#CCSSBlog Think Integrative Think Interactive

Common Core: What Works?

Common Core Cognitive Verbs

On a field trip with my sixth grade students, we stopped at a park across the street from an ice cream parlor. As I walked back from the store to the park with the last group of kids, one of them looked down at the crosswalk markings and asked, “What are those white lines for anyway?

Crosswalk. That’s a pretty important word for city kids for safety. It’s doubly important for a rural kid visiting the big city. But until we were there, walking in the crosswalk, the whole implication for its meaning was just a blur, a word we said without real understanding.

Vocabulary. The Common Core State Standards has plenty. Robert Marzano pulled from the CCSS a list of the common core cognitive verbs representing the thinking strategies students must do when accomplishing the standards. His ASCD article explains six steps to teach these cognitive verbs.

However, like the word crosswalk, like any word or concept, we must “Experience first; live in the world that the language is about,” says James Paul Gee in this Vialogue on Learning and Literacy  He adds, “If you have lived in the world the language is about, if you have an image and actions and practices with other people to associate the words, then it’s easy.”

As language arts teachers, we understand this. Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey remind us that:

 “In particular, students need to use target vocabulary in their spoken language before they can be  expected to use it in more formal written language. As Bromley (2007) reminds us, Language proficiency grows from oral  competence to written competence. All  students benefit from purposeful use of new vocabulary within the context of meaningful and engaging activities. This is even more  critical for adolescent English language  learners who are simultaneously learning English while learning in English (Fisher,  Frey, & Rothenberg, 2008). “p. 4 [emphasis added]

Therefore, we and the students need to be doing these thinking activities and using the language, talking about them before we expect students to understand them and apply them in their reflections on “I can….”

With so many words and concepts to learn, and so many standards, how do we accomplish this?

Think Integrative. Think Interactive.


Integrate the standards into projects that promote interactive teamwork and discussion to create a product. During the discussions and conferences, use, define, and act on the concepts, strategies, and vocabulary relevant to that integrated goal. Live the experience of the goal.

For example, last February as Digital Literacy Day approached, many of our language arts students wondered these questions:

How do we share our information in a more interesting way, like a website does?

How can images add to and make more clear [complement] information?

On our topic, what information should be backed with media and how will we choose?

So we adapted an activity suggested by Digital Literacy Day at: Paper Cut Outs to live those ideas and decisions. See the activity in the embedded document at the end of this post (or here), which includes the integrated standards and the interactive team components [ “Team Discussions”].

At each step, students are collaborating to analyze the information and media in their research and their own decisions for media that matches their topic for their blogs.  As facilitator to the groups, I pop into their discussions to guide them in vocabulary, collaboration, strategies, concepts, decision-making, etc. This is where students “live in the world that the language is about.” This is the “context of meaningful and engaging activities.

As Fisher and Frey explain:

“Effective vocabulary instruction requires that words are taught within context, that definitional and contrastive meanings are provided, and that students have multiple, authentic experiences with using words in their spoken and written language (Beck, McKeown, &Kucan, 2002; Blachowicz & Fisher, 2000;   Graves, 2006.)” p. 9 [emphasis added]

With each team, questions are asked that include content, vocabulary, and processes; students discuss using the vocabulary:

How did you gather relevant information?

How did you analyze the information from the text to determine the central idea?

What in the text helped you see how this idea developed?

How did you paraphrase the conclusion?

How did you compose an objective summary?

How did you create visual displays that demonstrated the salient points?

How do you explain how the ideas and visual displays clarify your topic?

How did you build on each others’ ideas?

How did you cite your sources?

 It is during these intentional conversations that the concepts of content, vocabulary, and process come alive for the student, a crosswalk, a safe and guided path to understanding. We want to them to engage in a crosswalk, not just tell them or provide one model.

So, in teams and with frequent feedback and discussion with each team, the students who chose this goal completed their integrated project. The model and prompt provided guidance for students to plan, design, and publish their information in Kidblog. Other students chose other integrated goals.

