...and the Common Core Conversation about Text Complexity Continues - Part 2

Read on to see how I revised my Fifty Shades presentation.....for the better!

If you read my 1st Quarter reflection post, you'll remember that it was mostly about our school's implementation of the Common Core for ELA so far this year, including my staff presentation, Fifty Shades of the Common Core.   Since presenting this to my staff, I have been busy.  I attended a presentation at NC State's Friday Institute by Timothy Shanahan, one of the authors of the Common Core for ELA. This was a very interesting presentation, I really liked it for several reasons.  I mentioned in my last post, Common Core Conversations Part 1, that I was reluctant to go because based from everything I'd read about him and his ideas that he pretty much blew guided reading out of the water. However, I listened with a critical ear and was open for new ideas....my principal's favorite quote, "the beauty of AND vs. the tyranny of OR"...remember that!

Shanahan's presentation was also very affirming for me (realizing that I had presented much of this content to my own staff four weeks before hearing him) many of the ideas and concepts I heard from him, I had already included in my Fifty Shades of the Common Core presentation, so this let me know I was right on track in my own understanding and learning curve of the Common Core for ELA. It also made me realize that we need to rethink the "complex text" delivery of our teaching and outcome expectations of student learning around complex text.   He spent a good part of the day talking about text complexity and the close reading of complex texts-- two BIG take-aways from the Common Core.  After lunch he broke everyone into groups and assigned each group an article to read.  Everyone in the group had their own copy of a "complex text"...our group was assigned a 5th grade text called  "When Is a Planet Not a Planet: The Story of Pluto"  He asked us each to a think about these questions--What will students find hard about this?  & What will you (the teacher) do about it?/What will you (the teacher) do to help kids understand the hard parts?  The sub group we formed in the room decided that wouldn't each read through it all first and then go back and talk about it, we decided as a group that we would read it page by page, silently first and then stop and verbally annotate our thinking out loud as a group.  That's just the way our group decided to do it.  The story was immediately "hard" for several reasons and there were definitely some complicated verbose sentences, grammar issues and language structure and syntax challenges.  There was some obvious vocabulary that we thought students would get tripped up on, but Shanahan's take on pre-teaching vocabulary is, don't. The Common Core de-emphasizes many pre-reading strategies and as he said, there is no need to activate background knowledge about Pluto or the solar system as students need to learn knowledge about Pluto and the solar system from the text and author.  After reading this nonfiction "story" of Pluto, background knowledge of planets or the solar system doesn't really help you anyway, since the "story" (which isn't really a story at all, and this is one of the factors that makes it complex), is that it's more about the how scientists change and revise their hypothesis as they learn new information [one of the BIG IDEAS].  As far as vocabulary, Shanahan says to be ready to explain unknown words, terms and phrases, but do NOT  teach all this to kids before reading the book.  And regarding a book introduction, he believes that all text introductions done the Common Core way is similar to the way articles are presented in The New Yorker--a picture (the cover), a caption (the title) and blurb (a short summary).

Shanahan also got us (my principal and I) really thinking about how ALL kids read and access complex text.  Based on an email conversation I had with guided reading guru, Jan Burkins last month, I believed that our school was accomplishing the teaching of text complexity best through read-alouds -- text talk lessons in K-2 and novel studies in 3-5, while continuing to preserve guided reading, doing it as we've always done and teaching students at their instructional level in a small group setting each day.   However, Shanahan's presentation got us thinking about  this question, "When do kids really ever have an opportunity to read complex text (themselves...not have someone read it for them, "reading by proxy" he calls it) and really struggle with it?" That really got us thinking because for those at-risk readers who AREN'T reading on grade level, what are they actually doing during the reading aloud of a complex text?  Well, from what I've seen, they are fake reading, fake following along, passively reading, reluctantly participating and acting or over-acting involved as to not draw attention to the fact that they aren't really reading nor do they have any idea what's going on with the storyline, but all the while "looking like a reader" in a whole group reading setting.  Right? I've seen this countless times before.  I'm not saying the "text complexity standard through read-alouds" is a bad model, in fact, it's probably great for about 70-80% of your class.  However, it's the 20-30% of your class that is the percentage that is holding your class, and most likely your school, back from closing the achievement gap. When in fact, they are the subgroup that we need to be targeting the most...and targeting them means rethinking the differentiated delivery, the text, the task and outcomes for this group of students.

