Over the last eighteen months, I’ve built scaffolds for hundreds of educators in various roles to better understand the Common Core Literacy Standards. I have explained and modeled instructional methods for implementation to teachers at all grade levels and in all content areas. Over that time, I have come to see new ways of juxtaposing the standards in meaningful ways. The reading standards use verbs such as “refer,” “determine,” “explain,” “describe,” and “quote.” The use of these verbs implies an audience that can assess the quality of the reference, the description, the explanation and the like. Although classroom discussions provide meaningful practice and informal assessment of student’s reading ability, writing about what and how one reads provides powerful opportunities for reflection on the part of both authors and their readers, i.e., students and their teachers.
“Okay, so this is nothing new” you say. “I’ve using writing to assess my students since I started teaching. I always have a short answer on my unit tests.” I’m sure you do. But the literacy standards are asking for more than simply a short answer: they ask for explanations and summarizations, quotations and citations, analysis and evaluations. Now I don’t mean to make the standards overwhelming, because frankly, I believe they simpler in structure (though deep in essence) than most state standards. But…here is where I am going…the standards as they sit do not give educators a quick reference to what the intersection of reading and writing looks like, but I can. Using the standards themselves in their own format, you can customize a reading writing matrix at grade level or differentiate a matrix to meet your students’ diverse needs.
What I am suggesting is that once you have come to KNOW the standards, rather than look at the strands (reading, writing, language, speaking and listening) as separate entities, begin to think about how they combine to build critical thinkers: readers, speakers, and writers. I have been thinking about means by which to visualize the interconnectedness of the standards, but today, I moved beyond thinking to doing something.Take a look at my first example:
Click on the image to enlarge and see what I am suggesting. Across the top are the grade level writing standards and down the sides are the reading standards. Students are to read and analyze a text using the criteria listed along the side of the matrix, then plan for writing an explanatory essay that meets the criteria listed across the top. Within each cell, they can put notes about their reading that will lend itself to later writing. Additionally, I would add a language cell–something that requires a demonstration of a Language Standard. That standard could be placed either across the top or down the side. If the standard were across the writing row, the author would generate an example wheras, if the standard were found in the reading column, the author would explain the function of that language element within the essay.
For instance, if I placed Language Standard 4a. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 6 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.6.5a. in a writing cell, I would expect my writers to explain an unknown word found in their reading by using context clues. On the other hand, if I place the standard across the writing row, I would expect the author to provide context clues for a domain specific or novel academic word within their own writing. Just as a tip, when I make expectations for specific conventions to be part of essay writing (which I always do!), I have students highlight those conventions IN CLASS the day the writing is submitted for assessment. I want to know that they know where the convention appears.
I’ll share another example from sixth grade, this for argument writing. Note that I haven’t changed the language to a great degree on these slides. I would urge teachers to make the language student friendly without great change to the language. I would also urge teachers to limit the standard to what you really want to see in the essay. Just because the standard is fully inclusive doesn’t mean your writing matrix needs to be. There will be other days to write and more papers to grade!
As I work with the standards, I continue to appreciate the opportunities they offer for educators to be both organized and creative. I know many people want to fight Common Core Implementation. But negativity will not move the work of teaching to the next level for students or for the field of education as a whole. Unlike many who have time to wage a war of words on political decisions, I am tired of bucking a system, especially when the needs of our kids are so great and the means by which we have been addressing their needs seem to have fallen short. My commitment to educators everywhere is a continued resolve to research, practice, and share best methods, scientifically proven and evidence based, in this challenge have chosen: the education of all children regardless of disability, race, income, or locale. I’m in this with yo
Note: The materials provided in this post are used according to explicit provisions of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers: “This document is provided to schools under the presumption of the Fair Use clause §107-118 of Copyright Law, Title 17, U.S. Code. The purpose and character of the CCSS document is intended only for educational purposes and not as a means to limit or redefine the purpose or intent of the original document.”