By Megan Motley
Happy April! Happy National Poetry Month!
As an ELA teacher, I always felt obligated and hesitant to teach poetry. Where to begin? Iambic pentameter? Sonnets? Enjambment? Emily Dickinson wandering around in a white dress?! Ultimately, I found that sharing poetry that I liked and giving students space to find poems that they enjoyed in units throughout the year was enough. I didn’t need to provide hours of direct instruction to prepare them for poetry: students are smart, and they appreciate lyrics, rhythm, and lovely phrases. I also found that some students were already reading poetry on their own thanks to Instapoets like Rupi Kaur.
Not only did my classes appreciate reading poetry, I found that many students enjoyed writing poetry. Students loved creating “found poems” from a chapter of a novel that we were reading, and I loved that it was a sneaky and scaffolded way for all students to reread, examine language, and explore themes regardless of their reading level.
While there are only a few days left of National Poetry Month, it is worth prioritizing space in our own lives and our classrooms to simply read and appreciate poetry regardless of grade level or content. After all, as the poet Audre Lorde reminds us, “Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity for our existence. It forms the quality of light from which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.” Let’s continue to grow and refine our quality of light.
To celebrate spring’s return of songbirds and the last few days of National Poetry Month, here’s one that I keep coming back to by Mary Oliver.
What Gorgeous Thing
I do not know what gorgeous thing
the bluebird keeps saying,
his voice easing out of his throat,
beak, body into the pink air
of the early morning. I like it
whatever it is. Sometimes
it seems the only thing in the world
that is without dark thoughts.
Sometimes it seems the only thing
in the world that is without
questions that can’t and probably
never will be answered, the
only thing that is entirely content
with the pink, then clear white
morning and, gratefully, says so.
By Kristina Harris, Apryl Thompson, and Anne Folsom
Within a reading workshop how many minutes are students reading? This year has brought a return to consistent, in-person learning environments for most students. Teachers have worked hard to create these learning environments through consistent routines that leverage learning to build independence. The last few years have brought a need to adjust instruction to meet the needs of an even wider range of students. As you examine the needs of your classroom and the promise of grade level learning, we encourage you to consider the balance you are creating. “Children need time to read — a lot of time. Time spent reading contributes to reading achievement in ways that simply doing worksheets or other activities does not” (Allington, 2002; Foorman et al., 2006). Look at the categories below from your students eyes. How are your readers building stamina in their texts? Consider ways for them to read, take a little break, and jump back into a book.
Structure and Environment- Consider how students access books. A robust classroom library builds excitement and interest in books. Students will have the option to read books that meet their needs, interest and purpose. Book boxes contain a variety of text, some for fluency, some for print work, some for student interest and choice. Students have more device access than ever before and you will want to consider how ebooks are assigned or accessible to students. One caution: ensure students are actually reading, not just listening to books.
Books- Can students find books on topics that they think are interesting?
Are the books student access “just right” for them? I’m thinking of the wide range of readers you probably see in your classroom right now. Students will want to spend time in a variety of text types. Decodable texts allow students to apply the foundational skills they have learned. They are using the spelling rules to decode within a controlled environment. Predictable texts enable students to move from that controlled print work to a text that will have more engaging comprehension work. Level readers typically have richer story lines, better characters or exciting information. And lastly, think about choice or library books. Students want to read, and even just look at, texts on topics that interest them, that come in a variety of formats, that they can share with friends, and that they can learn from.
Proficiency Scales to Drive Purpose- As students head off to independent reading you may want to engage them in a purpose for reading. For years schools have used close reading as a lens for readers to examine text through. These practices can guide students' thinking about a text. Think "Notice & Note." Students engage in book clubs or collaboration that allows them to be accountable to their group as they have conversation and dig into books. Some independent reading with sticky notes or opportunities to write about reading can also be a purpose. And sometimes, kids deserve a chance to read and enjoy something they’ve picked on their own just for the sheer joy of reading.
Goals, Logs, Journals- Get to know your students' reading habits through interest surveys either for students or families. Reading logs can be a great visual way for kids to track what they have read and get them reading more. Student Friendly Proficiency Scales can help students evaluate their own progress in reading skills.
By Toni Bower
The philosophy of disciplinary literacy has been around for many years. The idea and practices might not have been elevated as much as they could have been. Have you heard, “Every teacher teaches reading and writing?” This is NOT disciplinary literacy. Let’s shift this thinking to “Every teacher teaches literacy skills essential to their discipline.” Our students deserve the reinforcement of the literacy skills and instructional practices that support their access to discipline-specific content and ability to be successful in learning across their day. We know that literacy happens in each and every content, but how are students accessing the information? How are they communicating it? How are they “thinking” in the various content classrooms? We want our students to participate alongside their teachers and with their peers, and not as observers.
There are some content literacy skills that classrooms use but there are also discipline-specific literacies too. This chart from Lent & Voigt separates some literacy skills illustrating the differences.
Disciplinary literacy lifts the discipline/content first and then incorporates the literacy skills through the lens of the discipline. Content literacies/ interdisciplinary literacy uses the literacy skills (taught in ELA classrooms) and brings them across all classrooms. For the most part, the skill looks the same across the disciplines (with very minor tweaks).
Currently there are several middle schools learning together through a leader group and taking the work back to their classrooms and teams. Professional development opportunities were provided for secondary instructional coaches around using MAP data in all content areas to better build understanding on students' proficiency levels in literacy and how to adapt classroom instructional practices to support all students. Additional professional development was shared with our new secondary teachers around using “Talk Moves” in all content areas to help students engage and use deeper thinking in the disciplines.
If you have any questions, want more information, or want to collaborate on professional learning or other opportunities for you, your teachers, or your students, please contact Toni Bower. firstname.lastname@example.org.
skills, collaborating and co-teaching to promote authentic technology integration and providing access to information. This has evolved with our needs, from remote learning and the need for 1:1 access for all students and staff to being in schools and supporting technology integration as teachers and students return to classrooms. DTLs continue to support technology integration, as we roll out of this pandemic and beyond the 21st century. And although technology use is strong, promoting a love of reading is still one of the core values of all libraries, providing avenues for students to explore new ideas, dream and create and get lost in books. As students return to school, library book check out has soared and our DTLs are working diligently to curate a collection that ensures students find their “just right” fit.
Cultivating Equitable Libraries with Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Through focused professional learning, Digital Teacher Librarians have embarked on a path to Cultivating Equitable Libraries. Jeffco Library Services, in collaboration with Jeffco’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion team, have partnered over the past few years to create a rich and meaningful plan to curate collections that have the “just right” books for each student.
Title I: Promoting Belonging Through Literature
Jeffco Library partnerships expanded into the Title I team as they learned about our library work with Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. This school year, the Title I team has been able to support Title I school libraries financially, taking our work into action and providing $5000 for each school library to Promote Belonging through Literature. Title I, Jeffco Libraries, along with Social Emotional Learning Specialists (SELS) and FELS (Family Engagement Liaisons) have strived to bring this work to fruition. This is an amazing opportunity for so many of our schools that will have lasting impacts on many of our students and staff, far beyond this school year.
Jeffco Public Libraries
This work was supported by another community partner, Jefferson County Public Libraries. The Title I DTLs requested time to research and evaluate books, thinking critically about each of their communities and collections. JCPL provided the space and hundreds of titles for DTLs to read and review. Our partners at JCPL provided the books we requested and offered us so many more. DTLs who participated said that this was a game changer, that they filled their buckets professionally and were able to use their expertise to knowledgeably curate their schools collection.
Follett Library Solutions
As Covid was on the rise, our plans to meet in person were put on hold. Jeffco’s library book vendor, Follett, stepped in and provided full preview access to books on our purchasing platform. Follett spent countless hours in coordination with various publishers to provide DTLs with full access to preview titles digitally. This increased access allowed DTLs to continue their work. Follett has also partnered closely in the work the Title I DTLs have done, working to ensure the books ordred will arrive before the end of the school year.
