5 Reasons I Love Simply Novel Literature Guides

11140016_10153365833464357_1287371046499769264_n-2Did you hear the news that Secondary Solutions and Elementary Solutions are now Simply Novel?  This week, I want to take a break from essay grading tips, tech tool reviews, and free lesson ideas to discuss the reasons that Simply Novel literature guides have been a mainstay in my classroom for 10 years.  We’d love to answer your questions and hear your experiences in the comment section below!

1. So many titles available: I love that when my grade level assignments and novel lists change over the years, I can trust that Simply Novel will very likely have the affordable and complete resources available in print and pdf so that I can get my unit rolling right away. (The pdf version is especially awesome when my to do lists get the best of me and I need immediate resources!)  To see complete title options, check out the following links:

2. Flexible and clear alignment to standards: Simply Novel keeps up with changing standards without losing  sight of best practices and the solid English teaching experience of Kristen and the other writers.  Simply Novel literature guides are aligned to common core, but can also be used very easily and successfully in classrooms that are opting out of common core.  For teachers re-focusing their classrooms for common core, Simply Novel also offers Common Core Question Stems and Annotated Standards designed for grades 3-12.

3. Systematic chapter work and assessments: Units support student learning with systematic comprehension and critical thinking questions followed up with connected formative and summative assessments. Students know what to expect and the criteria for success, but the work still challenges them in critical thinking and keeps them interested in the text.

4. More than just comprehension: Literature guides include more than comprehension questions.  They also include resources like pre-reading activities, author studies, genre work, literary/rhetorical devices, note taking strategies, essay and project prompts/rubrics, grammar, vocabulary, and more! I love having so many options to engage students in successful novel study.

5. Planning time saved means more time for other important teacher responsibilities: Simply Novel guides save me so much time in planning that I am able to spend more time working directly with students, providing meaningful and timely feedback, communicating with parents, and thinking up creative supplemental activities based on my students’ needs. Simply put, Simply Novel helps me be a better teacher and have a better work-life balance.

Have you used Simple Novel (Secondary Solutions/Elementary Solutions) literature guides in your classroom? We’d love to answer your questions and hear your experiences in the comment section below!

5 Ways to Use Magazines in the Classroom


With a push in the common core to incorporate more informational texts and a teenage audience that is becoming more globally aware than any previous generation, I have found that using high quality magazines in the classroom can help capture young minds in relevant reading and writing.  I especially like The New Yorker, but the same strategies below can be used for Time Magazine, National Geographic, your local newspaper, or many other options.  (Be sure to vet articles carefully and get approval where appropriate.)  Many newspapers and some magazines also have an educator’s discount! Below are some ways that I’m using magazines in my classroom.  I’d love to hear your questions, comments, or suggestions below!

1. Engage students in high interest pieces. Instead of reading the same stale opinion pieces from the anthology, I find that students respond well to pieces like “The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom” or “Trigger Warnings and the Novelist’s Mind“.  In every week’s edition, I find something that I’m excited to share with my juniors.

2. Use pieces as a model for a student assignment. This week, I read “The Secret Fantasies of Adults” as a model for my AP juniors, to write “The Secret Fantasies of AP juniors”.  It was a great lesson in creative writing and the importance of understanding the speaker, audience, and subject relationship.

3. Use pieces for close reading and prose analysis. Last week there was a story entitled “Voting by the Numbers,” which started with a beautifully written analogy and continued with an argument full of logical appeals and other rhetorical devices.  It was great for teaching argumentation and close reading.  If we want our students to be sophisticated writers, we must expose them to sophisticating writing.

4. Connect to other classes and disciplines.  There was a piece this week about life behind the Berlin wall that I bookmarked to teach later in the year when students are studying the topic in their history class.

5. Use pieces to teach the art of writing other than essays.   In every issue there are artfully written reviews of restaurants, books, movies, and other entertainment. These can serve as excellent models for students to write real life applications.

I can’t fit magazine articles into every week of my curriculum, but when I can, students love it.  An added benefit is the enjoyment I get from curling up with my magazine and a hot cup of coffee for some “planning” and “professional development” time!  What do you think?  We’d love to hear your thoughts below!

