Tag Archives: common core

Step 1 – Intro the Course (Establish a Purpose)

Well, with this “polar vertex” we didn’t have much of a school week.

First, we were deprived our teacher work day.  Now, I love a snow day as much as the next guy, but everyone is excited to get out for the winter break. When you know you have that work day to plan and print information before the first day of the next semester… well, procrastination is just natural.  

Fortunately, I have this whole high-risk pregnancy going and I had the moment to print out the course syllabus and extra copies of the Scarlet Letter summer reading project for each of the students.  I also called home to make sure each parent knew about the assignment since only two students completed it or turned it in as expected, but out of an entire class, only three phone numbers were correct in the computer system.  (So if you are a parent, please make sure your child’s school has the right phone number in case there is an emergency.)

None the less, planning for the actual lessons was going to be a struggle since the PLC meeting was not going to happen.  We had to wing it based on the conversation we had in December about what we thought we were going to do in January.  And then we would use our planning time on the day back to finalize everything.  …But I HATE being a last minute planner!

For the first day, I started with the bell ringer structure of the Caught ‘Ya system. We have had such great success with this, and we have the files built since we used it last semester as well.  When students entered, there were two piles, the syllabus and summer reading assignment, for them to gather materials on the way in.  On the board, the Caught ‘Ya was displayed with directions for students to write the sentence as correctly as possible on a slice of paper.  (Use of the word slice just makes them smile for some reason.You should try it.)  From here we corrected the grammar together and moved into our daily vocabulary strategy.  Starting with content immediately sets a good tone for the course.  Plus it gives the teacher time to do attendance and make sure everything is ready for the day.  Next, I had key points from the syllabus on a PPT to review.  Before I went through my key points, I had students preview the page and ask if they had any questions based on what they read.  Then, I had questions for them to answer on the PPT.  If the answer was correct, I moved on. If not, I went over that part of information to make sure students know expectations.  Then, those questions turned into a syllabus/expectations quiz for the next day.  This is their first grade, but it lets them start out on a positive and holds them accountable for knowing what is expected.  And then you take away the victim-itis of “I didn’t know” in the near future.

After review of the syllabus, I tried to start a short discussion to let students bash American Literature for a moment.  They all claim to “hate” writings of “old, dead white guys” for various reasons, most of which they don’t seem to be able to explain.  I introduced the course-long essential question as well: What does it mean to be an American?  The idea here is to try to build a little patriotism in the study of the founding documents and to help them create their own identify as an American.  I want them to be able to do this on their own rather than just regurgitate someone’s ideas or believe every word they hear.  The first step was to have them create a definition for Americanism.  I gave them a moment to think and write, and then we shared out.  I was careful not to say anything to sway their ideas.  After they shared with a short discussion, we watched a video I created for the class (find it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75Ku4RhZwC0).  Students were given time to think and rewrite, and then since the bell was about to ring I had them submit their answers so I could read them.  I would say it was informative.  

A note on the video: Feel free to use this or create your own.  The beauty of this one is these heroes are all local, and the images of their families are people the students would have seen.  In particular, my brother is there as well.  Students will take a topic the way it is presented. They see it matters to me, and putting a face to an idea makes it more worthwhile.  So if you have access to these heroes in your area or students from your school, use that instead of this.  You can easily create a video with Windows Movie Maker (free program), .jpg images of your choice, and an overlay of patriotic songs.  

For here, we moved to our Common Core Workshop.  This is intended to introduce Common Core with specific attention to close reading as a process, text-dependent questions with REQUIRED answers WITH evidence, and writing with a focus on claim development.  This semester, we have to hit this even harder because they are taking the TN Writing Assessment on Feb. 4.  

If you are interested, you can find this file for FREE at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/American-Literature-Common-Core-Workshop-Reading-Info-Text-and-Writing-Task-844323.  You will also be able to make changes as you see fit in order to help your students.

 Please stay tuned for the next entry on the Common Core Workshop, how it is implemented, and how it helps student achievement.  Have questions, comments, or ideas I should try? Let me know.  You and I actually play on the same team in educating our future.

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Huswifery – A Brain Break with a Poetic Discussion

So far we have spent a solid two days on everything we have read. There is no way we can legitimately cover all of the biggies from American Literature in one tiny little semester. Such a tragedy in trying to narrow through the texts to find the biggest bang for the bucks. As an added bonus, if we skip too much time we have to teach students about the historical gaps because they don’t have the background needed to really comprehend the literature and the affect of the literature without a idea of the historical standpoint. Of course, I’m not sure I would have had all I needed to know either at that point in my educational journey, but at least we had a year to get through the curriculum.

