Though the Common Core assessments are still being developed, it’s clear that they will involve various kinds of “constructed response” questions beyond traditional multiple-choice items. Students will need to know how to read a series of excerpts, gather evidence from each piece, and formulate a coherent response. We asked Ardie Cole, author of Better Answers: Written Performance That Looks Good and Sounds Smart (2nd ed.), for her advice on preparing students for the upcoming tests.
As a teacher and a literacy coach, I lived through New York State’s early implementation of open-response tests—as well as the results. When the assessment’s results arrived, I was asked, as a member of the correction committee, to “fix the writing problem.” Fortunately, our state returned copies of the actual tests that I could closely analyze. I was surprised to discover it was actually students’ creativity that could ruin a response! That aha moment occurred while I was reading hundreds of test responses. In class, students were being encouraged to imagine and visualize and to make their writing creative. But this test writing demanded more structure and specificity.
Students needed experience in another, more structured genre that demands factual evidence from acceptable sources. So we implemented what did work. And when all was said and done, I sat down and wrote a book called Better Answers.
“The ‘Answer Sandwich’?” a math teacher asked me. “What the heck is that? Sounds like something I wouldn’t buy.”
I explained, “If you teach math, science, social studies, or technology and are starting to use assessments that have written responses—not just multiple-choice items—I bet you’ll be using the Better Answer Sandwich or something like it someday soon. And when you do, its protocol can be a lifesaver—and a time-saver! Plus I wager that you, yourself, will borrow it the next time you respond to an administrative memo, or when you return an item to a manufacturer, or when you write a letter to the editor in defense of some idea. In other words, it’s not only a school tool—it’s a real-world tool.”
It is the teachers of subjects like science, math, and social studies who quickly understand and then implement this sandwich structure into their lessons and assessments. Now, more English teachers are embracing the approach as well, in response to the emphasis the Common Core Language Arts Standards place on nonfiction reading and writing, argument, and use of evidence.
There’s a little more to that sandwich, though, than a couple of buns and the facts that are layered between them. For some, the Better Answer Sandwich, itself, may be enough—or at least an entrée (see visual). However, students taking the new Common Core assessments would definitely benefit from an expanded perspective, because they’d learn to analyze prompts before starting to write and they’d experience evaluating their completed responses. All of this is explained in Better Answers. Plus, the book’s CD provides lessons with digital PowerPoint slides, resources, real-world venues, and other goodies.
Across the country, students will have more constructed-response items on all tests they are taking in our schools. Research supports their inclusion. Still, school tests are but one reason to use this sandwich structure. Another reason to keep it up and running is because it’s even more valuable in the real world. Anytime—in school or out—when asked to explain, analyze, compare, or describe, why not let the Better Answer Sandwich be your guide—a GPS that leads writers down the right-answer road?
As you settle in to watch this year’s Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, here are a few movie recommendations from Stenhouse authors. We asked them to share their favorite movie about teaching, or a movie that they used in the classroom successfully. What is your favorite teaching movie?
Most movies about teaching give me a stomach ache, because they follow an archetypal and unrealistic narrative arc: idealistic young teacher walks into crumbling school with criminal kids, brain-dead teaching colleagues, and venal administrators, and by superhuman application of love, self-sacrifice, and creativity (like letting students do something phenomenally innovative such as writing stories about their own lives), inspires kids and saves lives before going on to be fired…and writing a book. I don’t want to be cynical about these films — we all need stories of inspiring models — but the real work of teaching seems so much more complex to me. For that reason, I like Renaissance Man, the 1994 movie flop with Danny DeVito as a down-on-his-luck guy who unwillingly takes a temp job tutoring a bunch of U.S. Army misfits so they won’t flunk out of basic training. Somehow he hooks them on Hamlet and gets most of them through. But not all. And not perfectly. And not always gracefully. So even with its imperfections as a film, that’s what I appreciate about Renaissance Man. I know that teacher.
