Complex Text & The Struggling Learner: What’s a Teacher to Do?

With so much talk about close reading and complex texts, there are many misunderstood ideas. This week I’m choosing to share a thoughtful post on Teacher as Mediator of Complex Text. Consider its content and ask, “what am I doing to enhance the mediation of complex texts?”

via Complex Text & The Struggling Learner: What’s a Teacher to Do?.


Persepolis, House of Spirits & the Common Core

The Situation

Student A produced the following piece of writing in response to her teacher delivering instruction on CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3: Analyze how complex characters develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

“The Islamic Revolution affected Marjane as a female in Iran. In the book Persepolis on page 3 panel 4 it shows Marjane at a young age where she was forced to wear a veil. It affected her as a girl because the veil had to be worn by women all ages, whether they wanted or not. Marjane was forced to wear something she did not want to wear at a young age.”

Student A was a ninth grade female English Language Learner whose school population was almost 70% Latino. This student is NOT fictional.

The Task

Her teacher took on the task of deconstructing the standard using  The Core Deconstructed® process.

The Action

Student A’s teacher explains her actions here. Specifically, a few highlights of her actions in her own words were the following:

  1. I modeled my table after a few from Dr. Brown’s book.
  2. I numbered each cell in the matrix with the idea that this would make targeted instruction for small groups easier to illustrate in my lesson plans.
  3. I tracked students’ progress towards mastery of this standard over the course of a unit.

The Result

Student A produced the following piece of writing in response to the same standard mentioned above after her teacher deconstructed the standard using  The Core Deconstructed® process.

“The government has control over individuals, but it’s not strong enough to determine your destiny. Many people think that the government controls them but in reality, they make their own decisions without them realizing. For example, in The House of the Spirits,  Pedro Tercero always made his own decision by choosing his way instead of the governments’. In page 154 it says, “And so it was the one day Esteban Treuba, who was resting on the terrace after lunch, heard the boy singing about a bunch of hens who had organized to defeat the fox.” This story, the fox and the hens, represent those people who decided to make their own decisions and go against the government, these people don’t depend on the government at all and it doesn’t influence their decisions or destiny.”

Please note that Student A’s work is unedited for the purpose of emphasizing her improvements.

As the teacher reflected on her actions and student outcomes, she noted that,

  1. I found that this system makes it easier for teachers to see the big picture and build towards the Practitioner/Expert level over the course of a few lessons rather than overwhelm students or unintentionally instill a sense of defeat in them
  2. I can link websites with enrichment or re-teaching exercises, online games, web-based assessments or supplemental texts to each cell in the matrix. This will enhance my ability to more effectively target instruction in my diverse classes.
  3. Students were able to see their need to master one objective before they could master the next objective
  4. I was able to pinpoint exactly where students were struggling in the process of mastering a standard which is essential not only for a data-driven school, but also for students.
  5. Teaching with the deconstructed standard led to great reflective discussions in teacher-student conferences, as students were able to see their progress and reflect on exactly where they were struggling.

Finally, the teacher stated, “The beauty of this system is that each teacher can tailor the results of the process to their own teaching style and the needs of their individual students.”

Have you deconstructed the core? If not, I challenge you-as I did the teacher of Student A-to start now.


7 Ways to Use The Core Deconstructed®

“My goal is to see 1,000,000 empowered educators who know the standards intimately, collaborating across the country to yield the true success for students we all know is possible by 2015. This goal can only be accomplished with you.

Last week I had a mixed group. I facilitated the professional learning of a mixed group of educators that included college professors, K-12 teachers and principals on The Core Deconstructed® (TCD) in Washington, DC. As a proponent of reflective practice, I asked them to share their insights on the process in relation to their return to their respective work sites. Their diverse roles allowed for multiple perspectives on ways to use the TCD. Since this is the place where I share, reflect and inspire and because of my goal stated above, I thought to share 7 ways that you could use the TCD based on theirs and others’ insights.

So here they are: 7 Ways to Use The Core Deconstructed®:

  1. Create pre-unit assessments: a third year teacher admitted that she did not see the value of pre-unit assessments, but later recognized that using the TCD to create them would help her with creating standards-based flexible groups
  2. Modify instruction for diverse populations: a special education and ELL educator indicated that the TCD allowed them to quickly identify how to modify learning objectives for their students while ensuring that they mastered the standard
  3. Advance the learning of students with special needs: a special education professional  shared that she was able to see how to not only expose her students to grade level standards, but help them be successful with the standards as well
  4. Write performance tasks and unit plans: a full-time university professor shared that she planned on making the TCD practice journal be the foundation of her course on secondary literacy instruction and that after deconstructing the standards she would have her learners use them to generate performance tasks and unit plans
  5. Decide on learning station activities regularly: after deconstructing a standard, an elementary educator immediately saw how to use her matrix to create learning stations for her flexible groups
  6. Support classroom planning and instruction: a director of literacy shared that within grade-level teachers could share the responsibility of deconstructing standards and that the process would strengthen their collaboration and instruction
  7. Improve leader and teacher effectiveness: a principal said that she definitely needed to know how to deconstruct the standards so that she would know how best to support her teachers’ growth

The principal concluded her reflection with, “It was truly worth the time.”

One thing I make clear at the start of a professional learning session is that, “deconstructing the standards to extract their essential details and hidden assumptions will take work, but the work is certainly worth it for you as the professional and most importantly your students.”

I asked them and now I ask you: are you up for the work?

Well if you are, use The Core Deconstructed® process then consider sharing your insights here to help others reflect. In the meantime, check out the slideshare below to read a middle school teacher’s insights and success tips with the Common Core after using the TCD process.

