Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Connected PD is now an Imperative

I used to sit in workshops that were peripherally, if at all, related to my professional practice. I’d spend hours in a physical face-to-face workshop and leave with maybe one or two ideas that mattered to me. I may or may not have acted on those ideas dependent on how stressed the workshop left me, knowing that I had classroom responsibilities that superseded what some suit was telling me about what should matter.
It was a broken but ensconced system for growing professionally that ignored the fact that there were things that personally mattered to me and the students I taught. I wasn’t asked if the PD interested me; I was just told to go. I received my initial teaching certificate in 1998, a time when I was well aware of the information the internet had to offer. As I started following educators across the myriad social networks I participated in (first with listservs and physical chat rooms), I learned quickly that scheduled and barely relevant PD was too long of a wait to get vital, transformational information.
Unlike traditional and months-in-advance-planned face-to-face professional development, being a connected educator has afforded me “just in time” learning opportunities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This was even before the popular social networks were entrenched in the fabric of today’s PD landscape. I’ve known for more than a decade the value of socio-technological engagement. No workshop I can attend now is more valuable or offers me more perspective than my online digital professional learning network (DPLN).
I’d like to clarify that what I’m writing about is not necessarily about technologies per se, but about what we’re doing with the technology that matters. I am laser-focused on my objective: How can I grow professionally with a cadre of peers that “gets” what I’m seeking to master?
To continue reading this post and to see the 3 things educators should consider when deciding to participate in connected PD, please view the full post on TeachThought.
Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000
Exploring the Close Reading Standard, eBook available from Amazon

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Critical Look At The "Close Reading" Standard

“Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.” — English Language Arts Standards » Anchor Standards » College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading » 1
mfisher-164by Michael Fisher
Close reading is not a thing.
It is not a skill. It is not a big idea. It is not new.
It is an iteration of New Criticism in a new Common Core chrysalis. The caterpillar—traditional literary lenses, among them Formalist criticisms, Reader-Response criticisms, and, perhaps, Structuralism—went through a transformation and have emerged as a new butterfly of comprehension and evidence.

Let’s read the close reading standard more closely

If we look at just the words read closely in a contextual way, what do you think the relationship is to the remaining words in this anchor standard? When these two words are separated from the remaining 29 words, a misinterpretation of the standard emerges as a potential separate skill, though other necessary skills here are more distinctly apparent and important (if one closely reads the standard):
  • determine what the text says explicitly,
  • make logical inferences,
  • cite textual evidence,
  • support conclusions.
boy-magnifier-book-trimReading closely then is the magnifierto ensure the suite of four related skills in this standard are achieved. In other words, close reading serves as a magnifying glass strategy.
If we want to dive into a specific portion of text (or comparison of texts) with a purpose, everything that is viewed through the magnifying glass deepens students’ development of the entire anchor standard’s learning expectation.
Using the magnifying glass is not a skill to be learned, it is simply a tool to amplify this standards’ priorities.

Reading closely is never mentioned elsewhere

Consider this: the anchor standard is the ONLY place that the phrase “read closely” is mentioned; it is not used again in any grade-specific reading standards.
When we focus on only a portion of a standard or decide to agree with what vendors tell us, then we lose the intention of the standard. The intention of this standard, and all of the other reading standards, is for students to comprehend what they read. Reading closely is great, but that is not the objective. Reading comprehension is the objective.
In order to get to comprehension, the focus should not necessarily be on all the ways students could closely read a text, but on the evidence students provide for thinking what they think. Perhapsmetacognition could be the real focus. The important words in the standard are not necessarily “read closely…” but rather “…what the text says explicitly.”

The expectations change in sixth grade

ExploringCloseReadingStandard-cvrThe grade level standards are pretty clear about what students need to know and be able to do. At the lower grade levels, they must be able to ask and answer questions about specific details in the text. Then in sixth grade, the verb changes.
In sixth grade, the students have to “cite evidence” that supports their thinking, which becomes sophisticated over time depending on the best evidence to support their thinking and evidence across multiple texts.
These growing expectations can be met through close reading (as a label for textual analysis) and also through new questioning habits that focus on the details. This can be done whether we are developing “close reading” lesson plans or not.

