Teaching Students to Read Like Specialists

by Tricia Ebner, M.Ed., NBCT

Sometimes focusing on the skills and standards of the content area can make keeping an eye on reading a balancing act. Yet all teachers can help influence and support reading development in students. It doesn’t mean we have to squeeze more into our already-tight schedules. As content area specialists, we have the skills and understandings needed to help students read as historians, scientists, computer programmers, mathematicians, art historians, musicians, and more.

Think of it this way: if we’re going to hand our students a text on a specific aspect of our content, we already know what we want them to gain from that experience. There is a reason, a purpose, behind reading that. What is it? We need to take the opportunity to share with students how we’ve read that text and gained information from it. In other words, we need to teach them how to read as a scientist, historian, mathematician, computer programmer, and more. How can we go about doing that? Consider these steps as a possible process:

  1. What is the purpose for reading this text? Write a question, a deep, powerful question that has an answer clearly connected to the text and the concepts the class is currently studying. Draft the question. It can always be revised later. For example, a social studies teacher might have students read the Gettysburg Address as part of a study on the Civil War. One question a teacher might ask students is, “How is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address an important speech in the Civil War?” For a math example, consider asking, “What is the purpose of this kind of problem? Why do students need experience with this kind of problem?”Eureka Math Example
  2. What did we notice as we read the text ourselves? Think this through. As a historian, scientist, musician, or other specialist, what stood out and why? Make note of that. This can help us guide our students to notice those things as they read. Remember that in a K-12 setting, students have been reading to learn for nine years at the most. They don’t have the years of experience and practice that we do in reading and thinking like a specialist. We need to make that process transparent for students. By asking them to focus on certain parts of the text, and asking them specific questions, we can help them begin to see what is critical in our thinking as specialists. Going back to the Civil War example, a teacher might ask, “Why does Lincoln refer to the Revolutionary War and founding of the country?” Another question might be, “What does Lincoln call on the living to do? Why do you think he would do this?” Using our math example, think through how you’ve read the problem. Try asking questions such as, “How can I represent this in a visual way? ” Or “Is there information here that isn’t important for solving the problem?”Cannon
  3. Consider sharing our own thinking and observations as a “think-aloud.” This step should follow guidance and questions, so that students can develop their own “read-like-an-expert” skills, but after doing this, sharing our own thought process models for students what a specialist is considering while reading. Referring to our math example, talking through how you thought through the problem, pulled the information you needed, and then set up the equation necessary to solve it shows learners how a mathematician thought it through.
  4. Connect the text back to the concepts and skills currently being developed. While it might be very clear to you why the text is part of this study, sometimes students don’t see those connections as clearly. A couple of carefully constructed questions for small-group and whole-class discussion can help students make those connections, which deepens their understanding. In the Civil War example, questions such as, “What was happening in the war at this point in time?” Or “How might readers have viewed this speech in light of the battles happening in November 1863, such as the Battle of Chattanooga?” Could help students consider this speech in the context of the larger war. In mathematics, comparing the problem to one the students have solved before helps them see connections.

Teaching our students the literacy skills they need to be successful in our content areas doesn’t have to be difficult. By taking a few minutes to craft questions, guide students toward seeing key parts of the text, share our own thinking as specialists, and connect the text to the larger concepts, we are helping students gain deeper understanding and increasing skills in our subject areas. Their increased understanding, skill, and confidence is well worth it.

Looking for some good resources to support content area studies and reading together? Consider looking at resources from Literacy Design Collaborative, and Achieve the Core.

The math problem used here can be found on the EngageNY.org web site: https://www.engageny.org/resource/grade-6-mathematics-module-3, lesson 4.

 

The Standards Revision Process: Lessons Learned for the Classroom

Tricia Ebner, Co-Chair of the ELA Advisory Group

Char Shryock, member of the Operational Working Group – Science Revisions

Over the past 18 months, Ohio has been involved in a cycle of standards reviews. Per state law, Ohio’s standards must undergo a revision process every five years. Teams of Ohio teachers, administrators, college professors and content experts have volunteered their time to do this work. In 2016, the math and ELA standards went through this process. During the 2016-17 school year, the science and social studies standards have experienced this same process.  This five year review and revision cycle enables educators and stakeholders to reflect and consider how well the standards are working and what improvements might be necessary.

