The Best CCSS Resource You Might Not Be Using–The OUT

If you look through the data for this blog as well as my companion site,, a not so surprising trend emerges. Overwhelmingly, classroom materials are the most downloaded and clicked on links when compared to professional development resources, presentation items, and demonstration videos. Consequently, it seems pretty obvious to highlight one of the best resources available and explain how any educator—including those outside of Nevada—can use them to meet the expectations of the Common Core.

The Nevada History OUTs (Opening Up the Textbooks) are a teacher created resource that is free for download. Each OUT highlights an important part of Nevada history with an emphasis on students reading complex informational text and retrieving evidence to support claims. Moreover, the OUTs nurture historical thinking skills in which students see a single narrative—from the textbook—complicated, vivified, contested, and/or expanded. If you live outside of Nevada, there is plenty for you here with lessons on Westward Expansion, the Hoover Dam, and mining and taxation.

I have implemented three OUTs this year and what follows is why I am so enthusiastic. This includes

  1. The OUTs are well matched to the Common Core and the Instructional Shifts. Specifically, each lessons has students working with complex text—often challenging primary resources—and its academic vocabulary. Students have to read, write and speak using evidence and as students move through each OUT they are building a coherent body of knowledge.
  2. Students have to work cooperatively to build understanding and to gain full access to the texts. The OUTs highlight the value of academic discourse and fluidly align to the habits of annotating and Accountable Talk.
  3. They are free.
  4. They were vetted in classrooms before ultimately being shared online.
  5. Students enjoy the challenging work. I switch between the OUTs, the Basal Alignment Project lessons, and Core Knowledge during my literacy block. The OUTs have proven to be a hit and you can see them in action at my classroom blog here and here.

You can see an overview video of what an OUT is and read more here. You can here watch Stanford professor Dr. Sam Wineburg explain how students learn history here.

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Principal Leadership Team Session 2

Educators gathered for the second session of the Principal Leadership Team inservice course. The focus was on the ELA Instructional Shifts and working to build capacity and a vision around these outcomes.

The class is a unique opportunity for Washoe County insofar as it has all stakeholders within a building working to create a shared vision of what is valued, measured, and observed. You can download the session materials, and find the videos that were shared, in the links below.

Principal Leadership Session 2 PowerPoint

Five Essential Schoolwide Conditions for Common-Core Achievement

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Slavin and “Evidence” Based Reform in Education

My first full time position as a homeroom teacher was at Veterans Elementary in Reno, Nevada. Veterans was a Success For All school and I was introduced to a reading program, with distinct reading components, as well as elements of cooperative learning. At that time, I also became familiar with the work of Robert Slavin, one of the creators of SFA, researcher and faculty member at John Hopkins University. Without getting into what I thought of the version of SFA I taught in the early 2000’s—I understand it has changed—I have always been impressed with Slavin and his devotion to research and evidence.

I recently came across a keynote Slavin gave that was posted to Youtube. Although I intended to watch for just a few minutes, I found myself impressed with Slavin’s blunt assessment of current educational policy and his obvious worry about how the term “evidenced-based” has been hijacked to maximize profit and sell districts on specious products and services. Here are several other key takeaways.

At minute 12:37 Slavin describes the constant “churning” of school reform. He notes that because the typical tenure of a district superintendent is 2.5 years, and because many superintendents are often embracing new policies, it never becomes clear what is working and what is not.

16:25: Slavin describes how in disciplines like medicine and agriculture, the best evidence wins out. He posits that in education this is not the case and notes that change in education often happens without regard to a thorough study of what is working. He analogizes education to fashion in that something comes into style and invariably falls out of style.

20:49: Slavin shares how “innovation” happens in education. That is, because everyone is moving vertically in the system, they bring with him or her a concrete sense of what should happen in a school or in the district. They are informed by their experiences instead of evidence or research. Thus, what they know well they advocate for.

At minute 22:29, Slavin gets specific and describes how we can build a system where “what works is what matters.” The keys include

  • There must be standards of educational reform that are refereed by an independent body. Those who fail to adhere to these standards would be challenged with legal consequences.
  • There must be demonstrative evidence of effectiveness. Things cannot merely look good, they must be proven to be good.
  • Any proven innovation must come with professional development, materials and fit with the capacity of a system.
  • The government would only financially support those reforms that have proven to work.

