Showing posts with label Lesson Plans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lesson Plans. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How Many Standards Should a Lesson or Unit Address?

This question came in from a reader asking specifically about some units proposed by the Education Department in Louisiana. I'm sharing my response with everyone because I think the confusion in Louisiana is general across the nation.

The Education Department in Louisiana (Louisiana Believes) has a scope and sequence that teachers can use to teach the CCSS in ELA. Teachers have informed me there are too many standards in each ELA unit to teach in order to effectively teach them. Of the 10 standards in each of the following: reading literature, reading information, and writing, most of them are listed in each ELA unit. Teachers are aware that students should be proficient in all ELA standards for their grade level. 

What are your thoughts regarding teachers focusing on 3-5 ELA standards per unit and continuing to work with these standards throughout the rest of the units? They will be teaching the remaining ELA standards as they apply to the text.  Focus standards in each unit will continue to be taught and students will continue to work with them throughout the year.  By the end of the year, they will have taught and students will have worked with all ELA standards in their grade level with the goal of students being proficient in all ELA standards for the grade level.
In your opinion, would it be effective for teachers to do this?  

My Reply: 
I have taken a look at the Louisiana material and I can see why teachers are confused. The lists of books are useful, but many of the assignments seem not to be especially connected to Common Core (writing one’s own story based on the pictures in a storybook does not constitute writing from sources, for example). In terms of your specific question…

First, although CCSS has fewer standards than were evident in past state standards, they are still overwhelming. Listing pretty much all of the standards for each unit is pretty worthless as a management approach. Let’s get some control of this.

I think it is imperative that teachers understand that there are not 20 reading comprehension standards at each grade level, but only 10. CCSS shows how these 10 standards look in literary and informational texts, hence the confusion that these constitute 20 separate standards. There are also 10 writing standards, and these overlap in important ways with the reading standards (see items 7-8-9). My point is that it will be helpful to see these lists in the most economical ways possible. Fewer standards will give you greater purchase on the entire set. The Louisiana materials--by listing each standard repeatedly for each unit--magnifies the problem of too many items to focus on; it should be striving to reduce the load, not increase it.

Second, the categories are as important as the individual standards (since the categories reveal the purposes of what are in each set). The Louisiana plan misses this key point and it is part of the reason the guidance is so overwhelming. For example, the first three reading standards emphasize that readers need to be able to grasp the “key ideas and details” of the texts they read. They should, for instance, be able to summarize what they read, or answer questions about what the text said explicitly or implied. Looking at these categorically will help you to see them in a more coherent way. The Louisiana materials encourage a more fragmented approach, and teachers are overwhelmed by all the little pieces.

Third, it is important to understand that standards are not synonymous with curriculum (something that CCSS has stressed repeatedly). If you are trying to teach students to make sense of a text’s key ideas and details what do you need to teach to get them there? It might be helpful to teach them to identify a main idea or how to paraphrase; or some kind of note-taking might help. By just matching outcomes with texts/assignments, the whole idea of curriculum has been washed away. Louisiana’s guidance neglects this basic point—again, confusing things.

However, despite those complaints, Louisiana is correct in its approach that units—and even individual lessons—will need to address multiple standards. The structure of the comprehension standards is less a detailed list of disparate items than an organized set of cognitive moves one might make in trying to understand a text. Students are to be taught to identify key ideas and details while reading, to analyze how an author conveyed those ideas, and to evaluate and connect/compare texts with other “texts.” While I don’t think it makes sense to try to instantiate each of the 10 comprehension items every time students read, it might make sense to instantiate at least one standard from each category during a close reading (that would require attention to at least three standards per lesson/text).

Which standards to address will vary from text-to-text. But this variation should not be linked to some pacing guide or curriculum guidance. It should be linked to the specific texts or tasks students are engaged with. Individual standards will match better with some texts or reading circumstances. For example, if a unit includes only a single text, you might have the students evaluate it in some way, but you probably wouldn’t have them comparing it with other texts.

But remember, not every lesson will be the focus of close reading. The idea of mixing in other readings/exercises/lessons in which students practice a particular comprehension strategy or analyze particular aspect of a text can be mixed in, too. Research shows that such lessons can bear fruit. While such analysis or practice is not included in the standards (because this analysis or practice is not an outcome), it can be an important avenue to ensuring that students reach the standards.