Weigh-In on Opting-Out of Common Core

Opt Out Common Core

It seems all of the sudden, my Facebook feed blog reader, and email are full of fliers and commentary on opting out of the common core.  I’ve had this sudden onslaught of discussion mostly due to the fact that one of my local districts (in Southern California) is planning town hall style meetings to discuss a new common core opt out form.  However, a quick google search revealed that the debate over an opt out policy has been raging around the country for some time.  So the question arises, should students and/or schools be able to opt out of common core?  In what cases?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!

First, a general overview of the arguments for and against allowing opt-outs (from my very limited, humble high school teacher perspective):

  • Against Allowing Opt-Outs:
    • The standards create continuity across states and districts.  This continuity is predicated on near universal implementation and the quest for a level-playing field in education.
    • The College Board is retooling the SAT to reflect common core.  Since SAT scores still play such a large role in college acceptance, common core alignment is a step toward college admissions.  (The college entrance test debate is a whole other story!)
    • The standards were created by a diverse group of teachers, experts, and parents, to reflect goals for student achievement and the realities of the American classroom.
    • The common core is evidence based, oriented toward 21st century technology, and balanced in terms of content and application.
    • The standards lend themselves to tweaking for local flavor or needs. States must adopt at least 85%, but the rest can be altered.
  • For Allowing Opt Outs (in general):
    • Education should not be federally regulated as tightly as the vision of common core.
    • Some schools, districts, and states will not be able to afford to implement the federal guidelines associated with the new standards. Common core creates an unfair financial burden on some schools.
    • Common core brings states to a middle or average achievement, which will bring down academic achievement in some schools, districts, and states. 15% allowable tweaking does not adequately reflect the diversity in American education.
    • The standards focus on higher order thinking without emphasizing the building blocks students need to make the leap to critical thought.
    • Common core standards distract from a real need to change the pedagogical approach of many teachers.

The case of opting out in cases where the school’s philosophy doesn’t match the philosophy of the school:

Should schools that follow a progressive bent in teaching and learning without emphasis on testing, have to follow common core?  Charter schools, magnet schools, and private schools have enjoyed freedom of pedagogy in the past.  If they can prove their achievement in alternative assessments, should we demand they change to align with common core?

The case of opting out in cases of uniformly high achieving schools:

The argument here surrounds the idea that some schools uniformly out-perform the common core standards.  Should those students be forced to spend academic time taking tests that do not even reveal their full potential?

Opting out on a student level versus and school, district, or state level:

In my local debate, the idea is that students should be able to opt out on an individual level.  As a teacher, I am heavily invested in what happens next in our educational landscape. While I am undecided about the merits of opting on a school, district or state level, I am definitely opposed to the individual student option. How can I effectively do my job with one more wrench in the gears?  I am already in over my head in differentiation and I just don’t see how I can add one more option.  Am I missing some glaring solution to the logistics here?

I’d love to hear you weigh-in on opting-out of common core!

Create Classroom Engagement and Collaboration with Google Presentations!

Google Presentations

Today, I am excited to bring you a tip for using google presentations to create classroom engagement and collaboration.  This idea is a combination of a project that a colleague of mine has done for years, the inspiration of Catlin Tucker’s vocabulary instruction (she is really amazing), plus of course, my deep seated love of socratic seminar, novel study, and google drive (full tutorial here)!  This project puts ownership in the hands of students and frees up a lot of my time for meaningful writing feedback instead of a ton of prep for teaching a novel.  Check out the Youtube video below for the specifics of my project:

How could you tweak this to use google presentations in your classroom?  I’d love to hear your feedback and ideas! For other amazing resources in writing and novel study, be sure to check out Secondary Solutions!

Re-thinking Assessment in a Technology Rich Common Core Classroom


In a lot of recent posts, I’ve considered how my instruction will change with implementation of the common core and the introduction of new technologies into my classroom.  Today I want to think about the ways in which assessment will also see complete reformation.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we all tackle this education revolution together!  As you are updating your curriculum, be sure to check out Secondary Solutions guides, which are common core aligned and FULL of great assessment ideas!

