Living Module Lessons: ELA Grades 6-8

The Thursday afternoon ELA session for grades 6-8 focused on analyzing the intentional backward design process that scaffolds students’ success in the ELA modules. Resource materials were provided to help teachers build scaffolds for English language learners and students with disabilities as they implement the modules in their classrooms. The research modules (Grade 6 Module 4Grade 7 Module 4, and Grade 8 Module 4) incorporate and connect to the Odell Education materials and connect to the Grades 9-12 ELA research modules. This provides continuity for middle school students when they go to high school and encounter material that uses similar vocabulary and research strategies. Focusing on Grade 7 Module 4A, participants discussed the teaching of research skills including how to identify a credible source, assessing sources (including for readability), and the importance of librarians in the research process. Discussion also included strategies for accommodations and scaffolding for all students in this lesson. This was an informative session that got everyone thinking about how they will teach research and writing in their classrooms.

The materials from this session are available here:


Module Focus: Grade 4 Math Modules 6 and 7

The focus of Thursday’s grade 4 presentation for mathematics was on the content of Module 6 and Module 7. Module 6, “Decimal Fractions,” allows students to extend prior knowledge of fractions by seeing decimals as an application of fractions. The progression of the module allows students to see that decimal and whole numbers behave the same way, and that working with decimals just increases their sense of number. Participants were reminded that that even though scaffolding is embedded in the lesson content, teachers may need to provide additional scaffolding measures. It is important that throughout any module, teachers amplify language. Teachers need to use academic language and be clear, effective and consistent. Teachers also need to develop conceptual understanding of the content matter by continually going from the concrete to the pictorial to the abstract. Too many visual representations might be ineffective, so teachers need to be strategic when choosing the best modeling techniques to use for the pictorial. Lastly, teachers need to model strong questioning techniques and demonstrate how to speak and write mathematically. Sentence frames and turn/talk opportunities are some examples of how to accomplish this within a lesson.

Participants started off by looking at the end-of-module assessment and working on question 6. They discussed how they could use the assessment as a planning tool and how it would guide the delivery of the lessons.

Module 6 starts off with students exploring tenths concretely through length, weight and capacity. A scale and pre-filled bags of rice was used to demonstrate how students can decompose 1 unit (kg) into 10 bags or tenths. What does the scale say? 0.1. Other decomposition problems are discussed in this module and the number bond is used. The same methodology is used in earlier grades for bundling tens and working with teen numbers. Teachers saw a strong connection here and were excited, saying “We just need to give this process time.” The overall goal of Topic A is for students to build fluency in writing decimal numbers three ways: as a fraction, as a decimal or in words.

In Topic B, students decompose tenths into 10 equal parts to create hundredths. Students model the meter stick with a tape diagram and quickly learn that tenths make us more efficient when counting hundredths. Sometimes we need to adjust the model depending on our learners; therefore, students not only work with tape diagrams but with area models and number disks to see the equivalence of 1 tenth and 10 hundredths.

Topic C gets students to apply their knowledge gained in the first two topics in order to compare decimals. Students continue using tape diagrams and area models to show their conceptual understanding of the decimal comparisons. Participants did an activity from Lesson 11 that involved cutting out decimal flash cards and ordering the decimal numbers from least to greatest. The decimal numbers were represented in various forms. Participants then needed to plot the decimals on a given number line and determine the best endpoints for the number line.

Topic D introduces the addition of decimals with tenths and hundredths, without using any algorithm. Students become more fluent with their conversions between the two in order to add and use decomposition strategies in the process. Lastly, money amounts as decimal numbers are introduced. Money is used to extend the students’ conceptual understanding of decimals while providing an application of the skills learned. Participants ended the morning session by going back to the end-of-module assessment and discussing what they learned as they were going through the lesson that would need to be reflected in the teaching of the modules.

The afternoon focus for grade 4 was on Module 7 that deals with exploring measurement with multiplication. Since fluency for grade 4 is multi-digit addition and subtraction, core fluency differentiated practice sets are used in this module. Lesson 2 contains the master copies for the 4 practice sets. A great feature of these sets is that each one is broken into 2 parts, with part 2 involving problems that do not involve re-grouping. Both parts, however, have the same answer key, which makes for simple grading.

Module 7 allows students to develop an understanding of the two measurement systems (metric and customary) and allows them to become fluent with converting between larger and smaller units. Great application problems that reinforce the RDW process are found throughout the module and students get to connect their problem solving with mixed units. An interesting approach is taken to time, as conversion is taught with the clock being an unwrapped number line. There is a strong connection here with previous work with number lines.

The module ends with 4 lessons that have year-in-review activities that focus on the area of composite figures, more fluency activities and games designed to solidify vocabulary used throughout the year. The presenters gave ample time throughout the day to work on problems and discuss. This was a very informative presentation that once again demonstrated the progressive nature of the modules and how they are written to build off of the prior knowledge of skills.