The process is thoughtful and thorough. The review starts with a period of public comment, where teachers, parents, administrators, college and university faculty, and community members can provide comments, recommend changes, and point to research supporting those comments and changes. Then a revision advisory committee made up of teacher leaders and content experts examines each and every comment, with a goal of coming to consensus on the proposed change.  If the consensus is that the comment is relevant and will potentially clarify or strengthen the standards, it is passed along to the standards operational working group.  This second team of teachers, professors and content experts then work to make the revisions if they agree they are necessary. These revisions are then sent to the public for a second round of feedback, followed by the advisory committee reviewing those comments and sending any standards still needing work back to the working group.

As members of the advisory committee for ELA and the operational working group for science, we have been involved with standards review for the past two years. We’ve gained some insights into Ohio’s standards:

  • The vertical progression is key. As educators, it is critical that we know and understand the vertical progression within the standards. In the work with the ELA standards review, it didn’t take long to see that a change made in sixth grade, for example, would have a ripple effect running towards both kindergarten and grade 12. One important strand in the ELA progression is writing opinions/arguments. Standards help to frame the increasing sophistication of students use of evidence to support their argument. In science, this progression helps to map out how students build an understanding of a concept, like force and motion, starting with simple pushing and pulling in kindergarten and going all the way up to calculating force in physics. As a teacher, It is important to understand the foundation students have as they walk into your classroom.  It’s also important to understand that if that foundation is shaky, intervention needs to happen with an eye toward the requirements of the standard in previous grades. Additionally, knowing the vertical progression  of the knowledge and skills students will be working can help educators make decisions regarding students who have already mastered standards at a particular grade level. In this instance, a teacher can make a decision as to whether to broaden the student’s experiences with the skills in that standard, or accelerate the student into the next grade level’s work on that particular standard.
  • Knowing the vocabulary is also important. As we worked through the standards review process, it became clear that some terms used within the language arts standards, for example, needed a glossary, so that all educators in Ohio can work from the same definition in addressing those standards. As we prepare to transition into the revised standards, it is important to pay attention to the glossary to ensure each standard is clearly understood. These are the definitions the model curriculum writing teams are using in their work, and because the test blueprints will be developed based on these standards, the assessments will address these terms as defined in the glossary. In math and science, content specific vocabulary was also carefully looked at to be sure that correct terms were used consistently throughout the standards.  In science, the operational working group had many discussions over exactly the right word to use within each standard being reviewed. Many laundry lists of terms were replaced with a focus on a few key terms, keeping the standards language based in the building knowledge of science concepts and skills, not just memorizing lists or tables.  Beyond vocabulary for students, essential vocabulary was also clearly defined or explained as a support for the teachers who will be working with the standards.
  • Standards build from grade level to grade level, and they also work in conjunction with other standards at the same grade level.  Part of the work of standards review and revision is to be sure that the standards articulate across grade levels and within grade levels in a way that will make sense to teachers and to students. While we as educators need to break the standards down to understand their component parts, that is not the way we should be teaching our students on a daily basis. The standards aren’t meant to be taught as separate, isolated skills and concepts. While we may need to focus students’ attention on one aspect of a standard to deepen their mastery, it is also critical that we have them then work with the standard as a whole.  One way to look at the Ohio Learning Standards is to think of them as the story of the learning that we would like students to master at each grade level.  Within each story, there are a number of strands. In ELA, these include literature, informational text, writing, foundational reading, language and speaking and listening.  The science standard story begins with the nature of science statements, and weaves in Earth/space, physical and life sciences.  Just like any good story, the standards have connections to each other.  Look closely at the literature and informational text standards for reading, and you will see the writing standards reflected in the wording.  Spend time with the physical science standards and you will see that they can be taught through the lens of life science.  Going even further, it is also possible to teach many of the language arts skills through the context of the science concepts!
  • The standards are the floor, not the ceiling, of what students can and should be doing in Ohio classrooms. The standards don’t limit us to only the skills embodied within them. We can stretch beyond those standards. For example, I’ve heard concerns expressed that letter-writing is not specifically named in Ohio’s ELA standards. There is nothing preventing a teacher from addressing letter-writing skills in his or her classroom.  One creative teacher had students write letters to an author, another had students write letters to a story character, from another character.  In science, the working group worked hard to write standard language that would encourage teachers to let students explore the world around them, use authentic data, and find real world situations to build their understanding of science skills. This allows teachers to find science in their local community or their school yard and set students up to become lifelong scientists.  The science working group spent time revising the nature of science descriptions for grade bands k-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12 to be sure teachers would have the flexibility to let students be actively involved in doing science.  people-woman-coffee-meeting

