Probably a subtitle more like: “Bravely going where no language arts teacher has gone before” might’ve been more appropriate.
Our middle school language arts teachers have been on quite a journey this year, and we’re capping it off with our second joint meeting tomorrow (ALL 14 teachers from grades 6-8 at both MS buildings, plus an intervention specialist, plus a media specialist). We’ve tackled BOTH text complexity and curriculum mapping simultaneously this year, and to say that it’s been chaotic is an understatement. But, it is with absolute appreciation for the hard work of these teachers that I can say we have accomplished something awesome.
Tackling Text Complexity
We started the year by making a decision 6-12 to look at the books we are currently using and figure out if they still fit in the context of the Common Core. In October’s department meetings (voluntary, after school), MS and HS teachers inventoried their book rooms and text purchases to create one list of all books currently used at each grade level. They also looked up the Lexiles for each of the texts.
I was operating under the assumption that if it fit the Lexile, there was no need to discuss whether or not the text fit in the grade level, but if it didn’t, then we needed to use a qualitative rubric to debate its appropriateness. We tried this, and quickly realized we could spend all of our precious department time debating the merits of a book until we talked ourselves into making it fit. So, using a qualitative rubric to assess books with lower Lexiles did not work for us.
Going back to the drawing board, as a group the MS teachers decided that no book whose Lexile was lower than the suggested grade band (925 on low end) could be used as a whole-class novel. We had a LOT of books on our list that weren’t up to the Lexile level, and we moved those to our “differentiating for struggling readers” list (more about this in a minute). With permission of our department heads, here is the list we finally settled on at the middle schools: ELA Text List*
We are now working to choose 1-2 texts (1 fiction and 1 informational) that will be the basis for common units at each grade level across the two buildings. So ALL 6th grade teachers would use the same whole-class novel and the same whole-class informational text, for example.
(*Side note: This list is our list of texts that work for our school district. Other districts may read the same texts at different grades)
The Parallel Conversation: Mapping Units
About a year ago on this blog I started talking about Sarah Wessling’s “fulcrum/context/texture” text idea (p. 22-28), which I love. I wanted to combine this idea with the PARCC Model Content Frameworks whereby a “fulcrum” text (Wessling) becomes the “extended” text (PARCC) and “Context/Texture” texts (Wessling) become the “short texts” (PARCC).
I then wanted to use this combined idea to reconcile the argument between “grade level” texts (those that meet the complexity expectations) and “instructional level” texts (those at student’s reading levels. (Again, something I discussed here and here). This Prezi describes how we will be pulling the three efforts together tomorrow to create two shared units at both buildings:
Going back to the ELA List above, books in the right column can only be used as context/texture for students reading below grade level, whereas books in the left column are the choices for whole-class, “extended text” usage. Planning for writing/research, language, and speaking and listening standards can be done within the context of planning thematic/topical units.
I’ll be spending much of this afternoon creating a visual representation that teachers can use tomorrow as a graphic organizer. As soon as its available, I’ll share.
UPDATE: Here are the visuals I created…
- 6th Grade Literature
- 6th Grade Informational
- 7th Grade Literature
- 7th Grade Informational
- 8th Grade Literature
- 8th Grade Informational
- Teachers shared that tackling both text complexity and mapping at the same time was a challenge.
- On using the qualitative rubric–it was very easy for us to talk ourselves into defending any book at a grade level. As we all know, any book can be made infinitely more challenging depending on the level of the task, but we had to set a bar of expectation based on something concrete (like a Lexile score).
- MS teachers (at least in our case) are coming from an instructional structure of constant differentiation. Our teachers have, rightfully so, taught reading at levels as defined by each students reading level (determined by an assessment). Asking them to require all students to read a high-Lexiled text is a complete mind shift for them. We are proceeding cautiously with the understanding that we are experimenting; we are going to scaffold the heck out of grade-level texts, and we are going to pre-plan close readings for struggling students over essential excerpts from the book. We are going to plan units that will provide appropriate amounts of context through differentiated pieces in preparation for the grade-level text. This is going to be a huge challenge, but we are moving forward with an expectation of revising.
- Teachers see value in this kind of unit planning and like the idea of text sets.
- I see little value in the textbook anthology–if the texts don’t fit our unit sets, why would we need 500+ pages of random stories? We design our units, not the textbook publishers. We could venture into iBooks and creating our own unit “text books.”
- We have to keep a focus on the language strand. Grammar always tends to be moved to the back burner, but we need to ensure it as a priority.