Engaging Ways to Teach the ELA Standards
Reviewed by Linda Biondi
Common Core State Standards: four words that have been the focus of countless staff meetings, parent meetings, and political discussions. Some educators want to know more about the Standards, and some educators may want to avoid the conversation altogether. Whatever your feeling is about them, the CCSS are an important part of our teaching and impact our students’ success.
Teaching the Common Core Literature Standards in Grades 2-5: Strategies, Mentor Texts, and Units of Study, is a not a book of lesson plans, resources and activities that overwhelm even the experienced teacher, but a book that helps the reader dig deeper “with a confident conviction that the standards will not dominate teaching, rather enhance it.” (p.1) Simply put, the goals of the book are to:
- review the standards and key shifts for ELA;
- correlate the standards in grades 2-5 to create a spiral curriculum for Reading Literature;
- show effective ways to organize teaching materials into units of study;
- provide lessons, ideas, suggestions, mentor text lists, and activities that will help classroom teachers with prescriptive planning
- recognize the importance of the craft and structure of texts
As educators, we are often inundated with papers in this “paperless society” and overwhelmed with “where to put the information and what is important to keep.” Do I use a folder on my laptop? Should I use Dropbox? Google docs? These technological folders could and should be used by educators. However, there isn’t anything wrong with using hands-on resources.
Morris’ method is simplistic, efficient and portable. She uses colored crates, “curriculum crates,” to organize her resources. It may not be on the cutting edge of technology, but this “oldie but goodie” works.
And so does teacher collaboration. She reminds us to use one of the most valuable resources a teacher can rely on: our colleagues. “It takes a village…” Take the time to ask your colleagues to meet, perhaps with chocolate and coffee, and organize ideas and resources into “curriculum crates of the different standards.” We know that chocolate works wonders at the end of the day.
Marketing to students
“It’s all in how you market it.” Those were the famous words of Sister Mary Teressine, a 75-year old nun who taught with me in a Catholic school. She was so right! We have to market ourselves as teachers to get the attention of our students who are our consumers. The best part of marketing in the classroom is that you don’t need to spend a great deal of money in order to gain the students’ attention.
For example, I loved Morris’ gimmicks: Using fake fur as a “prize for the day” when a student “in-furs” in class. Gaining the students’ attention when teaching levels of questioning by bringing in magnifying glasses for the detective level: What is…what caused…how is” or a gavel with the judge’s level of question, “Who would…Who might…where could…do you agree…in your opinion.”
This book brought back memories of when my students were learning about ecosystems, specifically the ocean. I came in wearing my husband’s waders and carrying a surf rod. It’s an image I might want to forget now, but it did bring up some interesting questions from my students (and the staff members who wondered whether I had lost my mind!).
Morris reminds us to be creative when engaging our students. Begin with creativity; curiosity and learning will follow.
I love the way that she places “I Can Statements” at the beginning of each chapter. They are a marvelous way for teachers to set their own educational goals. As I read the book, I began to rephrase the students’ statements to “As a teacher I Can accomplish this.”
Easy to use resources
Morris is a teachers’ friend and mentor. Each chapter includes explanations, strategies, or student examples for many of the mini-lessons. At the end of each chapter she includes a student choice board as a culminating review of the standards(s) covered in the chapter. It can be used as a class wrap-up, center work, homework, or practice during independent reading. And the book is jam packed with charts and tables to use in the classroom.
Everyone needs someone in their “corner” to guide them and to motivate them. I found this book to be educationally motivating from beginning to end. What is unique about Morris’ book is that her suggested activities can be easily adapted or modified to meet each grade level. A list of suggested mentor texts is available as a free ERsource, However, I wish that she had links to the many valuable charts in the book. They are a valuable asset to the Language Arts teacher.
My only difficulty in reading the book was my personal enthusiasm. I broke all rules and strategies I’ve taught my fourth graders about nonfiction reading. I read a chapter or a piece of it, and then skipped to a genre that I was currently working on in class. I read on a bit, took some notes, and then got excited about another strategy or idea I read. Truth is, I was spending time highlighting, bookmarking, and writing lessons plans I could plant the ideas into!
My initial thought when I opened the pages of this book…”Hmm. Is there much in this book for me?” My final thought…”How could I teach without this book?”
Linda Biondi is a fourth grade teacher at Pond Road Middle School in Robbinsville, NJ, and a long-time Morning Meeting practitioner. She’s also the recipient of several educational grants, a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project and a participant on the NJ Department of Education Teacher Advisory Panel. Linda participates in ECET2 Celebrate Teaching which has posted an interview with her.