Ruminating on the Core

         LAUSD CCSS Fellows (Secondary ELA) reflect on the Common Core, writing, reading, and English instruction in the 21st century

Archive for English Learners

April 21, 2013

Shifting Paradigms In Preparation for Common Core: “It Takes a Village to… Close the Achievement Gap”

The more I read about the pending implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the more I grasp how much these new standards will require of teachers as agents of education’s newest movement.  True, student assessments will measure more than their ability to fill in a bubble- gauging their ability to comprehend complex texts and demonstrate that comprehension by completing a series of tasks associated with the reading(s).  But, the more I read about the process of creating and implementing the CCSS in any real and meaningful way, whether from the Standards themselves, the experts, or the critics, the more I must reflect about my abilities and limitations…and wonder how other stakeholder groups are preparing for this shift.

Like many teachers within Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the majority of my students are students of color; the majorities of my students are Standard English Learners and/or represent some spectrum of the English Language Learner continuum (RFEP, IEP, LTELs).  As such, I am simultaneously hopeful and fearful of what the onset of CCSS will reveal- at least in the short term.  I’m hopeful that giving my students more complex texts, but supporting their learning with text-dependent questions will (somehow) equalize the seemingly ever-widening achievement gap.  But I’m fearful that while I wait for a generation of students to go through the entire CCSS cycle, the students who’ll get minimal exposure to CCSS, the students who are collectively struggling with the California Standards Tests (CSTs), will only have their limitations further exposed, as Ron Haskins and others suggest in their article, Can Academic Standards Boost Literacy and Close the Achievement Gap?

“…the [new assessments’] results will show a much larger literacy gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students than revealed by current achievement tests. The more demanding Common Core standards in lit­eracy, based on reading comprehension, conceptual knowledge, and vocabulary as well as accurate and flu­ent reading, combined with accurate assessments of these skills, will reveal how far disadvantaged children lag behind on these more advanced literacy skills.”

This notion of further widening the achievement gap brings me back to my abilities and limitations- I am struggling to close the achievement gap nowAm I making strides?  Yes. I’m more cognizant of data, gauging the summative (and formative) abilities of my students, discerning what students “take away” from the lesson, the unit, the class.  Is the achievement gap narrowing for my students?  Yes, but gradually.  And the work to close the achievement gap, albeit meaningful and rewarding, takes effort, collaboration, professional development, commitment, and lots of support- and I’m just one stakeholder in a child’s education.  I’m waiting for students and parents/communities to share my simultaneous hope and fear that the standards and accompanying tasks/expectations, though not insurmountable, are becoming more rigorous and challenging.

I don’t want to close my reflection with a pessimistic tone, for I genuinely believe in the idea behind Common Core.  I believe that the skills and rigor of the CCSS are transferrable, regardless of subject or discipline. I believe that text complexity and text-dependent questions will offer students skills required in the 21st century global workplace and marketplace.  But I also believe that the effort, collaboration, (professional) development, commitment, and support needed to make CCSS succeed reflect what the collective we must bring to the table, not just the standards and teachers.

Cutting to the Common Core: Disrupting Discourse


In the article, “Cutting to the Common Core: Disrupting Discourse”, Kate Kinsella places EL and AELL students at the center of the CCSS discussion.  She contends that the advanced academic literacy required by the CCSS is undergirded by oral language proficiency.  Just as the CCSS now explicitly require that other content area teachers such as social science and science teachers also share the responsibility of teaching reading and writing, so too are they responsible for oral language development and proficiency of their students. Kinsella states, “ramping up the level of text and task complexity alone will not ensure positive outcomes” schools must provide the necessary and appropriate linguistic resources so that EL and AEL students can effectively participate in cooperative tasks and articulate their knowledge.

There are three salient concepts from the article that are critical for all educators: Teachers as academic language mentors, the explicit teaching of an academic register, and oral language fluency that corresponds to the literacy expectations of the CCSS. 

In every classroom in which I have taught in LAUSD, I have been the sole model of academic English.  This is the case for the vast majority of students in LAUSD.  By focusing on the educator as the academic language mentor, Kinsella suggests a paradigm shift wherein the focus is not on the linguistic deficits of our students, but rather on the critical and strategic linguistic resources provided by the teacher.  According to Kinsella, teachers must serve as “eloquent and articulate users of both academic and social language.” 

Schools must make a concerted effort to explicitly model and teach an academic register. All of us code-switch and transition in and out of registers depending on the cognitive and social requirements of a situation. EL and AELL students need the appropriate linguistic cues and modeling to know when and how to use an academic register.  During a learning activity when students are expected to speak and write in an academic register, then similarly the teacher must use, require and model academic English.  This is especially the case when constructing text-dependent questions. Kinsella argues that as language role models “we are frequently guilty of employing generic vocabulary with the intent of eliciting precise academic responses from students.” EL students need explicit directions and cues for when to use an academic register and when it’s appropriate to use a social register. 

In order for EL students to be reclassified in LAUSD they need to score at a basic or above level on CSTs, score a 4 or higher on the CELDT and earn a C or higher in their English class.  These basic requirements do not correspond to the literacy and cognitive demands of the CCSS.  Kinsella wants teachers to “teach rigorous content   modeling and coaching adept academic English register with integrity and tenacity.”

Straw Into Gold (with thank you to Sandra Cisneros)

As a teacher who primarily works with EL students, the more I learn about CCSS, the more I wonder how we can use this opportunity to reduce the academic gap between English Learners and proficient English speakers. At first glance it seems that more rigor and increased text complexity will inevitably lead to a wider achievement gap for ELs.  In search for a more conclusive answer, I read a number of articles with different combinations of “ELs and CCSS” in their titles. One of the first articles was “The Common Core Challenge for ELLs” by Rhoda Coleman and Claude Goldenberg who express their concern about the lack of specific recommendations for ELLs in the CCSS,  which in the introduction to the CCSS, the developers state that identifying the support needed to help ELLs is “beyond the scope of the Standards” (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2010b, p. 6). However, what Coleman and Goldenberg propose was only a rather general list of strategies already in use.

Fortunately, two years after the Coleman & Goldberg article, there is now more clarity about specific needs of English Learners in relation CCSS and more specific ideas on how to address them. Particularly worth noting is Kenji Hakuta’s (Stanford University) national effort to develop CCSS aligned resources that provide specific support for educators working with ELLs. The papers, presented at the Understanding Language Conference in January 2012, address language and literacy issues found in the Common Core State Standards.

One of the elements that draws attention is increased focus on academic language with the understanding that only collaboration among teachers at school sites and more involvement by administrators will lead to student mastery of academic language. Lack of academic language proficiency has been one of the decisive factors in ELs’ efforts to bridge the achievement gap.

Kate Kinsella who has been an advocate of rigorous academic language development addresses this issue in “Cutting to the Common Core: Disrupting Discourse”(2012) where she offers a detailed plan and a several strategies that look promising for schools with a struggling population of Academic Language Learners (ALLs).

Kinsella also insists that school-wide efforts be made to turn academic language into the language of the school, and to ensure that students are exposed to academic language in spoken and written form throughout the day.

She proposes launching a school-wide academic register campaign (sounds like a great opportunity for involving everyone) since school is the only place where students get in contact with academic language. “To actualize the goal of 21st century literacy skills for our increasingly diverse student population, every K-12 educator will need to simultaneously teach rigorous content while modeling and coaching adept academic English register with integrity and tenacity.”(Kinsella, 2012).

What deflects the “been there done that” comments that may arise is her claim that “countless register shifts throughout the course of a school day where teachers routinely switch from academic to colloquial language” confuse students and allow them to keep on using informal register with which they are familiar. Her observation is that a transition from informal language of oral instructions to academic register of written instructions hinders student learning and slows down mastery of academic language.

Even though critics may say that Kinsella is just expanding on her earlier work related to academic vocabulary, she is offering a detailed overview of practical strategies that will make the shift possible.

