Adapting and Creating Additional Module Assessments

The Friday afternoon English Language Arts session, Adapting and Creating Additional Module Assessments, began with a discussion about why assessments may need to be adapted. Participants talked about their own students and experiences with assessment adaptation. This led to an activity where each participant drew a visual representation (flow chart, symbol, etc.) of their current practices related to creating assessments. Everyone shared their visuals with their table mates and talked about their thinking behind assessment development.

Teachers then participated in a Jigsaw activity which involved the reading, annotating and sharing of various texts. These included items posted on that are meant to help teachers develop Common Core-aligned assessments. Participants read these texts and annotated for critical components of assessment design as outlined in Expeditionary Learning’s step-by-step process for designing effective assessments (included in NTI materials). They looked specifically at passage selection criteria, selection of authentic texts, NYS item review criteria, and annotated test questions. They then shared their findings with the other members of their groups so that everyone could learn from the assessment design documents. They talked about how relevant the documents are and what they could take away from the documents to use in their own practice. Teachers talked about taking an existing assessment, identifying the standards they are trying to assess, and then cross referencing it to the items in the item review criteria. This gives the documents another purpose; analyzing assessments you have already developed.

Participants then looked at a sample Grade 6 assessment from Module 3A, and identified the key words in three of the assessed standards that determine specifically what students should know, understand, and be able to do. After determining what standards that a teacher wants to assess, they need to find an appropriate text and figure out the type of assessment that would fit best.

Expeditionary Learning included a chart “Target-Method Match” that helps a teacher figure out which type of assessment would be most appropriate for assessing different types of learning targets: Knowledge, Reasoning, and Skills.  Once the type of assessment is chosen, the teacher must decide what the task will be, and how to plan the lessons that lead to the assessment. One thing to remember is that if you have to adapt an assessment, you probably have to adapt the lessons leading up to the assessment.

Practice Designing SLO Assessments

Participants worked in pairs and drafted an assessment task based upon a standard to be assessed and chose the most appropriate text(s) for that assessment. They then had to write assessment items for that text and standard. Tables shared their thinking from the entire assessment session using a Back-to-Back Face-to-Face protocol.


Module Focus: Grade 5 Math Module 5

The Grade 5 presentation focused on the material covered in Module 5: Addition and Multiplication with Volume and Area. Participants practiced lots of hands-on activities in order to experience the progression students experience with developing their concept of volume and area. Students first experience calculating volume by building figures and counting unit cubes. Students construct open boxes and calculate volumes by “filling” in the box. They then experience volume pictorially through the use of dot paper and constructing cubes.

There is much discussion in the module about composing and decomposing right rectangular prisms using layers, which helps with students’ conceptual knowledge of what volume actually means. There is no mention of a volume formula in Topic A. Topic B is where the multiplication formula is introduced with the concept of layers. Students also explore the connection between volume in cm and liquid volume in mL. We were able to see the liquid volume increase by 1 mL after the dropping of a cubic centimeter – very cool!

Application problems were presented at this point, such as:

  • A small fish tank is filled to the top with water. If the tank measures 15 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm, what is the volume of the water in the tank? Express answer in Liters. What if after a week, water evaporates so that the water level in the tank is 9 cm high? What effect does that have on the volume of the water? How many Liters?
    • This is an interesting problem in that students can just take off the “layer” from the original water level, or they can re-calculate with a new height of 9 cm. 
    • A shed in the shape of a right rectangular prism measures 6 ft. long by 5 ft. wide by 8 ft. high. The owner realizes that he needs 480 cubic feet of storage. Will he achieve this goal if he doubles each dimension? If he wants to keep the height the same, what could the other dimensions be for him to get the volume that he wants?
      • This problem lends itself to discussing what happens to volume when you double one dimension, two dimensions, or all three. The “create a sculpture” activity in lessons 8-9 is an opportunity for students to express their creativity, while at the same time apply the concepts and formula of volume to design a sculpture within a given set of parameters. The activity is graded with a rubric used by the students. Participants discussed the value of having students use a rubric. Peer review always holds students more accountable, but the peer review also ties into the Mathematical Practice of critiquing the reasoning of others. 

Topic C shifts the focus from volume to calculating the area of rectangles with fractional side lengths.  Once again, this demonstrated an excellent transition from concrete, pictorial to abstract. Students tile a rectangular region using patty paper, then draw the image on white paper (area model), and then use prior knowledge of area (partial products) and the multiplication of fractions to calculate the area. Participants practiced this transition using mystery rectangles. The topic ends with application problems that ask students to decide which process is more efficient and whether they should deal with improper fractions or convert to mixed numbers.  We want them to say “It depends.”

