Monday, July 29, 2013

PARCC approves accessibility supports

by Derek Spencer

The supports will include read-aloud accommodations for students with disabilities, which is a point of contention for those who feel that read-aloud support would make the result of a reading comprehension test invalid. Still, this must be welcome news for parents of students with disabilities, as these supports can only benefit their children.

Other accommodations include clarifying test instructions to English-language learners in their native languages and providing American Sign Language translations of assessment text.

How do you feel about read-aloud accommodations on reading comprehension exams? If one student receives support, should that support then be afforded to all students taking the exam to ensure a consistent, normalized testing environment?

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The week's best resources: 7/22 - 7/26

by Derek Spencer

Happy Friday, everyone! I wanted to share with you this list of cool resources I saw this week. Check 'em out!

1. The first chapter of a book on Formative Assessment:

2. A good video on scaffolding. Though the video focuses on history and not ELA, the information it presents on scaffolding is general enough to be applied to any discipline.

Nice short video on scaffolding — via @Larryferlazzo

3. A short presentation on potential applications for Chromebooks in education. There's a substantial amount of buzz surrounding Chromebooks these days, particularly because basic models are relatively inexpensive compared to iPads, other tablets, and PCs and Macs.

4. An infographic on Creative Commons licenses. Useful for any teacher wondering if their use of a particular image, sound file, or bit of text is legal under copyright law. It's a good resource for students as well. The English isn't perfect, but we won't hold that against the creator.

5. Finally, PARCC released its ELA/Literacy Performance Level Descriptors for grades 3 – 11. The Performance Level Descriptors basically explain the grading system behind PARCC examinations. They're worth a look if you're in one of the states that's joined the PARCC consortium.

Have a great weekend, and we'll see you on Monday!

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Khaled Hosseini, reading fiction, and empathy

by Derek Spencer

Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has just released his third book, And the Mountains Echoed. In this recent interview on the public radio program Here & Now, Hosseini discusses his experience in returning to Afghanistan for the first time in 27 years.

In the interview, Hosseini talks about his reluctance to ask native Afghans about their experiences in the years since he emigrated to the United States. He's reluctant because he doesn't feel that it's his place or his right to ask these strangers about what were likely very painful experiences simply because he and those strangers share a home country. A very thoughtful kind of restraint.

And that made me think about The Kite Runner and its portrayal of everyday Afghans, and how Hosseini has, in the words of the interviewer, "humanize[d] the people who are in the shadows of our headlines here in the United States, make us look closer at their faces, make us wonder what their stories are."

And then that made me think of news items describing recent scientific studies that suggest a link between reading fiction and increased empathy. Here's a link to one:

PLOS ONE: How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy?

A link between reading fiction and increased capacity for empathy makes sense to me. Fiction can help us envision the struggle of the individual against his or her issues, whether physical, emotional, or political. It can help us imagine a character's specific joys, desires, needs, and frustrations. It can help us realize that many experiences are common to us all, whether we're separated by five miles or five thousand. And in realizing that we share these thoughts, motivations, and feelings with peoples of disparate cultures, aren't we then better equipped to identify with these people? To honor their humanity as we would wish ours to be honored?

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.

Monday, July 22, 2013

PARCC releases Performance Level Descriptors for ELA/Literacy

by Derek Spencer

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) recently released its "Performance Level Descriptors" for ELA/Literacy in grades 3 – 11. Here are the descriptors for grades 9 – 11:

This set of descriptors explains the criteria PARCC will use to score students. It appears that students will be assigned a "performance level" between 2 and 5, with 5 being the highest rating.

PARCC is a consortium of 22 states (plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) working on new assessments that will adhere to Common Core State Standards requirements. These assessments will be delivered via computer but, unlike the assessments delivered by the Smarter Balanced consortium, will not be computer adaptive.

Tests that are computer adaptive deliver different questions to a student based on that student's response to the previous question. If a student answers a question correctly, the next question will be more difficult (and vice-versa). PARCC's computerized assessments will be more traditional; all students will take the same test.

What do you think about computerized testing? Do you think computerized adaptive testing can work in an ELA setting?

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Positive midsummer thoughts

by Derek Spencer

As we approach August, no doubt some of you are thinking about the upcoming year.

Think about a lesson you gave that inspired your students: to think about literature in a new way; to consider a text from the perspective of a different group or culture; to connect the lessons a title has to offer to their own lives.

Think of how teaching that lesson and inspiring those students made you feel. Let that thought sustain you throughout the summer. Let it motivate you to keep striving to improve at least one aspect of your teaching. Because no matter how good we are (in any field), there's always something we can do to make ourselves that little bit better. That little bit stronger.

Maybe you're studying the latest pedagogical techniques. Maybe you're reading the latest and greatest work of literature, one that you're sure is a perfect fit for your classroom. Maybe you're working through a professional development seminar. Maybe you're reflecting mindfully on great successes as well as areas where there's room for growth. The point is, you're improving. You're preparing for the best year of your teaching life.

And while you're doing that, don't forget to take some time for yourself — take some time to rest and recharge, in whatever way works best for you. Give yourself the freedom to relax, because you've earned it.

We hope you're having a great summer. Have fun, be safe, and enjoy life.

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Accolades for Delaware Shakespeare Festival's "The Two Gentlemen of Verona"

by Jason Scott

The titular gentlemen.
Photo by Alexandra Orgera

Prestwick House is fortunate to be in Delaware, the home of the small but feisty Delaware Shakespeare Festival. Their performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona last night was a cool and welcome respite after a long, hot day. Although hysterical local TV weathermen do their best to instill fear at the thought of being outside in mid-July, I managed to avoid spontaneously combusting.

The play will never be mistaken for one of Shakespeare’s best, but the lively Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s version made it one of one of my “best liked” Shakespeare plays. Everything was first rate and the “jazz age” theme played out in the costumes and music really worked for me. In fact, the music, composed by Michael Hahn with musical direction by Johanna Schloss, deserves some kind of award for making the best possible use of an unlikely onstage combo of guitar, clarinet, accordion, and triangle.

Photo by Alexandra Orgera
Adam Darrow as Proteus and Emilie Krause as Silvia gave standout performances on a stage crowded with talent. My one quibble is that the first act ran a touch long in view of the fast-paced and frothy vibe the production was going for.

The Delaware Shakespeare Festival performs under the stars on the grounds of Rockwood Park in Wilmington. Local temps were in the 90s during the day, but by the time the sun passed behind the trees, and play started, it was a comfortable 83 degrees with a light breeze.

Jason Scott is the CEO of Prestwick House.

Monday, July 8, 2013

5 Uncommon Definitions of Common Words

by Derek Spencer

One of the best ways to develop a robust vocabulary is to read, read, read. The more you read, the more likely it is you'll come across words you've never seen — or learn new meanings for words you already know. Here are a few common words that have an uncommon meaning when used in certain contexts. Sharing these with your students might be fun!

1. Depend (v.) — to hang or be suspended from something
Example sentence: "The locket depended from a delicate chain slung 'round the dowager's slim neck."

I was made aware of this meaning of "depend" while reading a William Gibson novel. It stuck with me.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Student Benefits of Informational Text

by Derek Spencer

As you probably already know, the Common Core State Standards require that 70% of student readings across all subject areas must be nonfiction (or, in the parlance of the CCSS, "Informational Text") by the time students reach 12th grade.

Luckily, English teachers don't have to bear that heavy load on their own, as readings in other classes count toward that 70% threshold. And thank goodness for that, because a world in which fiction was eliminated from the ELA curriculum would be rather dull, yes?

Still, it's likely that if you're in a Common Core state, you'll have to teach a little more nonfiction in the future. This may be a big shift for some, but it might be worth the work — studying nonfiction can have big benefits for students. Here are a few reasons informational text matters.