I hope that every teacher has a movie about an inspiring teacher that they love. We should all aspire to make the huge difference in the lives of children that we have seen on the big screen. I look at the Academy Awards differently, though. They are a lesson in the elements of effective speaking. Why is there an award for screenplay? Because you need to have something worth saying. Why an award for actor/actress? Because how you say the message is critically important. Why an award for directing? Because if you are going to create something for all to see, you need to make sure the message is well recorded. Why an award for soundtrack? Because when you add sound, it better contribute to the message. As we flip instruction and have students making videos we post to YouTube, we need to make sure that we don’t hit the record button until each piece is perfect. Would this get an Academy Award for acting? No? Then teach speaking. Would this get an award for Soundtrack? No? Then don’t loop some meaningless music. At some point, if we do our work well, we can claim the Best Short Subject award.
It’s probably an unconventional choice, but when I was team-teaching ELA with Social Studies, we used to view scenes from the musical 1776 in connection with our study of the writing of the Declaration of Independence. The students enjoyed the challenge of evaluating what was based on history and what was fiction, and the movie version of this musical does a great job reminding learners that the people who shaped our American history were just that — people, with agendas and quirky personalities and flaws galore. And besides all that, how can anybody resist watching the Founding Fathers burst into song?
There are many wonderful movies about teachers and teaching, but I think I would choose “The Miracle Worker” as one of my favorites. Annie Sullivan saw the potential in her student, Helen, and worked tirelessly with her, never giving up, until that potential was realized. That is what good teachers strive to do everyday in the classroom. Annie is a shining example of what it means to be a teacher.
A film I have shown many times to students in upper elementary and middle school is All Summer in A Day, a 1982 adaptation of the classic Ray Bradbury story. The story tells of school children on Venus who are anxiously awaiting their day playing in the sun, which only comes once every seven years. Enter the “new kid” recently arrived from Earth, who has experienced the sun all her life. A painful, yet realistic, bullying episode is at the heart of the story and the film. I never show the film without reading the story first, and the students are split on which they like more – although perhaps “like” is the wrong word. In fact, I have had many students through the years say they hate the story and the film because it is so sad… but then amazing discussions begin about peer relationships. The film is rated G, and there is no violence at all – a plus in these trying times…
We used to have a final course for our M.A.T. students in which we asked them to reflect on what they had learned during their program. As part of the course, we showed them clips from films about teaching with the recommendation that they return to these films during those times when they were struggling to remember why they chose to teach. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched these films and been re-inspired about teaching. Up the Down Case (Sandy Dennis plays an idealistic, first-year teacher who does all she can to support her students–also a wonderful book) To Sir, With Love ( and yes, I used to have Lulus’ album with the title song she sings to Sidney Poitier in this movie). Music of the Heart (Meryl Streep plays a committed music teacher) Stand and Deliver (Edward James Olmos was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Jaime Escalante’s efforts to change expectations regarding math–and what students can do when their teacher believes in them) Children of a Lesser God (William Hurt pays a hearing teacher who teaches and learns with deaf students–and Marlee Matlin, a graduate who now works at the school). Dead Poets Society (I also use this with preservice M.A.T. students when we explore the poetry of Walt Whitman. I love the scene where Robin Williams celebrates Whitman’s “sounding a barbaric YAWP”). Teachers (Nick Nolte plays a burned out teacher who has to be reminded of why he teaches) Mr. Holland’s Opus (which was filmed at a high school here in Portland, OR. And yes, I still cry at the ending–every time!). The Emperor’s Club (Kevin Kline plays a Classics teacher at a boys prep school who makes some interesting discoveries about his students) Half Nelson (Ryan Gosling earned an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of an edgy teacher who inspires students to think for themselves) Kindergarten Cop (I know this is an unusual choice and Arnold Schwarzenegger was a cop playing a teacher, but his interactions with his young students and his discovery that teaching is incredibly challenging makes me smile–and it was filmed in Astoria, OR)
It’s not too late to join the conversation of Lee Ann Spillane’s new Read & Watch book, Reading Amplified. The discussion is happening on Facebook and in the book itself! That’s one of the great things about Read & Watch books — not only do you get to read and watch videos with the author, you can also see what others are thinking as you read.
