Tuesday, May 31, 2011

PLN: Book Study - Focus, Chapter 6

“Until we put literacy at the heart of science instruction, the goal of science learning for all will elude us.” (173) Similar to the previous chapter on social studies, Schmoker’s main points are the same – we need deep reading, writing and discussion based upon fewer, more targeted standards in science.

Chapter 6: Redefining Inquiry in Science

  •  Critical thinking and content knowledge are interdependent and best learned simultaneously (Hirsch and Willingham in Schmoker 165).
  • We learn content by analyzing and evaluating as we learn.
  • We need fewer science standards taught more deeply. Reduce current standards by 50% (p.178-179 tells you how).
  • Any experiments/labs must be richly tied to the content.
  • “You can’t do scientific work without being a regular reader of scientific articles. Reading textbooks prepares you to read scientific articles.” (Hall in Schmoker 174).
  • Teachers need to model reading and thinking aloud based on science texts. Students need to be shown how to annotate and refer to graphics/charts. (176)
  • Interactive lecture can be the backbone of a lesson. (Ch. 3 of Focus outlines the components for interactive lecture.)
  • Teachers need to develop common assessments and exemplars for each grading period.
    • Assessments should include multiple choice and essay response.
    • Students should be given the assessments up front so they know what to expect.
    • Assessments should be open-book/notes, so students can support their conclusions and arguments with textual evidence.
    • One end of grading period essay question response should be expanded into a longer paper. (3-5 pages)
    • Schmoker does address the grading of these writing assignments – science teachers are not language arts teachers and should evaluate students’ written work on content, clarity and logic (and with a rubric). (184)
  • Students should read selections from the textbook and supplemental and current articles related to science.
    • Teachers have to model close reading and annotation of these texts.
  • Writing and note taking, consistently implemented, contribute tremendously to learning science content. (192)


Monday, May 30, 2011

Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti

17-year-old Lani is best friends with Erin. They share many of the same interests: astrology, numerology, the environment; however, what binds them together is a tragic accident that happened when they were ten-years-old. Lani feels she owes Erin her life, which is why it’s hard for her when Jason enters the picture. When Erin starts dating Jason, everything seems okay, until Jason becomes interested in Lani. Difficult decisions have to be made. Does Fate intend for Jason to be with Erin or Lani?

The storyline is okay and fairly engaging, but the author seems to be trying too hard to sound like a teenager. There are parts that don’t seem authentic.

Themes: friendship, acceptance, bullying, honesty

Friday, May 27, 2011

PLN: Book Study - Focus, Chapter 5

Social studies is no different than the recurring theme in earlier chapters; students need intensive, frequent reading, lots of talking, writing and arguing about the people, issues and events of the past and present. (132-133) How will students be engaged in class if they don’t read and write about issues that matter to them? We have to balance textbook reading with primary sources and provide opportunities for written and spoken argument and defense.

Chapter 5: Social Studies with Reading and Writing at the Core
  • “Like literature, social studies broadens our vision and sensibilities beyond the limits of direct experience.” (132)
  • Social studies needs authentic literacy and controversy at its core. How else will students learn to argue and defend?
  • Students have to be taught to “argue with the text” – challenge, question, defend.
  • Social studies curriculum should include:
    • Carefully selected standards
    • Selected textbook pages (not the whole textbook)
    • About 35 (or more) primary source documents/current event articles (this is at least one per week)
    • Planned, interactive lectures
    • Essential, overarching questions for each unit
    • End of unit written response (where students respond to essential question using evidence from texts; this is completed in class)
  • Finding “truth and evidence” in texts revolves around task, text and talk. (136, 139)
    • Task = purpose; why is the task interesting?
    • Text = textbook selections, articles, primary source documents; current and historical texts
    • Talk = discussion around the texts and essential questions (this is modeled and guided for students); Socratic discussion; this discussion become the basis for written response
  • “We should model how to read, talk, and write ‘argumentatively and analytically’ at least two times per week, every week, at every grade level.” (146)
  • Modeling isn’t enough, teachers need to circulate to check for understanding and have students pair-share their annotated notes.
  • Contemporary texts (including short biographies, current events, late breaking news) should match the historical time periods being studied.
  • Controversial texts can be read alongside the textbook. (157)

This deep, close reading and annotating in social studies would ensure students make connections with history. This makes me think of Harvey Daniels and Stephanie Harvey’s Inquiry Circles in Action .