Alas, if a module is 4 1/2 weeks, we are only a week behind. That can be justified since we did a Common Core Workshop during the first week to really take time to introduce expectations to the students (materials are free at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/American-Literature-Common-Core-Workshop-Reading-Info-Text-and-Writing-Task-844323; the blog entry is found at https://kirkscorner4commoncore.com/2013/08/24/english-iii-hybrid-tn-eocccss-course-what-is-it-to-be-american/).

So, we decided the students needed a break with a short task which could be accomplished in one day’s lesson. As an added bonus, we needed another practice with Accountable Talk stems. Huswifery, as old as it may be, provided exactly what we needed. What, then, did I do to prepare and how did it go?

First, I read the text and made notes. In my notes I noticed I was paraphrasing each part, so that became the reading skill for the students. This lesson was based on Accountable Talk, so I only needed to provide a quick reading support to build content knowledge and then scaffold a discussion. Just in case the conversation lulled, I knew I needed to have some discussion questions. Since I also want students to build critical thinking and self-directed, high-level questioning, I wanted them to created questions as well.

At first, students read the poem and took notes on what it made them think of and what they thought it was about. Next, I had them watch a video with a few images and the text of the poem. Here lies one thing I would change: If I were to do it again, between the individual reading and the video I would have the students share out with a shoulder partner to build knowledge and confidence. But the imagery served the purpose just as well. (You can find the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIod7xpO7jc.) After reading, paraphrasing the first stanza was modeled. Then, students were asked to summarize the paraphrase to get the main idea of the text. As a “We Do” the class was guided through the paraphrase process through questioning before completing the stanza summary. Students independently paraphrased and summarized the final stanza. To verify their thinking, I had students share out their ideas and then synthesize the point of the poem as a whole. From here, each student was given a post-it to create a short answer question pertaining to the text.

I collected all post-its and secretly pulled out the weak ones and added in a few I prepared in advance. All students were then given a post-it to start the discussion. I put Accountable Talk Stems on the board and set a timer for thirty minutes. From there, we had a great conversation about the text. A few students were taking notes on the poem, and I need to find a way to make more students do that.

After our discussion, we reviewed the process of close reading and paraphrasing/summarizing stanzas only to lead into a short answer writing question pertaining to the poem: What does Huswifery tell you about life during the time period? Apply what you know from previous readings to this response.


So how did the answers turn out? I think I need to do a short lesson on how to formulate a constructed response this week. Oh… And we are going to focus on support and elaboration for the writing aspect.

If you replicate this process, please let me know how it goes for you!

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Of Plymouth Plantation… and the inner city attention span

plymouth 1

As we gear up for the new week, the students gear down because they cannot be less interested in Of Plymouth Plantation. Well, they do have one question they seek to answer: What is Americanism? What does it mean to be American? So as they formulate their ideas, we study American Literature. And, this week, we transition from Pilgrims and an active, benevolent God to Sinners and an Angry God. Boy… I can feel the good vibes now!

Since the students completed the Common Core Workshop successfully, I feel confident in their ability to closely read a text, and, thanks to my intense written feedback, the quality of their text-evidence in response to TDQs has increased tremendously. In fact, for many of them, the reading guide worksheet isn’t enough room and they are writing their answers on another page.

The first step in planning this lesson was to think about anticipated difficulties. Thanks to the first sentence, I didn’t have to think very hard. The Puritan Plain Style might have been easy to Puritans, but thanks to the evolutionary writing style of a few hundred years’ writings, those complex sentences even gave me a headache! I began planning with the idea that if the students could break down the complicated structures of the key parts of the paragraphs (or sections), maybe they could understand enough to work through answering some of the text-dependent questions. However… I needed to model this one for the students too.

Thus, a reading guide was created and designed to focus on breaking down complex sentences in terms of 1. Who? What? 2. Action. Then, I divided the excerpts into major sections and created TDQs for those sections. This made the reading guide look long (5 pages), but I wanted each section to have a visual separation from the other sections and then I needed to add some pretty visuals to keep the students happy. You’d be surprised how happy a different font, cute clip art, or shaded boxes can make the students when they are looking at a complex text they wouldn’t have been interested in otherwise.

