Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Monday, December 23, 2013

Taking a Winter Break

I'll be taking a winter break until January 6.  See you then, and I hope you have a restful and relaxing break as well.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Resources for Close Reading for the Common Core

Although almost any text can be used for close reading, there are some sample sources that can be particularly helpful.  For example, the New York Times publishes Room for Debate, in which guest columnists present views on key issues.  Achieve the Core (provides sample lessons with close reading exemplars.  And Kelly Gallagher gives texts he uses in his classroom in his articles of the week.  You may also want to refer to the list of exemplars provided in the Common Core State Standards.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pre-Reading, Close Reading, and the Common Core

When discussing close reading for the Common Core, I’m often asked by teachers, “What am I supposed to do for pre-reading?  Don’t the standards say just throw students into the text?”  There is a difference between explaining everything students will be reading beforehand, and just supporting students by providing critical information and prior knowledge for those who need it. 
For example, if we want students to discover information in the text, telling them everything about the plot in advance spoils the reading experience for them.  So what does this mean?    We need to be strategic in our choices as to what we do with students prior to the text.  Timothy Shanahan (http://www.shanahanonliteracy.com) recommends that pre-reading should be brief compared to the length of time of the reading itself.  He also suggests that teachers not reveal info students can gain by themselves; rather, they should give students a reason to read and/or arouse curiosity.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Great Children's Book About the University of Virginia

Here's a wonderful new book by a good friend of mine.  A Tour of Mr. Jefferson's University with Edgar the Squirrel is an engaging tour of the University of Virginia, filled with historical references.  
Take a look!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Close Reading in the Common Core

When I was teaching, my students and I had two different versions of closely reading a text.  Mine involved analysis and thought; theirs focused on finishing as quickly as possible.  The goal of close reading is a deeper understanding of the text.  It involves making observations and interpreting your observations.  Patricia Kain at Harvard University provides a description of the process of making observations for close reading.  

Making Observations for Close Reading
1. Read with a pencil in hand, and annotate the text.
"Annotating" means underlining or highlighting key words and phrases—anything that strikes you as surprising or significant, or that raises questions—as well as making notes in the margins. When we respond to a text in this way, we not only force ourselves to pay close attention, but we also begin to think with the author about the evidence—the first step in moving from reader to writer.
2. Look for patterns in the things you've noticed about the text—repetitions, contradictions, similarities.
3. Ask questions about the patterns you've noticed—especially how and why.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Rigor vs. Vigor

I've typically stayed out of the argument about the word rigor, mainly because it is a word that is commonly used in school reform.  I'm a pragmatist, and rather than argue to change the word (which is an uphill battle to say the least), I prefer to reclaim the word rigor for classroom teachers.  This is particularly helpful as many policymakers and educators say they want increased rigor, without being able to explain what it looks like in the classroom.  Rigor isn't harder, or more homework, or something negative.  Rigor is:

creating an environment in which expecting each student to learn at high levels, supporting each student so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrating learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Notice that rigor is really about students learning at higher levels.  In order to do so, we must hold students to high expectations, help them get there, and provide opportunities to show us what they know. Student motivation and engagement are essential for those to happen.  That's a far cry from the negative dictionary definition of rigor.  No matter how you feel about the word, hopefully we can agree that students should learn at higher levels.  And let's work together to make that happen.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Leading by Example

 "We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction." -- Malcom Gladwell

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Lexile Framework (linked to the Common Core)

The Lexile Framework is one tool for looking at a reader’s ability in relation to the difficulty of text. It is a tool, one that is recommended in the Common Core.  Think of it as a knowledge base that can enhance reading methods and sharpen the focus of instructional programs currently in use in a school or district. Used in conjunction with an educator’s professional judgment, the Lexile Framework provides:
·   A way to define (with books and other text materials) what is above grade level, on grade level, and below grade level, according to the standardized test used.
·   A way to understand a student’s location on the reading spectrum, based on their performance on a standardized test or informal assessment.
·   A way to align classroom libraries, resource materials, textbooks, and library materials to standardized tests such as MAPS.

The Lexile level is based on two factors: sentence length and word frequency. Generally easier text has shorter sentences and words that are used frequently in our language; harder text has longer, more complicated sentences and words that are less frequently used.  By searching for titles, authors, topics, or by numerical range on www.lexile.com, you can create book lists for students based on their current reading levels or to match the recommended range for your grade level.  Searching for books is free; other testing and support materials from publishers are available for purchase.