Assessment Changes On the Horizon: 

1. I must stop asking google-able questions. Almost all of my students walk around with the internet in their pockets.  Instead of asking students to memorize information that could be easily answered with a simple search, I need to look at the enduring skills and information that will take them to higher order thinking.  For example, in a test about the poetry of Emily Dickinson, instead of asking about the definition of slant rhyme, I need to ask about the effect of slant rhyme in light of the poem’s content.  Instead of memorizing simple facts, it is more important that students analyze ways in which an author’s word choice shapes the meaning and tone of a piece (Common Core Anchor Standard CCRA.R.4).   This one I think is just good practice no matter what the standards say and I’ve been working on it for the last few years.  Is it as hard for you to give up control of those traditional questions as it is for me?  It sometimes kills me to press delete, even when I know it is for the best.  

2. I must allow for socially rich assessment. Students live in a world rich in social media and real time communication, which is disconnected to the practice of traditional assessment.  In traditional assessment, all students answer the same question, prompt, or problem and then the teacher evaluates answers. Social assessments allow students to evaluate each other, add depth to the answers of their peers and interact with a more varied audience.  Socratic Seminar is a great low-tech, face to face option and collaborize classroom allows for tech savvy asynchronous social assessment.  I’ve seen an improvement in the depth of assessment from both of these practices.  Do you use any other platforms for giving assessment a social, yet rigorous make-over?

3. I must explicitly teach effective communication that is relevant.  Instead of focusing solely on the five-paragraph essay, reflective writing, and research paper, I need to teach students how to effectively communicate through media they currently use and will likely use in the future.  It is important that students understand the impact their words will have through social media, online forums, and messaging.  As we see more colleges and employers checking online profiles, students should know the gravity of their voices in terms of their own futures.  On a more positive note, the power of rhetoric in social media and online discussion is also responsible for incredible growth in grass roots movements.  Students will also need to learn how to present research using new media like infographics.  Limiting formal writing instruction to traditional essay formats robs students of the potential to communicate effectively in the digital era.

4.  I must learn how to collect e-portfolios as a process of reflection and self-assessment.  I’ve traditionally kept paper portfolios for my students.  We fill them with their writing and quarterly reflect on improvements, challenges, and goals.  This staple of my class has served students well and I hate to see it go.  However, I think the writing is on the wall for my precious manilla folders.  It is time for me to find a neat and effective way to transfer this practice to a digital world.  Any suggestions for me?  I’m anxious to hear them!

Be sure to check in weekly for more tips, video tutorials, and teacher thoughts right here at SecondarySolutionsBlog.com!

Re-thinking assessment SS

Tips for Attacking the Common Core Narrative Writing Standards:

Common Core Narrative

I love teaching narrative writing to high school students!  I get so busy emphasizing effective argumentation and exposition, that narrative writing always seems like a breath of fresh air and a chance for students to get creative!  Here are my tips for teaching the common core narrative writing standards:

  • Know The Narrative Standards: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3a Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3b Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3c Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3d Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3e Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.
  • Teach Writing with Literature:  Give students a concrete professional sample to study before they start writing to actively teach techniques like dialogue, sequencing, multiple plot lines, pacing, and the other standards.  Here are some examples:
    • Read excerpts from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and teach students to write narrative satires, which critique current society in a meaningful and allegorical way.  Teenagers are masters of satire if channeled properly.
    • Read “The  Street of the Cañon” by Josephina Niggli and inspire students to write imaginary narratives that celebrate their culture.
    • Read “Earth on Turtle’s Back” or other origin myth and assign students to write their own narrative, explaining the origin of life, or natural phenomena.
    • Read “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury and allow students to write narratives about what they think the future will look like.
    • Read excerpts from A Farewell to Manzanar Jean Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston. Have students write real narratives inspired by their own lives or family members’ lives.
  • Write Interdisciplinary Narratives:  Connect with other disciplines to create meaningful narrative assessments.  For example:
    • If your students are studying WWII in World History, have them write narratives from the trenches.  They can be love stories, battle stories, tales of camaraderie, or so many other options to include the interests of all students.  Be sure they include accurate historical information gleaned from their class.
    • If your students are studying the Gold Rush in US History, teach them to write imaginary narratives of failure or success in the Gold Rush.
    • If your students are studying about the laws of motion in physics, allow them to write elaborate narrative word problems in which the main character’s real life problem is solved with he help of physics.
    • Have student write mystery narratives in which the detective uses math principals to find the culprit.
  • Emphasize pre-writing: Multiple points of view, interconnected plot lines, smooth transitions, and a coherent pieces are produced through thorough planning.  Don’t rush the pre-writing stage.  Allow students to talk it out with a partner before writing so they can bounce new ideas off each other and take the story to the next level. You may even consider making this a partner effort.
  • Integrate Art: Whether it is drawn, painted, computer generated, or using any other medium, have students create art based on their narrative.  Here’s the trick: Art must be based only on sensory details included in the text.  If students are unable to complete the art at first, they need to go back and add more detail.
  • Use Technology: Students can submit their narratives to a class blog for others to comment on.  Adding a peer audience almost always brings up the level of writing.
  • Help Students Reflect: After narratives have been crafted, it is not enough to grade it and give it back. Students need to reflect on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative and during the writing process.   This will help students have a greater appreciation for literature and their own skills.

What are your tips for teaching the narrative standard?  We’d love to hear your suggestions, questions, or comments!

Teaching Students to Determine Credibility of Online Sources (Free Student Handout!)

Credible Sources

Two important revolutions have come together to make online source credibility testing an important skill to teach our students:

  • The Common Core emphasizes research and informational texts. 
  • Our students have incredible access to online sources.

Even though most of my students walk around all day with the internet in their pockets, they do not know innately how to determine the credibility of a source for my research paper, infographics, and other assignments.   More alarmingly, they consistently report bad habits including the use of fast information sources that they know are not reliable and the use of copy/paste functions to get homework done in a hurry.  In order to send students into college and into the world with valid research habits, I consciously teach students a checklist to determine the credibility of a source.  I  go through the list with them a few times and make them use it regularly in the hope that they will internalize the information for future use.  Here is my credibility check list:

I’d love to hear your tips, questions or suggestions to add to the list!  Leave a comment below and add to the conversation.

Determining the Credibility of Online Sources:

When using online sources for formal research, you must determine credibility in order to validate the reliability of your own research.  Keep in mind: Articles from peer reviewed online journals like those found in JSTOR, EBSCO Host, and other databases include all citation information and can easily be found credible.  Sites like Wikipedia, blogs, and social media are open forums for non-experts and while they may be great brainstorming tools, they are not credible sources for formal research.  With so many sites in the spectrum between JSTOR and Wikipedia, it can be difficult to determine credibility, so here is a checklist to go through when making an evaluation:

  • What is your topic?
    • You should always look for sources appropriate to your topic.  For example, if you are researching heart disease, you should look at sites run by The American Heart Association and not a side note blog post from Huffington Post.
  • What is the URL?
    • Always be sure to record the entire URL.  You will need this information and more to cite properly.   Be sure you are aware of the root site of the page you found.
  • Is the extension appropriate to the content?
    • .gov and .mil are government run sites, .edu means it is an education site, and .com/.org/.co can be purchased online.  This does not mean that .com/.org/.co are not reliable, but you should make note of the extension for overall reliability testing.
  • Who is the author?
    • You should use sites that have a stated author.  Sometimes the author’s name will be on the article or page, and sometimes you will have to dig a little deeper to an “about the author” page or a link on the main site.
  • Is there contact information for the author?
    • Credible authors will have some type of contact information. It may be in the form of an email, phone number, address, or online submission form.
  • What are the author’s credentials?
    • Look for authors who hold degrees, experience, titles, or memberships to recognizable professional groups relating to the topic.
  • Does the site appear to be professional?
    • Look for sites that are professional, clean, and organized. For most research, personal blogs are not a reliable source.
  • Are there typos and other errors?
    • Grammar, spelling, and other errors are a hint that the information has not been reviewed carefully and may be suspect.
  • What is the purpose of the site?
    • Are they trying to persuade? educate? preach? other?
  • Is there bias?  If so, what is it?
    • For example, if you take medical information from a cigarette company or sports information from a particular college, understand the bias.  Bias does not mean you can’t use the page; you just have to be aware and use the information accordingly.
  • Is this a primary or secondary source?
    • The closer to the primary source a page is, the more reliable the information.
  • Are there citations or a bibliography?
    • These will help you determine the legitimacy of secondary sources.  Ask yourself if the bibliography shows quality research material.
  • Is there a date for the publication/revision of the page?
    • You will need this information to cite properly.  It is also important to know that your information is current.  You don’t want to research current educational trends and use high school drop out rates from 1990.
  • Does the information seem in depth and comprehensive?
    • You want to look for sources dedicated to the information you are looking for, not a source, which briefly touches on your topic.
  • Overall Evaluation:
    • Based on this list, do you find this source to be credible?  Be sure that you are able to justify your evaluation with evidence.