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

PLN: Book Study - Focus, Chapter 4

Section II of Schmoker’s book is about curriculum, instruction, and literacy in the content areas.  As a Literacy Instructional Coach, I have to say this is near and dear to my heart.  I LOVE working with content area teachers to improve the literacy instruction in their classrooms. I wish there was more reading and writing in science, social studies and math. I definitely think it is a natural fit and once teachers realize that they don’t have to be a reading and writing teacher in order to teach reading and writing in science (et al), students will benefit all the more! (Exiting my soap box now.)

Chapter 4: English Language Arts Made Simple
  • Every year, every student needs to spend hundreds of hours actually reading, writing, and speaking for intellectual purposes. (94)
  • Language competency is the foundation of learning in the other disciplines. (94)
  • Content knowledge and critical thinking are inseparable and reciprocal (Willingham in Schmoker, 98)
  • Increase the number of whole, nonfiction books (not just excerpts)
  • Students should be reading current articles and opinion pieces in all content areas – “If we can get students interested in the issues of their own time (and we can), they will be far more interested in issues, people, and literature of the past.” (99)
  • Students should spend a ton of time reading and annotating their texts (from a very young age, 2nd/3rd grade). Schmoker spends a good deal of time on the fact that he thinks we unnecessarily elongate the learning to read process and that this is holding students back.
  • Allington says students should read 60 minutes per day and write 40 minutes per day.
  • We need to “ensure that students can read, write, and talk in ways that prepare them for college, careers, and citizenship.” (112)
  • Teacher teams should decide the number of books and readings per year, the purpose for teaching these common readings and the number and length of common papers/writing assignments.
  • In general, Schmoker says
    • 15-20 books and plays
    • 5-10 EACH of poems and short stories
    • 20-40 newspaper/magazine/online articles
    • 40-60% of this should be fiction
    • The rest should be nonfiction/literary nonfiction
    • ***Almost all of this reading should be done in class.
  • What do students do with all this reading? Well, they discuss and then write about what they read.
    • 3 discussions per week about the readings
    • Several formal papers starting in 2nd grade – about one argumentative/expository paper per month, written in two drafts
  • Finally, he makes a comment on textbooks. Basically, they are a genre and we need to teach students HOW to read a textbook.

I don't know about you, but my students are NOT doing this quantity (or quality) of reading on a consistent basis!  I have long advocated for more reading in class and at home.  I also recognize that students need to be taught HOW to read deeply and annotate texts.  If you are using the gradual release model, this learning will stick with kids!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri

This graphic novel is based on 11-year-old Robert “Yummy” Sandifer’s life. By age 11, Yummy had 23 arrests, had spent time in and out of juvenile detention centers and was a member of a gang. In 1994, Yummy was involved in an act of violence and a 14-year-old girl was killed. The story is narrated by one of Yummy’s classmates who reflects on life in Chicago during this time and the difficulties of growing up without many role models and little to no money.

The author has a great website: http://www.gregneri.com/g.neri_yummy.html

Friday, May 20, 2011

PLN: Book Study - Focus, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 is the final chapter in Section I of Focus by Mike Schmoker. Chapter 3 is about how we teach.

Here are some of the insights I gleaned from Chapter 3:
  • The single most important determinant of success for students is the knowledge and skills of that child’s teacher. (Goldberg in Schmoker, p. 51)
  • Lessons should include some basic elements:
    • Clear learning objective
    • Teaching/Modeling/Demonstrating (in small, manageable steps
    • Guided Practice (give students time to work in pairs; teacher circulates)
    • Checks for Understanding/Formative Assessment
  • These last two should occur multiple times during the lesson.
  • Modeling and guided practice should occur at least twice a week in most courses from 2nd – 12th grade. (83)
  • This probably sounds similar to Fischer and Frey’s “gradual release of responsibility” model. (It is similar)
  • “Lessons that include effective use of formative assessment and checks for understanding would add between 6 and 9 months of additional learning growth per year.” (61)
  • Lecture and Literacy Lessons
    • Interactive lecture and direct teaching – students do pair-share, take notes and quick-writes (*note, teacher talks for no more than five minutes before allowing students to process information)
    • Literacy-based lessons – read, talk and write with a focus on any text
  • “If we want students to learn, they need frequent opportunities to talk, write, share, and compare their thoughts.” (72)
  • Template for authentic literacy:
    • Close reading/underlining and annotation of text
    • Discussion of the text (tied to learning goal and supported by the text)
    • Writing about the text informed by close reading, discussion, or annotation

