Saturday, September 20, 2014

Join us on our world tour!

OK, not quite, but we are very excited about the events we have coming up over the next several months, and we'd love to see you along the way!

Join us at ...

Using Informational Text to Teach A Raisin in the Sun National Council of Teachers of English Convention, Washington, DC — Nov. 20-23

Using Informational Text: Cross-Disciplinary Literacy to Motivate Secondary LearningConference on English Leadership Convention, Washington DC — Nov. 23-25

Cross-Disciplinary Innovation and Collaboration Using Informational Text — ASCD Annual Conference, Houston, TX – 3/22/15, 3:00-4:30 PM

Bring us in for an hour or two, and we can walk you and your English teachers through the philosophy of Using Informational Text to Teach Literature, including how to fully utilize the strategies of our approach.

Bring us in for a day-long workshop, and we can work with your English and content area teachers to find informational texts that connect fully with your existing curriculum and to create engaging, comprehensive, cross-disciplinary units that help students meet the informational texts standards, while asking them to read, write, think, and speak critically about the texts and issues.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Check out ‘Common Core Standards in Diverse Classrooms’

We were recently given the opportunity to review Common Core Standards in Diverse Classrooms: Essential Practices for Developing Academic Language and Disciplinary Literacy for the Teachers College Record. In their volume, Jeff Zwiers, Susan O’Hara, and Robert Pritchard offer educators principles and strategies for helping students they refer to as “academic English learners,” a term that encompasses a wide ranging of students with struggles in the academic classroom. The focus is on helping these students develop essential literacy skills in the era of the Common Core.

Diverse Classrooms is not a quick-fix text developed to take advantage of the Common Core publishing boom. Zwiers, O’Hara, and Pritchard offer strategies that grapple with the big ideas of the CCSS, particularly helping students learn how to engage with and articulate complex ideas. The authors present both research-based analysis supporting their approach as well as annotated lessons that educators can use as models in implementing their strategies. Click here for our full review on this resource well worth checking out.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What PARCC revisions mean for informational text

In case you missed it, PARCC announced some changes to the English Language Arts/Literacy End-of-Year test. For grades 6-11, the changes include one fewer passage and fewer questions overall. The changes, according to PARCC, will reduce “the amount of time spent on testing and lowe[r] testing costs.”

For those of us interested in informational text and the ways in which it will be incorporated into the curriculum, the key points are as follows: the end-of-year assessment for grades 6-11 will go from 1 long and 2 short informational passages to 1 long and now only 1 short informational passage.  The test will still contain a paired passage set consisting of two literary and/or informational texts.

As we do our best to prepare our students in this evolving testing landscape, let’s remember that informational text can be motivating and engaging for students, provided we find interesting texts and prepare our students to deal with the challenges of those texts. Also, informational text can be a great way to create an entrance for students into off-putting or seemingly remote literary texts. Pairing literary and informational texts is a great way for students to think about texts as part of a dialogue and for them to see themselves as part of a larger conversation. Engaging in such dialogue is, at least for now, a central part of the PARCC assessments, and a key literacy skill we want our students to develop whether it remains so or not.

By the way, check out our Teachers College Record review of "Common Core Standards in Diverse Classrooms" by Jeff Zwiers et al.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Using informational videos to engage students in complex texts

If Frank W. Baker helps us think about how useful theatrical visuals can be in teaching the close reading and careful analysis skills critical to understanding literature (like To Kill a Mockingbird), we need to remember that informational videos can be just as helpful as we take on both literary and informational texts in all of our classrooms (not just in language arts).

For example, we used a brief Associated Press clip about Guantanamo Bay from YouTube to remind our young students about the connections between Al Qaeda, Guantanamo Bay, and 9/11 before teaching an editorial (an informational text) by Stephen Jones (published in The Wall Street Journal) about his experience defending Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. (Note: If your school or district blocks YouTube, there are browser plugins that allow you to download videos to your desktop. This is a good practice to follow in general; since the video file will already be on your desktop, your lesson won't be at the mercy of any video streaming glitches.)