Listening to Slavin I found myself hoping more people will watch this keynote. I am continually being asked to do things in my classroom that lack evidence or contradict another established reform. Moreover, very little attention is really paid to how much time a reform or new effort might be required of a teacher or administrator. As a result, everything becomes muddied and nothing seems to work as well as it could.

You can access the keynote here.

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Free Resources I’m Using to Help with SBAC and CCSS

Trying to have students secure all of the skills and content they will need to be successful with the Common Core, the Nevada Academic Content Standards, and Smarter Balanced can feel daunting. (Rather, IT IS daunting.) Consequently, I am trying to incorporate resources that I can use during the school day and that students can revisit outside of the classroom—especially at home. Listed below are resources I’ve started using. I’ve limited myself to only those things that take a minimal amount of time to set-up (no more than 30 minutes), are free, and have teacher monitoring tools so student performance can be tracked and progress documented.

TypingClub: We all understand that students will be required to type written responses to questions on their standardized assessments. The degree to which students are already proficient with this keyboarding outcome is clearly limited. This is why TypingClub is helpful. You create an account for free and upload a student roster from an Excel file. Once you’ve done this, Typing Club gives you a unique URL from which students log in. Teachers can track student performance and monitor the frequency with which children are using the program.

For students, TypingClub works like a video game app. They receive points and stars for each level they complete and they can “redo” a lesson for a higher score or more stars (think Angry Birds). A leaderboard is generated for the class—I set mine at Top 10—that students can view; which for some kids incentivizes frequently returning to the site.

I already have students logging on weeknights and weekends, which they are doing because TypingClub has done a nice job of gamifying a pretty rote skill.

Below is an example of what I can see about student progress.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 1.11.38 PM

NoRedInk: won the Innovation Challenge in 2012 for its creative way of having students working with language and writing standards. After you have created your free account and added a student roster, you can choose from dozens of grammar lessons for your students to complete online. You can assign the same lesson to all students or you can target specific lessons (e.g., prepositions, capitals, use of colons) to students after reviewing formative data. These lessons are specifically tailored to individual students based on their interest and needs and thus remove some of the banality of traditional language lessons.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 10.27.14 AMWhen students login for the first time, they create a profile. From an expanse of areas including film, sports, television and music, students select favorite artists and content to be incorporated into their lessons. For example, if a child chooses the New England Patriots, and you want that student to focus on capitals of proper nouns, their lessons will incorporate the New England Patriots into their practice. Students can even add the names of family members, friends and pets so these nouns are included in their lessons.

You can see other free content I’ve curated for my students by clicking here.

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8 Resources for Classroom Management

Below is a small glimpse of my classroom and some of the supports I’ll be using to increase engagement, group students, and keep expectations explicit. Many of the following likely can be purchased—and look prettier—online; but if you are partial to free, these should work. If you have been working long enough to think back to the days of Cooperative Learning (that’s almost 10 years ago!) you may see some pretty familiar strategies.Management

Agenda and Subjects in Word

Team Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Role and Numbers

Homework Log

Hall, bathroom and office passes in Word

3-2-1 Signal Poster

“We Can” Options

Wall Chart Options

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I have received a number of emails asking if the website www.63000resources will be maintained with my return to the classroom. The answer is yes. Over the last four weeks, I have added a number of Core Knowledge supplements, new K-3 Document Based Questions, professional learning videos, and a few items I have developed for my classroom. Speaking of which, if you would like to see items from my first parent packet, I am previewing what will be shared with parents this Friday in the links below.

Welcome Parent Letter

Classroom Supply List

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Nevada PTA: Summer Leadership Training PowerPoint

Nevada PTA: Summer Leadership Training

Linked below is the PowerPoint that Dr. Amy Weber-Salgo and I shared with the Nevada PTA at their Summer Leadership Training. I introduced the Common Core ELA Instructional Shifts and some of the evidence that informed the writing of the standards. Similarly, Amy shared the math shifts, some key evidence, and did a short Number Talks with the audience. You can download the PowerPoint here.

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