So, I left that presentation with a plan.  Not sure how it in your school or district, but in our school and district, we are Title 1 (our school is now school-wide Title 1)...of which the biggest benefit is extra personnel (reading interventionists) to serve those kids that need extra support in reading, where that extra support in reading does not replace the daily dose of small group instruction that each child receives daily from their own classroom teacher.   So, as a reading interventionist myself, I wondered how it would go if, for the group of 6 3rd grade students I serve who read on a 2nd grade reading level, who also get a dose of guided reading from their own classroom teacher at their instructional reading level, then come to me, and instead of getting another dose of guided reading at their instructional level, got instead a dose of guided reading at their complex text level?  This way, they get their instructional dose, as they always did and continue to get, AND they get a chance to read complex text with my support where all six of them are held accountable to actually reading the complex text and working out the hard parts with my scaffolded support...really struggling through it, getting through the hard parts after determining WHAT makes it hard and hard to understand.  Their classroom teacher still does read-alouds with books in the 2/3 stretch band so they are still hearing and "reading" through read-aloud.  This plan was beginning to sound very smart.  I mean teachers are hard-wired to help, in fact, most teachers swoop in a help students too much during guided reading, so scaffolding students during the reading complex texts wouldn't really be too far a jump, right?

 I went to the library on the Sunday after Shanahan's presentation and I spent about 30 minutes looking for text (in the 2/3 stretch band) that I felt would be engaging and relevant to the six students in my "3rd grade but reading at a 2nd grade level" group.  Then, I found two books about Thanksgiving. One called, The Pilgrim's First Thanksgiving, a very traditionally told story of how the Pilgrims came to America.  Then I found a book (a graphic novel) called Two Bad Pilgrims. Both books in the 2/3 lexile stretch band.

  Noting that text to text comparisons are important in the Common Core, I checked them both out so we could compare the perspectives and views of the individuals told in both books.  (Both books were non-fiction).  I began by reading only the first chapter of The Pilgrim's First Thanksgiving...covering the voyage on the Mayflower.  Then, I put it down and passed out photocopies to each of them of first four pages of Two Bad Pilgrims.  [You can photocopy up to 10% of a book without violating copyright laws....and this way each student had their own copy to hold, read and annotate.]  I asked each student to read the first page silently, several times, mentally noting tricky parts, tricky words and hard to understand sections.  Since this is a graphic novel, this also presents an additional challenge, although a quick structure to teach and move past, nonetheless, there isn't the traditional left to right, return sweep with words...word boxes and speech bubbles are all over the place.  Mind you, and this is big, you [the teacher HAS to read the book or section first] not to pre-teach, but to anticipate the complex spots and sentences.  For me and this group of students, the tricky spots were mostly with the language, not necessarily the hard words, but the way the author uses language...reading anchor standards 4, 5 and 6...all the ones about author's style and craft.

For example, here are the spots from page 1 (just page 1) that led our text-based discussion:
1) the graphic novel structure
2) narrator: the story is being told by the professor ABOUT the boy pilgrims who interject
3) vocab: university, pilgrimology & goody-goodies
4) Sentence "Perfect, prayerful and obedient." You have to know that those three words go with the  goody-goodies referred to in the sentence before, and that goody-goodies refers to the nouns Pilgrims from the first sentence....lots of complex noun and pronoun strings students have to understand and connect together.
4) "medium-bad" compared to good, medium bad is still actually bad
5) The first two sentences are the non-examples of what the book is really about
6) vocab: nearly - meaning almost
7) "Of course" after "from our parents"...spent several minutes discussing what the author meant by using the words, "Of course!"...Tyrese finally said, "well kids only repeat what they hear from their parents, they learn it from their parents, so if their parents are saying it, they are going to say it, too!"...(Brilliant!)

As you can see, there were at least 7 text based teaching points on this one page alone, this page took about about 20 minutes to work out.  The next page about 15 and the 3rd page about 20 as we made the organizer below.  As you can see there is SO much text to talk about! Here is the graphic organizer we made just to organize the information on page 3.  

After we finished reading the first chapter of Two Bad Pilgrims together, we had spent about three days on it, but their understanding was very solid and they begged to keep reading it.  I told them I was going to turn it back into the library and they all wanted to race down to the library to check it out.  Not only were THEY reading text at a complex level for their grade level, they were engaged and struggling, they felt so accomplished and was actually proud of their "struggling"...because they persevered and got it....they CARED about what they were doing...ultimate example of RIGOR right there. 

With all this said, and the lesson and reading group structure changes I made after Shanahan's presentation, I added nine more slides about text complexity and differentiated ways to serve students in addition to an instructional text level dose of guided reading daily  to my Fifty Shades of the Common Core presentation to create this revised file.  I presented the revised presentation to Knightdale Elementary on October 31st. I will be presenting it again  Dec.5 in Pittsboro County, NC, on January 5th in Arkansas and on March 10th at the NC State Reading Conference.     

