Gathering Resources on PARCC (via Diigo Outliner)

Parcc Outline in Diigo
I am working with a team as consultants to an urban STEM middle school, where PARCC is on the horizon and administrators and teachers are starting to get nervous.  They work in a large school district, where data and test numbers matter in what one could only say is out of proportion to the work being done by these teachers. I don’t blame them for getting nervous about PARCC. There are shifts coming and the sense in the school is that students are not quite ready for the expectations of the writing. Maybe not the teachers, either.

So, as much to help them as to help me and my colleagues (PARCC is coming for us, too, but not this year) think about this testing, I tinkered around with a new tool in Diigo called Outliner, which allows you to outline bookmarks with notes. It seemed to work pretty well for me.

See what you think, and feel free to use any of the resources. Notice my first two resources and also my last category .. keeping teaching and learning in perspective as best as we can, you know?

Check out my PARCC Outliner Resource

Peace (yep, PARCC),

Intentionally Imbalanced Infographic: NextGen Testing

Intentional imbalanced Infographic
The PARCC test has been on my mind a lot lately, due to its piloting all over the world (or so it seems, even though I know it is only in PARCC states). More and more news items are coming into my RSS feed of parents opting out, of teaching refusing to give it, of superintendents telling families how much they don’t like it already, of parents at a school in my city picketing PARCC with signs and everything, of criticism that our state Educational Commissioner has a role in the PARCC consortium, of talking to teachers at my school (and parents of kids) who administered the PARCC pilot (although they are not allowed to talk about the test), and more, more, more.

A very powerful piece ran in the New York Times opinion section by Elizabeth Phillips that is a must-read: We Need to Talk About the Tests.

And I saw from Diane Ravitch that Pearson, who is developing the PARCC, is searching for scorers, but they are targeting college students and paying only $12 an hour. These are the scores that are going to be used for teacher evaluations someday down the road? for student graduation requirements?  Ack. for revising the PARCC? (cue fake laughter on that one).

It’s hard to keep an open mind with all that floating around. So, I went and decided to make a completely unreliable infographic of what I believe will be the end result of PARCC, which is that the testing companies will make out like bandits in the end. ‘Cause they will.

Read Valerie Strauss’ piece at The Washington Post: March Madness.

Meanwhile, with the federal test-creating grants running out later this year, the future of the two consortia is not clear. But for now, they’ve got a pretty good deal: They get millions of field testing subjects — for free.

I know I’m being grumpy and pessimistic here, but it’s hard to see things unfolding in a positive light right now around the Common Core testing systems underway, and if any of my sons were in classes where Pearson is piloting the PARCC, I would probably have them opt out. (Hey, Pearson gets free data from our kids, doesn’t have to share any of the results with anyone? That’s a coup. Maybe they should donate a cart of laptops to every school that has piloted the PARCC.)


Peace (in the test),

Book Review: Best American Infographics 2013

Wow. I was completely absorbed and blown away by this new collection of infographics from the “Best American” series. With an insightful foreword by editor Gareth Cook (whose name I recognize from the Boston Globe) and an introduction by David Byrne (he, of Talking Heads fame and beyond), the collection of visual stories told with data as infographic is a deep dive into new ways to think not just about reading, but also about writing and expressing ideas.

“We now find ourselves in a golden age for information graphics,” Cook writes, but then he also explains the long history of using graphics to relay information, pulling out a census map from the Civil War that documenting populations of slavery in each state of the United States — a map that Lincoln kept handy and referred to often.

The Best American Infographics 2013 is chock full of amazing information (including the glimpse at that map), and yet both Cook and Byrne remind us that data gets tilted when brought to view in the visual. What the artist leaves out, and how they portray the data, and which lens is deemed most important, all work in the mix of telling the stories. I’m connecting those ideas in my head to work we do in our classrooms around argument and persuasion, and the need to pull more visual information into our stories and essays and writing.

Here, with infographics ranging from “Feelings that Cannot be Expressed in English” to “A Better Food Label” to “Who Reads Erotica” to “Where Twisters Touch Down” to “American Education Gets a Grade,” this collection touches on a wide range of topics, grouped around the concept of You, Us, the Material World and Interactive Infographics. I encourage you to check out the online links to the interactive infographics. You’ll be blown away by the real-time carbon animation, Bear 71 (you can even put yourself in that one), and the wind chart …. it’s all just stunning.