Let’s turn the challenges that lie ahead into opportunities!

 Coleman, R. & Goldenberg, C. (2011). The Common Core Challenge for ELLs. Retrieved from

Kinsella, Kate. (2012). Cutting to the Common Core: Disrupting Discourse

Retrieved from

The Close Reading Strategy

I was intrigued by the article “Implementing the Common Core State Standards: A Primer on “Close Reading of Text” by Shelia Brown and Lee Kappes (Oct. 2012). The concern of some researchers in the article was on the extent to which teachers should assist students with background knowledge in order to help them construct meaning of a text. The researchers went on to express the view that “minimizing the role of prior knowledge will widen the gap between poor and proficient readers.” However, as I continued to read the Brown and Kappes article, I agreed more and more with the authors’ statement that “Close Reading cannot be reserved for students who already are strong readers; it should be a vehicle through which all students grapple with advanced concepts and participate in engaging discussions regardless of their independent reading level. “

For students to benefit from the opportunity to engage in Close Reading of complex texts, teachers need to know their students. Knowing the students allows teachers to gauge how much background knowledge should be provided to ensure students are able to comprehend the text. It is essential to distinguish between the background knowledge that is required to understand the text and the knowledge sought to be gained from reading the text. Where background knowledge supports the student’s understanding of the text, the student’s personal connection might not accomplish the same goal. Thus, instead of having students focus on their own personal connection to a text (e.g., How did the story remind you of a similar time from your childhood?), instruction instead should focus students’ attention on reading, interpreting, and evaluating text. Moreover, Close Reading allows for discovery. Teachers should select texts that allow students to discover the content independently and through text-dependent questions and discussion. Teachers should not feel the need to deliver content from the text. Teachers can help students unpack the text, but they should avoid pre-teaching the meaning of the text that reading the text itself will lead students to discover.

All students benefit from the experience of encountering complex text and inferring understandings from it. Teachers of ELLs need to find the right balance between scaffolding and independent learning. Building background knowledge is necessary but then the majority of instruction should focus having students working with the text itself.  I think that all students need to read complex texts multiple times to unlock their multi-layered meaning. The first reading allows the reader to determine what a text says, the second reading allows the reader to determine how a text works, and the third reading allows the reader to evaluate the quality and value of the text (and to connect the text to other texts).  This is something that seems to work well in the classroom. This is where a reader’s background knowledge shapes comprehension, allowing students to combine new information with what they already know to construct new knowledge. As Brown and Kappes note, “Teachers who have implemented Close Reading in their classrooms are finding that being challenged by complex texts is not, as they feared, tripping students up; on the contrary, it is actually motivating students to think more deeply.”  Thus, by engaging in close reading throughout their education students develop a rich body of knowledge about the world.

April 15, 2013

Cagey sages, frantic manics, and pragmatic practitioners

As I read article after article and blog after blog about the Common Core State Standards, I find that much of it exists to calm fears – yes, you can still teach literature! Yes, you can still teach the texts you love! Much of it seems to still be mired in justifying the why rather than elucidating the how. As for the resources that actually get down to what implementation will look like, they seem to fall into three categories.

The first are the “cagey sages,” the so-called “experts” who write much, but say little; their breathless endorsements of the shift in focus filled to the gills with jargon and abstractions but little of practical value. The second are the “frantic manics,” who desperately and narrowly pick through the standards and articles to find support and justification to continue doing what they already do, and then gleefully publish their message that all is well, and nothing has to change “that much.” I’ll discuss the third later.

Neither the first or second group is very helpful. Both ignore the fact that we’re not just building an airplane while we’re flying it; we don’t even have blueprints.

The cagey sages like Charlotte Danielson tell us that Common Core “requires instructional strategies on teachers’ parts that enable students to explore concepts and discuss them with each other, to question and respectfully challenge classmates’ assertions” without offering what one of those instructional strategies might be or look like. How do I get students who refuse to read or participate to “question and respectfully challenge” each other?