Example of success
A recent post on the Jeffco Ed Tech blog , An Accidental Love Letter, highlighted a few examples of how this work is directly impacting students. There are many more untold stories that reflect the impact of the work that DTLs are doing. Our students face a variety of seen and unseen challenges; the need to have mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors is essential for all learners. These stories share glimpses into the heart of our work.
Where do we go next?
As we begin to wrap up this year’s professional learning, we are far from finished. DTLs will continuously seek opportunities to promote belonging through literature; including building lists of books to add to library collections, finding ways to build a budget that can sustain equity in our school library collections and as equity leaders in our buildings. DTLs will also continue to create shared and collaborative opportunities for students to thrive as learners, readers and thinkers using technology, information, and literature. We are committed to being the hub of our learning community, serving all learners.
Storytime! Reading Aloud to Secondary Students
By Robyn Kehoe Ramsey
Contrary to what you might think, secondary students are NOT too old to be read to. While there might be some teenage eye rolling or skeptical looks at first, students actually love this classroom activity. No matter the subject, teachers should definitely read aloud to their students.
Storytime isn’t just for ELA class. In science, math, social studies, the arts, and across the school building, teachers bring texts to students. Teachers can read aloud -- the speech, the scientific presentation, the mathematical proof, the interview, the explanation, even the directions! -- when they have a complex text of key importance.
Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) is sometimes used in middle and high schools as a way to encourage reading, and it’s not a bad idea. However, if students are struggling or unmotivated readers, this practice may not actually be producing any gains in reading skills. SSR may be a good place to go once you have built foundational skills in all your young readers. To build fluency, model what strong readers do, and ensure equity of access, reading aloud is a better place to begin.
Reading aloud to students offers every student -- regardless of learning challenges -- an entry point into the text. Hearing the text read by an expert helps build students’ sense of fluency and helps improve their vocabularies. Teachers can make reading a shared experience by reading to students themselves, rather than playing the audiobook or having students read aloud. Take breaks along the way to model thinking and show students how to interact with the text. Have a purpose for reading, and make that explicit to students. Require students to follow along with the reading; struggling readers may want to stare at something else and rely on their auditory processing, but this doesn’t give them the fluency practice they need.
Once teachers have read aloud, modeled their thinking, and shared the experience of reading together, they can begin to release students to read in pairs or small groups to each other. Wander the room and listen to readers. Remind them of the scaffolds and routines they have learned. This is a perfect time to unobtrusively gather informal assessment data about readers’ strengths and challenges. Teachers will very quickly get a sense of whether students are understanding the text independently or not.
When young readers have sufficient skills to tackle the texts they need, THEN it’s time for independent reading. If the results of independent reading aren’t great, teachers should reteach or review routines and skills modeled before.
Read aloud to students! Give them a positive experience with reading, a shared experience with their classroom community, and the tools they need to be successful in the content area and beyond.
Don’t believe me? Learn more for yourself!
Field Experts Help Capstone Students toward Deeper Learning
By Cassandra Pasion
The state’s graduation guidelines have been in development since 2007. The goal of the graduation guidelines is to ensure that students don’t get left behind in Colorado’s changing economy. The guidelines mean significant changes for students. The Class of 2022 will be the first class to demonstrate their readiness in Reading, Writing and Communicating (English) and Mathematics through the graduation guidelines menu. The Jeffco Graduation Capstone started four years ago in the district for implementation at the building level.
Already, Colorado employers cannot find enough workers to fill jobs in some manufacturing, health, technology, and science-based industries. They say that students are not prepared to be successful in thousands of available jobs in our state. So, to prepare students for the next step after high school, Capstone projects provide students the opportunity to apply the skills such as research, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.
Capstone is a district-defined option from the menu of options to meet CDE’s graduation readiness requirements or the graduation guidelines. Jeffco provides a Capstone option for all students that is available in our 17 high schools and a few of our choice schools. The Jeffco Graduation Capstone is designed to provide students with the opportunity to showcase their academic achievement, enduring knowledge, and unique talents. Students may complete the Graduation Capstone during any year during high school to demonstrate college and career readiness in Reading, Writing, and Communicating (English) and/or Mathematics.
