach students common rimes - consistent word patterns also known as word families. b) Teach students Latin and Greek word bases - including prefixes, suffixes, and root words. This helps students focus on morphemic pattern which are pieces of words imbued with their own meaning.

2) Guided word building - Give students the chance to "build" predetermined words guided by the teacher. Two ways of going about this are presented. a) McCandliss, Beck, Sandak, and Perfetti (2003) have students start with a word and change, add, or subtract one letter at a time to create new words. This has also been called a "word ladder." b) Cunningham and Cunningham's Making Words approach has students use a limited number of words gradually increasing in difficulty and in the number of letters used. Finally all the letters are used to make one last word that students are to try to discover without the aid of the teacher.

1) Wide Reading - Reading multiple texts in succession to maximize one's reading ability. This has most often been seen in schools through silent reading either of trade or textbooks, guided by the teacher, or by independent silent reading. For those who criticize independent silent reading as having too little accountability another approach has been developed by Reutzel, Jones, Fawson, and Smith (2008) called "scaffolded" silent reading where the teacher takes a more active role in helping students choose books and adding a measure of accountability for students. 

2) Deep Reading (Repeated reading) - Whereas wide reading has a student read many texts once, deep reading has students repeatedly read a text until it can be read with great accuracy, expression, and automaticity. While repeated reading is helpful in understanding more complex narrative text, it is especially helpful in reading informational text which introduces both concepts and vocabulary together. Suggestions for types of reading that are effectively used for deep reading include poetry, Reader's Theatre, famous speeches, short excerpts of texts with strong "voice." A more intensive version of deep reading called a "fluency development lesson" was developed by Rasinski, Padak, Linek, & Sturtevant (1994). This calls for students to master a 100-200 word passage during a twenty minute period of instruction. This lesson also includes word study, teacher modeling, and discussion.

As the authors wind down the chapter they also mention "four block" instruction pioneered by Cunningham (2006) wherein one "block" of approximately 20-30 minutes is reserved daily for word study. New words are added to a board or "word wall" for students to use as a resource. They also mention Shanahan's (2012)  description of a 20-30 minute fluency block where students work on a text that will be performed at the end of the week. The chapter lists several books that have strong "voice" as examples of works that can be used to develop fluency.

The conclusion of the chapter stresses the authors' hopes that teachers will explore multiple methods of instruction to help students master foundational learning skills, especially word recognition and fluency.

It is vitally important that we find ways to help students fill in the holes where their understanding falters. While it can seem a daunting task, it is possible to help scaffold students' instruction and understanding to help them gain the necessary skills to be good readers.

** Activities suggested by the authors**
1) Choose a word that you will be working with over several days. (Could be content area vocabulary.) Figure out all of the words that can be made using the letters in that word. This website is a resource for finding those words -

2) Find Greek or Latin affixes you'll be learning during the year and choose one or two to brainstorm all the English words you can think of that use those affixes.

3) Find a book you will be reading to the students. Look at the first five pages and list all the interesting, unusual, and irregularly spelled words you can find. Then decide which of those words you could display and discuss or make part of a word study unit.

4) Have students find a challenging text and read it to a partner having the partner keep track of the number of words that were read correctly. Have the student practice reading the text to themself or a partner two or three times. Put the text away for a few days without reading it again. After three or four days have students read again to their partner and have them count the number of correct words. Even without reading the text for several days, the second reading should have more correct words than the original.

Please take a chance now to add your thoughts on this chapter and the ideas it brings forth. I look forward to seeing the insights you all have to offer.

Don't forget that next week's chapter discussion will be hosted by Jennifer Findley of "Teaching To Inspire In Fifth."

For those who may be new to this discussion you can catch up on our previous posts with these links: