Friday, August 1, 2014

Picture Books I Would Use in the Classroom, part 1

I LOVE all books, but I have a special fondness for picture books. And even though I finally broke down and gave away about 150 tomes, I could not part with but a handful of my picture books. To my delight, when I said auf Wiedersehen to my colleagues at Jordan School District, I left with 3 new picture books - two were retirement gifts from friends, and one was a recommendation that I gave to myself: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt with pictures by Oliver Jeffers; Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds; and This Plus That, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Jen Corace. All were published fairly recently.

If I were in the classroom - elementary or secondary - I would find a way to work these books into my curriculum because they are humorous and because they represent what I would like to see in a classroom.

The Day the Crayons Quit

In a bevy of protest letters to their owner Duncan, the crayons "wax" poetic to convince the young artist to "think outside the box" when working on his artwork. Red feels overworked; Purple, a bit of a perfectionist, grows irritated when Duncan doesn't color in the lines; and Black thinks he has more uses than merely outlining things. And so it goes. In the end, Duncan wants to make his crayon friends happy, and so he experiments with a yellow sky, a pink dinosaur, and an orange whale. Oh, and the black rainbow rules! He earns an A for coloring - but an A+ for creativity!

In this test-crazy culture we're currently experiencing, I would want my students to know there is room for creativity in my classroom. And I would also hope, students could see another message in this sweet book: Avoid jumping to conclusions and look for possibilities beyond quick assumptions. And I'm not just talking about crayons. 

I want my postings to be short, and so I'll stop here for today! In the meantime, have a great weekend! Renae

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Response to Utah Governor's Invitation for Public Comment on the State's ELA and Math Standards

A month ago, Governor Herbert - in an attempt to quell the controversy sustained by the very vocal opponents of Utah's adoption of the Utah State Standards for Language Arts and Math - invited citizens to weigh in on this topic. Today, I did that. While the original deadline was July 31, 2014, I understand citizens can still complete the survey and leave

If you want your voice heard, here is where you go:

Once you arrive at the site, you will find links to the actual standards for ELA and Math, along with the following statement:  
The Governor has requested a special review of the Mathematics and English Language Arts Standards by a group of higher education professionals and other stakeholders, to assure they are meeting the needs of Utah students. As part of this review, we are inviting parents, teachers, education professionals and other community members to provide feedback on the content of these standards. This feedback can be positive or negative, and can address a specific standard or a subset of standards.
Next, you are invited to take the survey which asks a few basic questions: your level of support, or lack thereof, of the ELA and Math standards. I replied that I generally support these standards with continuing improvement. The survey then asks for suggestions.

This is my response for the ELA standards:
One possible suggestion is to revise Appendix B that lists excerpts from various texts representing "exemplars of reading text complexity, quality, and range & sample performance tasks related to core standards". These sample texts range from classic literature, famous speeches and documents, as well as critically acclaimed contemporary literature, but they are NOT mandated curriculum, a point many citizens miss. Nevertheless, a few exemplars do not represent some communities' standards, and so I suggest that the State Board of Education and the Utah State Office of Education include educators and parents in revising this appendix so that the exemplars are more representative of our state's standards. This process should not disregard the the purpose of the exemplars in providing samples of complex texts that challenge our students' thinking.
The following are my suggestions for math:
Math is not my expertise, but I have read over the objectives and understand that while this is NOT the "way we learned math", the standards represent stronger problem-solving procedures and make math more relevant to real-world application. Because teachers can't limit their practices to teaching "just" algebra, but must understand many mathematical concepts and then teach and guide students through them, teachers should receive more professional development. Parents are often at a loss in helping students with their homework, and so I suggest that tutoring moms and dads would be helpful and might build confidence in the standards. 
The final comment asks participants to address the pros and/or cons of the standards, requiring that statements refer to specifics of the core. Here is what I shared:
The best feature of the Utah Standards, as they presently exist, is that they represent learning objectives that build from kindergarten through grade 12. Reed Spencer, former USOE Language Arts Specialist, proposed creating aligned K-12 standards nearly a year before the Common Core State Standards became public. He and other state leaders recognized the advantages and strengths of an action that deepens learning through a spiraling effect building on what students know and are able to do from one grade to the next. Let us please NOT step backwards after so much thought, study, time, and money has been spent in bringing about improved standards that can only benefit our students.
Update: A recent Deseret News story reported that a poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates revealed 41% of Utahns oppose the "Common Core", and yet only "1 in 5 [could] accurately identify what they are". Informed or not, these opposing voices are loud and strong. Additionally, 29% of those interviewed had no opinion or admitted to not having enough information to decide.

One or two of my neighbors have asked me how I feel about the core, but they have not read the standards. Instead, they talked to me about what they had "heard about the standards" from talk show hosts and others. I offered to walk them through the actual standards, but as yet, no one has taken me up on that offer.

Through this long process, I have learned something very valuable: When people make up their minds about something, they do not want to change their viewpoints, regardless of the validity of the information. (And this doesn't just apply to educational issues!) I have investigated the opposing view points and learned that conspiracy fears drive their arguments. Quotations from radical elements have convinced many that these standards are the beginning of a secularized, liberal push to control our students' educations via the federal government.

My only response is to dothe homework by studying the information AND the distributors of that information. I really believe that a thorough study of the standards themselves will build understanding. Remember, too, that the state and local school boards that include community members have the ultimate say over what constitutes the curriculum used to teach the standards. - The government does NOT mandate what text books, trade books, speeches or novels can be used in Utah's schools. We do. But Governor Herbert hopes this survey and study will quiet the controversy. Let's cross our fingers!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Revival of Sorts

After a two-year hiatus, I am reviving Link2Literacy. I recently retired from my position as a district secondary literacy specialist, but my passion for spreading the good word of reading, writing, listening, speaking and thinking prompts me to keep at it via this blog.

My plans to continue my membership in the International Reading Association's state and local councils includes maintaining the Facebook page for Jordan Council of the International Reading Association (JCIRA). The main objective is to build membership for JCIRA and UCIRA (Utah Council of the International Reading Association). In so doing I hope to provide helpful information and support for members who are either educators, lovers of literacy, or both!

As a heads-up, the opinions of Link2Literacy will represent my own, and as such, I hope members' comments will either straighten me out or pat me on the back or something in between! While I have strong opinions about many topics, I do NOT bask in controversy. That takes just too darn much energy and brings forth irritability. Consequently, cantankerous criticism should be held to a minimum.

The reason I share this heads-up is because my next post will be about my 4-year journey with the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards Utah Core State Standards. Stay tuned!

CCSS: Tempest in a Teapot?

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Warrants" vs. "Reasons" vs. "Rules:" Understanding CCSS Terms

Utah has adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as the state's math and language arts core standards. Jordan School District trained all middle school language arts teachers last spring and this year those teachers are working through the ups and downs of implementation. The learning curve is definitely a bit of a challenge, and the feedback is helpful in providing continuous support and professional development.

One consistent concern deals with College and Career Writing Anchor Standard 1: "Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence."

The Question: Recently Tami E., a teacher in our district, posed this question: 
We've looked through the core for 9th grade, and we are not sure where the term warrant comes from. All the papers we have been given use warrant, so I have been using that term, but Sadie [a colleague] said all the conferences she's been to do not use the term and use the term reasons; so she is using that. We are trying to write common assessments and want to make sure we use terms we are supposed to use. 
The Reply: Carolyn Gough, the district's Secondary Language Arts Consultant, responded with the following explanation. I think teachers will find it very helpful in distinguishing between or among the various terms.
You and Sadie are correct. The word 'warrant' never appears in the core. For that reason I have often taken issue with the many trainings where I hear it being used. The word comes from the Toulmin model for argument which nearly everyone follows. To me it is a confusing word that I haven't been able to get my mind around.

A much simpler way to describe a warrant is that it explains how the evidence supports the claim. Picking out the evidence is pretty doable, but identifying a phrase or comment that explains how the evidence supports the claim is less obvious.

Another word you could use to explain warrant or reasoning is 'rule'. I'm looking in the Hillocks book about teaching argument writing on page 18 (which readers can see by clicking on the above link):

The students are trying to provide evidence that the lady in the scenario is lying about her husband's cause of death.

At one point students list a piece of evidence in the case: Arthur still has a glass in his hand. (Yet Arthur has apparently fallen down stairs.)

So, the teacher is trying to find out from the students why the glass in his hand is an indication that the victim didn't really fall. The kids go on to state that usually when people fall they let go of things. But the students add that sometimes if the items are important people don't drop them; so they re-think their assumptions. Finally, the kids conclude that in a surprising situation a person who's falling is going to drop things that are in their hands. 

The teacher asks them to write it as a rule.
  • Here's one student's response: 'When you fall down the stairs, you drop what you're carrying unless it's really important.'
  • The teacher helps them clean it up to read: 'As a rule, when people fall down stairs, they drop what they are carrying to save themselves.'
Doesn't this seem super obvious? Yet the teacher just spent a long time helping students think out their assumptions about the evidence they listed. Students might have just said, "His wife is lying about his death being an accidental fall down the stairs because the dude was still holding a glass in his hand!" Claim and evidence, but no "warrant" or "rule" or "reason" for why the evidence supports the claim. It requires one more question: Why does having a glass still in his hand suggest that his wife's story is a lie? Now we have the missing link - the "duh" if you will - "Because generally people who fall down stairs drop the things they were holding!"

I don't know of any key word that will help students located the "reason" or "warrant" or "link" or whatever you call it, but it might help them to recognize it by turning the evidence that supports the claim into a question: 
ex. 'So, this author states that students' grades improved when they wore school uniforms. Why would grades be better as a result of wearing some type of clothing? What is the assumption being made about behavior when that particular clothing is worn?'
Hopefully, students can see the assumption is that uniforms influence behavior in a way that helps kids focus so they get better grades. Yet, how often in their writing would they give the claim that uniforms help in overall achievement at school (claim) and then list that grades are better (evidence) without ever connecting the two together. (That is a simplistic example, but I think it makes the point.)

While I hope that helps, I believe it will be an on-going point of clarification.

Bottom line: if you don't want to use the word 'warrant' you certainly do not have to. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

How Does Inquiry Mesh with the Common Core State Standards?

WoW! It has been SUPER ages since I've posted, and man, the reasons for such neglect are really good ones, but that's a story for another time and another blog! Instead, let's jump into a topic of interest to Jordan School District (JSD) teachers and possibly some other educators as well.

Once upon a time - not so long ago - Utah's English/Language Arts Core consisted of three strands: Reading, Writing, and Inquiry. With the adoption of the the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teachers may ask how inquiry fits into CCSS or how the CCSS incorporates inquiry into its objectives.

Carolyn Gough, District English/Language Arts consultant states,
We as a district have tried to help teachers focus on the inquiry process through the use of units that start with an enduring understanding statement and an essential question. The cross-curricular essential question is intended as a compelling point from which students and teachers can study multiple materials that encourage thoughtful investigation and reflection and allow students to explore a question or topic.
To further explore these questions, I am posting some notes I jotted down during a 2-day workshop presented by Dr. Jeffrey D. Wilhelm in early October. I am also including additional research to answer questions concerning what inquiry is; why inquiry is a preferred teaching model, and how to organize inquiry-driven teaching.

What is inquiry? 
Inquiry learning emphasizes active engagement with the subject matter in a way that challenges students to seek answers on their own or with their peers. Teaching, using an inquiry approach, requires a scaffolding that provides ample support for students at the beginning stages of exploration, then gradually removes support as students become more adept at independent discovery ("Engaging Students in Their Learning" 2008).
Rigorous apprenticeship into disciplinary expertise (Wilhelm 2011). 
Why is inquiry important? (Organized from notes taken on Oct. 3, 2011)
  1. It is motivational because inquiry instruction dictates working within students' zone of proximal development (Vygotsky) - learning that helps students develop competence AND confidence.
    1. Motivation cannot be overemphasized.
    2. It is necessary to all learning.
    3. Motivation is defined as 'continual impulse to engage and learn.'
    4. Students are motivated when learning is neither too easy or too hard. Students become frustrated when hard assignments are given without help or scaffolding of some kind.
  2. Students are more likely to regard themselves as readers and writers; thus they will be more willing to read and write.
  3. Learners will be more dedicated to democratic citizenship, work, and service.
  4. Such experiences "rouse minds to life" (Tharp and Gallimore).
  5. Inquiry is the only instructional model that "meets the conditions of flow" - mental state of operation in which a person involved in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.
How is inquiry instruction organized? (Borrowed from Dr.Wilhelm's words and works in conjunction with the JSD Curriculum Maps.)

