Last year, Mark Beckwith and Sarah Wittmeyer collaborated on a project to create an online database of every test question that has been assessed on the 3-8 ELA and Math state assessments in the last few years. This database, the NYS Assessment Item Notebook, allows teachers to easily click a standard that has been assessed, which in turn generates a list of every released question that is connected to that standard. The Notebook is tremendously helpful because it contains all of this public information in one place, rather than having to open a myriad of PDFs.
Districts in our region have been using this tool in numerous ways. At Cuba-Rushford, middle school ELA teachers have been analyzing the question stems to notice patterns in how standards are being assessed. For example, teachers noted that many questions reference specific paragraphs, such as “How do paragraphs 3 and 4 contribute to the story?” By mirroring their own questions to students in this format, students will be more familiar with the structure of the state exam. Additionally, analyzing question stems can uncover vocabulary that students may need to help them succeed. For example, if students don’t understand what is meant by “contribute”, they may struggle right at the beginning of attempting to answer the question.
In Fillmore, middle school ELA teachers have created a mid-year benchmark assessment using the Assessment Item Notebook. Teachers reviewed their data to determine standards that are commonly assessed. Then they selected two passages and ten multiple choice questions to assess students with in January. The benefit to using these questions is that it will give them an indication of how students will perform against the rigor of the state assessment. Also, because they know which questions are connected to which standards, data analysis is easier and can offer areas for them to focus on before the state assessments.
If your district would like support in using the NYS Assessment Items Notebook to guide data analysis and instruction, please reach out to our team!
By: Brendan Keiser, CA BOCES Professional Development
In September, several members of the CA BOCES ISS team had the opportunity to attend the Staff/Curriculum Development Network conference with Larry Ainsworth, educational expert on standards and formative assessment. It was an intensive day of exploring curriculum development through prioritizing standards. Members of the team worked with other Curriculum Coordinators from across the state in Math, Science, ELA, and Social Studies to examine the standards, learning how to prioritize, and the implications such work has on curriculum and assessment.
Because each discipline has dozens of standards, Larry Ainsworth argues that to develop curriculum, prioritizing the standards is a critical step in the process. Throughout the work we did, Larry made sure to say that just because some standards are prioritized, it does not mean the other standards do not matter. We worked with an analogy of a fence, seeing prioritized standards as posts and supporting standards as rails. Seeing standards in this light can help teachers determine what to elevate in instruction, and what standards are foundational to building other skills.
In his book, Rigorous Curriculum Design, criteria is established for looking at each standard to determine whether it should be prioritized. There are four lenses to examine each standard through: Readiness, Endurance, Leverage, and External Exams. Readiness represents how the standard prepares students for next level learning. Endurance of a standard determines whether it’s a concept or skill that lasts over time. Leverage of a standard means that it has interdisciplinary connections. Finally, standards should be looked at through how they are assessed on external exams.
Due to the size of the group and the multiple different disciplines we were working with, we examined the standards through for readiness, endurance, and leverage. In small groups, teams reviewed standards at a particular grade level through the lenses, trying to establish a list of standards that should be prioritized. The conversations were fantastic and allowed for in-depth discussion on not only the standard, but the implementation of the standard in the classroom.
Because of the depth of analysis of the standards, Brendan Keiser and Sarah Wittmeyer facilitated the prioritization process with the Middle School/High School English Language Arts CLC in October. Teachers were divided by grade level bands, and in small groups looked at the standards through the first three lenses.
After the standards were reviewed through those lenses, we added in the data from the 6-8 ELA State Tests and the English Regents Exam regarding the most frequently assessed standards. This allowed for another layer and added in-depth discussion on what standards should be prioritized.
The purpose of the activity with the CLC was not to give teachers a list of standards to prioritize in their curriculum, but rather to give teachers a protocol by which to examine the standards. The process included discussions on unpacking the language, understanding what the standard looks like in the classroom, and the importance of the standard at the particular grade level. Teachers walked away with the ability to replicate the process in district, but also a more comprehensive understanding of the Next Generation English Language Arts Standards.
By: Sarah Wittmeyer, CA BOCES Professional Development
Looking back on 2017, there were some consistent trends of topics that dominated the national dialogue with regards to ELA instruction.
First, empathy. Empathy can, and should, be taught across all content areas. For example, in technology courses, students can learn to be empathetic by considering the needs of people when they design and make/code. However, the nature of ELA offers a myriad of ways to develop empathy. Reading stories and analyzing character’s actions, choices, and behaviors can offer great opportunities to be more empathetic, as well as analyzing an author’s argument while considering their background and experiences. Another way is to focus on developing responsible and compassionate readers. Robert Probst, co-author of Disrupting Thinking, describes a responsible reader as a person who is open to letting the text confirm, challenge, or change his/her thinking. A compassionate reader is willing to see through another person’s eyes and is open-minded towards another person’s arguments or beliefs.
Another hot topic was developing student voice. With the nature of state assessments requiring more formulaic writing, many teachers feel it’s hard for students to develop their own voice when writing. Author Joseph Bruchac argues that the first place to start is by having kids write about one of their four roots: ancestry, family, place, or personal experience. Every person has these four roots, yet they are “diverse and different in their content for every one of us”. Having students write personal narratives about their family, for example, is a way for students to write about something specific to their own lives. Author Nic Stone suggests focusing on subvocalization, which means being able to hear what’s on the page. She suggests having students do a short quick write, having them change the punctuation to support the sounds they are trying to convey, and then having a classmate read the writing out loud to see if the writing sounds the way the author intended.
Finally, fake news dominated many scholarly articles, blog posts, and news reports. There are two main issues with fake news: 1) the discrediting of sound and valid news organizations/articles and 2) the susceptibility of believing fake news. Educators need to teach kids how to check sources, yet the fact that even adults cannot spot fake news means we need to teach more media literacy skills in our classrooms. Some of these skills include being able to examine URLs that appear unusual (websites that end with .co, for example), to discover low quality and grammatically incorrect work, and to check if other media outlets are reporting the same news. The Newseum in Washington D.C. also offers an acronym to teach kids how to spot fake news: ESCAPE (Evidence, Source, Context, Audience, Purpose, Execution).
Our upcoming BOCES offerings, such as the MS/HS ELA CLC, will be focusing on these important topics and more. We look forward to sharing the learning!
By: Brendan Keiser, CA BOCES Professional Development
If you walk into a kindergarten classroom during writer’s workshop at Hinsdale, you will see a classroom of 5-6 year olds talking and learning from one another about Polar Bears. Over the past month, kindergarteners have been learning about Polar Bears and the Artic habitat. The walls and the classroom is covered with Focus Charts titled; How Polar Bears Hunt?, How Polar Bears Survive in the Artic Region?, How Polar Bears stay warm?, and much more.
At the start of the school year, the students were introduced to the process of writing, six traits and what great author’s do. Students were given an opportunity to read authentic literature, practice writing, discuss literature and ideas with peers and their teacher and begin to tell their stories with journal writing.
In regard to primary writing, Duke, Hall, Purcell-Gates, and Tower (2006) state, “Students, we believe, need to read authentic literature and to engage in authentic writing” (p.344). Using authentic literature as an example, students will develop an understanding of the components of writing. This also helps students to understand the different purposes for reading and writing.
After the Christmas holiday, kindergarteners at Hinsdale move into more writing, writing centers, writing books, researching, and independence. The writer’s workshop structure in kindergarten is:
Mini-lesson (15 minutes)
During the mini-lessons in kindergarten writer’s workshop, students sit on the rug, and partake in a shared lesson, collaborate with peers, share ideas, watch the teacher ‘write’, unscramble sentences, work on grammar and much more. While visiting, students were engaged, excited and enjoyed sharing their knowledge about Polar Bears and the Artic Region. The kindergartener were using “fancy Nancy” words such as translucent, powerful and patiently.
Using writing centers in writer’s workshop, gives the classroom teacher an opportunity to meet with a small group of student’s and work on editing, writing, craft, grammar, spelling and ideas. This small group/centers gives the teacher an opportunity to “conference” and check in with students in a small setting and meet with individual students where they are at within the writing process. The writing centers give the students time to independently work on other skills within the writing genre. The other centers were various skills that support the research/informative writing about Polar Bears.
Writing with our youngest students in important for them to make purposeful connections to reading and writing. During our hour site visit at Hinsdale, we noticed our youngest students working independently, generating their own ideas, checking for errors, working with peers, staying on task, learning content and much more. If you would like to learn more about writer’s workshop or six traits, please don’t hesitate to contact Tessa Levitt or Anne Cator or visit a classroom of kindergarteners making it happen at Hinsdale Elementary School.
By: Tessa Levitt, CA BOCES and Whitesville Central School
Mr. Bernys and his 9th grade Cattaraugus-Little Valley English students just finished reading the Module text, Romeo and Juliet. The students in each section of his classes were grouped into sets of four students. Within these groups, the students filled the role of the Verona News Team broadcasting “live news” from various scenes in Romeo and Juliet. In these simulated news broadcasts, the students needed to compose a script and write lines for each participant. The students needed to base the scripts on the on Romeo and Juliet’s death, the fight in the streets between the Montagues and the Capulets, and the Capulet Ball. The students shared text-based information pertaining to the major events in the book. Each group’s presentation lasted about 5-7 minutes. It was great to see the students so excited about a classic text as well as how much they retained from the lessons. Mr. Bernys and I got to participate with the students for some of the skits.
The students had the opportunity to use the TV/Video production room which simulated a real news anchor experience. This very unique room at Cattaraugus Little Valley is a state of the art studio containing running cameras, camcorders, digital video switchers, microphones, sound mixers, green screen, Teleprompters, and lighting equipment. It also has graphic and editing computer work stations that are used to generate productions. Mr. Chris Maguda, teacher of a Broadcasting class at CLV, assisted with the audio/visual production along with the students. It is lessons like these that allow students to showcase what they have learned, increase student engagement and enjoyment.
By: Kristen Meier, CA BOCES and Cattaraugus-Little Valley
Students are meeting the demands of CCLS with the work being done in reading workshop as well. Like the writing workshop, during reading teachers are developing targeted and rigorous mini-lessons, selecting texts that challenge all learners, and including student choice in leveled reading materials designed to build a lifelong love of reading. Units often are built around a central text supplemented by relevant, nonfiction materials that build students’ background knowledge base on the topics or themes of the central text. Opportunities for students to engage in text-based conversations both in whole groups and small groups reinforce the skills being taught at the time, and those skills are then applied to the students’ independent reading selections. Ultimately students’ time with eyes on print is greater than ever, and that time will pay off as they progress through school.
Teachers who are looking for the right fit for their classrooms may very well find that reading and writing workshop is an instructional approach worth pursuing. A workshop model provides a balance of structure and flexibility that responds to student needs while targeting the various standards.
By: Amy Windus, Pioneer Central School and CA BOCES
Students and teachers (of COSER 501 member districts) can access hundreds of thousands of digital resources using CABOCES Digital Kids.
Users may login to CABOCES DIGITAL KIDS to search clips and images or pass through to:
Brain Pop (Jr., ESL, Espanol),Discovery, Learn 360, Sylvan Dell eBooks, Teaching Books, Tumblebooks, Soundszabound, Gale Cengage, Regents Review