Common Core ArtIf you’ve been following the chatter surrounding the Common Core Learning Standards for ELA, it should come as no surprise that text complexity has been a sizzling topic of discussion. Books, articles, blogs, – you name it – are all sources supplying an abundance of commentary on this issue. Why? One has to look no further than Appendix B of the Common Core, a collection of “text exemplars” and sample performance tasks which provide insight into the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity. An often over-looked and underused resource, the following excerpt frames the intent behind the content found on its pages:

The following text samples primarily serve to exemplify the level of complexity and quality that the Standards require all students in a given grade band to engage with. Additionally, they are suggestive of the breadth of texts that students should encounter in the text types required by the Standards. The choices should serve as useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and range for their own classrooms. They expressly do not represent a partial or complete reading list.

CCSS for ELA & Content Literacy Appendix B, p.2

If there is one thing that makes the Standards seem perilously out of the reach of students, it is the issue of complex text. The authors of the Common Core purposely included Reading Standard 10 which states students will “Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently”, to publicly address the need for students to be engaged with what David Coleman has so passionately referred to as “texts worth reading.” Such a statement sits so neat and tidy on the page, it is almost easy to miss in the crush of gap analysis, curriculum mapping, and other implementation and alignment to-dos.

If you aren’t talking about what text complexity looks like at your grade level, now is the time to dust off Appendix B and take another look.

We’ll continue the text complexity conversation in our next post when we’ll look more closely at some tools and resources.

Renee M. Burnett
OCM BOCES Network Team

Raise your hand…

ConferenceRaise your hand if you have ever done this before (no hands raised)

When leading a Lead Evaluator Training or Principal Evaluator Training or Teacher Training session I repeatedly ask this one question: Raise your hand if you’ve ever done this before? Invariably, no one raises their hand. No one in the room has ever been through the Student Learning Objective (SLO) setting process. No one in the room has ever been through beginning-of-the-year meetings. No one in the room has done these things before, nor has anyone else in the state done this before. It’s new!

As is the case with anything new, it will take some time before we get the hang of it. As a result, we’re all a little unsure of ourselves as we go through the SLO-setting process for the first time. I’ve haven’t heard so many references to Goldilocks since my children were very young. The trick with the SLOs is to set targets that are just right – not too high and not too low. We know how important it is that the SLO targets are set in a way that reflects high expectations, but we don’t want to overdo it because the stakes in the new APPR are so high. Because it is the first time we’re doing this and because the stakes are so high for teachers there is a natural tendency, perhaps, to set targets that are a little on the low side. That’s when Goldilocks enters the story. The trick is to set targets that are… just right.

Raise your hand if you have ever done this before (no hands raised). In order to set targets that are just right, this first time, it’s taking longer than it will [we hope] in the future. We’re looking at historical data to make sure we’re in the ballpark when we set targets. We’re working with 3rd party test vendors to understand how we can interpret data. We’re sharing examples with each other. We’re asking lots and lots of questions. Most importantly, I think, is that we’re talking to each other. Leadership teams within districts are talking with each other and leaders are talking between districts. Administrators and teacher association leaders are talking about this too. Of all the SLO-setting strategies we’re employing, it’s these discussions that are the best chance we have to get it right. Why? Because we’ve never done this before!

As we wrap-up the SLO-setting process and move into the heart of the school year it will continue to be important to keep up the discussions. We really are all in this together – and the expertise will have to come from within to proceed with the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) process. It’s our first time through it, don’t you know.

Raise your hand if you have ever done this before (no hands raised).


Responsive Classroom® History

Back in 1981 a group of public school educators came together and shared their common vision about creating safe, joyful, and challenging school environments.  A not-for-profit organization was formed called the Northeast Foundation for Children to promote their mission. They opened a laboratory school in Greenfield, Massachusetts, to put their ideas into action.  The Greenfield Center school was formed.

