Literacy in the Digital Age: Five Sites With High-Quality Informational Text

Literacy in the Digital Age

Editor’s Note: Teaching Channel has partnered with Student Achievement Partners on a blog series about digital literacy tools and their effective use by educators.

One of the most exciting shifts in the Common Core State Standards is the increased use of content-rich, informational text.

Let’s think about this. As professionals, how often do we read texts that are outside of our comfort zone? Perhaps it was a legal document, a lengthy contract, or 16th Century prose. A lot of time, no doubt, was spent trying to decode the language used. Our human brain only has a finite amount of working memory available at any given time. And when we’re reading, our brain is either decoding or comprehending. It can’t do both well. The process is uncomfortable. And yet, many of us ask this of our students on a daily basis. It’s no wonder they struggle!

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Literacy in the Digital Age: 5 Effective Writing Tools

Literacy in the Digital Age

Editor’s Note: Teaching Channel has partnered with Student Achievement Partners on a blog series about digital literacy tools and their effective use by educators.

The Common Core English Language Arts Standards for Writing focus on building college and career readiness by having students demonstrate the ability to write in a variety of formats. As educators, we need to facilitate authentic experiences for students to practice and take risks during the writing process.

With that in mind, we’re going to discuss several valuable digital tools to help teachers create a more engaging and dynamic writing classroom for students to meet the rigorous demands of the Common Core.

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Skinnying the Standards 2.0

It was about this time last year when I had copies of the Common Core spread out across desks in my classroom. I was determined to see how I could resolve this overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t “hold” all the standards in my head while I was teaching. So, I set out to “skinny” them, and see if making them more manageable would also make them more usable to both me and my students.

Of course, figuring out how to get the Core into six buckets was only part of the challenge. The real challenge was figuring out how to implement this system into the fabric of my teaching.

A year later, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to “live the buckets.” As I get ready to begin another school year, I’m looking to the lessons of last year to guide my foray into Paint Buckets 2.0.

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Literacy in the Digital Age: A Resource Guide

Literacy in the Digital Age

Editor’s Note: Teaching Channel has partnered with Student Achievement Partners on a blog series about digital literacy tools and their effective use by educators.

As practitioners, our commitment to dynamic pedagogy should consistently be renewed. The digital revolution and Common Core State Standards have provided an unprecedented opportunity for schools to redefine curriculum, instruction, and assessment in the modern classroom.

Over the next four weeks, as part of a series we’re calling Literacy in the Digital Age, we will explore several digital tools to enhance literacy instruction in the 21st Century classroom. These tools will target various elements of English-Language Arts (writing, informational text, text complexity/vocabulary, and speaking and listening) and aim to increase the productivity of teachers and move students from simply consuming information to producing content. Each week we will present tools associated with a specific theme, provide a short explanation of each, and, most critically, share potential applications in the classroom. Tools alone aren’t the solution; however digital tools, implemented with precision and purpose, can be transformative.

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Making Time for Complex Text in Literacy Instruction

The Common Core Standards call for teachers to use more complex texts more often. One of my previous blogs shared ways to help all readers access complex text. Even when teachers are committed to using more complex texts, though, they often struggle to fit them within their school day.

Here, then, are practical suggestions of how to incorporate more complex text in existing structures — namely guided reading and independent reading — when redesigning them is not an option. Read more

Let’s Talk! Five Strategies for Hitting the Speaking and Listening Standards

I’m lucky to work in a school district that’s chosen curriculum aligned to Common Core Standards for both math and literacy. But when I really started to reflect on whether or not I was helping students meet those standards, the Speaking and Listening Standards were the ones that stood out the most. I asked myself, how am I helping students prepare for the discussions we’re having? How am I helping students build their capacity to ask questions or explain their thinking?

I decided to become intentional, planning opportunities for students to build their speaking and listening skills, and found that our conversations were richer because of it. Below are a couple of helpful tips and strategy videos that I used to help my students meet those valuable speaking and listening standards.

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Harness the Power of Writing in Math

I’ve always been an English-Language Arts kinda guy. Math was never my forte. When I learned that my new job would involve helping schools make the transition to the Common Core Standards for Math as well as English, I was nervous. How would I get up to speed on the math standards?

As I learned about the math standards, I saw connections to what I loved about the ELA standards and my anxiety diminished. The CCSS for math contain both grade level content standards that explain “the what” – what students should know and be able to do – and Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMPs) that explain “the how” – how students should learn and engage with one another in math class.

The SMPs apply to every grade level and are grounded in “important ‘processes and proficiencies’ that are highly valued in the field of math.” Many of the things that I love about the ELA standards, such as the priority placed on evidence-based reasoning and the importance of explaining one’s thinking, are present in the SMPs as well.

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Critiquing Reasoning = Rich Math Task

As my fifth graders were nearing the end of our unit on volume, I went back to the Common Core State Standards to ensure that we had covered all required concepts thoroughly. I reread the fifth grade standard on measurement and data (5.MD.C.5b), where students apply two formulas (Volume = length x width x height and Volume = base x height) for volume of rectangular prisms to solve problems. I felt confident that my students understood and could efficiently use the first formula; however, I knew we needed to spend some more time with the second.

In our problem solving work, my students were intuitively solving using the second formula, but they were not aware that multiplying the area of the base by the height was a separate formula.

In my classroom, I never just give my students formulas. I have two reasons for this. First, formulas they memorize but don’t understand are quickly forgotten. Second, if I want my students to think like mathematicians, then they need to discover formulas for themselves. Our experience building rectangular prisms had led naturally to the understanding of the formula V = l x w x h.

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Less Is More: Increasing Mathematical Thinking

“All great changes are preceded by chaos.”  — Deepak Chopra

As a math teacher, currently in my first year of Common Core implementation, the above quote resonates with me. As educators, we are sometimes challenged with out-of-date curricula and little professional support. The chaos we might experience in attempting something as new and big as Common Core seems to bring more questions than answers.

The quote, though, reminds me that change is uncomfortable, and great changes can make us feel as though our foundation has been shattered. It’s imperative that out of the potential chaos that precedes change, we identify small, achievable goals. Narrowing our focus can increase our productivity, reduce stress, and engage learners.

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Developing A Math Team: Online and In Person

Collaborating to Develop Math Ideash
If you heard me use the word “colleague” in a conversation a few years ago, I would have been referencing the people I work with face-to-face.

If you heard me use that same word today, the people I’d be referring to would be much different. In addition to my face-to-face coworkers, I would be gushing about my incredible Illustrative Mathematics Elementary Team members, and all the amazing educators I interact with in the #MTBoS (MathTwitterBlogosphere). While the majority of these interactions are solely online, I have had the extreme pleasure of learning and growing with my Illustrative Mathematics Elementary Team — both online and in person — over the course of this school year.

Our journey together began in September through a collaborative project between Illustrative Mathematics, Smarter Balanced, and Teaching Channel. Having always used illustrative tasks in my classroom, I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to collaborate on the mathematics and student learning of the tasks with professionals of diverse educational occupations. The team consisted of the varying perspectives of a county math supervisor, district math specialist, college professor, and classroom teachers, all the while supported by the mathematicians and content specialists from Illustrative Mathematics and Smarter Balanced. Each team member brought interesting and insightful perspectives that challenged my thinking during every conversation we had.

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