Common Core Training: Five Essentials

plainfield workshop

Teachers are too savvy to fall for an empty promise that something is “common-core-aligned.”

I just returned from a full-day workshop for middle school social studies teachers at Plainfield CCSD 202 (IL). It was entitled “Think Like a Historian: Literacy and the Common Core.” 

Teachers everywhere are concerned about the impact of Common Core. But they won’t benefit from lecture-style PD that itemizes specific strands and standards of Common Core. Promoting curricular “checklists” doesn’t build capacity, it fosters either resistance or mindless compliance. Don’t talk about “close reading” – do it!

As Charlotte Danielson has written: “I think the common core rests on a view of teaching as complex decision making, as opposed to something more routine or drill-based. … So I see the common core as a fertile and rich opportunity for really important professional learning by teachers, because — I don’t know now how to say this nicely — well, not all teachers have been prepared to teach in this way. I see that as one of the enormous challenges facing the common core rollout.

Teachers need a demonstration what Common Core teaching actually looks like, how the essential elements of Common Core connect to what they are already doing and why students will need to master these skills to be successful lifelong learners.

Here’s five PD essentials to support teachers in transitioning to close reading and the Common Core followed by specific comments from the Plainfield teacher evaluations.

1. Make it real. Teachers are too savvy to fall for an empty promise that something is “common-core-aligned.” And remember you lose credibility if you “paper over” Common Core’s controversies.

  • Thanks for the opportunity to freely express our opinions.
  • It’s great to be able to discuss the frustration and then move forward to what’s best for kids.
  • I appreciate that you never “dodged” a tough question.

2. Start from where teachers are. Reinforce their existing practice and offer a feasible framework for Common Core “make-overs” to their current lessons.

  • I now think it’s possible to successfully teach close reading. The responsibility is mine to teach how to do so.
  • I feel affirmed. It was nice to hear that how I run my classroom is right on track with today’s workshop.
  • My confidence has increased. I have a real chance of making these things work.
  • Loved the close reading using images. I’ve done this for years and never had a name for it.
  • I have a lot of these pieces already in place, but now I know how to more neatly tie them together.

3. Teachers don’t want abstract theory. They want ideas they can use in the classroom. Model the strategies, don’t just talk about them.

  • Each piece of information was attached to examples, how-tos, and evidence of its value. I was shown what works, why it works, and how to use it in my classroom.
  • It’s so helpful to participate in the activities just as our student should.
  • “Practice what you preach.” We were part of our learning just as we expect students to be.
  • Your presentation hits all learning styles.
  • I’m stealing a lot of these activities.

4. Common Core relies on relinquishing responsibility for learning to the student. Teachers have to be encouraged to “be less helpful” as they shift to student-centered, constructivist approaches.

  • I need to remember that when it comes to student responses – there doesn’t need to be a “right answer.”
  • A great reminder / inspiration to be student centered and remember that kids will need to be invested and own their learning.
  • Summarize and comparing – students need to share what’s actually important to them – powerful!
  • I will focus more on peer and student reflection and revision.
  • I like the idea of students evaluating their own progress and realize that it’s an easy thing to do if we make the effort.

5. The critical competencies of Common Core asks students to operate at higher levels thinking. They’ll need to analyze, evaluate, share and debate their ideas with others. Those activities should form the basis of the training.

  • I now understand more about Bloom’s Taxonomy than I did in college.
  • Getting students to think at higher levels is not as difficult as I thought it was.
  • I need to stop starting every lesson at the low end of Blooms. Want to start some at the top.

Boston Bombings: Close Reading A Media Frenzy

Suspects Together- High ResHere’s a suggestion for high school teachers. Postpone a lesson you had planned for next week and use the time to explore the cacophonous infosphere spawned by the apprehension of the suspects in the Boston bombings. If that media circus tells us anything, it’s that we need a lesson in digital hygiene and responsible use.

It’s also a good chance for students to hone their close reading skills. The events should be fresh in everyone’s mind. Ask students to reflect back on network news and social media coverage of the manhunt using these three critical thinking prompts:

  • What did it say?
  • How did it say it?
  • What’s it mean to me?