Fisher and Frey explain an effective vocabulary program is one that:

 “offers carefully selected words that are presented in context and modeled by the teacher; associative experiences that emphasize both the definitional and contrastive meanings of words, accompanied by student interaction with words and one another; and generative experiences that allow students to make it their vocabulary. p. 9” [emphasis added]

But consider this part of the larger picture of the Common Core State Standards. If we want students to dig deeper and think critically, then they need to live this in authentic interactions and experiences, to verbalize with each other the concepts and processes to make them theirs.

Let them live in the language to understand it, whether it is a process, a strategy, a concept, a behavior, or vocabulary. Give them a crosswalk to understanding.

Common Core: What works?

Think integrative. Think interactive. Think living in the language.



Fisher, Douglas, and Nancy Frey. “The value of intentional vocabulary instruction in the middle grades.” Professional Development Series 16 (2010): p.4, 9.

“Vialogues : James Paul Gee and Embedded/embodied Literacy.” Vialogues. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 July 2014 (about 06:20-30).


Digital Literacy Day Project


#nablopomo #nablopomoed Chores

do al little more each da2yBlog A Day 16 Chores and Other Matters

It’s Saturday, which I’ve written about here — our favorite day, really, for our minds, bodies, and spirit. They combine work and play, and chores.

My main chore is laundry: it’s piled up in the hamper over the week, and calling to be refreshed. Rather like how I feel. All the stresses of the week have piled up and are calling for resolution. On this day at home, those dissipate as I meditate on what’s important. Because of all the new pressures placed on teachers due to mandates in CCSS, evaluation, curricular coaches, there are more papers and forms to create and complete, more requirements throughout the school day, and — those are on top of — the work of teaching and learning that is our main focus. Over the Saturdays of this autumn, I have had time to let go and refocus. To wash out those things that don’t help that focus on student learning and my teaching — they stain and strain the time for differentiation and in depth project planning, and I refresh what is important. The other things will need to wait for another time, like setting aside the dry cleaning [which doesn’t happen in our small town – we have no dry-cleaning]. Next week, they’ll show up as a request and demand again and create more stress. They’ll smell like the dirty sock lodged behind the hamper, annoying me as it hides, forcing me to take the time to track it down and handle it. There are only so many hours in the day, and Saturday, laundry day, sorts the piles into what’s important, and what’s important is cleaned up, hung up to display its new beauty, and arranged for wear, ready for the new week’s focus.

The small poster in the image above I created years ago. It sits on my desk and reads, “‘Do a little more each day than you think you possibly can.’ ~Lowell Thomas.” It was my life as a teacher, as I was inspired to create or adapt the best authentic lessons and units I could to engage my students to learn. I’d say, “Just one more thing–” and add another helpful component.  But now a teacher’s time is spent documenting all of what they to prove they do the “41 Marzano Criteria,” [or Danielson or whatever evaluation system]. It’s not for the kids; it’s for someone else, and that changes everything. It’s not authentic. It’s not mastery. It’s not focused on the teacher’s purpose. It’s a chore, a checklist of extra work for those of us already doing it.

I’ve taken to wash one load of laundry during the week; it helps keep the smelly sock from ruining my days. It helps me refocus the stress of mandates and maintain my focus on my students. It helps me balance home and school.

I have a life. Teachers have lives. How do you manage the piles of laundry — the chores and other matters in your life?



Note: — an authentic journey

What would add authenticity?

Design a question [ on your own or in teams ] that you would like to investigate to inform your instructional practice to guide student learning that fits with our school vision.

What would add purpose?

Choose an area from each of the six design categories (pdf – colored bubbles) [or those that match your question ] that would help inform your investigation of your own practice [ or your team’s practice].

What would add mastery?

Communicate and share [ yourself / with your team ] the artifacts and reflections that document your journey and your discoveries to inform your practice to guide student learning.

Develop resources for future instructional use through collaboration as a community.

Develop what students need, created by the teachers in their charge,

as a community demonstrating and practicing excellence in their skills.