The Jeffco Graduation Capstone may be a stand-alone course or embedded in a content course such as English 11, English 12, Statistics, or Geometry. Some high schools use Advisement as a way to schedule Graduation Capstone for students to complete as it is a multifaceted project that incorporates content mastery in Reading, Writing and Communicating (RWC) and Mathematics. Students will also need to demonstrate essential and employability skills. There are considerations to meet the needs of students with disabilities and English as a second language if they complete the Graduation Capstone as an option to meet the graduation readiness requirements.
An important component of project work is providing opportunities for students to learn from field experts (Helm & Katz, 2016). As students complete their capstone projects, questions often come up that aren’t directly related to a lesson plan and this becomes an opportunity for students to delve into their Capstones deeper through interviewing a field expert. This provides students a better understanding of the world that we live in as they apply skills required in college and/or career.
Any field expert or mentorship enhances a student’s capstone experience, exposing them to industry and other experts in the field. The field expert or mentor provides an authentic, real-world experience for the student. The Jeffco Graduation Capstone is different from most other forms of research because it directs students away from books and out into the world to learn from hands-on experience. Students are required to conduct one informational interview with a field expert/mentor connected to their Capstone topic in person, by phone, or virtually. An informational interview is a meeting to learn about the real-life experience of someone working in a field, organization, or company that interests the student or relevant to a field of study. It's not a job interview, so it's important for students to keep focused on getting information, not a job offer.
To prepare for the informational interviews, students learn how to identify and define “network” and “networking." As students learn the skill of networking, they seek out community members, organizations or businesses that have a direct connection to their Capstone topic to conduct an informational interview by using their networks. This process provides students the opportunity to make connections and build or expand their networks to enhance their knowledge. As students build a professional network, they learn how to communicate in a professional manner and exchange information related to their Capstone projects with industry or subject-matter experts. Through this work, students can then explain, defend, and apply their Graduation Capstone work to demonstrate Reading, Writing and Communicating (English) and/or Mathematics readiness.
Cassandra Pasion and Suzanne Sundbye support teachers and/or schools with professional development, co-teaching or modeling of lessons regarding the Capstone Essentials for Graduation Readiness. As a team, we want to assist schools and/or teachers to grow essential and employability skills for students through the Graduation Capstones, so schools can grow their capstone programs successfully.
Struggling Readers in High Schools
By Robyn Kehoe Ramsey and Megan Motley
The Colorado Reading to Ensure Academic Development Act (READ Act) has been around long enough that first students arrived as freshmen in our high schools last year. Since we were all in crisis mode, no one was equipped to consider how to address these students’ needs. This year, freshmen and sophomores on READ plans are forcing school leaders to consider interventions -- as well as the obvious reality that not all high school readers who struggle have a flag in Campus. We all know that if a student is struggling with reading in ELA class, the student is struggling with reading in social studies, science, and across the school day. We also know that achievement gaps only get larger when we do nothing.
But how do we help? Literacy resources are aimed at a much younger crowd, and diagnostics for this age group are scarce. Schools are faced with constraints of scheduling and staffing, and many teachers throw up our hands and exclaim “I don’t know! I’m not a reading teacher!” when asked for reading goals and progress monitoring. K-3 teachers were required to complete 45 hours of reading coursework, but secondary teachers would benefit from at least a basic understanding of the science of reading.
Reading is not “natural.” While we are born wired to understand visual or auditory stimuli, we’re not born wired to read. Reading is a complex set of learned cognitive processes happening all at the same time. Scarborough’s Reading Rope is a way to show the many components working together to produce skilled reading.
A deficit in one of these skills can weaken the strength of the whole. Effective Tier 1 strategies in the classroom, as well as using a basic Informal Reading Inventory, can help us identify and address the specific skills a reader may need.
Teachers -- not just ELA teachers -- can help teens improve their reading skills. It’s not too late! Here are several ways teachers can help students improve their reading skills.
Supporting struggling readers in high school is as complex as reading itself. Any action we take to help our students improve their skills is well worth it!
