Literacy Office Hours with David Liben pt. 2

This is the second of three office hours hosted by David. View the first office hours here.

David Liben, of Student Achievement Partners, shares a wealth of tips and resources to help prepare your students for the Common Core ELA standards.


Reading Strategies and Close Reading

  • “Rethinking Reading Comprehension Instruction,”  by McKeown, Beck, and Blake, is a study that compared the effects of content instruction (using text-dependent questions) to the effects of strategies instruction, and found that content focused instruction had greater benefits.
  • Cognitive Scientist Daniel Willingham’s Blog,  presents research and describes the danger of excessive focus on comprehension strategies.

Examples of Rich Complex Text

Examples of good questioning technique:

Using Basal Readers

  • This lesson bank offers Common Core-aligned replacement lessons for basals published before the Common Core (pre-2010).
  • To learn more about or join the group that created these lessons, the Basal Alignment Project (BAP), click here.
  • There are lots of new resources that say they’re Common Core-aligned.  Use the Publisher’s Criteria to evaluate whether they are really aligned to the Standards.   If IMET is on atc we could use that as well.

Read Alouds

  • Model Read Aloud lesson for K-2 classrooms, based on the poem, The Wind, available here.
  • K-2, teachers all over the country are also working to create Common Core-aligned Read Aloud lessons, through the Read Aloud Project.  Access the resources they create or join the group through Edmodo, using the group access code: pkx52i

Volume of Reading and Vocabulary

  • Long-term reading success depends on not just close reading, but also on volume of reading.
  • This article by Marilyn Jager Adams in American Educator explains how a series of texts on related topics is the fastest way to grow the vocabulary needed to access complex text.  She also cites research by Thomas Landauer showing the powerful relationship between volume of reading and vocabulary growth.

Guided Reading

Like what you’ve seen? Sign up here for our next Literacy Office Hours on April 9th, 2014.

Also, check out our post on 4 tips for aligning your ELA lessons to the Common Core and 3 tips for approaching close reading.

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.


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

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.

3 Steps to Understanding Your Common Core Math Standard

Whether you’ve been teaching math for three months or three decades, you likely have a few questions about what the Common Core means for you. How are the new standards different from the standards you used to teach? How closely do they align with your current lessons and units? How will your colleagues at higher and lower grade levels be adjusting their instruction, and what does that mean for you? And, perhaps most importantly, what do you need to know about the Common Core’s take on the standard you’re teaching next week?

We have done a lot of work around these questions at LearnZillion, and the following three steps are our recommended best practices for understanding your Common Core Mathematics standard.

LearnZillion's tips on how to understand your Common Core Math standard

Read on for LearnZillion’s best tips on understanding your Common Core Math standard

Step 1. Do standards analysis research

Analysis of Common Core standards can come in many different forms. Assessment is an important one. The Common Core assessment consortia, PARCC and SBAC, have released annotated sample items that show what students who have mastered specific standards are be able to do.

Many other sites also give helpful resources to anchor your planning. Formative assessments and performance tasks from sources like Illustrative Mathematics and Student Achievement Partners can help you set a vision for the end of a unit or lesson. These resources are generally tagged to Common Core standards, including the Standards for Mathematical Practice.

Step 2. Learn from your peers

Remember – you are not alone! Thousands of other teachers across the country are puzzling over the same standard as you, and – whether in your building or online – many are eager to collaborate.

Set aside time with your grade level team, or colleagues from your district. Form a lesson study group. Observe each other in action. Divide the task of interpreting the standards and bounce ideas and questions off each other.

If you’re looking for free examples of lessons by teachers who have studied the standards, is a great resource. We offer a growing library of thousands of free math video lessons and resources for grades 2-12 that have been created by our Dream Team of practicing teachers.

Step 3. Understand your lesson in the context of a bigger picture

If a standard seems confusing, you can always take step back to understand how the standard fits in to the broader conceptual developments taking place in your students’ math journey.  The Progressions, created by a team at the University of Arizona, is a concise and well-written guide to the conceptual developments that students experience as they advance in math.  The Progressions are organized into grade bands and Common Core domains, making it easy to see how your standard rests on earlier standards and reinforces later ones.

Ready to get started?

Let us know how it goes!

Check out this inspirational video on how one teacher felt empowered by this research process.