It’s working: A teacher’s report on the Common Core

A recent Gallup Poll reveals our nation’s teachers are divided on the Common Core State Standards. From the perspective of teachers, disgruntled from decades of changing standards, many see the recently decreased test scores and students authentically struggling on deep and meaningful tasks, and assume the worst—it must be a fault in the Common Core and the exams. These critiques have been echoed by others and represent a serious misunderstanding of what is occurring in classrooms across the United States where the Common Core standards are being implemented. The truth lies in the fact that teachers in states who have had more time and experience with the Common Core increasingly support the new standards.

From the perspective of a teacher, I see the exact opposite of what those opposed to the Common Core describe. The Common Core provides exactly what students need—high standards that are pushing educators and students to excellence every single day. I want schools that will allow all children to discover their passion, give them the tools to follow that passion and help them succeed in 21st century colleges and careers. As we have seen in Kentucky, Common Core implementation has coincided with higher performanceand greater participation on the ACT. While correlation does not prove causation, it should come as no surprise that a focus on close reading and analysis of text ultimately leads to greater college and career readiness.

Click here to read the full article

Close Reading: An Interview with Kathy Sage

We interviewed Kathy Sage, a teacher at Harold S. Winograd K-8 Public School in Greeley, Colorado on how she implements close reading in her classroom. Kathy has over 27 years of experience as a classroom teacher and technology educator. She is the author of a number of handbooks about reading, writing, and technology instruction. Kathy is also the author of Making the Best Use of Blogs, Wikis, Webcasts, and Other Web 2.0 Tools to Enrich Student Learning (Grades K-6).

kathySNAP: How do you incorporate close reading into your instruction?

Kathy: I have been using close reading strategies for the past four years in my core replacement reading group. This group is comprised of students who are above grade level in fluency, phonics decoding, and comprehension. When I first stumbled across the initial close reading methodology, I knew it was a great match. At that time, the only examples I could find were for high school and college-level students. Finding appropriate text, identifying the skill, strategy, or author’s craft to which the text lends itself, and developing the plan for the text is quite time-consuming.

Initially, I was using exemplar text from These are a collection of text leveled by grades that are excerpts taken from larger articles, poems, fiction, and nonfiction pieces. My students would do the first two reads on their own: 1. Read through to get the gist of the piece, and 2. Read through and highlight any text for which they do not know the meaning and/or pronunciation. The Third Read is usually an inquiry discussion where students try to “guess” the skill, strategy, or author’s craft that is modeled in the piece. As we progress through the various pieces, my students have gotten really good at figuring out what the text demonstrates.

After struggling through a few years of seeking text and developing my own close reading plans, I stumbled upon SnapLearning. My students use SnapLearning in a variety of settings including their after school program and various targeted instruction groups. I like that I can find text that ties in with science and social studies content, so the text supports the content-learning for those areas, too. In addition, the format for highlighting, answering questions, and identifying main ideas, supporting statements, and more, match our state online testing format. The SnapLearning Close Reading Program is a perfect match for my student and me.

SNAP: How do you choose texts for close reading? Where do you find texts for close reading?

Kathy: As I mentioned earlier, I found a source of exemplar text that had been leveled by grade levels. However, now, I use the filter tool in SnapLearning to more closely match text to each child’s abilities and interests. I can sort by Lexile Level, grade level, and fiction or non-fiction. I can assign identified text to an individual student or a group of students. When the students login, they have available the pieces I have pre-selected for their instructional needs.

SNAP: What kinds of annotation marks do you have students use?

Kathy: I have been a “Postit Queen” for years, so I tend to use the annotation strategies that involved using sticky notes. I am a big fan of Laura Randazzo ideas:

SNAP: How do you assess students’ close reading skills? Do you follow up with a constructed response after a close reading activity? If so, how do you plan the question?

Kathy: I assess students’ close reading skills at least once a week. I can look at the reports from SnapLearning or I can collect a short constructed response to evaluate the students’ level of understanding of the skill, strategy, or author’s craft on which a close reading excerpt focused. The short constructed response is always a question that asks about the text and the identified focus. The students must cite text from the excerpt to support their answers and prove the identified focus’ strength or weakness in the piece.