The materials for this session are available here:

Supporting Student Growth

The Grades 9-12 ELA Wednesday morning session focused on teachers being able to identify what students can and cannot do with respect to a given standard and identifying next steps and areas for supporting student growth. Teachers began by talking about barriers to using student work as a form of data, and the impact that a teacher can have on students’ ability to read closely, write well, speak and listen effectively and think critically. Teachers talked about not having the time to properly work with individual students, focusing on what students can’t do rather than what they can do, being willing to change the way they do things in their classrooms, and making an effort to teach individual skills rather than focusing on test preparation.

Teachers were presented with the Logic Model: If we analyze our assessments and a particular standard, articulate a learning need in terms of the standard, identify a high impact root cause and create a plan to address the cause, then the student’s skill level will improve. We cannot make an impact on what students do until we thoroughly understand what they can’t do.

To learn how to use the Logic Model, participants looked at student work from the Grades 9-12 ELA modules. This began with examination of the assessment map from Module 10.1 to understand the progression of standards RL.9-10.2 and RI.9-10.2 over the course of the module. Groups then analyzed student work against a rubric focusing on what the student can do in respect to the standard and what the student is struggling with so that teachers could then develop a plan to address the student’s needs. This discussion continued in the afternoon session.

The materials for this session are available here:


Argument Writing: Going Deeper with Teachers

For the second part of the afternoon, the grades 9-12 ELA session broke into two groups: teachers and coaches/administrators. Both groups continued looking at Module 9.4 (Sugar Changed the World) but with different purposes. The coaches focused on planning a coaching cycle for teachers to support student reading, writing and thinking in the classroom through this module.

Teachers began with a discussion about maintaining rigor when supporting struggling learners. The consensus seemed to be that when students struggle, teachers shouldn’t “rescue” their students; they need to support through scaffolding, adapting or accommodating. This is beneficial to students so that they don’t come to rely on being “saved” by their teachers. This will result in greater independence, empowerment and perseverance in their learning.

The teachers talked about their priorities when making adaptations to their lessons and found that they had common goals although their students’ needs are diverse. It was widely acknowledged that engaging students is key to helping them interact with and express their knowledge. The conversation then turned to thinking about when certain activities qualified as a scaffold, adaptation or accommodation and in what context they would be acceptable. One finding was that teachers have to be selective about which scaffold to use and when in order to maintain the rigor of the lesson.

The focus of the session then turned toward supporting language development in English language learners. There are 5 levels of language progression from entering to commanding that can be found on EngageNY at:

Teachers can use these tables to figure out where their students are in their acquisition of English and then figure out which scaffolds will best support these students in the classroom.

This led to an activity where teachers used a Class Profile to determine what kinds of supports they would need to implement to best serve the needs of their students. These profiles included students at varying levels of academic achievement including ELLs and students with varying disabilities. Teachers then looked at some lessons from Module 9.4 and talked about which lesson they would adapt for the students in their class profile and which supports they would implement in order to meet their students’ needs.

This was a very informative session and many teachers are looking forward to teaching this module to their students next year.

The materials for this session are available here:


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.

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.

Grades 9-12 ELA Modules: Research, Writing, and Vocabulary

In the 9-12 ELA afternoon session, participants continued to study the research module (Module 9.3) by first reading an excerpt from the sample seed text Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. They then discussed the merits of the excerpt as a seed text and looked at the lesson that goes along with the excerpt. Participants realized that the book does provide many paths of inquiry and is definitely accessible to ninth graders. One participant pointed out that this particular text is a good example of the inquiry process as well and could serve as a model for students.

One concern brought up was that the pacing of the module may be too fast for some classrooms. It was stressed that teachers should feel comfortable adapting this, and all modules, as they see fit. The session wrapped up with a discussion of the merits of the research module and how it can be implemented in classrooms. It seems that the module is well-received and many people are looking forward to seeing it play out in their classrooms.

Approaching Writing in the Curriculum Modules

Participants spent the afternoon examining Module 10.1 and identifying the types of writing instruction that is included in the 9-12 modules. The Common Core standards emphasize different types of writing for different purposes, such as on-demand and process writing and an extensive use of evidence in student writing.

Discussion focused on the final performance assessment for Module 10.1. The central texts include excerpts from The Joy Luck Club, The Palace Thief, and Friday Night Lights. The assessment includes students collaborating to develop ideas, writing drafts, peer and self-reviewing, and editing.

Participants then looked at the individual units from the module. The takeaways from this session include:

  • The modules are intentionally aligned with the Odell units;
  • Different types of writing should be produced by your students; and
  • Language standards can be emphasized when teaching the writing process.

Academic Language and the Common Core

The second part of the afternoon focused on teaching vocabulary in the classroom. The module developers had two factors to consider when developing the vocabulary portions of the modules:

  1. The amount of instructional time required for certain words; and
  2. The context in which words are used.

To understand this better, participants examined “My Last Duchess,” a poem explored in Module 11.1 (coming soon!) and an excerpt from “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf. They then discussed which vocabulary may be challenging for students and talked about which words they would prioritize in their teaching. The focus was on academic vocabulary and determining which words are most important to teach students.

How to Build Academic Vocabulary:

  • Make it Intentional – how does the selection of certain words determine thinking?;
  • Make it Transparent – students must do the work; and
  • Make it Usable – use the vocabulary in writing and discussion tasks (students should use the language).