If you are thinking of adopting Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series for teaching the Common Core English Language Arts standards, be sure to check out our review based on our experience with the program!
As teachers, we know that it’s difficult to truly evaluate a program until we’ve actually used it for a solid time-period. At the same time, we also know it’s not often practical just to try out programs, due to financial and time constraints. For this reason, I’d like to share my experience with teaching using Pam Allyn’s Core Ready books, in the hopes that it assists teachers considering their implementation. My fifth grade team decided to adopt the series this past year since we wanted a Common Core-aligned reading and writing workshop program. We had previously been using The Complete Year in Reading & Writing: Year 5 by Pam Allyn with much success, so we had high hopes for the new series. I was personally able to teach using all of the books this year except The Journey to Meaning,due to maternity leave.
Each of the four books have 1 “lesson set” or unit per grade, which includes:
10 lessons each for reading and writing (reading and writing to be taught simultaneously)
1 Language Lesson (to be taught at some point within the lesson set)
Appendix of resources, including graphic organizers and rubrics
Grades 3-5 Books (can be taught in any order you prefer):
The Power to Persuade: Opinion & Argument
Focuses on strategies on what makes writing persuasive
Main published piece for 5th grade: a persuasive text
The Road to Knowledge: Information & Research
Focuses on how to gather research, note-taking skills, and how to correctly cite others’ work
Main published piece for 5th grade: an informational text; topic chosen by students
The Journey to Meaning: Comprehension & Critique
Focuses on reading poetry & essays to analyze themes, subjects, and author point of view
Main published piece for 5th grade: analytical essay
The Shape of Story: Yesterday & Today
Focuses on various types and components of stories, including character development and conflict, with an emphasis on fantasy for the 5th grade lessons
Main published piece for 5th grade: a narrative fantasy story
Other Corresponding Resources
Be Core Ready: Powerful, Effective Steps to Implementing and Achieving the Common Core State Standards: Detailed introduction both to the Core Ready series and to the ELA Common Core Standards themselves.
PDToolKit: An online resource in which you can access additional resources for the lessons
♥Common Core-aligned, vertically and horizontally!
This is obviously a major attraction to this series. Now that the Common Core has simplified the focuses of ELA standards, it can be difficult to revise your current ELA program to be completely Common Core aligned–especially across an entire school! The beauty of the Core Ready books is that not only is it completely Common Core-aligned within your own grade level, but it masterfully builds learning between grades.
♥Simple structure in each lesson (Warm up, Teach, Try, Clarify, Practice, Wrap-up)
I enjoyed this framework both because it facilitates plenty of guided student application, and because it allowed me to easily divide up the lessons into multiple days (if we needed to break it up, we would often end with “Clarify” one day, and begin with “Practice” the next).
♥Fosters teacher authenticity
The series thoroughly embraces the 21st century view of teachers as readers and writers growing right alongside students (rather than as wizened experts or sources of knowledge). A perfect illustration of this approach lies in the fact that as students create a published piece in each lesson set, the books also encourage teachers to do the same. The benefits here are reciprocal; first, it builds in authenticity as teachers model their own warts-and-all literary process. As a result, students glimpse the true nature of literary learning: not a neat, manufactured, step-by-step process, but one that is messy, purposeful, and beautiful.
♥Student-centered –> Plenty of room for inquiry!
Rather than teachers directly pointing out literary concepts, it encourages students to discover the concepts themselves within texts. The lessons also constantly invite students to consider their own literary backgrounds, to identify their personal inspiration, and to make purposeful choices as unique readers and writers.
♥Encourages critical thinking and metacognition
The lessons are designed to continually challenge students to ask, “WHY?” For instance, any time students are asked to find examples of literary concepts in texts, they are also nearly always asked to locate text evidence that defends their reasoning. This makes for lively student discussions as they share their personal analyses. Additionally, every lesson set involves student reflection, and I definitely saw growth in my students as they regularly examined their own thinking and decision-making processes.
During a webinar early in the school year, I asked Pam Allyn and Debbie Lera whether 40 lessons would be enough to span the entire school year, as we worried this seemed like more of a supplemental program. They assured me that many lessons would likely take more than a day to teach, and they were absolutely right; particularly when students gathered research or revised, some lessons took more than a week! Additionally, our grade kept a couple small units from previous years, which we found easy to incorporate alongside the Core Ready series.
♥Encourages digital literacy
For the informational text unit, my students turned essays into multi-media blog posts. For the fantasy narrative, my students created illustrated Storybirds. The Core Ready books are packed with suggestions for engaging and natural technology integration.