Perhaps the greatest take-away we have had from the work of directly helping to review and revise Ohio’s Learning Standards is the power of teachers from various grade levels and backgrounds working together to really unpack standard language together.  If time could be spent in teacher based teams, grade level teams, professional learning communities having the same kind of focused dialogue, teachers at all grade levels would grow in their own understanding of the the standards, and begin to share best practices for how to help students to master these standards.  

Discussion: A Powerful Tool in Learning and Life

by Tricia Ebner, NBCT

There is a misconception that Ohio’s speaking and listening standards focus solely upon more formal speeches. However, the very first anchor standard in speaking and listening is: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. If we think about this from a practical perspective, this standard encompasses much of the speaking and listening student are likely to do not only in their academic lives, but throughout their careers as adults. Work across all kinds of fields in all kinds of contexts requires people to participate in discussions, whether it’s formal meetings or more informal, spur-of-the-moment problem-solving collaborations.

So considering all this, how do we as teachers help our students prepare for these kinds of activities? One of the most direct approaches we can take is a direct one: teach students the skills and strategies they need in group discussions. By taking a few minutes to break down the skills involved, model effective and ineffective behaviors, and then provide specific feedback to students, we can help them grow in their confidence and skills in this form of speaking and listening. Whatever subject area or grade level you teach, if you have your students participating in whole-class or small group discussions, you are helping students learn the skills and strategies they need for effective participation in discussions.

One approach to help students begin to see the behaviors necessary for effective group discussion are fishbowls. A fishbowl is a strategy that takes a single small group and places it in the middle of a larger circle. Those in the outer circle observe the discussion and behaviors of those in the inner circle. To make the expected behaviors really concrete, especially for younger learners, having a group model ineffective discussion behaviors can help them get a concrete picture of what not to do. Following that with a group modeling effective discussion behaviors is a great way of illustrating “Don’t do this; do that.”

Another strategy that helps students and teacher alike is the use of a checklist. A quick internet search will undoubtedly turn up several checklists. A checklist doesn’t have to be huge or elaborate. What are the two or three skills you’d like to see students focus upon in their group discussions? Put those onto a checklist, like this one I’ve used with my sixth graders. As students participate in their discussions, circulate and use the checklist to note what skills are being used effectively, and what might benefit from additional teaching and modeling.

Using checklists to monitor students’ progress in having effective discussions is useful in any content area. By making use of checklists, we can provide students with quick feedback and also make decisions about what to focus upon next. Whatever your content area or age group, consider using a checklist to monitor students’ skills the next time you have students working in a small-group or whole-class discussion.


Do you have a favorite discussion checklist to share? Contact us using the link below.


What classroom challenge have you faced recently? Would you like to share a story of how you’ve solved problem related to standards, instruction, and assessment in your classroom? Do you have a specific problem you’re facing, and you’d like to know how other teachers have solved that problem? Use this link to share your ideas with us, and you could see your own blog posted here, or read about how others have solved that problem in their classrooms.

