Writing Fluency: A Key to Success on Next Generation Assessments

“If you can read everything your students write, you’re not assigning enough writing” – Doug Fisher.

Teachers tend to think about building fluency in terms of reading, but now more than ever, teachers should be helping their students build writing fluency as well. Readers who don’t read fluently devote much of their cognitive energy to decoding individual words and phrases, making it difficult for them to focus on the meaning of what they read. Similarly, students lacking writing fluency devote lots of cognitive energy to forming individual words or basic sentence structures, making it harder for them to focus on conveying their thoughts and feelings effectively.

CCSS Writing Anchor Standard 10 addresses the importance of students writing routinely over extended and shorter time frames for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences. Both the forthcoming PARCC assessment and the Smarter Balanced assessment require students to type at length on demand. They must respond to a complex prompt that necessitates reading and synthesis of multiple documents, including videos, articles, and graphs. They’re also often argument prompts (see my last blog on the importance of argument writing).

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Deeper Learning: Building Academic Courage


What does courage have to do with success in school? Just about everything, I believe.

Last June I was standing on the broad marble steps of the Springfield, Massachusetts Symphony Hall after a remarkable and unique high school graduation at one of our Expeditionary Learning (EL) schools. On the surface, the students and the school looked typical: Springfield Renaissance School is an urban public district school with about 700 students, most of whom are low-income students of color. The graduating seniors wore traditional caps and gowns and everyone wore uncomfortable shoes. But this event was anything but typical. Unlike most urban high schools, where almost half of the students don’t even reach graduation, almost every single student that had entered that school as a ninth grader graduated that night, and for the fourth consecutive year, every single graduate was accepted to college. How could this be? What made the difference here?

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Easing the Pain of Student Collaboration


One of the most valued skills employers are looking for in an employee is the ability to collaborate. This doesn’t just mean being “nice,” it means being able to be part of a productive and efficient team that gets the job done. And while a significant amount of adult time is devoted to teaching very young kids the basics of playing well with others, as students enter into middle and high school, little attention is given to developing a student’s ability to collaborate. At the same time, every teacher has experienced the pain that comes with student collaboration. Whether it’s one student doing most of the work, several students complaining about a “slacker” who’s not doing anything, high achieving students (or their parents) complaining about group grading, or your own frustrations with trying to determine who did the work and has mastered the content, doing collaborative projects with students can often seem harder than just keeping the kids in rows quietly doing their individual assignments. One of the best strategies is establishing team contracts. Whether you provide a template or let the students create one from scratch, the contract should reflect the best thinking of the team. It is important that the task of creating a team contract not feel like an arbitrary or perfunctory task. Rather, students should know that they are in charge of defining how their group will work together and they can agree to add whatever they feel is necessary to achieve success. You will find, over time, that some students get very good at writing contracts that hold everyone accountable to a high standard. Read more

Essential Reading List for Deeper Learning


To provide you with more information about Deeper Learning and the approaches some schools are taking, we’ve compiled a list of “great reads” written by our Deeper Learning experts.

1. Ron Berger, Chief Academic Officer at Expeditionary Learning

Leaders of Their Own Learning

Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessment by Ron Berger, Leah Rugen, Libby Woodfin and Expeditionary Learning. (2014)

Leaders of Their Own Learning tackles the issue of student assessment by having students continually track, reflect, and report on their progress in achieving targets or goals they set for themselves. By engaging students in their own assessment, learners become more motivated and take greater ownership over their learning.

An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students by Ron Berger. (2004)

Ron Berger lays out the case for creating a school-wide “ethic of excellence,” providing realistic tips on how teachers, parents, and students can commit to a higher quality of education.

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40 Resources and Tools for Deeper Learning


Our new video series on Deeper Learning is filled to brim with supporting materials to help you bring the concepts and ideas from the videos into your classroom and school. On every video page, you’ll find rubrics, lesson plans, research, strategy documents, and other essential materials that take you behind-the-scenes of what you’re watching, and help you try out a new idea.

In addition to those materials, here are 40 additional resources and tools to help you better understand the concepts and learning strategies behind this series. (But we know this list isn’t complete, so please share your favorite resources in the comments below.)


1)  The 6 Competencies of Deeper Learning

  • Master core academic content
  • Think critically and solve complex problems
  • Work Collaboratively
  • Communicate effectively
  • Learn how to learn
  • Develop academic mindsets

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Deeper Learning Series: Host a Screening


Collaboration is a major focus in Deeper Learning and you can model this skill by bringing together your teacher community to watch, learn, and implement new ideas. The entire series runs approximately 4 hours and 15 minutes. You can hold a marathon, screen one of our playlists, or focus on the strategies from one Deeper Learning network. Here are some sample themes for a screening:

Deeper Learning and the Common Core

Teaching as a Team Sport

Kids are the Proof: Student Engaged in Deeper Learning


  • Invite some friends and colleagues over to watch and “shop” for ideas that work for you. Try them in your classrooms and report back on the ones that had impact on your kids.
  • Share the videos with educators at professional development workshops.
  • For larger gatherings, choose someone to act as the moderator or presenter and split the discussions into smaller groups.
  • Invite Deeper Learning experts (teachers, administrators, etc.) to help facilitate a discussion.