Colorado Department of Education. 2019. Colorado READ Act. https://www.cde.state.co.us/communications/readact-overviewfactsheet
Scarborough, H. 2001. Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory and practice. Pp. 97-110 in S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.) Handbook of Early Literacy. NY: Guildford Press.
Vocabulary: Not just for ELA class
By Robyn Kehoe Ramsey and Megan Motley
No matter the content area, explicit vocabulary instruction is essential for student success. While it is by no means a panacea, strong connections between vocabulary acquisition and literacy, equity, and positive outcomes for students are clear. We must consider that when we test students’ reading comprehension, we may actually be testing their vocabulary and background knowledge and unintentionally preventing them from showing what they really know and can do (Willingham, 2017). Since vocabulary knowledge is directly linked to student success in school, it is well worth considering why and how every teacher should be teaching vocab.
Vocabulary acquisition is directly linked to equity. By first grade, higher socioeconomic groups are likely to know twice as many words as lower socioeconomic groups (Neumann & Wright, 2014), and we all know now that most children are never able to close that gap, negatively impacting their outcomes all the way through high school. “It is now well accepted that the chief cause of the achievement gap between socioeconomic groups is a language gap” (Hirsch, 2003). Therefore, it is incumbent upon us all -- not just upon ELA teachers -- to be intentional about vocabulary instruction.
How NOT to teach vocab:
How to teach vocab:
Which words to teach?
Consider that vocabulary words in any discipline can be divided into three Tiers (not to be confused with the Tiers of MTSS!). Tier 1 words are basic words in common use (“chair,” “phone,” “lion”). Tier 2 words are academic words that students encounter across contents (“analyze,” “evidence,” “theme”). Tier 3 words are content-specific (“metaphor,” “perpendicular,” “renaissance”). Tier 2 and Tier 3 words need to be explicitly taught as they influence students’ ability to understand and learn new content and concepts. Proficiency Scales are an excellent place for teachers to find specific vocabulary on which students should focus and build their knowledge.
“Teaching vocabulary will not guarantee success in reading … However, lacking either adequate word identification skills or adequate vocabulary will ensure failure” (Biemiller, 2005). Because vocabulary knowledge is so clearly linked to reading comprehension, as well as issues of equity for all students, teachers -- ALL teachers -- should consider how they are explicitly teaching the words students need to build a strong foundation for success in every content area.
Want to explore more ways to teach vocab? Check out this resource!
Biemiller, A. (2005). Size and sequence in vocabulary development: Implications for choosing words for primary grade vocabulary instruction. Teaching and learning vocabulary: Bringing research to practice.
Hattie, J. (2018) 252 Influences and Effect Sizes Related to Student achAchievement. Visible Learning. https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/
Hirsch, E.D. (2003) Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge of Words and the World. American Educator. https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Hirsch.pdf
Moore, D. (n.d.) Why Vocabulary Instruction Matters. Best Practices in Secondary Education. https://ngl.cengage.com/assets/downloads/edge_pro0000000030/am_moore_why_vocab_instr_mtrs.pdf
Neumann, S. and Wright (2014). Teaching Vocabulary in the Early Childhood Classroom. American Educator. https://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/summer-2014/magic-words
Willingham, Daniel (2017). The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads.
Nurturing My Own Professional Growth
How does the Acadience Assessment align with Proficiency Scales?
By Lisa Bayer and the READ team
Are we teaching two different things?
These are common questions that many educators ask. Fortunately, we don’t have to teach two different things!! If you use the proficiency scales as a guide you will be preparing your students for the Acadience assessment as well as meeting requirements from the proficiency scales
Want to know how to do this?
.Exciting news! Jeffco has aligned the Acadience assessment with the proficiency scales in grades K-3. The document below will show you how each benchmark assessment (BOY, MOY, and EOY) for the Acadience assessment and where the proficiency scales align.
2020-2021 Crosswalk-Acadience and Proficiency Scale components
As we move into the testing season, here are some additional documents that will help you get started as we move to remote assessment and instruction.
Winter High Priority Information for Acadience Testing
Acadience 2020 Teacher supports
Downloads for Acadience testing
Remote testing guidelines
Curriculum & Instruction