Blogstitute: Got Common Core?

Today’s Blogstitute post comes from Christine Moynihan, whose latest book is Common Core Sense: Tapping the Power of Mathematical Practices. In this post Christine introduces the GOLD framework that helps make the Standards for Mathematical Practice more accessible to elementary teachers. Be sure to leave a comment or ask a question for a chance to win 12 Stenhouse books! On Twitter you can follow along using #blogstitute15.

Got Common Core?
By Christine Moynihan

FC FINAL CommonCoreSense.inddSomething I hear from many teachers is that it is challenging to be up-to-date on everything that teachers should and must know in order to be effective practitioners. This is especially true for elementary teachers, who are asked to be content experts in reading, writing, grammar, spelling, science, social studies, and, of course, mathematics. Not only do they need to have expertise in these curriculum areas in terms of content, but they must also be experts in the best instructional practices that will support their students in learning in each of these areas. (I’m not even going to go into how they also have responsibility for social and emotional growth, health and wellness, behavior management, and the list goes on. . . . )

So, as a former classroom teacher, I get it. As a former curriculum specialist, I also get it. As a former principal, I most certainly get it. As a current educational consultant, not only do I get it, I hear it all the time—there is just so much to know, so much to learn, so much to do. As a result, when I ask a variation of the “Got Common Core?” question, many teachers respond that although they “get” the basics of the Common Core in terms of the standards for mathematical content for their specific grade levels, they believe that they have a somewhat light understanding of the standards for mathematical practice. Most teachers report that what they know about the MPs has been by way of an introductory look at them at a professional development session and/or staff meeting, with little or no follow-up.

My major purpose in writing Common Core Sense: Tapping the Power of the Mathematical Practices emanates from my desire to help teachers gain a foothold in understanding the MPs and how they can affect their practice. The book is meant to be a vehicle for making the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice more accessible to elementary teachers, for I see them as the core of mathematical proficiency. As I wrestled with how to do that, I defaulted to something that has always worked for me as a learner—to devise some kind of a framework, a mnemonic of sorts, to aid in understanding and then activating that understanding. Because I had been saying over and over again that “the gold of the Common Core really lies within the mathematical practices,” I constructed the GOLD framework to help teachers see some of the major components of each MP and then think about what they may look and sound like in classrooms, and what might need to be done to support the incorporation and implementation of the MPs into daily practice.

The Framework:
Go for the goals—What are the major purposes of the practice?
Open your eyes & observe—what should you see students doing as they utilize the practice? What should you see yourself doing?
Listen—What should you hear students saying as they utilize the practice? What should you hear yourself saying?
Decide—What do you need to do as a teacher to mine the gold?

I identified three major goals for each mathematical practice, fully aware that there are many more goals to be found within each. In the link you will find what I have identified as the second goal of Mathematical Practice #3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. What’s not to love about MP3? When you can analyze your thinking enough that you can clarify it, defend it, justify it, and represent it, you have learned something that will be valuable in all areas of life. In terms of mathematics, that ability leads you straight to the path of being mathematically proficient—a goal we all have for our students. I hope that the chart for the second goal I identified for MP3 can help in your work to make this MP come alive for the students in your classrooms.

Accept that viable explanations of mathematical thinking must be organized, reasonable, and justifiable/laden with proof.

8 comments July 6th, 2015

Author Conversations: Kelly Gallagher on the best interest of students

We sat down with Kelly Gallagher recently to talk about his new book, In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom. In this clip Kelly  talks about the book and cites the potential overemphasis on close reading as an example of where application of CCSS can go awry.

1 comment February 10th, 2015

New from Kelly Gallagher: In the Best Interest of Students

in-the-best-interest-of-studentsThe issues swirling around the adoption of the newest set of standards, much like the issues generated by the NCLB era, have again diverted our focus from the best practices of literacy instruction.

In his new book, In the Best Interest of Students, Kelly Gallagher takes stock of how recent educational reforms have driven changes in classroom instruction that are counter to what we know works. He invites fellow educators to pause in the midst of the tumult and remind themselves to do right by their students—to ensure that their reading, writing, speaking, and listening are grounded in deep thinking—and to foster a lifelong desire to read.

Kelly helps you navigate standards and the realities that accompany them while not neglecting proven literacy practices. You’ll get concrete examples of where the Common Core and other state standards provide a target for good instruction, and where they fall short. And you’ll get dozens of practical lessons and instructional strategies that Kelly successfully employs in his own classroom.

In the Best Interest of Students will leave you ready to respond to the pressures you encounter during this time of rapid change, keeping your focus on the best interest of your students. You’ll gain a clearer understanding of when to embrace the standards, and when to take a different course.

Preview Chapter 1 online, and when you preorder the print version of the book with code BESTEBOOK by February 16th you’ll get the e-book for free, and we’ll waive the shipping charge.

Add comment February 9th, 2015

Blogstitute Post 4: Identifying Academic Language Demands in Support of CCSS

I know it’s the end of the week, but stay with us for this important post from Jeff Zwiers, Robert Pritchard, and Susan O’Hara, authors of Common Core Standards in Diverse Classrooms:Essential Practices for Developing Academic Language and Disciplinary Literacy. The authors share their framework for helping teachers implement best practices for English learners by integrating language and content instruction. Make sure to leave a comment or ask a question for a chance to win a package of eight free Stenhouse books at the end of the week!