One last note, I was excited to find (and I hope you are too) something called the Basal Alignment Project. How many of you, like our school, have old Houghton Mifflin anthologies sitting around collecting dust?  Well, this project has created (over 200 lessons so far) text dependent lessons using stories from these anthologies.  The project is housed in Edmodo, so if you don't have an Edmodo account, you'll need that.  The directions for joining the Basal Alignment Project group are HERE. You'll want to scroll to the bottom of the page under the Steal Those Tools section.  For those of you who just want to see what one of those lessons looks like, here's one I downloaded, I'm sure they wouldn't mind if I linked a lesson here just to show you...Raising Dragons from the 3rd grade Houghton Mifflin Anthology.

Guide to Creating Text Dependent Questions by the authors of the Common Core

I really think this post is jam-packed with good information, a lot to take in I know, but there really is so much good stuff to share! Let me know how your text-dependent reading lessons are going and how all students read complex texts at your school. I'd love to hear.  More important to consider is this question...

Happy Reading! 
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tammy said...

jen, this is a powerful and timely post that i look forward to sharing with rebecca and dawn. thank you for continuing to inspire our work!

April Walker said...

Fabulous post. I do enjoy using read aloud, but I do want to start incorporating more nonfiction into my student's independent reading, especially for Science and Social Studies topics. I think even having students compare an independent read to the read aloud text would be a good way to build in text comparisons.
~April Walker
The Idea Backpack

Linda said...

Jen, this post is incredible! Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience!

My team has been really struggling with aligning our Houghton Mifflin second grade reading series to the Common Core. Thank you so much for sharing the Edmodo resource!


Anonymous said...

I greatly enjoyed reading your blog post! I am an ESE (special ed) major and am also doing a volunteer internship in a self-contained ESE classroom for grades 9-12.

For my intended career path, I will most likely never be able to utilize these concepts with my students, but I learned a lot!

I do have a question, this process of dissecting each page seems extremely overwhelming to a student who is below grade-level in reading. Have you noticed that with any of your students? How can you prevent it? The graphic organizer also seemed a tad overwhelming (I think I've been in special ed. for too long!) How would you reach out to the students who are not visual learners, or to students who have vision impairments?

In my classroom, there is one particular student who isn't confident in her reading abilities and self-sabotages. Have you ever had students like that? What would you do to help the student be confident in herself and her reading abilities?

I'd love to hear your input! My email is tnfranklin@seu.edu
Thank you!

Leigh-Anne Blaylock said...

I just stumbled onto your blog and this was the first post I've read. I'm envious you have had so much training on Common Core! Can you elaborate on your comment, "he blew guided reading out of the water?" Thank you!

sbigham3 said...

Great post, Jen--

Question about your school's use of the BAP....How are you incorporating them into the mini lesson/Daily Cafe literacy block structure? Over the course of the week like we typically do with our Text Talk lessons?

Jennifer Jones said...

Using Text Sets is also a way to compare nonfiction text on the same topic. I will address Text Sets in one of my next posts. Thanks for commenting.

Jennifer Jones said...

Thanks for commenting. Actually, dissecting text one page at a time is less overwhelming than telling students "Read this chapter and then we'll talk about it." However, IF a page is too much, I would say "Read this paragraph "closely and carefully" and then well talk about it OR even, read this sentence, and then we'll talk about it. Break it down and down until it's not too overwhelming and then work back up. As far as the graphic organizer, it was something we created TOGETHER as a way to organize all the text information that was included in that meaty paragraph. The whiteboard was a blank slate when we started and we "built" the organizer together to shape our understanding of WHO was on the Mayflower and WHY they were on the Mayflower. For students that are not confident readers, close and careful reading is actually something they LOVE because text-based answers are easy to spot and identify. Turn "finding answers in the text" into a game, they love finding answers IN the text and proving where the answer is.

Jennifer Jones said...

Actually, I have not had any formal training on the Common Core. What I have done, is read all the Common Core documents, including Appendix A, B & C for ELA, read the book, Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, read two blogs in particular (that have opposing views and interpretations of the Common Core) the Burkins & Yaris blog and Timothy Shanahan's blog, Shanahan on Literacy. www.achievethecore.org is also a website created by the authors of the common core, as an electronic 2.0 addendum site to the original common core documents. As the primary staff developer of literacy in my building, I feel like it is my job to stay abreast of the instructional practices we are asking teachers to implement and it is my job to show them how to do that. Perhaps this is why I'm am being contacted by other schools in NC out outside NC to come and present my Common Core presentation, because they tell me they learned more in my 3 hours than from any other common core training they had received prior to me coming. I TRY to share as much knowledge through this blog as I do with my staff here at my school. I hope folks find it helpful. Thanks for commenting, as least some folks are reading it. :-)

Jennifer Jones said...

