Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Collaborative blog post by Mike Fisher and Jeanne Tribuzzi, of the Curriculum 21 Faculty.


Expecting students to read deeply and draw meaningful conclusions is at the heart of the Common Core ELA standards. Students are asked to read closely, cite evidence, and make evidence based inferences when they read. They are expected to deepen their learning by valuing textual evidence and reading critically.  Annotating text is one way students can cite textual evidence, infer and deepen meaning as they read..

Annotations make thinking visible for teachers and students. We can use the words and features of a text to better comprehend it, ask questions, and note our thoughts while reading. One goal of comprehension is that students will be proficient annotators of texts to understand more deeply by interacting and making thinking transparent while they read.

There are many reasons to ask students to annotate text: for basic comprehension, to show evidence of conceptual understanding, to show what is implied, to identify the claims in an argument, to read like a writer and identify characteristics of genre, to notice the nuance of language...and many other reasons.   Giving guidance as to what we want students to annotate for will be beneficial for the reader. Otherwise, they will annotate everything that comes to mind, and the work may not be helpful to the reader or the teacher.

Annotations are often a singular, individual experience. Annotexting ups the ante all around.

Annotexting is a process that involves the collection of thoughts, observations and reactions to reading that show evidence of critical thought. These annotations, rather than being on paper, can be collected with different web tools so that students can collaborate, both locally and globally, around the conclusions that they will ultimately draw from their reading.

Students submit their annotations via their smart phones or other digital devices, and then analyze each other’s notations collectively.  They could be looking for main ideas, thematic and literary elements, or big ideas from the work.   They could be looking for evidence of connections to other texts, their own experiences, or world issues. They could simply be searching for meaning to support them when reading complex texts.

In addition, students could reflect on the collective evidence as a metacognitive activity to assess their own learning.  Perhaps the collaborative exercise raised new questions for them or offered them new ways of thinking about the text. Perhaps there is something else the student wants or needs to know?

Metacognition can be strengthened when citing evidence in text.  Textual evidence that supports the thinking behind what they are thinking is a gigantic first step into the depth and complexity that the Common Core is asking of students.  Annotexting kicks that up a notch by engaging task specific tools that offer opportunities for strategic thinking and globally connected opportunities.


The student wrote all over this poem. The student underlined specific words and wrote annotations about them in line with the text. This student is engaging in a thoughtful, albeit singular, analysis of this poem.

What changes with multiple perspectives?  

We have our own ideas about squat pens and writing utensils as weapons  (based on the student’s annotations) but they are different than this student’s collection of evidence. What would have changed in the interpretation of this poem if our perspectives were woven together? Does the collaborative process of conversation yield a greater product? Does the thinking extend when multiple perspectives are mixed? Does the evidence yield to strategic thinking when multiple viewpoints are involved?

Besides the strategic and capable use of digital tools, annotexting offers students the opportunity to value evidence, think critically and engage with different perspectives.  Rather than working independently to read, comprehend and analyze text, annotexting will allow students to engage with other audiences in tasks with an expanded purpose, supporting college and career readiness.

We’ve created an example of what this could look like in Corkboard using William Blake’s poem, “The Tyger.” (Click on the Corkboard tab in the Livebinder. The example is in a subtab.) You can see other examples in several of the tabs in the binder. We would also like to share this DISCUSSION RUBRIC (2007) that you can use as students submit annotations and begin to draw conclusions about what their evidence is pointing to.

In order to get students to own this process, we have to relinquish some control. Let them think, let them make mistakes and respond. Let them draw conclusions even they are not the conclusions we would have drawn. We can be there to coach them through misconceptions.

The college and career ready student (on page seven of the ELA Common Core document) is expected to attend to audience, task, purpose and discipline in both reading and writing. The standards also expect students to think critically and value evidence.  The document goes on to explain that the college and career ready student should use digital media strategically and purposefully.  Annotexting is at the intersection of all of these capacities.

In addition to collecting evidence with web tools, there are also digital APPS that we’ve come across that would work for Annotexting too. (These are represented in the LiveBinder as well.) Some are notetaking apps that let you collect evidence and annotations with a digital device and some let you edit and annotate PDF files and documents. There are resources in the binder for both iTunes and Android Market Apps.

Some Youtube tutorials for a few of the tools referenced in the binder:

GoodReader app

PaperPort (this one's free)  it let's me import my pdf files...and annotate them!

Note Shelf- for notetaking



If you would like to explore this and other Modern Learning moments more in depth, check out Curriculum21’s Webinar Series and our all new LEAD21 Academy at this year’s Curriculum Mapping Institute.  We will also be exploring the Common Core as it relates to Curriculum Design at the upcoming Ohio Regional Conference in May. (Space is limited!)

Fisher, Michael L., Jr. and Nancy Cook.  "Notice, Think, and Wonder: New Pathways to Engage Critical Thinking." IN TRANSITION: Journal of the New York State Middle School Association. 25.1 (2007): 15-18. Web. 25 Feb. 2012. .

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Common Core for Art Teachers

I've been working on developing resources for Special Area teachers around the Common Core standards. As I work with teachers who teach these subjects, it's becoming apparent that while there may be a willingness, there is not a path.

I put together a Pinterest page of resources for Art teachers. I'm still adding to it, but wanted to go ahead and share it. There is still much to consider and I'll be adding to it as I find relevant resources, but I hope that Art teachers will be able to start using what is there already.