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How Does Deeper Learning Prepare Students for the Future?


“Deeper Learning captures the nuances, the ideas, and the energy behind an entire effort to fundamentally rethink the most important outcomes in education for the 21st century,” notes Tony Wagner, educator and expert-in-residence at Harvard University’s New Innovation Lab. He is just one of the many experts, educators, and students we interviewed for our new video series on Deeper Learning. And as he points out, this series demonstrates that a serious movement is taking place in our education system — one that engages students in a more authentic way, and paves the way for them to truly succeed in the 21st century. College ready? How about innovation ready, where the capacity to innovate, the ability to solve problems creatively, or bring new possibilities to life is far more important than academic knowledge.With information flooding the Internet, television, even our cellphones, classrooms need to move from filling students with ever-changing content to teaching students “how to think.” They need to ask the right questions and take initiative. Watch Tony Wagner’s introduction here:

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Argument Writing: Four Reasons Why It’s Writing Priority Number One

You probably don’t need me to tell you that argument writing is a hot topic in education — it has a special place in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and it is writing anchor standard number 1 for a reason. However, some teachers are asking if we really should no longer teach persuasive writing to our upper grade students.

Argument WritingI have many fond memories of teaching persuasive writing. Students love discussing and debating their point of view, and it has the capacity to pull in reluctant writers because most students don’t have trouble writing about their position on controversial issues. Also, persuasive writing has traditionally been required on high-stakes assessments such as the ACT. This is all good stuff, so why should we switch from persuasive to argument writing? Because, while persuasive writing may be a norm of the past, argument writing is the skill of the future.

Here are four reasons to make the switch from persuasive to argument writing for grades 6-12:

1. Argument focuses on evidence and clear reasoning

Argument writing is all about whether you have quality evidence and whether you can explain how your evidence supports your claim. The logical process of gathering evidence, coming up with a claim, and linking evidence to your claim is different than the passion of persuasive debates. Rather than ignoring contrasting points of view, different perspectives strengthen arguments by giving students the chance to test their claims with contrasting evidence and refine their positions. Introducing standards for accountable talk and argument frames is a great way to keep the discussion focused and academic in nature.

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Classroom DIY: Motivating Your Students: Incentive Systems You Can Start Tomorrow

It’s March, and you’ve probably established routines and procedures while simultaneously carving out more and more time for robust instruction.

DIY Student Motivation SystemTo keep your momentum going, this DIY blog has a few ideas for incentive systems that can help motivate students to actively contribute to the cultivation of a strong learning environment.

Incentive systems complement your hierarchy system. They are meant to recognize and reinforce students for positively participating in your class, yet also allow students who are, shall we say, over-participating in the hierarchy system stay engaged in new ways. Your incentive system is also a concrete way to motivate and normalize the positive behavior in your classroom.

Here are three field-tested incentive systems with some details to help you decide which is ideal for your classroom.

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Secrets of a Conference Enthusiast: How to Up Your Edu Conference IQ

When the calendar flips to March, it’s like Opening Day for education conferences. Whether you’re a teacher, a coach, an administrator, or an advocate, there’s a conference waiting for you. From nearly 20 years of going to conferences (I started even as a pre-service teacher), being a presenter, and planning several state-wide conferences myself, I’ve learned a thing or two about the whole experience. And I want to share some of my favorite tips so you can make the most of these great professional learning opportunities:


1. Prepare ahead of time as much as possible (but if you don’t have time, it’s really NOT one more thing to beat yourself up about). In other words, take the time to learn how the conference is organized: When are the keynotes or plenary sessions? (These are the big sessions for everyone to attend versus the smaller, more specialized breakout sessions.) Sometimes big conferences are spread out in many buildings and it’s good to know ahead of time “the lay of the land.” Many conferences will also provide session information ahead of time (on their website or even via conference apps you can download to your smartphone) so that you can map out your schedule before even getting there.

2. When choosing which sessions to attend, look at who is presenting the session titles. This is one of the first tips I learned about putting together a great itinerary. Many session titles will spin the overall conference theme (which makes perfect sense), but it’s the presenter that will bring the session to life. So take the time to read not just what will be discussed, but who will be discussing it, and you’ll find yourself happy with the choices you make.

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