From there, I created a reading quiz modeled after the FEW samples of multiple choice PARCC questions that have been released. This is a pretty important step because my students are used to teachers giving completion credit rather than accuracy credit. Also, apparently in some classes if most of the students don’t do the work the teacher makes it extra credit for those who did it and does not penalize those who don’t do it. To combat that, mean as it may be, I have the homework for grading and the reading quiz for grading. Students can retake any reading quiz after scoring a perfect score on the homework if they so desire, but this technique has shown students I’m serious about them completing some work outside of class. After all, my job is to prepare them for college.

If you are interested, you may find this lesson plan bundle at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Common-Core-Of-Plymouth-Plantation-Lesson-Plan-Reading-Guide-PPT-with-KEY-844835

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English III Hybrid TN EOC/CCSS Course: What is it to be American?

cc workshop 1

Ah. The hybrid year. Last year we piloted all that is Common Core while being assess by the TN EOC. Alas, this year we implement Common Core while being assessed by both the TN EOC (with a few supposedly dropped SPIs) and PARCC. Add in that the PARCC assessments are on a yearlong plan while our course is a semester and you have a world of differentiation and 80 hour work weeks. But me… I honestly did not get into teaching to get rich. I got into teaching so I could make a difference and do my part to make the world a better place. So I’ll take it: 80 hour work weeks, Common Core, EOCs, TRIPOD, TVAAS, and whatever else you throw at me. But I’m going to help my students get it even if there is no 15-16 year old of the inner city volunteering to read these texts.

So what’s the spin for buy in? Well, the essential question becomes “What does it mean to be an American?” Now, this isn’t so far fetched – we are American and they call out their freedoms on a regular basis. So I tied in a personal stake: I know a true American.

1. After the boring syllabus review and all that jazz, we watched a video to spark a conversation. (Find this video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75Ku4RhZwC0&list=UUTCWtGoGyBSUHzI9dTw3Q1w) Students felt a connection because I’m not the only teacher at the school with a loved one who died in a very public service-related situation, and they saw those families. Then, we invited them to bring in the picture of anyone they knew who was willing to defend what it meant to be American. From there, a living bulletin board was created.

2. We built in a Common Core Workshop using Prothero’s “Introduction” from his text “The American Bible.” We actually used only an excerpt, but the idea worked very well to introduce students to the power of words. We spent a week with this text, thoroughly modeling the process of close reading, text-dependent questions, and the dreaded writing task. In all, the point was modeling the process, and I gave a tremendous amount of written feedback to each student for every single question. Amazingly the students thought they would get credit if they just wrote something in the answer slots. Amazing. Apparently some teachers do that so often the students expect it as the norm and were genuinely surprised by their grades and the feedback. They could not believe I read, scored, and responded to every single question for every single student. Once I realized they were not used to teachers carefully reading and grading, I intentionally went overboard in providing feedback. I plan to do this intensively for a bit here – as long as I can practically keep it up – until I have them well trained. I can understand having some completion grades, but these guys make it seem as if that was all they ever had for “practice” category work. Unreal.

You can find the PPT and student documents at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/American-Literature-Common-Core-Workshop-Reading-Info-Text-and-Writing-Task-844323

Interestingly, I found where someone has posted the Introduction for free on scribed. You may access that file at http://www.scribd.com/doc/95184410/American-Bible-Intro-Excerpt.

And with that, it was time to begin the textbook selections.

Welcome to Module 1: Early America to 1800.

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English III: Early American Origin Myths

Native myths 1

Our class text is Prentice Hall’s Literature: The American Experience edition. After having outdated texts for a rather long time, it is exciting to have texts which are actually designed with Common Core in mind. Unfortunately, there is just not enough time in the semester to read and discuss every text, so we have to sort of pick and choose the highlights of each period which make it into the 18 weeks.

{Now, if you are interested in the outline, you can find the outline of the course modules in my TPT store at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Stephanie-Kirk-11}

Alas, the first experience our students had with the text was Native American Origin Myths. We spent a total of two days on this task, spending about 75 minutes a day. We are just coming out of an entire week on an informational text in which we painfully modeled every detail of close reading, answering text-dependent questions with evidence, and completion of a writing task, so I wanted to do something to make the lesson as engaging as possible.

Myths covered:
1. On Turtle’s Back
2. When Grizzlies Walked Upright
3. Navajo Origin Myth
4. Cherokee Origin of Fire (not in the textbook but included because this is used for modeling)

What do I want students to know and be able to do at the end of the lesson?
1. Explain the point of an origin myth.
2. Retell the origin myth.
3. Know what archetype is, identify it in text, and compare it across multiple texts.
4. Know what theme is, identify it in text, and compare it across multiple texts.

How will we get there?
We started out the lesson by reviewing common skills of archetypes, theme, and traits of origin myths. Fortunately I built the PPT in a way that if a student could tell me what it was I didn’t have to go in detail about it, but when they couldn’t remember archetypes I had that built in as well. Overplanning for anticipated difficulties is ALWAYS a good practice because it is better to have a plan for if something does not work than to allow instruction to fall apart because the students just didn’t have the knowledge you thought they should have coming into the lesson.
Anyway, I knew having the students all read every myth was going to be dreadful and boring, and there was no way to make sure that fit in the pacing. So I modified and divided the class in three groups to study an origin myth, draft it as a play, perform it, and discuss archetypes and themes across multiple texts. Students also were assigned homework to complete the reading guide and text-dependent questions, and students were held accountable for this with the included reading quiz for the second day.
Before reading I did a short story preview and vocabulary preview activity in which students reviewed the material and told me what they thought about the selection. This is such a change from when the teacher used to tell the students all about what they were going to read before reading it. By doing a story preview in this manner, curiosity increased and I think buy in and participation was enhanced.
While day one was mostly skills and notes to intro the period, we did have time for every student to complete his/her first reading of the text. The way I assigned the texts was in looking at the student lexile with some thought into the text lexile and the layers of complexity of the story. I printed the reading guides and wrote the students’ names on the page. Students were not given any sign of who their group might be until the second day. To round out the first part of the lesson, I had a canned closer of using a post-it note to create a Facebook status or Tweet based on the assigned story. To review the skill itself, I had students use an index card to write a note to an absent classmate to explain the skills reviewed/learned for the day. As I type this it occurs to me I should do that every day and post the best summary as a sort of learning wall in the room. I’ll get on that Monday.
Back to the lesson… students were to complete the next reading of the text and answer the text-dependent questions on the reading guide. To help them remember and hold them accountable I sent a Remind101 message to all parents and students in the class.
On day two, I reviewed what we had done and where we were going to go next. I created a model of exactly what I expected them to do using a new myth. Considering skills I had them tell me what the elements of drama were and what goes on a script. I showed them the myth and my script. Then I used students to help me act out the skit for the class. This was great because it allowed me to show my expectations and it allowed us to discuss the role of performer and observer in the room. I gave the students time and materials, and then they produced a script and acted out the plays. After each presentation, I used questioning to get the students to think through the patterns, characters, and symbols which repeated throughout multiple texts. As an exit ticket, I had the students use constructed response and text evidence from each myth to argue a theme in all texts.

All in all, this was a fun lesson with the students. It was hard letting go of control but the bottom line was that this lesson was probably the first time since I can’t remember when that I didn’t feel I was the hardest working person in the room. I built in character and team building, behavior expectations, and tiered accountability. If I had it to do over again, I would have revised pacing to include a more thorough discussion of theme of each myth and had some sort of reporting out format for the groups to engage the audience in talking about archetypes and themes rather than having to lead it myself. But, judging by the output, the students are good with being able to give a theme. Finding the evidence is something I need to build in future lessons for additional modeling and practice.

From American Literature Module 1: Beginnings to 1800 as featured in my English III course. The text referenced is Prentice Hall’s Literature: American Experience Edition.
If you are interested, these documents can be found at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Native-American-Myths-Prentice-Halls-Literature-American-Lit-EDITABLEKEYS-843374

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New Year = New Subject!

This year, English I saw unprecedented gains in the EOC scores. In the inner city setting of my classroom, all but one student passed the test at proficient or advanced. Seeing this kind of data makes me feel like all of the work I have done for them and they have done individually throughout the year has been worth it. One nice thing Tennessee does for teachers is give a likely percent of proficiency. In looking at that, I had students with less than 25% chance of passing do so. Seeing the value added is a nice touch to make a teacher feel worthwhile.

After five years, the English I PLC is considered a success. So, alas, I’m reassigned to another grade level, English III, The American Experience.