To kick off the discussion, you might ask students to read James Gleick’s powerful New York Magazine piece “Total Noise,” Only Louder. He observes:

The Boston bombings, shootings, car chase, and manhunt found the ecosystem of information in a strange and unstable state: Twitter on the rise, cable TV in disarray, Internet vigilantes bleeding into the FBI’s staggeringly complex (and triumphant) crash program of forensic video analysis. If there ever was a dividing line between cyberspace and what we used to call the “real world,” it vanished last week. … We need to get smarter about the vectors of time and information flow. … It starts to feel as though we’re Pavlov’s dogs—subjects in a vast experiment in operant conditioning. The craving for information leads to behaviors that are alternately rewarded and punished. If instantaneity is what we want, television cannot compete with cyberspace. Nor does the hive mind wait for officialdom. While the FBI watched and tagged and coded thousands of images from surveillance cameras and cell phones, users on Reddit and 4chan went to work, too, marking up photos with yellow arrows and red circles: “1: ALONE 2: BROWN 3: Black backpack 4: Not watching.” Virtually everything these sleuths discovered was wrong. Their best customer was the New York Post, which fronted a giant photo of two “Bag Men”—who, of course, turned out to be a high-school kid and his friend, guilty of nothing but brown skin. If the watchword Wednesday was crowd-source, by Thursday it was witchhunt. Total Noise.

If anyone asks you why you’re deviating from your lesson plans, tell them you’re getting a head start on Common Core Standards such as:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.8 Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Image source / FBI

Think Like a Historian: Close Reading at the Museum

I’m planning for an upcoming full-day workshop for Chicago-area middle school teachers entitled “Think Like a Historian: Literacy and the Common Core.” The Common Core encourages students to more closely read a text (in all it’s multimedia formats) by answering three critical questions

  • What did it say?
  • How did it say it?
  • What’s it mean to me?

If you were apply those questions to my workshop you might answer them like this:

  • What did the workshop say? For all it’s controversies, the Common Core provides a basic road map for helping your students to “think like a historian” and enhance their literacy and critical thinking skills.
  • How did the workshop say it? Don’t lecture at people. Model the strategies and let teachers experience them in a classroom-like setting.
  • What’s it mean to me? What are the workshop’s strategies and perspectives that I could feasibly incorporate into my classroom to support Common Core skills?

Now that I’ve “flipped” the workshop, here’s a brief lesson in using Common Core questioning. I’m currently visiting Turkey and I thought I’d model a Common Core close reading of my visit to an Istanbul museum exhibit. I’ll dig a little deeper into the three questions with a few more prompts and provide brief answers as if I were a high school student reflecting on their experience.

First the setting: I visited the “Anatolian Weights and Measures” exhibit at the Pera Museum in Istanbul. It’s one large room with exhibit cases around it’s perimeter. A very manageable number of artifacts, labeled in both Turkish and English. I spent about an hour there. So here goes – Common Core close reading prompts, followed by “student responses.” Left: Roman steelyard weight – Hercules

1. What did the text (artifacts / exhibit) say? Summarize the key ideas and provide supporting details.
A: The museum exhibit is a roomful of measurement tools – weight, volume, distance. When I first walked in I turned right and looked at some tools from the 1900s. As I continued around the wall I realized that I was going back in time. Sort of an interesting way to look at the artifacts.

As I progressed “back in time” to the Egyptians era, I realized how important measurement was to civilization. I realized that if you were going to trade things, you needed to measure them. The same was true for owning land. You needed to have a way to measure it. Plus people need to have some way to agree on the “official” measurements. That means the ancients needed some sort of government or rules for trade. You can see that many of the weights had “official” seals on them.The exhibit showed that the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks created standardized systems for measurement.

Common Core close reading prompts, followed by “student responses.”

2. How did the text (artifacts / exhibit) say it? How is it organized? Who created it and what were their goals? What patterns do you see?
A: I’ll answer this one from two perspectives – first the creators of the original artifacts and then the curators who designed the exhibit.

The weights were all designed to serve a function, but they were often very artistic as well. At first I wondered if that was because craftsmen wanted to personalize their work. Then I thought the artisans might have decorated the weights to make them harder to counterfeit. Ancients would want to be sure that weights were accurate and that some trader wasn’t ripping them off with a phony measurement. I think the weights were also designed to look official to give people confidence in the measurements they were getting.

The curators of the exhibit used a chronological approach to present the artifacts. But they also grouped items together by themes to help you make connections across time. For example there was a section featured mobile scales from different eras. They were designed for traders that needed scales that they could easily bring with them. That got me thinking of the long history of trade routes tranporting goods from far off lands.

