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FocusLast spring, I attended the most inspirational professional development sessions ever. Steve Leinwand, one of the lead authors of Principles to Actions, Ensuring Mathematical Success for All, spent the day in Iowa with the Statewide Mathematics Leadership Team. I left feeling reinvigorated and committed to make a small, yet significant, change to my teaching.

Steve’s challenge to us was to think about how we can encourage colleagues to implement the teaching practices for effective mathematics instruction. It has to start with our own practice. This made me wonder, “how am I working toward implementing the practices in my own instruction?”

One of Steve’s main points really resonated with me. He said that it is ineffective to expect to change everything all at once. Instead, Steve proposed to focus on one practice, do it really well, and then add another focus later. This seemed so simple because it is easier to focus on one thing rather than several. That’s a change from the past, when too often I have found myself leaving a professional development wanting to try everything. Then, I rarely continue any of them because I did not allow the time for those practices to become an innate part of my craft.

From the reflection of my own learning experiences in mathematics and permission from Steve to focus on just one practice, I committed to focusing on implementing tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving. According to Principles to Actions, implementing tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving means that “effectively teaching mathematics engages students in solving and discussing tasks that promote mathematical reasoning and problem solving, and allow multiple entry points, and varied solution strategies.”

This focus has helped me improve my instruction because I now encourage a variety of strategies for solving problems from my students. Creating a space for students to discuss how different methods are similar and different helps me know that they are engaged in the mathematics and are experiencing mathematical reasoning and problem solving.  

The students are willing to share their ideas and discuss with each other how to find the most efficient strategies. We often compare and contrast their solutions and, when someone comes up with a new or interesting method, we will give the student naming rights for the method. For example, a new method for factoring polynomials might be called the “Charles Method.” They feel pride in finding a strategy that helps their classmates understand how to solve a problem. 

Before I had a focus, I used to use a number of open-ended tasks that easily lent themselves to this type of group work and discussion. However, some students would struggle to interpret these more complex tasks. I would usually give students a handout with the task printed in paragraph form at the top of the page; then, the task would be followed by questions for the students to answer. We would read the problem together as a class and I would instruct them to work together in small groups to answer the questions. I knew that this was not working for many students because often students would not know what they were supposed to do or even what the problem was.

Steve helped me to see how to improve the equity of access to these tasks and introduced to me a new strategy to present tasks to my students. He suggested that instead of introducing all of the text at once, introduce the text one line at a time. Using this strategy, revealing each line of information with a pause for students to think, allows students the opportunity to reflect on what their background knowledge tells them about the situation. This gets the students engaged with the task, the reasoning, and the problem solving.

For example, consider the problem of calculating the amount of fertilizer needed to cover a specific area. First, I would first tell the students that Anne wants to purchase fertilizer. Now I would ask the students, “what do we know about Anne?” Some students might suggest she’s a farmer, some might say she runs a golf course. Already, they are curious about Anne, and curiosity is a powerful engager.  

As I introduce each line of information, the students are able to narrow down what they know about the situation and refine their beliefs about the problem. This is the point where the magic happens: After students have all the information they need about the task, I ask them, “What is the question?” Usually the question I was intending them to answer is one they most frequently suggest, but often the students suggest other questions that are more interesting and challenging to answer.  

Sometimes I let them choose which question they want to investigate or I will purposefully suggest which one they might want to start with first. Rarely are there questions about what they should be trying to find, and even when students are stuck, they can correctly tell me a lot about the context of the problem. Usually this is enough to get them engaged and ready to start even the most challenging tasks. 

Having a focus of one of the practices has made a significant difference to how my students experience mathematics, reasoning, and problem solving. Focusing on one thing has allowed me to implement and refine my practice and for it to become an innate part of my craft. I will purposefully pick a new focus for next year.

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Posted by : Mary Watson

students in a science classroomJustin Uhlenhopp and Tyler Wedemeier are science teachers at Forest City Middle School (FCMS). As a first-year teacher at FCMS, Justin was introduced to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which are the basis of the new Iowa Science Standards, by Tyler, who explained how he had used these standards the year before. Now three years later, they have jointly developed a plan of attack for the implementation of the standards. In this blog, they are sharing what they learned over the past three years.