SNAP: How often do you close read?

Kathy: My students are involved in a close reading activity every day. Sometimes it is a short text I have pulled, sometimes they are excerpts I have pulled and typed up from chapters in the novel we are using for study, and sometimes they are using and working through their assigned pieces.

SNAP: What are the benefits of close reading?

Kathy: In my view, the largest benefit of close reading is the inquiry used to analyze the text to find evidence of particular skill, strategy, and especially, author’s craft. This deep interaction with the text strengthens both my students’ understanding of the text and their own writing abilities. My students love close reading, so they are motivated and engaged throughout the lessons as well. I love close reading because not only do my students understand what they read more fully, they then move those skills, strategies, and author’s craft ideas to their own written pieces.

You can follow Kathy on Twitter @kasage.


Common Core Reading: ‘The New Colossus’

The Common Core State Standards are changing what many kids read in school. They’re standards, sure — not curriculum. Teachers and districts still have great latitude when it comes to the “how” of reading instruction, but…

The Core standards explicitly require students to read “complex” material, and the fact is, many kids simply weren’t doing that before the Core. What were they doing?

Teachers in Washoe County Schools (in and around Reno, Nev.) — and many districts nationwide — once used what they call a “skills and strategies” approach to teach reading. It was particularly common among poor schools where lots of kids struggled.

The idea was this: To learn how to be a good reader, kids needed to learn the skills and strategies that good readers use. Those include knowing how to find the main idea of a text, identifying key details, being able to draw conclusions, etc.

Teachers in Reno would begin each lesson by telling students the skill they’d be learning that day, says Cathy Schmidt, who taught elementary school.

This is the Part 1 in a 4-part series on reading in the Common-Core era. Read the full article here.

Close Reading: An Interview With Dave Stuart Jr

We interviewed Dave Stuart Jr, a full-time teacher at Cedar Springs High School on how he implements close reading in his classroom. Dave Stuart Jr is a full-time teacher at Cedar Springs High School and founder of Teaching the Core. He advocates a non-freaked out, focused approach to literacy and character, and his approach perfectly aligns with everything from the Common Core to, well… common sense.

dave-stuart-jr-headshot-300x300SNAP: How do you incorporate close reading into your instruction?

Dave: I teach my students to read closely for a purpose — that’s the key. For example, if they’ll be writing an open-ended response to a text, they should closely read for things the author says that they have something to say about.

SNAP: How do you choose texts for close reading?

Dave: I look for texts that connect to what we’re currently studying in class. My goal is texts that are appropriately complex for 9th graders — I then scaffold as needed for my struggling readers.

SNAP: Where do you find texts for close reading?

Dave: Kelly Gallagher’s articles of the week page,,, my short story anthologies from college, our world history textbook — it depends on the kind of text I’m looking for.

SNAP: What kinds of annotation marks do you have students use?

Dave: I tell my students to give 1-2 thoughtful annotations per page, and those annotations should align with their purpose for reading. I explain the “purposeful annotation” concept, in-depth, right here. So I guess my answer to the question is that I don’t give specific marks; instead, I want intelligible thoughts that students can expand upon in post-reading writing or discussion.

SNAP: How do you assess students’ close reading skills?

Dave: I quickly skim their annotations while walking around and checking to ensure they are understanding the assignment and the text.

SNAP: Do you follow up with a constructed response after a close reading activity? If so, how do you plan the question?

Dave: I often do — I try to pick questions that can be dealt with in 1-2 paragraphs and that are provocative. The ideal question engages my students and is informed by a careful reading of the text.

SNAP: How often do you close read?

Dave: Several times per week.

SNAP: What are the benefits of close reading?  

Dave: Having students read a text closely helps them to have something to say about a text and to based conclusions drawn from the text on textual evidence.

My goal is and always will be to have kids reading as much as possible. Reading a variety of shorter texts closely is one way that we do that.

You can follow Dave on Twitter @davestuartjr