I also enjoyed, as I always do, the vignettes of the artists and number crunchers explaining where the data came from, what the intentions were, and the artistic choices they made when creating each infographic. Those kinds of reflections are valuable not just in understanding what someone else has made (and it is), but also to begin the shift towards the idea of: How do I best build my own infographics of value?

This is a book I am going to return to, and hope that the series continues next year.

Peace (in the data),


When the Key Clicks: A Poem About Close Reading

close reading button

I’ve been joining Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts in a Blogathon as they explore Close Reading skills. The other day, I was writing with my students and began this poem, thinking of that moment when something “clicks” with a piece of text.

When the Key Clicks

with this text –
I seek to break the code.
Contained, confused, confounded
by intent: I’m spent!
And more than a bit belligerent towards this writer
whose words spiral around meaning like
a swirling subterfuge of ideas just out of reach
when I’m not gleaming anything …
Until …
Until ..
Until somehow the key clicks.
Perhaps it was a word you said
or a question you asked
or another angle on which to lay my head upon this table.
For suddenly, I’m awake for the very first time, seeing
beneath the lines
between the words.
I unfold this story in all of its glory
as if I’d just turned a child’s simple drawing
upside down
inside out
only to discover a masterpiece hidden beneath
to be explored.

And the podcast:


Peace (in the light bulb moments),

Close Reading: A Presentation

close reading button

Last year, in our school district, I facilitated a series of PD sessions with colleagues around ELA and the Common Core, and we spent one long session on understanding and using Close Reading strategies. This is the prezi that I created and shared with my colleagues, and I am digging it up as part of Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts’ blogothon around ideas of Close Reading.

I see now that more than 3,000 other folks have viewed this presentation, so I hope it has been as helpful to them as it has been to us. (And I want to note that I have set the Prezi as “public and re-useable” so feel free to steal it, adapt it, remix it and re-use it as you see fit. It’s yours.) For me, just making the presentation helped me frame the ideas in my head, and then sharing with colleagues built those ideas out even further. It’s sort of like writing — when we write, we make sense of the world. When you present, you dive deep into a topic – sometimes, a relatively unknown topic — and get a better grasp on it.

I think one of the take-aways from our group of teachers was how deliberate you have to plan to introduce the strategies and value of reading closely with students, who mostly read what we ask them to but they read quickly and therefore, they often resist having to go back and re-read with a focus and a purpose. I can’t say I have become an expert in teaching close reading with my students. Not even close. I still struggle with it even as I do see the potential for engaging readers with a text, particularly a difficult text, on a number of different angles and perspectives.

But I am working at it.

Peace (in the reading),


Crowdsourcing the Annotation of the Common Core

Annotation Activity Common Core

I am one of a team of facilitators leading a technology-infused professional development series this fall with a fairly large group of educators in school district nearby. We kicked off the series on Thursday night. Like many teaching cadres, this one has a large mix of those who are wary of technology (but are feeling the pressure to use it) and those who are already pretty deep with using technology (and want to go farther). Knowing this, we moved deliberately and slowly, with extension activities for advanced teachers, and lots of hands-on activities.

One of the themes of our first session was thinking about the Common Core and our state’s new learning standards, which are built off the Common Core, and digital literacies. I designed this annotation activity in Google Drive in which we did some “close reading” of the Common Core writing standards as a way to better understand what is being expected of our students. What we hoped that folks would do is not just see the shifts in expectations of young writers in the Common Core, but get a larger sense of the overall development of writing over time. By going deeper into the document itself, we hoped to frame opportunities to talk about how to teach writing.

The activity was quite successful, with the teachers sharing their observations along grade bands and then reflecting on how a collaborative annotation activity might unfold in their classrooms. It tied in nicely to an earlier discussion about how to teach “close reading” skills to our students through the coding of text, commenting in the margins, and more.

I stole this activity from Bud Hunt (aka, Bud the Teacher) who had used a WordPress Plug-in for his activity a few years back in a P2PU class. Since we will be exploring Google Drive with this group, I figured this collaborative activity using documents would work to set the stage for some of the future sessions in Drive. What I like is how they all dove in and began to realize the power of shared annotation as a way to examine a text together. There was a big “aha” moment when I finally got them to realize  the potential of shared documents and crowd-sourcing ideas this way.

And of course, it allowed them time to go deeper into the Common Core writing standards with a critical lens.

Note: I set this activity up by creating a folder in Google Drive, and then creating an index/title page. Each grade band writing strand was its own page in the folder, and each page was linked off the index page, which was our starting point (linked off our Edmodo space). I then changed the settings on the pages to allow for “comment only” for this activity, and I made sure the setting allowed for “anyone on the web” to access and write comments on the document. While some folks did use their Google accounts, most participants just clicked and started writing as “anonymous” and that was fine. We were designing “low hurdle” activities here to eliminate as much frustration for folks as possible. (And they all got a kick out of Google’s use of obscure animal avatars to represent anonymous writers).

Peace (in the annotation),

Slice of Life: Sowing the Seeds of Confusion to Spark Comprehension

(This post is doing double duty here. It is part of the regular Slice of Life feature at Two Writing Teachers and part of the Close Reading being examined by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts. Now that I think of it, this makes sense since Teachers College is a connection between Chris, Kate and Stacy at Two Writing Teachers. Right? Anyway …)

crazy reading passage

I’ve written about this activity before but I am starting to think about it in terms of the idea of Close Reading and the Common Core shifts even more closely lately. Here at the start of the year, as we talk about difficult texts and reading strategies around meaning, I share this piece of story with my sixth graders. Yesterday, I put this on the board and, with stern face, I told my students we were doing a “reading assessment.”

They gulped at that term, and then began to read it.

Then they laughed, and giggled, and when I asked volunteers to read it out aloud, they got a kick out of reading and listening. We read it out loud three times (I did it the third time). I then told them that there are strategies that can be helpful when you come across some text that, on first brush, seems vexing and confusing, or even downright odd. It’s not enough just to shake your head and move on. Good readers learn to stop, re-read and then think about the words and meaning in context of the larger system of writing.

Readers become detectives.

So, for example, as we use this small piece, they begin to realize they know when this event took place, who was involved, what was happening, and what was being communicated from one character to another. That’s a lot of information from a reading piece that on first glance makes no sense at all. (And by the way, this short piece was adapted from a text someone once gave me that is used with dyslexic students, to nurture reading strategies.)

This activity ties into teaching them Close Reading skills on a few levels: re-reading the text for clarity and understanding, narrowing the focus on elements of the text, grappling with writer’s intent and meaning even when that isn’t clear. My hope is that as we revisit these elements this year, we will have this anchor text (even if it is ridiculous, or maybe because it is ridiculous that they will remember it) to return to to remind ourselves some of the strategies.

Or as Flinkledobe would say, “This ditty strezzle is tunning in my grep!”

Peace (in the read),

WRITE your slice. SHARE your link. GIVE some comments to (at least three) other slicers. If you're leaving your comment early in the day, please consider returning this evening or tomorrow to read some of our evening posters' slices.

close reading button

A Few Ways of Thinking About Close Reading

close reading button

Work and insights being shared each Friday by Chris Lehmann and Kate Roberts around the concept of Close Reading (as they get ready to release a new book on the subject) has me, well, reading their posts closely. They are inviting other bloggers to write about their own views around the concept, and while I have done my own inquiry and even led some professional development work around Close Reading, I am still struggling at times to bring those strategies into my sixth grade classroom.

I appreciated Kate’s post the other day about the “five corners” of close reading, as she critiqued the notion of the Common Core writers about the “four corners” of the text (found in the Common Core companion Publishers Criteria) – meaning that understanding should be cold and not influenced by past experiences. This element of cold reading of text — of reading the text for what it is in relative isolation – has come under a lot of criticism from teachers who regularly use student background knowledge to activate understanding. Kate argues that we all bring our experiences to our reading and we should value that.

Kate writes:

“Flat, ‘four corners’ close reading will not be enough for our students – it will not fuel their engagement to learn and innovate, it will not develop their critical thinking, it will not even at the end of the day help students to achieve higher marks on ever evolving test questions.  Only by holding what we are reading in the text against the “fifth corner” of what we know and have experienced can we create truly close, engaged readers.” – from

Chris explored the concept of the term of “close reading” and explored what it is not in his blog post. I appreciated the examples and the references he shared out around the terminology and then found myself shaking my head in agreement with his own ideas.

Chris wrote:

“… we believe that close reading is not simply a way to analyze texts. It is a way to study the things that we love more carefully and appreciate their subtleties more fully. Close reading can be applied to texts, but we also can look to songs, video games, television shows, art and even our daily lives. ” — from

Simply put, I like to think of close reading as paying attention to the text. And yes, while I often read for enjoyment and don’t even wonder about the writer’s intent, or use of syntax or style, there are times when I do step back and think: now what the heck is really going on here? Close reading provides the kind of frame to look at writing and other texts in a meaningful, constructive way so that the reader has agency in the compact between writer and reader. It can be critical thinking at its best.

So why do I struggle with it in the classroom?

As I consider this way of thinking, I realize that I do teach my students a lot of these skills, but it feels scattered right now and not at all an organized system of thinking. And, to be frank, teaching explicit close reading skills has the potential to suck all of the fun out of reading a text. That worries me. What I need to do is use more of the shorter texts for close reading so that those skills can be developed for tackling longer texts. I am working towards that right now, and learning more about close reading from others has been helpful.

I am appreciating the sharing of other bloggers, too. For example, Collete Bennett does a great job of examining Hemingway’s famous Six Word Story through the lens of the Five Corners. Kim Corbridge notes that using picture books is a great way to foster close reading skills, and that is certainly true for any grade level. And Mindi Rench’s points about “textbook questions” now being re-labeled as close reading activities hit home with me as I see everything from publishing companies being printed with the “Common Core aligned” sticker.

We need to resist that move by publishers — that close reading is a strategy for standardized testing — and keep our eye on the real rationale — that close reading provides a scaffold of critical thinking for young readers. The terminology might be new, but I suspect many of us have been doing this kind of reading analysis for years. We just didn’t call it close reading.

Peace (in the read),


What PARCC Costs

The two consortia are keenly aware that states might find it difficult to win support for the new tests if they represent increases in cost or test-taking time. They are taking pains to point out what they see as the value their tests will add compared with current state tests.” — Education Week

The consortium developing PARCC, one of two tests aligned to the Common Core, announced recently that it will cost close to $30 per student to administer its math and ELA assessments. PARCC is still expected to be rolled out in the 2014-15 school year, as far as I can tell, and along with trying to figure out how to meet the technology needs to administer PARCC, there is the cost of giving the test itself (which includes a mid-year summative assessment and an end-of-year formative assessment).

That will be about $30 per student, according to PARCC. So, in a school of 500 kids to be assessed, that bill runs to $15,000.

I’m not sure who actually pays that bill (the state or the district or the school) but in these cash-strapped days, that’s a chunk of change, right? (Oh, and if your technology is not ready for the tests, a paper/pen option may be available … for an additional $4 or so.) I know at our school, that would mean some personnel cuts, most likely. But I am not sure what our state pays for our standardized testing right now, either, so maybe it is a wash. (I did some searching for a number but came up empty)

Over at Education Week, an article by Catherine Gewertz explains more about the PARCC announcement. You should read the whole thing,  but here are some take-away pieces from her article for me:

States are grappling with how to build support for different tests, something that can be difficult even without a price increase. But for almost half the states in PARCC, and one-third in Smarter Balanced, that job is even tougher since the tests will cost more than what they’re currently spending.


PARCC’s pricing includes only the two pieces of its summative tests: its performance-based assessment, which is given about three-quarters of the way through the school year, and its end-of-year test, given about 90 percent of the way through the school year.

Its price does not include three tests that PARCC is also designing: a test of speaking and listening skills, which states are required to give but don’t have to use for federal accountability; an optional midyear exam; and an optional diagnostic test given at the beginning of the school year. Pricing for those tests will be issued later, according to Colby.

If states want to give paper-and-pencil versions of the PARCC tests, which will be available for at least the first year of its administration, that will cost $3 to $4 per student more, according to a frequently-asked-questions document prepared by the consortium.


States vary widely in what they spend for assessment, so they find themselves in varied positions politically as they contemplate moving to new tests.

Figures compiled for the two consortia’s federal grant applications in 2010 show that in the Smarter Balanced consortium, some states paid as little as $9 per student (North Carolina) for math and English/language arts tests, while others paid as much as $63.50 (Delaware) and $69 (Maine). One state, Hawaii, reported spending $116 per student.

In the PARCC consortium, per-student, combined costs for math and English/language arts tests ranged from $10.70 (Georgia) to $61.24 (Maryland), with a median of $27.78.

— from  Education Week

Keep an eye out on this kind of news, because PARCC and Smarter Balance are coming, and it pays to be informed, and to be in the testing business.

Peace (outside the bubbles),