The new Iowa science standards are complicated and even overwhelming at times. They are clearly nothing like the prior Iowa Core standards that most of us were accustomed to using to design instructional units. The complex language is enough to hold back many teachers from full implementation. But there are ways that teachers can dig into the standards to help them create the experiences students need to learn them.

Unwrapping the standards

First, it is important to discover what students actually need to know and be able to do. Starting off with the “Big Book of Standards” can be very intimidating. Take for example, MS-ESS3-3: Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing human impact on the environment. We remember thinking, “Wow, what does that even mean?” It sounded like a ridiculous expectation and we had no idea what students would do to demonstrate understanding of that standard. We quickly realized that we needed to dig deeper and that is when we began the process of unwrapping our standards.

Although it is a long process, in our opinion, unwrapping (also called unpacking) is the most important piece of understanding the standards. The Sample Unit Unwrap document is an example of how we unwrapped a standard and then how we used the unwrapping process to help develop engaging tasks and assessments. While we tackled this unwrapping process on our own, educators undertaking this process today are lucky because Area Education Agency science consultants are currently offering professional learning workshops (called Module 2 in most AEAs) that include bundling and unwrapping/unpacking the standards. If you take a minute to review the process we used you will see all of the legwork that went into pulling this standard apart. In a nutshell, unwrapping will help you:

  • Identify the prior knowledge that your students are “supposed” to know when they come into your class;
  • Determine what students need to be able to do by looking at the practices/verbs of the standard;
  • Select core ideas of content concepts that students will need to know in order to be proficient on the standard;
  • Use cross cutting concepts taken directly from the NGSS evidence statements;
  • Write essential questions that students will need to be able to answer as a result of your core instruction;
  • Create learning targets for your unit; and
  • Design instruction, lesson plans, formative assessments, labs, activities, and summative assessments aligned to the standards.

It took us about a year to complete the unwrapping process for all of our standards, but the time was well-spent. Unwrapping all of our grade-level assigned standards has made the rest of the implementation process much smoother. We now know specifically what students are supposed to learn and how they should best demonstrate their learning. As teachers, the process also gave us an idea of what content we might need to brush up on ourselves. I admit, as a new teacher, there were some times of major struggle in having to relearn some of the science content, but fully unwrapping those standards really helped me to focus and understand my content in a new way.

It is hard work, but worth the effort

At Forest City Middle School we take chances. We push the limits and are always looking for new ways to improve our instruction. Implementing these standards was challenging. Many hours went into unwrapping them, and then aligning them with what fit our building and district needs. We made changes as we implemented and found support when we needed it. There were definitely times of struggle, but our science department is no doubt better because of it. We now have better consistency in our science department across sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. Our students are coming into our classrooms with a better ability to be proficient scientists.

As our elementary school begins implementation of the new science standards, we hope to see the content gaps that currently exist start to dissipate. Over time we know that the standards are undoubtedly a major step forward in science education. Our students are asked to do things that they never would have been asked to do with our old standards. When implementing these standards, remember that anytime you try something new, things aren’t going to be perfect. Chances are the new things you are doing will be better than what you did before.

Implementing new standards, especially standards written in a way that focuses on all three dimensions of science learning, is not always easy; actually it is really messy. However, we determined that when we take the time to really unpack and learn our standards, and when we keep a growth mindset, we are successful. Overall, we really like the new standards and the process we have used for implementation. Our science curriculum is now focused on 21st century instruction, there is better alignment in grades 6-8. We teach with a big picture in mind and focus on how the science and engineering practices overlap and build on each other across the grade levels, and we have consistent language to use when talking with our peers and with parents.

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Posted by : Justin Uhlenhop...

children at desksIn my role as a literacy consultant for Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, I have the opportunity to work with teachers in many different school districts. I often hear from teachers that the majority of their day is spent teaching reading and math. As they struggle to find time to teach social studies and science, many teachers are using content area trade books and other text sources during their literacy block.  What does this look like and how can it benefit students?

Content area literacy instruction happens in all classrooms, kindergarten through 12th grade. By complementing content-area textbooks with other sources, teachers can provide motivation for reading and may improve content-area learning.