The editorial, about the importance of good defense for politically unpopular clients, helps students see Atticus’s defense of Tom Robinson in Mockingbird as part of a continuing debate about whether everyone deserves a good lawyer. But while the article provides accessible background about Timothy McVeigh (whom the students haven’t heard of), it assumes background knowledge about Al Qaeda and the Guantanamo defendants (which is only fuzzily present in our students’ brains).

And as with many texts that can seem remote and unexciting, the Jones piece has no obvious hook for students. Why should they care? How can they find an entry point into the text?

We used a quick, engaging clip from the AP (1 minute) about the conviction of Bin Laden’s driver to create that hook and set the stage. After the clip, we asked a few leading questions about the clip. Did they think the driver was guilty of serious terrorism charges or was he just a driver? Did they think he could get fair treatment through the military tribunal system, or did they wonder, as did his defense attorneys, about the issue of a fair trial? Students can be used to watching media passively, so presenting the initial questions to them can be key in getting the discussion going. And sometimes, it’s important to show a video clip more than once (or repeat the clip after you’ve asked the leading questions). It’s easy to forget how much is going on even in a brief media clip, with visuals, various voices, as well as information that’s unfamiliar to our students.

In our lesson, after the brief discussion of the AP clip (about 3 minutes), the students were quick to condemn the driver as guilty and dismissive of the concerns about a fair trial and even legal defense for people like Bin Laden’s driver. The clip and the discussion set the students up to take a stand and they did.

Unlike Baker, our goal with the media clip wasn’t to cultivate close reading and critical analysis. It was to prime the students with some basic information and get them to feel invested in the topic, which was achieved when they took a personal stand.

Once the students had taken their stand, they were set up for success with Jones’s editorial, which argues precisely the opposite point. The informational text, at this point, wasn’t remote and abstract to them. The media clip had allowed them to form an opinion about the issue, and they were ready to read more. And of course, more reading allowed them to refine and reformulate their earlier ideas and to see connections with Mockingbird.

So, use media clips to prime your students with background information and motivation -- especially with challenging informational texts!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Using the language of film to engage students in visual and literary texts

We are always looking for ways to get our students more engaged with the texts we are reading. And we all know teachers who rely on the film version to motivate students (and sometimes reward students for plodding through the book). But turning out the lights and sticking in the movie (and offering the film as dessert) can be a recipe for trouble.

Frank W. Baker offers some great alternatives in a new post, “How to Close Read the Language of Film” on MiddleWeb. Apropos of To Kill a Mockingbird, he suggests offering students two publicity stills from the film and asking students to think about camera angles, clothing, and positioning, all in order to gain insight into the characters, particularly their power and their class position.

In effect, the film stills become stand-alone texts, challenging, rich with meaning and ripe for analysis, but also more inviting and less intimidating for students. Close reading these visual texts empowers students, prepares them for the media challenges we know are ahead of us with the Common Core, and is a richly rewarding exercise in critical thinking.

Imagine beginning your unit on Mockingbird with a discussion of either of the stills Baker suggests, so that even before they start reading, your students have a sense of Atticus’s relationship to the Maycomb community!

We strongly believe in the power and potential of media in the classroom and find Baker’s suggestions and tips really helpful.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for our thoughts on using informational videos to hook your students into complex literary and informational texts!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Get ready for the new school year with Using Informational Text to Teach Literature!

As the summer days tick by, does your pulse accelerate (with both excitement and slight panic) whenever you start counting the weeks/days till the new school year starts? If so, let our resources help ease you into August and start September with success.

​IF YOU ARE TEACHING TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD NEXT YEAR, now is a great time to order the first volume in our series, Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird, and start thinking about how it can enhance your study of Harper Lee’s classic novel while helping you meet the Common Core standard for informational text. Click here for more details about this book full of classroom-ready units.

IF YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT REVAMPING YOUR CURRICULUM, check out our website and our blog for strategies for finding great informational texts to use in any unit and then setting your students up for successful engagement with them. We also offer ideas for teaching key vocabulary in meaningful and engaging ways and how to use multimedia with written informational texts in the classroom. Check out our sample units based on TKAM as well as our “Text to Text” feature on A Raisin in the Sun on the New York Times Learning Network, for models.

IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR WAYS TO COLLABORATE WITH YOUR CONTENT AREA COLLEAGUES in preparation for the Common Core assessments, read our recent blog posts on collaboration and share our strategies for using high-interest informational texts with your cross-disciplinary colleagues. Our materials can provide the basis for rewarding collaboration among members of your PLC and/or grade-level teams.

IF YOU’D LIKE HANDS-ON, INTERACTIVE TRAINING IN OUR APPROACH TO USING INFORMATIONAL TEXT, contact us about scheduling a professional development session at your school or district. We offer a range of hour-long and day-long workshops for both English and content area teachers. If you are in New Jersey, there’s still time to sign up for our 7/29 cross-disciplinary session at NJASCD. Or join us at NCTE and CEL in Washington DC in November.

We hope our resources will be helpful to you in getting ready for the new school year. As always, we welcome your feedback!

PRAISE FOR USING INFORMATIONAL TEXT TO TEACH TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD:
Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird is the resource I’ve been waiting for! Teachers don’t have nearly enough time to research informational texts to go along with every unit they teach; therefore this book is going to be perfect for the teacher who wants to take her lessons to the next level. I can’t wait to use these lessons in my classroom. —Amanda DeAngelo, high school English teacher, Secaucus High School

Propelled by rich, probing questions, this book invites teachers and students to explore a classic text with fresh eyes. The authors’ approach fosters a disposition for deeper reading and will inspire a sense of wonder in your students. —Carol Jago, long time English teacher and past president of the National Council of Teachers of English

This book (and its website) helps teachers to delve deeply into strategic teaching activities aimed at meeting the Common Core State Standards. Chenelle and Fisch use a wide array of readings with differing levels of complexity to provide “pathways” into engaging explorations of one of the most sacred texts of high school literature, To Kill a Mockingbird. Replete with ideas for evidence-based writing, connections to multimedia web resources, and possible rubrics for evaluating student work, this invaluable guide will not only challenge students to read, write, and think more critically, but will also help teachers “reconceptualize” their teaching to meet the rigorous objectives of the CCSS. —Allan A. De Fina, dean of the Deborah Cannon Partridge College of Education and professor of literacy education, New Jersey City University, past president of the New Jersey Reading Association

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It’s summertime, and time to find great informational texts!

Like many English teachers, one of the top reasons I look forward to summer is having TIME TO READ! But while I’ve been blazing through my pile of summer fiction, I’m also basking in the joy of having enough free time to catch up with The Atlantic, New York Times Magazine, Wired, The Week, and other great sources of informational texts. Yes! Summer reading is a perfect opportunity to start looking for those high-interest articles that will hook your students into the longer works (both fiction and nonfiction) that you’ll be reading next year.

In addition to catching up with all of my favorite periodicals, I’m scanning my list of tried-and-true informational text sources for anything recent and relevant to the works I’ll be teaching next year and bookmarking anything that looks promising in Evernote (thanks to Sarah Mulhern Gross’s Twitter tip, LeBron James’ Sports Illustrated essay is already tagged for follow-up, though I haven’t figured out how I might use it yet). For Gatsby, I’m looking for new articles on the American Dream (lots has been written about that in recent months). For Othello, I’m looking for new pieces on jealousy and insecurity in relationships.

But, since I do not plan to miss out on summer by spending it all in front of my laptop, I’m letting Google do some of the work for me. After thinking through my curriculum and coming up with a list of topics related to each unit, I created Google alerts for each of them, which is super easy. Right now I have them set to email me the results of Google’s search once a week; as it gets closer to September, I might set some of them to send results daily if I haven’t found what I’m looking for yet. After spending the day in the sun (or lost in the pages of a new YA novel), I look through what Google has found and tag what looks interesting in Evernote. I might read it right then, or wait till I find a few pieces to choose from. I like using Evernote for this purpose because it’s easy to tag things with multiple tags that you can then easily search by later. But you can also use the bookmarking tool in your browser, pin them to a board on Pinterest so others can see them, or just download them to a folder on your desktop. Once I’ve chosen the pieces I want to add to my curriculum, I’ll start writing vocabulary, discussion, and writing questions for them (click here for models) at my leisure, which inevitably gets me excited about the new school year.

So, by all means seize and savor the well-earned relaxation summer affords you, but spending a little of it doing some of the things we often don’t have time for during the school year can set you up for a spectacular start come September.