The Common Core is asking all teachers to be Literacy Support for students. If they can't read well, then everything they do will be more difficult. Those of us that are doing this work honor the fact that training in literacy may not have taken place in some of the content areas, thus we are providing as much relevant information as possible as this gets rolled out to teachers.

To access the resources, CLICK HERE.

I'll be adding additional Unit Plans / Lesson Plans and resources as I get them from teachers. Also, if you'd like to contribute to the Pinterest Page, please either message me your email address so I can add you as a contributor, or leave your email address in the comments below.

I've only been using Pinterest for a short time, but the nature of it as a "Visual Curation Tool" was too difficult to ignore as the appropriate web tool for collecting/curating web resources around Art and the Common Core. If you haven't experienced Pinterest yet, I encourage you to give it a go. It has a lot of implications for curating and amplifying information for teachers AND students!

Follow Mike on Twitter for even more resources!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Loved this tweet...

Thought this was awesome, from Twitter, yesterday:

Ditch Test Prep

It’s that time of year again. The emails are already starting to roll in from the Test Prep companies offering gigantic gains on state assessments if you purchase and implement their products. Everybody wants a piece of the Race to the Top pie and they know that test scores are the cherry on top.

In his recent State of the Union Address, Barack Obama told the audience that teachers should not be teaching to the test. Then he turned and said that No Child Left Behind waivers would require teacher evaluations based on high stakes tests. Arne Duncan recently thought it would be a great idea to link teacher preparatory programs and high stakes testing, exploring how we can get teachers to really hone in on what it takes to do well on these tests.

Enter “fix it” companies to sell a product to help teachers help their students master the tests. (Not master the content or skills--just the test.) Sigh.

What if, and I know this may sound radical, but what if we just engaged in Deep Teaching?  In a previous blog post I talked about Andrew Chen’s quote,"in America, the standards are the ceiling. In most other countries around the world the standards are the floor.”

There are many lenses through which we can look at curriculum practice and curriculum design and one of the big ones is being prepared for any test at any time. In many of the curriculum mapping books or curriculum texts I’ve read, this is one of four lenses along with readiness, leverage, and endurance through which we prioritize the content and skills that we will teach. In Larry Ainsworth’s book, Rigorous Curriculum Design, he explains that the “Any Test, Any Time” lens is about, “those concepts and skills that are most heavily represented on external, high-stakes assessments.” (2011)

In terms of ditching test prep, I’d like to re-frame the “any test, any time" lens to refer to teaching at a level of complexity and depth that the kids are prepared no matter when the assessment happens or what the assessment includes.

But teachers will say that they have no time. They will say that there is too much to cover. That may be true, but it seems a large number of schools find the time to do weeks of “test prep.”  It is time to ditch these traditionally held notions of getting ready for the assessment. Teach Deeper. Uncover the curriculum.

Test prep is wasted instructional time. There is absolutely no reason in the 21st century for students to learn how to take a test. While I do believe that there are good reasons for teaching students test taking tips embedded within instruction throughout the course of the year, I do not think that it is at all good practice to stop instruction to beat information into a kids head when we could be using that time for learning.

Test prep is good for one thing: lining the pockets of the companies that are taking advantage of teachers and their students. Deeper and more rigorous instruction are what’s needed in America's classrooms. The testing situation that we have is out of control. Unfortunately for the time being, it doesn't look like our method of assessing children is going anywhere.

What is actually happening is that NCLB waviers, Teacher Evaluations as a part of the Race to the Top grants, and the newly formed opinions around teaching teachers to teach to the test are going to have unintended consequences when they are based solely or even in part on high stakes testing:

  • students will acquire basic application of content and skills to do well on the test, but not master the skills in a strategic or extended way to serve future learning, connections, and critical thinking. (We are basically patching up/fixing a house with no real foundation.)
  • we are putting a lot of pressure on kids and teachers for that test score. If that score is tied to performance pay or even keeping a job, how long before opportunities arise to manipulate the data? (...pushing good people to consider cheating in order to keep their jobs...)
  • we are valuing achievement over growth, neglecting individual learners and reinforcing 19th century curriculum constructs and applying them to 21st century kids. (For instance, if a student starts a school year at 95% proficient and ends the year scoring 95% proficient--the kid looks great on paper and his teacher is found to be highly effective. But that kid didn’t move academically over the course of the year.  Likewise, a student that comes in at 0% but at the end of a school year tests at 50% proficient looks terrible on paper and the teacher is rated Ineffective. But this kid moved, the teacher grew this kid 50% over the year. Where’s the fairness in this system?)

Our current system of assessment is borderline cruelty but at the moment there is little that can be done about it, until those in power see that they are funneling America’s children into a drone-like state of testing compliance.  I’m not saying that there aren’t good assessments out there or that assessment is bad. I’m saying that we are wasting time and resources buying test prep materials and shutting down instruction for test preparation because we are driven by that one score captured in one moment.

Those resources and time could be better spent digging deeper in instruction, concentrating on more formative assessment moments multiple times through the school year that could guide students and shape instruction well before the high stakes testing moment.

Ditch the test prep. Ditch the testing pep rallies. Ditch the focus on the high stakes test. (Don’t Ditch Assessment, though!)

Focus on deeper and more rigorous teaching. Focus on learning that is explorative, authentic, and meaningful for students. Focus on increasing complexity from one learning moment to the next--day to day, month to month, year to year. Focus on frequent assessments for the sake of individual student growth and performance, not the one size fits all summative test.

Ainsworth, L. Rigorous curriculum design, how to create curricular units of study that align standards, instruction, and assessment. Lead Learn Pr, 2011.