Topic D uses the cutting apart of trapezoids and parallelograms in order to take a look at the properties that exist for each, leading the student towards success in being able to create a hierarchy of quadrilaterals that go from most general to specific. Excellent visual activities were done here with parallelograms constructed by the group so that participants had a wide range of parallelograms. Activities showed the angle relationships that exist within these shapes (consecutive angles supplementary, all four angles add up to 360). Participants looked at diagonals for parallelograms and great questioning techniques were modeled in regards to answering the question, “will the diagonals always be bisected, or are they ever the same?”  Angle measurement was recommended as a fluency activity. An excellent end to an excellent week here at NTI.

Adapting Module Tasks at the Lesson Level

ELA Session 4 on Friday morning focused on adapting modules to meet students’ needs while maintaining alignment to the standards. Expeditionary Learning started the session with the Chalk and Talk protocol where participants responded in writing to other peoples’ comments regarding students’ classroom needs. This is a protocol that is used frequently in the 3-8 modules in order to get students to start thinking about various areas within a certain topic. It enables students to share their thoughts and reflect upon each other’s thinking in a silent, respectful manner.

The Chalk and Talk activity was followed by discussion around a fictional high needs classroom in which the teacher is implementing a third grade lesson. Participants thought about and discussed adaptations they would make to the lesson that would meet the needs of the students. This “classroom” in an urban, high poverty school district, has 24 students, some of whom read just below grade level, some significantly below grade level, and some at or above grade level. Some students have IEPs. Each table talked about what the biggest challenges would be in the teaching of this lesson and what kinds of adaptations they would make. Vocabulary and independent reading were two issues that were highlighted. Some adaptations discussed included teacher modeling, using sentence starters, providing pictorial clues, strategic grouping of students, and small group instruction.

Participants then watched a video of a third grade classroom in which the teacher made adaptations to the same lesson. They were to take note of standards alignment, adaptations that were made, and effectiveness of the adaptations. The teacher in the video read an excerpt of the book aloud to the students “for fun” so that all students were exposed to complex texts. One person noted that the use of Learning Targets helps keep students focused and assures that all students have a common educational goal. This video is a good example of lesson adaptation that could prove useful in districts’ own professional development experiences.

The next activity involved conversations regarding the efficacy of certain adaptations for various types of students. Discussion was around whether the adaptations made are too complex or too simple and whether they are too complex or too simple for many of the students or a few. This resulted in conversations about how best to adapt lessons to meet the needs of all of your students without leaving some behind. It was acknowledged that effective lesson adaptation would require planning, collaboration and a common vision shared by everyone in the district.

To provoke more thinking around lesson adaptation, participants worked in groups of three where they read a sample of an adapted lesson and thought about whether the teacher’s choices maintained alignment to the standards. They then discussed within their groups four questions: What needs is the teacher trying to meet? Do the changes maintain the learning targets? Do the changes allow for maximum rigor for as many students as possible? Will the teacher still be able to assess students’ progress toward the learning targets? These are all questions for teachers to consider when adapting lessons to meet the needs of students.

Research Teams Skill Development

Research Teams Skill Development

The goal of this session was to learn about current research regarding skill development to determine the impact of classroom practice. Participants began this session by defining “Cohesive Literacy Instruction” and discussing the most important aspects of their definitions. This led to an Interactive Word Sort protocol which was a great activity that had tables of participants create a graphic that showed how words related to each other (using various types of arrows and plus and equal signs). Some of the words included: decoding, read-alouds, knowledge, accountability, fluency, ELA standards, and vocabulary.

Participants then walked around to the other tables to see how other groups regarded cohesive literacy instruction and how this can be useful in individual schools. This team activity can help to develop a vision within a school as to what reading instruction could look like. When considering how to address literacy instruction, everyone acknowledged that students learn how to read differently and that many factors come into play when developing curriculum. Expeditionary Learning will try to get the list of words and symbols posted on EngageNY so that schools can use this protocol with their faculty members.

This activity was followed by a protocol called “From Frenzy to Focus” which enabled participants to read and share articles concerning research about fluency and reading. The articles were very informative and participants agreed that this activity would be incredibly beneficial in faculty meetings at their own schools. This was a great opportunity to share new information and for participants to recognize articles that they wanted to pursue on their own.

Addressing Students’ Foundational Skills: Case Studies

Addressing Students’ Foundational Skills: Case Studies

Participants started by introducing themselves through the discussion of various quotes and how they connect to their work in their districts and schools. There are many veterans to NTI as well as first-time participants, which made the conversations during this session engaging and fruitful.

Groups participated in the World Café protocol and looked at case studies that described different styles and effects of implementation of the Expeditionary Learning ELA modules. Discussions centered around school/district culture, leadership experience and styles, change, communication, data-driven instruction, informing the community, targeted professional development, collaboration, and consensus building. This led to an introspective discussion among participants about how this protocol can help in their own school or district with an aim of building a solution-oriented culture.

