ELA And The Common Core – Notes From Today’s #clstech13 Keynote

Today was day one of the California League of Schools (CLS) K-12 Common Core, English Learners & Technology Conference in Monterey, CA. This is my second year (maybe third, it’s late ok?) attending as a presenter and unlike other EdTech conferences, the focus here is not as “tech heavy” as others. Today’s Keynote by Dr. Kate Kinsella is a perfect example. None of the strategies or topics presented required technology to implement. However that did not stop my mind from going into overdrive thinking about all the ways technology could be integrated into teaching Academic Language which was the main topic of the keynote.

I am not an English Teacher. I don’t even play one on TV, so I found the keynote presentation about Common Core and English Language Arts fascinating. I hadn’t given much thought to all that goes into teaching kids English fluency. The closest experience I’ve had has been watching Kid1 spend every waking moment with a book glued to her face since she was old enough to read (and I don’t remember when/how that happened exactly) and hearing Kid2, now just over two, start using complete sentences and emulating her big sister’s fascination with books. So my understanding of ELA instruction is mighty thin.

I’ve known the Common Core was coming for some time and realized early on that it harbored big changes to what classroom instruction should/would look like (that’s why I pushed so hard for modern teacher tech and 1:1 student computing at Le Grand UHSD) but this morning I came away with a clearer picture of just how big the hurdle for ELA (and all teachers actually) is about to become. Here are some of my notes from the session:

  • Students are going to be required to read more informational text, with a much higher level of Academic vocabulary than found in the old standards and much more challenging that what is currently tested under CST.
  • Students are going to have to learn to write differently in the form of academic summary vs. what they “liked” about a text.
  • “The New Basic” will be Far Below Basic (FBB) under Common Core, implying that students that score Basic on the current CST tests will struggle under the new Common Core Assessments and score lower than they do now.
  • Implementing Common Core successfully does not mean doing what we’ve been doing only better but looking at changing what we’re doing altogether.
  • When planning lessons, it is no longer enough to ask students what they think about or for their ideas on the objectives. Students must be able to answer and provide justification, evidence and conclusions and explain why they answered they way that they did.
  • Group Work is overdone and poorly executed. Group work and Partner work can be effective when used with structured procedures, scaffolding and repetition.
  • High Utility Vocabulary will be important to student’s academic success.

I was impressed with how Dr. Kinsella modeled her instructional methodologies throughout the session with active audience participation. She repeatedly stressed the teaching of Career (and College) appropriate communication. Basically these are the soft skills that Employers and Universities complain students graduating high school don’t have.

A random thought that popped into my head at one point was, “It sounds like she wants to make kids act and sound like little academics!” And I suppose she does. I’m curious to know what Sir Ken Robinson’s take on this approach would be, since the Common Core and ELA instruction tailored around information text and strict Academic Language would seem to further drive out Creativity and Play from our classrooms. But then again, Dr. Kinsella did seem to think Kindergarten teachers posed a particular challenge and I’m quite fond of the idea that all school should look more like Kindergarten.

We were provided an excellent 58 page handout (yes, 58 pages!) that I will be sharing with my Ed Services department when I get into the DO on Monday. While technology was mostly absent, save the Keynote and Video presentations used, it was an informative and thought provoking opening. Common Core is coming and things are going to change. That much is certain. Those that have recognized this and have already started adapting are poised to provide their student’s a distinct advantage in preparedness for what awaits them beyond school. For the rest, it could get ugly.

What do you think? Is Information Text and Academic Vocabulary the way forward for preparing kids for the unknown?


PS. Tomorrow at 2:30 I present:

Small School Big Tech – The 1:1 Challenge

iPads, Netbooks, Chromebooks, MacBooks, Tablets, Apps, Wifi, Cloud, Google Apps. What’s a school to do? How do we scale from 60 to 600 to 6000 devices? We’ll talk about strategies for leveraging free and open source resources to minimize infrastructure costs and maximize classroom technology from a district perspective.  Where are we spending our limited technology dollars? Build a five year tech budget with a ten year vision. Have a plan! What’s the future of edtech look like, what’s important to be investing in now? We’ll discuss key areas to focus on for building a 21st Century technology footprint for today and tomorrow. 

I should probably start working on the slide deck…