This gets at Schmoker’s point that students should do large amounts of reading and critical analysis in order to defend an argument with textual support. It also puts impetus on the students to take control of their own learning with the gradual release of responsibility to the student. That allows the teacher to check for understanding and continue to model and re-teach as necessary, while focusing on the content.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

PLN: Book Study - Focus, Chapter 2

Focus by Mike Schmoker is broken into two sections. Section I is about what and how we teach literacy.

Take-aways from Chapter 2, What We Teach:
  • Curriculum is the factor that determines how many students in a school will learn. (Marzano)
  • Students need: “meaningful reading, writing, speaking and thinking – around an adequately coherent body of content in the subject areas.” (28)
  • Critical thinking relies on content knowledge.
  • We need learners who “can survey a wide range of sources, decide which is most important and worth paying attention to, and then put this information together in ways that make sense to oneself and, ultimately others.” (Gardner in Schmoker 34)
  • Students need close reading, discussion and writing in EVERY course.
  • David Conley believes these four standards could replace almost all current k-12 English language arts standards.
    • Read to infer/interpret/draw conclusions
    • Support arguments with evidence.
    • Resolve conflicting views encountered in source documents.
    • Solve complex problems with no obvious answer. (38)
  • Conley’s research team also advocates for increasing the amount and quality of writing students are expected to produce.
  • We should teach fewer standards in greater depth.
  • Great question raised by Ravitch about Common Core State Standards: Shouldn’t we study CCSS intended effects and unintended consequences in pilot schools before we go national? (42)
  • When selecting the “power standards,” ask will students need this beyond the test date? Does this have value in multiple disciplines? Is this necessary for success at the next grade level? (Reeves) Consider:
    • Endurance
    • Leverage
    • Readiness for the Next Level
My biggest ah-ha for this chapter was about what we teach. I used to teach in a state that had 90-ish standards for high school English. In seventh grade, students were expected to read and write in seven different genre! It was insane the amount of standards that were required. Now with the movement to Common Core, there may be power standards, but have they been piloted? Have they been vetted? We haven’t even developed the assessments yet! Here we are, as a nation, going down a path that has some major lingering questions. Will folks look back on this as they do NCLB and think, Well, it was a good idea at the time.?


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

PLN: Book Study: Focus by Mike Schmoker – Chapter I

Focus by Mike Schmoker is broken into two sections: Section I is about what and how we teach literacy. Section II is about literacy curriculum and instruction in the content areas. When reviewing my notes, I realized that I needed to break it down further.

Here are my notes from the Introduction and Chapter 1:

 Many schools/districts adopt various initiatives or pretty, boxed programs with the idea of improving student achievement. This misses the mark altogether. How can we do well with new, shiny initiatives when we don’t have the basics?

 Schmoker says the basics are: coherent curriculum (what we teach), sound lessons (how we teach) and authentic literacy (purposeful reading and writing in all content areas)

 Focus on what’s essential and ignore the rest. No new initiatives/programs!

 Determine priorities and frequently clarify them. This takes real leadership on the part of administrators!

 Principals should be instructional leaders who clarify and focus on the core priorities and protect teachers from new initiatives. (My colleagues tell me this isn’t a new thought, but I hadn’t heard it before. I think this is super-important.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

PLN Book Study

Every few months, I’m able to catch up with a dear friend and former colleague. During a recent conversation, as will happen with two literacy folks, our conversation turned to books. We both expressed interest in a new book by Mike Schmoker titled Focus. My friend had a great idea, why don’t we read the book and have our own book club of sorts? I thought this was a wonderful idea!

The more I thought about it, the more I thought to myself; maybe other people would be interested in reading and discussing too. So, the birth of my PLN happened and a discussion of Schmoker’s book will follow. I’d love to have you join me!

To get an overview of the book, click here for an ASCD video of the author discussing the book.