Saturday, July 14, 2018

Transformational Literacy: Part 1

Transformational Literacy: Making the Common Core Shift with Work that Matters

Transformational Literacy: Making the Common Core Shift with Work that Matters

Part 1: Unlocking the Power of Informational and Literary Texts

The Centrality of Informational Text

The Common Core literacy instructional shift requires students to build content knowledge through a balance of rich informational and literacy text. Elementary teachers need to incorporate more informational texts into instruction to build a knowledge base. Middle and High school teachers need to find ways to integrate informational text with literary text.

Why This Practice Matters

  • It fosters students' natural curiosity and motivation to learn about the World.

  • It builds knowledge and tools for lifelong learning. To better prepare students for college and career reading, the ratio of informational text to literary text should be 50:50 by 4th grade and 70:30 by 12th grade.

  • It connects reading with learning. Students begin seek out text to "read to learn".

  • It provides an avenue for students who are not interested in narrative text. Lots of times, boys and young men are more motivated to read when that reading addresses relevant topics or has direct application to their own lives.

Creating Text-Rich Classrooms

Strike the Right Balance

  • Elementary's challenge is to have a ratio of 50% informational text.

  • Secondary's challenge is to vary the types of informational texts and teaching students the literary skills to read them.

Build Rich Sets of Informational and Literary Texts

  • Engaging students in the study of sets of texts, including informational and literary, about a topic builds background knowledge, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.

Strategically Organize Text Sets

  • Start with a hard/mysterious book that will be the "goal". Then read more accessible text until background knowledge is firmer and then return to the beginning book.

  • Sprinkle and toggle between informational texts with literary texts

  • Start with personal and move towards universal

  • Start with universal and move towards personal

What is Text Anyway?

The Common Core insists on using rich text to gather and analyze daily. Students need to learn deep analytic skills in order to know how to process information from written text.

Make "Outside the Box" Text Choices





Textbooks (science)

Opinion and editorial pieces

Training manuals


Textbooks (humanities)






User guides and manuals


Tourism Guides

Political Propaganda

Legal documents

Curriculum vitae

Product Specifications

Journal Articles



Product and service descriptions

Government documents

Product and Service descriptions

News Articles

Magazine articles

Legal documents


Company profiles

Tourism guides


Legal documents










Government documents

News articles

Seek out Great Informational Texts

  • Museums

  • Government Organizations

  • Nonprofit academic, arts, or professional organizations

  • Photographs and art

  • Seek out librarians as key allies.

  • Be wary of open web searches

  • Join e-mail or networks of teachers who teach the same content or grade level to learn what they've found to share.

  • Be savvy regarding copyright laws

Finding Texts That Meet the Standards

Teachers need to take a close look at grade-level Common Core standards, the topic or theme the text represents, and the quality of the text.

Analyze Anchor Texts

  • Content: Is the text aligned to the grade-level content standards?

  • Interest: Is the text compelling for students?

  • Complexity: Is the text appropriate in terms of qualitative and quantitative measures of complexity?

  • Reading Standards: Does the text offer opportunities to teach the grade-level Common Core literacy standards?

  • Writing Standards: Can this text serve as a mentor text and model of author's craft?

A Volume of Reading

Build in Plenty of Time to Read for Research

The authors of the Common core state that "to be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society, students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas, to conduct original research in order to answer questions or solve problems, and to analyze and create a high volume and extensive range of print and non-print texts in media forms old and new".

Build in Plenty of Time to Read for Pleasure

Reading for pleasure complements reading complex text that is required reading. It is key to building lifelong readers and enables developing readers to make choices about their own reading likes and dislikes as they construct their own reading identities.

Reasons to Read

Choose the right texts for students to read in service of building their knowledge of the world is key to this Common Core instructional shift. Also important is providing high-quality curriculum that motivates children to read and instructional strategies that make good use of the text.

Strategies to hook students into compelling content
  • Readers' theater presentations

  • Formal or informal debates

  • Socratic seminars - student-led discussions that are text and evidence based and that address important questions

  • Poetry slams, reading slams, and choral readings based on texts

  • Sets of texts with range of perspectives on an issue, including some that are oppositional

  • Sets of texts on issues of justice and fairness

  • Opportunities for students to teach a text to their peers

Teach Content through Case Studies

  • Typically take 2-6 weeks

  • Involve an authentic audience of community members

  • Often office opportunities for service learning

Introduce New Topics with the Building Background Knowledge Workshop (BBK)

This workshop is a protocol that generates enthusiasm for learning new content and motivates students to persevere through challenging work. It is a short, 2-3 class periods, hook into a longer unit of study.

Overview of Steps in the BBK

  1. The "mystery" piece - Can be an image, chart, graph, poem, special guest, or trip - During this stage, students do not know what they are going to study. The mystery pieces just gives a clue. - At the end of this stage the topic of study is revealed and learning targets are introduced.

  2. Activating Schema - Teacher conducts informal assessments about prior knowledge

  3. Reading a common text - Students read foundational text that anchors learning in common content and vocabulary. - Move slowly, and come back to it often. - During this stage, children will generate questions that need to be recorded.