 

It’s Not Over When the Testing is Done

by Tricia Ebner, NBCT

Within the next few weeks, Ohio’s state assessments will be finished, and we will be in the last weeks of the school year. If you’re like many Ohio teachers, you’re considering the options for meaningful, engaging lessons and activities in these last weeks. After all, it really isn’t over once the state assessments are submitted. What can we do with our students that continues to build their skills and knowledge while keeping them focused and enthused as the weather warms and summer break beckons?pablo4.9.17

When I consider this situation, I like to ask myself a couple of questions:

  1. Which of the standards could I address in more depth? In answering this, I consider where my focus has been. During January, February, and March,I tend to put more emphasis on those standards I know will be included on Ohio’s state assessments. In English language arts, our writing tasks are focused on informational/expository writing and argument, since narrative writing isn’t included on the state assessment.
  2. What kinds of tasks and activities do my students really enjoy, not necessarily because they’re easy but because they’re appropriately engaging and challenging?

One of the most engaging activities I’ve done with my students is conducting mock trials. Working through the process of reading and analyzing witness statements, crafting questions, prepping witnesses, and writing opening statements and closing arguments is exciting, real–world kinds of tasks. The English language arts standards are embedded within these activities, too. For more information about mock trials, check out this blog post.

This kind of reflection and planning isn’t limited to English language arts. Consider these possibilities for mathematics, science, and social studies.

Math: Take the major work of the grade and craft a real-world kind of task involving the use of those skills and concepts. For several years, even before Ohio adopted our current learning standards, I had a colleague who loved presenting students with tasks that incorporated math into real-world situations. For example, she asked students to consider the costs of redecorating their bedrooms. Students were responsible for calculating area, the square feet needed of carpet or other flooring, the amount of paint it would take to change the color of the walls. They calculated the cost of baseboard and trim around windows. They also had to work within a budget. For several days, students almost seemed to ignore the adults in the room because they were so engrossed in planning out their ideal bedrooms.

Science: What kind of cooperative, hands-on project or experiment might engage students toward the end of the year? Projects like building and testing rockets made from two-liter pop bottles can be engaging and also practice team collaboration skills. In life sciences, students have imagined themselves discovering islands with a complete, self-contained ecosystem, filled with unusual, never-before-discovered plants and animals. Students practiced skills in the classification system, developing food webs and making plans for preservation of this fictional island. It is a terrific way to review some of the major concepts within life sciences.

Social Studies: What aspects of the year’s curriculum do you wish you could have spent more time investigating? What questions did the students have? My colleagues in social studies are getting ready to have their students investigate medieval history through some hands-on activities and creations, including manors. Or perhaps a simulation activity, like the mock trials described in language arts, could work.

Whatever your subject area, it’s worth considering how taking a more hands-on, project-oriented approach can be motivating and engaging for students as we hit these warm spring days. These kinds of activities synthesize the skills and concepts we’ve studied all year. It brings the learning together in a tangible way for students, and that’s a great note to close the year. After all, it’s over when the testing is done.

What classroom challenge have you faced recently? Would you like to share a story of how you’ve solved problem related to standards, instruction, and assessment in your classroom? Do you have a specific problem you’re facing, and you’d like to know how other teachers have solved that problem? Use this link to share your ideas with us, and you could see your own blog posted here, or read about how others have solved that problem in their classrooms.

 

Seeing is Understanding

by Tricia Ebner

When I have a chance to watch a little bit of TV, I often turn to HGTV. There is something about watching Drew and Jonathan Scott or Chip and Joanna Gaines describing the transformation of older, run-down homes into their clients’ “dream homes” that captivates me. Maybe it’s because I know without those computer animations, I simply couldn’t envision the promise those experts often see in older properties. It reminds me of the old adage claims that “Seeing is believing,” but sometimes I think it might be more accurately worded as “Seeing leads to understanding.”blog post graphic 3.20.17

This also applies to the changes we’ve seen in standards and assessments in Ohio in the past five years. When Ohio first began transitioning standards and assessments, one of the most frequently asked questions I heard was, “But what do these things look like?”  As we’ve become more practiced and experienced with our standards and assessments, our questions are becoming more refined. Now the questions are more likely to be focused on specific standards and how assessment questions get at the heart of those standards.

