Secondary Resources: The Literacy Corner Learning at Home

Appleton Area School District’s (AASD) secondary English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum is based on Wisconsin’s state standards.

Below are resources and tips for continuing your child's learning outside of school hours.

Academic Conversations
Argumentative Writing
Choice
Close Reading
Collaborative Learning
Conferring
Gradual Release of Responsibility
Informational Text
Informational Writing
Learning Targets
Modeling
Narrative Writing
Research
Summer Reading
Using Evidence
Vocabulary Instruction
Writing for Real


In ELA, one important part of the state standards is the Speaking and Listening Standards. In order to be career and college ready by the end of graduation, students need to have plenty of opportunities to participate in a variety of conversations both as a speaker and listener.

Academic Conversations

In the past, many classrooms have been centered on students listening to the teacher talk or lecture. However, academic conversations (purposeful conversations about school topics) are a powerful way for students to help process information and learn important concepts. In addition, academic conversations help to engage, motivate, and challenge students. Therefore, now students in ELA classrooms have more daily opportunities to participate in academic conversations as a whole group, in small groups, and with partners.

Parent Tip: Try to engage your child in rich conversations as much as possible. For example, talk with your child about what he or she is reading. Instead of simply asking if your child liked the book, consider asking what he or she liked or disliked about the book and why.

Argumentative writing is one of the three major categories of writing students study at the secondary level. Most ELA students complete at least one piece of developed argumentative writing each school year.

Argumentative Writing

Argumentative writing starts with logic and critical thinking. Students often look at data (also called evidence) first and then determine how to establish and support a position. When studying argumentative writing, students usually examine models of expert writing, paying careful attention to the patterns or techniques an author uses. In turn, the student applies these patterns or techniques to his or her own writing. Common types of argument writing include op-ed articles, opinion articles, letters to the editor, etc. 

Parent Tip: Continue to talk with your student about what he or she is writing about in school. The goal in argument writing is to accomplish something (like a change in someone’s action or beliefs). In order to change a person’s mind or action, the writer must understand and anticipate concerns. With your student, take a trip to the public library or investigate an online database to research the issue. Have a conversation with your student about how he or she agrees or disagrees with the issue. 


Appleton Area School District’s (AASD) secondary English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum is based on Wisconsin’s state standards. 

Choice 

In the past, students may have been limited in the number of opportunities to select which text they read in a middle or high school ELA classroom. Often all students read the same text that the teacher selected. However, current research shows that providing students with choice in reading materials can increase higher levels of student personalization, motivation, relevance, and achievement. Now secondary ELA teachers are working to provide students more opportunities for choice in reading. Activities that promote choice in the ELA classroom include book clubs (also called Literature Circles), discussion activities, independent reading, research, and other activities.  

Parent Tip: Continue to talk with your student about what he or she is reading about in school. Frequent trips to the public library or book store are a great way for students to select texts that they are interested in reading. In addition, don’t forget to model how you select a text to read.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) reading standards focus on students being able to answer a question by providing evidence and justification from what has been read. Teachers and students refer to this as close reading.

Close Reading

Close reading is a careful, purposeful rereading of a text. Typically it is used with a short piece of fiction or nonfiction text. The focus on the text is intense. Close reading will extend from the passage itself into other parts of the text, and it involves a lot of discussion and rereading. Instructional examples of close reading may include commenting on (annotating) or answering questions about what has been read. 

Parent Tip: When your child is working on the practice of close reading as homework, remind him/her that it is important to think about and understand the reading. To accomplish this, you must often reread the text and carefully consider the following questions: What is the flow of the text? What does the structure of the text tell us? What was the author’s purpose when writing this text?

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) speaking and listening standards focus on students being able to effectively engage with a wide range of people, not just with their friends and others that they choose to interact with. Teachers and students refer to this as collaborative learning or Productive Group Work.

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning helps students to learn and complete a task through collaboration with their peers. Tasks that include collaborative learning give students the opportunity to work together to solve problems, discover information, and complete projects. Students are also taught how to build on others’ ideas. Ideally, collaborative learning is designed so both the role of each individual student within the group and the participation of the whole group together are essential to completing the task. Examples of collaborative learning in ELA may include Literature Circles (also called Book Clubs) or collaboratively constructed projects.

Parent Tip: When your child is working on a part of collaborative learning as homework, remind him/her that it is important to think about how important the role of each individual’s work is to the whole task. In addition, remember that when your child works with diverse partners that it is excellent practice and preparation for higher education and the expectation in many workplaces.

In order to provide ongoing support to students in ELA, teachers often use the method of conferring.

Conferring

Conferring, also called conferencing, is a short, purposeful conversation between a student and teacher. Sometimes a conferring session includes a small group of students with a teacher. Conferring can be used for many purposes, including reading, writing, projects, or research. A conferring session is mainly for the student to talk about the work that he or she is doing and for the teacher to be responsive to the student’s unique needs. In addition, conferring provides an opportunity for the student to ask the teacher questions about his or her work and receive immediate feedback. Typically, conferring sessions are about content, expectations, and/or goal setting. Conferring sessions are offered throughout the school year. 

Parent Tip: Continue to encourage your student to read and write about what he or she is interested in. In addition, provide frequent opportunities to have conversations about what your student is reading and writing in school and for pleasure.

ELA teachers will primarily use a format for ELA instruction called Gradual Release of Responsibility (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) for reading, writing, listening, and speaking and language.

Gradual Release of Responsibility 

When effectively using the model of Gradual Release of Responsibility, students observe the teacher model his or her thinking process for the desired learning. This way, students see how the concept should be approached. Next, students will have guided practice in the concept (based on student need). Another important step is for students to collaborate with peers so students can share their thinking and learning. Finally, the student will apply the new information learned to successfully complete the task independently. 

Parent Tip: Even though your student is not in elementary school anymore, reading for pleasure is still important. Reading for pleasure builds background knowledge, increases vocabulary, and builds fluency. Did you know that students who read independently become better readers, are more likely to score higher on achievement tests in all content areas, and are more likely to have greater content knowledge than students who do not (Krasher, 1993; Cunningham and Stanovich 1991; Stanovich and Cunningham 1993; Cullinan 2000)?
Therefore, encourage your student to read for fun every day for twenty minutes. Fiction and nonfiction books are always good choices, but don’t forget about magazines, newspapers, e-books, and blogs!

In the past, students have generally focused on fiction in ELA classes. Now, it is recommended that students spend a significant amount of time reading and writing fiction and informational texts in ELA classes. Students also read and write informational text in content area classes such as history/social studies, science, and technical subjects.

Informational Text

Informational text, also called nonfiction, includes essay, speeches, opinion pieces, biographies, journalism, and historical, scientific, or other documents written for a specific audience. The main purpose of informational text is to inform or instruct the reader in some way. In addition, when students closely examine informational text, they discover new facts and opinions to help strengthen their critical thinking skills. Studying informational text is an important part of preparing students for college and careers beyond high school. 

Parent Tip: Continue to encourage your child to read what he or she is interested in, including informational texts. Many public and school librarians have suggestions of engaging informational texts for adolescents. It is also important to provide access to informational texts, including trips to the public library or book store, or helping your child access an informational text on a device.

Informational writing is one of the three major categories of writing students study. Most ELA students complete at least one piece of developed informational writing each school year. 

Informational Writing  

Informational writing, also known as explanatory writing, involves describing how something is made or works, explains a concept, or clarifies something that is confusing. Often analysis writing is a part of informational writing because the writer closely examines something (this could be a piece of work like literature). When studying informational writing, students usually examine a model of expert writing, noting patterns or “moves” an author uses. In turn, the student applies these “moves” to his or her own writing. Types of informative writing can include literary analysis, essay, magazine or newspaper articles. Often, the most challenging part of informational writing for students is to keep the information interesting and engaging to the reader.

Parent Tip: Examples of informational writing can easily be found outside of the school setting, including job applications, insurance policies, informational brochures, magazines, blogs, etc. Point out examples of informational writing to your student, and model how you use informational writing in daily life. Emphasize that informative writing is not just a skill that your student needs to know to make it through school. In addition, continue to model your own reading (of fiction and nonfiction) to your student.     


In ELA (and in other content area classes), one essential part of teaching is communicating to students the purpose and direction of the lesson. This is called a Learning Target. Learning Targets are often aligned to the standards within a grade level.

Learning Targets

Countless studies have revealed that when students understand the purpose of a lesson that they are more likely to learn more. Therefore, teachers often say and write a clear statement for what they would like the student to learn during that lesson. This is called a learning target. Typically, most teachers post the learning target in a visible, consistent location in the classroom. Often learning targets begin with a statement of “I can...” Classroom activities are planned to help students reach the learning target. Finally, students continuously demonstrate how they have met learning targets through these activities or other classroom work. 

Parent Tip: Ask your child what his/her learning targets were for each day and discuss this target with your child. As you work on homework with your child, try to make connections with the learning target. In addition, as you or your child receives teacher feedback, talk about the feedback with your child and discuss how the feedback connects with what your child’s learning target was.

In order to provide ongoing support to students in all content area disciplines, teachers often use an instructional move called modeling.

Modeling

Modeling is an important part of classroom instruction. When a teacher models a skill, strategy, or task, the teacher typically provides an example and also shows his or her thinking process as a learner. A teacher uses modeling to show what the student should learn and also uses specific language during this process for the learner to follow. When modeling the teacher: names the strategy, skill or task; shares the purpose of the strategy, skill, or task; explains when the strategy, skill, or task is used; alerts students for what to watch out for; and how to determine if the skill, strategy, or task is successful. Typically, modeling increases student engagement for learning and helps students to be more successful in school. 

Parent Tip: Continue to provide opportunities for your child to see you as a reader or writer. Model how you select books or what helps you understand what you are reading. If possible, share some strategies that work for you when you write something for work or fun. In addition, when your student is stuck on an assignment at home, see if your child can remember what was modeled in class.

Narrative writing is one of the three major categories of writing students study. Most ELA students complete at least one piece of developed narrative writing each school year.

Narrative Writing

Typically, narrative writing involves some form of storytelling, including real stories and make-believe. Telling stories is the heart of engaging a reader or audience. In fact, narratives help students to understand the world around them and the stories within them. When studying narrative writing, students usually examine a model of expert writing, noting patterns or “moves” an author uses. In turn, the student applies these “moves” to his or her own writing. Types of narrative writing can include historical fiction, memoir, or even science fiction. 

Parent Tip: Journaling can be a great way for students to practice narrative writing. A journal could be about a past or current trip, an activity your student participates in, or even about selecting which college to attend or career to focus on. Consider challenging each member of your family (including the adults!) to journal every day.

In ELA, one important part of the state standards is the component of research. Wisconsin’s state standards require students to complete several short as well as sustained research projects to answer a question or to solve a problem. Learning research skills are integral for students to be college and career ready by the end of high school. 

Research

In the past, many ELA students completed one large traditional research paper or project during the school year. Often, this was a paper or project that took several weeks to complete, and the research paper was often seen as just another task to finish. Now students in ELA classrooms have more opportunities to participate in smaller, more meaningful research activities throughout the school year. Students are still asked to gather relevant information from several credible sources, take notes, and synthesize information. Ultimately, the goal is for research to be focused on a student’s question or about a problem that needs to be solved, making the research more meaningful, student-driven, and authentic. 

Parent Tip: Support your child in authentic research whenever the opportunity arises. Your child could consult books, interview knowledgeable people, read credible websites or blogs or read applicable informational brochures. For example, if your family is planning a trip, your child can help research where your family will stay, what you will do on the trip, determine if it is more cost effective for your family to fly or drive to a location, etc. Be sure to talk about what your child learns from his or her research and if possible, apply his or her research to real life.