Let’s put “close reading” in its place

Close Reading is a lens through which we view the multiple ways in which we analyze text. Close reading is about the way we use evidence in text and the way we engage with the text when we ask and answer questions about it. Close reading is primarily about developing better comprehension habits.
What do good readers do when they read? They examine. They connect. They decode. They acquire. They discover. They think. They annotate. They visualize. They comprehend. They uncover.
These are the verbs. These are the skills. These are what really matters.
For more about Mike Fisher’s stance on Close Reading, his new eBook, Exploring the Close Reading Standard: Ideas and Observations, is now available on Amazon Kindle ($4.99).
sf114045bMichael Fisher is a former middle school teacher and digital learning consultant who writes frequently for MiddleWeb. He is acontributor to the new Solution Tree series,Contemporary Perspectives on Literacy, which tackles global, media, and digital literacy. In addition to 2012’s Upgrade Your Curriculum, written with Janet Hale, Mike is the author of the 2013 ASCD/Arias book Digital Learning Strategies: How Do I Assign And Assess 21st Century Work?  Find Mike on Twitter @fisher1000 and visit his website The Digigogy Collaborative.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Exploring the Close Reading Standard

As an experiment, I published a new book around one Common Core Standard, what I call the "Close Reading" standard. In this book, I share practices from the field around my thinking and how I think the standard itself has been somewhat misinterpreted. If you're interested in checking it out, please click the pic!


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Upgraded Instructional Shifts

I've recently overhauled the Instructional Shifts in ELA document that I've been using in Professional Development over the last year.  I reimagined most of the elements with action verbs and more targeted language. If you're interested in seeing the update, you can access it here:


Thursday, July 17, 2014

#WordCrimes

If you haven’t seen the hilarious new video from Weird Al Yankovic, check it out below:





It’s a play on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and paints a picture that all grammarians can relate to.


I’m sharing it because of its hilarious take on learning proper grammar and conventions and also because of its cleverness and appeal as a parody. I would love to see students experimenting with pop culture in such a way and with all of the web tools at our disposal, we certainly have the means to do so.


What would a library of student created music videos look like? How could they demonstrate understanding of content through the rewriting of the lyrics to popular songs and their own performances of those songs? How would sharing those student creations with others around the world impact their revisions and additional learning? What additional skills would students learn as they investigated web tools, learned about editing, and applied their new skills for a quality product?


Viewing this video is far from just entertainment. It opens up cans of worms for me about what students could do to demonstrate learning. I would also like to point out that Weird Al is releasing 8 videos in 8 days around his new album, all of which are clever, full of pop culture references, and demonstrative of a thinking man’s perspective on the world we live in.


His website is: http://www.weirdal.com/


I hope you’ll take the time to view some of his other creations for this album. I think that they are spectacularly descriptive of our modern times and clever re-imaginations of popular songs.


I’d like to thank Jay McTighe for being the first to notice and share the video. Jay’s like the TMZ of the educational horizon and shares stuff long before the rest of us have a chance to notice! Thanks, Jay!



Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000

Monday, June 16, 2014

Skype School Visit with Thailand’s Ministry of Education

I had the incredible privilege this past week of working with Thailand’s Ministry of Education in Washington, D.C. at ASCD’s headquarters.  Our time was spent discussing modern classrooms and 21st Century Skills and the impact that teaching in this century will have on student learning.


Our time was to include a visit to a local school but due to an array of circumstances, including the fact that most local schools were preparing for end of year exams and the busyness that comes with wrapping up a school year, we were not able to make that happen.


Enter Clarence Middle School in Clarence, New York.


I put out a message on Twitter asking my network if there was anyone willing to let us Skype into their school on short notice, so that the education officials from Thailand would be able to at least virtually visit a school and observe some of the issues we were discussing.