Soon after opening up the laboratory school, the NEFC began publishing books and offering workshops about the practices that were being used at the Greenfield Center School.  Some of the early NEFC books are still respected books today, books like Teaching Children to Care and Habits of Goodness by co-founder Ruth Charney; Yardsticks, and A Time to Teach, A Time To Learn by co-founder Chip Wood; The First Six Weeks of School by Paula Denton; The Morning Meeting Book by Roxann Kriete and Classroom Spaces that Work by co-founder Marlyn Clayton.  Today there is a book for all 10 Responsive Classroom teaching strategies, most recently published two new books that were released this past summer called Interactive Modeling by Margaret Berry Wilson and Closing Circles by Dana Januszka and Kristen Vincent.


In the early 1990’s, the NEFC secured its first major contract to work with public school teachers in Washington, DC.  At this point the term Responsive Classroom was coined in conjunction with that work.  At about the same time, our component district, Cortland City Schools, was working with the NEFC and worked closely with the co-founders to bring the approach to their school district.  It was due to their work that OCM BOCES’ Professional Development Center (now known as Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment) started working with the NEFC to become a licensed agency to provide Responsive Classroom training here in Central New York.  OCM BOCES still is one of only 2 licensed agencies in the country who are authorized by the NEFC to provide regional Responsive Classroom training.  OCM BOCES has had a long line of certified trainers such as Sally Kitts, Lauri Bousquet, Mary Fitzgibbons and since 2003 me!  In those years I have trained over 80 Responsive Classroom Level I week-long sessions and 12 Responsive Classroom Level II…well over 1,000 teachers I have trained in my time as a certified Responsive Classroom trainer.  I will be going on my 10th year of providing Responsive Classroom, and I am more passionate then ever to continue this work to bring this approach to teaching to more teachers and more classrooms around Central New York.  I believe that children learn best when academic and social-emotional skills are taught together with in a safe and supportive school environment.

I have had the luxury of not only being a trainer for the Responsive Classroom, but have had my own children experience Responsive Classroom at the Jamesville-DeWitt School District.  I use to enjoy hearing their stories as a parent how they learned about how to play safe and be fair during recess or how to be a good audience member when they have performances. I use to love to hear the songs they learned during morning meeting or see the morning messages that were given to them by their teacher and hung proudly in their bedrooms.  Now a college sophomore and a high school sophomore the foundational learning they received in elementary school being in Responsive Classrooms have given them the 21st century skills to be career and college ready such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-reflection.  I have also seen in my children what the approach calls the “Social Skills of C.A.R.E.S.” Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, and Self-Control.  I now have a nephew in Jamesville-DeWitt who shares the joy he experiences in morning meeting.  He thinks it is pretty cool that his uncle is actually his teacher’s teacher.

The approach to teaching is now currently used by thousands of teachers across the United States.

For more background on Responsive Classroom.

The NEFC has their own Responsive Classroom Blog.

Chip Wood’s Yardsticks Blog.

It is my hope that the OCM BOCES Responsive Classroom Blog is very Active and Interactive, just like a Responsive Classroom! Please post your classroom history…what have you noticed since you became a Responsive Classroom?  Share your success stories!  We would love to hear them!


Explicitly Taught Learning Objectives

Looking for a way to focus teaching on the specific concepts and skills needed for independent practice, assess students’ achievement of the outcome of a lesson, inform students about what they are expected to do and know by the end of the lesson, ensure that lessons are on grade level and gain the attention of students? Then you are looking for explicitly taught learning objectives!

Explicit Instruction is a systematic, step by step approach to teaching that has been shown to promote achievement for students with disabilities. While the Common Core provides the “What”, Explicit Instruction provides the “How” for helping students with disabilities access the general curriculum and meet the educational standards that apply to all students.

When designing and implementing the use of learning objectives, educators need to remember that learning objects are not a list of activities that will be completed during the lesson. Learning objectives describe what students will be able to do successfully and independently at the end of a specific lesson as a result of classroom instruction. Learning objectives are developed from content standards. They contain a concept (noun), a skill (verb) and sometimes a context and must always be aligned to the skills and content information that students will be asked to demonstrate in independent practice. Effectively designed and explicitly taught learning objectives ensure that students are taught concepts and skills that they need to know to ultimately meet the Common Core Learning Standards.

In their book, Explicit Direct Instruction: The Power of a Well Designed Lesson, John Hollingsworth and Sylvia Ybarra outline 5 steps for developing learning objectives.

