Tag Archives: common core

Critical and Close Reading of Marvel’s Black Panther

I teach a media literacy course to middle school students. Throughout the semester students are studying elements of film and creating their own films including short documentaries and creative films to showcase their understanding of the craft and structure of visual storytelling. 

I wanted to take some time to closely examine a popular film and look at not only basic comprehension of the storyline but the nuances of craft and structure to help convey themes and ideas about deeper socio-political and historical topics. I selected Marvel’s 2018 Black Panther knowing that it is rich in African American history, culture, and commentary. When my students are in class, we watch the movie and then when students are home and learning remotely, I have created a viewing guide and hyperdoc to guide their viewing of the text and even reread significant scenes. 

The first hyperdoc contains background information on Black Panther the comic and how the movie came to fruition. Thanks to history teacher Amanda Sandoval for her Frayer Model Vocabulary slides. 

The second hyperdoc is for students after viewing the first 30 minutes of the film. Students will analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.3) and Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1)

An additional resource from the New York Times to address craft and structure feature so the film is their Anatomy of a Scene series. In this particular scene director of Black Panther, Ryan Coogler narrates a sequence from his film featuring Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther. If you are not familiar with this online series from the New York Times, it is a great resource where film directors walk viewers through one scene of their movies, showing the magic, motives and the mistakes from behind the camera.

With the unfortunate passing of Black Panther star, Chadwick Boseman this past summer, teachers might also use his commencement speech at Howard University in 2018 or his acceptance speech at Screen Actor’s Guild Awards in 2019, two powerful speeches that showcase his grit, perseverance, and resiliency. 

The lessons are endless that stem from this movie and I am not finished in creating this unit. It continues to evolve. How do you use popular culture to teach literacy, history, and lifeskill? Share your ideas in the comments section on this blog.  

Tagged , , , , ,

How do you promote speaking with English Language Learners?

The post below was originally written for Larry Ferlazzo’s Classroom Q & A blog on Education Week. It is part of a five post series addressing the question:

How do you promote speaking with English Language Learners?

Speaking is one of the core literacy skills, but ELL students might be shy or overwhelmed to participate in a large class discussion because of their language skills. Initiating small groups discussions and one-on-one discussions is a way for students to share thinking, questions, connections, and synthesis of a text, while at the same time building language and speaking skills. Doing so also addresses Common Core State Standards, which require students initiate and participate in a range of collaborative discussions (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9- 10.1).

Technology tools can help ELL students meet the demands of the curriculum and build understanding so they can meet learning objectives. As authors Heather Parris, Lisa Estrada, and Andrea Honigsfeld (2017) explained in ELL Frontiers: Using Technology to Enhance Instruction for English Learners, “The use of digital media provides a low-anxiety environment with a focus on the traditional four language skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing), plus the skill of viewing, which must be included in today’s classroom. ELs need ample production opportunities to develop language skills.”

To help ELL students develop academic language, consider having students respond orally using a video discussion platform, such as Flipgrid, Recap, or Seesaw. These tools remove the stress of performance in front of the class and give students the opportunity to present knowledge and ideas orally while at the same time build verbal communication. With these video discussion platforms, you pose a question for which students can record responses. You set the amount of time that students have to respond to a question; for example, students have one minute to answer a question or ninety seconds. Students can listen to each other’s reflections to learn from them and respond to one another. Flipgrid also offers stickers, similar to those on Snapchat, for students to digitally accessorize their look on camera. For students who don’t like to show their face on camera, you could keep a collection of masks or selfie props on hand for students to use when sharing.

On Seesaw students can add written reflections and draw their responses. Students have more options for how they might share and reflect by adding a drawing to explain their thinking or their steps for solving a math problem. Students can view each other’s written responses and add peer feedback with the app. Providing discussion starters or sentence frames can help students scaffold their response and plan out what they will say before posting a response on a video  discussion platform.

Both sentence stems and word banks are useful tools to help support students who are new to English Language.  Here are a few sentence frames from Achieve the Core that can be adapted to meet the needs of the students in your classroom:


  • I anticipate that
  • I think that  . . .  will happen because . . .
  • I think  . . .  might  . . .  because I know that . . .
  • If . . .  then . . .


  • One reason
  • Another reason
  • At first I thought

Cause and Effects:

  •  . . is most likely the cause for . . .
  • When  . . . happened then . . .
  • I think . . .  was caused  by . . .
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Infographics for Research Curation

Student using Piktochart to design an Infographic

Writing is a process. Ask most published writers and they will tell your about their methods to writing and revising. I have yet to meet a writer who sits down at their computer and is able to write an entire book, poem, article, screenplay – whatever, in one shot. Writing requires planning, research, writing, revising, rereading, and then writing some more. Staring at a blank page for many can be daunting, especially students. The challenge to take one’s notes and turn them into a written piece that expresses their ideas. Some might go immediately into generating their story and thinking. Outlines are useful writing tools in the prewriting stage.  

Infographics are another tool that can help students brainstorm or represent the information they have gathered. An infographic is a visual image that is used to represent data or information. When students create an infographic they have to synthesize the information they curated and make meaning for others in a visually appealing way. Using tech tools like Canva, Piktochart, or even Google Drawing, students design an infographic that visually communicates the main idea their research. Whereas Google Drawing, students are starting with a blank page, Canva and Piktochart have templates students can choose from to add data and graphs to personalize with their research and information.  Having students visually represent their data in an infographic requires students to choose words and images purposefully in order to communicate an idea, prove their thinking, and possibly persuade their viewers.

Like an outline, an infographic strips down content to the main idea and supporting details. Creating infographics, students are required to evaluate, analyze and synthesize their research and present their information is a way that stands out and is easy to read. Looking at different examples of infographics and the ways that information is presented, color, format, structure, and  the balance between image and text are elements for students to keep in mind when creating their own infographic.

Students are tapping into the Common Core Standards when creating their own infographic because they are “Translating quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.7). Additionally, students are “Making strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations” (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5 ).

Before students create their own infographic, it is helpful to look at examples of data visualization to determine the best way to present their own data and research. Similar to different writing formats, students might be consider whether they will present and write about a compare and contrast, cause and effect, to inform or persuade. In addition to Knowledge Constructors, students are also Empowered Learners (ISTE Standards for Students 1C), when creating infographics because they are  using technology to demonstrate their learning.


Tagged , , , ,

Are the Common Core Standards Dead? Advanced Literacy & Lifelong Learning

At the start of the semester, one of my graduate students told me, “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos declares the Common Core is dead, so why do I need to to include the standards in all of my lesson planning?”

Well, I didn’t expect that question the first day.

And I wanted to be positive and not political.

So, here is how I did respond.

Forty-two states have adopted the Common Core Standards to define literacy and academic success. The Common Core does not tell teachers how to teach or what to teach. Rather the standards were created to be learning targets to prepare students for life long learning. New York State, the state which we live in and teach in, the state which this pre-service teacher is obtaining certification, follow the Common Core Standards and since its adoption in 2011 have revised, added, deleted, and clarified the standards with the goal of developing students to “participate in academic, civic, and professional communities, where knowledge is shared and generated.”

How does one measure student success?

How do we develop literate students who are able to communication and navigate the world?

What are the most important practices that teachers can employ to support their students as literacy learners?

Now there are benefits and limitations to the standards, any standards. I choose to see them as a guide to help support our students as life long readers and writers. Do not allow standardized tests to define what the Common Core is and is not. “The New York Education Department remains committed to encouraging teachers and schools to choose the literature and informational texts they use as they detail their ELA curriculum or programs.” What are the lifelong practices of reading and writing that you hope to offer in your classroom? How do the CCSS support these practices and develop a love of reading, help develop strong and effective writers, and build effective speaking and communication skills? Tell me what you uncover.

After this discussion with the graduate student I attended a workshop on the revised New York State Next Generation English Language Arts Learning Standards and the integration of Advanced Literacy.

“Advanced literacies denote a set of skills and competencies that enable communication, spoken and written, in increasingly diverse ways and with increasingly diverse audiences. This requires writing with precision, reading with understanding, and speaking in ways that communicate thinking clearly. Advanced literacies also promote the understanding and use of texts for a variety of purposes” (2017).