Six Ms: The Inquiry Model ~
  • Motivate through essential questions and substantial front loading
  • Model through gradual release
  • Mentor - teacher does/student helps; student does/teacher helps
  • Monitor to support and to hold students accountable
  • Multiple modalities - use strengths to address weakness
  • Multiple measures - formative assessments

Some Suggestions ~ 

    1. Start with a guided exploration of the unit's theme, enduring understanding statement, and essential questions.
      1. Ex. 9th Grade, Unit 2
        1. Enduring Understanding Statement: Understanding what honor is helps us interpret events and behaviors.
        2. LA Essential Question: Is honor bestowed or inherent?
        3. Cross-curricular Essential QuestionWhat is honorable?
        4. Possible related inquiry questions: Why is honor important?How can honor exist in a society where freedom is severely restricted?
    2. Using materials such as The Giver as well as informational texts, multimedia resources, etc. that support the theme, statement, and questions ...
      1. Proceed to student, small group inquiry about open-ended, debatable, contended issues that relate to the essential questions.
      2. Encourage students to discover personally relevant and socially significant issues that interest them.One of the the most difficult teaching challenges is to "get students to care about problems that are not their own."
      3. Support students in asking those personally relevant and socially significant issues.
      4. Continue work in groups to achieve diversity of views.
      5. Require students to predict, set goals, and define outcomes.
      6. Guide students through research and analysis - searching for patterns.
      7. Require documented research and justified conclusions.
      8. Sustain instruction as it serves as a guide to help students meet their goals.
      9. Groups/students should arrive at conclusions and share those with larger audiences.
      10. Encourage students to take a stand; take action.  .
      11. Create a tangible artifact that addresses issues, answer questions, makes learning visible and accountable.
In the near future, I plan to post some sample lessons that exemplify incorporated inquiry. Stay tuned!


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Addressing Students' Concerns about MY Access Online Writing Program

Last February 3 students sent in comments via the district's website to complain about MY Access. Their number one concern was that teachers used MY Access to grade their writing. They were upset about this because they realize that the program isn't perfect in "grading" their papers. (After all, their friends said their writing was near-perfect.) 

The three also feared that their teachers NEVER even read their work to see if they agreed with the MY Access scores.

Although the district could not find the students in our system, I was still asked to reply to these mystery students' valid concerns. (Think they used aliases?) 

In my response, I promised that I would share their criticisms with our district's educators, and so I ask teachers who read this and who use the online writing program review this response and then reflect upon whether or not they are guilty of these practices.

So read on and tell me what you think. I'd love to hear from you! 

Dear H, S, and S,

First I commend you for sending your concerns about the MY Access Online Writing Program to our district. Your emails were forwarded to me because I train and support teachers who use MY Access in their classrooms. Secondly, I am concerned about the valid issues each of you raise, and I hope to address those concerns and correct some of the problems that you mention.

