CCSS & Reading

I am becoming such a big fan of the Common Core State Standards.  I’ve always felt like a pretty good reading teacher–especially once I began to thoroughly teach the reading strategies, which, of course, I still do.  But I have to admit that teaching the Common Core Standards has taken my teaching to a new level of accountability.

For example, before this year (my 1st year using the CCSS) I would show movies of books we read, and have casual, short discussions about the differences.  One of the CCSS has to do with comparing and contrasting various media:

RL.6.7 Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama, or poemto listening to or viewing an audio, video, or live version of the text, includingcontrasting what they “see” and “hear” when reading the text to what they perceivewhen they listen or watch.

So this year, I read The Lightning Thief to my class and then showed the movie.  While they watched the movie, my students took notes on what was different from the book.  They really enjoyed taking the notes and ended up with pages and pages of material.  Next task, write an compare and contrast essay.

W.6.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational tests to support analysis, reflection and research.  Apply Grade 6 reading standards to literature and informational texts.

I knew my class couldn’t  organize all that material without a structure except for a select few.  I gave a suggested format:

  • Introduction paragraph
  • Two things the movie left out.  Write why you think they were left out and whether you think they were good choices and why.
  • Two things the movie added.  Write why you think they were added and whether you think they were good choices and why.
  • Conclusion paragraph

They’re busily working on this as I write this post.  They have 50 minutes to complete their essay, so I don’t know the essay results, but I do know that focusing deeply on this work has caused students to think critically and ask great questions.

Photo credit:

Argument Reading and Writing

Since we’re implementing the CCSS at my International school in Costa Rica, I had to quickly study up on argument reading and writing.  I’d taught persuasive writing (letters and editorials) but never really taught argument writing.  I turned to George Hillocks, Jr., one of my go to guys, and he did not disappoint.

His book is written for grades 6-12, and I’m pretty much using the whole first half of the book which is about the basics of argument writing for my 6th grade unit.

  • For arguments of fact, we are studying mystery scenarios and writing up police reports which make a claim (who’s guilty) that is based oon evidence.  This is a great way to get the students engaged in close reading without having to push it as every word is important in solving the mystery.
  • For arguments of judgment, we will start with what makes a good mascot, move on to what makes a good leader, and move into the presidential race of today.
  • Students have yet to choose the argument of policy they’re going to make to change a rule here at our school.  There seems to be growing interest in banning uniforms.  The students will work on this in small groups.

But Mr. Hillocks does not stop there.  The whole second section of the book is amazing and gets more and more conceptually difficult.  There’s two more resources we’ll use later in the unit.  One is, an independent non-partisan website that looks at the pros and cons of controversial issues.  Another is, another independent non-partisan website that looks for what is true and not true in the news.  They’re having a heyday with both candidates after the debates.

Assessing Assessment: Using the CURRV Method

I just finished my master’s in literacy course about assessment.  There are two big take-aways that we all agreed on, and today I’ll write about the first–the CURRV method of assessing your assessments.

Consequences of Assessment:  Reading assessments must have the consequence of helping students develop as readers.  There are many consequences–both positive and negative–of reading assessments ranging from increased student self-esteem to robbing valuable teaching time from the students.

Usefulness of Assessment:  We need all types of assessments, but we need to determine their usefulness before we give it.  At my last school we had to give spelling inventories to our students–an assessment I always found quite useful for informing instruction and creating a snapshot of each student from varied assessments.  I recently found out that many teachers had no idea why we gave the assessment and so it was useless to them.

Roles and Responsibilities Realated to Assessment:  Teacher roles may include encouraging students to take the test seriously or teaching the testing genre to the student.  Students roles may include preparing to take the assessment.

Reliability of Assessment:  Is the assessment going to be affected by teacher state of mind?  Then it is not reliable unless checks and balances are put into place to make assessment practices consistent.

Validity of Assessment:  The intuitive test of validity is asking the question, “Is this worth the time?”

This is an extremely truncated explanation of the CURRV method, and you can find more in Peter Afflerbach’s book, Understanding and Using REading Assessment K-12.


Could You Help By Taking This Quick Survey?

I made this survey for a class project at the University of New England.  I designed it for teachers at InterAmerican Academy in Guayaquil, Ecuador, but would love to hear what anyone else has to say about assessment in their schools.  Puh-lease take a minute to fill it out.


Research Suggests Every Teacher Should:

  1. Build disciplinary and world knowledge.  (AKA Background knowledge)
  2. Provide exposure to a volume and range of texts.
  3. Provide motivating texts and contexts for reading.
  4. Teach strategies for comprehending.
  5. Teach text structures.
  6. Engage students in discussion.
  7. Build vocabulary and language knowledge.
  8. Integrate reading and writing.
  9. Observe and assess.
  10. Differentiate instruction (Samuels & Farstrup, 2012, p. 52).

This list comes from my  new favorite book, What Research Says About Reading Instruction.  I just discovered there’s also a What Research Says About Vocabulary Instruction which I’ve put on my Amazon wish list.

I don’t think any of this is new news to anyone teaching reading, but it is wonderfully affirming news.  I realize that my weakness has been teaching text structure in non-fiction reading.  I’ve busily been collecting information on structure so I can work with it more than usual next year.  Last year my focus was student discussion.  I’ve been preparing a website at Collaborative Classroom to have my students have online discussions as “boardwork” when they enter the room, exit tickets before they leave the room, or in-depth discussions in the middle or for homework.  I love online discussions as it makes it possible for the teacher to monitor all the discussions not just those in earshot.

Samuels, S. J., & Farstrup, A. E. (2012). What research has to say about reading instruction. (fourth ed.). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

How the Brain Learns to Read

Below you’ll find an extremely simplified diagram of what happens in the brain when we learn to read.

Adams, M. J. (2011). The relation between alphabetic basics, word recognition, and reading. In S. Samuels & A. Farstrup (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (pp. 4-24).

It’s Reflection Time Again, You’re Gonna Leave Me

I know it’s silly, but as my students leave each day I sing to them (decidedly off key), “Oh, it’s crying time again, you’re gonna’ leave me.”  Many of them beam with joy that I’m going to miss them.

It’s that time of the school year for reflection–for us and for our students.  Here’s a visual created by Peter Pappas for a taxonomy of reflection that would be helpful for all of us.  Read more about it on his blog.


Characteristics of Poor Readers / Successful Readers

Reading strategically

Characteristics of Poor Readers        

  • Thinks understanding occurs from “getting the words right,” rereading
  • Use strategies such as rote memorization, rehearsal, simple categorization
  • Are poor strategy uses
    • They do not think strategically about how to read something or solve a problem
    • They do not have an accurate sense of when they have good comprehension readiness for assessment
  • Have relatively low self-esteem.
  • See success and failure as the result of luck or teacher bias.

Characteristics of Successful Readers

  • Understand that they must take responsibility for construction meaning using their prior knowledge.
  • Develop a repetoire of reading strategies, organizational patterns, and genre.
  • Are good strategy users:
    • They think strategically, plan, monitor their comprehension, and revise their strategies.
    • They have strategies for what to do when they do not know what to do.
  • Have self-confidence that they are effective learners; see themselves as agents able to actualize their potential.

Source:; 23 Oct. 2001