So, before we “throw out the baby with the bathwater,” let’s examine what is working with Common Core, 21st Century realities, and guiding principles, continue to revise where there are limitations and gaps in order to support each student in this changing educational landscape.

Tagged , , , , ,

Text Dependent Questions

I want to continue my post from last week with a closer look at how to create text dependent questions that scaffold students’ reading and understanding of a text. I just finished reading Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey’s TDQ: Text Dependent Questions Grades 6-12 (Corwin, 2015) and it is filled with valuable resources for all content area teachers.


Close reading has been a buzz world in the realm of education since the introduction of CCLS. Fisher & Frey go into depth illustrating what close and critical reading lessons LOOK like and SOUND like in the classroom. The authors define close reading as, “an instructional routine in which students are guided in their understanding of complex text.” (p.1) Incorporating close reading practices into the classroom teachers must select short, complex passages that promote multiple readings and challenge the readers thinking.  Students are required to annotate the text: underlining, recording codes in the margins, circle key words, and writing in the margins. Most importantly, close reading requires collaborative conversations about the text, including argumentation. Close reading is not an independent act. Collaboration and discussion is key in helping students to think critically about a text.

Fisher & Frey state, “Close reading is not one and done reading. Rather, it is purposeful, careful and thoughtful. Complex text does not often give up their meaning quickly or easily. Instead, readers learn to look for different things as they interact with a given text during a series of successive interactions.” (p.5)

The authors identify four levels or phases of close reading:

What does the text say? — It is important to address the literal understanding and basic comprehension based on explicitly stated information in the text.

How does the text work? — Examining the author’s craft, vocabulary, and structure (Connects to CCLS Reading Anchor Standards 4, 5, & 6).

What does the text mean? — Look at the “layers of meaning” in the text, the hidden meanings, inferences, and the author’s purpose.

What does the text inspire you to do? — Create action oriented questions and tasks. Fisher & Frey write, “All writers hope to transform the thinking of their readers. . . Learning advances when students are able to transform information into products . . .learners to transform knowledge into something that is meaningful.” (p. 139)

These habits of thinking and inquiry help students collaborate, speak, listen, think critically, question, infer, synthesize, make connections, revise, and draw conclusions. These are life long skills that are not only part of the standards but necessary for academic success and apply in the world outside of school.

As I craft text dependent questions for my students in my English classroom I am more aware of asking Fisher & Frey’s four layers of questions so that I can help my students understand complex texts and push them to learn to ask questions themselves.

Tagged , , , ,

Helping Students Build Better Introductory Paragraphs

I always begin the school year with my students writing an argumentative essay connected to their summer reading text.  I do not grade this first essay, but use it as a pre-assessment to gauge my students’ writing strengths and plan the lessons I need to  teach them to become better writers. To help my students understand the expectations for Common Core writing demands,  I spent three consecutive days in writing workshop mode to help my students rethink and revise their first essay for eighth grade.

Each day the workshop began with a ten mini lesson and interactive foldable about an element of the introductory paragraph and then the remaining twenty five minutes was used for writing workshop, revision, and individual conferences. The writing went from general and casual to specific textual details and elaboration with strong academic language. Below are the slides I used for the mini lessons and a handout that I created to help students break down the elements of the introductory paragraph.


Tagged , , ,

Using the Common Core Standards to Inform Instruction

The Common Core Learning Standards cover this much:

I ——————————————————————————————————————————————————— I

The Common Core aligned assessments cover less than half of the CCL standards:

I ———————————————————– I

And, the state releases a small amount of the test for teachers and administrators to analyze:

I ——————– I

Also keep in mind, what gets tested is not always the most important.

This afternoon I attended a research seminar led by Dr. Brenda Myers, Superintendent of Valhalla Schools and former Superintendent of Groton Central School District both in New York State. Myers is an applied researcher in the areas of teaching, learning, and leadership development. The aim of the research seminar was to analyze the New York State English Language Arts test items to determine (1) the cognitive demand and instructional implications of the test; (2) the predictability and alignment of the test items to the Common Core Learning Standards; and (3) effective learning strategies for using the score reports and sample items to improve instruction.

Here is what I will do as a result of attending the seminar:

Teachers need to understand the standards in order to apply the standards in their classrooms. It is one thing to give teachers a copy of the CCLS and have the Core App on an iPad, it is another thing to ask teachers to create their own cheat sheet for the standards by grade level work. First, I will have teachers go through the standards and record the standards that they are already covering in their classrooms and what are the standards that they have been ignoring. Second, I will require that teachers create their own one page document of the grade level standards relevant to their classroom instruction.

During departmental meetings teachers need to have grade level conversations about what we want students to know and do, how teachers will teach and how students will be assessed. Teachers need to make sure they are covering all the standards including speaking, listening, and collaboration. Many teachers are teaching to the test, and teachers must be careful of how much of their understanding of the standards is based on the state aligned assessments.

Look at the New York State released ELA test questions aligned with the CCLS: What are students expected to know? What are students expected to do? Where might they find difficulty within the reading passage or the question itself? Identify the standard that the test question is addressing, the distractors in the questions and answers, and the skill being tested. Collaborate with other teachers to create a toolbox of instructional practices to help support our students as readers, writers, and critical thinkers.

Try giving students three questions about a text and have them write out their answers. Then, the following day, give students the same questions as multiple choice questions and let them use their original answers to help them answer the multiple choice questions. This strategy helps students do their own item analysis and identify the plausibility of distractors.

Tagged , , , , ,

Building a Better Body (Paragraph)

This week I am holding a writer’s workshop in my eighth grade English classroom to help my students understand and apply the elements of effective argumentative essay writing.  I began the week with an interactive foldable on Ways to Start an Essay which addresses six different strategies for to start any kind of essay.

Ways to Start an Essay Foldable

Ways to Start an Essay Foldable

For my students, the two hardest parts of essay writing are the claim/thesis and the analysis of textual evidence that supports the claim. In a post earlier this school year I created a foldable for writing a thesis or stating a claim.  Once my students have their thesis complete, we move on to the body paragraph.

The body paragraphs are the meat of one’s essay. The body paragraphs must include specific textual evidence to support one’s claim and provide analysis of the textual evidence describing how it supports the claim.  Stating, “This quote proves . . .” is not enough. One’s analysis needs to hold the reader’s hand and walk them through the connection between the textual evidence and one’s claim. The body paragraphs should include three or more examples of textual evidence to really prove the claim is valid.

I created a graphic organizer for my students to record the textual evidence, summarize the evidence, and describe how and why the evidence is significant to the claim. In completing the graphic organizer, my hope is that it will be easier for my students to craft a body paragraph that explains, proves, and supports the claim.

In addition, there is a great Writer’s Checklist on essay writing from Read Write Think that I adapted and had my students include in their Interactive Notebooks to help guide my students in the essay writing process.

Tagged , , , , ,

Are We Asking the Right Questions? Common Core Aligned Questions

This school year I have been spending time studying the most recent New York State ELA assessment that was created to align with the Common Core.  Looking at the question stems for the multiple choice, short answer, and extended responses, it is obvious that the assessment is not asking basic comprehension questions. Rather, students are expected to read for understanding and answer questions related to vocabulary in context, inference, figurative language, and author’s purpose.

Questions like:

Which detail would be most important to include in a summary of . . .

The author uses the simile in the passage below to emphasize . . .

This passage is an example of what literary device?

What effect does this sentence provide the reader as the story develops?

Based on the passage, what is the meaning of the word . . .

Based on the passage, it can be inferred that . . .

All of the assessments that I create for my students include these question stems so that my students are familiar with the vocabulary on these assessments.  Students are required to go back to the passages selected and read around the text in order to make inferences and understand vocabulary in context. Many of the questions focus on the author’s craft and utilizing context clues.

I do not believe in workbooks for test preparation. If we want to prepare students to succeed on these tests, we need to embed the test vocabulary and question stems into our daily lessons.   Since September I have been utilizing these questioning techniques and teaching close reading strategies so that students are able to read, understand, and respond to complex text.