We can now easily see how standards look in assessment items by examining assessment items from a number of resources. In a recent meeting, we wanted to see how reading literature standard 7.3 in different items. (RL 7.3: Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact.) By using www.achievethecore.org’s search bar and typing in RL 7.3, we quickly found several assessments that included the standard. Looking at these items specifically tied to this standard helped us better understand the standard “in action” in assessments. Now we can use this understanding as we continue to develop our own assessment questions. Analyzing these items helped us identify the structure and vocabulary used in these kinds of questions.

Moving forward, we will continue to use the practice and released test items available on the testing pages of the Ohio Department of Education web site, along with the lessons and mini-assessments available on www.achievethecore.org. Having examples readily available means that the “renovations” I may need to make to my own lessons and assessments doesn’t have to be a guessing game, where I cross my fingers and hope for the best. Instead, just as the renovation experts on HGTV have computer simulations to help homeowners envisions changes to their structures, we have computer tools that can help us see how standards translated into assessment items can look. Indeed, seeing can lead to understanding.  

 

What classroom challenge have you faced recently? Would you like to share a story of how you’ve solved problem related to standards, instruction, and assessment in your classroom? Do you have a specific problem you’re facing, and you’d like to know how other teachers have solved that problem? Use this link to share your ideas with us, and you could see your own blog posted here, or read about how others have solved that problem in their classrooms.

Three Simple Literacy Strategies for Test Preparation (and more)

by Tricia Ebner

As spring testing season approaches, teachers are reflecting on students’ progress and planning to address those skills and concepts that might need reinforcement. There are three simple ways every teacher can support the skills students need to use on their spring assessments, regardless of the content area.

  1. Review the importance of reading questions carefully. Sometimes skipping one little word makes all the difference between choosing the correct response and choosing a distractor. This is something we can practice with students throughout the year, on formative and summative assessments in our classes. Use think-alouds occasionally to show students how we can read and analyze what a question is saying, and how doing this helps us answer the question. Have students discuss questions in small groups, coming to consensus about what they have to do in order to answer the question. Taking a few minutes to utilize these strategies from time to time can reinforce these skills and encourage the habit of reading questions carefully.
  2. Require the use of evidence in responses. This is another universal skill and concept. The use of evidence is important in any subject area. When we require evidence to be used in supporting responses to questions, we’re encouraging and reinforcing the need for critical thinking and reasoning. (One tip here: number the paragraphs on any multiple-paragraph text you plan to have students read. This makes it easier for them to refer to specific evidence, whether it’s in a discussion or written response.) Asking for evidence doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes it’s as simple as adding the question, “What does the text say that supports your response?” Some teachers require students to put the page number or paragraph number in parentheses behind their answers to questions as a means of encouraging students to verify their answers within the text.
  3. Use the Academic Word Finder to identify those vocabulary words students need to become comfortable with. This tool quickly finds those terms for you when you copy and paste text into it. By entering text, selecting the grade level at which the text will be read, and letting technology work its magic, you will soon have a list of vocabulary terms appropriate for readers at a variety of reading levels, also making it useful for differentiation. (To learn more about how the Academic Word Finder can be invaluable for differentiation check out this blog post.)

pablo-46

Incorporating these three simple steps can make a difference in our students’ learning, growth, and even confidence on assessments. Embedding practice in reading questions carefully, requiring evidence, and developing academic vocabulary throughout the year are universal skills for any grade level and subject area. Test preparation doesn’t have to be packets of questions or a couple of weeks of drills. When we incorporate strategies such as these, we’re preparing our students for learning, growth, and even the spring assessments.

 

Test Prep: Literacy Assessments

by Tricia Ebner

As we turn our calendars from January to February, one of our school-year realities begins to come into focus: the state assessments are on the horizon. This raises the annual question and dilemma for many of us: what is the best way to prepare our students for these assessments?

The answer is simple and complex, all at once. The best possible test-preparation we can give our students for the Ohio literacy assessments is solid, well-crafted, standards-aligned instruction and activities throughout the school year. After all, our assessments are based on nothing more and nothing less than Ohio’s standards. Having a laser focus, daily, on students’ needs and the standards and expectations of our content and grade level is optimum.

While this this is true, many of us still want to do something to reinforce test-taking skills and strategies. After all, we want to be sure our students can approach the assessment with confidence, not feeling nervousness over the testing platform or format. There are three simple strategies we can use to help our students become familiar with test and question format as well as the technology platform.

