Q & A from the Hello Literacy Inbox

I get a lot of emails from teachers all over the country asking me general and specific questions about literacy instruction...99% of the time, I answer them and if I don't, it's because it got lost in the email abyss that happens between my iPhone and my real Inbox and to the 1% that did not get a reply from me, I'm sorry.  I do, however, think that others might find value in others' questions as well as my response.  Therefore, I've decided to begin a new segment (of which I will do from time to time) to post the questions of others and my reply.  So here goes, an email I received today from Nicolle (first names only).

Dear Jen, 
First I found the text complexity very interesting.  However I am finding it hard to incorporate complex text because we have the journeys reading program at our school.  Plus we have been given the guided reading books th also come along with that series.  What are your suggestions as how to get more complex text.  Plus how do you know if it is a complex text?  Another question I had was about Marzano's vocabulary steps.  I want to use them in my instruction however we have set vocabulary words and we are supposed to introduce them in two days.  What are you suggestions as to how I can effectively use those steps in my classroom for vocabulary?  Do you have any websites that would clearly explain the common core.  We have been given our series however we have not been working to closely with the common core and I do not feel comfortable with using something that I do not know about.  Thank you so much for working with me.  

 The only website that is Common Core "approved" is www.achievethecore.org. It's actually maintained by the authors of the Common Core.  Unfortunately, it's not a nice neat package of information.  You could of course, read Appendix A, B and C of the Common Core documents, like I did.  I can also recommend a few blogs that you will want to follow and read on a regular basis to stay in the continuous learning curve, Thinktank for 21st Century Learning, by Burkin and Yaris (Jan Burkins wrote Preventing Misguided Reading) and then Timothy Shanahan, is one of the authors of the Common Core ELA is at www.shanahanonliteracy.com. These two blogs have differing interpretations of guided reading and text complexity so they offered some divergent Common Core food for thought. I would also recommend reading a few books. The first one is called Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, et al, and Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading.  You can find the lexile level of any text by going to www.lexile.com and if it's in the grade level stretch band, it's more than likely complex, and what makes a book complex doesn't have flashing neon signs either, you must look for some of the characteristics of text complexity (that I listed in my last blog post and anticipate these complex elements before reading it with students...this will take some practice, some extra work on your part).  It will take a fresh new lens on your part as well, seeing "old" literature as complex or rather, looking for, seeking out, the elements that students will find challenging, now that you know what you're looking for.  For example, coherence is complex element that is challenging for students, especially ELL's.  Here's an example, from the book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig, on the first page it says something like (and I don't have the book right in front of me, so I'm just remembering what it says...) "Sylvester lived at home with his mom and dad.  He had a very unique marble collection. (Then you turn the page and it says) "In his collection was a very special red one."  Ok, so here you have to realize that "one" means marble and that it goes with the sentence on the page before and is a part of the collection from page one.  That is coherence.  Authors use pronouns a lot in sentences when referring to nouns in preceding sentences and this makes it complex.  I'm also going to attach an article for you to read about helping students through challenging text by Timothy Shanahan called The Challenge of Challenging Text. I think you'll find it useful in learning how to identify what makes a text complex and challenging for (teachers to teach) and students to learn. 

There is a new project out there right now called the Basal Alignment Project that is taking basals and aligning the stories to the shifts of the Common Core, you can access the lessons through Edmodo by joining the BAP group.  The group number to join can be found atwww.achievethecore.org/steal-these-tools and there are several Journeys stories listed there, I can see them now.  Also remember that any basal program like any other piece of curriculum, is just a resource, it's what you do with it that is important.  I'm sure the stories in there are not bad, in fact, the stories in our HM Medallions series are not bad at all, but how they are used and the reader interaction/discussion with teacher scaffolding, is going to be the difference between using them the Common Core way vs. the traditional way.   

For Marzano's six steps for vocabulary instruction, I would recommend the six step process for tier 3 words...I would not go through all six steps for tier 2 words, just steps 1-3, which is completely doable and even with more words than the ones you are given, especially if all children have a Vocabulary Notebook. Also, when you teach the six steps with tier 3 words, steps 1-3 could be done at the same time, at the first exposure, but then step 4 would be done on another day, step 5 on another day and step 6 on another day.  Marzano would tell you that students need at least 25 exposures to a word before it is KNOWN...at the internal and conceptual understanding level, so remember that nothing is probably going into the long-term memory bank after just two days.  

Good luck!

Sent from my iPad



mary b. said...

Thanks for including the rest of us in your response. I look forward to future posts in this recurring segment.

sherrymc62 said...


I am a blog follower and a second grade teacher. I am currently looking for information on how to teach/use close reading in my second grade classroom. Will the book Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading help me at my level? If not, do you have any other suggestions?

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I appreciate you!


Shannon said...

I keep seeing and reading about all of the common core stuff on the internet and feel frustrated that our school is not even talking about it. Like not at all!!

We were told to use the math common core standards this past year and to start using the ela common core standards this upcoming year. That is all.

No conversations. No discussions. Nothing. Sigh.

I think the new assessment that they roll out will be the wake up call. :)

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