What do Close Reading and Math Have in Common?

Today I supported  two math coaches on an assessment project. They were identifying anchor papers. Throughout the 6-hour session I heard them say repeatedly, “I wouldn’t give this student that score because (fill in the blank with your personal preference.)” I also heard the typical discussion about computation and whether or not the students drew straight lines to make four quarters. What I did not hear was anything about literacy. The reality that Common Core places before us is that mathematically proficient students (MPS) must, among other things, close read well.

Below are two graphics: The Close Reading Reader and Mathematical Practice Standard 3. The two have much in common. After careful examination, what similarities do you see?



To be clear, MPS reason through problems to determine their entry point(s) and create a plan for solving the problem. Doing so requires skills similar to those used in close reading. MPS do the following:

  1. Seek to understand the overall problem
  2. Ascribe deeper meaning to the problem
  3. Analyze the problem by determining assumptions, concepts, etc.
  4. Determine sound reasoning in theirs, their peers, or a third party’s work
  5. Communicate and justify their conclusions, arguments, decisions, etc. based on the facts presented

Again, reference The Close Reading Reader and the third math practice standard above while considering these 5 points. There are other examples  that demonstrate the strong connections between close reading and math. Should you study all of the actions of MPS along with close reading, you will be sure to discover them.

As you prepare for your summer learning and planning, consider 3 things:

  1. How will we move away from teaching our personal preferences and move students toward the actual learning that should be occurring?
  2. How will we move away from teaching students to “do” math and move them toward thinking mathematically (or disciplinary literacy)?
  3. How will math and ELA teachers  collaborate to identify the similarities between their disciplines in order to streamline planning and learning?

(un)Common Core – Part II

Last summer, August 2012, I attended a Common Core workshop. Since my focus tends to be literacy, I decided to break away from the norm and attend a math session. The first activity of the workshop required that we break up into groups. In my group of 5, I was the only member with a literacy background. The other 4 members were middle and high school math teachers.

Each group was assigned with a math practice standard. My group was assigned Standard 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. Our task? To analyze it and list the skills demanded by the standard. Given my literacy background, my perspective differed from the rest of the group. Upon reading Standard 3, I immediately began making connections to the ELA/Literacy Standards. Initially, members of the team dismissed my recommendations with some jest making statements such as, “Okay ELA Lady, this is math.”

I continued to build my list of ELA connections as I observed them talk about each sentence in detail. I smiled on the inside upon our presentation to the other groups when the member who called me ELA Lady closed the presentation with, “I was surprised to see how connected to literacy this standard was. We are going to have to collaborate with our ELA peers.” Members from the other groups concurred.

His statement caused me to arrive at a conclusion: until we were required to analyze the standard, they took for granted that it was “just math”–a statement made to me–and overlooked the depth of the standard.

Last year I wrote about the uncommon understandings that were surfacing in my work with educators. Today I write again to say that uncommon understandings about the Common Core still exist.

Last week while listening to someone vent about the standards, she stated, “the Common Core makes teachers teach to the test.” This weekend while supporting another educator, she became fixated on convincing me that Common Core testing had already begun despite the fact that I shared evidence that proved otherwise. Today as I read an article, I was reminded once again about the uncommon understandings as the authors opened with the following:

One of the rumors making the rounds of K-12 educators goes something like this: The Common Core State Standards don’t allow “pre reading”–or for that matter any classroom activities that contextualize a text through outside sources. The interesting part of the rumor isn’t the rumor itself […]What makes the misunderstanding interesting and vitally relevant to teachers is that it sheds light on some of the practices and underlying assumptions…(Sandler and Hammond, 2012/2013)

Misunderstandings appear to be prevalent.

So here’s my question: what are you doing to ensure a common understanding of the Common Core?

A few weeks ago, through my micro-PD campaign, I tweeted questions to consider about math practice Standard 3.


Today I suggest that you consider a few of the questions to ignite discussions for deeper insight and common understanding among your team or staff about what Mathematically Proficient Students (MPS) should be able to do.

  1. MPS justify their conclusions. How do your ELA peers help students support their claims? –
  2. MPS construct arguments. How is it done in ELA? –
  3. What tools can MPS use to distinguish flawed reasoning? –

(You can also foster discussions and common understanding through collaborative efforts in deconstructing the core.)

I close with the obvious: unless there is a common understanding of the Common Core, the deep-learning that we seek nationwide will be an uncommon occurrence.

Continue reading

What is Close Reading?

Over the past year and a half, I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback on this post. It’s been one of the more popular ones, and so, back by popular demand I present What is Close Reading?


Why are educators petrified to assign complex text?

This post was originally written by a colleague in January. Despite the fact that she encounters many teachers who argue with the idea of assigning complex texts to their students, educators claimed her notions were inaccurate. I disagree. I believe she was on target. What do you think?

LiLaaC: Literacy, Language, and Culture

At first, I was afraid, I was petrified
Kept thinking, I could never live without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights thinking, how you did me wrong
And I grew strong and I learned how to get along

Educators, you can survive without catering to your students’ self-esteem. Plus, you and your students will learn to get along without it. Don’t be afraid of letting your students grapple with complex learning; much more, grapple with complex reading passages. It will not harm their self-esteem.


Text complexity and complex text simply restated is stimulating, exceptional literature that requires critical thinking. Lamas, Imams, Priests, Prophets, Pastors, Ministers, and Rabbis have been using complex texts for centuries within their vast denominations, leaving no reader behind.

So why are so many educators scared of designing lessons that require students to wrestle with content and to extend their thinking? Perhaps…

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