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I’m happy to announce our schedule of 2018-2019 Train the Trainer workshops.

Unlike in the past year you can register starting now for any of the workshops all year long.

(Our Check for Understanding workshop, slated for October in London, is the one exception as we are still working to secure a venue)

You’ll notice we’re on the road a bit more than in the past, coming to St. Louis, Nashville, New Orleans, Los Angeles and London in addition to our usual haunts of Newark, Albany and Tarrytown.

As always the workshops are designed to help you and your team lead the highest quality TLAC-aligned teacher training back at your schools.

For registration details (for now) email tlac@uncommonschools.org… our registration link will be up on our website soon.

Workshop Date Location
Deans of Students (Sold Out) July 26-27, 2018
DoubleTree, Newark Airport

Newark, NJ

Engaging Academics
September 13-14, 2018
Hilton St. Louis Frontenac

Saint Louis, Missouri

Reading Reconsidered September 27-28, 2018
DoubleTree Hilton Tarrytown

Tarrytown, NY

Check for Understanding
October 3-4, 2018* (tentative)
London, England
 
Ratio January 17-18, 2019
New Orleans Downtown Marriott  Convention Center

New Orleans, LA

Reading Reconsidered February 7-8, 2019
Desmond Hotel
Albany, NY
Behavior and Culture
March 7-8, 2019
Hilton Nashville Downtown

Nashville, TN

Engaging Academics
April 11-12, 2019
Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport

Los Angeles, CA

Behavior and Culture May 9-10 Hilton Albany

Albany, NY

Reading Reconsidered May 16-17, 2019
DoubleTree Chicago North Shore
Skokie, IL
Ratio June 6-7, 2019
Desmond Hotel
Albany, NY
Systems and Routines
June 21, 2019
Desmond Hotel
Albany, NY

The post Announcing Our 2018-2019 Workshops: Registration is Open appeared first on Teach Like a Champion.

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Not every student with something to say tells you like this…

Some teachers are inclined to think of Cold Call as something that involves ‘picking on’ kids- it involves a teacher ‘forcing’ students to talk when  the kids don’t want to talk.

I don’t think that’s true.

Ask a question of a room full of people and most (at least many) of them are having productive useful thoughts in response–if they aren’t the last thing you should be doing is leaving well-enough alone.

Ask a question of a room full of people and there is almost always at least one looking at you as if to say- “It would be ok if you called on me now.” Or maybe even- “Please call on me.

People often want to participate. They are often more willing to participate than they are willing to raise their hand. People are often mixed in their feelings- part of them wants to talk but part of them is afraid or reluctant or hesitant. They are reacting to conflicting social signals. They are discovering that they can.

A cold call can just as easily be an invitation; an opportunity.

At our first workshop at Ivybridge Community College in England last week, we brainstormed reasons why a student might want to answer but not raise their hand.  We hit on a lot of answers that frequently come up in such brainstorms- kids might be worried about social perception or peer pressure. They might not be sure of their answer. They might wonder if they are talking too much.

But one of our participants said that being cold called absolved students of appearing smug and proud.  To raise your hand is most often to say- I know this. And many students are reluctant to do that.  They have an admirable humility.

But if you are called on without your hand in the air you make no such pretenses. You have been asked to do your best and so you do so. In many cases you can offer the sort of conjecture that is as much question as answer.  These can be immensely valuable- to peer and to self.

Being Cold Call, in other words, allows students to share ideas at lower risk- “I hadn’t planned to say this but here’s what I am thinking.” It can release students from perceived social pressure too.

She asked me to means you can say what you are thinking regardless of any social pressure about when and how and how often to raise your hand.

And that, I think is why there is always that kid (or adult!) who is looking at you with “Call on me now’ written on his or her face.  You are their route around the social barriers. They want to speak and share an idea. To cold call them is so often inclusive. A way in. especially for students who are most likely to feel or be subjected to to pressure not to talk.  Kids on the margins, say.  Like girls in certain communities– or like the kids who face more pedestrian barriers–I’m not that kid–to believing they can be students.

The post England Reflections 3: Not Every Student Tells You They Have Something to Say with a Hand Up appeared first on Teach Like a Champion.