  4. Expert and jigsaw groups - In "expert" groups, all students will read the same expert text and gain expertise on that topic. - Then one person from each "expert" group forms a "jigsaw" group to speak about their topic.

  5. Revisiting the original hook or mystery - Reflect on their new knowledge and understandings - Return to texts to cite specific evident for assertions

Text as Teacher: Using Text to Teach Content and Literacy in Your Discipline

The Common Core instructional shifts challenge us to think more carefully about the what of teaching and learning: the actual texts we will put in front of students. It is no simple matter to address content standards and literacy skills through a complex text or set of texts, but it is rich and rewarding. Giving students ownership of a challenging, purposeful process through strategies such as case studies and the BBk workshop and giving them access to compelling, quality texts in every content area will provide a terrific boost to their readiness for higher-level work and learning.

Transformational Literacy: Part 2

Transformational Literacy: Making the Common Core Shift with Work that Matters

Transformational Literacy: Making the Common Core Shift with Work that Matters

Part 2: Reading for and Writing with Evidence

Learning expeditions

The signature curricular structure in Expeditionary Learning schools that make content standards come alive for students. They are interdisciplinary studies, usually lasting 6-12 weeks, led by teacher or teaching team. They are based on state and Common core standards, aligned with local curriculum maps, an focused on essential content and skills. Each learning expedition includes guiding questions, kickoff experiences, case studies, projects, lessons, fieldwork, experts, service learning, and a culminating event that features high-quality student work.

Why This Practice Matters

  • Using evidence from text rather than relying on prior knowledge or personal experience will help level the playing field for students without strong backgrounds.

  • Reading and writing grounded in evidence is key to making good decisions as citizens and leaders in democratic society.

The Evidence-Based Classroom

Learning Targets

Goals for lessons, projects, units, and courses. They are derived from standards and used to assess growth and achievement. They are written in concrete, student friendly language, beginning with the stem, "I can".

Become a Student of the Standards

  • Teachers have to "read for evidence" in the standards in order to note skills and key words.

  • Look at the standards in grade levels above and below to see how the rigor increases.

Establish a Classroom Culture that Values Evidence

Classroom Norms that Strengthen the Connection between Text and Thinking about Text
  • Reference specific page numbers, paragraphs, and exact phrases in text

  • Use accountable talk sentence frames, such as "I hear you saying"

  • Seek, Consider, and present multiple sides of an issue

  • Come to discussions prepared with notes, annotated text, or sticky notes

  • Weigh evidence before making a decision

  • Evaluate the bias and credibility of sources

  • Cite sources with integrity and accuracy

  • Justify the validity and significance of data and claims

Planning with the Four Ts: Topic, Task, Targets, Text

  • Topic = The compelling topic that brings the content to life

  • Task = The culminating assignment- a product or performance task

  • Targets = The learning targets derived from the literacy and content standards that students are expected to meet

  • Text = The complex texts (books and articles) that students will read closely, and additional texts that ensure students experience a volume of reading at their independent level

Curricular Structures that Motivate Students to Read and Write with Evidence
  • Topics that address content standards and rely on real-world informational texts that are relevant to students

  • Original research with primary source documents and data

  • Problem- or project-based units that incorporate fieldwork, gathering evidence or analyzing evidence, and a written or oral presentation of solutions

  • Curriculum that builds background knowledge through whole-group close reading of shared texts or independent reading of additional texts that represent diverse perspectives

  • Assignments and assessments that require students to support their thinking with evidence

Lessons Based on Read-Think-Talk-Write

  • Read about it: Let the Text do the Talking

    • SNAP concept chart: S: Summary, N: New learning, A: Information the readers Already know, P: Picture that represents an important aspect

    • Anchor charts

    • Pick worthy texts so children can learn to be active readers

  • Think about it: Ask Questions that Set a Purpose for Thinking about Text

    • Use text depended questions

    • Use questions that build knowledge of vocabulary

    • Use questions that build knowledge of syntax and structure

    • Use questions that help students grapple with themes and central ideas

    • Sequence questions from literal to inferential

  • Talk about it: Help Students Deepen Their Understanding of Text through Discussion and Debate

    • Teach students protocols for group discussions

    • Use "I" statements instead of "You"

    • Teach students how to argue

  • Write about it: Give Frequent Short Writing Opportunities

    • Entrance/Exit tickets

    • Graphic Organizers

    • Quick writes

Deliver the Whole Package: Connect The Four Ts to Read-Think-Talk-Write

Use the Four Ts as the skeleton for a backward-designed sequence of lessons that leads through text and content standards centered on a compelling topic to formative writing tasks and a summative student product that assesses standards-based learning targets. Then on a daily level, the journey through text is one that gives students daily practice in reading, thinking, talking, and writing grounded in evidence.

From Deep Understanding to High-Quality Written Work

Skill Building in the Common Core Standards: The Bond between Reading and Writing

The alignment between the reading and writing standards presents 2 challenges that raise the bar for teachers and students.

  1. The standards emphasize the importance of researching as both reading and writing skills. Students are required to ask questions, seek answers in texts, and then synthesize their findings into their own thinking.

  2. The standards require students to read critically and construct their own arguments, rather than just restating the opinion of others.

High-Quality Work Demands a Worthy Task

Well Framed

  • Plan Focusing Questions - Clear learning targets - The writing prompt or focusing question - Models of quality writing in that format - A rubric or criteria list

  • Test-Drive the Writing Task - To what extent is the task clear, doable, and worthwhile? - Does this specific focus question require students to revisit, analyze, cite, and explain the evidence? - What kinds of information do I still need?

  • Give Students Opportunities for Shorter Practice Sessions with Research and Writing Skills

Defining High-Quality Work


  • Rigorous: aligns with or exceeds the expectations

  • Connects to the big concepts that unite disciplines

  • Prioritizes transfer of understanding to new contexts

  • Prioritizes consideration of multiple perspectives

  • Incorporates students' application of higher-order literacy skills through the use of complex text


  • Original thinking of students

  • Real work formats and standards from the professional world

  • Connects academics with real world issues

  • Gives purpose to work


  • Attention to accuracy, detail, and beauty

  • Beautiful work in conception and execution

A Worthy Task is Complex

Ways to Make a task Complex:

  1. Students must rely on evidence from informational and literary texts

  2. Students must write for multiple purposes

  3. Use of higher-order literary skills

A Worthy Task is Authentic

When the task is related to someone that isn't the child's teacher or parent, they will be more motivated to produce high-quality writing.

  • Create a Classroom Culture that Values Well-Reasoned Arguments for an Authentic Purpose

  • Teach the Mechanics of Argument: Staking a Logical Claim for an Authentic Purpose

  • Teach Argumentative Style for the Authentic Task

Forming an Evidence-Based Claim

Step 1: Find Important Details
  1. Students read a text and look for details that are important. They take notes, annotate the text, or record the details on a graphic organizer.

  2. Form these details, students begin to develop questions (or the teacher may provide the questions) that inquire into the gaps or relation sip between the details.

Step 2: Connect the details (Trace the Argument)
  1. Students think, talk, and write about how the details connect to one another. - Do all the details point to the same main idea? - What answers to the questions bubble up from the details? - What answers are missing from the details? - What new questions arise from the gaps or disconnects?

Step 3: Evaluate the Details
  1. Students think, talk, and write about whether the details are valid, relevant, and sufficient. - Is the source reliable and credible? Is the source biased? - Are the details accurate? - Do all of the details clearly support the specific claim? - Is there enough data to hold up the claim consistently and convincingly?

Step 4: Make a Claim (Induction from the Evidence)
  1. Students draw inferences from the text based on the details.

  2. Students formulate a new claim (1st orally, then in writing) that answers a focusing question.

Step 5: Build an Argument
  1. Students identify which textual details provide good evidence for their claim.

  2. Students determine how to organize the evidence to support an original argument.

  3. Students invite critique of or dialogue about their argument. This conversation mirrors steps 2 and 3 and is essentially a collaborative evaluation of their own argument.

  4. Students reread, reevaluate, and revise their case based on critique and new evidence or new interpretations.

Worthy Tasks are Scaffolded with Lessons in Craftsmanship

  • Plan Strategic Lessons to Scaffold for Purpose, Audience, and Process

  • Structure Writing Lessons to Provide Sufficient Support: Choose between Workshop 1.0 and 2.0

    • Workshop 1.0: Gradual release of responsibility, direct instruction up front and guided practice. Good for writing lessons for very young learners or older students encountering a new and very discrete skill.

    • Workshop 2.0: Students grapple with complex texts or tasks, individually and then collaboratively, before getting explicit instruction from the teacher.

  • Teach Summarizing as a Key Skill for Researching and Writing Well with Evidence

  • Build in Time for Planning, Drafting, Conferring, and Revising

High Quality Work Makes School and Life Meaningful

Building Strong Writers with Models, Critique, and Descriptive Feedback

Setting Students Up For Success

Provide exemplars, models, and critique lessons to show students what their writing should look like. These examples will provide the starting point for guided conversations about the qualities of strong writing.


Exemplars of work used to build a vision of quality within a genre

Critique lessons

Whole-class or small-group lessons in which teachers use models to generate criteria for quality work

Descriptive feedback

Comments provided to an individual student to improve his or her work

Establish a Culture of Continuous Improvement and Kindness

Using feedback and critiques can show students that all work, learning, and performance can be improved.

Critique Lesson

  • Choose the Right Work Models

    • They don't have to be perfect, but the qualities you are trying to feature need to be high.

    • You can use weak models, but be respectful of the work and make sure it's anonymous.

  • Define the Purpose and Protocol for Each Critique Lesson

  • Facilitate the Critique Lesson with Intention and Skill

Guidelines that Help to Build a Constructive Climate for Critique
  • It should always be clear that it is the work itself, not the author of the work, that is the subject of the critique.

  • Use "I" statements (I don't understand you first sentence.)

  • Begin comments, if possible, with a positive feature in teh work before moving on to perceived weaknesses.

  • Frame ideas, when possible, as questions rather than as statements

Descriptive Feedback

Descriptive Feedback has these features:
  • Supports the growth of individual student or small group, improving a particular piece of work, performance, skill, or disposition.

  • Typically an exchange between teacher adn student, or student and student.

  • Nested in a long-term relationship.

  • Uses strategic, positive comments to insight improvements.

  • Flows from strong knowledge of the students strengths and weaknesses.

Consider the "How"

  • Timing: How often and when should feedback be given?

  • Quantity: How much feedback should be given?

  • Written versus Oral: What's the right balance between these modes?

  • Audience: What is the right balance between group and individual feedback?

  • Tone: How words are used matters a great deal in giving effective feedback.

Consider the "What" - The Content of Feedback

  • Focus: Focused on the work or task, process of learning, or way a student self-regulates. Not on the student personally.

  • Comparison: Compare student work or performance with criteria, past performance, benchmarks, and personal goals, NOT other students.

  • Function: Describe how teh student has done in order to identify ways and provide information about how to improve.

Develop Structures to Make High-Quality Work a Goal for Every Student

  • Small-group mini-lessons address common areas of weakness

  • Target one skill at a time, connect feedback to learning targets, use rubrics to highligh areas of improvement

  • Teach students the purpose and language of feedback

  • Return frequently to learning targets and ensure that students understand them.

  • Model giving effective feedback for students

  • Emphasize self-assessment over peer assessment

  • Assess effectiveness of feedback

Make the Most of Peer-To-Peer Feedback

Students need modeling and practice in order to provide effective feedback to their peers. Teachers should make sure students understand teh learning targets, appropriate ways to communicate about work, and critique proceedures before allowing peer feedback. Teachers should also provide a protocol and some guiding questions for the students to use.

Transformational Literacy: Part 3


Transformational Literacy: Making the Common Core Shift with Work that Matters

Part 3: Supporting All Students to Succeed with Complex Texts

What's in and What's Out for English Language Arts and Literacy



Regular encounters with complex texts

Leveled texts (only)

Texts worthy of close attention

Reading any old text

Balance of literary and informational texts

Solely literature

Coherent sequences of texts

Collection of unrelated texts

Mostly text-dependent questions

Mostly text-to-self questions

Accent on academic vocabulary

Accent on literary terminolog

Emphasis on reading and rereading

Emphasis on rereading

Reading strategies (as means)

Reading strategies (as end goal)

Reading foundations (central, coherent, and systematic)

Reading foundations (peripheral and detached)

Why This Practice Matters

  • Learning strategies to read complex texts develops students' growth mindset

  • The ability to read complex text is a gateway to college and careers

  • Reading complex texts gives all students the ability to access the curriculum

  • Reading complex text builds academic vocabulary, which is key to leveling the playing field for all students

  • Overcoming challenges leads to joy in learning

Creating the Conditions for Success with Complex Text

Build a Culture of Achievement

A culture of quality

  • Through regular opportunities for rereading, students embrace the notion that working hard and making mistakes is part of the learning process.

  • Students "own" their achievement, reflect on their progress, and discuss their growth honestly by referencing assessment data, standards, learning targets, and examples of their work. Students believe that their effort will lead to achievement.

A culture of Character

  • Students embrace a consistent set of values that express high expectations fro achievement, character, and behavior

  • Students offer and seek out help in order to overcome academic or social obstacles.

A culture of Connection

  • Students build strong relationships with other students, their teachers, and school leaders.

  • Students collaborate with their peers and understand that they ware part of a group with the collective capacity to accomplish challenging tasks.

Complex Texts within a Compelling Curriculum


Impact on Motivation and Engagement

Case Studies

Used frequently to teach science and social studies, case studies provide students with a narrow window into larger topics and are often locally relevant (e.g., studying a local civil rights hero as part of a larger civil rights unit).

Well-chosen case studies always include a variety of rich reading materials, including complex texts. Connections to local people, places, and events increase students' need to know and their willingness to read challenging texts in order to access the content. Case students are a great opportunity for students to read and make connections across multiple genres, including informational and literary texts. Students must use higher-order thinking skills to generalize their learning from a specific case study to other contexts.

Real-World Formats

Final products or performance tasks can be modeled after real-world formats (e.g., scientific reports based on original fieldwork).

Models of quality work found in the professional world motivate students to persevere with challenging material in order to produce high-quality work with a real-world application. If students know that they must produce a scientific research report, they are more motivated to read research reports from the professional literature to use as models for their own work.

Authentic Audience

Especially when combined with real-world formats, student work can be produced for an authentic audience in the community (e.g., the mayor, the local library).

The service-oriented purpose of creating work for an authentic audience motivates students to read and understand challenging texts that will help them do their best work. Absent an authentic audience and clear purpose, they may not see the need to read and access the content from challenging texts.

Working with Experts

Teachers can bring experts from the community into the classroom to collaborate with students on projects, teach them skills from their field, and critique their work using professional standards.

Working with experts motivates students to prepare themselves to ask good questions, do high-quality work, and make the most of the opportunity.

Determining the Right Level of Text Complexity for Your Students

The Common Core Model for Text Complexity

  • (Cautiously) Employ Quantitative Measures to Text Complexity

  • Layer on Qualitative Measures of Text Complexity

    • Levels of meaning or purpose

    • Structure

    • Language conventionality and clarity

    • Knowledge demands

  • Judiciously Consider the Reader and the Task

    • Cognitive capabilities - attention, memory, critical analytic ability

    • Motivation

    • Knowledge - vocabulary and topic knowledge, comprehension strategies

    • Experience

Helping Students Read Closely

Planning for Close Reading Lessons

Summary of Differentiation Strategies Used in teh Close Reading Lesson
  • Seat sacks: a discrete way to distribute different materials to different students

  • Chunks of text: strategically selected portions of text that enable students to read from the same text and complete a close reading activity without getting frustrated.

  • Sentence starters: prompts to jump-start students' thinking and writing

  • Pair-shares with partners of similar skill levels: strategic pairings or groupings that give students a chance to check each others work and thinking

  • Targeted feedback: support to individuals or groups who need it the most

  • Exit tickets: quick assessments at the end of the lesson that provide information on each student's level of understanding

Determining the instructional sequence for close reading lessons is based on 3 factors:

  1. The complexity and richness of the text to be read

  2. The relative skill of the readers

  3. The tasks to be completed or understandings to be gained

Before the Close Reading Lesson

Evaluate the Content

  • Purpose of reading, what understandings or information acquired

  • Look ahead to assessments, writings, performance tasks

  • What makes it worth reading?

Analyze the Text

  • How complex is text?

  • What excerpts will be more difficult and require slower pacing?

  • What challenges will be faced in terms of text's meaning, requisite background knowledge, structure, and language?

  • Attend to syntax and vocabulary

  • What needs to be understood at the beginning?

  • Should it be read aloud 1st? Or can students read themselves and then listen to read aloud?

  • Generate text-dependent questions in advance.

Develop Text-Dependent Questions

Plan backward from the core skills and understandings. Text-Dependent questions ask students to perform one or more of the following tasks:

  • Analyze paragraphs on a sentence-by-sentence basis and sentences on a word-by-word basis to determine the role played by individual paragraphs, sentences, phrases, or words.

  • Investigate how meaning can be altered by changing key words and why an author may have chosen one word over another.

  • Probe each argument in persuasive text, each idea in informational text, each key detail in literary text, and observe how these build to a whole.

  • Examine how shifts in the direction of an argument or explanation are achieved and the impact of those shifts.

  • Question why authors choose to begin and end when they do.

  • Note and assess patterns of writing and what they achieve.

  • Consider what the the leaves uncertain or unstated.

Create Strong Text-Dependent Questions
  • Step 1: Identify the core understandings and key ideas of the text.

  • Step 2: Start small to build confidence.

  • Step 3: Target vocabulary and text structure.

  • Step 4: Tackle tough sections head on.

  • Step 5: Create coherent sequences of text-dependent questions.

  • Step 6: Identify the standards that are being addressed.

  • Step 7: Create the culminating assessment.

During the Lesson

Launch the Text

  • Students read chunks or teacher reads aloud

  • Provide some word meanings

Ask Students to Make Meaning Independently

  • Students reread and make notes, get gists

  • Support individuals as needed

Clear Up Misconceptions and Model

  • Students discuss understandings

  • Focus on key vocabulary

  • Focus on syntax

  • Prompt for evidence

  • Model only when needed and after students have had a chance 1st

Ask Students to Gather Evidence from the Text

  • Introduce/reintroduce purpose and text-dependent questions

  • Reread questions

  • Students think and discuss answers

  • Students write answers

  • Ultimately students apply learning from text


  • Connect work to purpose

  • Reflect

Meet the Needs of Diverse Learners with Engagement Strategies

  • Carousel brainstorm

  • Interactive Word Wall

  • Science talk

  • Quiz quiz trade

  • Exit Tickets

Digging Deeper on Differentiation Strategies

Common Strategies

  • Unpacking the learning targets

  • Doing more with less

  • Slowing it down

  • Making it predictable

  • Giving students a turn first

  • Using expert read-alouds

Front-End Scaffolding (of Close reading)

  • Visual cue to understand learning targets

  • Define words that cannot be understood through context

  • Read aloud before students read

  • Provide audio recording of text

  • Reading calendar for reading assignments

  • Pre-highlighting text

  • Eliminating the need for students to copy information

Back-end scaffolding

  • Hint cards to help students get unstuck

  • Students annotate text (sticky notes)

  • Supply sentence starters for discussion

  • Use heterogeneous groups

  • Provide task cards and anchor charts for expectations

  • Highlight key words in task

  • Simplifying task directions

  • Use homogeneous groups and provide more direct support

  • Use station teaching

  • Questions build in complexity

Teaching Academic and Discipline-Specific Vocabulary

Three Tiers of Vocabulary

Tier One: Basic Vocabulary
  • Words found in everyday speech that rarely need teaching

Tier Two: Academic Vocabulary
  • High-frequency words that are found in academic texts across a variety of domains but that are unlikely to occur in everyday speech.

Tier Three: Discipline-Specific Vocabulary
  • Low-frequency words specific to a particular field of study and often found in informational texts about that subject.

  • Support Incidental Vocabulary Learning

  • Teach Some Vocabulary with Direct Instruction

The Place of Thinking Strategies (or Reading Comprehension Strategies)



The teacher reads aloud. As he's reading, he pauses occasionally to think aloud about the important details in the text. He may highlight or write down key details.

The teacher names his thinking strategy: "Determining Importance."

Students then work with the text to find more key details.

Students have a first go at reading the text to identify the gist. If the text is particularly challenging, the teacher may read it aloud but does not stop to model thinking strategies, summarize, or paraphrase.

The teacher asks students to reread looking for important details and evidence in the text to support their thinking.

Students consider how these details may change their initial thinking about the gist.

At the close of the lesson the teacher adds to an anchor chart that describes "things close readers do" (e.g., rereading for key details to support the main idea).

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Chapter 8: Standards-Based Grading

Leaders of Their Own Learning

Leaders of Their Own Learning

chart image

Chapter 8: Standards Based Grading

Standards-Based Grading

Purpose is to communicate about student achievement toward well-defined learning targets. Grades are not for motivation or punishment, they must accurately describe student's progress and current level of achievement. Habits of scholarship are graded separately from academic content, and student engagement is key to the grading process.

Why this Practice Matters

  • Communicating Clearly about Achievement

  • Engaging Students

  • Holding Students Accountable

Getting Started

Building on a Foundation of Student-Engaged Assessment Practices

  • Using Learning Targets to guide curriculum, instruction, and assessment

  • Using clearly defined habits of scholarship which reflect the school's code of character with specific, evidence-based skills and actions

Laying the Groundwork with a Faculty Grading Guide

  • Ensuring that all grades and subjects have prioritized standards and powerful learning targets

  • Developing a common language and definitions for proficiency on learning targets

  • Determining progress toward long-term learning targets

  • Calculating grades at the end of the term

  • Reporting on habits of scholarship

  • Identifying the support structures or processes for students who do not meet or exceed their learning targets

Prepare and Support Teachers

  • Dedicate significant professional development resources and ample time to take in the principles and practices of their new grading paradigm

  • Develop school-wide habits of scholarship and structures to track student progress toward meeting them

  • Support teachers in setting up grade books by long-term learning targets rather than by assignment or assessment

  • Develop a report card that is standards based and includes character learning targets

Prepare and Engage Students

  • In order to engage students in the grading process, teachers need to teach them how to understand learning targets, how to be good trackers of their own progress based on assessment information, and how to identify next steps and goals to help them reach the targets.

Communicate with Families and College Admissions Offices

In Practice

Ensuring a Comprehensive Approach to Standards Based Grading

Reviewing and Refining Standard-Target-Assessment Plans to Ensure Quality

Revision Checklist for Quality Assessment Plans

Standards and Learning Targets
  • Do the standards and learning targets align with each other?

  • Do the learning targets meet the criteria for quality?

    • Standards-based, one clear verb, identify the intended learning, divided into long-term and supporting targets appropriately

  • Are targets written in student friendly language with an "I can" stem?

  • Are there a variety of kinds of learning targets?

    • Reasoning, Knowledge, and Skill

  • Do knowledge and skill learning targets prepare students for reasoning targets?

  • Are content, literacy, numeracy, and character all accounted for?

Summative Assessments and Assessments of Learning
  • Are there multiple opportunities for students to do on-demand assessments and demonstrate mastery of each long-term learning target?

  • Is there clarity around the assessment tool to be used for assessments of learning? - Rubrics, Criteria, Checklists, Tests

  • Do the learning targets and assessment methods align with one another?

  • Are assessments varied in format and type?

  • Are the assessment experiences designed to motivate and engage students?

  • Have you included smaller assessments that can be used with students in formative ways?

  • Are assessments designed to support student success on state assessments aligned to the Common Core?

Formative Assessments
  • Do assessments for learning dominate the assessment plan with assessments for learning opportunities for each supporting learning target?

  • Do your assessments for learning practices prepare students in form and content for culminating assessments of learning?

  • Have you attended to a variety of learning styles in the range of assessments for learning opportunities you have provided students?

  • Are assessments for learning experiences crafted to maximize student motivation?

  • Do assessments for learning provide students with a clear vision of the learning targets and ensure regular opportunities for descriptive feedback?

  • Do assessments for learning strategies involve students through self-assessment, peer revision, and reflection at regular intervals?

Refining School-Wide Structures and Staffing Roles to Help Students Who Need Additional Support

  • Intensives in Secondary Schools

    • Courses lasting 4 to 8 full school days during which students are engaged in either an in-depth study of a topic or intense, targeted academic support in areas where learning targets have not been met.

  • Other Support Structures

    • "Block 7" extended day

    • Saturday Classes and tutorials

    • Acceleration Programs

  • Defining Roles of Learning Specialists


Standards-Based Grading is the culmination of all the steps in the student-engaged assessment progress. If we develop quality learning targets and use those to guide our teaching, then we can check for understanding daily by having the children self reflect and process their learning. Then we can use those formative checks to collect data to share with students to help them make goals about their learning targets. We can then use models and feedback to give them a sample to reach towards and exceed. When students do these things, they will be able to share their learning through student-led conferences as well as celebrations of their learning and passage presentations with portfolios. When all these pieces are in place, you and the student can show evidence for each standard/learning target to show their mastery.

This is something that would have to be implemented school-wide. I can see it being used to grade some of the work within the classroom, however if your school has a report card that just shows grades, then it would be hard to transfer that information. I can see implementing the "ideals" of standards-based grading when using portfolios and I think that is where I will start.

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Chapter 7: Passage Presentations with Portfolios

Leaders of Their Own Learning

Leaders of Their Own Learning

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Chapter 7: Passage Presentations with Portfolios


A selected body of student work, with reflections, that provides evidence of a student's progress towards standards, learning targets, and character growth.

Passage Presentations

Benchmark presentations at the end of pivotal transition years (5th, 8th, 12th grade) where students use their portfolios as evidence to demonstrate their readiness to move on to the next level of their education.

Why this Practice Matters

  • Student Engagement

  • Responsibility, Organization, and Decision Making

  • A Culture of Evidence

  • A Growth Mindset

  • Community Pride and Commitment

  • Meaningful Rites of Passage that Celebrate Learning

Getting Started

Developing Robust and Dynamic Portfolios

Key Decisions for Portfolios
  • What is the purpose of keeping portfolios?

  • What is the organizing principle?

    • Subject, Roles, habits of scholarship

  • What will be included?

  • What is the school-wide portfolio system?

  • How will portfolios be used to teach reflection?

  • How will student work be stored in the classroom or school?

Developing Meaningful Rites of Passage

Key Decisions for Passage Presentations
  • What is the purpose of the presentation?

  • What is the overall vision of student success?

  • What are the best points in time for passage presentations?

  • Who will be part of the passage panel?

  • How will we prepare students for passage presentations?

  • How will presentations be structured?

  • What will be assessed in the presentation?

  • What happens if a student doesn't pass?

Setting Up Structures

  • Communicate with Families

  • Preparing Students to Develop Strong Portfolios

  • Preparing Students for Passage Presentations

In Practice

Deepening Student Reflection and Learning

  • Creating a Developmental Progression of Portfolio and Passage Presentation Requirements

  • Using Portfolios as a Tool for College Admissions

  • Using Technology Strategically

Linking Portfolios and Passage Presentations to Standards

  • Organize Portfolios by Grade-Level Standards

  • Ensure you have Benchmark Exemplars

  • Use Learning Target Trackers and Rubrics to Guide Students' Creation of Portfolios


Creating a portfolio is a task I would like to take on this school year, but it is difficult to know where to start. I feel like I would need to focus on 1 subject area (maybe 2) and determine 2 or 3 long term learning targets to focus on. That way, students could see what they are working towards for the end of the year and have evidence to prove that they have mastered those objectives. Doing passage presentations in 3rd grade might be too much to take on this year (especially since it is my 1st year teaching 3rd). However, if I was to do it, I would set the panel of reviewers to be next year 4th grade teachers along with administration, support staff, and the child's parent. That will be a goal of mine for the future!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Chapter 6: Celebration of Learning

Leaders of Their Own Learning

Leaders of Their Own Learning

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Chapter 6: Celebrations of Learning

Celebration of Learning

a Culminating grade-level or school-wide event in which students present high-quality work to the school community, families, and members of the greater community. It is a public exhibition of student learning in academics and the arts that features student work and student reflection on learning. Examples are Expedition nights, Culminating Events, and Authors' Nights.

Why this Practice Matters

  • High Quality Work

    • Knowing your work will be displayed at a celebration of learning will provide more motivation to do better work.

  • Authentic Audience

    • Having people outside of the classroom/school makes the work real and more important

  • Communicating Learning

    • In a celebration of learning, the students are the ones presenting their learning success.

  • Reflection

    • It is essential for students to have many opportunities to reflect on their work. They must be able to explain how they got to their final product and why they made their revisions.

Getting Started

Key Decisions to Make
  • When will it occur during the year?

  • What space will be used?

  • How will you ensure high levels of attendance?

  • How will teachers ensure students demonstrate mastery of standards?

  • What will be shared?

  • What steps need to be taken to prepare students?

  • How will students discuss habits of scholarship?

  • How will teachers be supported?

Develop Structures

  • Determining the Focus of the Celebration

    • Classroom or Grade Level Based Celebration at the Conclusion of a Unit/Project

    • School-wide Celebration of Learning

  • Communicating with Families and Community Members

Defining Roles of Participants

  • Student Role

    • Involved in the entire process of preparing.

    • Responsible for presenting their work and reflecting on their progress.

  • Teacher Role

    • Carefully plans the Celebration (logistics, responsibilities, ext.)

    • Helps students practice and prepare

    • Provides appropriate learning targets and work models to build up to the event's presentation

    • Makes reflection a part of classroom culture

  • Audience Role

    • Help make the event feel more 'serious' and important

    • Actively participate in the event

    • Ask questions about the student's work

  • School Leadership Role

    • Support teachers with logistics and planning

    • Communicate with parents and personnel about upcoming event

In Practice

Deepening Student Learning

  • Connect Student Work and Celebrations of Learning to Standards

Teach Students Oral Presentation and Communication Skills

  • Use rubrics to define expectations for presentation

  • Model characteristics of a quality presentation and a weak one

  • Allow students to critique an oral presentation done by someone else

  • Provide multiple opportunities to practice

  • Prepare students for the sequence of events at the celebration

  • Allow students to Engage in a Professional Role at the Celebration (tour guide)

Reflecting on Learning and Achievement

  • Documentation Panels: visual representations of learning journey, they help students tell the story of their learning.

  • Reflecting on the Celebration of Learning Itself

    • Allow audience members to reflect on the celebration as well as the students and teachers.


This part of the process is the biggest investment! Organizing a Celebration of Learning is a big process that must be planned well in advance. I think if you planned it based on the long-term learning targets you have been working on, then it will all flow together. However, providing enough time for students to create their work, revise, then practice for the presentation is a lot to think about. This will be something that would work well for a grade level to complete together so the responsibility could be shared with more people.

This step is also the scariest to me. Not only is it a huge project, but it puts your student's work on display. Audience members will see the quality of work and attribute it to the teacher. It puts a responsibility on the teacher to make sure students rise up to the expectations of quality work, which is very hard to do with a large classroom!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Chapter 5: Student-Led Conferences

Leaders of Their Own Learning

Leaders of Their Own Learning

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Chapter 5: Student-Led Conferences

Student-led conference

is a meeting with a student and his or her family and teachers during which the student shares his or her portfolio of work and discusses progress with family members. The student facilitates the meeting from start to finish. This can be implemented at all grade levels. It puts students in charge of sharing information about their progress.

Why this Practice Matters

  • Building Student Engagement

    • Students pick work samples and present to parents. This builds greater pride in the quality of what they do.

  • Building Responsibility, Organization, and Decision Making

  • Creating a Culture of Evidence

    • Passing classes is not about pleasing a teacher; it is about providing evidence of understanding and skill.

  • Building Strong Home-School Partnerships

    • Parents become an active participate in the conference and even contribute to academic growth of the child.

Getting Started

Developing the Structures to Get Started with Student-Led Conferences

Key Decisions

  • How many per year?

  • End of grading period or middle?

  • Time allotment? (20 minutes for younger, 45 for older)

  • What will be shared?

    • General overview of all subjects? Or specific focus?

    • What kinds of evidence needed?

    • Will character growth be addressed?

    • Which staff members attend?

  • Scheduling for 100% parent participation

  • How will you encourage parents to participate?

  • How will you discuss issues that cannot be discussed in front of students?

Communicating with Families

  • Student-led conferences are a very different structure to what parents are use to.

  • Set expectation for 100% participation

  • Schedule for parent's convenience (

  • Let them know the guidelines and procedures beforehand.

Determining the Agenda for Student-Led Conferences

Elementary Age Sample Conference Agenda

Welcome at the door , Sign in

5 minutes

Guided tour of all student work

5 minutes

Portfolio Review In-depth look at wor

10 minutes

Parental and Teacher Feedback

5 minutes

Covering the Basics

  • Schedule well in advance

  • Prepare students for the conference

Defining Roles of Student-Led Conference Participants

  • Student Role: Lead the conference following the agenda.

  • Teacher Role: Set students up for success by having student-engaged assessment practices.

  • Family Role: Attend and pay close attention, offer feedback.

  • School Leader Role: Clear communication and logistical assistance.

Preparing Students for Student-Led Conferences

  • Need ample time to practice.

  • Provide a sample conference script

In Practice

Deepening Student Reflection and Learning

  • Portfolios

  • Updated regularly.

  • Include word that shows evidence of meeting standards, self-reflections, feedback, and rubrics.

  • It should show the story of student growth.

  • Have students write reflections on work they haven't looked at in a while.

  • Decide a portfolio structure/organization

  • Goal Setting

    • Students should set goals at the student-led conference.

    • Teach students how to set effective goals.

    • Goal setting is an ongoing and daily practice.


I had never thought of having a student led the conferences during the year! This makes so much sense. When we put students in charge of their learning, they become accountable and rise to the challenge. Also parents would be more likely to participate because it's their child who will be presenting. This could be very difficult to implement however. Just the management of setting up a portfolio to maintain is a huge task. Then having to teach and practice giving a conference so the students know what to do on the conference day seems like a big time investment. But I feel this alone will make monumental improvements in student achievement!

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