So grab your copy now and start to read, watch, and discuss!
Your favorite Stenhouse authors may be coming to a city near you. Peruse this list of upcoming author events and make plans to gain inspiration and new ideas.
Debbie Diller’s 2-Day Institutes for Grades Pre-K-6
• Richmond, VA: February 28 (Literacy Work Stations) and March 1 (Math Work Stations)
• Denver, CO: June 27 (Literacy Work Stations) and June 28 (Math Work Stations)
The Sisters’ (Gail Boushey and Joan Moser) Daily Five and CAFE Workshops
• Feb 9 (Daily 5) & Feb 10 (CAFE), Houston, TX
• Apr 6 (Daily 5) & Apr 7 (CAFE), Chicago, IL
• May 18 (Daily 5) & May 19 (CAFE), Rochester, NY
• June 1 (Daily 5) & June 2 (CAFE), Charlotte, NC
• June 28 (Daily 5) & June 29 (CAFE), Tacoma, WA
Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference, March 8-10
• Kelly Gallagher: Keynote, March 10
• Peter Johnston: Featured Speaker, March 10
• Alfred Tatum: Keynote, March 9
Massachusetts Reading Association Annual Conference, April 4-5
• Gail Boushey and Joan Moser (“The Sisters”): Keynote, April 4
• Cris Tovani: Luncheon Speaker, April 4
• Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan: Workshops, April 4
• Mary Shorey: Breakout Session, April 4
• Harvey Daniels: Breakout Session & Keynote, April 5
Choice Literacy Workshops
• Clare Landrigan, Tammy Mulligan, Jennifer Allen, and Heather Rader: “Coaching the Common Core,” Rockport, Maine, March 23-24
• Franki Sibberson: “The Tech-Savvy Literacy Teacher,” Online Course, April 3
• Jennifer Allen, Amanda Adrian, and Heather Rader: “Coaching the Common Core,” Portland, Oregon, June 27-28
Many teachers and schools using The Daily Five can benefit from adopting the structures in The CAFE Book to track student progress and complement the assessments they already use. Authors Gail Boushey and Joan Moser (“The Sisters”) explain how in this 2-part video interview:
We are excited to bring you seven new titles this spring — five books and two DVDs. Browse our list and visit our website to find out more about each title and to order or pre-order your copy now! Moving into Math Stations, K-2
Debbie Diller • 84-minute DVD + Viewing Guide
Grades K-2 • $225.00 • Available early March Preview a 7-minute clip and download the Viewing Guide!
Complementing her best-selling book Math Work Stations, Debbie explores both the larger purpose of math stations—how they connect big ideas to meaningful independent practice—and the detailed nuts and bolts of how to create and implement stations in the math classroom.
When Writing with Technology Matters
Charles Fuhrken and Carol Bedard
Grades 1-8 • 160 pp • $20.00 • Available late March
Shows how to take advantage of the digital generation’s affinity for technology in order to change and improve the writing process. Includes detailed descriptions of elementary and middle school literacy projects that teachers can follow step-by-step or use as a guide when planning their own technology-based projects.
Starting with Science Strategies for Introducing Young Children to Inquiry
Marcia Talhelm Edson
Grades K-3 • 160 pp • $19.00 • Available mid-April
Presents inquiry science as a joint exploration that teachers and students take together as they ask questions about the world around them. Describes how to design extended investigations where children interact with the real world, ask questions, develop and test theories, share ideas, and find connections.
Assessment in Perspective Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers
Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan
Foreword by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, “The Sisters”
Grades K-6 • 160 pp • $22.00 • Available late April
Given all the assessment data confronting teachers today, it’s easy to lose sight of individual students. This book shows you how to use multiple assessments—from reading conference notes and student work to running records and state tests—together to provide an in-depth picture of every reader.
