Did that title get your attention? Just kidding! As school districts throughout the PARCC consortium, like us, pore over their test results, it will likely become clear that students didn’t perform as well as they could have on an assessment category called reading informational text. It will be important for school districts and parents to look to improve this area of assessment moving forward. The shift towards informational text becoming an important part of standardized assessment–in this case PARCC–became apparent when the Common Core standards were released a few years ago. Controversial at the time (okay, still controversial to some), the Common Core called for a greater emphasis on the reading of informational text across the curriculum in schools. Ultimately, the Common Core recommends a split in what high school students read: 70% informational text and 30% literary works. For many teachers, this split was a drastic change from what was traditionally done in classrooms. This blog isn’t the place to debate the merits of this decision. All I will say is that I am in favor of students reading as much as possible regardless of its kind. I love both fiction and non-fiction and hope students feel the same. I also realize students will frequently encounter informational text when they enter college and join the work force; therefore, it is certainly important that we teach students how to read this genre. One way to improve students’ comprehension when reading informational text is through the website Newsela.
I have become a huge fan of Newsela (pronounced NEWS-ELLA) because of its design, the selection of informational articles available for readers, and the assessments that come with each article. I had heard of Newsela over the past few years but was initially skeptical. I am decidedly old school when it comes to reading. For many years when I taught I got hard copies of the newspaper delivered every day for my students to read. Even so, I realized a few months ago that my second-grade son needed some help with his reading. My son loves to read, but I noticed he was reading way too fast and not really comprehending what he had read. I realized something was up when he claimed to have finished a book in about fifteen minutes. Before you think I am some sort of an “intense reading dad,” I’m not. My son can read whatever he wants from Captain Underpants to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. As long as he is reading, I am happy. But, my son still needs to understand HOW to read. So, I started using Newsela with him, and I think it is wonderful.
Newsela is a free site (subscription model available) that edits news articles from organizations like the Washington Post, Associated Press, and Scientific American into different levels of complexity using the Lexile framework. This enables readers of different levels to all be reasonably challenged. Classes with different levels of readers can be differentiated as students are able to read the same article but at different Lexile levels. Each article comes with a few assessment questions that reinforce important content or vocabulary from a related article. Parents and teachers can track a child’s or student’s progress as they read, giving them insight into strengths and weaknesses. Newsela just released an app for Apple devices and it is most impressive. I think this app can be an important addition to a class set of iPads and any reading program. I honestly never thought I would like a site like Newsela. However, I think its ease of use, the quality of its informational text, and the fact that it gives real-time data on reading progress makes it something English and elementary teachers should consider using in their classes. Parents, like me, should also consider using it with their children. Overall, it is a great product and something I think will help students tremendously as they learn to read informational text.
This post is by Bree Valvano, an English teacher at Randolph High School
While I believe reading classic literature is a valuable experience, helping students see how the themes and ideas in these works are relevant to their own lives can be a challenge. My English IV classes recently finished reading the play Antigone. While no one can argue the value of the play, I wanted to come up with a way for my students to demonstrate their understanding of the major themes while also showing them how the themes are still relevant and how they connect to their own interests. The Antigone Making the Movie Project helped me to achieve my objective.
For this project, students were challenged to create a prospectus for a movie connected to one of the themes in the play. Students had to select the theme that was most interesting to them and create several documents including a rationale, a movie poster, a script for a major scene in their movie, and a movie trailer using iMovie. The results were outstanding. One group focused on civil rights and fighting against discrimination. One group focused on a female’s right to play football, a typically male sport. No matter what movie idea the students decided to focus on, they were required to make connections between the theme in Antigone and the theme in their movie. Below you will find two movie trailers my students created for the project. When you give students choices and the power to create something that is meaningful to them, you will be happy with the results.
In a recent interview by Serena Golden on Inside Higher Ed, James M. Lang, an English professor at Assumption College, answered questions via e-mail about academic integrity. Lang has a new book that was recently published from Harvard University Press, called Cheating Lessons: Learning From Academic Dishonesty. “Lang reviews research on both academic dishonesty and human learning to build a case that the most effective instructional strategies to minimize cheating are the same ones that will best help students to understand and retain the course material,” summarizes Golden. Here are some excerpts from Lang’s interview responses I found particularly compelling:
Cheating is an inappropriate response to a learning environment that’s not working for the student.
The fascinating discovery I made in my own research was that the features of a course that do tend to induce cheating were also ones that tend to reduce learning.
Too often we think about courses as “covering” material. As plenty of people have pointed out, though, just because you are covering something doesn’t mean that the students are learning it!
But I think every day we are preparing to step into a classroom, we have to ask ourselves this question, and be ready to answer it: Why should students care about this material?
And when we link our material to real and fascinating problems or questions — the types of problems or questions we tackle in our own research — then it becomes easier to help our students learn to care about our courses.
Some students cheat because they have poor metacognition — that is, they have an inaccurate picture of their own understanding of the course material.
Without question, the best means of improving student metacognition is with frequent, low-stakes assessments.