Citing an online source:

Please refer to the Owl at Purdue for information on citing electronic sources in MLA or APA format:  Owl.English.Purdue.edu

What would you add, take away or ask about this list?  I’d love to know!


Arch Method to Help Students Analyze Informational Texts

As we continue to grow in our common core competencies and take on new informational texts, we need tools to help students read closely and analyze texts that may be outside of their fiction plot structure comfort zone (and ours!).  At a conference many years ago, I picked up a valuable strategy called the arch method, which I believe can do just that.  I learned it from Valerie Stevenson who is a high school English teacher from San Diego, accomplished conference speaker, and incredible fount of knowledge.  Originally, I used it as a way to help AP students answer prose analysis prompts, but with the common core emphasis on informational texts at all levels, I want to show you how it is an appropriate and valuable tool for all of our classes.

The strength of the method is that it can work for junior high and high school students at a variety of skill levels.  For grade level modifications, the teacher simply needs to ensure that the informational text and guiding question are grade level appropriate.  For emerging readers and writers in all grades, the teacher can walk students through the process with several texts over a long period of time before asking students to work independently on this type of task.  For more advanced students, one model or explanation may be enough. Even with my AP class, I like to scaffold this process a few times to make sure that I am getting my desired result by the time they work independently.

In the hope that you won’t see this tool as something too easy or too difficult for your students, I decided to include an example from a junior high curriculum and a 12th grade college prep curriculum.  If you teach AP language and composition, leave me a comment or question about using this strategy in conjunction with prose analysis questions!

Teachers from every level- please feel free to leave questions or comments!  I’d love to hear from you.

 The Strategy (See picture below):

  • For any given informational text, the teacher asks a guided question.  The question must focus on BOTH the main idea and persuasive techniques.  This type of analysis focuses heavily on author’s purpose and style. The questions can vary in complexity for different levels.
  • Students draw an arch in their notes and write the question on that arch.
  • As they read (directed or independently) students look for the SOAPS (speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, and situation), as well as persuasive language.  The use of rhetoric (or persuasive language) is recorded under the arch.
  • Then, based on the language, students write the answer to the big picture question above the arch.
  • Once this is complete, teachers can assign a variety of extension assignments like writing an analysis essay, writing a persuasive essay or speech using similar techniques, or participating in a class discussion about the themes or persuasiveness of the piece.
  • After students have gone through this method a few times, they begin to understand close reading and can apply it across the curriculum.  I’ve found that it is very helpful for students who struggle with finding textual evidence to support their gut feelings.

Click Image to Enlarge

Analyze Informational Texts 2

Junior High Example:

  •  Junior High students could read and analyze Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech as part of a nonfiction unit or as a companion to novels like Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry or The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963.  This could also be part of a history unit about The Civil Rights Movement or a look at how leaders across time have dealt with discrimination.
  • Here is a link to download an excerpt of the “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • Here is a sample annotation that students could do with teacher scaffolding.
  • Extension activities may include writing a speech about a subject students feel passionate about, writing a speech from the perspective of a character in a novel, or writing a paragraph explaining why the “I Have a Dream” speech was such a powerful moment in American history.
  • In addition to other common core standards, this activity supports the following CCS for grade 6 informational texts: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.

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Analyze Informational Texts 3

High School Example:

  • Senior students could read and analyze an excerpt from Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” to go along with their study of Frankenstein, or as a comparison piece across time to the poem “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women” by Lanyer.   
  • Here is a link to download the excerpt of “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”.
  • Here is a sample annotation that students could do individually or with teacher direction.
  • Extension activities may include writing a vindication of the rights of teenagers, writing a prose analysis essay, or conducting a class debate about the current state of gender equality.
  • In addition to other common core standards, this activity supports the following CCS for grades 11-12 informational texts: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.

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Analyze Informational Texts 1

What do you think about the arch method? Would you use it? Do you have other go-to strategies for teaching informational texts?