Fact Finders! Shared Nonfiction Think-Aloud
Patrick Allen • 35-minute DVD + Viewing Guide
Grades 3-5 • $95.00 • Available late March Preview a 5-minute clip!
Patrick Allen invites you into his fourth-grade classroom where he demonstrates how comprehension strategies such as determining importance in text, inferring, and synthesizing can be taught through shared nonfiction think-alouds.
Caring Hearts & Critical Minds Literature, Inquiry, and Social Responsibility
Steven Wolk • Grades 5-9 • 264 pp • $25.00 • Available now
Want more for your students than just academic achievement? Veteran educator Steve Wolk takes you step-by-step through creating rigorous lessons about topics kids care about—from media and the environment to personal happiness and global poverty. Includes five complete classroom-tested units of study.
Word Nerds Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary
Brenda Overturf, Leslie Montgomery, and Margot Holmes Smith
Grades K-6 • 184 pp • $20.00 • Available now
Shows you how to fit daily vocabulary instruction into an already-packed literacy schedule with a classroom-tested five-part plan that improves achievement while building confidence and enthusiasm. Includes reproducible planners, organizers, and rubrics.
This is the first year that we join Digital Learning Day and we are excited to bring you a collection of free video tutorials and chapters to add to your digital toolbox. Enjoy and share with your colleagues!
Storytelling for This Generation
In her book “Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing” teacher and author Julie D. Ramsay shows teachers how to weave technology throughout the curriculum and get students so fired up about writing that they don’t want to stop when the class period ends. Teachers can learn how to select appropriate digital tools, guide and involve students in the learning process, and differentiate instruction to meet individual needs.
In this free chapter, Julie walks us through how her students created digital stories — from brainstorming ideas, to writing the first draft, to publishing the final video file. Read the chapter and then watch two of the results below.
Research: The Fourth R
In Engaging the Eye Generation, library media specialist and National Board Certified Teacher Johanna Riddle shows that literacy in the 21st Century means more than just reading and writing. Today’s students must learn how to interpret and communicate information through a variety of digital and print-based media formats, using imagery, online applications, audio, video, and traditional texts.
In Chapter 4 of her book she introduces us to a group of fifth graders whose research on of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings takes them to 17th-Century Holland and to creating historical characters in images and text.
In this free chapter, author Lisa Miller gives you the basics of digital storytelling: its elements, how to find digital images, and questions of about copyright issues. Lisa’s book Make Me a Story, discusses different types of digital stories and shows how to assess digital assignments and motivate reluctant writers.
Do you want to Tweet?
Have you been thinking about joining Twitter and seeing what the fuss is about? In this helpful podcast authors Katie Keier and Kassia Omohundro Wedekind take the mystery out of Tweeting and share how Twitter helped them build their professional learning community.
Here is one tool that you will find useful no matter what you browse for on the Web. Diigo lets you take notes and highlight on any website. Here is a quick tutorial by Lee Ann Spillane, author of the new Read & Watch Book Reading Amplified.
Using the sound recorder on your computer
In his new Read & Watch book Digitially Speaking, Erik Palmer shows teachers how to turn almost any lesson in any classroom into an opportunity for students to practice creating and performing speech with the assistance of technology. And sometimes that technology is very simple — like turning on the sound recorder on your computer. In this tutorial taken from Digitally Speaking, Erik gives some quick advice on using this simple tool.
How to select an online dictionary
There are a lot of online tools for teaching vocabulary, especially when it comes to online dictionaries. This tutorial from Word Travelers by Lee Ann Tysseling shows you how to pick which dictionary is the best for your students.
Lee Ann Spillane’s new Read & Watch book Reading Amplified is chock full of ideas for digital tools that will help students become more engaged readers. One of the tools Lee Ann uses to amp up shared reading in her classroom is VoiceThread. Here she gives an easy-to-follow tutorial of this popular online tool.