Click here to see a sample of the most recent reading quiz I created for To Kill a Mockingbird and align with the Common Core.

Tagged , , ,

Unpacking NCTE 2013

Last week I spent four days at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in Boston.  The convention was inspiring, informative, and a great opportunity to address current trends in English Language Arts today.  Throughout the convention I heard from resourceful teachers and engaging authors, brought back multiple bags of books for my classroom and professional development, and reflected on my teaching. Below are the top trends I took away from the conference and ideas worth sharing.


1. Close Reading

Students do not have to read closely all the texts that we give them, but depending on task and the passage, students need to be able to read critically and closely to comprehend, analyze, and discuss text. Part of the Common Core, close reading requires students to slow down their reading and be able to make inferences and synthesize their understanding of the text. There are so many valuable professional resources that address this topic: Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives by Fisher, Frey, and Lapp, Note and Notice by Beers & Probst, and also Lehman and Robert’s Falling In Love with Close Reading.

2. Informational Text

The Common Core requires that on the secondary level young people read 70% informational text. That does not mean throw out the literature you are teaching, rather, supplement great informational texts that connect with what you’ve been doing in class or because the texts are topically interesting. There are great resources available on the web to help teachers find relevant informational texts. The New York Times Learning Network is one resource to check out, especially their new “Text to Text” feature that pairs timely informational text with novels currently being taught in schools. For example, Romeo and Juliet’s Montagues and Capulets as Shiite and Sunni is an interesting perspective to use as a lens for reading this classic conflict ridden love story.

Another new book soon to be released spring 2014, Using Informational Text by Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle offer nine informational articles to pair with To Kill a Mockingbird. The text includes the informational articles from a thematic perspective and scaffolds the reading of the text to support students’ reading and thinking. Sample chapters include speeches, interviews, newspaper articles, and medical documents.  Sample texts are available on their website.

3. Dystopia is Our Future

The hottest trend in publishing for young adults is dystopian fiction. With the success of The Hunger Games, there is a plethora of new novels, as well as renewed interest in older ones. I attended a session on dystopian literature and social theory (Derrida, Foucault, and critical race theories) in the English classroom. The presenters addressed how social theory offers an opportunity for students to think critically about the realistic and futuristic worlds presented in the fiction. The dystopian novels presented in the session included Brave New World by Aldous Huxley to address issues of  power, Chaos Walking series to address language, and Octavia Bultler’s Parable of the Sower to address race and ethnicity. As a 8th grade teacher who will be using dystopian novels for a literature circle unit this winter, this session gave me possible book titles and an idea to help my students critically engage with the text.

Neil Schusterman, author of the dystopian series Unwind and UnWholly, was  a key note speaker for middle school teachers. He spoke about where all the ideas for his recent book series emerged from, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that fit together to create a larger picture.  I was mesmerized by the different stories in the news that Schusterman pieced together to create a gripping tale about a world that is pro life, but between the ages of 13 and 18 parents may choose to retroactively get rid of their child through a process called “unwinding” and transplanting their organs into various other recipients. I cannot wait to read this book.

4. Common Core: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

There were teachers and workshops who embraced the Common Core and a few that were in opposition to the CCLS.  The bottom line is that the Common Core is here now and teachers must effectively address the standards to help their students succeed.  All of the workshops made connections to the Common Core addressing reading, writing, literacy, vocabulary, and assessment. I do not think that teachers need to reinvent what they are doing in their classroom right now, we need to pay particular attention to what we are doing right  and include classroom experiences that teach skills necessary for reading complex texts and tasks that require higher order thinking.

5. Technology Integration in the English Language Arts Classroom

Whether we are talking about gaming or QR codes, technology is an amazing tools to support our students as readers, writers, and creators.  I presented a poster that included more than three dozen technology based projects that I have had my students complete. Projects like creating movies, wikis, blogs, glogs, and more.  It is not about the technology, but the skills that students are utilizing when accessing technology.  Technology just adds a more contemporary and digital component to the assignment.

NCTE Poster 2013

Tagged , ,