  • Give students frequent practice with questions designed in the same format as the state assessment. By taking a little bit of time to study how questions are structured, especially the multi-part questions and the technology-enhanced questions, we can craft the same format of questions for texts and skills we are currently addressing in our classrooms. Is there a critical vocabulary term in a piece your students will be reading soon? Why not craft a two-part question as a means of working with that word and also showing students how that kind of question might look on the spring assessment? If you have technology readily available, consider crafting these kinds of questions on a web site such as Edulastic, which gives students the technology practice as well as the question format practice. Another good strategy is having students work on their writing tasks on the computer, using whatever word-processing program is readily available.
  • Use released passages and items on occasion as a practice tool. I’m going to reveal my bias here: I am not a huge fan of test-prep packets. I resist spending a week on packets, with lessons focused day-in and day-out on passages and questions. Instead, I select a passage and question set that we then use for bell work over several days. My students have been much more willing to meaningfully engage in an analysis of a question or two at the beginning of class, and then move into our more routine work. I’ve also found that these “bite-sized” efforts tend to be better for my students who struggle with test anxiety. Usually we’ll work through two or three passages and related questions over the course of a few weeks. I always make sure we address a literature passage and a nonfiction passage that addresses the history/social studies or science/technology standards.
  • Use the practice test or half-length test. Putting the kids on the platform and having them work through released or practice items is also helpful. Personally, I don’t have my students keep a paper-and-pencil record of their responses; instead, I have them jot down the item numbers of questions that give them more difficulty, and then we “debrief” on the experience after everyone is finished. Again, I try to keep this activity low-risk and low-stress.pablo-41

 

Our statewide spring assessments are important in a number of ways, from students showing what they know and can do to building and district report cards and even our own teacher evaluations. When I keep specific test-preparation activities balanced with our routine class work, and I keep the activities low-risk and low-stress, we all approach the spring assessments with confidence. As a result, my students are more likely to give their best efforts and performance, and I will see more accurate data about what they know and can do, and what areas of instruction might need improvement for the next year. Keeping a balanced perspective on assessment keeps the focus on learning and growth, and that’s a win-win for everyone.

In case you missed it: the Ohio Department of Education announced on Friday, February 3, that it has released half-length practice tests on the Test Portal. You’ll find released items from the Spring 2016 assessment there as well.


How have you faced a lesson-planning challenge? Would you like to share a story of how you’ve solved problem related to standards, instruction, and assessment in your classroom? Do you have a specific problem you’re facing, and you’d like to know how other teachers have solved that problem? Use this link to share your ideas with us, and you could see your own blog posted here, or read about how others have solved that problem in their classrooms.

Five Favorite Apps for ELA–and More

by Tricia Ebner

This year it happened: one-to-one computer access became part of my school district in grades 8-12, and computers became more easily accessible for other grades as well. In all three of my assigned grade levels (6-8), my students now have daily access to computers. When this was announced to us last spring, I was thrilled. This easy accessibility was going to make technology integration so much easier for me. Then reality struck: I needed to find technology-based tools that could help me more easily do what I wanted within my classroom.


pablo-31I’ve been keeping my eyes open to other teachers’ favorite apps and web sites, often checking out recommendations on Twitter. When I’ve had the opportunity, I’ve attended professional development sessions devoted to sharing apps useful for classrooms. My focus throughout this process has been on finding tools that will be useful for my students and me as we continue to learn and grow. My foundational principle has been that the app or web site must help us toward our goals; the technology is not a goal by itself. Then I consider three additional factors: privacy protection for my students, cost, and ease of use. When an app meets these criteria, I will try it within my classroom to see how successful it is with my students.