Module Focus: Grade 4 Math Module 5

The Grade 4 Math session on Thursday focused on the Module 5: Fraction Equivalence, Ordering and Operations. Number bonds, tape diagrams, and area models were used consistently throughout the module to strengthen conceptual understanding and develop confidence when working with fractions. This “fractional” confidence allows students to transition to concepts/problems of higher complexity, which was demonstrated as we went through the lessons.

Students start their fraction work off with experiencing problems that involve decomposing fractions using number bonds, similar to the work they did with number bonds and whole numbers in the earlier grades.  How many ways can you represent 5/6 as an addition problem? When answering this problem, students encounter how to express a non-unit fraction as a whole number times a unit fraction. The work here is extended to fractions that are greater than 1, such as decomposing 7/4 = 4/4 + 3/4 .

Fraction equivalence is explored using tape diagrams (paper folding) and area models.  Participants look at an application problem from lesson 5:

A loaf of bread was cut into six equal slices.  Each of the slices was cut in half to make thinner slices for sandwiches.  Mr. Beach used four slices.  His daughter said, “Wow, you used 2/6 of the loaf.” His son said, “No, you used 4/12.” Work with a partner to explain who was correct using a tape diagram.

This problem pulls in all content discussed so far, and solving the problem does not require a fractional algorithm. Fraction equivalence is extended to fraction comparison. Students combine knowledge of benchmark fractions with fraction equivalence to handle comparisons that involve fractions with common numerators, fractions with denominators of related units. The final goal is comparing fractions with denominators of unrelated units.  Topic D shows once again the link of the work done previously with decomposition and composition to the addition and subtraction of fractions with common denominators.  A new visual is added here, the number line with arrows.

Topics E and F add a layer of complexity to what has been learned by extending fractional equivalence and operations to fractions greater than 1. Based on their knowledge, students devise their own strategy for handling problems like 3 3/5 – 4/5. Some might decompose the 4/5 to be 3/5 and 1/5, and then solve the simpler problem of 3 1/5, which is 2 4/5. Others might decompose the 3 as 2 5/5 and now look at the problem 2 8/5 – 4/5, which is 2 4/5. Students practice converting between improper fractions and mixed numbers based on the context of the problem. Never is the traditional algorithm of how to convert a mixed number into an improper fraction discussed.  The module shows that the algorithm is not necessary.  The module ends with a re-visit to repeated addition of fractions as multiplication and shows the connection to the distributive property when solving problems like 2 x 3 1/5.  Visuals are used again here to help make the connection.

The remainder of the session presented educators with a plan on how to make choices with implementing the lessons within the given time frame that remains between now and the assessment. Pacing is a huge area of concern and many teachers are behind the timeline. So how do we adapt the lessons to support successful pacing while bridging gaps in prior knowledge, but not sacrifice the rigor?

A planning protocol was introduced that encourages teachers to look at the lessons further out, not day to day. Reading the module overview and studying the module assessments is the place to start in order to keep the purpose, sequence and delivery fresh in the mind. Next, teachers should read through the lesson and ask what major concept is necessary to successfully complete the exit ticket. Pay attention to the subsequent lesson and examine the exit ticket there. What is the relationship between the two exit tickets and what will be the impact of what gets cut out of the lesson to those two tickets? Teachers also always need to consider the needs of specific students in their classroom.

Addressing Classroom Realities

Addressing Classroom Realities (9-12 ELA Session 6)

How do teachers preserve the continuity of the modules while addressing students’ diverse needs in the classroom? Teachers must be familiar with the modules and their materials in order to make decisions on how to adapt them for their classrooms.

Module-level considerations for adaptation:

  • Instructional shifts
  • Significant curriculum elements:
    • focus/assessed standards
    • text selections
    • number of lessons
    • performance assessments

When thinking about adaptations, consider:

  • Which standards represent areas for student growth?
  • When are the standards introduced?
  • What are students required to know/be able to do and when?
  • What will you lose if you work with particular texts or standards and not others?
  • How will you need to modify major unit/module assessments?

Participants considered these questions and more when looking at Module 11.1 (coming soon to They identified their own students’ needs and then generated recommendations for adaptation to meet their students’ needs. One concern was being able to read all of the texts. One suggestion was to use excerpts so that students will still be exposed to the text but will be given more accessible chunks.

Participants also considered adaptations that would need to be made on the unit and lesson level including eliminating, condensing, or extending certain elements. Considerations for adaptation include: pacing, homework, annotation, vocabulary, assessed/addressed standards, texts, unit/lesson assessments, reading processes, resources, time constraints, and most importantly, student needs.