Thanks Stacy! First "our school's use of the BAP" has not occurred yet, because since I just found the BAP lessons last week, we haven't had a staff development on this yet and Jim said it would be too much right now, I agree. We will introduce and fishbowl these lessons at a staff development in January. I did send the resource to staff via email, some have looked at them, some haven't. I have begun to use them for my 2nd grade intervention group who gets their instructional scoop with their teacher. I also use the 3rd grade BAP lessons with my 2nd grade enrichment reading groups who are reading at a 3rd grade level, but who are getting "stumped" with some of the text-based questions in the BAP lessons, which tells me they are right where they need to be. I completed the first story in the 1st 3rd grade book, Cliffhanger, I think it's called, and it was hard, COMPLEX. I really like the lessons, and I love that I don't have to think of the questions myself, they are already done for me. I think a portion or a page from the book could be used in a mini-lesson, but right now, I am just trying them out as my questioning guide during CORE level guided reading. It takes us about 4 days to get through one BAP lesson/story. Finding the answers "in the text" and using "text in your answer" has become a game now and they all search and scour to find where in the text the answer is. For the question, "Where are Alec and Dag at the beginning of the story?"...no more, outside, or at home....I get "at the Teton Mountains Climbing School in Death Canyon"...they are very specific now, even just after a week. They are starting to get it and understand at a deeper level. Exciting stuff! Oh, and did you see Shanahan's latest blog post about Daily 5 and Common Core? www.shanahanonliteracy.com...check it out.

Jennifer Jones said...

From my understanding, Shanahan believes that if we only ever teach kids at *their* instructional level and only at that level, they will never read for themselves, grade level text that is hard. See his blog for more in his beliefs on this: www.shanahanonliteracy.com

Anonymous said...

Now I understand! Thank you!

Carrie said...

Hi Ms. Jones,
We're reading! I feel lucky to have stumbled upon your blog last summer, and I have been trying to use all of the information you've presented as our school is slowly transitioning to the Common Core. I feel like I've learned so much, and am always checking on the links that you mention.

You mentioned the Basal Alignment project through Edmodo - do you know if anyone is working on lessons like these for the 2nd grade HM text? I hate to reinvent the wheel, but I will if I have to! We don't have a whole lot of resources, or "quality" literature readily available in class sets, so I'm trying to use the text when possible.

sbigham3 said...

Funny you would ask that question, Jen....Shanahan's recent blog post was a hot topic at today's Stage 2 Daily Cafe' training meeting. It's pretty obvious his understanding of the Daily Cafe is quite limited. He spoke only of the structure and mentioned nothing about the instructional piece, the Cafe. We feel this will serve as a catylyst for discussions among teachers in the county with regards to how you CAN'T stop with just the structure or the "activities" as he called it. We're working on creating walk through resources and identifying exemplar teachers across the county functioning at Stage 2. This is an exciting time in our large county where an effort is truly being made to come together....unheard of in the past!

Julie Rehmer said...

All I can say is Wow! I was planning on asking you about your Common Core training. You are so knowledgeable and present your information in teacher friendly language. I have received Common Core trianing from leaders in our district (I am in California) and the information has been so sterile and dry. We have been talked to but have not been given any good resources or teacher applicable strategies. Since I stumbled upon your Blog a few days ago my head has been spinning. I a m really not sure where to start. My teaching position is similar to yours, however I am not a formally trained reading specialist. I am responsible for reading interventions at my site. After reading what you are doing/have done, I feel so inferior to but inspired by you. I am the kind of teacher that gets excited to start something new but tend to want to take on so much that I get stumped on how to organize it all and where to get started. Any suggestions/advice would be helpful. Thanks so much for your inspiration. You are truly making a difference.

Julie Rehmer

speech therapy Orange County said...

Thank you for sharing this very useful post. The insights about Common Core which you have imparted will certainly enlighten everyone especially those in the teaching and learning industry. May you continue sharing your thoughts so that more readers will benefit. Thank you once again.

Shawna said...

Hi Jennifer,
I just want to thank you so much for posting all of this. Since I am a teacher without a classroom and no chance for district training I try to get my information wherever I can, and you are a true resource! Anyway, I just wanted to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

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