So far, I’ve discovered a number of apps that help my students and me with our work. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Padlet:  This free app allows me to set up virtual “bulletin boards” where students can respond to questions or post ideas for consideration. It’s a great springboard for class discussion. Sometimes I’ll use it to start class by posting a question or thought-provoking quote, and then individual students post their responses. At other times, I’ve used it after students have discussed a question in pairs or small groups. The groups craft a responses to the question, and then we can look at the various ideas when I project the page on our interactive white board. By keeping my Padlets secret, so that only those who have the link can participate, I am able to maintain student privacy.
  • Backchannel Chat: This has revolutionized certain activities in my classroom. I learned about this tool at the NCTE Convention in November, and since then I have used it with both sixth and eighth grades. In fishbowl discussions, this app allows those students in the outer circle to participate in a silent, virtual discussion, while those sitting in the inside circle conduct their verbal discussion. I’ve also used it while showing a video. When my eighth graders watched a filmed version of A Christmas Carol, I was able to pose questions encouraging them to consider why the director selected particular camera angles, lighting, or how an actor’s delivery of certain lines impacted the meaning of the words. We had these discussions in our Backchannel room, without interrupting the flow of the movie. One of my favorite features of this tool is that students who are normally reserved and quiet in whole-class discussions will often share terrific insights in the Backchannel. There is a free version, and the paid version ($15/year) provides some excellent additional tools to help manage the chat, including the ability to “mute” individual students and download a transcript of the chat.
  • Edulastic: This free tool provides a huge range of questions and question formats, making it a great way to design and use computer-based assessments. There are question banks aligned to standards, so that teachers can select items aligned to standards students have been addressing in their work. Teachers can also write their own items and note which standards are being addressed. There are four levels of privacy for questions, too, including private only to me (teacher), school, district, and public. This tool is being used more and more often for common assessments in my school. The question types available include tech-enhanced options, such as drag-and-drop and multiple-part questions. This is a great way to give students more regular experience with these kinds of assessment items, reducing the need for focused, dedicated test prep work around technology tools, because students are seeing these kinds of questions on assessments throughout the year.
  • PearDeck: This tool allows teachers to create interactive slide decks. It has revolutionized how I use slide shows, such as PowerPoint or Google slides. I can share information, ask questions, and even embed videos. Now I can present a skill or idea, and then I can have students practice it, so that I can conduct in-the-moment, real-time formative assessment that helps me decide upon next steps. There is a free level, which allows limited use, and a paid subscription level. (There is another tool available, called Nearpod, which has similar features and also includes a library of lessons for use, with free and paid membership levels.)
  • EDpuzzle: This free tool provides the ability to embed questions within videos. It makes watching videos more interactive and helps me see what students understand–and don’t understand–about video segments we watch. There are lessons available for use, and I can also make my own. It’s a great option for flipped instruction and self-paced activities because students can watch independently, and I can still track how well they understand what they understand the video and its information.

 

It’s worth noting that a none of these tools are focused exclusively on English language arts. These could be very useful in just about any class and subject. Using these tools has streamlined work in my classroom, making certain activities more efficient and giving me feedback faster. For example, I used to have students complete a paper chart comparing the Christmas Carol movie to the novel. Then I would take time to read through each chart and note individual student understanding. This year, with Backchannel Chat, I could ask questions and track student understanding in the moment. Tools like Peardeck and EDPuzzle make multimedia presentations much more interactive and engaging. Having regular one-to-one access isn’t a requirement for using these; there are creative ways of using these tools in a variety of settings. If you’re looking for technology tools to make work more efficient in your classroom, consider trying one of these.

Do you have favorite apps you use within your classroom? Would you like to share a story of how you’ve solved problem related to standards, instruction, and assessment in your classroom? Do you have a specific problem you’re facing, and you’d like to know how other teachers have solved that problem? Use this link to share your ideas with us, and you could see your own blog posted here, or read about how others have solved that problem in their classrooms.