In ELA, one essential part of the state standards is the component of reading. Wisconsin’s state standards require students to continuously develop and strengthen reading skills by looking for key ideas and details, examining the craft and structure of a text, and integrating the knowledge and ideas from a text. Overall, reading is a critical skill that students need in order to be successful in careers and college. 

Summer Reading

Regardless of what activities your child is participating in this summer, the best predictor of gains or losses in reading is whether or not a child reads during the summer. Current research suggests that a child who reads as little as six books during the summer is likely to maintain the level of reading skills that he or she earned during the school year. In addition, reading more than six books in the summer typically leads to reading gains. The more a child reads, the better their fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension becomes. The key is getting books into your child’s hands, motivating your child to read this summer, and giving your child choices in what he or she is reading. 

Parent Tip: Be sure that your child has access to books throughout the summer. This could mean taking your child to the Appleton Public Library or local book store. The Appleton Public Library offers reading programs for all ages at http://teen.apl.org/summer/. There are also many options for kids (and adults) to read on a personal electronic device (such as a Kindle, Nook, or iPad). In addition, throughout the summer students can ride the Valley Transit System to the library on Wednesdays for free with their Appleton Public Library card. It is important to give your child choices for what he or she is reading.

In the past, students may have been asked to summarize the teacher’s thoughts and ideas. Now, in ELA (and in other content area classes), students are encouraged to find evidence in texts to support their own thoughts and ideas.

Using Evidence

Evidence can be found in a variety of sources, depending on the student’s purpose. A source might include a novel, newspaper article, blog, documentary, or even an advertisement. Typically, students use evidence to support and propel discussions, to analyze reading, and to support their ideas in writing (this could be to persuade, explain, and to share the experiences of themselves and others). Ultimately, the primary purpose for students to find and use evidence is to promote critical thinking.

Parent Tip: Your child will be encouraged to carefully read many texts. As your child is reading these texts, he/she will be working to select evidence. Continue to ask your child about what he or she is reading at school and at home. Ask questions such as, “What do you think that the author is trying to say? How do you know? Why is this important to the text?”

The primary purpose of the language standards is to teach students how to be independent word solvers and writers who are able to apply meaning, structure, elaboration, and conventions to their writing and speaking.

Vocabulary Instruction

In the past, vocabulary instruction was often limited to words taught in isolation; students were asked to define vocabulary words or memorize word lists. The new language standards focus on students being able to actively use complex vocabulary while speaking and writing, not just be able to define vocabulary terms. Students will continue to receive vocabulary instruction for carefully selected words, such as those that cross many content areas and/or are current and visible in a student’s experience. However, in addition to this, students will learn how to be active word solvers. Ultimately, students are learning words that will help them be college and career ready.

Parent Tip: Since reading is one of the best (and easiest) ways to build a child’s vocabulary, continue to encourage your child to read whatever topic that interests him or her. If possible, read multiple texts about the same topic. Continue to talk with your child about what he or she is reading at home and at school. In addition, it is important for your child to see you reading.

Writing is a critical part of daily life, both inside and outside of school. Writing helps foster a student’s emotional health, develop critical thinking skills, and leads to improvement in academic achievement.

Writing for Real

A new shift in writing instruction is that students are encouraged to write for a purpose and about meaningful topics. In the classroom, students are invited to write and investigate topics that matter to them. In addition, students are encouraged to publish their writing to an audience other than the teacher. Providing choice about topics and giving students the opportunity to publish to a real audience helps to motivate adolescent writers. 

Parent Tip: The best way that a student can get better at writing is with practice. Model and encourage daily journaling with your student. In addition, encourage your student to participate in writing opportunities such as blogging, submitting writing to a newspaper or magazine, or even writing a handwritten letter to a relative or friend.
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