Whatever you are going to ask students to do on their graded assessments, give them the opportunity to try smaller, low-stakes versions in class or on homework assignments before they have to ramp up and try for the grade.
As much as possible, when it comes to academic dishonesty, we should keep our eyes focused on the design of the course and the assessment system.
The research clearly suggests that faculty inconsistently report instance of cheating in their courses, and the most frequent explanation they give for that is that they find administrators siding with students over faculty, or they find the bureaucratic procedures required to pursue a case of academic dishonesty incredibly time-consuming.
Don’t take it personally. Students cheat on assignments or exams; they don’t cheat on you.
What has Lang done to his own teaching after researching and writing about academic dishonesty? “So beginning this year,” he wrote, “I have reframed my courses around big questions that I hope will capture the interest of my students, and I have redesigned my assessments systems in order to give students more choices in how they demonstrate their learning to me.” Developing lessons around essential questions, transfer goals, and authentic problems can help motivate students to learn. Scaffolding assessments and giving choice to students when they are asked to demonstrate understanding can help eliminate academic dishonesty (hopefully).
As I continued to research and discover new ways to use technology, specifically the five new classroom iPads I have been given, I came across several articles that discussed an app called Subtext. This app allows you to download eBooks and create a collaborative reading area for students and teachers. The app allows users to define words, research concepts in a reading via the web, highlight lines, link to videos and other resources, mark notes, ask questions, and comment all in real time. If you know anything about me and my teaching philosophy, you know I had to learn more about this tool.
After downloading the app on my personal iPad and playing with it for a short time, I quickly saw the potential this app has for promoting collaboration and close reading of a text. Subtext allows you to create a classroom environment where students can collaborate when discussing a text. The teacher can embed information and web links for students to use while they are reading a text. The teacher can also add questions for students to answer, and/or the teacher can see the comments the students are making and add his/her own comments and answer questions. The teacher can also create specific assignments for the class that are linked to Common Core Standards. Since the Common Core focuses on close reading and using textual evidence to support arguments, this tool has great potential to assist teachers as they help students practice these skills.
As with any app, there are a few things you need to know before you get started. Students and teachers need a Gmail account to log into the app. Since most people are using Gmail and it’s free to set up an account if they are not, this doesn’t seem like too big of a deal. Also, the app itself is free, but you may need to purchase the text documents, depending on what is available. There are some free books, but not all books are free. You also need to purchase licenses so students can access the tool. The cool thing about the licenses is the fact that they can be assigned to a student for the lesson and then reclaimed, after the lesson, so you can use them again in another class. I personally think the cost is totally worth it.
I recently tried the app with my English IIH classes. They worked in groups to complete a close reading activity on Poe’s poem The Raven. Before the activity, I added questions and comments to help the students analyze the use of language and literary devices to convey theme. I explained the features in Subtext, and the students got to work. While students were asking questions, I was able to add my comments and they were able to answer each other’s questions. Students were also able to use the features to look up unfamiliar words and search the web to find helpful information. At the end of the lesson, I asked students what they thought of the tool and the response was unanimous. They thought the app was both fun and helpful. They enjoyed being able to construct meaning and collaborate when completing a close reading of the text. I will definitely be using this tool again.
This post is by Bree Valvano, an English teacher at Randolph High School
I feel very fortunate to be one of five teachers selected to be part of the iPad initiative program in the Randolph High School Humanities Department. Our school recently purchased a number of classroom sets of iPads that are housed in Tech Tubs, a locking and recharging solution for tablets or Chromebooks. Since being selected, I have thought about how I can share some of the tools I find with others. I thought the best way to share this experience would be to post entries, outlining my findings, to the humanities blog. So here is my first entry.
After downloading some of my “go to” tools, such as Nearpod and Showme, I started to do a little research to find other apps I can use in the classroom. Over the long weekend I found two interesting apps that I will be trying out in my English IV classroom.
The first app is called Smule Auto Rap. This free app allows the user to record a short spoken clip and the app turns the clip into a rap that can be shared via email. I thought this would be a great way to make “do nows” and/or “exit tickets” more fun and relevant for the students. I plan on trying it out when students start reading The Kite Runner. I am going to have students record their reactions to pivotal events in the book, and after recording their responses and turning them into raps, they can share their recordings with other students and eventually email them to me. I feel like this could end up being a fun way to share their reactions and check for understanding.
The next app I found this weekend is called Trading Cards, and it is made by the people who run the ReadWriteThink web site. This free app allows the
user to create a trading card of information. This information could be about a character, a historical event, a novel, or a concept. Students are able to add up to 120 characters of information for each question asked and a photo. The trading card can be saved to use later when studying for a test and/or shared with others.
Again, I am so excited to be part of this initiative, and I look forward to sharing more information about helpful apps as I continue to find them.
Recently, Chris Lehman gave an impassioned talk at the University of Wisconsin-Madison discussing literacy and how teachers can integrate components of the Common Core into their practice. The talk, “Exploring a Route Toward Adoption of the Common Core,” was just made available online! Here is the talk Chris gave:
If you have some time, check out the presentation–Chris is an amazing educator. (Here is a link to his slideshow.)