This is part of the reason that each lesson can be extended well beyond a day. They include:
Ideas for both high-tech & low-tech classrooms
Suggestions to bridge concepts for English Language Learning students
Suggestions for Speaking & Listening development
Concrete ideas for formative assessments throughout the lessons.
Fantastic Appendix of resources and rubrics
♥Few anchor texts required
If you previously used the Complete Year in Reading and Writing books, you understand the financial strain of programs that require many anchor texts. While this series does recommend a few anchor texts, it more frequently gives suggestions for online-accessible texts!
Of course, dedicating time for daily reading and writing is essential. However, this program requires at least 40 minutes each for the reading and writing lessons. You will also likely want to find time to incorporate guided reading groups, and while it’s been suggested that these groups can be run during the “practice” component of each reading lesson, that simply isn’t always practical. For one thing, it keeps you from one-on-one interactions available during their practice time. Plus, that practice time doesn’t happen the same way every day since some individual lessons are stretched over multiple days, which makes it very difficult to predictably schedule guided reading within the reading/writing workshop time.
♦Language Standards not fully integrated
Throughout the 4 books for 5th grade, some of the Language standards are only covered once–and a couple, not at all (Standards 4 and 5). While a wonderful characteristic of the Core Ready books is that each lesson masterfully integrates a variety ELA standards, this can also make it difficult to keep track of which areas need to be supplemented if they aren’t included. For how time-consuming this program is, I found myself wishing that the entire ELA standards were covered so we didn’t feel we needed an additional grammar program to provide complete Language instruction and spiraling practice.
♦Teacher talk can be lengthy
Each phase of each lesson includes detailed sample teacher talk, which is positive in that it gives teachers clear ideas on the lesson’s intended direction. However, it can get quite long–the “Teach” component in particular. For this reason, the lengthy teacher talk only becomes a “con” when teachers don’t realize it’s essential to adapt it to their own timetable and student needs.
The strengths of this series clearly outweigh the few drawbacks. I would highly recommend these books to any teacher, especially if they are looking for a way to naturally build reading and writing skills in an interdependent, authentic manner!
Class meetings are more than about discussing logistics or class management, although those are benefits, too. It’s about creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable to speak their minds & learn from each other!
#1: Develop as Risk-Takers.
“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller
We all develop inhibitions through the years as we become fearful of failure. This kind of mentality, however, is absolutely stifling to any real learning. We must find authentic ways to show students we welcome risk-taking, rather than just telling them we do. Class meetings are a perfect way to do so! Because of their low-pressure settings, they have the capacity to help even the shyest students to slowly build their confidence over the year.
#2: Cultivate Relationships with Students.
In the blur of lunch count, P.E., and grading, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of school, neglecting personal relationships. However, most of us began teaching because of people–as it should be! Class meetings provide an appropriate, dedicated environment for sharing personal experiences–ones of celebration, loss, anticipation, anxiety, and just plain silliness. Such sharing renews and strengthens our most important priority: the students with whom we work.
#3: Social Skills.
Listening, turn-taking, appropriate responding, articulating ideas–these are just a few social skills developed in a class meeting environment. As teachers, it’s easy to react to apparent deficits in these social skills during instruction time with consequences–but what students often need more is additional practice and examples of people effectively using these skills!
#4: Opportunity for Meaningful Discussions.
This benefit is best illustrated with an example from my classroom. On my first day back at school after a week-long illness-related absence, we gathered in our circle. Students quickly began to report that behavior was not always at its best with our substitute teachers, which led to one student volunteering the statement, “Some kids think, ‘Well, I’m not going to get anything for it, so why should I be good?’” This led to one of our most animated and earnest conversations of the year. As they explored and debated this question, the class eventually came up with the following thoughtful answers, among others:
No matter how smooth your classroom management or arrangement, the fact is, issues invariably arise each year with each group of students. From desk arrangements to concerns about homework loads, students will pick up on small details teachers overlook. When you give them the opportunity to voice concerns and then to discuss them as a class during regular meetings, the classroom starts to truly become a shared, democratic environment instead of one run by one imperfect person. While a class meeting should by no means be the only opportunity for student voice, it is one helpful medium!
5 Set-Up Tips
#1: Establish rules and routines first!
No matter how old your students are, it’s essential to start by discussing expectations. To help them understand the shared nature of class meetings, make sure these are not your expectations, but what the class truly expects from one another during the meetings. Make a shared list, have students sign it as a contract, and post it in the class meeting area for a visual reminder. Have a couple of practice trials that emphasize the expectations, and model some of those skills by role-playing with students!
#2: Start With a “Talking Circle” with a “Talking Object.”
