Tag Archives: instructional design

On Leveled Literacy Curricula

“Leveled reading emphasizes students’ current limitations, rather than increasing their possibilities, especially for the least advantaged of our students. We can do better.”

Timothy Shanahan

“Limiting Children to Books They Can Already Read: Why It Reduces Their Opportunity to Learn.”  American Educator 44.2 (Summer 2020): 17. Print.

A Learning Support on Note Cards for Research and a Structured Note-Card Blank

Over the years I’ve been assigned to “co-teach” many classes; in New York City, I was a regular fixture in social studies classrooms in which I was charged with supporting struggling learners. In the last school I worked in in the Five Boroughs, I worked with three different teachers with three different approaches to the curriculum. Because the assistant principal in charge of the humanities regularly changed the form and content of the curriculum, my duties required me, as a colleague once put it so cogently, to constantly “reinvent the wheel.”

One of the most contentious, and therefore most subject to change, was the synthetic research paper. One of the teachers I worked with assigned students the task of writing, and turning in for assessment, a set of 3 x 5 cards with sources and notes that would eventually end up in students’ papers. For that reason, I contrived this learning support with examples of note cards for research along with this structured note-card blank to aid struggling learners with this task.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Research Topics Explained: A Learning Support

Here is a learning support on topics for research that I wrote to support students in a college writing course I co-taught several years ago. I’m all but certain I’ve posted this elsewhere, probably in combination with some other materials on synthetic research papers. Here it is as a stand-alone post.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

The Milgram Studies: Lessons in Obedience

While I have found Stanley Milgram’s studies on obedience to authority fascinating (and the lost letter experiment is also interesting), I do understand that it isn’t exactly high school material. That said, I did, in 17 years of teaching now, have one kid ask about Milgram.

So here is a short reading on Dr. Milgram’s study along with its vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

A Trove of Documents for Teaching Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”

In June of 2003, I began what would turn out to be my woefully inadequate summer of training in the New York City Teaching Fellows. I’d already had a fair amount (13 years, to be exact) of experience working with kids, but I’d never really served, other than substituting, as a teacher. Needless to say, I had a lot to learn. The one thing I took away from that summer was this: it is the duty, responsibility, obligation and job of the special education teacher to adapt the curriculum to the needs, abilities and interests of struggling learners.

2008 was my fifth year of teaching. Year five is something of a milestone for most educators: they either leave the profession (even by the most conservative estimates, an alarming number do just that) or begin to hit their stride as proficient teachers.

When I began work in the fall of 2008 at the High School of Economics & Finance–or “Eco” as its constituents have it–in Lower Manhattan I’d like to think that I was in that latter cohort (though it’s not really for me to say). It was that year, however, that my interest in curricular design, particularly on behalf of the students I served, really began to take hold. I started reading more deeply about ways to help kids for whom school was a struggle.

For the first two years I worked at Eco, I co-taught a sophomore English class. The curriculum included Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece Things Fall Apart. I set to work immediately creating adapted materials to accompany the reading of this novel. Over two years I created documents to (I hope!) foster comprehension of the literal meaning of the novel, and thereby plumb the depths of its allegorical content.

Somewhere along the way I developed this reading and comprehension worksheet on Nigeria to begin this unit. Because Chinua Achebe took his title from it, here is a reading on “The Second Coming“, the famous poem by W.B. Yeats, along with its accompanying (and longer than usual, if you’ve taken any of the numerous Intellectual Devotional materials posted here, you’ll notice this immediately) vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. Here are twenty-five context clues worksheets and twenty-five reading comprehension worksheets–in other words, one for each chapter of the novel. Finally, here are three quizzes that cover all twenty-five chapters of the novel. Nota bene please, that there are no lesson plans to accompany all of this; I was co-teaching, learning myself how to structure lessons, and trying to figure out, as above, how to adapt the curriculum for the students in front of me. I balanced a very complicated workload and the lack of lesson plans rationalizing this material indicates the extent to which I was spread thin.

In preparing these documents for publication here, I reformatted and generally spruced them up a bit. That said, I recognize this as, well, frankly, not some of my best work. Fortunately for you, gentle reader and user, like virtually everything else on Mark’s Text Terminal, this material is in Microsoft Word and therefore very easily manipulable.

Finally, if you’re not familiar with Things Fall Apart, here is synopsis from Benet’s Readers’ Encyclopedia (Bruce Murphy, ed. New York: Harper Collins, 1996): “Things Fall Apart (1958) A novel by Chinua Achebe. Set in eastern Nigeria during the British expansion into Igboland, the novel recounts the tragedy of Okonkwo and his clansmen under British colonialism. When Okonkwo, a respected tribal leader, accidentally kills one of his clansmen, he is banished from his village for seven years. On his return, he finds his village subject to colonial laws and his tribal beliefs replaced by Christianity. Okonkwo opposes these new practices but finds the villagers divided. In a moment of rage, he kills a messenger from the British District Officer, only to find that his clansmen will not support him. He hangs himself in despair. The first novel by an African to attain the status of a contemporary classic, Things Fall Apart has been translated into many languages.”

This is the point at which I usually plead for users of this blog to notify me if they find typos in any of the documents included in a post. In this case, I’m not so concerned about that, since I will most likely not use these documents again. However, I remain interested in peer review; if you use these materials, I would be very interesting in hearing how, why, and whether or not they were effective.

Post Scriptum: Memo to WordPress: how about making it possible to use different typefaces in blog post titles? I don’t like to put titles in quotes! I want italics in the title box….

A Lesson Plan on the Sciences as a Cause of History

Here is a lesson plan on the sciences as a cause of history. I used this Cultural Literacy worksheet on class (i.e. social class) to open this lesson. Finally, here is the combination worksheet and note-taking blank that students use for this brainstorming and discussion lesson on how the sciences influence the process of history.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

A Glossary of Teaching for Understanding Terms

Last week, after reading a few pages each morning with my coffee before leaving for work, I finished Martha Stone Wiske’s (ed.) Teaching for Understanding: Linking Research to Practice (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997); yesterday I finished its companion, The Teaching for Understanding Guide by Tina Blythe (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997). From the latter, I cribbed this glossary of Teaching for Understanding terms if you’re inclined to use this planning and instructional framework.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Generative Topics in Teaching for Understanding

“Generative topics have several key features: They are central to one of more disciplines or domains. They are interesting to students. They are accessible to student (there are lots of resources available to help students pursue the topic). There are multiple connections between them and students’ experiences both in and out of school. And perhaps most important, they are interesting to the teacher.”

Excerpted from: Blythe, Tina, et al. The Teaching for Understanding Guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998.

Coordination and Subordination

“I want to pause here to digress on the seemingly underwhelming concepts of coordination and subordination. I will ask you to stifle your yawn as I acknowledge that they are easy to dismiss–ancient, faintly risible, uttered once long ago by acolytes of sentence diagramming in the era of chalk dust. They smack of grammar for grammar’s sake, and almost nobody cares about that. Teachers instead seek mostly to simply make sure the sentences work and dispense with the parsing of parts. It is so much simpler to tell kids to go with ‘sounds right’ (an idea that inherently discriminates against those for whom the sounds of language are not happily ingrained by luck or privilege) or to make the odd episodic correction and not worry about the principle at work.

But coordination and subordination are in fact deeply powerful principles worth mastering. They describe the ways that ideas are connected, the nuances that yoke disparate thoughts together. It is the connections as much as the ideas that make meaning. To master conjunctions is to be able to express that two ideas are connected but that one is more important than the other, that one is dependent on the other, that one is contingent on the other, that the two ideas exist in contrast or conflict. Mastering that skill is immensely important not just to writing but to reading. Students who struggle with complex text can usually understand the words and clauses of a sentence; it is the piecing together of the interrelationships among them that most often poses the problem. They understand the first half of a sentence but miss the cue that questions its veracity in the second half. And so without mastery of the syntax of the relationships–which is what coordination and subordination are–the sentence devolves–for weak readers–into meaninglessness.”

Doug Lemov

Excerpted from: Hochman, Judith C., and Natalie Wexler. The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking through Writing in All Subjects and Grades. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2017.

E.H. Gombrich on the Early Humans and the Development of Tools

“Tools must have been invented by someone too. The earliest ones were probably just sticks and stones. But soon stones were being shaped and sharpened. We have found lots of these shaped stones in the ground. And because of these stone tools we call this time the Stone Age. But people didn’t yet know how to build houses. Not a pleasant thought, since at that time it was often intensely cold—at certain periods fare colder than today. Winters were longer and summers shorter. Snow lay deep throughout the year, not only on mountain tops, but down in the valleys as well, and glaciers, which were immense in those days, spread far out into the plains. This is why we say the Stone Age began before the last ice age had ended. Prehistoric people must have suffered dreadfully from the cold and if they came across a cave where they could shelter from the freezing winds, how happy they must have been! For this reason they are also known as “cavemen,” although they may not actually have lived in caves.”

Excerpted from: Gombrich, E.H. Trans. Caroline Mustill. A Little History of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.