Buyer Beware! How to tell whether the product you are about to buy is truly Common Core aligned!



What does it mean to be Common Core Aligned or Common Core Standards-Based?  Many teachers are facing a desperate search to create or find and teach lessons that are in line with and observe the standards of the CCSS for their perspective subject areas and grade levels.  In this search, it seems as if every product on the market claims to be Common Core aligned.  But how do you really know it is truly aligned to the standards you need to teach? How can you really tell whether the product is truly aligned in a manner that will help you teach AND help your students learn the necessary skills on which they will eventually be tested at the national level?

Here are some quick tips for helping you find or rule out products that claim to be CCSS aligned:

Tip #1: Obviously, when the product claims to be CCSS Aligned or Common Core Standards-Based, look for the proof.  Does the product tell you which actual standard(s) it is aligned to?  Does the product have those alignment documents available for you to look at or use?  Can you download the alignment to see exactly where it aligns?  This is especially important if a product is aligned to many standards.  If the product merely claims to be aligned, but does not indicate exactly which standards to which it is aligned—you may want to skip it.

Take a look at the standard itself to which the product claims to be aligned.  Is the product a vague and/or broad lesson?  For example, at the end of the Reading: Literature Common Core State Standards for most grades, there is a standard similar to this:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 6–8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

By looking at this standard, ANY product that is about ANY piece of literature could be CCSS aligned.  But does it really teach anything?  You must be familiar with the standards at least on a basic level in order to distinguish between a broad standard such as this, and one that actually addresses the knowledge and practice of a particular skill or focus.

Tip #2: Similarly, be sure that the standard is addressing a skill that is grade level appropriate.  The following 8th grade standard could technically be addressed in any grammar, writing, or speaking activity:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

An activity in which students identify verb tense may fall under the conventions of grammar for this 8th grade standard, but how appropriate is that activity for the grade level?  (Side note: identifying verb tense is a standard at the 1st grade level).  Of course, if your students need to learn verb tense in order to master verbals, you may have to use this type of activity to get them up to par.  Just know that it will not address the skill on which your students will be tested, and in order for your students to be successful on what they will be tested, you will have to teach grade-level appropriate competencies.

Tip #3: If the product or material indicates the particular standard it is addressing, look at how much of the standard is being addressed, and how is that particular skill being taught?  It is scary how many “aligned” products slap a standard onto a product merely because of a matching word or phrase. Look at the actual product to see HOW and HOW MUCH of the standard is actually addressed and taught in the product or material.  For example, under the CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.1 standard is the sub-standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.1a Explain the function of verbals (gerunds, participles, infinitives) in general and their function in particular sentences. An activity that merely mentions verbs and verbals does not necessarily address this skill.  The key words are “explain the function of” and “[explain] their function in particular sentences.”  Merely identifying a verb in a sentence DOES NOT address this standard! A good product teaching this standard will have student identify and explain differences between gerunds, participles, and infinitives on their own and within sentences, and have students work to identify and explain how these verbals work in a sentence.  Further, students should be challenged to use verbals correctly in a sentence, and identify when a verbal is used incorrectly in a sentence.

That is not to say that a product is inadequate or subpar without addressing each angle of the standard, but when choosing a product, you want to find one that addresses as much of the standard as possible to get more bang for your buck.

Can a product written several years ago be CCSS aligned?  The answer, yes…  however, you must be careful.  Many products written in the 1980s were written when the pendulum of education focused on self-evaluation, original creation, and self-expression, often through elective and vocational courses.  Although standardized testing was invented and adopted in the late 70s, teachers often focused on more “performance” testing, and textbooks and supplemental materials had little uniformity.  Products written in the 1990s should be better, as many states had their own set of standards.   However, you should still examine the quality of the material as you would anything written today. If the products or materials are based on best practices and were aligned to state standards for ELA and/or the NCTE/IRA Standards for English Language Arts, you should be safe.  After all, many of the CCSS for ELA were written based upon state standards as well as the NCTE/IRA Standards for English Language Arts, along with current research.

The primary message: know your stuff, and beware of false claims.  The more familiar you are with the CCSS, the better you will be able to identify a good product.  The more aware you are of the deluge of false claims of Common Core Alignment, the better prepared and more confidently you can teach.