18th C Money Changer's Balance 18th C Money Changer’s Balance

3. How does it (artifacts / exhibit) mean to me? How does it connect to my life and views?
A – The exhibit is called “Anatolian Weights and Measures” and it makes it very clear that every artifact was found in that region. I think one of the goals of the curators was to prove that Turkey has had a long history of civilization and trade. The exhibit showcases thousands of years of measurement tools that reinforce the idea of Turkey as as the crossroad of different cultures. That echoes the image of modern Turkey as a gateway between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The exhibit also makes me realize that the idea of a global economy is actually not a new thing. People have been trading across vast distances for thousands of years.

In one way, in the exhibit reminded me of how some things never change. It seemed like there was little difference in the scales used in Egypt or the portable balance of 18th century money changer. The basic physics stayed the same. The Roman steelyard balance works using the same principals as a locker room scale with sliding weights.

But in another way, the exhibit reminded me how much the new technologies have changed things. The exhibit included a set of linked folding metal measuring rods that today are easily replaced by a small laser distance finder. They would could both measure distance, but the technology, accuracy and portability of the tools are dramatically different.

Image credit/ Pera Museum Pinterest

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Selling Sleeping Pills – Common Core and Close Reading

intermezzo-featured

I was streaming a show on Hulu last night and saw this ad for Intermezzo sleep medication. (Video below)

I was amused by the disparity between the cute animation and the ominous narration of the mandated health warning. I thought this would make a good exercise to illustrate techniques in “close reading” and demonstrate the approach advocated by William Kist’s in New Literacies and the Common Core Educational Leadership ASCD March 2013.

Close reading requires students to consider text (in it’s different forms) through three lenses: what does it say, how does it say it, and what does it mean to me?

Here’s the steps to follow:

  1. Visual elements: Turn the sound off on your computer and watch the Intermezzo commercial (below). Make a list of visual details you observe – character, mood, lighting, editing, set design, shot composition. 
  2. Narration: Now turn the sound on and listen to the soundtrack without looking at the screen. Outline the verbal information given about the product in a T-chart. List benefits on one side and possible adverse effects on the other.
  3. Musical soundtrack: Listen to the ad without watching the screen again. This time focus on the musical soundtrack – instrumentation, tempo, mood. Write some adjectives that come to mind while listening to the ad (ignoring the narration.)

Compare your three lists – visual elements, narration and musical soundtrack. Be ready to use specific textual evidence to defend the observations in your lists. Here’s a few guiding questions to consider:

  • How do your three lists compare? To what extent do the visual elements, narration and musical soundtrack reinforce (or contradict) each other?
  • What do you think the ad’s creators were trying to communicate?
  • What artistic and narrative choices did the creators make to communicate their message?
  • How successfully did the ad sell the product? Would you consider using this product? Why?
  • Drug companies are required by the FDA to list all a drug’s possible risks. What impact does that requirement have on the content of this ad?

Congratulations – you’ve been exploring Common Core:  Reading Standards for Literature, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, Standard 7, Grade 7. Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (for example, lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).

Reading Standards for Informational Text, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, Standard 7, Grades 11–12. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (for example, print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.

Digital History Workshop – Tech Meets Critical Thinking

I recently spent a few days working with the middle and upper school history department at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, San Juan Capistrano CA. Shout-out to James Harris (chair) and the department for being great hosts and invigorating to work with.

Photo – teachers are challenged to design Yes-No Decision Diagrams and experience the difference between creating a sequence and merely memorizing one.

yes-noOur goal was a practical hands-on workshop that fused technology, critical thinking, and strategies for students to be the “historian in the classroom.” SMES has implemented iPads at the middle school, and they’ll will be following 9th graders to the upper school next year. We were focused on ways to use iPads for content creation, feedback and reflection. Throughout the workshop, teachers used their iPads to respond to activities via LearningCatalytics (LC) and had guided practice in producing and delivering LC questions. iPads plus student response via LC is a killer app for student engagement.

I created a resource website that gives all the details of the project – but here’s some highlights.