  1. Select a content standard
  2. From the content standard identify skills, concepts and context
  3. Deconstruct the content standards into learning objectives. Most content standards will have more than one learning objective
  4. Identify or create the independent practice to match the learning objective
  5. Teach the learning objective

When completing step 5, educators should explicitly teach learning objectives. This involves presenting the learning objective visually and auditorily, providing opportunities for students to interact with the learning objectives, checking for understanding, making direct connections to how it fits with what they have previously learned and referencing it throughout the lesson and revisiting it at the closure of the lesson.

Dignity for All

Dignity Act LogoThe Dignity for All Students Act reminds us of the importance of treating all students with Dignity:  making sure that student to student as well as adult to student interactions are positive and supportive. It confers the message that who you are and what you believe is respected.  Isn’t that what all of us want, desire, and need. We have difficulty functioning in our families, at work, and in society without dignity and yet we experience this lack of respect all around us. So now, our law must see to it that all classes of students will receive the respect they want and deserve in the school setting – bus, athletic fields, school sponsored events, and the school building.

So, as we begin this new school year, let’s remind ourselves that teaching dignity is essential for the well-being of our students, not only directly, but for our future society as a whole. We want to excel in our environments knowing that who we are and what we believe will be respected.

Our rewards in life will always be in exact proportion to the amount of consideration we show toward others.  Earl Nightingale

Helpful links:

Penny S. Williams
Youth Development Coordinator

Historical Thinking: Facts ≠ History

My 7th grade Social Studies teacher was the estimable Mr. Weckel.  Mr. Weckel’s job was to teach American History to a group of less-than-motivated 12 and 13 year olds, but his mission was to make his passion for history come alive in our minds and hearts.  He yelled, sang, told stupid jokes, wore costumes, ranted, and put on one-man skits. He intimidated us, entertained us, scared us one minute and made us laugh the next.  He was also the advisor of the High School History club, of which I was President for two years, in large part to help plan and participate in the club’s trips to Boston and Philadelphia.  I remember Mr. Weckel, walking the Freedom Trail through the streets of Boston with a scruffy group of high school students, carrying a rather large American flag and singing I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy at the top of lungs!

Mr. Weckel image

Me and Mr. Weckel.

I loved his class and he remains on my list of all -time favorite teachers.  Throughout junior high and high school, I was an exemplary social studies student.  I liked the study of history (if not the teachers, who had trouble living up to the high standard set by Mr. Weckel); I was at the top of the class and performed very well on exams, including the Regents.  My future in history was bright.

In college, however, I very carefully avoided any course that was even remotely connected to the History Department.  What happened?  By any standard assessment of history knowledge, I was a shoo-in as a budding historian, except for one thing: I had never been taught to think historically and on some level, I knew it.  I knew that the study of history was beyond what I could handle as a freshman in college.  Until then, I had been told what to memorize, what happened when and who did what to whom, and I memorized it.  I could answer almost all of the questions correctly.  I had been much less confident when asked to write an essay exploring historical issues, but luckily for me, this was not an emphasis of either teaching or learning when I was in high school.  I never had to dig in to primary sources to discover what their messages were and fit them together to create my own perspective of an event based on evidence.  It just wasn’t something we did in history class.  We were required to learn the historical content presented in the textbook and prove that we had learned it.  Any historical thinking process was at best invisible, or more likely, unknown by the students and perhaps even by the teachers.  I figured history in college would be different and I was having none of it!

Now, in my role as Project Director of the Teaching American History Grant, I am immersed in the ideas and scholarship of historical thinking and I am beginning to see what I missed as a student in those classes back in the day.  The scholarship on the teaching and learning of history and what it means to think historically is a fairly recent development in education with such works as The Past is a Foreign Country by David Lowenthal, and Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, by Sam Wineburg.  I am beginning to understand that historical learning is not and should not be passive.  It is not the memorizing and the sequencing of facts in the correct order as ordained by some committee of textbook authors.  Doing history involves inquiry and analysis.  To read and think like a historian, I need to ask questions, analyze primary and secondary sources, interpret the evidence and construct an understanding of what may have happened based on that evidence.  When I look at the Common Core Learning Standards for History, here is what I find:

Word Image

Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  The new standards, our concepts of 21st Century learning and the scholarship on the teaching and learning of history are all about constructing understanding, not memorizing stuff.  As Nikki Mandell and Bobbie Malone assert in their book, Book ImageThinking Like a Historian: Rethinking History Instruction, “There is a fundamental difference between looking for answers in the sources and constructing answers from the sources.” [emphasis in the original]  The challenge for teachers is how to do this in the classroom with so many competing (and often contradictory) priorities – demands on teachers’ time, new standards, required curriculum and textbooks, and high stakes tests that may not match new ways of teaching and learning.  It isn’t easy, and I don’t have all the answers like I used to in Mr. Weckel’s class, but I’m open to thinking about history in new ways so that I can help teachers change how their students learn about our past. .  Maybe you’ll even hear me singing I’m a Yankee Doddle Dandy in a school near you!

Teaching American History: First Person America

Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic and… Running?

Firness VideoStop. Before reading any further, click on this video link and prepare for the PARADIGM SHIFT I referred to in my earlier blog post, Let’s Get Physical….Physical.

OCM BOCES’ Healthy Schools NY (HSNY) program was extremely fortunate to have been able to bring Dr. John Ratey and Mr. Paul Zientarski, the stars of the video you just watched, to Central NY in March 2012 for a day-long workshop. Hearing the Ratey-Zientarski duo speak about the Naperville district’s academic transformation was not only exciting and inspiring—it was practical. As you heard Mr. Zientarski say, “…And it’s all about getting your heart rates up. It’s one thing to exercise because you want to look good…you want to be healthy, but now when you throw in the fact that you’re going to literally create more brain cells every time you do an aerobic exercise, it gives you another reason to go about doing it.” This is a WIN-WIN-WIN for everyone: schools, public health, and students at every grade level!

The idea that physical exercise can have a positive impact on academic achievement, increased attention spans and engagement; reduced behavioral issues and absenteeism; reduced stress and anxiety (should I go on?) is not completely “new news.” The research began many years ago and more and more studies are underway. And, there is no denying this fact: if there is anything close to that of “magic bullet status” in contributing to the solution of our academic and health woes, it is physical activity/aerobic exercise! It is a no-brainer, pardon the pun.

So, if this is NOT new news, the question begs:

Why aren’t more school districts capitalizing on this research?

Those of us involved with educational institutions directly or indirectly are aware that this fall has brought some B.I.G. changes (aka APPR, SLOs, LATs), so the purpose of this blog entry is NOT to suggest that you reinvent any wheels. You already have enough on your plates, so remember the K-I-S-S principle: Keep it Simple, Smart (depending on your context). We’re not talking about buying expensive treadmills here (unless you want to, of course, but that can come later). The goal is just to get students’ heart rates up—jump ropes will do just fine! (If you haven’t jumped rope in a while, believe me, it works!) And, they’re FUN! As Mr. Voiceover on the PBS video clip states, “The big lesson in Naperville, however, isn’t about having spiffy facilities. It’s that exercise is as much an academic undertaking as an athletic one.”

But, don’t misunderstand, a few turns of the rope once a week along with your outdated rendition of “Miss Mary Mack” isn’t going to make a genius out of a failing student. I don’t mean to oversimplify. There IS a difference between 1) physical activity and 2) a regular P.E. class and 3) fitness-based P.E. (e.g. Naperville’s LRPE program). Where are you on this spectrum? If movement isn’t on your current radar, start looking into how you can incorporate physical activity into preexisting classroom lessons. If students in your P.E. classes are stationery while you are explaining the skill, activity, etc., have them jog in place instead. Remember, this is about changing our culture…..our sedentary norm.
Any movement is positive and beneficial.***

So, start creating your vision + take baby steps = PARADIGM SHIFT. Just do whatever you have to do to get your kids MOVING, and watch that BDNF (“Miracle Gro” for the brain) do its thing.


P.S. If you’re one of those, “Do as I say, not as I do” folks because you don’t exercise regularly yourself (for whatever reason), you might want to rethink that. There is no age limit on the cognitive/mental benefits from movement—same holds true whether you’re eight or 80!

P.S.S. ***Want to read the research? Check out these links: