Common Questions about the Common Core

At our first day of a workshop inquiry around writing and the Common Core, we asked folks to fill out a modified KWL chart, and then we took home their questions to find some common themes about what they are wondering about. I then used a Glog poster to share out those questions and add a few podcasted thoughts and links to resources for them.

Go to the Common Question about the Common Core glog

Here is the embedded version:

Peace (in the sharing),


Technology Capabilities and Administering PARCC

(from my comic, Boolean Squared)

On our last day of school a few weeks ago, our district technology coordinator was in my room, marking down the specifications of the laptops in the cart that is housed in my classroom. I thought she might just be updating her files but she said the state is requiring all school districts to do a technology needs assessment connected to the roll-out of the PARCC assessment not far down the road. In other words, the state is trying to figure out what districts can handle the technology aspect of the test, which will include at least submission electronically and may include some media component (early iterations of PARCC materials suggested a podcast by students to demonstrate voice and stance.)

This week, I have been working with teachers and administrators in another school district, and this issue of technology capabilities came up once again. The school, in a struggling urban setting, does have a fair number of computers (three labs and two carts) but sister schools in the same district have almost nothing, and all of the schools are losing funding for other technology investments due to budget cuts.

Never mind the pedagogy of using technology as a means for writing and literacy (that thing that I find so important) — schools are struggling just to have enough working computers, access to Internet broadband connectivity, and more. And if PARCC assessments are going to suck up computer time for testing, that just leaves less time for students to be using that technology for meaningful writing and exploration.

It’s a tricky issue, and yet, it makes sense that an assessment would use and value technology as a means of writing and publishing, right?

This all came to mind this morning as I was reading through an interesting document from Louisiana, which has done its own technology capability inventory. It provides a great overview of what it has found in its school districts, and my guess is that most states will echo what Louisiana has found, including:

  • The unknown elements of PARCC (window of testing, criteria of expectations) makes it difficult to know exactly what schools need to be ready;
  • Internet connectivity is an obstacle to test implementation (and the state suggests an alternative test that does not require bandwidth or Internet and PARCC documents indicate they are developing a non-tech alternative);
  • Logistical issues are vexing, as computers in classrooms and other public spaces would have to be used for testing, which is less than ideal for students working on a high-stakes test, and computer labs would have to be allocated for assessment for long stretches of time
  • The lack of physical space for all of the required numbers of students testing in the same time window is a logistical nightmare (my term) for schools;
  • And lack of professional development for teachers and technical support for these shifts.

These are issues that go beyond the Common Core standards, obviously, and given the tight budgets these days, I wonder how districts and states are going to meet these technical needs. PARCC itself has an “instructional technology purchasing guide” for districts that shares some minimum capabilities for any new computers. (note that tablets are included in allowable devices)

 Tech Specs Chart
Peace (in the tech of the test taking),

Book Review: Content-area Writing

We’re going to be using this book — Content-area Writing: Every Teacher’s Guide — in the coming weeks with some ELA teachers, as we explore the possibilities and the shifts of the Common Core in our state. Just like one of the other books by two of three authors that I use a lot — Texts and Lessons — this resource by Harvey Daniels, Steven Zemelman, and Nancy Steinke is pitch perfect for teachers who want to learn more about writing in the content areas, but don’t quite know where to start. (see my review of that book)

Daniels, Zemelman and Steinke give a nice overview of the importance of writing to learn, no matter what the class, and then offer up possibilities for the classroom. The book begins with a series of quickwrite activities, and then ventures into longer project-based options, and ends on an interesting chapter around writing for standardized tests. This structure, plus the breezy style of writing, makes the book very accessible for a wide range of audience. There is a lot of practical advice, including sections on “what could go wrong” for teachers to consider when implementing the ideas. There are helpful connections to real classroom examples, and then further connections to the science, math and social studies classroom experiences.

I think the book will be a hit with teachers in our professional development.

Personally, I enjoyed the project-based writing chapters (what they call public writing) and have become intrigued once more with the i-Search paper format, which has nice connections to research skills and inquiry writing by students. In fact, after reading Content-area Writing, I am now intending to start the year out with an i-Search project with my sixth graders in September, helping them early on in the year with some research and analytical skills that will hopefully set the stage for longer pieces as the year progresses. (The i-Search idea is built around choice, inquiry and writing). Last year, we didn’t get to research and essay exploration until the end of the year, which did not help my science and social studies colleagues out in their content-area classes all that much.

Peace (in the writing),



Embedded Tech in Common Core PD

One of my goals for working with educators around the Common Core is to showcase how technology and media also fit into ways that we can engage our students as composers and creators. During two full-day sessions this week, I led a group of teachers not only through the layers of Common Core in our state, but also through various technology tools that were part of the learning. In other words, I tried to embed the technology as much as possible, and then made that embedding visible, so that teachers might see some possibilities for doing the same in their classroom.

Here are some of the technology ideas we used:

Feedback at the end of our two days together indicated an appreciation of deeper understanding of the Common Core standards, but also an appreciation of how technology was used in meaningful ways as part of the learning. As I told them, I hoped I was planting some seeds for them for the future, and that by using the technology themselves for learning, they might transfer that to their students.

Peace (in the sharing),


Key Phrases: Massachusetts Common Core Guiding Principles

Mass Common Core Guiding Principles

In a recent session with educators looking deeper into our state’s Common Core document, we did an activity around the Guiding Principles, which really put the standards in a good perspective. Here, teachers were given one of the ten principles, asked to synthesize the information, and then come up with a key word or phrase. We then used Answer Garden to collect those phrases as a word cloud activity.

Peace (in the guide),


Common Core: The Potential and the Pitfalls

I just finished up two full days of leading inquiry around the ELA Common Core (as reflected in our new Massachusetts ELA Curriculum) with a great group of elementary teachers. I’ll share out how I embedded a lot of technology sharing into our inquiry study, but I wanted to feature this podcast that we did with Cinch. They had to write (actually, they wrote … a lot) about the potential and the concerns they see with the new curriculum (as well as illustrate their relationship with Common Core in a drawing), and then I asked for volunteers to podcast what they wrote. This all stems from some reading we did in the Pathways to the Common Core book by Lucy Calkins and others (worth the read!).

Listen to the podcast

Peace (in the voice),


Introducing .. The ELA Common Core

I created this Prezi for an inquiry group around the Common Core (ELA), trying to give a sense of the overall structure of the document, the shifts that are taking place, and where we are heading with it. If it helps you frame the Common Core, then feel free to use it.

Peace (in the sharing),

Flipped Experiment: A Close Reading of a Common Core Video

TED Lesson video reading

As part of some professional development I am leading this summer around Common Core, I created this “flipped” TED assignment to share with teachers (both to use for discussions and to show how to do a flipped assignment). The emphasis here is on how to do a close reading of a video (by The Teaching Channel), thinking about stance and choice and use of video to make a point. Feel free to give it a look and I would love feedback.

Go to the flipped lesson: A Close Video Reading of Common Core: ELA

Peace (flipped up and around and back again),