Timothy Shanahan wisely informs us that “these changes [are] considerable and will require better and more appropriate professional development, instructional materials, and supervision.” Descriptions like “better and more appropriate” earn my students’ essays a big V for vague. These Emperors seem to be in danger of being scandalously underdressed.

Some advise that we continue using our beloved texts, but look at them with “new eyes.” This sort of vague platitude is not only unhelpful, it reinforces the attitudes of many veterans who, having seen reform come and go, brace themselves to ignore common core as they’ve done with reform gone by. The “old wine, new bottle” argument is heard often from this quarter, and who can blame them when the only direction they’re given is to “look at your texts with new eyes”? Charlotte Danielson tells us the students should be “invited, or even required, to think.” Even the greenest of rookies fresh out of teacher preparation understands that – but how?

The frantic manics, on the other hand, seem to want to validate their old practice, to point to their tried and true methods as needing little or no adjustments, perhaps for fear of facing a legacy of years spent “doing it wrong,” or perhaps out of a sense of dread of having to “start all over.” But if we’ve truly found a better way, that means accepting that some old ways were insufficient to our task and must be discarded. However, if we’re going to ask professionals to bravely walk away from aspects of their practice they’ve spent years or decades developing, they need something to replace that. They shouldn’t have to “start all over.” And that means concrete guidance and models.

We can’t change the fact that this airplane is in flight, or that we’ve been tasked with building it. Can we at least get a blueprint? Where is the curriculum? Where are the assessments and questions to ask? Where are the models? What do meaningful text-dependent questions look like? So much of this is being left to teachers, many of whom lack of experience, expertise, or time to create curriculum, assessments, or appropriate models. This does not make them poor teachers or diminish their professionalism. Rather, it highlights just how unrealistic it is to expect teachers to be all things at all times. We need help.

Which brings me to the third category of articles and resources I’ve found, that most extraordinary of treasures: resources from those who actually tackle day-to-day teaching practice: the “pragmatic practitioners.” It is upon this group that the future of public education rests. I aspire to join this category, though I must candidly admit I’m much more of a groupie-apprentice at the moment, particularly given how elusive these pragmatic practitioners are in the jungles of professional journals.

One of the best and most thoughtful discussions I’ve found is about the practice of “pre-reading” anticipatory strategies, deep in the debate over whether pre-reading activities should be eliminated. Cheryl Dobbertin encourages us to go straight to a “cold read” of a text with our students so that they build “comprehension by actually reading a text rather than listening attentively to what others are saying about that text.”

Timothy Shanahan similarly advises, “too often, [a teacher’s] notion of how to address [student reading skill] gaps has been to tell students what the text is going to say rather than offer information that might help students interpret the author’s message on their own.”

Okay, solid rationale, I see their point: students should discover, not be told.  I’m sold – how do I do it? Cheryl Dobbertin distinguishes herself as a pragmatic practitioner by actually offering an example.

She contrasts the act of summarizing a text for the students, which “doesn’t create a need to read, and actually makes it easy for students not to read,” with asking them text-dependent questions that help them understand key elements of the text. Modeling the exchange, she writes, “What are some of the rhetorical devices we might find in a memoir? Ok, now let’s read the first two pages of this memoir together. When you see one of these devices, put a checkmark beside it. Then we will stop to discuss what is going on in this text. Be ready to discuss at least one spot you’ve marked.”

This is concrete. This is clear. Most importantly, this is something I can begin trying tomorrow.

Rather than having faith that hundreds of thousands of teachers will infer what something as complex and nuanced as deep level and complex text-dependent questions looks like, models should be plentiful and varied in order to let teachers see and discuss with one another, to either affirm their practice or support their growth.

April 14, 2013

I Believe…

Common Core.  Common Core.  CCSS.  Oh, how I have read and reread all that will be and have time for.  Pondered, read articles and books written by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, Christopher Lehman, Carol Jago, and Dr. Tim Shanahan.  Listened to them in person, podcasts, and webinars.  I finally decided to look at an early article I had read titled “California and the Common Core State Standards: Early Steps, Early Opportunities.”  This addressed the shifts in curriculum and instruction.  In this article, Linda Darling-Hammond states that students will now have to “learn to learn.”  Isn’t this the essence of all education?