Identifying Academic Language Demands in Support of Common Core State Standards

The Common Core State Standards call for specific attention to academic language development across core content areas. As a result, these new standards require effective and simultaneous teaching of academic language skills and the rigorous content that all students must master.  However, academic language, which includes the vocabulary, syntax, and discourse styles of particular content areas, is complex and requires an understanding, on the part of teachers and students, of the specific academic language demands of the content. For example, in math the use of symbolic notation, visual displays such as graphs, technical vocabulary, and grammatical features including complex noun phrases are common. In addition, the language of academic texts, both the ones students read and the ones they produce, has distinctive features and meanings that typically present a contrast to the language used in informal spoken interactions.

Other people have noted the importance of identifying language demands in subject matter materials, but their focus has been on unpacking standards and articulating content and language purposes. We believe that identifying specific academic language demands requires an additional step: an analysis of the text, tasks, and tests to be used in a lesson. What follows is an in-depth look at the process we have developed and implemented with teachers to help them conduct this analysis.

We developed this approach as part of a professional development initiative designed to help teachers implement best practices for English learners. One day’s focus was introducing a framework for integrating language and content instruction. This framework (see Figure 1) begins with the development of content objectives; proceeds through an analysis of the text, tasks, and tests to be used in a lesson as the basis for identifying language demands; and concludes with the development of language objectives that are based on the language demands.  The close-in look that follows focuses specifically on how the analysis of text and tasks was introduced to and modeled for teachers.

The session began with a discussion of the academic language features (lexical, syntactic, and discourse) we discuss in Common Core Standards in Diverse Classrooms: Essential Practices for Developing Academic Language and Disciplinary Literacy (see Figure 2). Teachers were provided with content-specific examples of these features and applied this knowledge to the process of identifying language demands. The approach was based on the assumption that teachers need to experience this process as learners, and then reflect on their learning and on the effectiveness of the process from the perspective of students. This increases the teachers’ capacity for explaining and modeling to their students.

Next, teachers were given the following set of instructional materials developed for use in a history lesson: content objectives, text used, and instructional tasks for students.

Content Objectives:

  •  Students will be able to identify the causes and effects of the Great Depression as well as its widespread impact on all Americans through a persuasive article.
  • Students will be able to explain in an essay how Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” expanded the role of the federal government and how the legislation enacted during his tenure continues to impact our lives today.

Sample Text: Defining the Depression

During the 1930s, many people were out of work, and those who had invested in the stock market lost all of their money. Factories closed down. Families lost their homes. People stood in lines to get free food. In the Great Plains, a drought lasting eight years combined with over-cultivation to create the Dust Bowl. It was very difficult to grow anything, and many lost their farms. Due to overproduction and surpluses the prices for wheat became so low that farming the land was no longer worthwhile. What was happening? What had become of the carefree prosperity of the previous decade?

The United States was going through a depression. A depression is a reduction in activity, amount, quality, or force. The Great Depression in American history was a period of low economic activity that was marked by rising levels of unemployment.

The crash of the stock market on October 29, 1929, signaled the beginning of the era known as the Great Depression. The underlying causes of the Great Depression included over-production in industry and agriculture, unequal distribution of wealth, risky banking practices, manipulation of the stock market by unscrupulous investors, and the use of consumer credit for purchases.

Sample Task:  Primary Source Activity


Sample Task:  Writing Activity


Then the teachers, working in pairs, followed the steps below to find the key language demands in each of the three academic language dimensions

Step 1:  Analyze the content objective(s) for message organization (i.e., discourse) demands, then sentence-level demands, and then word and phrases demands.

Step 2:  Analyze texts that will be used. Texts may include written texts, videos, and visuals.  Identify the most challenging language for message organization (i.e., discourse) demands, then sentence-level demands, and then word and phrases demands.

Step 3:  Analyze tasks that will be used, including assessment tasks. Tasks include activities and products. Identify the most challenging language for message organization (i.e., discourse) demands, then sentence-level demands, and then word and phrases demands.

Step 4:  Choose the most pressing demands. Look back at the lesson objective(s) and decide which language is most useful for learning and showing learning of the objective.

Figure 3 is a composite of the outcomes of these group conversations.

Once teachers completed these steps and discussed them as a group, they were given a second set of instructional materials and worked independently through the same process. These experiences were designed to build teachers’ understanding of academic language and how that knowledge can be used to identify academic language demands inherent in content-specific instructional materials. A subsequent session focused on how teachers could use this information to develop language objectives that support content objectives, texts, and tasks of a lesson.

Academic language is one of the most important factors in the academic success of all students, but it is particularly challenging for English learners who have the dual task of mastering complex course content and developing English language proficiency. Therefore, English learners need skillful teachers who have the knowledge and expertise necessary to facilitate their development of literacy in English as they simultaneously learn, comprehend, and apply content area concepts through that second language. Identifying academic language demands in content area materials as they address the Common Core State Standards is a critical aspect of this expertise.

8 comments June 26th, 2014

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