The original purpose of this blog was to track and share implementation of CC in the classroom, and I did well at first. With the untimely, unexpected, and violent death of my brother, I dropped the ball at a vital part of EOC prep for my followers and readers. I do apologize for letting you down. The pace of life changed, and I had to focus on my family and my students more than my blog. However, I have decided to renew the page and complete the original mission throughout next year even though the audience will change.

Some things to look forward to in June:
~ Updates from a trip through the original colonies to gather images and information for implementation in the course
~ Updates in terms of planning the outline of instruction in the English III course

Some things to look forward to in July:
~ Updates to the blog in TAP and Instructional Delivery Ideas
~ Updates to the blog in Common Core Implementation in Tennessee

Some things to look forward to in August:
~ Curricular change to English III, The American Experience for semester one. As this is a semester class, the blog will cover first implementation and tweaks for the second round of the same course.

As always, thanks for following my educational journey. I promise to do it better this year.

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Twelve Angry Pigs

With so much success accessing prior knowledge of drama, I have decided we can effectively use one play to go over dramatic elements and then review plot a little. This sets us up to move into poetry, a section which typically takes a bit longer than one might expect, relatively quickly. I’m jumping ahead there though.

For 12 Angry Pigs, I started out by using the Common-Core story preview task I have talked about before. Hopefully, by the end of the semester, the students will be able to preview following my steps but without me guiding them. After previewing the text, I gave a short bio on the author, Wade Bradford, and we started reading. To pick roles, I had cards made for each pig. Students picked their role based on the pig they liked the best, and we then set the classroom up as a jury room with the desks in the center. The first time, students were instructed to just read. Since it is short, we were able to reread for questions and discussion. It was nice having the ability to take the time to do that because it allowed us to do more critical thinking and analysis of the text.

At the close of the section, I gave students a short cloze-style quiz. This mini-unit was more memorization that anything else, but the students did well on the quiz. We will revisit a few of these concepts in a few weeks when we prepared for the unit exam. All of our unit exams are cumulative, and the students will have a short play to read and interpret on their own for the real test of the knowledge.

And we will bring drama back around in the weeks following the EOC to look at Romeo and Juliet so I’m feeling pretty confident about this set of skills.

Now… to prepare for poetry.

1. Drama and Archetype with Twelve Angry Pigs can be found at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Drama-and-Archetype-Twelve-Angry-Pigs-with-keys-adaptable-doc-and-ppt.
pigs 1

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Resuming the Writing (with a snow day on the side)

The week is over for us, and we managed to complete the Common Core expository writing assignment. Amazing success – all but two students completed essay. The two who did not complete it had everything except the conclusion. Now, this worked because of a little motivational strategy I like to refer to as, “The Goods.” Any time we have a major project or essay due, I have some sort of treat for those who complete it. Such a tiny thing to do, but it means a lot to the students. Today I had brownies.

After turning in the essay, we went to the computer to take the digital Common Core Discovery Education Full Year Test B. Here is the interesting thing about this: We have massive data reports due on a regular basis, but the school/state has not officially transitioned to Common Core yet. The test, therefore, is at a much higher text complexity and proves more of a challenge for many of the kids. I believe all but one student tried his or her best, and I am looking forward to seeing the data. Yet this begs the questions because Common Core assessments tend to not be adequate in predicting mastery of the Tennessee State English I EOC. Based on what I know, I think the data will show lower than what I might have anticipated when the students take the EOC benchmarks. Additionally, I have worked diligently to teacher the RUNNERS reading comprehension strategy and the RAMS testing strategy. I have gone so far as to make students write on the test and REFUSED to give them a scantron until I saw evidence of RUNNERS and RAMS on their tests. I have, as a result, seen great growth over the few years I have used these strategies. Unfortunately, on the computer screen, the students were unable to complete RUNNERS and RAMS. Additionally, the question is on the screen but the passage and not, discouraging students from verifying the answer by consulting the text. And then the readings are incredibly long for the few questions asked. I look forward to the data, but I am skeptical of its predictability.

Alas, the weather has taken a plunge, and we have another snow day tomorrow. I have not used a snow day ever (child of the South), and it is a complete thrill to get to have a snow day to spend with my family and working on stuff for school over the break.

Happy three-day weekend to us!

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Writing: Diagnostic Assessments in Common Core Style

Getting students to write is challenging enough, but throw is a typical state writing assessment prompt and all chaos ensues. One thing I have noticed in eight years, two states, and three schools is that, for some reason, behavior and attendance suffer during writing. When it comes to research papers, it is even worse. With Common Core, though, we want to try to include the citations and text-evidence of the typical research formatting because this is what will help them more in college. Knowing how to back up an argument, even verbally, is going to help them in all aspects of life, so it can’t be ignored.
I started the year by having students take a survey of their past experiences in ELA. Two questions stood out when thinking of what to do to assess their writing:
1. What activity to you like least in an English Language Arts class?
A: Of the 16 students present, 13 students said writing.
2. What do you hope Mrs. Kirk does differently to help you this year?
A: Of the 16 students, 9 said some version of “Help us write better.” One student said, “Don’t assign essays you don’t teach us.”
Clearly, these students have a strong hate for writing. So what am I to do? I know I can increase motivation if I can get them to believe in themselves and see me as a resource, but getting to that point will be a challenge.

Thus come the next week of instruction: Chunking a Writing Assessment.

Step 1: I wanted to give the students a writing assessment, but I quickly realized this might lead to a revolt without proper scaffolding. First, I asked students what they hated about essays. Students agreed the prompts “never make sense,” and that gave the starting point. First, I used the gradual release to model how to break down a writing prompt. I looked at a prompt and broke it down for the students. I modeled by reading it, rereading and annotating it, paraphrasing it, and listing starter ideas. Next, we did one together. Finally, I let the students choose between two prompts to analyze with the knowledge they would be expected to actually write an essay on the prompt they chose.
> Interesting realization: Not a single student in the class knew what “expository” meant, so I did a scale back and had students take notes on the four modes of writing.

Step 2: I didn’t want to give students too much help with the essay, but I needed to make them feel they could be successful. I reviewed thesis statement with the students, and we broke it down to topic+argument/opinion=thesis statement. Students then wrote a proposed thesis statement to guide their writing. At this point, student had to commit to writing the essay on one of two texts. While the content and assignment was the same, the story could be chosen by the student in order to create higher motivation and provide a better assessment of student ability prior to teaching a thorough writing unit.

Step 3: Verbally, we reviewed the basic structure of a five paragraph essay. With this fresh on their minds, we looked back at the prompt to plan what we might need to use as main ideas for each body paragraph. As the prompt was reviewing the mood as reflected in the plot, students determined they were going to break the story into beginning, middle, and end. Students then reviewed their plot maps of the proposed texts (both stories) to see which one they understood and could explain to a partner the best. This was helpful because 4 students ended up deciding to switch to the other text before getting too far along.

Step 4: Looking at the evidence they gathered from the beginning, middle, and end of the text, we went back to our prompt analysis to see if we were ready to write the essay. Luckily, students reread their annotations and noticed they needed to include the mood aspect of the writing. Students were using words like “sad” and “happy” on their evidence, so I did a short version lesson of using a higher-level of vocabulary. I also found out I needed to do a short teaching of what mood actually is.

Step 5: Students were given a generic outline suggestion to serve as a checklist for writing the essay. For example, under “Introduction” students were reminded to “Have a hook to get your readers interested,” “Include the TAG (Title-Author-Genre) when writing about literature,” and “Did you have a solid thesis statement?” Students were then released to write the essay in one hour as that was the time which matches the actual assessment.

The student reaction to the CC writing prompt was intense. Part of me felt like breaking down the prompt and creating a writing plan was cheating, but the purpose of this semester is to help make Common Core accessible to our students. If they shut down, they won’t learn anything. In order to raise the bar successfully, it is my job to help scaffold the material in a manner which students can understand and feel they can master. I wanted this lesson to take one class, but it ended up taking two classes to help the students properly. They will have to take a district assessment next month, so hopefully the time taken in this activity will stick and prove helpful on their assessments.
As much as I freak out about pacing with my students this semester, I feel for the teachers and students who will be implementing CC as a directive next semester when the stakes are much higher than they are right now. I feel my students’ frustrations, and I hope they believe me when I tell them this will be helpful to them next year. While I support the idea of a common curriculum to put all students at the same level of academic expectations across the country, I worry about teachers leaving students behind in the fury of the year. Also, I worry about how the teachers will break down the objectives and what skills will be a part of the objective and what skills will be forgotten. I wonder if this was a plan we needed more time to plan for in terms of having students prepared for the jump, and I wonder how scores will look with the first round of CC Achievement Testing. Other vocal spokesmen of CC have said implementation with result in a lower score for students, and I wonder how this will affect the students and the teachers.
When entering a round of increase academic standards, I guess there is no perfect way to bring about such educational reform in a manner that does not hurt anyone involved. As I continue my struggles for this semester in terms of implementing CC and doing that which is best for my students, I will have to put forth more effort and work harder than ever before. We can do this. I know it.

