18 CCSS Literacy Strategies for Struggling Readers – Defining, Summarizing and Comparing

I’ve been working with teachers to develop learning strategies to support the Common Core literacy and comprehension skills that students commonly use across the content areas. This pdf includes 18 lessons organized in two ways: by comprehension strategy – defining, summarizing and comparing and by target reader – non-reader, word caller and turned-off reader.  The lessons are designed as templates which teachers can modify to use in their specific subject areas.

Strategies for Struggling Readers 3MB pdf   

There are two key elements that teachers should keep in mind when working in each skill area.


  • Before the formal definition has been introduced, students should be asked to make connections between their prior knowledge and the term.
  • After the term has been defined,  students need activities to more deeply process the term.


  • Students should be asked to make their own judgments about what’s important to them (instead of just repeating the details the teacher highlights).
  • Students will be able to more readily summarize, if they are asked to share what they’ve learned with an audience other than the teacher.


  • Students should develop the comparison, not simply repeat the model that we present to them.
  • Student should be asked to share what they learned from the comparison.

School Board Leaders Reflect on Essential Questions and 21st Century Learning

new mexico
new mexico

Last week, I did a 90 minute keynote at the New Mexico School Board Association’s Leader’s Retreat. I used a “Socratic approach” and framed my talk around a series of themes and sample questions in a talk called “What Questions Should School Boards Be Asking about 21st Century Learning?” For details on my keynote theme, essential questions and blog reader comments click here.

The school board leaders had some interesting responses to my evaluation that inspired me with their willingness to rethink the landscape of teaching and learning. Here are my three evaluation prompts and some of their responses: 

What did you find to be most valuable from today’s workshop? 

  • Changing the mind set of traditional thinking in schools.
  • Giving kids a chance to be thinking and problem solving on their own – that’s relevance.
  • Looking at rigorous and relevant thinking skills in action.
  • Innovative uses of technology in the classroom.
  • Simply having students follow a process is not relevant learning.
  • The importance of rigorous thought and the creative thinking process.
  • It’s not enough to simply use technology – it needs to be used to support rigorous thinking.
  • These are questions we need to be asking ourselves, daily.
  • A multimedia presentation, with a participatory focus on the big picture of learning.
  • I liked the questions for board members format – will be easier to report back to my colleagues.
  • Education will need to change to reflect the information age.
  • You used the techniques you were teaching, which was very helpful.
  •  Eye opening and Thought-provoking.

What was a frustration you had today?

  • Public schools have a multitude of mandates which tie our hands.
  • How will we measure problem solving and creative thinking in the context of NCLB testing mandates?
  • The process of applying technology for learning moves more slowly than the technology developments themselves.
  • Legislators don’t understand these concepts.
  • This talk is best directed at teachers and administrators. Boards don’t want to be perceived as micro-managing educational methods.
  • Would have liked to spend more time doing TurningPoint surveys.
  • This information has been around for along time and little has changed.
  • How do we provoke the state and their testing regiment to reflect on the need for higher level thinking and not regurgitating?
  • How do we get this information to our legislators in away that makes them think?

How will today’s workshop impact your school board planning?

  • I will use some of these questions in discussions with our superintendent.
  • Bring our planning into the 21st century.
  • We need to think more about relevant 21st century skill development.
  • I do process agenda for our board work retreats and I’m more aware that we need to hold ourselves to rigorous analysis of the products of our district.
  • We need to think more about the “how” than the “what” of instruction. 
  • It will help me to formulate questions to ask myself and the district – are we 21st C ready?
  • Your example of toddlers categorizing means we need to ask more about higher-level thinking at lower grade levels.
  • We will continue to collaborate and refine our goals.
  • Ask better questions – demand better answers. That includes of ourselves and our planning process.
  • We need to prepare our students for a future of thinking, creating, exploring and collaborating.
  • How do we get this approach throughout the system, so students are not penalized for learning outside the established system?
  • We need to re-think our educational model and priorities.

Image credit: flickr/ Wolfgang Staudt

What Questions Should School Boards Be Asking about 21st Century Learning?

What Questions Should School Boards Be Asking about 21st Century Learning_

Next week, I’m keynoting at the New Mexico School Board Association’s Leader’s Retreat. I plan to take a “Socratic approach” and frame my talk around a series of themes and sample questions that I think school boards should be asking in response challenges and opportunities of 21st century learning.

I wanted to offer readers the chance to offer their suggestions – via this blog’s comment or Twitter/edteck.

I plan to address three themes and pose some reflective questions for board members to consider.