If children are to be prepared for the literacy demands of the future, they need access to informational trade books, magazines, newspapers, and electronic text. Content-area literacy focuses on the similarities of literacy in the content area with general strategies – like summarizing, questioning, and making inferences – that help students with comprehension and can be applied universally across content areas.

teacher in classroomJodi Jacobsen, a fourth grade teacher at Manson Northwest Webster, has been successfully integrating literacy into content-area instruction.  I recently visited Jacobsen’s class to observe what she calls "workshop" time. This is when her team integrates literacy instruction with science and social studies content.

Currently, students are studying inventions and energy. Jodi began the lesson by having three students hold up three different objects: a Thermos, a blanket, and a thermal headband. Students concluded that these objects all have something in common – heat and energy. Jacobsen then showed a short video clip from StudyJams website related to heat energy. Tying both of the previous activities together, Jacobsen then read aloud from the trade book, Destinations in Science, stopping periodically to ask students if they could make connections between the book and video.

During all units such as this one, the fourth grade team ensures that their read-alouds fit into the content. For example, they’re currently reading a Magic Tree House book about inventors while they study inventions. The learning from these content-rich read-alouds is also a perfect way to spark student-led investigations or lead to students engaging in engineering design challenges.

During guided reading, the team pulls in nonfiction books that align with content-area standards. Their use of content area literacy is embedded into a Balanced Literacy classroom environment through shared reading, read aloud, guided reading, and independent reading. Content-area writing is also included throughout the day in all subject areas.

It was obvious to me while visiting Jacobsen’s classroom that a positive culture and climate exists, where students are engaged in collaborative conversations and learning that encourages the success of all. Throughout the lesson, students were asked to share their thinking with a partner or small group. As I listened to the students’ reflections, their grasp of the new material as well as their background knowledge of previous lessons was evident. Jacobsen’s lesson used a variety of instructional strategies, student groupings, and an excellent model of how the integration of science and literacy instruction can achieve deeper understanding of both.

If you’re interested in exploring more about content-area literacy, excellent resources can be found on the Iowa Core website. Check out the Science Resources webpage, which will lead you to the Curriculum Planning webpage from the NGSS@NSTA.org website, where you can find ways to integrate using science to support literacy in English language arts.

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Posted by : jsiefken@plaea.org

civil war imagesSo what are the major differences in practice that one should expect to see when the Iowa Core Standards in Literacy are being implemented? Those differences in classroom practice, materials, and assessment are described by what are called the shifts. So what are the English Language Arts shifts? The first shift is regular practice with complex texts and their academic language. Next, reading, writing, and speaking are grounded in evidence from texts, both literary and informational. Finally, students should be building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction.

When I first read these, I thought the avenue to apply them was through social studies and science. So I decided to dig deeper into what each shift meant while applying them to literacy and social studies in my third grade classroom.

I looked at social studies to meet the standard SS.3-5.H8 Understand cause and effect relationships and other historical thinking skills in order to interpret events and issues and SS.3-5.G.1 Understand the geographic tools to locate and analyze information about people, places, and environments. Then I considered the ELA shifts and standards.

I coupled literacy: RI.3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers; RI.3.3 Describe the relationship between a series of historical events using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect; RI.3.7 Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text; and W.3.10 Write routinely over extended time frames and shorter time frames for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

You are probably thinking, “How could I possibly meet all those standards in a lesson?” It is actually a series of lessons that connect all these standards that takes a week’s time in reading, writing, and social studies.

So, what would that look like? It all started with a question posed as an inquiry to my students: How was our country divided during the Civil War? When considering the first shift: regular practice of complex texts and academic language meant infusing the close reading strategy during my shared reading block with the ReadWorks.org passage, “Slavery, the Civil War & Reconstruction: Background to the Civil War-Balance Sheet.” (Note: This passage and many others are available from ReadWorks.org, where you can sign up for a free account.) Each day had a “standards” purpose for rereading the text.

On Day 1, I read the text to my class focusing on finding the main idea (which they wrote at top of the page) and vocabulary (Tier 2 words: confident, opinion, experienced, terrain, attitude)(Tier 3 words: cavalry, cannon, Confederacy). On Day 2, we choral read the passage and the students found the big ideas related to the main idea. They highlighted them in yellow and recorded them on their note taking graphic organizer). On Day 3, the students read the passage with a partner and found five to seven details to go with each big idea (highlighting them in red and recording the big ideas on their note taking sheet). On Day 4, the students reread the passage with a partner, wrote the author’s purpose in the left margin and asked a question in the right margin. On Friday, we discussed their questions and possible sources that could help when answering them. The students read the passage on their own, answering the questions within the passage (right there and inferential) while citing their evidence in orange. During writing time on Day 5, students wrote a summary for the passage using their notetaking planner as a guide.