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Starting Right: SEDRC

Each semester I try to think about five key components for success of the students: SEDRC.


With these five things always on the forefront of a teacher’s mind, the students will be set for success.

I think most teachers start the first week with a review and recap of the foundation skills of the course. In keeping with the practice, we started out with a review of plot, character, conflict, theme, and setting as well. To try to keep students interested, we started out with “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell. I identified the CC Standards and linked them to the SPIs of the lesson. To help the students see what we were doing, I showed them the standards and had them tell me which objectives looked more achievable. Every student in class felt the CC standards were “overwhelming” or “just too much” for a lesson, but when showing them the SPIs, the students had much more confidence they could do the task. It was an important lesson learned because even I can get frustrated at complex text segments and need to take a break before breaking them down into manageable segments. After all, have you tried mulling through PARCC’s Mondel Content Frameworks? I think the point of this is seeing the imperative breakdown of an objective into manageable chunks written in student-friendly terms.
How will I communicate my objectives?
On the board, I think I will track the day’s CC standard using “I can” statement posters. I created them, printed them in color, laminated them, and placed a magnet on the back so I could easily stick them to the board. Beside this 8×11, I will post my daily objective in the same formula since my days in North Carolina: “Through the study of (material) I will be able to (skill), and demonstrate understanding by (assessment piece).” Beneath this I will continue to post the agenda.
Considering the powerpoints, I will continue to put the CC standard and the SPI list for the day. This is a good practice as it provides the structure for the lesson and works as a solid “teaching transition” to review the objective when progressing through activities or learning cycles of the 100 minute block.
For closure, I will continue the teacher recap and summary of the skills combined with some form of exit ticket or closure task for the day’s lesson. I am really going to work to increase the effectiveness of this part of class because I have read research on the way the brain continues to work if given an unanswered, thought-provoking question.
Bottom line? Post them. Explain them. Connect them. Teach them. Track them. Assess them.

Setting the Expectations
Looking at the standards and the testing window scheduled for May, I feel a time crunch already. I want to spend time working on teaching my procedures and expectations, but I also want to get the students into the content as quickly as possible. I have tracked their data as far back as my system will let me go, and I have analyzed their pretesting data enough to have a pretty good idea of what we need to work on as a class and as individuals or small groups.
To establish the need for rules and expectations, I modeled reading of “Humpty Dumpty” and provided discussion questions as to the fate he suffered and what might have allowed a better outcome. I feel like this is too soon to give them a text and expect them to think critically at the level I desire, so for a “we do” or guided practice, we used a section of text from Mark Twain’s Roughing It to look at the need for authority, rules, procedures, and expectations, and consequences. Now, this seems odd, but the students at my urban school actually got into the story and wanted to read more than the short excerpt. This gave the opportunity to create a consensus map on respect. The class definition is “thinking about what you say or do before doing or saying it and questioning whether or not that would be tolerated if it happened to you.” Nice. For an explanation, our class agreed on, “The Golden Rule.” Even better. I have a feeling this is going to be a great semester.
Now, with all of this, we reviewed the three primary expectations and I gave a hand signal for each. I will be able to use that motion later to prompt behavior without saying a word. Basically, the saying it, “Respect yourself, others, and the community.” For the motions, “respect” occurs with both hands out and fingers crossed (R in sign language). Drop the cross and point thumbs to chest for “yourself”. Point to classmates with pointer finger to say “others”, and take both hands outward in a circle as in “community”. With these expectations, everything is included. As you probably read in my previous entry, prodecures come with a User’s Guide and we practice those procedures regularly.
A final note on the expectations… I used to think it was commonsense not to act a certain way or do certain things. I can remember being in public, raised so modestly myself, and being astonished by some behaviors, blurting out, “I is just commonsense not to do that!” My Grandma Dunlap, in her infinite wisdom, always taught me that commonsense was not so common nowadays. Once during a parent conference, the student zoned out. The parent picked up a pencil and threw it across the room and hit him in the head. While I thought not throwing pencils at faces was commonsense, this child had come to know this action as commonsense. And throughout my teaching career in multiple areas of incredibly low SES, I realized “classroom” behaviors really are not commonsense. As a result, I made it a point to spend a fair amount of time on teaching and practicing my expectations BEFORE I could consequence them. I also use the positive discipline structure, and I would recommend that to you as well.