John Mikulski, the assistant principal of the school, tweeted back that he could help us make it happen. With a couple of emails and phone call (and a plea deal with his wife who is due to go into labor at any moment) we were able to quickly set up a virtual visit.



The delegation from Thailand was able to see a math class and a foreign language class, get a tour of the school, and ask questions of the administrators at the school, including another assistant principal, Rob Michel. John facilitated all of this on his iPad using the Skype app.


The significance of this, and thus the reason that I am sharing it, is multi-faceted. For one thing, we were able to do something better than what we were planning by utilizing available technology. We engaged in a new form of observation and interaction that minimized interruptions. Nineteen people crowded into a classroom to observe a teacher would be a huge disruption. One person with a recordable device isn’t disruptive at all.


Another aspect of significance is what this virtual visit did to underscore the modern learning practices we were exploring. It gave us a window into a classroom where we could observe student engagement, fluency practice, communication, problem solving, critical thinking, critiquing the reasoning of others, and teachers as guides on the side. The delegation got to ask questions about curriculum, assessment, who is designing what, etc., interviewing both John and Rob about this slice of life in an American school.


Using technology allowed us to do something that we’ve never done before, modifying and redefining traditional actions into more modern and efficient ones. This helps to flatten our world and bring us all closer together using technology and meaningful conversations.

Thanks to the Ministry, to Clarence Middle School, and to John for all the legwork. And a special thanks to his wife for staving off labor for at least an hour so we could make this happen.


Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000

Digital Learning Strategies now available from ASCD

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Heart of the Close Reading Standard

Collaborative Blog Post by Mike Fisher and Janet Hale


Despite the amount of publishing and vendor products that employ a contrary interpretation, close reading is really about HOW we engage reading skills. It is not WHAT we engage. Developing “close reading” as a skill is not an essential part of this standard. Instead, it is a methodology, a strategy that is a way in which to reach the heart of the reading standards and the heart of improving comprehension.


The Hows and The Whats


Let’s look at the Common Core anchor standard number one for Reading-Literacy:
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.


The WHATs are clear:
  • Determine what the text(s) says explicitly
  • Make logical inferences from the text(s)
  • Cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking
  • What you write or say must incorporate evidence drawn from text(s) to support conclusions


The HOWs are muddier:
  • While “read closely” is explicitly stated, what literally should be read is left to interpretation as well as HOW one records his or her notations based on defined task, purpose, and audience. For example, one interpretation could be creating an opportunity for students to deeply analyze a speech transcript for its rhetoric and annotate (or annotext) to capture evidence. Another interpretation could be re-reading a section or sections of a narrative focused on characterization and have students using a semantic mind-map to make evidence-based notations.
  • HOW students will be assessed--both the actual assessments and evaluation tools (Who will be the assessor? Teacher...Peers...Authentic audience? What will be the judgement criteria? Rubric...Oral Feedback...Jury Panel?) are not included explicitly in the anchor standard; therefore, open to interpretation.
  • “When writing or speaking” is explicitly stated, which means that students must be able to not only meet the criteria of this anchor standard (R.CCR.1), they must also demonstrate their abilities in conjunction with relational anchor standards, such as SL.CCR.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


By no means are the above the only considerations regarding interpretation of the HOWs involved in the close reading of texts. As a matter of fact, it is important to note that while this anchor standard used the term “text”, when reading grade-level specific standards associated with a related anchor standard for both Reading Literature and Reading Informational, R.CCR.7:


Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (e.g., lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).


students must provide evidence by closely viewing media. This opens up Pandora’s box (RL.4.4) in that many teachers have not personally experienced this form of rigor regarding finding evidence in a media format, which involves its own set of terminology and understanding (e.g., how a specific type of shot--extreme long shot, long shot, full shot, mid-shot, close-up, extreme close-up--affects mood and tone).