As students read various texts across the school year, they will practice particular standards in varying combinations depending on the demands of the specific texts.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Daily Five and Common Core?

Recently, I received a question about the appropriateness of the Daily Five to the Common Core. Interesting question….

I think the purpose of the Daily Five is to provide teachers with a curriculum framework that guides them to spend time on a certain set of activities. Many teachers embrace it because it gives them a way to make sure a variety of things take place in their classrooms each day. Teaching is a complex job and frameworks that help simplify choices can be very useful.

Although the Daily Five plan bears a superficial resemblance to what I used in the Chicago Public Schools, it differs from my approach in at least one big way: it focuses on teaching activities rather than on learning outcomes. “Reading to someone” or “listening to someone read” are fine activities, so I don’t oppose them, and yet, there are enough pressures on teachers to submerge themselves in the activities at the expense of the outcomes.

The Daily Five ensures that certain activities are included, but this can be a real distraction from making choices that support student learning. I’d much rather have a teacher, wanting to expand students’ vocabularies, who decides to read a book to them to facilitate this learning, than one who is going to read to the kids and can either seek a purpose for it or not.

There are lots of ways to a goal, and I deeply respect the teacher who has a clear conception of what she is trying to accomplish and the choices that entails. Starting with the activity instead of the outcome, however, allows someone to look like a teacher without having to be one.

That’s a big difference, and I think the common core separates itself from the Daily Five even more. The common core state standards emphasize goals –not activities, and they provide a specific delineation of the specific levels of demand or complexity or quality that has to be evident in performances of these standards. Nothing like that in the Daily Five.

Obviously one could combine the Daily Five and CCSS. “I’ll use the Daily Five to guide my lesson planning and I’ll aim those lessons at the goals specified by the Common Core.” Lessons are always a bit of dance between goals and activities—and, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter where you start out as long as the two are closely and effectively connected in the implementation.

The Daily Five establishes a very low standard for teaching by emphasizing activities over outcomes, and by not specifying quality or difficulty levels for student performances. Teachers can successfully fulfill the Daily Five specifications without necessarily reaching, or even addressing, the standards.  

Perhaps, teachers could animate the Daily Five framework with goals and proficiency standards from the common core. I think any of the activities could be stretched or shaped to somehow address the core standards. And, yet, I wonder if it’s worth the extra time this represents. What does it add?   

Saturday, December 20, 2008

How To Observe Reading Instruction

It is important that principals know what to watch for in a reading lesson. What makes it effective? It is important for coaches to, if they are to give teachers any kind of supportive guidance. And, let's face it, good teachers are likely to do much more self evaluation than being observed by others.

One thing that complicates reading instruction is there are lots of different kinds of lessons, and each of these lesson types has its own requirements. Basically, reading is both a skilled activity that requires a lot of precision performance without much conscious awareness (like recognizing high frequency words or common spelling patterns). But, it also requires actions that are synonymous with thinking and these require a lot of reflection and depth of thought. That means that a comprehension lesson ought to look pretty different from a phonics lesson; not just in content, but in the kinds of cognitive action the lesson leads kids to engage.

So, if you need to do observations -- including self observations -- you might find the following document to be useful. It tells the kinds of things I would watch for in various reading lessons.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Excellent Websites for Teachers, Parents, and Kids

One thing I learned when I was director of reading for the Chicago Public Schools was that teachers’ appetites for resources, support, and professional development in reading were insatiable. No matter how much we tried to provide for them, they always seemed to want more. That is not criticism of teachers, but praise. The men and women who were teaching in Chicago wanted to do a good job, so their eyes were always open for new resources.

Since then, I’ve tried to keep my eyes out for stuff that would help them and their counterparts elsewhere. Especially free stuff. I’ve come across two helpful sites that I wanted folks to know about; you might find some helpful materials, activities, and information at these sites.

The first one is the ReadWriteThink site supported by the Verizon Foundation in collaboration with the International Reading Association and other professional groups. This is the single most helpful place to go if you are looking for lesson plans or cool activities. This even provides on-line professional development resources for teachers, as well as neat things parents can do with their kids (or that kids can do on their own). You definitely want to add this to your favorites lists.

The next one provides online books for free:

Open Culture