You see, this is my second career.  My first was as an investigator in federal law enforcement.  Same law throughout the United States and Trust Territories:  It didn’t matter where I went, same objectives, same benchmarks, same specific language.  There were definitely different strategies and techniques utilized to achieve our goals based on the situations, but we never wavered nor feared our mission had changed.  Imagine my surprise when I entered the classroom and discovered that not only did objectives and benchmarks change from school site to school site, but from classroom to classroom.  Interpretations of the California State Standards were varied.  More importantly, I discovered  many of those in education did not believe that, in fact, students had the capacity to “learn to learn.”

I found myself wanting my students to achieve and believe.  In order to do that, I enrolled in many classes, including a Reading Specialist program and discovered a new world where reading, writing, speaking, and listening were the focus.  By now, you might have deduced my joy with the Common Core.  Alas, there is another part that still has not been addressed.  The belief that we, teachers and administrators, will achieve the mission of teaching our students of “learning to learn.”  As I have read others postings, I sense trepidation and even, possibly, fear.  We must enter this new era of education armored with knowledge and trust in one another and of our own capacity.  We cannot do it alone, but we will know we have done our best.

I will leave you with our class creed.  Each one of my students recites this as they begin each day.  I too, say it with them.  After a task, I always ask, “Was this your best?”  I’m hoping our answer will be, “Yes!”

I believe in myself and my ability to do my best.

I am intelligent.

I am capable of greatness.

I can learn.

 I will learn.

I must learn.

Today, I will listen.

I will speak.

I will see.

I will think.

I will reason.

I will read and I will write.

I do all these things with one purpose in mind.

To do my best.

 I am too smart to waste today.

Resource:  Hulce, C.,Hoehn, M., O’Day, J., & Walcott, C. (2013), California and the Common Core State Standards: Early steps, early opportunities. Washington, DC: American Institute for Research.

Access to Complex Text and Academic Language Practice for EL’s

As the implementation of the CCSS nears, it is the hot topic of discussion in professional development as well as in informal conversations. As some of the initially controversial topics are being better understood (proportion of informational vs. literary text, etc.), the one which many teachers are grappling with and concerned about is that of increasing text complexity in the context of English Learners and other students who are reading below grade level.  The question and concern, “How can we use more complex text when they cannot understand the current ones?” resounds at every turn.  After doing extensive online research for resources regarding English Learners’ access to CCSS that may help guide the answers to this question, I came across “The Common Core Challenge for ELL’s” by Rhoda Coleman and Claude Goldenberg and “What does Text Complexity Mean for English Learners and Language Minority students,” by Lily Wong Fillmore and Charles J. Fillmore of University of California, Berkeley.  In conjunction with the new CA ELD standards that are aligned to the CCSS, some of the ideas presented begin to inform practices for EL’s success.

Coleman and Goldenberg emphasize the importance of providing EL’s with the means to develop oral and written academic language in order to master academic content in all subject areas.  They hold that learning academic language must include “opportunities to use (its) elements in meaningful communication”.  In order for this to be successful, content area teachers must go beyond teaching the vocabulary of their subject by providing instruction and practice in syntax and text structure.  For example, students’ oral and written practice should include the formal structures of comparison/contrast, cause/effect, etc.  L.W. Fillmore and C.J. Fillmore further develop these suggestions in “What does Text Complexity mean for English Learners…” by providing a detailed example of close reading and an academic language instruction model.  They cite a successful model in which EL’s receive “a daily instructional session in which teachers led students in a discussion focused on a single sentence drawn from the text the class was working on.”  This strategy utilized about 15 minutes of class time.  Students and teachers worked on unpacking grammatically complex sentences a phrase at a time in order to unlock the structures of complex texts and comprehend the meaning ensconced in these structures.  The authors cite success of this strategy as not only evidenced by the increased number of EL’s passing proficiency tests but by the EL’s outperforming the non-EL’s in the respective ELA and history tests.

