At the start of this school year I have been delighted to work with educators as we continue plan lessons and units to ensure teaching and learning aligns to the ELA/Literacy Common Core and Instructional Shifts. There are loads of supportive resources available at the start of this school year, and this post is the first to address some of what what is available for ELA and Literacy teachers. For these content area teachers, a suite of resources provided by the Standards and Student Achievement Partners is an excellent place to start: the Instructional Shifts, Instructional Practice Guides, and the Text Complexity Collection.
Instructional Shifts and Instructional Practice Guides
Front and center in our considerations should always remain the Instructional Shifts (linked here). Complex text and its academic vocabulary, text-dependent and text-specific tasks, and the building of a coherent body of knowledge are the practices that should be in our classrooms daily. The level at which classrooms practice this teaching and learning is, of course, determined by the text and the center of instruction and the expectations of grade-level standards. Defining what these Instructional Shifts look like in practice is greatly supported by using the the Instructional Practice Guides. One designed for coaching and the other to support lesson planning, these guides provide the specific look-fors we might consider as we plan materials and practice instruction that is better aligned to the CCSS.
Complex Text & Its Academic Vocabulary
Another excellent place to start planning for instruction aligned to the Standards and Shifts is SAP's collection of text complexity resources. (After all, no matter how good the questions or coherent the body of knowledge, it doesn’t matter how well we teach with a mis-aligned text.) As you select text for the center of instruction, it should be one that you not only believe to be appropriately complex but also worth reading - it shows exceptional craft, contains important content, and is part of building a coherent body of knowledge (see the Teaching Channel's excellent video, 'How to Identify Texts Worth Reading'). In an ideal world, we would then check the appropriateness of the text’s complexity with a review of quantitative and qualitative features provided the publisher. Lacking these, a teacher can quantitatively analyze the text one of these quantitative analysis tools (I prefer Reading Maturity Metric for this because I can copy and paste un-scrubbed text) and use that score to place it on the grade level band using this quick reference chart. With a text that falls in the quantitative measure, a qualitative analysis can be dome with this rubric and perhaps this 1-pager for to what makes the text complex. An excellent resource for identifying academic vocabulary in a given text is the Academic Word Finder. Once you know what about a text makes it particularly complex, it is time to consider both your reader and task. - knowing what you do about your students and this text, determine the activities (scaffolds, processing tasks, etc) that best match.
Finally, a plug about the collaborative nature of this work; find a colleague or few to partner with before you dig-in to this worthwhile work! Just as we ask students to work with parters and build on one-another’s thinking, we should practice the same. Have fun with your colleagues!