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NOTE: This is taken from a newsletter that I write for teachers in my building. Seemed like something worth sharing with others because I think it pertains to the way we all have to approach planning reading comprehension lessons in the Common Core era.


I’ve read several articles about how we should teach math like we teach reading. But what about the other way around? What if you taught reading skills like you teach math?

Let me explain…

When you’re teaching a student how to add 28 and 35, you don’t just put it in front of them and say: “When we add two 2-digit numbers, we combine them to find the sum…now you tell me what’s 24 + 35???”

That would get you nowhere. You’d have skipped over all the steps…lining up the numbers, adding the ones, carrying the 1 (which is really a ten), and finally adding the tens. Math is a process and we teach it as one.

But can’t we think of reading comprehension as a process, too? There are certainly steps involved. Are we teaching those steps? That’s the critical question.

Take for example the skill of determining the theme of a story. As teachers, we do an awesome job of explaining to students what the definition of theme is. I bet nearly every kid in grades 2 and up can tell you that the theme is the lesson (or something equivalent to that). BUT, are we teaching them the steps you take to find the theme (or main idea, or character motivation, etc. etc.)?

Reading skills aren’t just a two step process…first you read, then you know the theme, for example. There are things to think about, questions to ask, dots to connect, conclusions to draw. There are STEPS. Teach the steps (and fill them out in a graphic organizer!), and you’ve taught the skill. In a way that they can transfer to any similar text.Need an example? Ok…in my mind the steps for finding the theme are as follows:

1. Identify the main character

2. Think about what happened to the main character in the story. Write down the big events from the story, beginning to end.

3. Ask yourself, “What did this character learn about life?” BOOM, that’s your theme.

So next time you’re planning a reading lesson, ask yourself, “Am I teaching the steps?” Decide how to give students structures that will allow them to master the skills more effectively. I think we’ll like what happens when we teach reading a little bit more like we teach math.

photo credit: jessicakelly via photopin cc

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2013 has come to a close and it certainly was quite a year. But what of the new year? What does it hold for education? Last year, we made a prediction that 2013 would be one of engagement and regional connections. They both came true and will both continue to dominate the scene in 2014.

But a year from now, what do we hope to look back on as the hottest trend of 2014? How about Common Core? Not just in terms of what will be most talked-about. But in terms of quality information and progress. There are still a great deal of unanswered questions. Still so much we don’t know. And with the CCSS assessments set to roll out in the spring of 2015, the pieces should start coming together.

Will the pieces make sense? Will they make  things easier for teachers? Will tests be ready? Will schools be able to administer them? You’re going to be hearing a lot on these questions, and much more. And here’s hoping that these answers make logical sense. We’re worried, of course, yet hopeful. A little common sense is just what’s needed as we move closer to the 2014-15 school year.

Perhaps we’re being optimistic, but a little Common Sense for the Common Core is just what we think we will see in 2014. What about you? Let us know what you think in the comments.

We are looking forward to 2014 being our most interactive year yet, so be sure to follow along on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook and check out our new book from Routledge Eye on Education.

photo credit: Aaron Webb via photopin cc

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Screen shot 2013-10-23 at 9.05.05 AM

As an upper elementary teacher, I always found it challenging to locate high quality math problems on the web. By high quality I mean multiple steps, multiple entry-points, and multiple solution pathways. In essence, problems that make kids think.

And I’m not talking about problems of the “Two trains leave Seattle…” variety. I’m talking about problems that are relevant and engaging.

Enter Yummy Math. On a regular basis, they post challenging math scenarios. And they’re scenarios that are real…in a ripped from the headlines sort of way. For example, this month they’ve posted  Halloween and World Series problems. And there are no tricks…these problems are treats! (See what I did there?)

On Yummy Math, you can search grade level, genre (math and food, math and social studies, etc.) or category (Algebra, etc.). You can also type in a Common Core State Standard and find all problems associated with that problem.

The problems on Yummy Math are free for the PDF versions. If you become a member, you can get access to the answer keys and all problems in editable Microsoft Word format. Membership is $16.

Yummy Math has definitely earned Site We Like status. Like may even be an understatement. Check it out today and be sure to follow Yummy Math on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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common core

The anti-Common Core machine has spent the last few months gaining speed. It’s clear that CCSS pushback from politicians and other never-stepped-foot-in-the-classroom types is not going away.

Now I’m not talking about rational criticism that many educators are expressing. Those concerns must continue to be voiced. Rather, I’m referring to the blanket statements that are coming out of state legislatures all over the country.

