Common Core Watch

Tabitha Pacheco

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom, which provides in-depth reviews of promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

If you are in the market for online writing worksheets, check out Quill. The site is essentially an online database of digital worksheets aligned to the Common Core English language arts (ELA) writing standards. This tool offers many advantages but also raises several concerns.

The positives

Teachers will find Quill very easy to use. They can sort activities based on grade level, type of activity (writing or editing), or writing and grammatical concepts (such as adjectives and adverbs, comma usage, commonly confused words, prepositions, and punctuation). They can assign students an individual activity, a premade pack—put together by the site—that bundles several activities keyed to a single grammar concept, or a custom pack devised by the teacher that tailors activities to the needs of the class or individual students. These activities are simple to assign to one student or the whole class. Plus, assigning them as homework means that teachers don’t need to worry about worksheets being lost in backpacks.

Teachers can sign...

Tabitha Pacheco

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom, which provides in-depth reviews of promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

As an educator, I’m always looking for new tools to enhance my teaching and engage my students. In my search for online supplemental curricula, I found a plethora of online resources for reading and math but struggled to find online writing tools. One welcome exception—and a particularly promising writing tool—is Quill.

Quill is a free online website that provides learning activities for students in grammar, vocabulary, and writing skills. It’s essentially a database of digital worksheets aligned to the Common Core writing standards. According to its customer-service representative, over 21,000 teachers and 285,000 students use Quill. The site includes a basic package, which is free, and a teacher premium package, which costs eighty dollars per year. The main difference is the level of detail provided in the student reports available to teachers (more on that later).

The site includes (in the free version) over 150 writing activities designed for grades 1–12. The activities are said to align with forty-two of the English language...

Melody Arabo

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom, which provides in-depth reviews of promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

For teachers looking for high-quality online reading resources, Lexia Reading Core5 (Core5) is one promising—yet pricey—option. Let us examine the site’s key features, strengths, and weaknesses and how it might be useful to classroom teachers.

Usability, features, and functions

Core5 can be accessed on a web browser, an iPad or Android tablet, or installed locally on a computer. It offers clear and sufficient guidance for teachers on how to set up and implement the program and then gather data on student performance. The site is well organized and easy for both teachers and pupils to use because it moves students through the activities step by step (and cleverly adapts based on their performance). It is also likely to keep kids engaged, thanks to its colorful background, pictures, and music.

In the free-trial version of Core5, I had limited access to four levels of the student program: beginning mid-Kindergarten, beginning second grade, beginning fourth grade, and beginning fifth grade (though, as described previously,...

Melody Arabo

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom, which provides in-depth reviews of promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

Many educators struggle with finding resources that can help educators teach reading skills in a comprehensive yet individualized way. In a typical elementary classroom of thirty or more students, children can range in ability so much that instruction must be drastically differentiated to meet each pupil’s needs. As a third-grade teacher, I am constantly on the hunt for tools that can minimize my preparation time and maximize instructional time with kids. Lexia Reading Core5 is a promising reading program that can help teachers meet those goals.

Overview

According to its website, Lexia Reading Core5 “supports educators in providing differentiated literacy instruction for students of all abilities in grades pre-K–5” (as defined by Carol Tomlinson, differentiated instruction is “an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms”). The site also includes embedded assessments that deliver “norm-referenced performance data and analysis without interrupting the flow of instruction to administer a test” (norm referenced is a type of test that reveals whether...

Melody Arabo

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

Curriculet is tagged as “the best independent reading program available. Period.” But does it live it up to its promise? Let’s take a look at its key strengths and weaknesses.

Organization and content

Curriculet’s content is organized logically and is well written and clear, for students and teachers alike. However, though there is a basic search function to locate book titles, it could be greatly improved by enhanced sorting and refining options (such as filtering by individual grade and cost simultaneously).

Because the books come from reputable publishers, I found all of them to be high quality and age appropriate (they are digital versions of the same books that can be bought in bookstores). There are a wide range of text types, as called for by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and the questions and tasks are very text dependent (that is, they require students to refer back to the text to answer). Unfortunately, Curriculet does not currently provide questions, videos, and...

