Category Archives: Common Core Standards

College writing is moving into high school

I am working with a high school sophomore who is writing an argumentative research paper, the kind of research paper I was required to write in college.

His teacher identified the type of information required for each paragraph in a handout.  It includes a hook leading into an introduction leading into a thesis, using a funnel effect to taper to the thesis.  The thesis must have several elements, all of which must be backed with data in the body.

The body must have at least three sections of data supporting the thesis, plus a counter argument which must be debunked.  The conclusion should not merely repeat the thesis but in some other way support the ideas of the essay.

This essay is due not for an A.P. course but for a regular sophomore English class.

With another high school sophomore, I worked on a Toulmin essay.  This kind of essay has a rigid structure for each body paragraph.  First comes a position statement or thesis; second, a claim or example supporting the position; third, data cited to support the claim; fourth, a warrant or a clarification of the connection between the claim and the data; fifth, a counterclaim which rebuts the thesis; and last, a rebuttal with data to destroy the counterclaim.

With another high school freshman I worked on a response to a news article using the SAOQ method:  summarize the article in a few sentences; analyze the main idea or some aspect of the article; offer your opinion on the ideas in the article, using logical arguments to back your opinion; and offer three discussion questions of a probing nature to show you have pondered the article.

These assignments call on higher level thinking skills:  analyzing information; researching, using and citing appropriate data; recognizing truth from stereotypes or “fake news”; recognizing valid counterclaims; evaluating ideas; and synthesizing information into new literary forms.

In short, these writing assignments require critical thinking, the kind of thinking the Common Core Standards advocate.  No matter what you may think of the Common Core Standards, they are putting pressure on schools to develop students who can think.  In the three schools where my three students study, the schools and the students are meeting the challenge.

Connect back to the thesis in persuasive essays

Click on the chart for a larger version.

Suppose you need to write a persuasive or argumentative essay, as do many seventh graders whose states are following the Common Core curriculum.  Suppose you need to take a position on the following statement:  Santa Claus is real.

You decide to take the position that yes, Santa is real.  For your evidence, you use the following points:

  • The Weather Channel and many other news media track Santa’s whereabouts all over the world on Christmas Eve.
  • Santa’s image is used in advertising by Coca Cola and retailers during the Christmas season.
  •  Many movies have been made featuring Santa, including Miracle on 34th Street, The Polar Express, The Santa Claus I, II and III and A Christmas Story.

For your first body paragraph topic sentence, you write, “Many television and radio stations track Santa’s sleigh and reindeer around the world on Christmas Eve.”  If you add, “thus proving Santa is real,” you have a perfect topic sentence.  Then to back up your topic sentence, you list  TV and radio stations which do this.

So far so good.

You start your second body paragraph with, “Second, Coca Cola and other retailers use Santa’s image to sell items.”  The problem here is, “second” what?  You need to say something like, “A second reason to prove that Santa is real is that Coco Cola and other retailers. . .”

Every sentence in every body paragraph should support the topic sentence of that paragraph.  Just as importantly, every topic sentence should support the essay’s thesis.  Some students think, well of course, if I say “second,” the reader knows that what I mean is that this is the second reason why Santa is real.  Not so.  You need to say that.

You always need to state the connections between the evidence and your topic sentences, and between your topic sentences and your thesis.

In working with students writing persuasive essays, I see this lack of connections all the time.  To show the flow of connections, I draw arrows on students’ essays.  One group of arrows goes from the data in a body paragraph to the topic sentence of that body paragraph.  Another arrow goes from that topic sentence to the thesis or topic sentence of the whole essay found in the first paragraph.  If the connections is not stated, I draw the arrows with dashes rather than with solid lines to show that the connection is not explicit.

Make your connections obvious.

What writing skills are expected of fourth and fifth graders?