Using Data
I know right now exactly where my students stand on past testing, the English I Benchmark I gave, and specific SPIs (skills). I have seen their projected scores for the EOC. What will I do? Show them. Next week, I am going to meet with each student to discuss their data and come up with a plan to help master all areas. My class has been approved to work on standards-based grading, and I am certain this will be most beneficial to the students if they understand their data. So how do you get the data?
Someone in your school has access to a ton of data. You can talk to guidance about looking at cumulative records. You can talk to an administrator about past testing scores. You can track what happens in your class and get your department to track across grade levels. And in Tennessee, we have TVAAS. So what I have learned about the data is ask for it and use it.

You know how if you like the person you are most apt to help them out but if you don’t like them you get that secret pleasure of watching them suffer? Well, students are the way. Think about the best teacher you ever had. You probably love that teacher because you connected on some level, even if it was just that you thought she was a giant jerk who always picked on you and it took years to see what she was talking about. So build those relationships. Show the students you care and you are a human being too. Be honest with them. Believe in them. Make them believe in each other.
Once again, I could go on and on about the importance of relationships and the strategies I use, but those will come in time.

Communication: Part 1
This goes back to the data. You know when you talk to someone who doesn’t really say a thing? That is sort of what data is to students and parents. If you take the time to find it, you need to share it with the parents and students – explaining exactly what is it, what is means, and what you can do to help it increase. And track it down as much as you can. Considering previous data, I track PLAN and EXPLORE tests, 8th grade TCAP scores in ELA areas. I look at their trend lines on TVAAS and see where they fell behind and what I can do to try to fix it. I look at TVASS projections for the English I EOC and use them to motivate me to do more to help the students master the objectives. During class, I break every teacher-created test question down by the standard and use standards-based grading. Then, I add the student mastery level to my data spreadsheets. At the start of the year and just prior to the actual EOCs, we take “Benchmark” tests. By going down to the skill on each test, you can actually encourage kids to do better. For example, if you score a 24% the first time and a 34% the next one, why try? You’re still failing. However, if you can break down the strands and know exactly what skill to work on, that overall percentage will increase. Also, an added bonus is that students will be able to see small gains in individual SPIs as a positive thing, not just give up over the feeling of never being good enough anyway. Finally, every single thing we do, I communicate that in terms of a percentage of 100 to the students even if I just enter it as 7/15 in the gradebook. Why? Because I drill “THE PROFICIENCY PERCENT” into their heads all year long. Every test.

Communication: Part 2
Outside of the data, you still have to communicate with parents. Call them to introduce yourself and tell them how excited you are about the year (even if you’re concerned on the first day). Pick a system and call a set number of parents a week for something nice. It will go far when you need the parent on your side when a research paper wasn’t turned in or a test is failed. Speaking of failing tests, call parents of students who fail a test with a positive twist on what you can send home to study and how much you think the child needs just a little more encouragement and confidence. Are students going to get the benefit of a solid education if they just apply themselves and do what you ask? Yes. But if you were not getting paid you probably would not come to work just because you knew you were doing what was right by helping out our future leaders. Think about how good it feels when someone helps you out or when you get some kind of recognition for all the work you do. Students need that too. Consider a monthly newsletter with important information about upcoming test or skills of the new unit. Why not print this on the back of a student progress report?
A couple of tools to try:
Remind101.com – Awesome text messaging system for parents and students. Set up an account to remind students of deadlines or a bonus question of the day. Remind parents the end of the grading period is coming and all missing work must be turned in before the deadline. Your personal number is not revealed.
Edmodo.com – I can’t say enough. It is Facebook on steroids for education. I have found students are much more likely to text in homework on the bus on the way home when they act as mom or dad when they get home. Check it out.
A class web page – Many schools and districts have a server to help you, but there are also sources where you can get free or practically free sites.

Activites/Resources mentioned in this entry:
1. ELA 9-10 Common Core Bundle with Mastery Checklists and “I can” Statement Posters. This file is available at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/English-9-10-Common-Core-At-a-Glance-Mastery-Checklists-and-I-Can-Posters
2. Lesson for Expectations and Authority using “Roughing It” excerpt is available at http://www.civiced.org/index.php?page=fod_ms_auth02_sb.

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