Melody Arabo

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

It’s October and you’re finally settling in to the school year. You’ve gotten to know your students, assessed their reading levels, and planned diligently for instruction. Now you just need the right tools—more specifically, a range of text that can meet their needs. Enter Curriculet.

Curriculet is an online digital library of books and news articles intended to be used as independent reading to supplement any curriculum. According to its website, “More than 1,000,000 students and teachers in 10,000 schools love to learn and read on Curriculet,” and its resources are accessible on all devices. With books and articles geared toward grades 3–12, Curriculet strengthens a classroom library by offering online books and texts that teachers can individually or collectively assign to students. (Note: Curriculet was recently acquired by the Waterford Research Institute, a nonprofit edtech and research center. While all resources are still currently available, future plans for the site are forthcoming.)

Curriculet’s website has a clean and professional feel, with...

Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

The use of text sets is a promising instructional approach that is informed by solid research on reading comprehension. A text set is a collection of texts that are tightly focused on a specific topic. As described in this earlier post, it may include varied genres and media and can be organized in many different ways. But all high-quality text sets have this in common: they are designed to build knowledge of an academic topic and are presented in a specific order with attention to text complexity, vocabulary development, and background knowledge.

However, quality text sets are difficult to find and not easy to create, so identifying resources that can assist is invaluable. Newsela, ReadWorks, and Achieve the Core are three sites that all provide particularly high-quality text sets for use in the classroom. I have reviewed each of them previously, and you can find those reviews here, here, and here.

All three sites offer useful...

Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

It is rare to find an education website that provides classroom lessons, teacher planning tools, and professional development all in one place. Achieve the Core does this and more (see my earlier post). An especially impressive feature is its text sets, which are collections of texts organized around a specific topic that sequentially build students’ knowledge and skills.

Mindful that research indicates that text sets can improve students’ reading comprehension, I searched many sites for high-quality, comprehensive text sets. Those on Achieve the Core are among the best I have seen. They use a variety of quality texts, are specifically ordered to promote vocabulary development and build background knowledge, and provide teachers with classroom activities and guidance.

As described on the site, text sets are “lessons using a volume of reading on specific topics to support all learners in building background knowledge and vocabulary.” For teachers unfamiliar with this approach, Achieve the Core provides background information on how text sets build...

Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

Educators’ experiences with the Common Core State Standards vary depending on the state and district in which they teach. Some have ready access to solid resources and valuable support, while other teachers struggle to understand the new standards, the instructional shifts they encourage, and how to effectively implement them in their classrooms.

Achieve the Core is a website that provides educators everywhere with a myriad of resources to help implement the Common Core. The professional-development modules, classroom lessons, planning tools, student-writing samples, mathematics tasks, and assessments are exceptionally well designed and available at no cost. It is one-stop shopping for all things Common Core.

Achieve the Core offers “free, ready-to-use classroom resources designed to help educators understand and implement the Common Core and other college- and career-ready standards.” It is hosted by Student Achievement Partners, which is a nonprofit founded by the lead writers of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

All lessons on Achieve the Core are CCSS-aligned and specifically designed...

Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

While ReadWorks offers a huge array of reading comprehension resources for educators, two particularly promising features are its paired passages and text sets for grades K-12. The former consist of two passages with similar topics and/or themes, while the text sets are comprised of three or more passages that share a topic or theme. Both resources can be used to build vocabulary and background knowledge in order to strengthen student reading comprehension and content knowledge.

Paired Passages

ReadWorks provides teachers with paired passages to help build vocabulary and background knowledge around a specific topic. The reasoning behind each pairing is clearly stated and sets of questions that assess student learning and comprehension accompany each pair. Questions focus on each passage individually and then on the integration of knowledge from both passages.

For example, one 8th grade U.S. History text pair includes the passages Frederick Douglass: from Slavery to Freedom and Before Jackie: How Strikeout King Satchel Paige Struck Down Jim Crow. ReadWorks explains...

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