Friday, September 23, 2016

Sharing Text Sets and Prompts

As a high school English teacher, it can be hard to build a network of resources. While most secondary school teachers work within a department with at least two or three other teachers of the same discipline, that doesn't always guarantee those colleagues have the same classes or ability levels. It can be a bit like being on an island, but one that is part of a very close archipelago; almost close enough that you can shout to the neighboring islands, and hear faint shouts back in reply.

In past decades or eras, there wasn't much that could be done to rectify this "island isolation." One could participate in local or county professional development, or be active in various national associations, but those opportunities rarely resulted in resources that could be directly taken from such those sessions, photo copied, and passed out the very next day. Everyone was working on different standards, different texts, and the rigor of any type of standardized testing wasn't a major concern for which to prepare students.

All of that, of course, has changed, due to the implementation of Common Core standards, to some degree, in over 35 states. Now, more teachers than ever before are expected to prepare their students to hit the same benchmarks and standards of ability as their peers in neighboring states, within the same geographical region, and even on the other side of the United States. While there was, and still is, debate about the true benefit of such multi-state standards adoption, I'll leave that take to other teachers and interested politicians.

In addition to share standards, the increased use of similar standardized testing companies and consortiums (e.g. AIR, PARCC, Smarter Balanced) has prompted English Language Arts teachers across the country to think about preparing students for high-stakes testing in a different way. High school teachers, especially, are feeling the pressure of having students achieve cut scores that are being used for graduation requirements in many states, and while many instructors have been sent to workshops and meetings to discuss testing format and to grasp some understanding of raw scores, scaled scores, and growth scores, little has been done to put actual test-prep materials into he hands of teachers for classroom use.

As you read this, I'm sure many of you have had the same thoughts and concerns. Everything culminated for me one day when I was actually working in a flower bed around my house. In a student-like "a-ha" moment I came up with a realistic idea that could help bridge the gap between teachers who want to help better prepare their students and the resources needed to do so. The idea, now known as the Text Set and Prompt Swap (TSPS), is fairly simple: teachers within a common grade band (6-8, 9-10), individually thing of a topic, compile sources, and write a prompt that goes with those sources. As many states require argumentative and informational writing, prompts are often encouraged to fall into one of those two categories. Once ready to share, the text sets and prompts are share with a compiler (via email, Google Drive, etc.). The compiler then formats all the text sets and prompts to look identical, before sharing all the sets back out to each individual who submitted and seems and prompt.

By approaching things through this cooperative approach, individual teachers (or multiple members of a department, as such encourages department unity and it builds a greater amount of text sets to use with all students in the grade band / building) gain a multitude of different sets and prompts to use throughout the year, and years to come. While it is a terrible cliche, this is truly a way to work smarter, not harder (finally!).

As the compiler for my own local TSPS, which currently includes teachers from 3 nearby school districts, I am proud to share that since the idea was shared in March of this year, we already have 9 argumentative text sets and prompts as well as 5 informational sets with corresponding prompts. Going into the school year with such a compilation of resources, each school is allowed to choose its own method of dividing the prompts between ninth and tenth grade classes.

In addition to the identically-formatted prompts and text sets, I also sought out and utilized an online platform that was nearly identical to the standardized testing format for the state in which I teach (we use AIR testing). Using the hosting platform EdCite, I posted the prompts and sets onto that site, allowing for students to practice reading, annotating, and responding to the prompts in a manner nearly identical to what they will see when high-stakes testing comes around in April. This, while not a necessity, takes the value of a Text Set and Prompt Swap to the next level which can only serve to benefit students in their preparation.

If you are interested in what a final product of a text set and prompt from my own local TSPS looks like, I have posted two text sets and prompts (both my own contributions to my TSPS), in my TeachersPayTeachers store. One is an argumentative piece regarding the use of Romeo and Juliet in the curriculum, and the other is an informational set and prompt on the topic of skydiving.  Both items are reasonably priced, and there is even a bundle that has both for a discounted price. I also encourage you, if you're a 9th or 10th grade teacher, to think about joining my Text Set and Prompt Swap. While it is local now, technology and file sharing means there aren't the geographical limits of collaboration that there were in the past. If you'd like to submit an informational or argumentative prompt and text set, you will receive three sets and prompts in return. Even better, if you and two other colleagues each decide to compile sets and prompts (which must be original - without using any websites that have put together sets and prompts already), I will share with you all 14 current sets and prompts that are part of my TSPS.
Click here to download this text set and prompt for free (for a limited time only)

Be sure to share with me your thoughts, successes, questions, even any struggles you might encounter along the way with the idea of Text Set and Prompt Swaps. I look forward to hearing from you and helping in any way I can.

Until next time, keep teaching your students with all the passion that I know you bring to each and every day in the classroom!

-A Teacher's Teacher

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