Getting Ready for the Next Generation Literacy Assessments in the Middle Grades

Over the past year, educators in Colorado have been fine tuning their curriculum and instruction to the new literacy standards published by the Common Core State Standards initiative (CCSS) which were adopted by our Colorado Department of Education. Content specialists have identified 6 Pedagogical Shifts demanded by the Common Core State Standards in Literacy.

6 Pedagogical Shifts

Click on the image to enlarge.

These six shifts generalize the overall differences between the old set of student learning expectations and the new learning expectations.  The chart above was captured from EngageNY, a New York State site dedicated to assisting educators with the transition to the Common Core and the new Educator Effectiveness agenda.

Viewing the Common Core in PARCC’s Eyes

States that have signed on with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortia now have another resource to align our collective schema. The PARCC Model Content Frameworks provide an exceptional overview of what middle level students need to know, understand, and be able to do.

Try this:

Open the grade level document of your choice in either 6th, 7th or 8th grade. While reading, and underline passages within the PARCC Model Content Frameworks that indicate evidence for one or more of the six pedagogical shifts. For example, while reading the 6th Grade Model Content Frameworks, I underlined this portion of text, “The balance of student writing at this level is 70 percent analytical (35 percent argument and 35 percent to explain/inform) and 30 percent narrative, with a mix of on-demand and review-and-revision writing assignments.”  I believe this statement is an example of Shift 1, balancing informational and literary texts.

What do you notice about the learning expectations in the grade level you examined? Did you identify areas where increased text complexity is expected? Did you see evidence of the importance of academic vocabulary? Did you notice how students will need to use text based evidence to support their thinking?

Infusing Best Practices from the Literacy Design Collaborative

Several districts across the nation have been integrating the strategies developed by the Literacy Design Collaborative.  These strategies are posted on an emerging resource curated by ASCD called EduCore.  The funding for this work is supported through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which is providing extensive training in select districts to support the educator effectiveness agenda.

Watch this Video on Rethinking Literacy

Click on the image to go to the EduCore site to watch this video

The LDC work is many faceted

The scope of the LDC work is the Module.  A module is a specific unit of learning designed around targeted Common Core standards.  A well designed module carefully scaffolds students so that they are able to independently and effectively perform an identifed task at the end of the module of instruction.  

The heart of the LDC Module is the Performance Task. Teachers of English Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Other Technical Subjects are taught how to center their instruction around an outcome expectation called a Performance Task. The LDC has created a simple formula to assist teachers in designing strategically aligned performance tasks with the Common Core literacy standards, most especially in the areas of accessing multi-disciplinary text and producing various writings in the areas of argument, explanatory/informational, and narrative.  They have created a menu of Performance Task Templates that can be modified and used in multiple situations in all types of content areas.  Let’s look at the Argumentation Template Tasks to get an idea of what how the templates work. 

A Template Task for Argumentation

Click on the image to enlarge  The LDC Performance Template Tasks provide a structure so that teachers can effectively create their own tasks aligned to different student learning expectations. Notice the blanks, those were intentionally created to allow flexibility for teacher design.  These template can be used in multiple situations in different content areas. The templates are carefully aligned with the Common Core literacy standards, so they should not be modified.  However, the blanks are open for variation and design creativity. The LDC has designed:

  • 10 different Template Tasks  to support the Argumentation expectations 
  • 15 different Template Tasks to support Explanatory/Informational expectations
  • 4 Template Tasks to support the Narrative expectations.

There are also rubrics aligned with each of the three types of tasks: Argument, Explanatory/Informational, and Narrative.

To access all of the LDC Performance Template Tasks and Rubrics click here.
To watch videos to learn how to use the LDC Performance Template Tasks, click here.
To review sample teaching  Modules in Argumentation, click here.

Are you Ready for the Next Generation Assessments?

Likely, you are more ready than you thought.  But, to continue your preparation:

  1. Take some time to review the 6 Pedagogical Shifts and begin making the shift in your own teaching
  2. Review the LDC Template Tasks, and use them as a skeleton for your own student task development
  3. Seek out additional support from the multitude of sources online and experts in your own vicinity.

Early Adopter of RtI: Holmes Earns School to Watch Designation for the 3rd Time

Sustaining high levels of student growth and academic achievement over time, Holmes Middle School has earned the distinction of being designated a Colorado Trailblazer “School to Watch” for the 3rd time.

“I first visited Holmes Middle School in 2006.  I was deeply impressed with the organizational structures they had in place to ensure that each and every child found success.  It was several years later that I discovered what they were doing had a name: Response to Intervention,” remarked Diane Lauer, State Coordinator of the Colorado School to Watch program.

Ms. Lauer led the initial site visit team in 2006 which led to Holmes’ first School to Watch designation. Since that initial designation, Holmes Middle School has hosted the annual conference of the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education (CAMLE), a statewide conference for middle level educators organized by the sponsors of the Colorado School to Watch program, earned a second designation as a Colorado Trailblazer School to Watch, and graciously welcomed hundreds of visitors desiring to learn more about creating an environment that secures excellence in the middle grades.

The empowering structures and educational design at Holmes has also been recognized by the International Center for Leadership in Education which named Holmes a Model School of Excellence. Additionally, the RTI Action Network commended Holmes for their pioneering efforts to incorporate Response to Instruction and Intervention strategies systemically within their school.

“Holmes Middle School is our second Colorado  ‘School to Watch’ that has earned the designation three times,” added State Coordinator, Diane Lauer, “it is incredibly difficult to sustain excellence through leadership transitions, internal programatic change, and external pressures of statewide reform.  Holmes is to be commended for their ability to hold true to their mission of providing a high quality education for their students and ensuring that each child increases his/her skills during their time at Holmes.”

Principal, Rob Utter

Accepting the 2012 Colorado Trailblazer School to Watch banner was Principal Rob Utter on Tuesday, April 17. The entire staff gathered for the celebration that validated their passion and efforts to create high quality learning experiences for young adolescents. After accepting their honor, the staff used the collaborative time to continue their reflections on student progress as uncovered by reviewing behavior data, and connect their current work to their next year instructional goals.

On June 23, Holmes Middle School will be honored at the closing ceremony during the National School to Watch Conference in Washington, DC for their three-time redesignation distinction. The National School to Watch program is organized by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. The National Forum has been identifying Schools to Watch across our nation since 2002.  Holmes Middle School will be accompanied by 50 other middle schools in Washington, DC that will be recognized for their excellence and commitment to success in educating young adolescents during the conference.

Below are some of the positive practices that have resulted in a strong trajectory of success for students and staff at Holmes Middle School:

  • Many teachers are learning and practicing the use of parallel assessment.  This allows kids to retake tests and learn at their own pace.
  • Teachers, students, and parents seem very aware of assessment data in the building.  They all take great pride in scores that their school receives.
  • Unified School Improvement Plan is collaborately created among the administration and teachers.
  • Students have many support opportunities.
  • There are tutorial/intervention classes, and teachers are available at lunch, before and after school for students to get the extra support they need.
  • The school schedule allows teachers to collaborate and plan as both cores and horizontal content teams.  Teachers really appreciate this time and consider it a valuable part of their day.
  • High levels of staff enthusiasm-positive culture throughout the building.
  • Very strong exploratory classes that students and parents value. Differentiation strategies are employed routinely in these classrooms.
  • The teachers feel a great deal of support from administration and feel respected enough to try new ideas and techniques in their classes.
  • The school collects, analyzes, and uses data to make decisions.  This is especially evident when creating the master schedule, and with interventions within the building.
  • The staff see barriers as challenges, not problems.  In all the teacher groups there was a positive attitude about change and making the best learning environment for their students.

Educators interested in learning more about Holmes Middle School may contact Principal Rob Utter at 719-328-3800.