Giving Students Power Tools For The Holidays

The Power Of Building Working Vocabulary Across Content Areas

by Char Shryock

     Put power tools on your students’ holiday gift list.  Words are the most powerful tools you can give to your students, no matter what age or content area you teach.  Just like any other power tool, the best way to learn to use it is to actually use it on authentic tasks!  For students in your classrooms, giving them many opportunities to read, listen to, write, and speak using academic and content area words will strengthen their working vocabulary. Reading a textbook alone is not enough.   It is our challenge as teachers to provide opportunities for all of our students to add words to their vocabulary toolbox. There are many effective ways to do this.  What research does show is that doing rote vocabulary memorization is not the most effective way to build long term vocabulary skills. Let’s look at some strategies that have been proven to work well for all students:

Use of Text Sets:  Creating a set of 3 or more texts that center on similar topic is a way to expose students to content words, in context.  Multiple exposures to vocabulary helps students to build expertise. This increased expertise allows them to read increasingly complex texts in your classroom.   Developing tasks that require your students to read text sets, then write or speak about the content further strengthens their ability to use key content words.

Living Word Wall:  The key word is placed in the middle of the working area.  Students then add pictures, sentences and related words to the wall.  The teacher refers to the wall often and encourages the students to use the word in their classroom work.

Frayer Model:  This is a graphic organizer that puts the key word in the center.  The top left corner of the paper contains the word.  The top right corner is definitions – both dictionary and in their own words. In the bottom left corner, the students can draw a picture or provide examples to go with the word and the bottom right corner is usually used to include words or pictures to show what is NOT the word…or providing connections to other words or concepts they already know. Maybe include using it in a sentence. Once students have made a Frayer model – have them think pair share to exchange ideas or do a gallery walk to allow them to see and comment on other student’s interpretations.

Marzano Notecard:   Similar to a Frayer model, but more portable, the notecard starts with the word in the middle.  The top left corner is the dictionary definition. The top right corner is the student’s definition. The bottom left corner is a diagram or picture – this works especially well with science terms. The bottom right corner is a list of other related terms.  On the back, the student writes two sentences that not only use the word, but make a connection to other terms in the content area or a real world situation.

Two in One:  In this strategy, students must write sentences using the vocabulary words for a unit or for the week.  The twist…they must use two words in one sentence.  They may change the form of the word if necessary.

The Power of a Quote

Getting class started in an interesting, powerful way can be a challenge. While there are scores of bell ringers and strategies out there, sometimes none of that is appealing. One idea shared at the NCTE Convention in Atlanta last month impressed me with its simplicity and potential: using a quote as a springboard for writing.

The speaker, Jeff Anderson, challenged us to spend two minutes writing in response to this quote, from e.e. Cummings: “Hope bounces.” Admittedly, a roomful of middle school language arts teachers may be a more agreeable, willing audience than a roomful of middle or high school students. The beauty of this approach, though, is that it doesn’t ask for an analysis. The directions are simple: Respond to this quote: ___________________________. The response can take a range of formats; the only “wrong” response is failing to write anything at all.

pablo-27

Choosing a compelling quote is one of the most critical elements here, especially at the beginning. The first few times this is done, having quotes that are powerful and can be interpreted in a number of ways. Giving students a variety of options for responding, from lists to poems to letters to free, stream-of-consciousness responses, invites them to focus more on their thoughts than on format. To get started with this, I have selected some key quotes within our current focus of study, A Christmas Carol. After posting the quote and sharing the focus–on responding more than format–I sit down to write my own response as well. This allows me to model the approach to this and provides me with a model to share.

This doesn’t have be limited to the language arts classroom, either. Consider how students in social studies might respond to a quote questioning a scientific theory or law. How could this be useful in a social studies class? Using a quote from a primary source document in social studies could spark writing and a powerful, engaging class discussion.

The simplicity of this approach doesn’t limit its power. Think of it this way: share a quote, write for two minutes, and invite students to share with a partner or two for another couple of minutes. Within the first five minutes of class, students have been engaged in reading and writing in response to that text. It also helps them get into the mindset of our language arts class; whatever might be weighing on their mind as they walk in the door can be set aside a bit more easily with this focus on a quote. Using a quote as a writing springboard is a win-win for students and teacher.

Looking for a resource of quotes? Try a site like www.brainyquote.com.

Would you like to share a story of how you’ve solved problem related to standards, instruction, and assessment in your classroom? Do you have a specific problem you’re facing, and you’d like to know how other teachers have solved that problem? Use this link to share your ideas with us, and you could see your own blog posted here, or read about how others have solved that problem in their classrooms.