Your concerns are concerns of mine as well. I will bullet those concerns and my responses below.
  • Teachers should grade papers, not a computer.
    • MY Access is not intended to "grade" papers for teachers, but rather it is designed to serve as a tool to "score" papers as part of the feedback for student writers.
    • Because it is a student tool, teachers should train students in how to use the program to improve their writing so that writers aren't guessing or experimenting to improve writing scores.
    • Students should also be taught how to interpret the feedback to determine which suggestions are most helpful.
    • The program may "score" the papers for feedback purposes, but teachers should read and grade the papers. 
    • No scoring machine is completely accurate, but here are some reasons these machines are used.
      • Learning how to quickly analyze feedback suggestions to determine whether or not suggested revisions should be made is an important skill.
      • People do most of their job-related writing on computers.
      • Whether it is Microsoft Word's grammar check or another type of program, writers need to know which suggestions are accurate and which are not. 
      • Your fellow students may be qualified judges of your writing, but they may not. Whether or not their feedback is really helpful depends upon their writing experiences. Most students are still learning the many steps and details required to write well, and so their suggestions may not be helpful.
      • MY Access receives and analyzes thousands of papers. A minimum of 3000 essays need to be hand-scored and the results fed into the writing analysis program before scores are determined and the scoring engine takes over.
      • Feedback for revision can only "suggest" ideas and show examples, but your teacher can AND should share additional revision strategies to further improve your scores. 
    • Online writing programs are a growing part of our computer-driven world.
      • The Direct Writing Assessment (DWA), required for 5th and 8th graders, "machine scores" the essays.
      • A reliable study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) determined that there was little to no difference between the essays that were human scored and those that were machine scored.
      • Future CRT tests will be changed from multiple choice to writing tests that include information from history, science, and language arts. Those online writing tests will, in all likelihood,  be machine scored.
      • Businesses and industry use online writing programs with their employees, including the MY Access, to assess and to support their employees in becoming better writers. 
      • Programs for scoring machines are constantly being improved, and we see and will continue to see better results as this continues. MY Access is listed as one of the best because of the many features that other online programs do not have. Among the most important asset is the number of essays submitted for analysis which increases the accuracy of the scores.
    Because of your comments, the language arts departments plans the following:
    • generally share these student comments about MY Access with all teachers who use MY Access
    • train or re-train teachers as to how they could and should be using the program in their classroom
    • include specific lessons on how to help students revise their work in such a way that scores will improve
    • remind teachers that they need to read and grade required submitted papers
    Although you would like to have students vote on whether or not our district should use the MY Access program, we cannot do that at this time. There are several reasons for this decision; some of which include the necessity of testing student writing, the increased rigor of the writing curriculum our state and district is adopting, and the writing demands of careers and colleges that require schools do all they can to help students improve their writing.

    I hope this rather lengthy message addresses your concerns. If I have not, please email me, and I'll try again.

    Best wishes,
    Renae B. Salisbury

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    wRITING REASONS 3b: Writing has Power

    I cannot believe it's been over two months since I last posted on this blog. While I can think of dozens more writing reasons, I recently discovered that Kelly Gallagher DID list his own wRITING REASONS  - but NOT  book's worth. A future post will share those, but in the meantime, here are some thoughts I wrote several weeks - yes, WEEKS - ago. 

    I was trying to recall writing that communicated despair, and all I could think of was President Reagan's speech to the nation after the Challenger tragedy. Upon reading it, however, I realized that hope did shine through as well.
    • Words can reveal despair
    Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss. 
    Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we've never lost an astronaut in flight. We've never had a tragedy like this. 
    And perhaps we've forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle. But they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair,Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. 
    We mourn their loss as a nation together. ~ President Ronald Reagan, January 28, 1986
    President Reagan had prepared to share a different message that day about the State of the Union, but an unfathomable tragedy occurred that not only altered the scheduled event, it altered the way Americans viewed the space program. Since its inception, not one astronaut had been lost in flight, but this disaster not only took the lives of 7 brave individuals, it also occurred while thousands of  school children watched. Christa McAuliffe was on board, and she was the first teacher in space. Up until the explosion, it had been a momentous occasion!
    While President Reagan spoke to a nation in despair, he also buoyed us up as he expressed his continued belief and support of the space shuttle program. He told the children of the nation ... 
    I know it's hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them. 
    • Words give form to our deepest desires
      I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'
    I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
    I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
    I have a dream today! ~ Martin Luther King, August 28, 1964
    How can a discussion about the power of writing fail to include the words of the great Civil Rights leader that we honor during the month of his birth? While Dr. King's desires and dreams did not come to fruition during his lifetime, the people of the United States have witnessed strides towards what he envisioned. His words bring us to a remembrance of history's heartbreaks, present's progress, and future's hopes.