  1. How to select and craft historic documents into DBQs. Key takeaway – use documents that students can interpret with minimal background knowledge, or your just giving them another reading assignment with illustrations.
  2. Summarizing and comparison strategies that work. Key takeaway – are you really asking students to present what they think is important, or are you merely asking them to “guess what I’m thinking?”
  3. How to craft the iPad DBQ. Easy: Haiku Deck. Harder (but worth it) iBooks Author.
  4. Effectively curating information and sharing it with your team – How to use Evernote in the classroom.
  5. How to integrate statistical analysis into the history / social science classroom – nGram Viewer and GapMinder.

By the end of the workshop teachers had created a variety of DBQs using Haiku Deck and iBooks Author. Lots of ideas for using HistoryPin, Evernote, nGram Viewer and GapMinder. While it wasn’t a definitive tech training, I think they left with critical lens to reflect on their practice and enough knowledge about the programs to see their feasibility for use in their classrooms. Not to mention “high-fives” when they got to show off the first iBooks they created.

Photo – teacher demonstrates her newly created iBook on US Imperialism.
ibook-test

Here’s a few comments from the participants:

  • All of the examples and learning experiences you chose for us were right on the mark. They were relevant and forced us to reflect on our practices and the students’ experience when in our rooms. I have a lot to think about and a lot to change! Now if only it was the summer!
  • Liked the interaction and really appreciated the hands on aspects of the training. I appreciate that you focused on higher- ordered thinking because I think that sometimes I hear some folks talking about iPads as if they (in and of themselves) are going to foster higher levels of thinking. In my experience, you still have to work really hard to make sure the kids are engaging in meaningful ways!
  • Loved learning about learning catalytics. I will definitely start using this with the next unit, especially to focus on building reading comprehension skills with my sixth graders. The haiku deck will work to introduce units in a visual way and to have students demonstrate understanding. The main thing I focused on yesterday though was the need to be more deliberate in providing rigorous higher level thinking activities for students. I think I do a good job of this, but I want to do an audit on the curriculum to see where exactly I am providing these opportunities for students.
  • I am really enjoying so many aspects of this. It would be great for more SMES teachers to be involved. It’s practical and philosophical. The tone is upbeat and helpful and the flexibility of meeting us where we are at is terrific. There are certainly a few things I’ll do differently.
  • I really liked all of the concrete ideas of apps and teaching strategies I can use in my classroom. I feel energized to go back and change all of my units, which does feel quite overwhelming though! I feel like I am doing so much wrong, but then again, I am grateful that I have ideas for where I need to go.
  • I especially liked discovering Learning Catalytics and Evernote. I could see both being very applicable to the classroom. Learning Catalytics is the tool I have been needing in order to keep middle schoolers engaged. I have been looking for ways to help them become more active learners, and this will be an excellent tool for that purpose.
  • Really great day- I so appreciate your conversation about analysis! I am now thinking about new ways to increase rigor and I actually think it will make my class more enjoyable. This line stuck with me, “When do we stop modeling for students… and have the courage to be less helpful!?” I feel like I am always answering student questions with, “I don’t know… can YOU?” or, “I really hope you figure that out!” I know it makes my students uncomfortable, but I THINK it makes them uncomfortable in a way that helps them learn to be problem solvers. Thank you for sharing strategies with my colleagues to empower us to be more courageous in the way we deliver instruction to help foster more divergent thinkers

As James Harris, the department chair, later wrote me in an email - 

At dinner on Sunday, as we discussed the school, the department, and the needs of both, you mentioned the danger of “shiny objects” – educational technology pursued solely for the sake of it. I’ve always considered myself wary of ed. tech reps and their products. So often, in my opinion, the costs of hurriedly implementing their products – “critical thinking” activities over true analysis, etc. – often far exceed the limited gains they may bring. That is why I was so pleased with our time together and with the message you brought to our faculty. When you said that you were “all about what is simplest and most effective” to aid student learning, be that “a paper and pencil” or programs such as Learning Catalytics, I knew we were in great shape.

In following up with the department over the past 48 hours I can say confidently that your time here was a success on a variety of levels. First, and perhaps most importantly, you gently challenged us all to reflect on our own teaching practices and reconsider our definitions of “analysis”, “student learning”, and “rigor”. It is quite easy to fall into a pattern after several years of teaching with a certain model and our discussions this week on how best to challenge our students forced us all to reflect on our own strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, your modeling of programs such as Learning Catalytics and Haiku Deck opened my eyes to one of the simplest, most reasonable fusions of traditional / technological pedagogy I have seen to date. Our faculty left so excited about the possibilities ahead of them yet reassured as to the value of their previous best practices.

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