Although spending 15 minutes per period daily on one sentence may not seem feasible, the methodology of integrating explicit study of formal language structures would surely improve EL’s academic language mastery.  The key is for all content area teachers to focus on structured and systematic oral and written academic discourse based on language objectives in each and every classroom, daily, in order to help EL’s make meaningful gains in their literacy skills.  The gift that the CCSS brings is the alignment of grade level learning benchmarks that go a long way in helping educators vertically align curriculum.  Concurrently, we must also focus on utilizing existing and new strategies to build motivation, developing study and organizational skills, and fostering positive relationships to increase student efficacy.

April 11, 2013

Shakespeare, Downton Abbey, and the Qualitative Measures of Text Complexity

What I did not realize about the Common Core is that it actually provides tools for understanding the qualitative measures of text complexity.  I had always understood that there are different levels of “difficulty” or “depth” to text, but could not find the exact words to describe them.  Fortunately, Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts lays out clear guideposts for texts so that teachers can more adequately address the reading needs of their students.  For example, a teacher can focus on texts that show multiple “levels of meaning.”  This would entail that the reader (depending on reading ability) will be expected to identify subtexts, subtle suggestions, political biases, and other hidden purposes revealed by the author.  In reading a Shakespearean play, for example, the reader can appreciate the multiple levels of meaning that can be derived, ranging from the plain simple meaning, to irony, satire, parody, and even slants.  In higher levels of meaning, it would even be possible for an assertion to be directly stated, when the exact opposite is tacitly relayed (a la, any episode from the television series Downton Abbey).

This razor-sharp categorization of different qualitative measures of text complexity is a welcome relief from the banal years of overly simplistic reading comprehension levels.  Consequently, there are indeed too many of our students still reading at “too low a level.”  And if teachers merely emphasize (as many of us have in the past) that using graphic organizers, accessing prior knowledge, putting up word walls, etc. is “enough,” then students may still remain unchallenged.  I’m encouraged that the Common Core seeks to go beyond the previous goal posts of merely “closing the achievement gap” or reaching proficiency.  With qualitative measures of text complexity, students can advance to the multiple layers of meaning in Shakespeare’s corpus and beyond.

April 9, 2013

An Argument for Text Simplicity!

It was a relief to read Engage, Excite, Enrich: Selecting the Right Book  by Teri S. Lesesne because Young Adult literature has really gotten a bad reputation when it comes to use in the classroom.  Many English teachers and our district seem to look down on YA lit as fluff, and not worthy of being taught because it lacks text complexity.  Lesesne gives various examples of YA lit that has text complexity in a variety of forms including plot, character and theme. She also offers multiple websites we can visit to find books that fit the needs of the variety of students we teach, including reluctant readers and college bound students.

Lesesne asks, “How do we assist students in finding books that excite and motivate but are also appropriate and perhaps even a bit challenging? …How do we gauge text complexity in meaningful ways so that we can be the person who helps students find books that will become part of their “just-right” reading lives?”  It’s not just about text complexity when it comes to our students.  Our job is also to find books that “excite” and “motivate” kids, and to help make reading a part of their lives. I realize the focus of the Common Core is text complexity, but there is also an argument for text simplicity.  I think we should be teaching a combination of the two – texts that challenge our students on a qualitative level (in regards to the text complexity analysis worksheet), but include texts that are still “challenging” but also…fun.

I use a variety of texts that are the epitome of text complexity, such as Civil Disobedience and The Fall of the House of Usher. But I also use books that aren’t as difficult to comprehend, such as The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game. I’ve even used novels by Dean Koontz in the past.  The point is, a part of our job as English teachers is to instill a love of reading in our kids.  Most of my students NEVER read on their own.  In the beginning of the year when I ask my students to write down their favorite book, over 95% of them tell me they hate reading and have never read anything they liked.  They leave that question blank.