Therefore, it is up to a teacher, or a teacher team, to interpret this (and other related) anchor standards. Students could determine what a text says explicitly through a digital-product assessment. Perhaps they could visually represent, through an infographic, logical inferences from two related texts. Another option could be to have students collaboratively (SL.CCR.1)  prepare a multi-media presentation that engages multiple HOWs to support the close-reading task.

The Hierarchy


As Mike blogged before, the words READ CLOSELY do not appear in ANY of the grade specific standards for R.CCR.1, further evidence that it is not the intended focal point. This anchor standard has more to do with building an increasing sophistication of how students deal with details in text (as well as media).


Let’s take a peek at the hierarchy through the use of Janet’s CCSS ELA Progressive Continuum App, which helps visualize new learning from one grade level to another.


(Note that bold print indicates new learning for a particular grade level.)


RL.K.1 With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.


RL.3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.


RL.5.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.


RL.6.1 Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.


RL.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.


In the lower grade levels students are expected, with prompting and support, to ask and answer questions about details in text. In subsequent grade levels (grade three), students have to begin referring explicitly to specific details within text to answer posed questions. By the time students have reached grade five, they must be able to quote details accurately from the text in their speaking, writing, or multimedia products or presentations. In grade six the verb shifts from “quote” to “cite”, which alone creates interesting conversation with teachers on the interpretation of what this term truly means, and therefore, demands of students regarding evidence. Through grade 12 students are expected to continue to cite evidence using specific details from the text, but sophistication increases including the need to examine multiple pieces of “strong and thorough” evidence. In grades 11 and 12 , students must start discerning textual details, collecting and curating evidence to aid in determining which pieces of evidence (both explicitly and inferred) that most strongly support the analysis of the text, including “determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.”

The HEART of the Close Reading Standard


When close reading the previous paragraph, what would the key idea be? If you had to boil that paragraph down to a single-word emphasis, what would the word be? How about details? The heart of R.CCR.1 is that--it’s all about the details--questions about the details, referring to the details, quoting the details, citing the details, determining if the details leave matters uncertain.


The heart’s “pulse” is the rhythm students create that starts with answering and asking questions to ultimately discover how to best analyze texts. Students need a strong foundation (including quality modeling) in asking and answering questions in order to ready themselves to independently refer to texts to support their reasoning, including the abilities to quote accurately and cite evidence properly.



Final Thoughts


It is extremely important that teachers collaboratively (both across grade levels as well as within a grade level) understand the heart of each Anchor Standard in Reading, Writing, Listening & Speaking, and Language rather than accept interpretations by someone else. Teachers, administrators, and curriculum specialists should be discussing their personal interpretations with one another and coming to agreement on what the anchor standards require and designing curriculum and instruction based on the mutual interpretations.


The implications are that locally-designed units of study or lesson plans, vendor products or state-adopted curricula may not be a perfect fit, which means there will be a need to closely read the resource’s details to determine where the text leaves matters uncertain. Based on your agreed-upon WHATs and HOWs regarding each anchor standard, what do these resources provide that meet your established criteria? Where are the products lacking or appear to be incorrect? Can those involved in the product or resource close-reading experience support their reading using evidence-based conclusions?


The heart of the close reading standard matters. It has a place and purpose, not only in Grades K-12, but for college and careers. Scaffolded skills that live in the “close reading” standard are necessary to ensure students are able to identify details and ultimately lead to greater comprehension of text in a sophisticated manner. But an array of close-reading skills are not meant to be THE only skill sets that matter. Close reading should take place occasionally, when appropriate for task, purpose, and audience. Any methodology used with too much regularity is doomed. Skill sets and their supportive strategies are meant to be strategic...targeted...focused. If teachers read closely with students every single day, it’s not a strategy, it’s a roadblock.


Post-Script


This blog post focused on the analysis (or close read) of only ONE anchor standard. There are 10 reading anchor standards, and collectively there are 32 English/Language Arts anchor standards. What opportunities for empowering educators regarding curriculum design and instructional practice can be manifested by asking them to participate in collegial discussions and deep understandings concerning all of the anchor standards?