  • In fourth grade simple stories or essays are expected from most children. A topic sentence becomes the introduction, lots of facts become one or more body paragraphs, and a summing-it-all-up sentence becomes the conclusion.  Many students need help with the introductions, not knowing how to begin.  Almost all students need help with the conclusions.  They are expected to use transitions.  Students need to learn to plan their writing so that sequencing information isn’t a problem.
  • The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) asks fourth grade students to “write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information; introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer’s purpose; provide reasons that are supported by facts and details; link opinion and reasons using words and phrases (e.g., for instance, in order to, in addition);and provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.
  • The CCSS also asks fourth graders to “write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly;
    introduce a topic clearly and group related information in paragraphs and sections; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension;
     develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic; link ideas within categories of information using words and phrases (e.g., another, for example, also, because); use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic; and provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented.”
  • As for narrative writing, the CCSS asks fourth graders to ” write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences;
    orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally; use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations; use a variety of transitional words and phrases to manage the sequence of events; use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely; and provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.
  • girl with pony tail on floor writingBy fifth grade, if the students have had enough practice, they should be able to write simple expository (informational) and persuasive essays and short narratives. They should write an introductory paragraph, two or three body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph.

 

What kind of writing should second and third graders do?

Here are what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) expect student writers  to achieve in second and third grade.

  • The CCSS expects second graders to “write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply reasons that support the opinion, use linking words (e.g., because, and, also) to connect opinion and reasons, and provide a concluding statement or section; write informative/explanatory texts in which they introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points, and provide a concluding statement or section; write narratives in which they recount a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure.
  • In my experience, by second grade, students learn the concept of paragraphing, or as the children understand it, collecting sentences about the same thing in a single paragraph. They learn to indent.  But most still write everything as one long paragraph and need to be reminded about paragraphing, punctuation, spelling, and upper and lower case use.
  • In my experience, by third grade students learn to write topic sentences for paragraphs, usually by asking a question (Do you want to know about my dog?) or by making a statement about the obvious (I’m going to tell you about my dog). They need help imagining other ways to start paragraphs.  Some students still need help separating a group of sentences into paragraphs although a few students might be writing longer and somewhat sophisticated passages.  They learn about different kinds of writing–informative, persuasive and narrative–and try their hands at each kind with varying success.”
  • For persuasive writing, the CCSS recommends that third graders should “write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons;introduce the topic or text they are writing about, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure that lists reasons;provide reasons that support the opinion; use linking words and phrases (e.g., because, therefore, since, for example) to connect opinion and reasons; and provide a concluding statement or section.
  • For informative/explanatory writing, the CCSS recommends that third graders should write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly; introduce a topic and group related information together; include illustrations when useful to aiding comprehension; develop the topic with facts, definitions, and details; and use linking words and phrases (e.g., also, another, and, more, but) to connect ideas within categories of information; provide a concluding statement or section.”
  • For narratives the CCSS recommends that third graders “develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences; establish a situation and introduce a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally; use dialogue and descriptions of actions, thoughts, and feelings to develop experiences and events or show the response of characters to situations; use temporal words and phrases to signal event order; and provide a sense of closure.

In second and third grade, the CCSS also expects students  to begin to use electronic equipment.

For more information, go to http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/W/3/.

What kind of writing should kindergarteners and first graders be able to do?

The ability to write well comes gradually and in stages.  This skill is a synthesis of many writing skills, each building on one another.  Here is what I see in practice and what the Common Core State Standards recommends for kindergarten and first graders.

  • In kindergarten children learn to write letters and words, and some advanced students may write sentences.  They might write with phonetic or invented spelling, backward letters, missing punctuation and haphazard  capitalization.  They use a combination of upper case and lower case letters.  They like to draw a picture of what they are describing.
  • The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) ask kindergarteners to “use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book; use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic; and use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.”
  • In first grade children’s writing ability varies widely, but teachers expect students to write in sentences by the end of the year. They might draw a picture at the top of a paper and then write one or more sentences under the picture telling what the picture means, and using many of the errors which kindergarteners use.  Many of the rules of writing and spelling are fluid for a first grader, but they are becoming formal than for kindergarteners.
  • The Common Core State Standards recommend that first graders “write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or name the book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion, and provide some sense of closure; write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure; and write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure.”

As you can see, a wide gap exists between what many children can do and what the CCSS expect them to do.  For more on the Common Core State Standards, go to http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/W/K/.

Citing evidence is an important writing skill

Citing evidence used to be a skill learned in high school, but with the Common Core State Standards, it has moved to middle grades.  This is because of the Common Core’s emphasis on problem solving.  But it is also because reading critically is an important life skill.

commoncoreenglishlanguagestantards

Click on the above graphic to open the pictured web page.

  • Here is the standard for ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade literature reading: ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
    “Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.”

“Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.”  (The only difference between high school and middle school standards is the degree of reporting textual evidence.)

  • Here is the standard for sixth, seventh and eighth grade social studies: ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1  “Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.”

Middle school students I tutor need to be able to read a selection and answer a question based on the reading.  The students are expected to cite two or more lines of evidence from the reading when they answer the question.

With practice, most are able to do it.  But some students encounter problems, namely

  • Using in their answers information they know is true but which is not given in the reading passage.
  • Taking two sides of an argument when they are expected to choose only one.
  • Citing not enough evidence to thoroughly support their answer.
  • Citing evidence okay but not showing how the evidence supports the answer.
  • Talking about the text in general without actually citing evidence.
  • Writing evidence as direct quotes, without adapting it to the student’s sentence structure. This can include copying pronouns without identifying what they mean.
  • Not paraphrasing.

How to overcome these problems?

  • Emphasize the difference between a guess or hunch and evidence.
  • Model the difference between strong and weak evidence.
  • Make sure students can explain why evidence they choose supports their answer.
  • Practice paraphrasing.
  • Practice using nouns when pronouns are not clear.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

Did the Common Core eliminate cursive handwriting as something kids need to learn? I can’t believe it!

The Common Core requires legible manuscript (printing) in kindergarten and first grade, but after that there are no standards relating to handwriting.  Learning cursive writing is not required.

In fourth grade, the Common Core requires students to be able to keyboard or type a full page at one sitting.

However, the Common Core developers have encouraged individual states and school districts to modify the standards as is appropriate for their populations.  Some states have included handwriting.  In California, kids need to learn printing in second grade and cursive in third and fourth grade.  Massachusetts requires legible handwriting of any kind in fourth grade.

Does your state require children to practice handwriting?  You can find out by going to your state’s department of education and searching for the state-required curriculum.  You may find that your state has adopted the Common Core as a whole, in which case handwriting will not be taught after first grade.

But that does not mean you can’t augment your child’s learning.  Teacher supply stores sell booklets on how to write in cursive.  Or you can go online to find such materials.

One good reason for children to be able to read and write cursive is to be able to read documents from the past.  The original Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were first written in cursive as were all documents before the 1860’s when the typewriter started being used.

Another reason is that teachers in higher grades and college often write notes, worksheets and sometimes tests in cursive.  A seventh grader told me that when her science teacher wrote some notes on the white board, few students in the class could read them.  The same teacher wrote a thank you note to members of a team she coaches, and the students needed to ask their parents to read the note to them.

Until word processing became popular in the 1980’s, most private correspondence, diaries, journals and manuscripts were written in cursive.  How awful not to be able to read great-grandpa’s post cards home from WWII or great-grandma’s recipes in her hand.

Written responses to test questions can be made faster with cursive than with printing.  This might not seem important when children are little, but writing a complete essay in 25 minutes for the SAT is another matter.  Sometimes students will have electronic notepads to take notes, but when they don’t, they will appreciate the ease of note-taking in cursive.

A few minutes a day practicing one letter at a time is all it takes to learn cursive.  Yet that knowledge opens another world to children, as does reading music, Braille, sign language or numbers.