This is truly sad.  As we all know, the more our students read, read ANYTHING, the more their vocabulary, critical reading skills, and general knowledge increases.  In an age where teenagers cannot tear themselves away from their phones, iPods, tablets and computers, anything that gets them to sit down and read is a miracle.  And unfortunately, that isn’t always going to be reading things like The Declaration of Independence, even if we wish it could be.

Using YA lit that isn’t a paradigm of text complexity is okay. In fact it’s great. When I taught The Hunger Games I had students who never read in their life excited about reading. Moments like this are magical and should not be discounted.



April 2, 2013

Ruminations on Challenges and Opportunities

In preparation for this task I spent an entire afternoon perusing some of the texts suggested for this blog post. I read other people’s posts and comments. I followed leads and links. I found myself returning to two different texts — Kate Kinsella’s insightful suggestions for “launching an Academic Language Campaign” and the “3P Grading System” on the website, Teaching That Makes Sense .

Kate Kinsella shows us that we, their teachers, are the only avenue some of our students have to achieving the language skills that will enable them to be “college & career ready.” Through modeling appropriate diction and communicating clear & consistent expectations for our students’ verbal  & written expressions we can help them learn the lexicon of the educated world. But, just as importantly, she makes it clear that we need to rethink the way we formulate the questions we ask in the course of a class or small group discussion. Ultimately, according to Kinsella, we get what we ask for. Our questions tend to be vague, general, and not specific to what it is we want our students to do. (It’s as if we think they should already know how or will magically get there on their own.)

Although I use academic language – and explain through definition and analogy — in my classroom, I still found some of my practice represented in the “DON’T” examples of Kinsella’s article. There are several places where i have noted “GUILTY” in the margins.

These are not (yet another) new set of standards. The Common Core is a paradigmatic shift. “They must articulate their text comprehension, summarize, make inferences, and justify claims using complex sentences, precise vocabulary, and grammatical accuracy.” As I noted in the first page margin after reading this list of goals & expectations, you can’t just slap lipstick on this pig and call it a lady. We have to rethink much of what we do and revise how we do it. Simply identifying and inserting “complex text” without dealing with our students’ academic lexical and syntactic deficiencies is not going to be a whole lot of fun — for them or for us.

Reading the second article, “3P Grading System,” was a little like fantasizing about winning the lottery. You mean I never have to grade a stack of essays again?? sigh… 

And, for me, about as likely. A new grading system that looks at participation, progress and performance over time. That places a significant amount of responsibility for assessment and growth on the student. Novel idea. :)

And that is precisely where the intentions of the 3P Grading System intersect with the intentions of the Common Core: The goal of each is to move our students from being functional subordinates who do what they are told to being actively engaged and independent academic learners.

The 3P Grading System asks students to participate in their own assessment and, in the process, take ownership of their learning process; with the aid and support of (teacher-supplied and eventually student-generated) guidelines, criteria, rubrics students develop the ability to determine their own strengths and weaknesses. Then, they become responsible for “fixing” it. The classroom becomes student-centered and, eventually, the students are able to define criteria for their work and develop rubrics for successful work. The teacher becomes a partner in the student’s growth, a mentor.

This process dovetails with the goals of creating independent learners who are college- and career-ready embedded in the Common Core State Standards.

Neither article ignores the fact that our student population needs support and scaffolding to achieve these lofty goals.  I came to see that both articles shared the value of teacher modeling as a cornerstone of good teaching. Writing, Speaking, Listening, Reading…we must show them the way. We must be the mapmakers – and, then we must let them chart their own course.

Peha talks about grading a portfolio for the “performance” part of the system but never specifically details how that might work. Or, how it works for the students. I’m not sure how the work gets discussed throughout the semester. Or what justifies an expectation of progress. But I like the idea of portfolios and collaboration. Ironically, both Peha’s Grading System and the Common Core State Standards are short on the specifics of implementation.

But, that’s what makes the future possibilities of both of them so exciting.

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