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.
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!
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.
Secondary ELA- Proficiency Scales (prioritize, pace and plan)
By Micah Schutte
As you may know, the Secondary ELA YAAGs look quite different from how they have looked in past years (please see our blog post from March 31st for more information on how they are organized now).
This year, teachers can use the Proficiency Scales as a way to help prioritize content. There are twelve proficiency scales in each grade level from 6th -12th grade in ELA.
The documents below list the Units of Study by grade level and the corresponding Proficiency Scales to be assessed. A couple of reminders:
What is Disciplinary Literacy?
By Toni Bower, Disciplinary Literacy Coordinator
There are many different definitions of Literacy, but all with the same basic thoughts. Literacy is the ability to use language arts in combination with speaking and listening skills to understand and use information in different ways. In other words, literacy is to read, write, speak, listen and think critically about information and apply or share the learning in writing or orally.
The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) states, “Tim Shanahan and Cynthia Shanahan, in their article “What Is Disciplinary Literacy and Why Does It Matter,” contend that disciplinary literacy emphasizes the knowledge and abilities possessed by those who create, communicate, and use knowledge within the disciplines. It honors the thinking within disciplines of study and invites students to engage in the academic discipline while developing a voice as a member of that community.”
Literacy instruction is fundamental across contents and grade levels. According to the Common Core State Standards, (CCSS), “The Standards insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility within the school. Standards for K-5 include expectations for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language applicable to a range of subjects, including but not limited to English Language Arts (ELA). Standards for grades 6-12 are divided into two sections, one for ELA and the other for history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. This division reflects the unique, time-honored place of ELA teachers in developing students’ literacy skills while at the same time recognizing that teachers in other areas must have a role in this development as well.” The intent is for the standards for ELA to be integrated into all content areas. And, as the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction indicates, “The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Literacy in Science, Social Studies, History, and the Technical Subjects are connected to College and Career Readiness Standards that guide educators as they strive to help students meet the literacy challenges within each particular field of study. This national effort is referred to as disciplinary literacy.” (“Literacy in all Subjects”, 2019).
Often the terms Discipline Literacy and Content Literacy are used interchangeably, but they are different. Content Literacy is generally explained through the lens of reading that “tends to emphasize the teaching of a generalizable set of study skills across content areas for use in subject matter classes” (Shanahan & Shanahan 2012). An example of this is with comprehension strategies. “Thus, although researchers may examine the use of a comprehension strategy, such as the use of paraphrasing, within the context of science text, the effectiveness of such a strategy within science reading would not make paraphrasing a discipline-specific reading strategy. There is nothing about paraphrasing itself that is special to reading science texts; rather, one would find paraphrasing to be as useful in the reading of any text of similar difficulty and correspondence with readers’ background knowledge.” (p.9). In contrast, “Disciplinary literacy has been defined as ‘‘the use of reading, reasoning, investigating, speaking, and writing required to learn and form complex content knowledge appropriate to a particular discipline’’ (McConachie & Petrosky, 2010, p. 6).” (Spires, et al., 2018, p. 1402)
There are many resources available for educators to use to help guide them through integrating ELA with the other contents. Disciplinary Literacy is more than just pulling a science or social studies article in the reading class, or saying that students are writing in their core content classes.
Fundamentals of literacy begin at the early learner levels. The foundational skills are then continuously developed and defined as children progress through their academic careers. College and career readiness standards are also interwoven with Disciplinary Literacy. In Jeffco, we want our students to have the skills necessary to be successful in whatever paths they choose.
It is important for every teacher in every content area to be aware of and to carefully consider the literacy of their discipline. By highlighting specific ELA standards which many contents see as foundational, teachers can have a starting place in identifying the literacies connected to their disciplines. Building on the foundational skills of K-5, ELA standards will enable teachers of all grade levels to use high leverage literacy skills in ways specific to their contents. “Elementary classroom teachers build the foundational literacy skills necessary for students to access all learning. Additionally, they develop content specific to deep literary study, oratory tradition and linguistic analysis; skills specific to English language arts. Literacy reaches beyond this knowledge in one content area to include reading, writing, listening, speaking and thinking critically in each discipline beginning at an early age.” (“Literacy in all Subjects”, 2019).
Disciplinary Literacy and the 2020 Colorado Academic Standards. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cde.state.co.us/coreadingwriting/disciplinary-literacy
English Language Arts Standards " Introduction " Key Design Consideration. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/key-design-consideration/
Literacy in all Subjects. (2019, January 14). Retrieved from https://dpi.wi.gov/standards/literacy-all-subjects
Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, C. (2012). What Is Disciplinary Literacy and Why Does It Matter? Topics in Language Disorders, 32(1), 7-18. doi:10.1097/tld.0b013e318244557a
Spires, H. A., Kerkhoff, S. N., Graham, A. C., Thompson, I., & Lee, J. K. (2018). Operationalizing and validating disciplinary literacy in secondary education. Reading and Writing, 31(6), 1401-1434. doi:10.1007/s11145-018-9839-4
Course: 2020 Colorado Academic Standards Implementation, Topic: Module 1: It's Not Rocket Science
Course: 2020 Colorado Academic Standards Implementation, Topic: Module 2: Are You Literate?
Curriculum Changes Overview PK-12
If you are looking for a quick overview of the curriculum changes to come in all content areas for the 2020-2021 school year consider checking out this video.
Secondary ELA Curriculum Update
Grades 6-11 Year-at-a-Glance Revisions
Grade 12 Year-at-a-Glance Revisions
Grades 6-12 ELA Reading Units of Study Revisions
Grades 6-12 ELA Writing Units of Study Revisions
Your Secondary Literacy TOSA’s are here to support you:
MICAH SCHUTTE, 6-12 LITERACY TOSA
TIFFANY WRIGHT, 6-12 LITERACY TOSA
Curriculum & Instruction