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A good discussion deserves a written backstop

This is the second of a series of short posts sharing new realizations I arrived at thanks to the insights of teachers at the workshops Colleen Driggs and I led in England this week. This one is on yet another synergy–one hadn’t recognized before–between writing and discussion.

Writing After a Discussion Allows it to Be More Open: We led off our workshop at Ivybridge College with a video of Arielle Hoo discussing solutions to an algebra problem with her class.

EA.EverybodyWrites.GR8.Hoo.'Conjectures.'Clip2462 - Vimeo

EA.EverybodyWrites.GR8.Hoo.’Conjectures.’Clip2462 from TLAC Blog on Vimeo.

Participants were struck by how Arielle resisted naming each participant’s comment and correct or incorrect.

Students, they noted, seemed engaged in working towards a solution themselves because Arielle didn’t crowd them out by evaluating each step as they went. That’s right; that’s wrong. They were therefore tasked with figuring out what was correct.

All of this is true, and, as we discussed at the workshop, Arielle helped make the discussion by asking students to write their “conjectures” about the answer—how they would know if a problem had infinite solutions  or no solutions–first.

With everyone having written—and incidentally written in a low-risk formative manner that allowed them to think in writing and without the pressure of having to know everything at the outset—hands shot into the air when the discussions started.

Arielle was able to let kids follow and build on each other—obviously it also helped that she had taught them habits of discussion to ensure effective listening.

But it’s important to also remember that what Arielle does is a bit risky.  In a discussion without clarity about what’s right and what’s wrong, there is the risk that students could remember misinformation or not grasp the correct information fully.

This risk is most prevalent with students who start with less knowledge. Weaker students are likely to get a lot less out of the discussion- to miss the point or to remember the wrong thing.

So what Arielle does after the discussion is critical.  She has students write afterwards and they work together to do this in an intentional and carefully written manner. She calls this a “stamp”–a written summary foo the key finding of the discussion.

This backstop, a participant noted, was critical to allowed her the freedom to let students explore in their discussion with less judgment from her.  BECAUSE She knew she was going to tidy up at the end and cause students to commit the key ideas to memory via writing at the end she could give more latitude during the discussion. The more leeway you want to give the more important the re-writing afterwards is. One more reasons to write-discuss-revise.

The post England Reflections 2: Backstopping with Writing Allows for More Leeway in Discussion appeared first on Teach Like a Champion.

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It’s easy in practice to slip into playing a character…

I’m sitting at Heathrow Airport after a pretty amazing four days in England where Colleen Driggs and I had the pleasure of working with teachers in Folkestone and Plymouth (Ivybridge, actually) as well as visiting the amazing Torquay Academy.

It was great learning working with UK teachers-they’re always reflective and insightful, serious about their subject matter and with high standards for achievement and knowledge. And they tend to see issues in education through a similar but slightly different lens from American teachers.
Not surprisingly I’m leaving with a notebook full of useful insights. I thought I’d share a few that are especially useful in a series of short blog posts. They’re a bit of a hodge-podge. I apologize for that. But this—and seeing my family—is basically what I’ll be thinking about crossing the Atlantic.

First: Role Play and Practice are Different: People often conflate the terms. Ask a group of teachers to practice and they will often “Oh, ok. Role playing. I hate (or love) doing that.” But they are not the same and the differences are important if you aim to get people better at their jobs.

When you role play you attempt to take on someone else’s persona. You rehearse the actions they might do or you execute the skill as a hypothetical person might do them. Practice on the other hand involves your playing you- in a specific situation or using a specific approach. It involves rehearsing yourself as you will look in performance or perhaps finding the version of you that you’ll want to use in performance.  It is a more authentic exploration and therefore riskier.  This is worth being aware of.

What does this difference look like in actual practice?

Teachers role playing often exaggerate the things you ask them to practice. They play someone else doing a teacher move, say, and ham it up a little. This will often use a bit of deflective humor. Big smile- see me doing the disco finger. They often exaggerate either student or teacher roles- perhaps out of self-consciousness, especially when they are not accustomed to and acculturated to practice.  Role Play can be useful when we are asking people to thinking about other’s POV but it’s less useful for developing and reflecting on reflection on your own work. It erodes the realism a bit and the journey towards you. Obviously it takes a lot of work to make people confident and comfortable enough to play themselves and not some hypothetical other–to practice instead of role playing but the difference is worth it.