“Talking circles are more successful when the participants have trust with each other. Taking time to share stories, build relationships, explore values, and create guidelines for participation helps everyone feel physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe in the circle and creates a foundation for courageous acts of sharing.” (Winters, A.)
Have students start by sitting in a circle, and one-by-one, passing a “talking object” that declares that they have the floor for sharing. (My students have always loved using a Koosh ball for this purpose).
#3: Put out a Suggestions/Compliments Box.
Place this box in an accessible location to give students the opportunity to share compliments for the positive acts they notice from classmates, or for suggestions to help the classroom run more smoothly. We recommend making and printing your slips to provide a template that includes lines for names, solutions, etc. Remember to model to students what quality compliments and suggestions look like (which will avoid excessive “You are nice” slips, or complaints without ideas for solutions)!
#4: Establish a regular weekly meeting time.
If it matters to your students, it should matter to you! Set aside a regular weekly time, even if it’s only 15-20 minutes. If assemblies or field trips shift the schedule, discuss with students whether they’d like to reschedule that week to help them know it’s still a priority!
#5: Allow Flexibility.
During the Talking Circle, we suggest that you leave the sharing open-ended, rather than giving students a prompt. We also recommend that you give them the choice to “Pass” on their turn to keep it from becoming a stressful, pressured situation.
Whether you’re implementing a BYOD classroom, teaching students to develop PLN’s, or planning a Twitter debate in your class, these 5 tools may help you with some unexpected logistics.
The Importance of Keeping Up
Anyone involved with teaching today is familiar the swift and exponential nature of changes in 21st century education. This is true to the extent that even if you graduated with your teaching degree within the past few years, your pedagogical training probably did not leave you fully prepared. We hope that the following 5 resources will be valuable to you as you adapt to modern learning strategies.
If you are not already using Google Drive in your classroom, add it to your must-try-asap list! From elementary school on up, it enables effective digital collaboration. As an added bonus, it cuts down messy stacks of papers! Below, we’ve listed a few of our favorite time and sanity-saving tips to maximize your Google Drive usage in the classroom:
Teach students to use the “Comments” tool for peer editing and revising. That way, students can have actual conversations about the feedback they give one another without actually altering others’ work!
Self-grading function: If you are currently using or are interested in using Google Forms to quiz students (for free!), make sure you look up how to make it self-grading! (Check out one tutorial here!)
Revision history: Make sure that both you and your students are familiar with this tool in the “File” menu just in case one student accidentally alters or deletes another’s work.
Take Advantage of its share-ability: Long-gone are the days of needing to upload each student’s PowerPoint to a flash drive (see our article on Powerpoint alternatives), or even asking them to individually email you their digital project. Instead, have students create all projects that are compatible with Google Drive in one class Google account that you can easily access and manage.
Use Google Spreadsheets for a multi-purpose class roster: Keeping track of missing permission slips, student project groups, or anecdotal notes is a cinch with Google Spreadsheets. Google Drive’s app makes this especially appealing as you can whip out your phone or tablet to view your notes as you walk through the class!
#3: Digital Classroom Management Tips:
Establishing quality classroom management strategies is a critical skill for every educator. However, such techniques can quickly get complicated when BYOD is introduced–how do you manage a variety of phones, tablets, and laptops when such devices can already be distracting? Jennifer Carey, a director of educational technology, shared her top 5 tips for digital classroom management in an Edudemic article, from setting clear expectations, to recognizing that it’s OK to put the technology away at times!
Many teachers are very familiar with and involved in maintaining blogs for their classrooms and students. However, the advent of microblogging through platforms like Twitter can enhance or simplify your blogging habits! Read how!
What is Microblogging?
We recently wrote a post that explored the in’s and out’s of Twitter for teachers. If you haven’t had a chance to read that yet, we recommend you start with that article first!
Microblogging, according a journal at the University of Stuttgart, can be explained in the following definition:
“Social networking and microblogging services such as Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ allow people to broadcast short messages, so-called microposts, in continuous streams.” [source]¹
So, while Twitter is not the only microblogging platform (see article that compares 10 others), we will be referring to Twitter as our main classroom tool for the purposes of this article.
How Microblogging with Twitter Works
Microblogging for your class can be very effective in conjunction with a classroom blog as it gives you a place where students can access your feeds, links, etc. However, that does not mean additional efforts–in fact, this approach will likely save you precious blogging time!
If you already keep a classroom blog to post pictures, homework, and general tidbits about what’s happening at school, chances are that you have experienced difficulty in posting content consistently or on the same day the pictures, activities, and videos actually happened. It may be easy enough to snap some pictures in the moment with your phone, but those can be easy to forget in the shuffle at the end of the day–and even when you do remember, it can be tough to scrounge up the time to upload your photos to your computer and then a new blog post, complete with a description!
Instead, consider how the above situation changes with the tool of Twitter microblogging:
Open your Twitter app on your mobile device
Next to “What’s Happening,” snap your photos within the app
Add a quick, 140 character phrase describing the discovery, instantly creating a feed that looks like this (thank you for sharing, Catherine!):
If you don’t have a classroom blog, you can simply give parents and students your handle (@_____) and have them follow you with their own Twitter accounts (and for this reason, we highly recommend that you keep a separate Twitter account for your classroom than for your personal use). If you do have a blog, then you can further spread the word by using a widget to upload your Twitter feed to your blog homepage, which can be especially helpful in reaching those who don’t have Twitter accounts! Below are steps to create your widget:
Click on the Settings icon at the top right corner of your Twitter page.
Select “Widgets” from the menu on the left-hand side of the page
Create and personalize your widget. There are several choices for what your feed will reflect. One option is to display posts for a specific hashtag (especially perfect if you have created a unique class hashtag that you include in each of your Tweets!):
If you have a class Twitter account, you could also display your own feed.
Once the widget is created, inserting it into your blog varies according to your platform. Click here for a great WordPress tutorial! For others, you may need to copy and paste the widget code into the HTML of your site–many have an HTML widget you can insert for this kind of purpose!
When to Blog or Microblog
Explaining a project
Sharing any media you want embedded into your blog (ie, Prezi, video, etc.)
Reminding students of several upcoming events (perhaps in a list)
If teachers want to truly prepare students for the future, we must accept that social media is not going anywhere. Read on for tips on getting started in Twitter as an educator!
“Isn’t Twitter just another mundane way to micro-share everything in your life?” “Twitter just seemed too complicated with all the symbols and rules.” “Even if there are educational resources on Twitter, I just don’t have the time to join another social media website.”
Do any of these thoughts sound like you? If so, you’ve come to the right place, because we’ve been there, too! This article is designed to help you understand its benefits as an educator, as well as to provide basic steps and ideas to get started–all from the perspective of a fellow educator!
5 Reasons You Should Join Twitter As an Educator
#1: Professional Development:
We very purposefully place this reason first! Resources like Twitter are the reason professional development is increasingly becoming a personalized experience at schools. Once you establish yourself with few educational hashtags combined with tools such as TweetDeck (see Simple Steps below), you will instantly have a wealth of current topics and resources to explore. For example, check out the screenshot that I randomly took of my own Twitter feed below:
Just glancing at the feeds, you can see resources and conversations ranging from math fact apps, to tips for using QR codes, to ideas for supporting inquiry! Many professional development days at schools currently involve the entire staff listening (often halfheartedly, especially if it doesn’t apply to them individually) to a couple of admin-selected trainers. Envision PD instead becoming days when the staff breaks into groups to spend the day truly exploring their areas of professional interest/needs–reading/discussing articles and contacting experts online with questions. Twitter has the potential to revolutionize each teacher’s development as professionals not only on a school-wide basis, but on a personal basis as well!
“The Twitter shift puts each educator in control of her own professional development with self-direction and personalization of content at any time…during planning periods or outside of the school day…If I want, I can get a daily dose of professional learning to go with my early morning cup of Joe. Through the Twitter platform, I discover best practice, research, solutions and ideas delivered to me in 140 characters or fewer, for just in time learning.” ~Meg Ormiston [source]
The relevance with regards to using Twitter goes beyond just relating to our more tech-savvy students (although that can be quite significant as well)! It goes back to what we described in professional development above. Twitter is an incredible vehicle for teachers and other educational experts to quickly and effectively share their most innovative and valuable ideas. If we continue to “go it alone,” despite the ready availability of such a goldmine, we will quickly lose touch with the growing possibilities within our own field.
“Social Media is here to stay. Its form may change, and certainly the applications we use will not remain the same, but the idea of openly exchanging information in whatever forms it is produced is not going away. As educators we can use it or lose it. If we don’t start to understand and use this technology soon, we will lose the opportunity to harness it, because we will be irrelevant. We don’t need social media to teach, as much as we need it to learn.” ~Tom Whitby [source]
#3: Help Students Recognize Global Society
As long as our discussions regarding current events and issues throughout the world remain within the confines of our own classroom, such ideas will continue to seem remote to students. Once we use Twitter to communicate with individuals actually involved in those issues and/or living in those places, students will begin to see themselves as real participants in a global community.
“Educators who participate in Twitter networks are well placed to support students in the use of relevant digital technologies because the Twitter community shares knowledge, resources and expert advice.” ~Tania Sheko [source]
Resources like Twitter provide educators with heretofore unheard of levels of genuine, global collaboration. We are perfectly poised now to share what works and what doesn’t, to seek and receive feedback when we’re stuck, and to showcase examples of great student learning. This last ability in particular can create increased community connectedness as parents truly witness and participate in their children’s learning. Classroom learning today looks drastically different than it did a generation ago–it calls for increased focus on process over product, on problem solving skills over memorized facts, and on student ownership over teacher control (see more ways learning has changed). Parents, administrators, and fellow teachers need to see the benefits of such changes in order to cultivate understanding and support; in other words, we need transparency across the board to further improve teaching and learning practices!
“…they started with the why, and then created a vision for sharing beyond the walls of the classroom. Their purpose was to share with the community the great things happening in classrooms in the three-building prek-8 school district.” ~Meg Ormiston [source]
#5: Professional Development
Wait, did we say that already? Yep. It’s that important.
“Imagine if every teacher shared just one of their best sources with other educators, who in turn could tweet them out to the tune of 700,000 tweets in a half hour. Everyone would benefit. The idea here is to get educators familiar with the concept of connectedness and its possibilities…” ~Tom Whitby [source]
Simple Steps to Get Started
Twitter is less simplistic than other social media platforms when it comes to maximizing its use, especially in a professional capacity. However, it is well worth the time invested in establishing your own Professional Learning Network (PLN–check out our article on building PLN’s here). We have included some simple steps below to help you get started! Also, be sure to check out the 13-page Handbook from plpnetwork.com, which breaks down definitions and steps in easy-to-follow detail.
Set-up a username using the @ symbol (called your Twitter handle)
Upload a picture and short bio to help potential followers know who you are!
Download TweetDeck! In our view, this is an essential tool to manage your time on Twitter, because it allows you to easily scan through happenings in your favorite hashtags, as well as your own notifications and news feed. Just add columns by hitting the + icon, or by searching for individual hashtags/people and clicking “Add Column.”
Start following individuals and leaving comments to grow your network.
When you start creating Tweets, if you want to share a link, be sure to use URL shorteners such as Bitly or Owly to conserve your precious 140 characters!
Start participating in educational Tweetchats, which are scheduled at live times for people to have discussions. Many hashtags schedule regular Tweetchat times for their followers to have live discussions (ie, #pypchat schedules every other Thursday at 7pm Eastern Time), and keep an eye out on educational blogs you follow for their scheduled chats!
Check out the Infographic to the right for additional information and details, as well as the PLP Handbook!
Practical K-12 Uses
If you teach at a BYOD school (Bring Your Own Device) or in another circumstance in which mobile devices are 1:1, the ways for students to use Twitter in the classroom are broader. Below are some specific ideas.
Debates: Your students can engage in a voices-off debate in which they must articulately craft their responses into 140 characters.
Research: The possibilities are endless in collecting both secondary and primary resources on Twitter–particularly since experts on virtually every topic are available to give short responses to tweets.
Build their OWN PLN: Students can begin networking with other individuals and experts who share their interests, well beyond just a pen-pal capacity.
On the other hand, if your students are very young, if your school does not use BYOD, or if, for any other reason, you are the only person with access to Twitter in the classroom, there are still incredible and practical ways for you to use it!
Microblogging: Download the Twitter app to quickly snap photos, upload videos, and post Tweets on amazing classroom happenings with your mobile device! Add your own classroom hashtag to each post to keep them organized in one place! (Read our article on when and how to blog vs. microblog!)
Parent Involvement: Not only can you boost parent involvement through microblogging, but you can also host your own regular Tweetchats using your classroom hashtag! Simply share with parents the above steps to get started on Twitter, and then give them the date and time for your chat! You can either set the topic in advance to generate interest and ideas, or you can have an open forum for questions on homework, school events, projects, etc.
Facilitate Student Research: You don’t have to let students’ inability to personally tweet hold them back when it comes to their research! When students generate their own questions and consider who would be knowledgeable on the topic, you can act as their Twitter research facilitator by sending tweets to experts on their behalf!
Seeking feedback for student work: This is similar to the above idea, but with the additional idea of sharing all student work! Using hashtags such as #comments4kids–designed specifically for sharing student work with other classrooms–you can share their essays, questions, blogs, and more, with the added benefit of receiving feedback from other classes around the globe!
Happy Tweeting! We’d love to hear your success stories in the comments!