Meeting Students’ Needs; Grades 3-8 ELA Module Updates

During today’s 3-8 ELA sessions, Expeditionary Learning focused on meeting students’ needs by providing participants with transcripts of actual moments observed in classrooms where the modules are being used. The transcripts included exchanges between teachers and their students of various levels of language acquisition. Groups discussed the intervention strategies used by the teachers in the transcripts. They also talked about other interventions the teachers could have used to help more students be successful. Discussions resulted in a great exchange of ideas and the sharing of strategies that have been successful for some and not so successful for others. Teachers reflected on the day’s learning about teachers’ questioning, probing and responding habits in the classroom.

Expeditionary Learning also provided an update on some of the ELA modules currently in revision:

  • Grade 4 Module 1A (previously Module 1) is under revision by NYSED and will be posted this summer. This module will still focus on The Iroquois, but it will include Eagle Song as an optional independent read. A new addition will be The Keeping Quilt which will be used as a read aloud and will only require a teacher copy.
  • A new option for teachers will be Grade 4 Module 1B, a module with a focus on poetry. Texts will include A River of Words: The Story by Jen Bryant (teacher copy only) and Love That Dog by Sharon Creech (one per student).
  • Grade 5 Module 4 is also undergoing some revisions. The text Eight Days will remain, but Dark Water Rising has been removed. Unit 2 will be revised during the 2014-15 school year, with no new texts being required.

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:

What Can Kids Do? Raising Expectations for Research

The Grades 3-8 ELA Thursday morning session began with a review of the Norms for Collaboration which ensure that participants support each other in a constructive learning environment. The goal of this session is to learn about the principles of teaching research that underlie the Expeditionary Learning (EL) approach to research in the 3-8 ELA modules. The presenters distributed EL’s “Overview of Research in the NYS Grades 3-8 ELA Modules” which highlights how research supports the six shifts and meets the 3-8 Common Core Learning Standards. Participants then looked at a video to examine how the students in the video are engaged in research. The students were working on a case study where they observed an actual snake in the classroom, which was followed by the creation of individual books about the snake for an outside audience. The students were then going to use the research skills they acquired to do a case study of their own snakes.

Conversations around how expectations can impact students took place. The students in the video all rose to the challenge, acquired new research skills and were enthusiastic about the research and the process.

The second part of the morning was devoted to the Research Process. Participants examined the Common Core standards that deal directly with research: W.7-W.9. They looked at the nuances in vocabulary that distinguish one grade level from the next and how the standards evolve in complexity across the grades. This was followed by the reading of various articles in which the authors make connections between research and reading/writing. The participants at each table read each article and shared their findings with their groups. Discussion centered around the role of teachers’ expectations regarding student writing about research and how integral reading and research are to students’ lives now and in the future.

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:


Argument Writing

One of today’s ELA sessions, “Argument Writing Introduction,” focused on experiencing and scaffolding the writing demands in Grade 9 Module 4 (“Module 9.4”).

Module 9.4 was designed so that students could build their skills in argument writing using tools to evaluate and synthesize the arguments made in the central and supplementary texts. The central text is Sugar Changed the World, an informational text about the history of the sugar industry. The students first closely read the texts to see strong examples of argument writing. Once they analyze the texts and understand the argumentative writing style, students will use that knowledge to form an argument based on new texts and write their own final performance task. For this performance task, students must present a claim and use evidence from the texts to back up the claim. In order to build the skills necessary to be successful on the final assessment, students are assessed throughout the module on the various skills that they learn from the model texts.

Participants in this session began by engaging in a performance task where they read an excerpt from the central text and an article called “How Your Addiction to Fashion Kills” in order to build an argument about how low cost fashion relies on harsh labor practices. They annotated for author’s claims and evidence and then used the Argument Outline Tool from the module to help plan their individual responses to the prompt: Who bears the most responsibility for ensuring that clothes are ethically manufactured? Participants had a discussion about the strategies they found themselves using to read and annotate the texts. They then shared their Argument Outline Tools to talk about claims and evidence and any possible counter-claims that could be found in the texts.

Participants were introduced to the concept of “bottlenecks” which are points where the learning of a significant number of students is interrupted. These are obstacles that students may face as they try to complete a task or acquire a new skill. As the session progresses, educators are thinking about the bottlenecks that their students may encounter on their way to academic success.

The remainder of the session focused on supports and adaptations for Module 9.4 at the lesson level. Groups examined relationships between text excerpts, standards, tools and the mid-unit assessment in order to analyze the scaffolding and sequencing of the first half of Unit 1. Participants then met a teacher who piloted these lessons in her own 9th grade classes this month. She brought samples of her students’ writing from the unit including the various tools and writing assessments. She also showed a video of her class using one of the tools from the module to form claims based on the same article participants had read earlier. Students encountered a bottleneck where they were not able to distinguish between central claims and supporting evidence. The teacher recognized this and talked her students through it so that they were able to understand what was being asked of them.

Participants had great discussions about the texts, tools and the student samples to help them think about how they will turnkey and implement this module in their own schools and classrooms.

The materials for this session are available here:

Examining Student Work

PCG is encouraging teacher feedback about the Grades 9-12 modules. Comments are welcome at:

The ELA Grades 9-12 morning session, “Introduction for Experienced Module Users,” focused on how the approach to examining student work impacts teacher learning. Participants began by discussing how an internal or external locus of control can affect teacher learning, student learning and school culture. The conversation focused on how perception of control over student learning varies and can impact student learning and achievement.

Following the discussion, participants read an article called “Looking at Student Work” by Angie Deuel, et al. and talked about the argument made in the article. Participants discussed different approaches to looking at the data from student assessments. When educators look at the specifics of the data, they can focus instruction on what the students need. This would be a shift from looking at data to “prove that students have learned” and to looking at data to “improve student learning.” Classroom instruction would have to change to reflect this shift which would affect what students learn and how they think resulting in deeper understanding and better performance on assessments. One of the goals over the next two days is to build this mindset in ourselves and then in our home districts.