This is something Colleen and I stumbled on in reflecting (in the pub, naturally) on one of our workshops. We’re going to start intentionally discussing the difference in our workshops.

The post England Reflections 1: Role Play and Practice are Different appeared first on Teach Like a Champion.

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                   Letting writing be a tool to form thoughts as much as to demonstrate them.

We’ve been doing a lot of work lately on three types of writing–Formative, Summative and Developmental. 

I wrote recently about the differences among them here for example.  And here Ashley LaGrassa wrote about how using more formative prompts allowed her students to engage more comfortable in challenging work.

Today I want to share further thoughts abut how Formative Writing is different from Summative Writing.  Simply put Formative Writing prompts ask students to use writing to develop initial ideas while Summative Writing prompts ask students to demonstrate or defend final ideas.

One of the results of the general perception that reading is a skill-driven endeavor [As I discuss here, I think it’s much more knowledge-driven than many schools have recognized] is that we often ask students to write ‘standards’–i.e. assessment–aligned questions over and over. One result is that students are asked to defend their thinking before they’ve really had time to develop it.

I believe more Formative prompts are necessary to engage students more in the work and to help them develop ideas that are worth defending. Ironically we think more Formative prompts make students better in the long run at Summative writing.

As my team and I have come to see the importance of using three types of writing, a major aspect of the English Language Arts curriculum we are writing has been to include a better and more strategic balance of all three types of writing.

In order to help teachers reflect on some of the differences between Formative and Summative prompts, my team and I put together this comparison table.  On the left are Formative prompts. On the right are Summative prompts.  Both are worthy, we think, but we want teachers to be especially attentive to the Formative prompts as they are more likely to be missing from classrooms.

Formative Prompts

 

Summative Prompts

 

ELA What might be the figs be symbolic of in this chapter? Why do they keep appearing?

 

Explain how Esperanza’s doll functions as a symbol throughout the book and what Munoz-Ryan was attempting to accomplish with this symbol.

 

Math Why might solving this system of equations be more difficult than the last example?

 

Solve the system of equations below and explain how you arrived at your answer.

 

Science Do you expect neurons to have a high or low surface area to volume ratio? Why?

 

Explain the how neurons function. Be sure to reference specific details about their cellular design.

 

History What strikes you about Olmec civilization, especially anything that might appear in later Meso-American cultures?

 

How did the Inca’s cultural achievements help the empire become an advanced civilization? Include two pieces of evidence to support your argument.

 

Early

Elementary

How might Paddington be feeling in this moment? Why?

 

Based on this story, what are two character traits that describe Paddington? Support your answer with details from the text.

 

Arts What might the artist be attempting to convey with his choice of colors here? Explain Picasso’s theory of color during his Blue Period and the impact it had on the art world.

One thing you probably notice is the ‘openness’ of the Formative prompts. They use words like ‘might.’  They ask questions for which it is hard to be wrong as long as you are diligent and thoughtful: “What strikes you….”

The idea is to help students develop the ability (and desire) to think in writing, to begin writing before they fully know what they think and to use the process of writing as a means to arrive at insight- a bit like Joan Didion, who said, “I write … to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.”

The post Formative Versus Summative Writing Prompts-Some Examples appeared first on Teach Like a Champion.

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A little over a year ago, my colleague Dan Cotton wrote a series of posts about relationships in the classroom that were unusually insightful and that I keep coming back to. I often want to forward them to someone or reference them as a group. To do that I have to send three links and a summary email.

No more! This post is a sort of index post. I am going to re-share all three of Dan’s articles with short summaries so there is a single place from which to access and share the whole series. I hope you’ll find it as useful as I did.

Post 1 Competence and Trust, Part 1: A Guest Post from Dan Cotton

In this post Dan notes the trust is the bedrock of relationships so it must be built intentionally in the classroom. But he also notes that the nature of trusting relationships changes according to the setting.  Spouses and teammates experience and build different types of trust, for example. So Dan asks, ‘What do we mean when we stress the importance of building strong relationships with students? And what kind of relationships are strongest?’

In answering Dan notes that competence is a critical part of building trust and that this is easily over-looked.

Warmth and competence are both required to create strong, trusting relationships…In classrooms where caring is exhibited in abundance but competence is lacking, strong teacher-student relationships will decay, and ultimately collapse.

Doing our job well is the first step–not sufficient but necessary. I do some work with coaches and this point was intuitive to them. Players want to get better. If you’re not doing that, if they don’t believe you can do that, there’s only so far your relationship can go.

Post 2: Competence and Trust, Part II: A Guest Post From Dan Cotton 

In this post Dan continues his discussion of trusting classroom relationships, watching a video of a moment of success capped by a fist bump between teacher and student. Dan writes:

It’s not Beth’s fist bump that strengthens their relationship, though I suspect Iffy appreciated it. It’s Iffy experiencing Beth’s genuine excitement at her achievement with the content that connects them.

Dan suggests replacing this model of student-teacher relationships:

With this one:

You build the strongest relationships by helping people achieve a goal. Especially as a teacher.

Post 3 Competence and Trust Part III: Student-Teacher Relationship Building and TLAC

In the third post Dan connects this vision of teacher-student relationships being predicated on a teacher’s ability to help a student achieve things to Teach Like a Champion techniques more specifically. He notes his surprise that some people saw student-teacher relationship building as a separate task and set of skills from those we describe in Teach Like a Champion, whereas we would describe the techniques as tools to build relationships or, as we sometimes describe it, “successful relationships are technique in disguise.”

Anyway, here Dan draws the lines of connections more directly: How giving clearer directions helps students know what to do, feel less frustration, and accomplish more. One thing I find especially helpful in this post is Dan’s framing of how strong relationships with an adult make students feel.  To have a successful culture and to have successful relationships, a teacher–or an organization–must make students feel 1) safe 2) successful and 3) known.

That framework in itself is super helpful but Dan also explains how elements of teaching craft can help teachers get there.

Bonus: Final Thoughts on Fist Bumps and Relationships

This post is a small coda I wrote later while watching video of a math teacher, Caitlin Webster.  It shows a fist bump between her and a student. The fist bump had become to me the symbol of Dan’s series of posts. The idea is that some teachers think it is the key–if I just give kids a lot of fist bumps they’ll feel cared about. But the more I thought about that the more I found it lacking in humility and responsibility. Once they know I care about them that will change everything. Perhaps. But perhaps not. Perhaps our bestowing our approval is not the center of it all but the student accomplishing something is. In that case the fist bump is only meaningful if it is the punctuation mark on a step in achievement. Without achievement the fist bump is far less meaningful.  Anyway that idea stayed with me and the video sort of stamped that for me.

The post Dan Cotton on Building Relationships and Trust: An Index Post appeared first on Teach Like a Champion.

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“I love that book, too” vs “I see Brittany is into her book!”

Recently I visited a school that used a lot of Narrate the Positive.

Class would start. At the beginning of class a typical teacher would say, “Please take two minutes to answer question #1 in writing. Go!”  As kids started working the teacher would say something like. “Charles has pencil to paper.  Anjulina is getting those ideas down. Love that energy from Josefina!”

This was useful in some ways. But something clanged for me about it.  Later I realized that there was too much talking about students and not enough talking to them. Especially for this late in the school year.

A bit of explanation: Narrating the positive that focuses on talking about kids is most useful when you are installing a system… you are trying to call attention to the behaviors that are (or will be) normal ‘here,’ with here being this room or this school. You say, “Go!” and you want to reinforce Charles, Anjulina and Josefina and you also want others to notice the normalcy of their effort and commitment and seek to copy it.

A heavy proportion of talking about implies trying to socialize and spread understanding of and follow through on the right behaviors. “Charles has pencil to paper” means both “Nice job, Charles” and “The right move in this classroom is to have your pencil moving right away on writing prompts.”

It says, “This is who we’re going to be” but in that sense it also to a degree says, ‘We’re not there yet.’  And that’s something to be cautious about.

Generally that seems like this kind of Narrate the Positive (talking about kids in the third person) is most effective during the implementation phase of building culture and procedures.  If that’s true then we would expect it to reduce over time.

In the mature phase of building culture and procedures–ie when strong culture is established and we want to maintain it–teachers should seek to maximize academic and relationship building interactions.Talking to kids addressing them directly (and probably more quietly) does that more genuinely and directly.

So over time talking to kids should become a much larger proportion of a teacher’s Narrate the Positive than talking about kids. In a mature system the former should crowd out the latter (not entirely perhaps but mostly). This is because interactions that build long term value and relationships involve speaking directly to someone:

  • “Nice start, Jasmine. Can’t wait to read that…”
  • “I like where you’re going with that Jayden…”
  • Even a quiet “Ooh, Carla you are fired up about this chapter…”

Too much talking about kids not only misses that opportunity but suggests (in May) that maybe we still don’t think you know what successful behaviors are. It says, ‘You still need lots of reminders,’ or ‘I think you still need lots of reminders.’ (Notably these are very different things.)

So I think my Narrate the Positive rule of thumb would be: 1) as much about kids as necessary; as much to kids as possible; 2) as academic and relational as possible. Given the choice, in the long run it’s better to talk about the idea on the paper or ‘I can tell you loved this chapter…” than ‘Thank you for having you pencil moving,’ even if in the short run we may find the other productive to build culture and habits. That is, I’m not saying that some proportion of public narration of behavior isn’t necessary and good but over time the proportion should reduce and we should be talking in greater proportion directly to each student just for themselves and therefore more quietly.

By May, for example, I’d want to lean much more heavily on “to” than “about.”

The post Narrating Positive Behavior: Talking To Students vs Talking About Students appeared first on Teach Like a Champion.

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Last week, as part of our development process for our new curriculum, I taught one of our Esperanza Rising lessons to a group of fourth graders. One of the toughest moments for me came when I tried to teach one of my favorite activities: a ‘Sensitivity Analysis’ question.

Sensitivity Analysis is a close reading tool where you present a sentence from a text you are reading to students and ask them to compare it to a similar version you’ve created that has one or two small changes. The idea is that, to paraphrase one TLAC reader, one of the best ways to analyze the impact of word choice or structure is to compare it to an alternative. Students develop an ear for how nuances of language work by comparing the impact of small changes.

That said, while I love the activity, in teaching it, I struggled badly. The sentence in question was about a dust storm:

“Thousands of acres of tilled soil were becoming food for la tormenta and the sky was turning into a brown swirling fog.”

The alternative was:

“Thousands of acres of tilled soil were blown into the air and the sky was turning into a brown swirling fog.”

The idea was to help students see the impact of the dust storm being personified- that it was alive, eating the earth, even, like a monster perhaps.

Kids jumped in gamely but vaguely. But we were soon fumbling around in that dust storm. The original was more descriptive. It made you feel things more. But they struggled to say why and get to diction choices and I struggled to direct them. I’d planned follow up questions to guide them but in the moment I either forgot them or found they didn’t fit.

Afterwards, Colleen Driggs, who’d been observing, had some game changing advice for me.  ‘Focus on perception first,’ she said. ‘Ask them to start by observing the differences they see between the two sentences. Then ask them to analyze.’

This was simple but brilliant. It would have the benefits of causes students to see and describe the changes first and then think about their impacts. It would push them immediately to the word level and cause them to name the change they saw from the beginning so all of their observations about their response as a reader would be grounded in the specific change. This might also help them to extrapolate- in future situations they might see the echo of the personification they saw here. Interestingly this is also in keeping with one of our key observations about close reading- teachers too often try to analyze meaning with students before they establish meaning- that is make sure they understand what they’ve read.

Anyway it was simple and brilliant advice. I can’t wait to try it and I hope teachers out there will appreciate it as much as I did.

If you’re interested in sensitivity analysis here are a few other posts on the topic:

Rue Ratray and “Sensitivity Analysis” in Reading Classes (Video)

Using Sensitivity Analysis to build students’ “ear” for writing

Examples of Text Dependent Questions from Today’s Workshop

The post Lost in a Dust Storm: Colleen Driggs Helps Me Improve My Teaching of a ‘Sensitivity Analysis’ appeared first on Teach Like a Champion.

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We’re in Albany today with 150 amazing folks at our Reading Reconsidered workshop.

Earlier this morning we discussed the five plagues of the developing reader- five common challenges that make complex text difficult for students and that are not captured by quantitative measures of text complexity such as Lexiles.

We discussed the example of Lord of the Flies and The Outsiders.  By Lexile measures these two books are almost indistinguishable. But as any teacher who knows these books will instantly realize, Lord of the Flies is approximately 107 times as challenging to young readers as is The Outsiders. 

Why?  The ‘Five Plagues’ is our answer to that-the hidden barriers that makes texts challenging.

If you’re familiar with Reading Reconsidered, you know those plagues: Archaic text, Non-linear time sequence, Complexity of narrator, Complexity of plot, Resistant text.

While participants at our workshops usually find these plagues helpful, they also find sourcing examples to be a key challenge and this was also something we discussed today. Where, they asked, do I find examples of archaic and non-linear texts for fourth grade students?

We provided a partial list in Reading Reconsidered of course but have known for a long time it was incomplete.

Fortunately, Matthew Dix, a colleague from Nottingham in the UK [pro-tip for US readers: ‘Notting’um,’ not ‘Notting-HAM”] has stepped into the breach and assembled this amazing resource including texts aligned to each of the plagues for the primary years.

We think it’s ‘lit,’ as the kids say.

In case it’s easier, here’s a PDF version.

5-Plagues-Reading-Spine 5-Plagues-Reading-Spine

Incidentally, Matthew, and two other teachers also produce educationally themed music… rocking out on literacy, math and science, under the name MR A, MR C AND MR D.  You’ll probably want to check that out.

The post Amazing Source of Five-Plagues Aligned Texts appeared first on Teach Like a Champion.

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Curriculum… for real…

This is kind of an exciting announcement. Maybe a scary one too. My team and I have decided to write a Language Arts (i.e. English) Curriculum. 

We’re going to start with the middle grades (4-8) and expand from there. With a little luck we hope to have it ready for schools to use a year from now, though we have a few partner schools piloting parts of it already.

It’s going to be aligned to–but also expand on–a lot of the ideas in Reading Reconsidered. As we build it I am going to be writing about it occasionally here- describing what we’re doing and why- in hopes that it will be useful to others- also to help me process what my team and I are learning.

Today I want to start with some of the reasons why we’re writing our curriculum.

One of the biggest reasons is simply that we don’t think the level of preparation required to make great lessons instead of just good ones every night is doable for most teachers—doubly so when you consider how many preps many teachers have.  Triply so when you embrace the idea—as we have—that curriculum needs to be primarily knowledge-driven (this is a term I’ll define in a moment) that part of preparation is research and sourcing of additional knowledge.

Teachers need something great to guide their English and Reading lessons every day but the choice of striving for that standard and therefore making their workload unsustainable or doing something B+ is a poor one.

And daily lesson design comes at the cost of other important things: knowing the text deeply, reviewing and practicing the lesson to deliver it perfectly; developing your craft generally; assessing student progress.  Better to start with something great, adapt it when you want to, other times focus on how to make students’ writing crisper- or to make David give his best every day or to maybe take the occasional walk or seeing your own kids.  Seriously- we should give teachers to tools to do this work as well as it can be done, and for as long as possible.

Our goal to give teachers something great every day that builds background knowledge for students and that is flexible enough that teachers can adapt it, supplement it, make it their own on the occasions when it was really valuable.  That’s one of our themes.  Adaptable coordination.

That’s a good argument for quality curriculum. But there are other curricula out there. Why a new one?

One big reason is that we don’t think there is a high quality knowledge driven curriculum that’s written through the eyes of a teacher.

Research tells us that background knowledge is at least as important to reading comprehension as reading ‘skills.[1]’ What teachers often assume are skill problems for growing readers are in fact often knowledge problems. Consider this sentence from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s On the Banks of Plum Creek:

In the middle of the week, Ma brought in the washtub and heated water for Mary’s bath, then again for Laura’s bath and again for Carrie’s.

I wrote recently about how this sentence is supposed to tell you that something very special is about to happen. The author lived on the prairie in the late 19th century when people generally took baths once a week—if that often—and almost always on Saturday in anticipation of church on Sunday.  Ma “heating” water means Ma feeding wood into the stove from the wood pile and boiling water, lugged in from the well, in a small pot. It’s no small chore.

If you have that background knowledge—the author would have assumed you did since she lived during that era–you know that phrase in the middle of the week signals that something exceptional is happening. It’s a big deal.

So did you make that inference?  Would your students? If not, they could practice making a hundred inferences from Charlotte’s Web or Miracle’s Boys and it wouldn’t help them[2].  Nor would reminding them that making an inference is ‘reading between the lines’ or ‘combining what you know with clues in the text.’ It won’t help if they memorize that or even if they chant it. It won’t help them to visualize.  Understanding the skill is simple; applying it in context is hard. And only knowledge helps students understand the context.

In being knowledge driven we have sought first of all to be book-based: Our curriculum is based on modular book units.  We think books matter. Reading the right books challenges students and arms them with cultural capital- a fact that’s easy to overlook if you go up with lots of cultural capital.  We also think books build a relationship between reader and author- coming to understand a narrative voice is a habit you get only from a sustained relationship with a text and a writer. Since we think everyone’s perfect collection of books is different thought the units are modular.  Each book unit is about 6 weeks in length.  You can choose any five or six of them, say, to build your curriculum around.  Thus as we describe in Reading Reconsidered each school can build it’s own internal canon and allow for inter-textual discussions knowing that there will be a corpus of important books (whatever definition you apply to ‘important’ works) that every student will have read.

Knowledge is the outcome of successful reading and the wellspring that feeds it. Many teachers know this- but how do you change your daily teaching in response?

Our approach is to use four tools in particular:

Knowledge organizers—Each unit starts with a knowledge organizer that specifies and organizes background knowledge that is critical to understand to be able to access the text and that will also be important for students to have ten years from now.  This knowledge is reinforced in long –term memory by regular retrieval practice and then applied to the texts students read.  One of our first books is Esperanza Rising.  The protagonist migrates to California during the 1930s and experiences labor unrest and the immigration of migrants form the Dust Bowl.  Topics in our Knowledge Organizer include key facts about the Dust Bowl, vocabulary to describe the labor movement—What is a picket? A strike?—and technical vocabulary students will use to analyze the text: juxtaposition; foreshadowing.

Embedded Nonfiction—Each unit features an extensive series of shorter non-fiction texts—designed to inform students about key topics that can enrich or inform the primary text with depth and nuance.  In Esperanza Rising, there’s an article on caste systems and one on gender roles, one on the American Dream and one on the Dust Bowl and migration from the Great Plains, to name a few. These build background knowledge generally about key topics and help bring the text to life in richness and depth.

Embellishments—Deeper understanding and broader context is supported by the addition of smaller artifacts—pictures, diagrams, mini-texts—that provide background about key references in the text.  There are short paragraphs on the phrase Mother Nature, examples of Dorothea Lange’s photographs, a drawing of ‘rosary beads’ and pictures of a nun’s ‘habit’ and the topography of area in Mexico where the story begins..

Knowledge-based questioning and knowledge feeding—Questions about the text are often written to reinforce knowledge as much as skills.  “How does your understanding of the caste system enhance your understanding of what Miguel means by the ‘river’ between him and Esperanza?” We often use a question as an opportunity to share knowledge with students and ask them to apply it right away. e.g. “A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. Are the Okies refugees or migrants do you think?”  We ask these questions in lieu of more typical skill-based questions that a teacher might ask because our goal is to both build awareness of the knowledge readers can take form the text to build their knowledge base and to deepen analysis by making it based on substance.

Realistically our obsession with vocabulary is also one of the ways we try to be knowledge driven…. but that obsession is so large that I should give it it’s own blog post.

There are lots of other things we are trying to make unique about our curriculum. One of the other big ones is writing and how it’s used. I’ll talk more about that next time.  For now I’ll just note that we do a ton of developmental writing, a lot of read-write-discuss-revise, and balance formative and summative prompts.

The post We Are Writing a Language Arts Curriculum! appeared first on Teach Like a Champion.

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