Text Talks: A first step in planning for close reading

Conducting “text talks” with colleagues or your grade-level team is a fantastic start to planning for close reading. This webinar showcases proven strategies for launching successful text talks, including tips, ideas and an actionable format for diving into close reading. Enjoy!

You can also download our webinar resources here:

Like what you see?

View the next webinar in this series on Close Reading

“Writing, aligning, and sequencing text dependent questions”

4 Tips for Aligning Your ELA Lessons to the Common Core

Four impressive 2013 Dream Team teachers and coaches shared their best tips for updating ELA curriculum to fit the Common Core in a recent webinar. The result?  This handy guide for aligning your ELA lessons to the new standards.


Idea 1. Leverage Text-Dependent Questions

Use text-dependent questions to chunk a text into more manageable pieces. Build a series of text-dependent questions to scaffold over the course of the text, allowing struggling readers to focus on just one section of the text in the beginning and work their way up toward a more holistic view. Rather than prepare many texts for different level readers, use text dependent questions to make one grade-level, model text approachable for all students.

How this helps: Deepen student exploration of text, relieve anxiety around reading, and increase classroom preparation efficiency by leveraging scaffolded text dependent questions.

Idea 2. Show the purpose behind a strategy

Actually show kids the purpose behind the strategies that you teach. Model how a strategy can be applied when approaching questions similar in nature. Watch a LearnZillion writing or close reading lesson to see how the teacher has divided the skill up into manageable steps.

How this helps: Thinking aloud and drawing connections encourages kids to own their strategies.

Idea 3. When evaluating resources, look for authentic and worthwhile texts and topics 

Select worthwhile texts that will help contribute to students’ college and career readiness. Create text sets around a common theme or topic, integrating fiction and non-fiction. This provides your students with opportunities to make connections across texts. Reading standard 7 also calls for students to interact with and evaluate different mediums (e.g. illustrations, video, and multimedia), so look for anchor and ancillary resources that together can create a cohesive set.

How this helps: Spend class time on worthwhile resources and materials that students can really “sink their teeth into.”

Idea 4. Collaborate across subject areas

Make interdisciplinary connections. The writing and reading expectations and language should be consistent for students whether they are in science, history, social studies, or English 1. Work with your colleagues to hold students responsible for applying the same lines of questioning and deep thinking whenever they’re interacting with text.  The reinforcement of close-reading and literacy standards across the curriculum provides continuity for students and an opportunity for teachers to come together and evaluate students’ strengths and areas for growth.

How this helps: Coordinating with colleagues in other disciplines establishes continuity of reading and writing expectations.

For more on aligning your ELA lessons to the Common Core check out some of our other posts on crafting text-dependent questions and tips for close reading.

If you have additional strategies you find helpful, please let us know by posting a comment below.


Parent Resources: 4 Ways to Support Your Child’s Learning with Instructional Videos

Parents: Are you eager to help support your child’s learning at home? Could you use a refresher on a few concepts yourself? Take heart! LearnZillion’s free video lessons for students in grades 2-12 are here for you. Here are just a few ways our high-quality lesson content can help you at home:

Supporting Learning at Home


1. Create a consistent instructional environment for your child

Use teacher-assigned video lessons to help your child receive regular support and reinforcement from all the adults they know. Kids really benefit from consistent messaging and multiple exposures to new concepts (eg: multiplication).


2. Refresh your own understanding of difficult concepts

Refer to LearnZillion videos to help your child understand difficult concepts, such as dividing fractions, identifying equivalent ratios, or analyzing an author’s use of rhetoric. The two-to-five minute lesson videos break down tricky concepts step-by-step. If you decide to watch along with your child, pause or re-watch the video at key moments so that your child can develop his or her own solution before seeing the answer modeled.


3. Get a deeper understanding of your child’s curriculum

Get a window into the concepts your child is tackling in the classroom. LearnZillion video lessons provide transparency around the Common Core for teachers and parents alike. Lesson sets describe one teacher’s interpretation of an entire standard, and each lesson video gives an up-close view of a specific concept within a standard. (Tip: Have the Common Core Standards laid out for you by looking at the Common Core Navigator.)


4. Supplement as practice work

Is your child ahead of the school curriculum? Our videos help both struggling learners, and those who are ready for more, build their knowledge and understanding of new concepts. Our lesson sets allow you to see how a concept progresses in complexity within a standard, and by exploring lessons from other grade levels, you can provide  your child with a rigorous and exciting learning environment at home.

Have other ideas you’d like to share? Let us know by commenting below.

To learn more about other creative ways that teachers are using our instructional videos, check out 9 Ways to use LearnZillion With Students.


Backwards mapping from PARCC and SBAC math items to formative assessments

Learn how to prepare for Common Core math formative assessments.

Millions of educators across the country are crafting formative assessments to monitor student misconception and progress.

To support you, we asked Skip Fennell, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, to share his perspective on how to effectively implement formative assessments in the classroom. Skip is the current Project Director for Elementary Mathematics Specialists and Teacher Leaders Project and the Stanley Bowlsbey Professor of Education and Graduate and Professional Studies at McDaniel College.

In the webinar, Skip addresses the the keys to creating strong formative assessments, common pitfalls, implementation techniques, places to find resources, questions from the audience, and more.

He begins with a great quote: “Observation, discussion, and interviews serve better than paper-pencil tests in evaluating a pupil’s ability to understand the principles he/she uses” (Sueltz, Boynton, and Sauble, 1946, p. 145), and it only gets better from there. Since we ran out of time to answer all the questions from our audience, Skip kindly agreed to share his thoughts on a few more, below:

1. Where can teachers go to find strong examples of formative assessments?

2. Where can I find examples of teachers using formative assessments? Could you point us to some online resources?

I would check out some of the YouTube videos from Dylan William.  I am sure there are others AND frankly I have often just looked at videos of teachers teaching and asked my students to spot ACTUAL uses of formative assessment strategies AND when might they have say asked to do an interview or when a response ‘begged’ for a ‘Show Me’ OR what would you use as a Hinge Question for this lesson, etc.

3. What specific resources should we checkout on mathspecialist.org?

Go to the presentations tab and check out the NCTM regional presentations for Baltimore and Louisville – about the Pathways AND feel free to see what else we have been up to!

4. What is a step-by-step process in creating formative assessments?

I am not sure I would suggest a step-by-step process for creating formative assessments.  I would want teachers to be comfortable using a ‘menu’ of formative assessments (perhaps the Pathways presented yesterday) and then as they plan a lesson consider how they might use one of more of these assessments (what a great discussion for a grade level learning community!) and then implement them ALL the while recognizing that formative assessment, to some extent, is VERY serendipitous – in the middle of a learning you may want someone to ‘Show Me’ or need to alter the proposed Hinge Question, etc.  Hope this gets at the issue.  To me, this is all about building confidence and comfort in using assessment to monitor instruction.

5. Where can I find Hinge Questions aligned to the common core standards?

I see Hinge Questions being integral to specific lessons so I would not see a one-size (one question) fits this lesson here.  Such questions are the responsibility of the teacher responsible for the lesson.  NOW, that I preached a bit – I could see a ‘bank’ of possible questions for standards which could/should then be adapted for lessons planned by a teacher.  I KNOW OF NO SUCH SET OF QUESTIONS. [Readers: Do you?  If so, please share them in the comments section.]

6. Do you have any tips for using Hinge Questions in a flipped classroom?

What a great question and I have been thinking about this.  I would use the Hinge Questions IN THE CLASSROOM as a way to gauge what was done at home/on line wherever and then plan accordingly.

7. How can we convert the student performance on our formative assessments into success on high stakes tests?

Another great question.  The rationale for the SMARTER/PARCC and other summative targets driving the formative assessment Pathways is for teachers and others to consider that as students deepen their understandings and proficiency the elements of the Pathways will approach summative assessments.  One could argue that really good exit tasks could be summative ‘prep’ for summative targets – similarly, really thought provoking Hinge Questions might approach summative expectations, as could ‘Show Me’ opportunities like – show me what happens to the area of a rectangle when the length of each side is doubled.

8. How can we assist teachers who do not have math content knowledge to develop Hinge Questions and the ability to create those questions on a regular basis?

Huge issue.  Lots of help needed here – at the pre-service level, within professional development, and related to planning expectations of teachers.  Mathematical knowledge for teaching must address the content background necessary for teaching important mathematics and this must be an ongoing professional development commitment.  Additionally, teacher planning must consider the formative assessments to be used within a proposed lesson.  Short, albeit, cryptic response to a VERY important issue which needs attention every day.