Theme 1. Learning must engage student in rigorous thinking at higher levels of Bloom – analyzing, evaluating and creating. School boards should ask:

  • Does our school community recognize the difference between higher and lower order thinking?
  • Are students expected to just consume information, or are they asked to create something original that demonstrates their learning?
  • Is our district a creative problem-solving organization?
Answers: We cut music and art for remedial math. (Wrong!!!)
We recognize music and art are vehicles to teach math. (That’s better!)

Theme 2. Learning is relevant when the student understands how the information or skill has some application to their life, has an opportunity to figure out their own process rather than just learn “the facts,” and is given opportunities to reflect on their work and their progress as learners. School boards should ask …

  • Do our students get high grades for simply memorizing the review sheet for the test?
  • Do our students “follow the recipe” or are they increasingly asked to take responsibility for their learning products, process and results?
  • Is the audience for student work simply the teacher, or are students asked to share their learning with peers, family, community?

Theme 3. The digital age has redefined literacy. To paraphrase David Warlick, Literacy now means the ability to: find information, decode it, critically evaluate it, organize it into digital libraries, and be able to share it with others. School boards should ask …

  • If we’re no longer the “information gatekeepers,” are we teaching our students to critically evaluate information and use it responsibly?
  • Does our technology get used mainly by the educators, or are students regularly employing it to create understanding and share their learning?
  • Is our credit system based on seat time or can it be expanded beyond the school walls to any place / time virtual learning?

And finally I will wrap up the talk with an overarching perspective on accountability and assessment. I find it ironic that while schools chase NCLB “proficiency,” life has become an open book test. We need to unleash the power of assessment that targets and inspires. One-shot, high stakes tests are just autopsies. Students need regular check-ups where teachers can gauge student progress and target instruction. Ultimately the program must be designed to foster student self-assessment that gives them responsibility for monitoring their own progress. Students should be supported in on-going sell-reflection that addresses questions such as:

  • How can I use this knowledge and these skills to make a difference in my life?
  • How am I progressing as a learner?
  • How can I communicate what I’m learning with others?
  • How can I work with teachers and other students to improve my learning?

Schools will need to become places that create engaging and relevant learning experiences, provoke student reflection, and help students apply the learning to life. Authentic  accountability is reciprocal …  leadership is responsible to provide resources for success, educators are responsible for results. Simply sorting students along the “bell curve” won’t do.

… Please add a comment below or Twitter to let me know if I’m leaving anything out.

Sept 22, 2009 UPDATE: For School Board Leaders’ responses to the workshop see: School Board Leaders Reflect on Essential Questions / 21st Century Learning 

Why Don’t We Teach Sequencing Skills? It’s an Essential Higher-Order Thinking Strategy

We spend a lot of time in school getting students to learn sequential information – timelines, progressions, life cycle of a moth, steps for how to. Typically the teacher teaches the student the sequence and the student correctly identifies the sequence for teacher on the test. Thus we treat a sequence as a ordered collection of facts to be learned, not as a thinking process for students to use.  This memorization reduces the student's "mastery" of the chronology to lower order thinking. I was guilty of this when I first started teaching history "Can someone give me two causes and three results of WWII?" 

When students are asked to observe a process and develop a sequence they have an opportunity to use a full spectrum of higher-order thinking skills – they must recognize patterns (analyze), determine causality (evaluate) and then decide how they would communicate what they've learned to others (create). Sequencing can be taught across the curriculum at a variety of grade levels – we simply have to ask the students to observe and do the thinking.

There is some interesting research that demonstrates that students have trouble when asked to develop sequences. It comes from the Program for International Student Assessment.  PISA is an assessment (begun in 2000) that focuses on 15-year-olds' capabilities in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy. PISA studied students in 41 countries and assessed how well prepared students are for life beyond the classroom by focusing on the application of knowledge and skills to problems with a real-life context. For more examples of PISA questions and data see my blog post.

Sample sequencing problem from PISA 2003.

The Hobson High School library has a simple system for lending books: for staff members the loan period is 28 days, and for students the loan period is 7 days. The following is a decision tree diagram showing this simple system:


The Greenwood High School has a similar, but more complex library lending system:
All publications classified as “Reserved” have a loan period of 2 days.
For books (not including magazines) that are not on the reserved list, the loan period is 28 days for staff, and 14 days for students. For magazines that are not on the reserved list, the loan period is 7 days for everyone.
Persons with any overdue items are not allowed to borrow anything. 

Develop a decision tree diagram for the Greenwood High School Library system so that an automated checking system can be designed to deal with book and magazine loans at the library.  Your checking system should be as efficient as possible (i.e. it should have the least number of checking steps). Note that each checking step should have only two outcomes and the outcomes should be labeled appropriately (e.g. “Yes” and “No”).

The student results were rated on a rubric scale.  Only 13.5% of US students were able correctly answered the question. Their international 15-year-old peers didn't fare much better – 14.3% of them answered correctly. 

The correct response looked something like this.