His heart is in the right place…
The third quarter AUSL Instructional Shifts focus is Reading Across Multiple Texts. This shift is the most obvious example of how the CCSS break from traditional standards. Reading has traditionally been defined and assessed as comprehending a single text.
A recent conversation at a Critical Thinking Cohort 2 workshop showed that in order to meet such standards, we need to make powerful connections not only across texts, but across schools and initiatives as well. Teachers were sharing the results of rigorous, CCSS-aligned performance assessments they had developed. Meghan O’Keefe from Chicago Academy HS shared a freshman performance assessment she created with her teaching partner E. M. Miller. It was an authentic task requiring students to write an editorial for a Chicago paper, making an argument for how citizens and authorities could improve Chicago’s communities by nurturing healthy adolescent identities. This task required them to engage in “intertextual rhetorical analysis”, including analyzing central themes from “legacy” texts (canonical, complex texts that the CCSS emphasize, e.g. Romeo and Juliet) and connecting these themes to contemporary nonfiction texts (e.g. a 2 News Chicago report on challenges facing Chicago youth) to support their argument. Clearly, the task required students to apply critical thinking skills such as comparison, analysis and evaluation across multiple texts.
As Meghan described how they developed the assessment, I was immediately struck by how many school and network PD initiatives contributed to this work. They designed their unit backwards mapping from CCSS with the 9-10 Planning Guide 1.0. They assessed student writing using the Argument Writing Rubric developed by the CAHS ELA and History teams in a half-day workshop led by their department chairs and supported by History Coordinator Carolyn Henderson and myself. To prepare students for this work, they applied strategies shared in earlier Close Reading PD and their Content Cluster cycles. Prior to writing, their students engaged in Paideia discussion, an approach developed by the mastermind behind Shared Inquiry, which has been at the center of our Instructional Shifts workshops (and additional coaching visits to several elementary and high schools). They used Critical Thinking workshop tools such as the Elements of Thought and the Critical Thinking Rubric to help students refine their thinking and give feedback to peers. Meghan and E.M. fine-tuned their co-planning in the Co-teaching PLC led by Tiffany Ko.
Meghan shared that they were pushing their freshmen further than ever before. I asked her what made the biggest impact on her work and her answer was a combination of all of these experiences:
“I’m fortunate to have been included in the Critical Thinking Framework PLC for the past two years. The work we’ve done in that PLC around the Common Core, performance tasks, and critical thinking has set me up for success during this major instructional shift. The changes that teachers are having to make with the advent of new standards and assessments is profound. We will be most successful if we’re all able to participate in quality PD like the Critical Thinking Framework, Close Reading, and Paideia PD I’ve been fortunate enough to receive. I appreciate the investment our administration has made in my professional development, and I hope that everyone in the network has the same opportunities”.
Even with the support, it still took a leap of faith to give the performance assessment to her students since the task was far beyond what had been previously asked of them. She realized the task itself didn’t have to be perfect, and the kids wouldn’t master it the first time. Rather she was giving them the opportunity to show what they could do, and then examining their writing to determine their needs. In this case, her students made clear claims and supported them with evidence, but they understandably need more support in combining evidence from different sources (e.g. learning and utilizing complex sentence structures that will help them integrate ideas across texts).
This discussion made me realize how intentional we need to be in making connections across schools and initiatives to insure all of our supports and PD opportunities work in concert with one another. We need to highlight connections across initiatives for teachers as they make these “profound”, and intentionally share learning across schools.
Indeed, there is no shortage of good ideas worth sharing. For instance, at that same Critical Thinking Cohort 2 workshop, Caprice Banks at Phillips shared her own powerful inquiry project. Students learned that their school was a historic landmark, but few knew its rich history. They researched their building, synthesized their learning, and served as tour guides for community and school groups. At Collins, Chase James’ team is applying strategies from Close Reading PD beyond the ELA department and making connections to their school-wide focus on argumentation. At Orr, Dr. Debbie Caise-Fitzpatrick led the ELA team in anchoring and scoring argument writing in a process similar to the one used at CAHS. Their department recently hosted a Great Books leader to learn how Shared Inquiry discussions can raise the level of reasoning in student writing. At Solorio, teachers have received monthly coaching in Shared Inquiry. Their recent work includes preparing students to serve as discussion leaders and bridging shared inquiry discussions writing literary analysis essays, ideas they shared at the recent High School PD Potluck.
Resources for Reading Across Texts
In the spirit of making connections across texts, schools and initiatives, I will share a few resources for reading across texts piloted and approved by our teachers. At the recent Instructional Shifts workshop, leaders from the Great Books Foundation shared two approaches, using an anchor text such as a poem about immigration to unearth key themes of immigration and spur inquiry across several types of texts, and an overlapping venn diagram approach, where two or more similar complex texts are intentionally paired and analyzed.
At the aforementioned Critical Thinking workshop, Jo Hoglund at Solorio shared an approach to planning with multiple texts from Sara Wessling, former National Teacher of the Year (and teaching channel luminary). Here, Sara shares an approach for unit planning using “Fulcrum, Texture, and Context” texts (see p. 23-28). Patrice Turk initially shared Sara’s work with their team and strongly recommends her video series on Teaching Channel.
Finally, the Literacy Design Collaborative came out with a version 2.0 of their CCSS-aligned planning Template Task collection. You can use their Their Mad Libs-style templates to design your own prompts for researching and reading across texts. The templates are also great for designing inquiry-based performance assessments (should you be inspired and want to develop one yourself!).
Achieving the Core through the Power of Connections
To achieve the CCSS, it will take a coordinated, concerted effort by our entire network. All of us are smarter than any one of us. We will be working in the coming weeks to create structures for sharing ideas across schools. How have you experienced the power of connecting across texts, schools or initiatives? Respond in the comments section below!