Artwork from Ron Leishman Digital Toonage
1. Lead high-level, text based discussions: When students discuss a text as a group, start with questions grounded in the text. Opinions should come only after good text understanding. Teachers can start by discussing word choice, details and arguments given in the text. Make sure questions promote deeper thinking of the text.
Many students will need to learn how to be good participants in this type of discussion. Before starting any text discussion go over the following goals for student discussion:
a. speak at least three times
b. Agree or disagree with someone, but use details to support your view
c. Ask a question
d. Keep an open mind…changing your opinion can show a willingness to learn.
2. Focus on process, not just the content: The Common Core Standards stress the importance of student discovery. Of course they need content, but how students come to understanding is crucial. For example, students should not memorize a list of words and their meaning. Instead they should be given the opportunity to connect new vocabulary to their own lives. Use notebooks, blogs and opportunities in the classroom to incorporate new vocabulary organically.
When it comes to research, the Common Core stresses that students should have "extensive practice" in doing short purposeful research. As a result of repeated practice, students will understand the process of research and use it to become self-directed learners.
3. Create assignments for a real audience and with a real purpose: Students need experiences writing to real people with real concerns and ideas. The idea of "pretend you are writing to…" should be limited. For example, if there is a concern within the school (food, bell, recess etc.) discuss with students possible solutions, how to address the person being written too (you get more bees with honey than vinegar!), and how to construct a logical argument. These skills serve students as life-long skills, rather than simple writing assignments that do not have a real purpose.
4. Teach argument, not persuasion: The Common Core draws a distinction between persuasion and an argument. Persuasion appeals to the audience's self-interest, wants or emotions. An argument, on the other hand, uses logic and reason to support a view and change minds. It is also they type of writing needed in college. For example, instead of persuading the principal that students need a longer recess, they should construct an argument based on research that shows the effects of recess on students and their learning.
5. Increase text complexity: Research shows that our students have not had an opportunity to read enough complex texts. Don't rely just on the Lexiles or formulas you find. Use your own judgment. If you have a child that loves baseball, he or she will be willing to work through more complex text than on something he or she has no interest in. Look for balance. It shouldn't be so easy that it isn't challenging, or so hard that students give up.