Another piece of this shift is considering text-complexity, the Lexile band range for third grade is 450-980. The Lexile measure is a readability scale used in many schools in Iowa to match readers’ ability to text. Knowing that the Lexile (670) for this passage, coupled with the rich academic vocabulary, it met the criteria for allowing students to move forward on the staircase of complexity.

The second shift, reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from texts, both literary and nonfiction, incorporates the close reading passage already referred to with the lesson as well as including additional text, Pink and Say, a historical fiction story by Patricia Polacco. I connected this story to another text, “Slavery, the Civil War & Reconstruction: Background to the Civil War-Balance Sheet.” Pink and Say is read during my interactive Read Aloud time where students free respond at designated stopping points. I read a few pages to the students and then say, “free response.” The students write for one-and-a-half to two minutes in the first box of the four on their notebook paper with a response to one of the following prompts:

  • Ask a question about what has been read so far.
  • Make a prediction about what will happen next.
  • Write about what you like or dislike (and why) about what has been read so far.
  • Make a connection to another text we have already read.
  • Tell how you feel about the text that has been read.

When the time is up, the kids pair/share their response with a partner and tell the evidence that supports his or her thinking. I continue throughout the book in this manner. I have specifically chosen stopping spots that relate to time sequence and cause/effect since that is one of my standard focuses.

Finally we hit the third shift, building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction. A part of this shift is realizing that nonfiction texts can be more than just books. In his article, “You Want Me to Read What?,” Timothy Shanahan identifies nonfiction as “biographies and autobiographies; books about history, social studies, science, and the arts; technical texts, including directions, and information displayed in graphs, charts, or maps, and digital sources on a range of topics.”  With this in mind, I couple my literacy and geography standards by playing an I Spy game focusing on inquiry for my lesson. Watch a video clip of a lesson where students are locating places on the map, determining geographic features, and making connections to the story, Pink and Say, and references to their own independent research.

After incorporating a variety of both literature and nonfiction texts, providing space for inquiry and opportunity to dig deeper into how was our country divided during the Civil War, students were assessed through a quick write. Here is a student example and class sharing of quick write responses.

Connecting social studies and literacy is the perfect way to gain time in your day, allow students to develop a rich understanding of concepts and skills, and provide sources to support students in systematically developing knowledge about the world. It is time for all of us to shift our thinking.

Resources:

ELA Shifts: http://www.corestandards.org/other-resources/key-shifts-in-english-language-arts/

Article: You Want Me to Read What? by Timothy Shanahan

Mapping Lesson Plan

Close Reading Procedure linked to third grade ELA standards:
Reading Passage from: ReadWorks.org Slavery, the Civil War & Reconstruction: Background to the Civil War – Balance Sheet
(Note: This passage and many others are available from ReadWorks.org, where you can sign up for a free account.)

Free Blank United States Map

Note Taking Graphic Organizer

Literature books:
Pink and Say by Patrica Polacco (lesson focus)

Other Related texts:

  • Words That Built A Nation (Marilyn Miller; 1999, Scholastic.)
  • Addy's Surprise: A Christmas Story (American Girls Collection) (Melodye Benson Rosales (Illustrator), et al; 1993, Pleasant Company Publications)
  • Addy Learns a Lesson: A School Story (American Girls Collection) (Melodye Benson Rosales (Illustrator), Connie Rose Porter; 1993, Pleasant Company Publications)
  • Abe’s Honest Words (Doreen Rapport; 2008, Hyperion Books for Children)
  • If You Lived At the Time of the Civil War (Kay Moore; 1994, Scholastic)
  • Under the Freedom Tree (Susan VanHecke, 2014, Charlesbridge)
  • Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation (Pat Sherman; 2009, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)
  • Abe Lincoln Comes Home (Robert Burleigh, 2014 ,Macmillan)

Video clips:

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Posted by : kheckart@crprai...