This kind of rhetoric is here to stay. And will probably only get worse as 2014-15 approaches.

So what’s an educator to do? Our advice: stay informed! To that end, we have put together several resources with the goal of helping teachers and leaders comprehend the CCSS. And of helping you make up your own mind. Most have been around for awhile, but this seemed like a good time to share them again.

Take a look…there’s gold here:

  • #ccchat–We started this hashtag on Twitter awhile ago and it has taken off like wildfire. It’s turned into a near constant sharing of CCSS resources and information. If you’re affected by the CCSS in any way, it’s a must follow tag. You’ll learn a lot and also find great new people to follow. You don’t even have to be a Twitter user to explore it…click here to take a look at all #ccchat has to offer. (FYI: it’s not a regularly scheduled chat, but rather an ongoing smorgasbord of CCSS goodness.)
  • The Common Core Gazette–our weekly roundup of resources. We tweet it out every Saturday. Or you can subscribe to have it delivered directly to you.
  • Engaging Ed Radio–Our not-so-regular internet radio broadcast. Last year we were lucky enough to be joined in episode 6 by Common Core archivist-extraordinaire Darren Burris and in episode 7 Common Core bloggers Jan Burkins and Jan Yaris. Stay tuned for more episodes this school year!

I think you’ll get a lot out of all of these. And also from subscribing to our blog!

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Although there hasn’t been much blogging going on here lately, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any writing. I wanted to share with you some posts of mine that have appeared on other blogs lately.

Most are related to the Common Core State Standards, which I’m learning more and more about each day and which I feel demand a great deal of attention if we are going to understand and implement them effectively.

Here are the links if you’re interested:

Many of these were due to opportunities provided by the Center for Teaching Quality, whose new virtual community– the Collaboratory – is something you’ve absolutely got to join. So big thanks to them.

Hat tip also to the amazing Larry Ferlazzo, whose blog was the first one I ever subscribed to back when I started getting into ed tech about 5 or 6 years ago and who now emails me to ask me to contribute to his columns from time to time. He’s pretty awesome, to say the least.

Hope this bit of shameless cross-posting and self promotion helps you in some way. Stay tuned for more right here on our own blog…subscribe today!

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Okay, so you understand the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts. You have wrapped your head around the instructional shifts they call for and maybe you even have a grip on the complexities of the content at your grade level(s). But I think one common (pun intended) refrain among educators who feel they “get” the CCSS is “Yes, but what should they look like in action?” The standards themselves can be overwhelming and the task at hand can seem arduous. It’s just not that easy to visualize implementation at this time. And it’s often challenging to find solid resources and lesson plans to help you with this visualization.


Eye on Education is working to change that with their series of Common Core Literacy Lesson Plans edited by Lauren Davis. I spent some time exploring the edition for grades 9 through 12 and was left thinking that this is the kind of things teachers need: High quality, detailed and thorough plans that tie directly to the CCSS. That’s exactly what you get in this volume, and I expect you’d find more of the same in their K-5 and 6-8 editions.

Here’s what’s contained within: 35 lesson plans, each with everything you need to put them into action in the classroom. Detailed objectives, standards alignment, explicit instructions for the introduction, group activities, class discussions, and individual work. There are also sections for lesson extension ideas as well as ideas for differentiation (for both advanced students and students who need support). Assessment options and links to additional resources are included for each lesson, too. Some are designed for 1-day sessions, others for longer.

This book covers all the CCSS ELA bases: Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening, and Language. And I found the lessons to be both challenging and highly engaging. It is clear that the purpose of this book is to push students’ thinking and also to develop their expression and communication skills. And you certainly don’t have to use all of these. Each stands on its own as a model of a solid lesson. There is a lot to build on and adapt here to suit your specific needs. The only thing I was left wanting more of was a bit more that deals with technology integration, but there are some tech-infused lessons in this book. Some of the standards that teachers need the most help with are those that specifically address digital technologies, but perhaps that is just a personal preference.

Overall, I think this is a great book for energizing your thinking and inspiring you to build awesome CCSS-aligned lessons of your own.

And that’s exactly what we need in the new world order of the CCSS (especially as we await the full development and complete reveal of the national assessments)–inspiration and ideas. This book provides plenty of both.

Click HERE to check out the book’s product page and click HERE to visit the complete Eye on Education catalog.

Disclosure: I reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. Also, Neil and I are under contract with Eye on Education to write a book of our own. Release date TBD.

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